Production Week, Tips For Making Great Demos
Published on 04 July 2019
Recording demos at home has gotten easier over the years. Thanks to home computers becoming faster and able to run studio grade software. With everyone making higher quality demos (some even pass as studio recordings), how do you start out without sounding like a complete amateur?
In this rundown, we'll give you some top tips on how to get the absolute best from recording demos at home.
There is one essential component needed to record to your computer. An Audio Interface. This is a small box that usually connects to your computer via USB. Giving you connections to plug microphones, headphones and instruments into.
Generally starting around £40 for a simple interface. You can spend up to thousands for studio quality interface with enough inputs for recording a full band.
While we're not expecting you to spend hundreds to buy an interface to record demos at home one track at a time. Investing in an interface with quality preamps will make a massive difference to your recordings. You could have an expensive microphone, but if you don't have good preamps in your interface, the quality of your microphone one matter.
When it comes to microphones, it's worth considering 2 things, what you're going to be recording and where. If like most of us, you're going to be recording vocals in your bedroom and essentially a box with flat walls. We'd recommend using a dynamic microphone.
Dynamic microphones offer less sensitivity and expressiveness than condensers. However, they're far more forgiving to poor room acoustics and can be used on pretty much any instrument you're going to record.
If you feel like you really can't get the job done without using a condenser microphone. it is worth investing in a reflection filter to give you more control over your acoustic environment.
Supposing that you were feeling adventurous and want to build a permanent recording space. We'd recommend reading some books or watching some tutorials on room acoustics. Proper sound reinforcement can make a massive difference to both your recording and mixing experiences.
It goes without saying that being rehearsed will make a big difference to your recording. However, a lot of us will record as we write or improvise. Those little mistakes you make can become your favourite part of a recording and you may even go onto recreate them each time you play. With that said, don't leave in a noticeable mistake to fix "in the mix". It will take less time to "punch in" and re-record that bar or measure of music. We guarantee you it will definitely sound better in the long run.
The most important part of recording is to have fun, if you're trying too hard you're more likely to make mistakes or end up with a rigid performance.
One of the key benefits of recording to your computer is that you don't have to combat the "signal to noise ratio" like you would if you were recording to tape.
This means that you can gain your signal relatively low without hearing any degradation to your signal. It's better to stay conservative in terms of gain than risk clipping your signal.
In the days of recording to tape, if your signal clipped, the sound would saturate, which could be used for effect depending on the music.
Think of vocals from the 60s, when a singer sang hard, it had a slightly distorted sound, right? However, try this in the digital world and you're going to ruin your recording.
Hold back on the input gain a little, you can boost the signal when it's time to mix.
Mixing your music can be one of the hardest parts of the recording process. So it's worth doing your research to ensure that you at least have a grasp on what you should be doing to get the sound you want.
One useful approach to mixing is A/B-ing. This is where you find a song that's similar to the one you're mixing and try and get your track to sound similar to it. Switching back and forth and making changes to levels and EQ to get your mix as close as possible. A lot of mix engineers use this approach.
EQ is a fundamental part of the mixing process, generally, within most recording packages EQ will be run as a plugin on each channel. EQ allows you to carve out a sonic space for each track so everything can sit in the mix without sounding muddy.
The general rule of thumb is to cut out the frequencies of a track that you can't hear. So for example, a bass guitar is mainly low end. On this track, you would cut out the higher frequencies to the point where you're not harming the characteristics of the bass. Or with a vocal that's typically higher frequencies, carving out the lower frequencies will keep the mix clean.
It is important to only cut unwanted frequencies rather than boost the ones you want. Boosting causes distortion, which will be detrimental to the clarity of your recording.
We also recommend trying to get your mix to sound how you want it without touching your left and right panning.
Mixing in mono will ensure that everything is sitting correctly in the mix. Not just given the illusion of being mixed well but having 2 clashing signals panned away from each other so you don't notice. It also means that you're not going to have any issues when they play your demo on the radio.
Get it sounding right and then think about where you want things to sit in the stereo field.
Finally, it's common to stick a "brick wall limiter" on the master fader during the recording process. This prevents the signal of the overall mix clipping. However, it's important that you're not pushing the limiter in the mix.
It's standard to mix with your master level peaking at around -6db.
Once mixed down, you can then either get your recording mastered or boost and EQ the finished recording yourself.
We have another couple of top tips for mixing.
The first is to turn off your monitor. You'll be surprised at what a difference this makes to how you hear what you've recorded. You don't notice it happening, but when you've got all the levels flashing in front of you, it's easy to fall into the habit of listening with your eyes.
The second is to listen to your mix on as many speakers as you can. This could be your laptop, television, iPod dock or a PA system. If your mix sounds like it should on each system, you're on the right path.
The final place to get your mix sounding right is in your car. It's a rock cliche, your car can make what sounded great in your studio sound horrible. If your mix sounds slamming in your car, then you're probably done.
When it's time to release, either to online stores, streaming platforms or for sending out as demos. This can be the point where musicians often drop the ball. It's easy to be excited about your new track and just want to get it out there.
Take your time when exporting your final track to include the correct band name and song title. If there are spaces for these, then include the copyright date, songwriter name, website address and even lyrics. All of these can make a difference to the listener and you never know where these recordings are going to end up.
This may be a little old school, but if you're sending out a hard copy of your demo. It is imperative to write the band name, song name and your contact details on the disc. Some reviewers and DJ's won't even listen to a CD that doesn't have these written on there.
Finishing any demo of a new song can be exhilarating. You're excited to get it out into the world for people to listen and when there's a reactive buzz about your music, it will be one of the best times in your life.
With that said, you really don't know where your demo is going to end up, it could end up being listened to by record labels or your favourite artists. So we suggest taking your time to make sure it's a recording you're going to be satisfied with months down the line.
We're always learning when it comes to music and music production is always in a state of flux. So keep watching tutorials and keep trying new things. With practice, you will see your skills improve in leaps and bounds.
For those of you that are completely new to recording and have no idea where to start. We've listed a few items below that would have been in our dream set up if we were to start out as a beginner.
As always if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch
Audio Interface: Audient ID4 - This is the best affordable audio interface on the market. Not only does it give you quality preamps, connections and a dedicated DI input for guitar. It also features some nice software integration that's controllable from the volume knob.
Microphone: Sontronics Solo - This dynamic microphone offers a nice produced quality. You won't need to worry about poor room acoustics when recording vocals and you will be able to record a guitar amplifier without damaging the mic.
Headphones: Roland RH5 - In terms of low priced headphones, these are the champions! Built to last and have relatively clean sound reproduction.
Monitors: Presonus Eris E5 - Monitors are one of those items you're best not to skimp on. You don't want a set of monitors that will boost the bass, flat frequency response is key. The Eris E5's give an uncoloured, yet pleasant reproduction with sound.
Software: Presonus Studio One Professional - While you will most likely get some useable studio software with whichever audio interface you chose. Investing in a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) will increase your options considerably. With its drag and drop user interface, great sounding plugins and integrated Melodyne pitch correction. Studio One is winning over users at a rapid rate and it's a great place to start