10 home studio mistakes every producer makes

Home studio from the producer's perspective
(Image credit: Getty)

As a music producer in 2023, you have everything you need to make great music: every instrument, effect, sound, AI app, groove, beat and riff at your fingertips to create amazing tunes, fast. Whether that's on a smartphone or with an orchestra, with a band or on a laptop, you have access to every tool you can imagine.

However, having the keys to the studio sweetshop has made many of us bedroom producers complacent and perhaps a little bit lazy. When it comes to making music, we're ignoring the obvious, forgetting the basics and using technology to cover the cracks in our production process. We're falling into some obvious and some not so obvious traps when it comes to making music in the 2020s.

We all need to take a step back, count to 10, breathe deeply and re-examine how we're producing music, because many of us - the MusicRadar team included - are making the same mistakes, over and over. 

Here, then, is how you can avoid the 10 home studio mistakes every producer makes…

1. Papering over the cracks with gear

It's the big one, and we're all guilty of this to some extent. Your tunes aren't going quite the way you planned, or maybe you've heard a track by a great artist and discovered the gear they use, or maybe you've read a great review of some new gear on this very website. Either way, you think that more gear is the answer to your problems. It'll create that lead sound you've been searching for, or that solid bass… Throw some money at the problem and it will go away, right? Wrong. Not always anyway. Unless you have seen a specific piece of gear that clearly plugs a gap in your studio arsenal, then the chances are that just getting more gear won't solve the problem. And maybe even reducing your gear options could help. Cut down the gear and you have less choice and you're more likely to make mix and compositional decisions faster. Which brings us to…

2. Feeding plugin bloat

An extension of the previous point, but a much easier trap to fall into is plugin bloat. Computer software is affordable and usually brilliant. The latest plugins are designed to turn your heads, deliver sounds you didn't know you wanted and effects that will transform your productions, right? They're cheap and can even be free. Why not just grab a few and install them? Plugin bloat is that feeling that comes just after the feeling of pride you get when you open your plugin library and realise you have 100 compressors. 'Very cool,' you initially think, followed by crushing disappointment when you realise you actually have to choose one. Half an hour later you're weeping as no music has been created and mixed. It's the most first world of problems: the tyranny of too much choice. Keep your options brilliant but limited and you're more likely to avoid the dreaded plugin bloat and actually get some tunes done. 

3. Not realising your gear's potential

We don't need no education, right? Oh yes we do. Another mistake is not learning how the gear you do own actually works, inside and out. The chances are you haven't studied your gear manuals from cover to cover - we're the same, don't worry - but if you learn what's hidden within your studio equipment's many layers, what to find in those deep-dive menus, you might just find out that it does way more than you thought it did, which will mean buying less gear in the long run.

4. Monitors aren't important, are they?

Colourful synths, beautiful guitars, powerful computers and outboard gear with flashing lights are what makes a great studio, right? We all focus on the equipment that makes the noise, but actually the most important items in our studios are the speakers we use to listen to it. These studio monitors must be accurate, with a flat frequency response, so that we can hear every detail in the music we produce. It's important to hear the mistakes so we can correct them when mixing, so your monitors must be truthful. So as well as the headlining-stealing noise making hardware and software, spare several thoughts for your studio monitors. Your mixes will thank you.

5. Looping like crazy

Most of us are probably using 10% of our DAW's functionality 90% of the time

Let's face it. DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) have been looping since the DAWn of time - or whenever the first sequencer was invented. That's pretty much what they are designed to do. Creating a 4-, 8- or 16-bar loop is the first process that many of us utilise when starting a tune, because it's so easy to loop a section of music to get a quick feel for how your song will progress. But you need to make sure your song actually does progress from this looping stage. We have way too many ideas sitting on our hard drive as loops, mostly because we didn't bother smashing out of the loop. Only once you break the loop will you fully realise a song's potential, so don't stay loopy, and break that left and right pointer wall as soon as you can. 

6. Not making the most of our DAW power

We've stressed how important it is to learn how your gear works but it is even more vital to do this when it comes to the software at the core of your studio, the DAW. In very broad strokes most of us are probably using 10% of our DAW's functionality 90% of the time. But get to know that other 90% - the functions, the key commands, the shortcuts and even how to use an external controller with a DAW - and your overall workflow will improve no end. It's like learning a language and only being able to order a beer. Oh, ok, you just want to order a beer, don't you.

7. Messy space, messy mind

Having a great workflow in the software domain is important, then, but having a great workflow in the real world is just as important. And that means losing the mess, keeping everything tidy and within reach, and keeping your studio environment clean. Gear attracts dust - boy does it attract dust - and there are loads of solutions to keep it at bay including decksavers and dust covers. Use these or clean your studio regularly. A clean environment will make your studio more welcoming and creative. A physical space that is organised is as important as having an organised mind, so a tidy, well-organised studio can lead to an inspirational and creative workflow. A good place to start would be with an upgrade to a more spacious, better organised studio desk.

8. Louder is better

If we play the mix loud, we'll be able to hear all the detail, right? And it sounds a lot better! We can't stress this one enough: your monitors might be able to play your mixes back to you with huge amounts of power, but you should always mix at low levels - perhaps only very occasionally nudging the volume up to check certain passages. Your future hearing, and your relationship with your neighbours, depend on it.

9. Thinking long mixing sessions are great

“Man, we were in the studio for days working on that one”. “Get some pizzas in - we're going to work on this track until it’s done!” It's an all too frequent scenario - and you've spent a fortune on the gear in your studio, so you might as well use it, right? But taking breaks from a long composing or mix session will give you a new perspective and retain your sanity. Even taking a 15-minute break will help or, better still, sleep on it. Just don't make the break between recording sessions last years. Which leads nicely to…

10. Not finishing tracks

And finally… well, it's not final, and that really is the point. DAWs make it easy to come up with ideas, and they are full of inspiring tools to work with but, if you're anything like us, you'll have hundreds of these ideas (see 'loops' above) sitting on your hard drive with few complete. Finishing tunes is hard, mostly because it's so easy to come back to a production and tweak it. But finishing a song will also give you an enormous amount of pride and satisfaction which should be your main goal (in life). We have a whole feature on finishing tracks here, so go for it: export your audio and be proud!

Andy Jones

Andy has been writing about music production and technology for 30 years having started out on Music Technology magazine back in 1992. He has edited the magazines Future Music, Keyboard Review, MusicTech and Computer Music, which he helped launch back in 1998. He owns way too many synthesizers.

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