10 Common Home Recording Mistakes

I came across an excellent article a while back, talking about common mistakes made in home recording, but it was a few years old. So I thought I’d update and add to it.

The article focuses mainly on music (specifically rock/pop), and so leaves out a large chunk of the home recording population, the ones recording podcasts, video narration, etc.  The voiceover recording community.  With that in mind, I humbly submit a new list of 10 common mistakes made in home recording, including music AND voiceover.

So here are the most common mistakes made by home recording newbies as I have experienced them:

1.  Too much “room noise”

room noise is usually a thin and echo-ey sound on a voice from recording too far from the microphone.  Most home studios are set up in rooms that are less than acoustically ideal.  That is not a deal breaker for recording and producing good quality.  But certain precautions must be made.  One of those precautions is to get the mouth closer to the mic.  You want to be close enough that the voice is the loudest thing the mic hears, but not so close that it overloads the mic.  That last one results in nasty buzzy noise.  Ick!  I hear this mistake from very intelligent people, most of whom have made a really nice-looking video, only to ruin it with crappy audio.

2.  Being too close to the mic.

I’m referring mainly to voice recording again here.  I know…I said usually people are too far.  But too much of a good thing is…well…often a bad thing.  The two biggest symptoms of being too close to the mic are that the sound either distorts from overloading the mic, or the recording has a lot of “p-pops” and other excessive mouth sounds.  The first problem is easy enough to deal with.  Get further away from the mic (but not too far!).  In my experience, 4-6 inches is ideal.  The second problem is a little trickier.  First of all, it tends to be worse with the cheaper mics.  Just like the less-than-deal room, a cheap mic is not necessarily a deal breaker for good audio.  You just have to be aware of how to avoid the ugly sounds.  P-pops (or “plosives”) can be minimized by using a pop filter screen.  You can buy these or make them by stretching an old pair of pantyhose over a hanger that has been shaped into a circle or square.  Put the filter between your mouth and the mic, and that will help a lot.  Next, just pay attention to the sounds that cause plosives…like “P” (the most common) “B” and any other sound from your mouth that has a quick expulsion of breath through the lips.  Finally, you can edit the recorded audio to improve or eliminate the plosives after the fact by applying equalization to JUST the sound causing the blast.

3.  Uneven vocals.

Back to the music now.  I agree with Des at HomeTracked on this.  Lead vocals are inherently dynamic (meaning there is supposed to be loud and soft parts naturally).  But noobie home recordists have trouble dealing with this.  If you can understand the vocals during part of a song, but not during others because they got buried in the mix, your dynamic processing needs work.  Some might offer “compression” as a solution. 

I agree that running a vocal channel through a compressor at some point is usually helpful.  But depending on the singer, that probably won’t be enough.  You will probably have to use other tools, such as EQ and panning as well as your ears (the best tools of all) to get the vocal to sit properly in the mix.

4.  Too much compression.

I know I said compression is a useful tool on vocals, but noobies tend to over-use it.  This is and ever has been the constant harangue of the Readers’ Tapes column in Recording Magazine.  The two hallmarks of over-compressed vocals are sibilance and pumping.  Squashing vocal levels leads to an exaggeration of the “sssss” sounds, causing them to cut through the mix and rip your sinuses out.  Another artifact of compression is an odd pumping or breathing sense to the sound.  It’s a bit hard to describe, but there tend to be unnatural (too fast or slow) drops and spikes in volume at odd times.  A good rule of thumb is: “a little compression goes a long way.”

5.  Bad singing.

If you can’t sing, or if you suck, don’t record it for others to to listen to.  Either get better or get someone better to do the singing.  If you’re an OK singer, don’t tolerate really bad notes in your recorded performance.  there are plenty of tracks available on PC recording studios these days. 

Record the vocal track several times (I do 3 as a matter of course), and create a composite vocal track using the best sections off all the tracks.  This is how it has been done since multi-track recording was a thing.  You can also tweak/correct bad notes using the ubiquitous AutoTune or similar intonation programs.  Just don’t over do that!

6. Overdone AutoTune.

I am definitely not a hater of AutoTune.  I consider it an essential tool for the the studio.  However, it is WWAAYY overdone on most modern pop and country recordings.  It’s almost as if part of the mixing process is to mangle the entire vocal track through AutoTune, snapping every note exactly to a grid. 

The problem is that it sounds artificial…kinda “computery.”  For best results, use it for surgical correction, tweaking individual notes at a time while defaulting to leaving most of the vocal alone.  You can do this in the “Graphical Mode” in AutoTune.  Yes it takes longer, but the result is much more natural.

7.  Over-used reverb.

Again I agree with HomeTracked here.

8.  Cheap reverb.

Ditto above.

9.  Timing problems.

HomeTracked have this on their list as well but it is soooo true.  It stuns me sometimes when I hear a drum track that is not actually keeping steady time.  Frequently it’s the opposite and the music doesn’t keep good time with the drums, which may well have come from a drum program (so THAT track at least will be in time).  It isn’t terribly hard to align timing problems when mixing, but it continues to be an issue for noobies.  I guess they think people won’t notice.  They’re wrong.

10.  Unbalanced Bass and Treble.

I use those terms because more people can relate to them than terms like frequency and EQ. See my post (along with a video) explaining that to make it easy here: Good Equalization And Frequency Basics.

But another hallmark of noobie recordings is too much or not enough of one or the other.  In actuality, it isn’t just two things, bass = low, treble = high.  There is an entire spectrum in between (low mids, mids, high mids, etc.) that is frequently too low or too high. 

The main culprit here is a bad mixing room.  Bedrooms are notoriously bad for reproducing accurate sound.  A bedroom turns certain parts of the sound up while simultaneously turning other parts down.  So if we mix according to what we hear, the result will be unbalanced when listened to in a better space that doesn’t mess with the frequencies.  T

here are things you can do to combat this with a home studio, but you have to be aware of it before you can fix it.  As a remedy, make lots of mixes and listen to them on lots of systems, such as in the car, on your mp3 player, on your entertainment center, on a friends stereo, etc.  An accurate mix will be the one that sounds good on the most different kinds of playback systems.

If basic training for new recordists addressed the above issues more, they would move much more quickly out of the “noobie” category.  Explore these and other home recording tips at Home Brew Audio.



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