Recording, mixing and mastering – 10 top resources for the iOS musician – or a 101-style reading list

finger on a tablet computer screenSo, you have got the iPad, got the apps… heck, you might even have splashed out on some extra music tech hardware such as a MIDI keyboard or controller, an audio/MIDI interface and maybe a mic or two and some monitor speakers… You have all the kit…. the question that remains now is what do you do with it all?

OK, at one level, we know the answer… ‘make music’…. but, at another level, there is a more detailed answer that is required, particularly if you are going to try and record, mix or master your own music via your iOS system. Now we can all, no matter how experienced, always learn something new about music technology and the various aspects of the music recording process but, if iOS is providing your first tentative steps into this process, then there is probably plenty to learn.

So you have the kit...  and you are ready to rock... but just how does all this recording, mixing and mastering work then?

So you have the kit… and you are ready to rock… but just how does all this recording, mixing and mastering work then?

In days gone by, most musician’s first encounter with recording technology would most likely have been the occasional visit to their local commercial recording facility to try and cough up a few demos with their band. Home or personal studios didn’t exist (unless you were super-rich) but, on the up-side, if you paid attention to the folks running these studios, you did at least pick up some recording 101 basics as a by-product of paying the hourly rate to hire the studio.

In more recent years, computers – and now mobile computers – have democratised the world of multi-track recording. Everyone and his dog can own a personal studio and, as a result, all but the very best commercial studio has now gone out of business. The upside is that recording technology has never been more accessible… the downside is that you can easily end up with some stellar equipment but not really have any grounding in how to get the best out of it.

So, if you are not going to pick up some informal training by watching a professional engineer at work, and you are not going to waste endless hours (and get very frustrated) trying to learn simply by trial and error (mostly error), then how do you get your recording technology education?

There are lots of possible answers to that question and, for many, Google Search and YouTube might be a first – and very useful – port of call. However, one of the downsides of all the excellent information that you can tap into via the internet – including some of your favourite iOS music blogs – is that the information tends to be bit-sized. What is more difficult to find is a coherent, structured and detailed treatment that will take you, step-by-step, through the various stages of the learning process.

And, in that regard, the traditional training course and the humble book (paper or electronic) may well get you there quicker – and in a more logical fashion – than picking up dozens of different (and somewhat random) titbits (good though they might be) from dozens of different websites or blogs (including the Music App Blog).

If you want to construct a decent DIY home studio - and you want to be able to get the most out of it - then a little bit of bookwork can go a long way.

If you want to construct a decent DIY home studio – and you want to be able to get the most out of it – then a little bit of bookwork can go a long way.

I’m not going to get into the pros and cons of undertaking a formal educational program in music or recording technology here. There are some truly great courses out there but they require a commitment of both time and money that might be more than many are prepared to spend.

Books, however, are a different matter… and while even the best books might not have the same level of interactivity in the learning process that you get from a team of live instructors, they can produce you with the information you need in a logical and clear fashion… And, yes, you have to pay money for them (unlike YouTube or lots of blogs where the content is free) but they will repay that investment in the times saved and the coherence of the information.

So, if you are open-minded enough to consider reading something on paper as opposed to on a screen (OK, you can get some of these resources in an electronic format anyway), how about a Music App Blog top ten list of music technology books covering recording, mixing and mastering for you to consider? No, you don’t have to buy all (or any) of them if you don’t want to but, in one way or another, all of these have something to offer…

Guerilla Guide coverGuerilla Home Recording: How to Get Great Sound from Any Studio by Karl Coryat

In one form or another, this book has been around for quite some time and has become a bit of a cult classic. The most recent edition is from 2008 (that is, before any of us thought about an iPad-based recording system) but this is still a gem. Accessible and informative in equally measure, not only does this provide a solid, broad, introduction to the recording process, it also encourages you to get the absolute most out of even the most limited collection of gear.

The topics cover the basics of home and budget-based recording and introduce key topics such as the audio signal chain, using effects and the principles of recording different instruments. There is even a chapter on mixing and mastering.

A great introduction at a great price; UK£12. As with all the books in this list, you would spend a lot of time online piecing all this together from blogs, YouTube, etc… How much is your time worth?

