Making a High Quality Recording of Acoustic Instruments

Written by Gary and David Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.Gary Ewer

Gary Ewer is the author of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” suite of e-books. Download them today, and discover how to turn your songs into hits.

Microphone and Mixer - Doing a Home RecordingMaking a demo recording of your songs is an important step to making it in the professional songwriting world. A low-quality recording will peg you as an amateur who doesn’t have a vision, so it is absolutely crucial to spare no expense to get a high-quality recording out there. The good news is that you don’t need to remortgage the house to do it. Here’s some basic advice.

The real challenge is adding “real” instruments to your recording. It’s hard for the home musician to get the quality they need. And in most cases, (especially if you’re doing an audition recording for a college program) it might be best to rent a studio and get a professional to help you. But if you are in a pinch for either time or money, here are some suggestions for doing a quick home recording with acceptable quality:

  1. Use a good microphone, plugged into an audio interface, plugged into the soundcard input, or USB port, of the computer.  You can rent microphones from most music supply stores relatively cheaply.
  2. For a good transparent sound for string and/or wind instruments, use a condenser mic rather than a dynamic.
  3. 3 common condenser mic models: Oktava MC012, RODE NT1, and AKG C414B. There are of course many, but this is a good start.
  4. If you can’t get a condenser mic, a good “workhorse” dynamic model is the Shure SM57, or SM58
  5. A typical small USB audio interface is something like the TASCAM US-122mkII. There are many similar manufacturers and models. Look for any interface that allows you to plug in an XLR microphone cable (XLR is the standard 3-pin mic cable connector).
  6. Free recording software: “Audacity”, available at

If you’re recording real instruments, such as flute, violin, trumpet, or other such instruments, here are some general guidelines:

  1. Smaller rooms can have problems sounding “boxy” and hollow because of parallel walls close together.  If you must record in a small room, place random “stuff” in it to absorb sound reflections. Randomly placed boxes, books, blankets, flags, curtains, etc.
  2. Larger rooms like livingrooms will be better.
  3. The closer you are to the mic, the less the room figures in to the sound.  Pro: ugly sounding rooms are diminished.  Con: Close sounds don’t always work well with strings and winds.  Do test recordings and listen for the difference.
  4. In a large livingroom, try a mic about 3 to 5 ft. away, then 1 foot, and see which one sounds better, and make your mic placement decisions based on this.
  5. If you are using two mics to get stereo, place them close to each other, a few feet away, in an X or V pattern, to get a bit of a stereo effect.
  6. If you are using more than one mic, do not use close/far placement because phase issues (and issues beyond the scope of this article) can make your recording sound strange.

Whether you’re creating a demo of your songs, or getting ready to audition for a college instrumental program, most people will judge you based on the quality of that recording. If you’re not sure what you’re doing, it’s always worth it to spend a bit of money and get it done right.

Gary Ewer is author of “Gary Ewer’s Easy Music Theory” and “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting”. David Ewer is the owner of Spring Day Music, which publishes the Easy Music Theory program.

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    • Studio recordings can be really expensive, and so I’d recommend as a first step trying to find someone with a good home setup, and go the professional studio route as a second option. If you have a local university or college with a sound recording program you’ll likely find students who are willing to record your music for a price a lot lower than a pro studio. The simple way of finding out what a studio is charging these days is to call a few of them. Their price will often depend on the equipment they have.

  1. Thans for being here. I have a little studio where I write and record most of the day and I’m trying to figure out if it’s the microphone or the amp it’s in that makes the difference in a recording of voice and/ or guitar.

    I’m wondering if i shpoul get a good sennheiser or a good quality amp..or maybe even both……….What would you recommend…Thanks


    • Hi Paul:

      In almost all cases, a poor quality vocal recording (assuming you have a decent mic) is the fault of the mic preamp. If you’re experiencing poor sound quality from your recordings, my instincts would tell me to consider replacing the interface/mixer first.


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