21 Tips to Improve Any Recording and Mix

Make sure you have a good DI box at minimum

A good DI box will help improve your guitar/bass guitar recordings exponentially rather than relying on just the input of the interface (unless it has a dedicated DI specifically for guitar/bass guitar recording such as the Audient ID range). The cleaner the signal before reaching the interface, the better the recording will be, which is exactly what DI boxes achieve. They shield the signal from unwanted noise or hum which can ruin a recording, but they also make sure the high-end content doesn’t depreciate as well as allowing a better volume to work with.

This DI from Radial Engineering is very loved among new and old engineers, and is a great place to start if you're unsure of the options available.

Learn to recognise different distortions

Different distortions can have a great impact on a mix when you know how and more importantly when to use them. Transformer and tape saturation is wonderful on drums, helping to shave off the peaks of a transient, which in turn allows you process the drum bus in a much better way without one element triggering the compression too much alone. Tube saturation is great for guitars or bass adding subtle distortion and harmonics as well as adding warmth and sheen to the recording.

I personally love this plugin from Softube as it allows you to shoot out the best saturation for the source

Learn how you like to use them

The above are just a few examples, but that’s not to say these types of distortion don’t transcend to other elements as well so make sure you experiment to find the right one for you and in your mix - better yet, A/B between a few different types to better judge for yourself in the context of the mix each time.

Always prepare for any session

Like in cooking, preparation in advance can be the difference between a great meal and one where some elements fall short. The same applies to recording and having a few simple things ready before the recording has begun can have a dramatic effect on how well you’re able to do your job. A couple of things I always ask for well in advance are demos of the tracks, midi information if they have it, and references of inspirations for each track we record so I know how to make it emotive and we remain on the same page from track to track.

Stock up on your breakable supplies

It’s a simple one but often forgotten about too easily. I can’t remember how many times I’ve broken a string in the middle of a session, or a drum head has snapped after being hit, let alone how many plectrums I’ve lost over the years! Make sure you have backups of everything if you can - you never know when you might need them.

Bulk buying strings or breakables alike will result in money saved and a peace of mind in sessions

Keep concise project names for your DAW

Organization is key. Recently I had a project corrupt and I lost all the drum MIDI information - what made it even worse was that I had so many projects where I had backups of the MIDI I’d lost, but because I hadn’t been careful in labeling my past works it made recovering the files so much harder than if I’d simply named everything properly. Don’t make the same mistake as me, and always name and date your projects in case you need to revert back (and always make backups!)

Push your creative bounds as much as you can

Experimentation is key to creativity and some of the best pieces of art have happened thanks to happy accidents. Don’t be afraid of pushing the bounds of what you’re used to or how you’re used to recording - try new positions for mics, try to use plugins in strange ways, add processing for something like guitar onto a vocal for an effect for a part of a song, the limits are boundless so push them as much as you can.

Practice various stereo recording techniques

I’d left it a long time until I started really doing this myself and I kicked myself for not doing it sooner when I eventually did. I’d been so used to just a simple wide spaced pair of mics for drum rooms, and one day I tried a blumlein setup along with the normal A/B pair and the difference was dramatic. I ended up using both in the mix and to this day it’s one of my favorite recordings - the question I was left with was how many more moments could I have had if I’d just tried doing this sooner?

Definitely try Blumlein blended with a wide spaced pair of room mics, I simply can't look back after trying it myself!

Record drums last (if you can)

Recording drums last can really help make a record as solid as it can be. There’s a lot of times that a band has come in and the songs have changed over the course of the sessions; recording drums first meant that the drummer walked away wishing and wanting things had been done differently in their performance. So by allowing that to be the last thing in the process, they are gifted the ability to change ideas in the MIDI content, experiment with new fills or patterns - learn it before recording, and walk away completely happy!

Take time to get the best takes / don’t rush a session

This is good advice to give to both you and the band. If you know the band will need more time when you first quote them, always try and allow for an extra day more than you need. Life is fluid and problems arise all the time which can stall or make one session not as great as the others resulting in time lost - by having an extra day they don’t need to rush, and neither do you, which alleviates pressure to get things done and you can focus on being creative.

Learn the way you like to use different compressors

Really push compressors to find out how they really sound. FET, VCA and Optical compression sound vastly different to each other, and depending on who has made the unit, they all sound different from each other. With such an abundance to choice from, pushing them to extremes and then dialing them back to a workable result has always helped me hear what they impart to a track far better than filtering between the same style but different manufacturers and never having one I truly know how to use inside and out.

The MJCU plugin from Klanghelm Audio is a great choice to switch between Vari-Mu (Valve), VCA and FET compression quickly.

Reference your own previous productions more than other peoples

An easy trap to fall into when you’re starting out is aiming for a sound that you yearn for but have no idea how to achieve it. It can be demoralizing and demotivating if you’re always trying to make a carbon copy or someone else's work - after all, we all hear things differently. Referencing your own work once you’ve done a few projects will allow you to hear the improvements you’ve made and better yet, revisiting old mixes can inspire you to do something differently in the next mix if you hear something you like and forgot about - that happens to me all the time even now!

