For a couple of months now, I have been meaning to write an article on mixing based on my experiences since a lot of folks have been asking me to. I must state that I am no expert myself and have learnt through trial and error. I started mixing about a year back when I joined Muziboo and did not know a whole lot and had noone to explain it to me at that time. So I started googling and reading as much as I could. This helped me get started. With each song I mixed, by objective was to learn one thing new. This kinda helped me improve slowly but surely. Later on I also got tips from people like Sunny and Jay that helped immensely. I hope this will help some of you improve the fundamentals and hopefully get you more inquisitive and start asking the right questions.

Lets start off my looking at some of the main components in basic home recording:

1. Microphone: There are two types of microphones you can choose from (broadly speaking). They are Condenser Microphones and Dynamic Microphones:

  • Condenser Microphones:
    Without going into too much technical detail, condenser microphones are the type of microphones typically used in studios. As compared to dynamic microphones, condensers have greater frequency and transient response. They are generally much more sensitive. There are two types of condenser microphones: Large Diaphram and Small Diaphram microphones. Large Diaphram condensers are recommended for recording vocals. Google as much as you like to read more 🙂 Couple of important things to keep in mind when it comes to condenser microphones are: 

    1. They are extremely sensitive to noise. For this very reason, condensers are normally used only in studios. If noise is an issue, I wouldn’t recommend a condenser microphone.
    2. If you decide to go with a condenser microphone, you need to keep in mind that the audio interface/sound card (explained later) you purchase needs to have phantom power support.
  • Dynamic Microphones:
    These are generally more popular when it comes to home recordings/live shows. Dynamic microphones don’t require their own power supply like condenser microphones. Their sound quality is generally not as accurate, however. Most dynamic microphones have a limited frequency response, which makes them well-suited, for noisy environments like a live show etc. They are also pretty well suited for home recordings. The most popular dynamic microphone out there is the Shure SM58 and I would strongly recommend this mic to anyone looking for one!

2. Audio Interface/Sound card:

The sound card or the audio interface connects the sound source (microphone, guitar, keyboard) to your computer. It converts the audio from analog to digital and back from digital to analog. An audio interface provides different input and output options and is often equipped with one or more pre-amps to enhance the audio signal. If you plan to use a Condenser microphone, be sure to get an audio interface/sound card with Phantom Power support as explained earlier. When purchasing an external audio interface, you have the option to go for a USB or Firewire based interface. I would personally recommend going for a fast firewire based interface.

Some good examples of Audio Interfaces are the M-Audio Firewire Solo, the Edirol UA-25, Lexicon Omega/Alpha, the Apogee Duet (Mac)

3. Studio Monitor Headphones/Speakers

A studio monitor basically refers to speakers/headphones that reproduce sound accurately. In other words they give a flat response thereby accurately reproducing tonal qualities of the source audio. Studio Monitors are absolutely essential when it comes to mixing as this ensures that your mixes are accurate. I personally like to use studio monitor headphones while mixing as this makes sure that room acoustics dont interfere with the mixing.

Some of my favorite studio monitor headphones are by Sony, AKG, Sennheiser and Behringer. When it comes to studio monitor speakers, my favorite brands are Mackie, Edirol, M-Audio, Alesis etc.

4. Software:

Needless to say, all of the above components are meaningless if you dont have proper multi track recording software. A multi track recording software allows you to record vocals, instruments etc along with a karaoke track if you like. You can then process the vocals however you like to get desired effects. We will talk in detail about mixing vocals later on.

My favorite picks when it comes to software are Steinberg Cubase, Steinberg Nuendo and Logic Studio (Mac). When it comes to freebies, theres Audacity. However it has very limited capabilities.

Basic Guidelines for Recording/Mixing

Now that we’ve covered the basic components, lets get into mixing. I am ONLY talking about recording vocals here as thats all I do. Below are the basic steps involved in my recording and mixing process:

1. First of all, whenever I record vocals, I record it absolutely dry. In other words I dont apply any effects during the recording phase. I know some folks on muziboo use mixers and apply reverb etc through the mixer. I personally wouldn’t recommend this. The reason is very simple. If your vocals are recorded dry, they you can tweak it however you want using software. However if you already have effects applied during the recording phase, there is noway you can revert to a clean signal to change the effects at a later point in time.

