Home Recording Guide For Rock And Metal –
Part 4: Home Studio Workflow

Home Studio Workflow - title image

This is the fourth part of the Home Recording Guide series, where we’re going to dissect how to get the most out of the home recording sessions with your band. This includes planning and preparations as well as the workflow of running recording sessions in a home studio.

1. Home studio vs. commercial facility

Before we get into specific workflow tips, let’s compare the home studio to commercial facilities first to spot possible weak points of a typical home studio setting. In the direct comparison you can immediately see some similarities, at least on the surface:

Home studio vs. commercial studio – similarities

  • Main goal / desired results: In both cases the goal comes down to maximizing the quality of the production to provide a pleasurable listening experience.

  • Basic recording techniques: Most recording techniques and principles apply in pretty much all studio settings.

  • Ideally: basic workflow and order of production phases (we’ll get to that later).

Some other points, even though simple to understand, might not be so obvious and highlight the big differences between the two studio concepts:

Home studio vs. commercial studio – differences

    • Acoustics: Room size, geometry and amount of treatment in commercial studios make them generally not comparable to home studios regarding acoustics. You simply can’t expect to get any kind of ambience like that in your home studio. However, you can still get great results, and you can often work around the ambience issue in post-production when needed – if you’ve treated your home studio like recommended in part 2 and part 3 of this Home Recording Guide Series.

    • Booking & time schedule: In a professional commercial studio, you need to book sessions well in advance and often pay flat rates per day. If you need more time to finish a record, you will need to pay for additional studio time. And because this time is so valuable, it’s extremely important to prepare intensively for the recordings so that you can use the time as efficiently as possible. By contrast, in your home studio you don’t have that pressure of needing to get things done quickly for financial reasons. However, the difference in the importance of preparing for the recording process is probably smaller than you think, but we’ll get to that later.

    • Flexibility: Canceling a recording session just one day ahead of time (as an example) would cost you at least some portion of the original fee in any commercial studio – no such thing in your own home studio. The only restrictions here are your own calendar.

    • Time frame, deadlines: This ties in with the previous two points. If you go to a studio, it will likely only have a limited time frame available to book sessions in. This automatically dictates the deadline when the recording phase must be finished. When self-recording, you can mostly set the deadlines on your own.

    • Accountability: As you see, going to a commercial studio comes with various restrictions, however these restrictions also have one upside: Dependencies and external deadlines hold you accountable and keep you from slacking off. This can play an important role in whether you actually finish your project and meet your own expectations.

    • Personnel, roles and responsibilities: In stark contrast to home recording, a session at a commercial facility involves additional personnel dedicated to specific roles and responsibilities. At the minimum this might be an engineer who runs the session, but there can be many more people involved, depending on the nature of the project and the specific studio: A producer, an engineer, maybe even a tape/DAW operator, an assistant engineer… The point is you don’t need to worry about any technical questions and profit from the experience and guidance of the studio professionals. When you record on your own at home, you miss out on that, but with the benefit of being independent and flexible.

Now that we have clarified the differences between home and commercial recording studios, we can investigate the things you might be able to “steal” from those big houses.


Microphone (left), DAW Mixing Session (right)

2. Separation of production phases

As written above under “similarities”, separating the production into specific phases can be beneficial. It’s something that is pretty much always the case when you book a commercial studio for your production. In general, the whole production process consists of songwriting and/or pre-production, recording, editing, mixing, and mastering.

But why should you do the same thing in your home studio and separate all of those, when you can just do whatever comes to mind in the moment? The following reasons explain that:

  • Focus: By avoiding mixing up different tasks of the production you can always ensure maximum focus on what’s important. Imagine trying to mix your demo while still writing some parts of the song: You can very easily get distracted from either of the two tasks. On top of that, you lose the moment of coming into each one “unbiased” and with fresh ears, which is a difficult aspect of self-producing anyway.

