The ‘Art’ Of Music Recording

One of my techniques for recording acoustic guitars - using two small diaphram condensor microphones in an X-Y pattern and hard panning each mic left and right in the stereo spectrum

by Marc Diebold

If you are a musician, or follow news about your favorite bands or the music industry in general, you probably know that it’s possible these days to do a professional recording at home. All you really have to have is a good microphone, an input device, and a computer running multi-track recording software. Many ‘indie’ bands and up-and-coming artists do this either because it’s more affordable than using a traditional recording studio, or because they enjoy the creative freedom of doing it on their own. However, it’s not uncommon for an experienced artist or band to do at least their demo recordings in a home studio. Of course, I’m oversimplifying a bit (but not too much), and I should be clear that there are also some technical ‘audio engineering’ skills required to make a decent sounding recording at home, but it is very rewarding and fun.

I’m one of those guys that has taken the plunge and created a home studio, and, although I’m not a professional musician, I have been able to make some great recordings to use for demos for the bands I’ve been in. I’ve learned a couple lessons along the way. One is that having the right equipment doesn’t guarantee that you’ll end up with a great recording. It’s much like the ad agency business in that we sometimes have to explain to companies that buying a Mac and Adobe software doesn’t mean they will be able to do great design work on their own, or even produce properly made printer-ready files.  There’s definitely a learning curve for the hardware and software side of things in an audio recording environment just like there is in the world of advertising. The second thing I’ve learned, and this is where the fun part comes in, is how much ‘art’ is involved in the recording process. I’m not talking about the music itself here, that’s a whole different discussion. I’m talking about things like the choice of what kind of microphone to use, or where to position it when you are recording, or what sound effects to use, or where to pan a particular track. It’s amazing how much difference those decisions can make in the final overall sound of a piece of recorded music. It truly can be a very creative process. Next time you listen to one of your favorite songs, really listen to it. Try to pick out specific instruments or sound effects. Did a background vocal part come in on the left speaker only (panned left) and sound distant (reverb effect added)? Is there more than one guitar sound layered on top of each other? You get the idea. You might feel like you’re hearing a familiar song for the first time again. If you have any comments on this subject, please let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

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