2. I normally import the karaoke track into my project and add a second audio track for my vocals. I make sure that the levels are all set properly for the mic input (on the audio interface) and the overall mix (what I am listening to on my monitoring headphones). It is also important to make sure that the recording environment is as quite as possible. So switch off fans/ac’s/heaters, close the door, put ur phone on silent (you get the idea :-)) After all this, I FINALLY record my vocals. Sometimes this means multiple tracks (harmonies, backing vocals etc)

3. Once the recording is complete, I normally clean up the tracks by applying a noise gate to get rid of unwanted noises. I also silence the portions where I am not singing.

4. Before I explain the next step, its important to understand the common effects used for vocals:

  • Compression – A compressor is an automatic volume control. Loud sounds over a certain threshold are reduced in level; quiet sounds are not reduced. In this way it reduces the dynamic range of an audio signal. This may be done for aesthetic reasons, to deal with technical limitations of  audio equipment, or to improve audibility of audio in noisy environments. Some compressors do have presets for certain types of audio, and these can be a good starting point, but remember that you will still have to adjust the input/threshold for it to work properly because every recording is different
  • Deessing – This plugin removes sibilance ( the “sh” sound) from vocal recordings.
  • Equalization – Equalization (EQ ) is the process of changing the frequency envelope of a sound. It is used to correct, or make equal, the frequency response of a signal. More later!
  • Reverb – Reverberation is the persistence of sound in a particular space after the original sound is removed. The reverb effect basically simulates the scenario when sound is produced in a space, and large number of echoes build up and then slowly decay as the sound is absorbed by the walls and air. For vocals, the general rule of thumb is to use more reverb for softer numbers like ballads, and go easy on reverb when it comes to rock and other fast paced numbers.

Effects can be applied in one of two ways: As a SEND effect of as an INSERT effect. You can find more about the differences between the two here.

All you really need to know is that reverb is always placed as a SEND effect and compression, equalizaiton, deessing etc are always applied as inserts.

5. So now continuing with our recording/mixing process, I would then apply a compresser and a deesser as two separate inserts to my vocal track. I would then use equalization to modify the vocal characteristics depending on the song. Sometimes I want to thin my vocals.. sometimes I want to add depth. So it really depends on the song. You can find some basic guidelines on equalization on the web. It also helps to apply some equalization to the karaoke track to make the vocals and the backing track blend. Remember that the objective is not to make the vocals stick out a lot. That gives a very karaoke feel to the recording. All the elements should blend well.

6. Once you are done applying all the effects, the next objective is to apply special effects to certain portions of the song (depending on the song). For example, when I covered “Trapped” by Indus Creed, there is a portion in the middle where I sing Alaaaps (for lack of a better work). I wanted to sustain those notes more and add a heavy reverb/delay. So I selected just that portion of the song, right clicked –> selected the reverb plugin and applied it to just that portion. Then I applied Gain to that portion to make it sound the way I want. I hope this example gives you an idea of what I am talking about.

7. The next step is to use the software mixer to adjust the levels of the various tracks to make sure that all the levels match up. Make sure that the backing vocals/harmonies are at a much lower level than the main vocals. Also if you are mixing a duet, dont keep the male and female voice at the same gain. It really depends how the vocals were recorded. You have to make sure the indicators match up evenly across the board.

8. So at this point, we are very close to DONE. The next step is to select the output channel and apply some overall equalization. Most applications provide some presets. I normally just use the presets when it comes to eq for the whole track. I also like to add compression to the entire track.

9. At this point, you are more or less done. You can convert the entire track to an mp3 and call it a day!!

Some other effects I like to use now and then are below:

  1. Chorus Effect – Chorus effect allows you to add multiple layers of your vocals with some slight lag between the different layers of vocals to give a richer fuller chorus like sound. This is useful for certain portions in some songs.
  2. Flanger – A flanger is in some ways similar to a chorus effect. It mixes two identical signal and introduces an even changing time delay between the two thereby creating a unique sound.
  3. Vocoder – A vocoder plugin takes your voice and gives it a very synthetic robot like sound. An example where I used this was my cover of One More Time by Daft Punk.
  4. Antares Vocal Toolkit – This is another plugin that I like to use at times. It helps you modify vocal characteristics and produce certain unique sounds. It helps you model throats, add breathiness, make a voice deeper etc.
  5. Vocal Panning – Vocal panning is the technique used to to make vocals sound like they are on the left channel or right channel. So for instance if you had two vocal tracks and you wanted one to come off the left channel and the other off the right channel, panning is what you would use.