Prioritize room treatment over hardware if you’re still building you studio

All the hardware and gear in the world isn’t going to help you in your recordings or mixes if you don’t have a good environment to work within. Rooms have their own resonances and reflections which can be terrible to work within especially if you have a small room and the lowend is completely out of control. Invest in some bass traps to suck out the unwanted lowend in the room and if you can;t invest too much at the start, Sonarworks Reference has been a godsend for so many thanks to how it calibrates your monitors and your room to work better with each other.

Sonarworks Reference 4 was a game changer for me personally, but making sure you treat your room properly and precisely is far more important, so prioritise that first before touching it up with Sonarworks!

Change strings each day you record final guitar or bass takes of you can

There’s nothing worse for me when recording guitarists or even worse, bassists that aren't aware of the drastic change in tone between worn out strings and brand new ones. You’ll constantly be fighting against the amp and the cabinet to get the tone you have in your head if you refuse to change strings regularly - so if you know you’re neglecting your instrument at the moment, break that bad habit and treat your guitar to new strings. It’s earned it!

Learn how to tune drums properly

Any drum kit inexpensive or astronomical in price can sound good or bad if it’s not tuned properly. I like to tune in a very specific way but I know many people that try to simply match records they like in general which is also ok - the main thing is that you learn the best way to do it for you and that usually only comes from experimenting or investing in a source or material to learn from. I highly recommend checking out the Creative Live course from Adam Getgood to learn how he tunes drums. It really is a brilliant resource.

This was by far and away the best recourse to refer back to when learning how to tune drums, as well as mixing. I really can't recommend it enough, so check it out.

Invest in your knowledge all the time

Even now, I’m always trying to learn whatever I can to keep myself ahead of the curve or learn something I’ve never known before in all areas of recording and mixing. Two of the best places I’ve found full of various wonderful minds are Produce Like A Pro and URM (Ultimate Recording Machine). Both work with an abundance of incredibly talented producers that share their knowledge, tips and tricks, all of which I can guarantee will scratch the itch to learn more.

If you're not already, go and join URM and Produce Like A Pro for some of the best learning opportunities the industry can offer currently.

Always charge for your time, even when starting out

Even when I was first recording bands, I was adamant I would still charge for my time. The one thing I can’t make more of is time, and making sure that I value that is important - it’s more important that those you work with feel the same way. I’ve found as my rates have changed over the years, I’ve had more artists that take themselves and the process far more seriously compared to lower rates that bring in far more artists, yes, but 60% won’t take their craft seriously or try to take more than they give. So always charge for your time, and hopefully you’ll find great artists who believe in you as much as you believe in them for years to come.

Trust your ears and learn to listen critically

It’s easy to forget, but take this as a gentle reminder: your ears are the best tool at your disposal. If something needs touching up in the mix, learn to listen critically and try to figure out what it is you’re hearing before guessing at the issue. As well as that, remember if it sounds good, it sounds good. Try not to second guess yourself and trust your ears!

Learn to use templates in your DAW from instrument groups you’ve been happy with

Templates are a great way of helping to speed up your workflow, and streamline your sessions especially at the start of a band working with you. If you had a great drum mix in another session, use that as a starting base to work from and tweak it to fit the new band. After a while of doing this, you’ll have templates for all sorts of instrument groups, all with slight variations so whatever the band sounds like, you have a solid start to any session .

Try not to over process (unless it’s a specific thing you’re going for)

When starting out, and to be honest I catch myself doing it now, over-processing an instrument can be easily done without thinking about what you’re trying to achieve. It goes hand in hand with not critically listening to what you’re working on, or overthinking the moves that are needed to bring it to life properly. Within the last few years, I made it a goal of mine to try and only work with a console plugin first to do everything I need, and if I need anything after that I’ll know specifically what it is with confidence that it’s not had too much done to it unnecessarily.

Make sure you at least have one workhorse mic, and one all rounder preamp to work with

Building up a studio with all the fancy bells and whistles takes a long time, but having one very good mic and preamp will no doubt help you on the way to that goal much quicker than without. I have a few all rounder preamps and microphones, but when starting out I made sure I had at least one mic that could work across various sources like vocals, guitars or bass, acoustic guitars and more, as well as a preamp that would compliment that mic and the things I was recording, along with a DI input for instruments I wanted to record directly in to my DAW. Having that pair allowed me to offer a much higher quality when I was first starting out and entice more bands to work with me off the back of the work I’d done. Eventually, that led to me being able to build my studio up and expand to more options, but without that first good mic and preamp, it would’ve been much harder to achieve.

Personally, the Amethyst and the V67 are my workhorse mics. There's nothing they don't sound great on, and along with my trusted 1073 Neve style preamp, I have everything I'd need to make a good record, I'm certain.