Tips – Home Recording Part 2: Getting a Good Input Volume Level

Second Installment in the Continuing Series: Tips – Home Recording

by Owen Critchley


In part 1 of my tips – home recording, we talked about the importance of imagining the instrumentation, style of performance and our desired mood for the song, well before the home studio recording session starts.
[Home Recording Tips – Part 1]

I think I also pointed out that “he who understands and controls the most little details, wins.”

Let’s continue with Part 2 and talk about one such little detail:

Tips – Home Recording. Setting input volume levels

You see, our source sound can be colored and altered in many unexpected ways. This is  especially true in the home recording studio because we are most likely recording in a room that was not specifically designed for audio recording.

Therefore, it is important that we at least take control of the things which we are able to control. Taking a few minutes to set the volume input properly that goes to track is one of them.

You may not believe it, but way too many folks recording at home, spend all kinds of time getting a great source sound for guitar, synth, vocal or whatever, only to totally blow it by not bothering to set a good input level. The original sound of course, becomes totally colored and altered.

  • A wimpy input level? Thin, hissy, low energy sound sent to the track.
  • An overly hot input level? Distorted, flattened sound with no nuance or life.

To make matters more absurd, this is the point when many folks are convinced their equipment sucks and begin scouring the online discussion groups to try to find the next expensive toy to buy. But the sad part is that no new shiny studio toy will save them from themselves if they don’t learn to deal with the details.

Simply, your input should average a couple of dB’s under the “zero” point on your meters. This will leave room for unexpected peaks during the performance while also maintaining a good signal to noise ratio. In other words, you want to receive mostly Signal i.e. the source sound.  And not much noise and hiss from room noise and/or the equipment.

tips home recording input volume

More importantly a healthy input level enables your recording software to “assemble” and reproduce the full spectrum of the source sound you worked so hard getting. When we get a full bodied reproduction of each of our source sounds onto their tracks, we’re golden. Instead of trying squeeze blood from a stone with bad input levels, our mixing and editing process will be a breeze because our sounds will respond beautifully to even our smallest sonic tweaks like EQ and compression.

Tips – Home Recording. How to set input volume levels without being a session buzz kill

Nothing drains the energy out of a recording session quicker than the person who is engineering asking to test his input volume levels by saying daft things like, “Say something… give me a level. Keep talking. Again… again. Say “1, 2, 3, 4, 5,..” Keep it up.”

He may be able to make sure everything is working, but the level he is getting is going to be pretty useless, because it has nothing to do with what is actually going to be recorded to track.

Even in the recording home studio environment, an engineer should always try to do his job so that no one is even aware that he is doing his job.

It should be done more like this: Tell the person who is performing the track, that you’re going to play back the song and he should play along to warm up for a few minutes. Yes, you’ll be setting your levels as the guy is playing or singing, but secretly, you’ll also be recording the whole time as well.


Two reasons. With todays recording software, you’ve got almost unlimited track space, so who cares if you have a few rough “warm up” type tracks? Second, while the performer thinks he is just “warming up” he or she will often be at their most relaxed and creative point of the whole session and you don’t want some great stuff he or she is playing to disappear into the ethers. Record it. It might be garbage. Who cares? It might also be gold.

So, after the performer has fun warming up for just a few minutes singing or playing along with the playback, and we have secretly saved it all to track, you will have set your input level accurately and in context.

As engineer, you’re now ready to ask, “Ok! Ready to try one?”

Read more tips – home recording and home studio tips in Part 3

Don’t forget to sign up for my Free Home Recording lessons..

Owen Critchley
Warner/LoudThud recording artist
Author of Easy Home Recording Blueprint and
Musician’s Blueprint to Getting Heard