The Top 10 Tips for the Home Studio

tips for home studio

This is a guest post written by Barry Gardner of SafeandSound Online Mastering. If you are interested in guest posting, check out the guidelines in the author box below.

1. Postpone non-essential equipment purchases and invest some money into acoustic treatment.

The results from basic acoustic treatment in a room will be audible on every recording and mix you make. Start with side wall absorbers for early reflections. Next, install a ceiling cloud above and just in front of your monitoring position. Bass traps are usually the most bulky treatment items and last on your list. However, bass traps will make a big difference to the accuracy of your low-frequency response. All of this is worth every penny.

2. Try where possible to get your loudspeakers out of the corners of the room.

I appreciate this is tricky as it takes up space but this will also help reduce bass build up which occurs when loudspeakers (especially reflex loaded ones with a port at the rear of the speaker) are against boundaries. The result from speakers not being in corners will be less bass tip up (an acoustic bass boost) and mixes that are not bass light on other reproduction systems.

3. Buy a low-cost SPL meter (Sound Pressure Level).

This will allow you to measure 85dB SPL, an important sound pressure level. 85dB SPL is where the human ear flattens its own natural response. I suggest that you occasionally listen at 85dB SPL in order to get an impression of your mix-down where the human hearing response is most linear. You do not need to monitor at this level all the time but it is a good plan to have some short bursts of monitoring at this level.

Search Tip : Search for Fletcher Munson equal loudness contours.

4. Record your music at 24 bit, and peak your recorded signals at -18dBFS on your DAW digital input meters. 

This results in lower distortion, clearer sound and built-in headroom for your mix down. Remember, while it might look too low on a badly scaled digital peak meter (almost all DAW ones) it is actually around 0VU (electrical equivalent), a nominal level on which large mixing consoles would operate.

5. Always finish your mix after a good night’s sleep.

Do not finish your last mix tweaks late into the night, your hearing will be tired and you will be less perceptive. The final  tweaks are normally better the next morning with a fresh brain, fresh ears and coffee.

6. Do not hesitate to drag and drop a piece of music with a world-class mix-down within your genre into your mix session.

This can be of great value to get a perspective of where you are with your own mix-down.Bear in mind most tracks will have been mastered and sound much louder. This is best evened out by reducing the volume of your reference track so it meets that of your mixdown. This is especially useful for getting your bass levels roughly right in an inaccurate environment before mastering or self finalizing.

7. Need more warmth in your recordings?

Purchase a ribbon or a dynamic mic and double mic sources with this secondary mic so you have a warm alternative to your main mic choice. This can be useful as a blend of the 2 mics can result in a wonderful sound.

8. Color-code your tracks and faders in your DAW.

This makes navigating a large mixing session much easier. You can extend the coloring to groups. The eye is much quicker to see colour than tiny labeling. This color use can also be learnt and extended across projects. i.e. red is always kick drum, blue always snare, vocals always green. Being organized keeps your stress down and in control.

9. Back up your hard drive. 

I suggest that when your system is configured and authorized, buy a SATA copy station (2 drives slot in and you can clone a drive with one button push) and do an identical copy of your main system drive. This means that when your hard drives fail you have copies ready to plug in and get back to work. For audio drives where the data is added regularly, drag and drops to an external drive is the best way to go.  Losing a drive can be time consuming and a mini catastrophe.

10. Protect your hearing at all costs, always wear ear plugs when clubbing and gigging.

Never listen to headphones or earbuds too loud. Become familiar with sound pressure level safe exposure times and use the SPL meter your bought above to check that your hearing is safe. It’s become a cliché, but damaged hearing is irreversible and to be avoided at all costs.

Image by: Derek K. Miller

  • I like the idea of color coding the sessions… can’t tell you how lost I get with all the cryptic naming conventions associated with the different instruments in Ableton.

    Overall, this is a great rundown – reminds me that I really need to improve my listening space with sound treatment.  Any recommendations on brands that work particularly well?

  • Hi there, my recommendation if at all possible is to do it DIY. Rockwool RW3 or Owens Corning (in the USA). These are the best universal materials for both high and mid frequency absorption as well as low frequency broad band bass trapping. Please ensure you observe all safety precautions when working with these materials like mask, goggles, gloves, long sleeved shirt. They are quite safe when the appropriate protective clothing and masks are worn. usually a fire retardant cotton layer is optimal. It takes a little time bu the acoustic performance is higher than foam based products.

    The pre-produced foam is ok for highs and mid frequencies but expensive, although often easier to install. I have no specific manufacturer recommendation.


  • The way I understand it, the -18dBFS recommendation should apply to RMS peaks, so, for the typical DAW meter, your average level should hover around -18dBFS while moment-to-moment peaks will frequently fall above and below that mark. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

  • Hi there CMP, there is no wrong or right really, consider this as a guide for the beginner to have a “rule” from which to work in order to avoid inadvertent distortion. When you are more knowledgeable you may adapt as you wish. The peak at -18dBFS (kick or snare) works in practice as a starting point which will leave plenty of headroom.The VU Meter is supposed to be an average meter but most just flick about all over the place. You normally only find high quality VU meters that conform anywhere near to spec in higher end equipment. (i.e. in the consoles mentioned and high end outboard)

    One requires a technical basis from which to work, when this as sufficiently impregnated your workflow to provide understanding you understand the compromises involved if deviating. (if any)

    I lost count of how many times I was seeing 24 bit files (theoretical dynamic range of 144dB) with a dynamic range of 5dB.

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