swrs: Basic Session Breakdown

A basic home recording session will have very similar steps no matter what DAW you choose. Obviously some will have certain advantages over others in certain areas, and no two are exactly the same.

Lets say we’re creating a song that has drums, bass, acoustic guitar, and vocals. From start to finish, the session would look something like this.

1. Power on the computer and interface, and plug a MIDI keyboard into computer.

2. Open your DAW and create the session. Create a master track/fader to keep your overall mix from clipping.

3. Create a MIDI track for the drums. Select your drum samples and pan them accordingly (some kits open up pre-panned, and drum samples can be changed at any time).

4. Create a MIDI track for the bass. Select the bass sound (this can be changed at any time).

5. Use the bass and drums to create the framework of your song, usually with a combination of recording in real time, drawing in notes, and editing.

7. Create a very basic mix for your drums and bass.

6. Create an audio track in your DAW and set the input to input 1.

7. Plug a large-diaphragm condenser microphone into input 1 on your interface and aim it at the desired location on the acoustic guitar.

*condenser mics require phantom power which will often show up as a +48v button on your interface

8. Set the pre amp level while the guitarist is playing along to the music so far in their headphones.

9. Record the guitar track and do a basic mix including that.

10. Create an audio track in your DAW, and keep in on input 1.

11. Reset the pre amp to suit the vocals while the vocalist is singing along to the song so far in their headphones.

12. Record the vocals.

13. Now that everything is recorded you can start to mix for real.

14. Solo the MIDI drum track. Go into the individual drums and ad compression, eq, reverb, and additional panning as needed to create a solid drum mix.

15. Go between soloing the bass track and listening to it along with the drums. Ad compression, eq, and panning as needed. Find a good level relationship between bass and drums.

16. Go between soloing the guitar track and listening to it along with the mix so far. Ad compression, eq, and panning as needed. Find a good level for the guitar in the mix.

17. Go between soloing the vocal track and listening to it along with the mix so far. Ad compression, eq, and panning as needed. Find a good level for the vocals in the mix.

18. Create 2 auxiliary tracks. On the first one ad a reverb plugin. On the second use delay. Create auxiliary sends on both the guitar and vocal tracks. Blend the dry sound of the guitar and vocals with sound on the reverb and delay tracks to desired effect.

19. Go over and over this mix, tweaking the settings as needed in order to create a mix in which all sounds are given sonic space to exist in, and nothing is interfering with anything else. Also get the volume relationships between instruments at desired levels. Settle on a good mix.

*If you haven’t taken a break yet, now is the time. At this point you’ve been working on the same song for hours and hours. Your ears and brain are tired, and you run the risk of working backwards and ruining some of your hard work. (the law of diminishing returns) Tired ears may hear problems in the mix that are not really there, or miss problems that are, and they tend to cause us to overcompensate. Come back to it tomorrow.  

20. With fresh ears listen to your mix again. If you hear problems, make adjustments to fix them.

21. Bounce, render, or export your song to a wav or mp3 file and save it to a CD or flash drive, or upload it to the internet where you can access it. Listen to your mix on as many pairs of speakers and headphones as you can. How does it hold up? If you need to make adjustments go back and do so.

*Keep in mind that this is just the mix. It has not been mastered yet, and so it will not be as loud as the final product. Just turn up the volume to compensate.

22. Repeat step 21 as many times as needed, if needed. Once your final mix is satisfactory you are ready to master.

23. To begin mastering, open a new session in your DAW and import the wav file of your final mix of the song. Use one stereo audio track and a master fader in the session.

24. Using a series of plugins that usually include variations of compression and eq with a limiter at the end, find the ideal peak volume and dynamic range for your song.

25. Bounce or export the final version of your song.