Tips for Recording Audio at Home
Daniel Story | August 2020
Recording good quality audio does not necessarily require a professional studio. If you take a few simple steps, and have a reasonable microphone, you can achieve a recording at home that sounds at or near studio quality.
Like pretty much everyone else, I moved my recording to my home during the 2020 pandemic. But even before that, as a grad student working on a podcast, I frequently recorded at home. Furthermore, I often interview people remotely who themselves are recording in their own homes. Here is the advice I usually give to the people I interview and try to follow myself.
Use the best microphone you can get a hold of. You can address all kinds of environmental issues, but if your mic is rubbish there is not a lot you can do. There are many reasonably priced USB mics available now. I use the Blue Yeti which runs just over one hundred dollars. But there are many others that run nearer the thirty to fifty dollar mark that are surprisingly good. If you can’t get a USB mic, use the mic on your earbuds. The built-in mic on your computer should be a last resort.
Find a quiet room with minimal echo, the smaller the better. Larger rooms with many hard surfaces—bare walls, non-carpeted floors—will not be good. Some people actually chose to record in a closet with clothes surrounding them. Another approach is to drape a blanket over yourself and your mic. All of this will help to recreate a studio effect by minimizing the echo from your voice. Note, it’s very important to solve echo during the recording process itself. It is always possible to add echo when you’re editing but nearly impossible to remove it once it’s been recorded
Beware ambient noise. This might come from sounds within the room you’re in, your house, or from sources outside. Before you record, sit quietly for a moment and listen for noise. Remove or turn off anything that is noticeable. For one recent home recording session, I removed a clock that was ticking loudly and turned off a desktop computer with a fan that was running at a noticeable level. You might also need to turn off your central air or air conditioner. As for sounds from outside—most often noise from passing cars—see if you can find a room that is at the other side of your house or apartment, furthest away from the busiest road or sidewalk. Sometimes this is not possible or only solves the problem partially. In that case, you might need to be prepared to rerecord a portion if a particularly loud car or siren comes past.
Alert your housemates. This mitigates another form of ambient noise that could interrupt or ruin your recording. Let the people you live with know that you’ll be recording and ask them to keep their voices down, avoid loudly closing doors, etc. Hopefully they’ll be willing to help you out in this way.
Test your setup. Once you’ve addressed things like echo and ambient noise, record some test audio and then play it back. See if there is anything that does not sound right. One thing in particular to pay attention at this point is mic level and how close you are to the mic. Make sure you are not too far away but not too close either. The former can introduce echo, the latter distortion or unwanted mouth noises.