  • Maintaining creativity: It’s easy to lose it when you think about too many things at the same time. While it may seem inspirational to explore all possible production techniques and technologies at the same time, it’s more likely that you get “option anxiety” or “paralysis by analysis” when you try to do so. Whatever you want to call it, it means you just have too many options and lose direction and perspective. By clearly separating the different studio tasks from one another, you greatly reduce that risk and actually improve your creativity.

  • Commitment: During the whole production you have to make so many decisions, it’s best to make them as early as possible. For example, don’t drag songwriting questions all the way to the recording session – instead, complete the writing part 100% in advance and try to commit to as much as possible so that you can focus solely on the performance during tracking. Just because you have the flexibility in a home recording setting, that doesn’t mean you should use it to go back and forth between such different tasks like in the example above.

All the above are, in essence, things you can and should copy from the workflow in commercial studios. This is what should happen in each phase before moving on with the next one:


  • Finish writing of all parts of all songs. This includes:
    • Drums, bass, guitars, vocals, backing vocals
    • additional elements like synths, strings, percussion parts
    • lyrics.


  • Finalize all parts & lyrics.

  • Double-check arrangement for tension, excitement, listener engagement & keeping the song interesting – make changes accordingly and document them (recording, demo production, notes).

  • Analyze strengths and weaknesses in each part of your own performance and of the other band members – make changes accordingly.

  • Write down any changes. Better yet: record (or finish) a demo of the final agreed version that contains all parts.

  • Make a guide track (also called scratch track) for each song for the recording sessions. A guide track contains the most important instruments for orientation. Most commonly this is at least rhythm guitars and vocals for the drummer to be able to track to a click. This is also why the guide track should always be recorded to a click at the exact tempo you want to record the final takes at. If you already have a complete demo, you can use it (or parts of it) as the guide track, of course.

  • Produce any additional elements you know you want to include in the mix to make the songs sound full / complete, e.g. synths, strings, special effects, etc.


  • Instrument maintenance, service, optimization

  • Session setup

  • Finding the best tones for the song / project / session

  • Capturing the best possible performances, without mistakes, rhythmically tight, with the right emotions/attitude that fit the songs

  • Comping all performances to the final takes. “Comping” is short for take compositing, which means creating one full main take from multiple pieces of different takes to get the best performance at every point.


  • Basic audio edits, fades etc. to clean up the session
  • Optimizing and enhancing performances
  • Timing & pitch corrections
  • Restoration if needed

Postproduction (optional / if needed):

  • Adding more production elements/layers, filling out the arrangement
  • “Ear candy”, special effects

After this point the production should be ready for mixing and mastering and it should only be a matter of exporting the individual tracks to the mixing engineer.

3. Teamwork & distribution of tasks

This is another thing you can “steal” from the studio life in commercial facilities: Splitting the work into different tasks and assign them to different people wherever possible (and appropriate). Here are some ideas how you could do that in a self-recording band context:

  • One person has the main responsibility for the production and engineering of the record you want to produce
  • One person is responsible for organizational tasks like
    • time planning
    • writing guitar/bass tabs for reference in sessions
    • creating lyric sheets with the final lyrics before a session etc.

Even tasks that everyone is equally responsible for can be further broken down into different aspects of the same task. Some examples (starting with the most obvious one):

  • Songwriting / pre-production: every band member should pay special attention to their own instrument (or part, in case of vocalists).

  • What can also achieve interesting results is to do a special phase during pre-production where everyone focuses on everything else except their own part/instrument.

  • Practicing (not band practice, but everyone on their own)

    • Everyone analyzes their own performance first (record it!), aiming to spot strengths and weaknesses.
    • After that and while working on their own weak points, everyone focuses on all the other band members’ performances and analyzes them the same way as their own.
    • The feedback that can be drawn from this should be discussed in the next band practice session with everyone present, well in advance of the recording sessions. This way you as a band can get the most ideas possible and decide what still needs to be improved, changed in a way that is better to play comfortably, etc.