Producers manual coverThe Producer’s Manual by Paul White

I reviewed this book a few months ago in its ‘app’ format and it is a great introduction whether read electronically or in the paper format. The content itself covers a wide range of topics that would be of interest to newbie recording musicians and, I suspect, also the more experienced and, while the material is not presented with iOS specifically in mind – for example, Paul illustrates the techniques he is presenting using Logic Pro – the principles shown are applicable to almost any recording platform. Whether you work on a desktop system or an iPad system, the material will help you grasp the basics of each step in the recording process.

Read the full review for more details but the book spans basic recording techniques, mixing based on computer based DAWs and there is also a chapter on the principles of mastering. Another very good all-round introduction that is beautifully illustrated and clearly explained. At UK£17 for the paperback version, this is a lot of very good information for a very modest outlay.

Recording Secrets coverRecording Secrets for the Small Studio by Mike Senior

This is a more targeted book that the previous two – less introductory or ‘all-in-one’ in nature – but, instead, aimed at the more specific issue of how to record ‘stuff’. The way the book is structured is interesting as it places the type of audio sound source first looking, for example, at how you record sources without mics (an electric guitar, for example), a single mic and then multiple mics. By the time you get to the final part of the book you might be ready to take on a full-band recording or even something bigger (providing, of course, you have the space, mics and recording kit to handle it).

Unless you are happy to deal with just electronic sound sources, you need to know something about mics and how to use them to capture the best sound possible. This book is a good place to get a grounding in the challenges that can present. The paperback version is priced at UK£23 and, while it might not be the first book I would buy from this list if I was just starting out, it is certainly one you might grow into if you catch the recording habit full-on.

Mixing with iZotope coveriZotope Guide to Mixing by iZotope

The wonderful world of the internet has made a bit of a mockery of the cliché that you can’t get something good for free. However, you can’t always get it in a concise and well-organised format. iZotope – the developers behind desktop music technology software such as Ozone, Alloy, Nectar and RX4 (so they know their stuff) – have even managed to solve that issue for you with their free PDF guide to mixing.

OK, there is a catch; all the examples that are used focus on how you can use software tools made by iZotope to improve your mixes. However, this is done in a pretty gentle fashion and the broad principles of the mixing process that are introduced are very clearly explained. As an introduction to the techniques and issues that surround the task of mixing, this is an excellent read. Topics covered include using EQ, dynamics and crafting a stereo image before moving on to look at reverb/delay and distortion. There is also very useful material on planning your mix so you know where you are heading when you start to place your hands onto your (virtual) mixing desk.

Available as a PDF or an eBook from the iZotope website and free to boot… you just need to invest the time in reading it.

Mixing coverMixing Audio: Concepts, Practices and Tools by Roey Izhaki

If you want a general introduction to mixing, Roey Izhaki’s book is a brilliant place to start. At around UK£23 – oh, and a time investment to study it – this book will take you from nowhere to somewhere quite far along the food-chain in terms of your understanding. Yes, you still need to put in the hours to practice the principles outlined here, but you will at least have an appreciation of the task in hand.

The book is clearly written and includes theoretical, technical and practical guidance. There is also an associated website with a bunch of audio files available for download and that are used to illustrate key points throughout the book. This allows you to hear some of the concepts being described for yourself and makes the ideas much easier to appreciate. The final section of the book deals with a number of example mixes in different musical styles… and this is a great way to get a feel for tackling a full mix.

Mixing Secrets coverMixing Secrets by Mike Senior

I’ve already mentioned one of Mike Senior’s books but I’m happy to recommend a second one. If it is down-to-earth practical suggestions about mixing that you want and that are tailored for someone working at the more modest end of the music production world, this is well worth a read.

Priced at around the UK£18 mark, the book breaks down the mix process into a number of stages, encouraging you to think about how you listen to your music, preparing your recordings for the separate process of mixing, achieving a basic level balance and then adding some fairy dust to sweeten the mix.

The approach is different to Roey Izhaki’s book – perhaps less theoretical/technical – and the two titles actually complement each other quite well. However, if you prefer your reading to just focus on the more practical elements of the process, then this is a good choice.

Mastering with iZotope coveriZotope Guide to Mastering by iZotope

As I’ve mentioned a number of times before on the blog, DIY mastering is something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand we have brilliant iOS apps such as Audio Mastering and Final Touch… but on the other, it’s unlikely that we will have access to the high quality listening environment (or the high quality ears) required to really do justice to this process.

