Hi, my name is Chad Grooms. I’ve been a part of the midwest music industry for over 18 years. Recently I began a music production web show called Jamnatomy, which you can check out at my website: http://www.chadgrooms.com/jamnatomy. But enough about me, let’s get started.
Question: Can you really create pro-level recordings at home, and on a tight budget?
After years of curiosity, I finally booked studio time at a popular pro studio in Portland USA for a proper apples-to-apples comparison. While Shaun’s other post on home vs pro studios looks at some theory behind when you should use each one, it doesn’t break it down like I have here or give audio examples of how each studio’s recordings came out.
Before we go on to the outcome though, let’s look at some stats on the humble studio components that I used for this experiment:
- Audio Interface: Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 ($200)
- Microphone: Shure SM-57 ($100)
- Microphone: MXL V63M ($100)
- Studio Monitors: Fostex PM0.4n ($230)
- DAW Software: Cakewalk SONAR ($330)
- Drum Processing: Superior Drummer 2.0 ($300)
- Mastering Plugin: iZotope Ozone Complete ($200)
The total retail cost is $1,430 USD, including software. I am not including cost of cables, instruments, amps, or my computer for obvious reasons. I won’t be itemizing the pro studio, because it can be safely assumed that all recording equipment was top-quality.
If you’d prefer a video version of how things went, you can see it here:
For a full comparison of the two recordings side by side though, please check the bottom of this guide. Now, let’s get into what happened and the results.
Writing The Track
I needed a music piece that showcased audio dynamics. Drums were written to drive the mood between the two sections of the piece, and guitar tones were chosen to expose glaring quality differences (if any) between the home & studio versions. Bass was written to simply carry the low end and play off the beat.
Professional Studio Recording Experience
I arrived at the studio with nothing more than my guitar, my bass, and an amp. The producer understood the goal of the project, and did his best to focus on sonic quality above all else. Thankfully, we had an intern on-site also, which sped the process along quite a bit.
First up was drums, obviously. Setup, mic placement, and sound checks took about 2 hours. Considering that this is a weak point of many home recordings, I was happy to sit back and just let the producer take his time.
Sadly, I wasn’t thrilled about the old 60’s Ludwig studio kit. It just wasn’t right for heavy rock, and since I didn’t have time to properly mute the bass drum, I knew that drum processing was going to be a nightmare. All that said, this is a sonic quality and clarity test, so for that reason it served its purpose and I went with it.
Tracking drums only took about 30 minutes, which I was really happy about. I can’t reiterate enough that I play drums, but I’m NOT a drummer, so the performance was tolerable but not great. In fact, I accidentally rearranged the bass drum hits on the verse (heh, woops). But hey, it’s just an experiment, right?
Next, I hopped into the control room and grabbed my bass. The producer ran me D.I. and used amp emulation to get a nice warm bass tone. Tracking took at most 10 minutes.
Guitar was a bit more difficult. The studio had probably 10 amps, but most weren’t really what I was looking for tone-wise. We ended up settling on my VOX VT50 that I brought, with an Orange Holy Terror as an alternate. Once cranked, we were surprisingly happy with our tones and ended up recording two tracks from the VOX and one from the Orange.
Finally, the producer gave me raw tracks for every microphone and source, and sent me on my way. In total, I believe I was working with 11 drum tracks, 6 guitar tracks, and 2 bass tracks.
I know, I know…I would have loved to get the track mixed and mastered by the studio, but this was an out-of-pocket experiment, so work with me here.
Pro Studio Post-Production
As soon as I got home, I popped open Cakewalk SONAR and imported the raw tracks. As I dug into the drums, I noticed that they had an upper-frequency crispness that was obviously superior to acoustic recordings that I’ve done at home. It wasn’t an extreme quality difference, though…just a little more clear. There was definitely a harsh boxiness and some excessive ringing due to the drum set, but aside from some additional processing to fix that, the drum mix came together just as any other mix I have done. The punch and polish slowly started to emerge as I processed each drum individually, and then the kit as a whole.
After a few drum mixes, I was happy with the result and moved on to bass. This was comically easy because I was handed a pre-processed track. I simply threw on some EQ and light compression to match the song and called it done.
Guitars were already processed as well, so I simply panned, threw on a hi/lo pass filter, and pulled out a few bad frequencies.
P.S. Remember though, none of what you’ve learned will matter if you don’t know how to get your music out there and make people WANT to hear it. Want to learn how to do that? Then get our free music marketing ebook emailed directly to you! Or for an in-depth fool proof guide on how to get people to listen to your music, get our online music business course here.
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