I prepared a short demo for everyone, since a Picture is worth a thousand words. You can find the demo below. 

I have tried to keep this article to the mere basics since I know my target audience. If you need further details, feel free to email me at I would be more than happy to help.


21 thoughts on “Home Recording – My 2 Cents for Newbies”

  1. great work George…we all can learn from this…thanx for taking out the time for the benefit of others 🙂

  2. Thanks George-Your crisp one brought in a lot of clarity for me personally on send and insert effects.

    As a sequel,probably you can share your experience of spacing various instruments in a stereo field.

    Great stuff!

  3. Hey George Excellent and very clear article for dummies like me:) !! Yet to check the demo since i have some issues with flash. Have some questions. Will go thru this again and post them.. Thanks again !

  4. Hey I cant hear to vidya’s voice or the music when u talk abt balance.. u may want to check that.. or am i missing something?

  5. hai George,

    Thank you for this very useful information you have provided on recording and mixing. Could u explain on the setting of ‘delay’ wet mix and dry mix for optimal quality while mixing.


  6. Thanks a lot George! I too have bookmarked this page.
    Once I learn and master this I hope to sing and mix more often 🙂

  7. Hi Guys,

    Just saw this interesting section, which should be helpful to a lot of people wanting some “enlightenment” in areas such as hardware, software, recording, audio processing, mixing and mastering. This is a vast area no doubt, and there are many products out there addressing this and competing against each other on several features and price-points, ranging from budget to very expensive.

    George, you have taken a lot of effort in presenting the fundamentals, and kudos to you for sharing your knowledge in this community. From the music I have heard in Muziboo a lot of people could do with help in this area to better their recordings and mixes. My congratulations to you on your efforts which is to be very much appreciated.

    I found your Cubase video conceptually useful, but would have loved it more if I was able to hear the tracks that you were working with, to appreciate the pre and post processed sound while you were demonstrating it. I find this rather an irony, as we are talking about sound and this to me is a vital ommission in your video!. If you can rectify this that would be awesome for people to get inspired.

    If I may, I would like to share a few general things here on this subject for newbies in particular:

    1. The induction phase into professional audio involves getting your hands dirty, struggling for hours and getting frustrated!!. But once you are over this phase you are well on your way to making decent music. Try to understand the vital differences between consumer level audio (hi-fi, home theatre etc) and pro audio (studios). These are different communities with some overlaps.

    2. Study the theory before you dive into playing with hardware and software, otherwise you will be shooting in the dark. My suggestion is just get a book on Home Recording, so that you can read anywhere at your leisure. There is a lot of theory behind all this.

    3. Decide what your budget is as there are innumerable products available on the market addressing many needs. Be prepared to commit and make the necessary investment to give yourself a reasonably decent setup. Be cautious about second-hand hardware and hacked sofware etc. as this will only get you undone down the track .. guaranteed!.

    4. Learn how to troubleshoot calmly by a process of logical elimination. Once you string along a few pieces of hardware and software you are well into a complex environment and there is no way out but to know your system intimately. This is particularly relevant for people who get their system built and configured by someone else. It really pays off to learn the theory and do the setup yourself so that you are in control of your system. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to get your theory down pat!.

    5. Digressing a bit, listen to stuff using both headphones and speakers and see which one give you more clarity and error detection. You may be surprised with the experimentation in this area to give you a better mix.

    6. Indian music has a lot of nuances so you need very good audio interfaces to accurately convert analog to digital (back and forth) and you need to do it at a decent bit and sample rate. Digital distortion can play a part in how good your music sounds. There are differences between cheap and expensive audio interfaces for a reason .. the more expensive ones have better converters and they sound really good.

    7. Ahh,… endless area! .. will stop for now.

    Most of all I would say that people interested in progressing in this area need to spend a lot of time and there is no substitute for self-learning with a bit of help. Guidance like what George has provided here is very valuable and you should be gobbling it up and go and do your own practicals and further studies in this area.

    On a personal note, this whole area is close to my heart too and my day job is allied to pro audio too!.

    Cheers and best of luck to all Newbies .. welcome to the great world that will open your ears!!.