As you can see, thoroughly preparing for the recording sessions shouldn’t really be different in the home studio than it would be for a big commercial studio.

4. Time/project management

This can be the difference between amateur bands and (semi-)professional musicians with the ambition and ability to get meaningful results that meet high standards. If you don’t treat your project like a professional (like it’s actual work), then you won’t see results that match your standards. Treat your studio project like you mean it – sort of like a normal job. The following are points you should consider if you want to run it as smoothly as possible:

  • How much time is available? What are the deadlines?

  • Calculate how much time (in hours) you can spend for the recording of each instrument. Keep in mind what’s part of the recording sessions:
    • Setup times for instruments, especially drums
    • Warmup time, getting the right sounds
    • Recording the actual takes: A few full takes and multiple more passes of certain sections to perfect the performances through the whole song.

  • I strongly recommend making sure you have enough time to get high-quality results. If you notice you have to cut corners, rethink deadlines and time schedule and try to free up more time for recording. Sloppy performances are never worth it!

  • Schedule exact times and dates with the task(s) to be completed in those time frames.

  • Leave a buffer of about 10-20%. This is available time, but not being allocated to any tasks.

  • Use the SMART method to define goals. SMART stands for: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound. A goal has a number (at least a date)! Example: Guitar recording for 5 songs (rhythm, lead & overdubs – including all double tracks, on average 6 tracks per song in total) done by July 31st, quality (tone, performance) comparable to reference songs.

  • Boost the accountability for everyone involved by setting deadlines and attaching value to them. One way to do this is by setting external deadlines that involve other people, e.g. announcing a release date in advance.

  • Use a shared calendar that is properly and regularly maintained by all band members to keep track of the dates and deadlines.

5. Session preparation and organization

Before the recording session can start, there are certain things that need to be done. If you do these prior to the beginning of the session, you free up time for the things that matter – creativity and capturing the best possible performances. These are the basic steps to prepare your DAW:

  • Create and name the session/project file, check settings (audio device, I/O settings, buffer size). See also: Chapter 6 of Part 3 of the home recording guide series.

  • Import material from pre-production, demo / guide/scratch tracks

  • Import reference songs

  • Set the tempo, including any tempo changes, (tempo map).

  • Set the time signature, including any time signature changes

  • Create all needed instrument tracks for the session

  • Create all needed audio tracks for the session

  • Create a busses / aux track for the headphone monitor mix

  • Create pre-fader sends to the headphone bus/aux on all other tracks to dial in the headphone monitor mix

  • Routing: Audio inputs for audio tracks, MIDI Inputs for MIDI/Instrument tracks; internal bus routing (to aux/master tracks etc.); output routing (to speakers and headphones)

  • Create groups wherever appropriate (e.g. all drum microphone tracks, guitar mic and DI tracks, etc.)

Session management/organization:

Maintaining a good overview of the whole recording session is essential, as it allows you to focus on the creative and performative parts of the production. To keep technical hassle to a minimum, there are a few best practices and methods that help you with that:

  • Naming all tracks appropriately – as clearly and short as possible, e.g. RH GTR L for rhythm guitar left, LV for lead vocal, DBL for vocal double, etc. Come up with names that make the most sense to you!

  • Using a set track order to find tracks quickly (kick, snare, toms, overheads; bass; guitar left, guitar right, lead guitar, etc.)

  • Color coding for better overview

  • Methods for doing multiple takes:

    • Punch In/Out: switching from playback to record mode (while playback is running) and back to replace parts of a take
      • Pros: doesn’t clutter up the session with unused takes, makes you decide in the moment what to keep as is and what to redo
      • Cons: You might lose track of the history of the last punch in passes if you want to go back to a specific one

    • Playlists, track versions or similar: keep multiple takes per track in separate lanes (“playlists” / ”track versions”)
      • Pros: Possibility to audition all takes and comp or re-comp takes later, changing out sections for a different take after the fact,
      • Cons: More time-consuming, danger of getting lost in too many takes to choose from.