That said, if you have no choice but to go down the DIY route then you might at least give yourself a fighting chance by learning a little bit (or even a lot) about the principles involved. As above with mixing, iZotope can get you off to a free start with their PDF/ebook Mastering with Ozone guide. Ozone is iZotope’s desktop mastering software and it is featured in the guide. However, as with the mixing guide, there are plenty of general principles explained here that will apply whatever software solution you eventually use. Read it and apply some common sense and you will be better placed to know just how far you should (or perhaps should not) push apps such as Audio Mastering or Final Touch.

Also available as a PDF or an eBook from the iZotope website and free to download.

Master Audio coverMastering Audio: The Art and the Science by Bob Katz

If there can be a definitive ‘classic’ text on a subject so specialised as audio mastering, then Bob Katz’ book is it. Now in its 3rd edition, this is a brilliant discussion of the mastering process and, if you are serious about taking on DIY mastering but want to get as close as you can to the kinds of commercial results you hear from your favourite artists, then this book, for about UK£24, contains the information you need.

It is not, however, going to pull any punches. Mastering can be a complex and challenging task and Bob Katz is one of the best in the business. His standards are, therefore, high. This means that you get the full treatment here and, in places, things can get both technical and, frankly, sobering, as you begin to realise just how difficult is can get if you really (REALLY) want to do this right. Still, this is a brilliant book even if it only serves to put the whole mastering process into some context and you realise why a professional mastering job might be worth investing in if you are aiming high with your recorded music.

Basic Studio Design coverBasic Home Studio Design by Paul White

There is another aspect of this whole recording/music production that can get lost amongst the more glamorous stuff of buying synths, mics, music apps and generally getting geeky about the fancy technology; the space in which you record. Now, for many DIY home recording folk, that space may be the corner of the living room or a spare bedroom… and for a truly mobile iOS musician, it might be a different location every day of the week. The latter is a more difficult situation to deal with but, if you use a particular space on a regular basis, then you need to make sure that it ‘works’ as a recording studio.

Unfortunately, that actually means something more than simply setting up all your recording toys and assuming all is well. The acoustics of the space matter a great deal and, if the shape, surfaces or content of the room colour the sound within that room (and all rooms do to a greater or lesser degree) then what you hear in that space will also be coloured. And as you record more and more layers, and make more and more audio decisions based upon what you are hearing, so any deficiencies in the space will be compounded.

Not a glamorous topic but studio design and acoustics – and building a monitoring system that you can trust – is probably one of the most important things you can do to improve your recordings. And, if you want a ‘no frills’ introduction to this topic, then Paul White’s Basic Home Studio Design – for UK£6 – will give it to you. This is not a comprehensive treatment – and nor is it very technical – but there is solid, sensible and understandable advice that any DIY recordist ought to be aware of.

Home Recording Studio coverHome Recording Studio: Build It Like the Pros by Rodney Gervais

If your ambitions for your home studio are a bit more lofty and you are actually wanting to build (yes, build, you know, with wood and plaster board and the like) a recording room for yourself, then Rodney Gervais’ book is both a bit of a classic and a must read.

This is not a book for the faint-hearted though. The author gives it to you straight and in a form that makes it clear that corners cannot be cut if you really want to do a good job. Both sound isolation and acoustic treatment are considered in great detail and there are plenty of technical drawings that could form the basis of your own technical plans to assist in the construction process. At UK£25 you get a lot of information for your money but don’t expect this book to give you easy answers. It is, however, a good manual for the more ambitious studio builder.

A final note…

The books listed above all have something to offer. They vary in the depth of treatment and how technical the discussion gets but, whatever their target topic, there is plenty to learn if you are prepared to do a little homework… and many then offer you practical advice on how to implement the topics covered in your own music projects.

There is one point worth making though… None of these books are aimed specifically at the iOS generation of musicians. Indeed, aside from a very small number of ‘How to use Garageband for iOS’ titles that you can find on Amazon, that’s a gap still waiting to be occupied.

I’m sure that will change with time… but don’t let that put you off in the meantime. All the titles here – while perhaps based of examples taken from traditional recording studios or computer-based recording studios – have lessons that translate to the iOS-based world very easily. Read, absorb, and make better music on your iPad as a result….

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    Comments

    1. What a tremendous article. Missed this first time round and just seen it now. Will definitely be checking out some of these.

      • Hi Martin… thanks for the kind words – always appreciated – and hope the reading helps :-) best wishes, John

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