Most great recordings start long before the tape rolls.
Better sources lead to better recordings: It should go without saying, but the “garbage in garbage out” principle applies to recording as much as anything. If the performance you’re recording sounds bad to your ear, there’s not much chance it’ll sound good to a microphone. So make sure the sound source is the best it can be before hitting record. Some obvious things you can check to enhance the quality of your source:
- Are the musicians well-rested?
- Is the singer relaxed?
- Do the guitars have fresh strings? And the drums fresh heads?
- Are there any fans or air conditioners you can turn off?
Finish the arrangement before recording: With a clear idea how the song should sound, it’s much easier to tell when you’ve captured the best take. This is a no-brainer when you’ve paid someone to record you (less time spent means less dollars spent!) But since many home recordists like to let the ideas flow while they record, arranging and recording become part of the same process. Try to separate them so you know before the mics are in place how your song will sound when it’s done.
Practice, then record: The most obvious advantage of practice is the time saved in recording. The better you know your parts, the quicker you can record them. But practice also yields better-sounding performances, and per the first tip above this is key to recording great tracks. Less obvious, but perhaps most important: As you practice, you’ll develop nuances in your performance that add to your song’s character. I’m sure you’ve noticed this, with a song that evolved even after you’d recorded it and called it “done.” So why not help the process along, and find those nuances before recording.
Save Your Work Often: Especially if you employ the tips above and create magic as soon as the tape starts rolling, it’s imperative to save as you work.