The threat of recession seems ever closer, when instead of folding money we have folding banks, but that doesn't mean you can't upgrade your studio at minimal cost — as you'll see from our extensive feature on the subject elsewhere in this issue. In the meantime, though, let's look at some simple techniques that you can use to improve your studio and recordings on a shoestring budget.
Most small studio shortcomings can be traced back to poor acoustics rather than sub‑standard equipment, so drag out those old duvets when you're tracking. Reflections from nearby walls are responsible for much of the coloration that so many people try to solve by buying more expensive mics or mic preamps, so instead of laying out more cash, hang a thick duvet behind the singer and see how much that cleans up the sound of a bedroom recording. A lot can be achieved through simple improvisation; think of the walls as mirrors and the singer as a light source, to figure out where best to put your absorbers.
In the control room, or the control end of the bedroom, something a bit more permanent is desirable, and there are several DIY acoustic panel approaches described in past issues of Sound On Sound, most based on inexpensive materials like mineral wool or glass fibre. If you try hanging one of these on each side of your listening position, you'll probably find the stereo imaging cleans up a treat. While a more rigorous approach would undoubtedly yield better results, the difference between no acoustic treatment and a couple of basic absorbers can be enormous.
Another cheap and cheerful way to upgrade is simply to go on-line and look to see if there are any updates for your DAW software or plug-ins. Many of these add new features and more functionality. This seems obvious, but once your system has grown past a certain size it can be hard to keep track of what is up to date and what isn't, so an evening set aside to check on software versions can be time well spent. And while you're on there, check the user forums and manufacturers' web sites relating to the soft synths you use, as there are thousands of free patches to be had that can breathe new life into something you thought you were very familiar with.
Of course, you may have some actual cash available, in which case why not look around for expansion packs for what you already have? New sounds are a great way to stimulate your musical creativity. For example, most of the mainstream virtual drum kit plug-ins have add‑on kits that don't cost a great deal, yet they can take your sound in an entirely new direction. The same is true of sample libraries, and while most of the good stuff out there has to be paid for, there are plenty of free samples to be had if you have the time to audition them.
And finally, there's an absolutely massive collection of technique articles covering all sorts of subjects on the Sound On Sound web site, and some time spent browsing through these might set you thinking about new ways of doing things. At the end of the day, it's the way you approach song creation and recording that makes more difference than anything else.
Paul White Editor In Chief