    • Main track to record on with separate tracks to move takes to – for double tracks, layering, harmonies etc.
      • Pros: Quickly ready to record, not having to arm / unarm different tracks for recording
      • Cons: recorded audio clips all have the same name as the main track (with ascending numbers attached), possibly making it difficult to trace back where you intended the take/clip to be

6. Tracking workflow

Now for the actual recording workflow: There are no hard-and-fast rules here, but in most cases, it will probably make the most sense to follow these basic steps:

  • Setup: Instruments, mics, DI boxes, effect pedals etc.

  • Setting levels (I generally recommend peaking at around -10 to -12 dB in the DAW)

  • Getting tones (listen to reference tracks to make sure you’re in the right place!)

  • Record a warmup-take to verify everything is working and sounding as it should.

  • Record the first full take. Listen critically for where the performance sounds great already and where it needs more work, taking notes / setting markers.

  • You can repeat this for a second and third full take (mainly with drums), take notes again and comp the best parts of those first takes

  • Then go on to punch in parts that need improvement (or do additional takes for just those parts).

  • When you think you have tracked everything (for the instrument/part you’re working on), make the final comp (take compositing) and listen through the whole song. If you notice something needs to improve/change, repeat the last step until you’re happy.

The most important thing when tracking is to focus on the performance: Emotion/attitude, dynamics, timing, intonation.

7. What to do after recording

What’s often misunderstood or neglected, is what exactly needs to be done directly after all recordings are done. Many would think the song(s) can just be passed on for mixing, not realizing what mixing precisely is. So let’s clear things up a bit and look at the meanings of different production tasks (and services):

Editing in music production is – broadly speaking – the optimization of the performances that were recorded. This has nothing to do with sonic processing (like EQ, compression, reverb etc.) yet. It’s purely about corrections and artistic enhancements of timing and pitch/intonation. This is why editing is essential for every modern music production – you just can’t skip this part, because no matter how good the performances are already, they can always be further enhanced in a way that fits the song and style. Of course, basic audio edits, fades etc. to clean up the tracks are also part of the process. The editing phase should be separate from the mixing phase.

Postproduction (if applicable): This is where you would create additional production layers / elements that have not been part of the production process yet but are felt needed at that point. They are usually used to fill out the arrangement or create more excitement or because something is still missing. Commonly these are synth/keyboard parts, sound effects and alike.

Mixing phase: When everything above is finished, the production is ready to be mixed. The mixing phase is where everything comes together – the sounds are being processed sonically in a way that makes them work together and enhances the overall listening experience. In essence, mixing is about fitting all the individual tracks into a final stereo track that sounds good everywhere while supporting the song in a way that fits its style perfectly. At this point, this is not about correcting errors or imperfections. It is rather about making everything together sound as pleasing to the listeners as possible, which is why all of that should already be taken care of in the editing phase before.

Mastering: This is the step that prepares the mix for distribution. In modern music production, it also includes some final audio enhancements. Mastering is also a final quality check before the song is finally released. If there are any problems with the mix, this is the last chance to go back to the mix and fix them. The mastering stage shouldn’t dramatically change the sound of a production, at most it should yield some subtle overall improvements without sacrificing anything about the mix.

Especially the last two production phases, mixing and mastering (and also editing) require a radically different skill set than writing or performing music on a high level. Crafting good mixes and masters as well as editing work that benefits the song needs a deep understanding of audio engineering, advanced processing techniques – and simply experience.

If you don’t feel you are that person, it’s best to let a studio professional who fits your niche and style handle those parts of the production.

Are you interested in my editing, mixing or mastering services? Send me a message and we’ll talk about your project to see if we’re the right fit.

Raphael Arnold

Audio Engineer | Producer