  8. Arvind R had added the following post to the same discussion on muziboo:

    “Just want to add my 2 cents on USB Mics. There was a question above from Radhika regarding this and she said that she uses the USB Samson C01U Condenser Mic. From another post of hers I know that she is using this type of mic with a laptop to do her recording.

    Let me tell you that for a laptop an USB mic which directly plugs into one of your USB ports will give you a sound input, that you have to select in your software to then start recording from the USB mic. Although USB mics are good for just directly attaching without the need for an external audio interface the limitations are quite a few and I note them as below:

    Limitations of USB Mics:
    1. You are limited by the length of the USB cable to setup your USB mic. Long USB extensions will degrade sound quality quite a bit without the use of a ‘repeater’ at additional expense. Whereas with a conventional mic you can have a cable as long as you want basically, as long as you are using a good balanced (XLR) professional cable.

    2. USB mics are aimed as a cheap solution to getting sound into your system. Although the sound will be decent it does not compare to more professional condenser and dynamic mics which will have a lot more headroom to deliver without any ‘noise’. USB mics seem to be targetting the Podcaster who wants to record just plain talking voice, rather than belting out a song with your lungs at full stretch!.

    3. There can be latency issues with USB mics that are built on a budget. Latency basically refers to timing issues .. basically you hearing it a few milliseconds after the event which can put your singing out of sync with the music track. This has been noted in Radhika’s songs (Piya Bina) and I am wondering if this is because of latency issues related to her USB mic or her singing. I fear it could be the former!.

    4. With an audio interface (or sound card) that offers connectivity via a balanced (XLR 3-pin) cable for the mic, you can hook up any mic and try out different mics. Whereas with an USB mic you are pretty much stuck to that mic and its quality. There is no way of trying out any mic you want .. there are some lovely mics out there that you cannot try once you commit to an USB connection for the mic .. you are pretty limited.

    5. You may be limited with the sample and bit rate as well with an USB mic. The Samson that Radhika uses for example can only record at a maximum of 16-bit rate and 48KH sampling rate. There are proper audio interfaces that will record at 24-bit and at 192Khz smapling rate.

    In general, for professional recording, as it stands today I consider the following to be the best to not so best in terms of connectivity.

    1. Best – PCI Express Interface .. basically sits inside your computer and will connect to an external breakout box or just have a bunch of cables at the back. Because it is on your motherboard you will get better throughput with better everything!.

    2. Firewire 400 Audio Interface. .. firewire’s bandwidth allows it to do multi-track recording so this rocks in as second best. I have noted that if you are going to use a laptop, not all laptops may be compatible with all firewire out there.

    3. USB 2 .0 Audio Interface .. depending on brand there are some really good ones using the USB connection for an external audio interface. Some brands use Extreme USB 2 technology that are proprietary and give you quite good performance without any issues whatsoever. The Digidesign M-Boxes use USB and they are pretty much flawless.

    4. Last on the list are things like onboard motherboard sound, or consumer level sound cards, or USB specific mics like the Samson .. this category is more aimed at the consumer level for casual use and the flexibility and quality will be limited. These are all more aimed at surround sound, podcasting etc.

    Hope this made some sense!.

    There are quite small portable audio interfaces now on the market that are firewire and usb aimed at the serious recording enthusiast complete with XLR mic input on the little boxes. These are the ones to go for if you are on a budget. Brands include Digi Design, M-Audio, ESI -Audio, Presonus and the list goes on…they have some very good interfaces..”

  9. George, Thanks a billion. Good job. This will be very helpful for a New Bie like myself.

  10. George, nicely done. Lots of useful info here. Have a question regarding volume equalization. In the demo, I could see the Vidya’s vocal volume is not uniform. Is this taken care of by the compression step or do you also manually adjust volume levels for certain sections?


  11. George,
    Thanks for very informative and solutions oriented discussion. It’d be of great help to a learner like me to manage my home recordings…It gets quite frustrating but is common for home recordings when your good singing effort fails to be effective due to lack of blending with the music or K-Track. I appreciate your sharing of basic essentials through this forum.
    Thanks, Buddy!

  12. George, I can’t tell you enough how much I appreciated this article. At first I was a bit overwhelmed at the thought of putting this together for my own recording, but you have made it so simple to understand ~ and I now feel I can do this thing!!! thanks so much. Also, thanks to Arvind R for the additional information. I will get with you soon George!!!

    Laura C

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