Transforming Musicians into Songwriters

Recording Your Song in Your DAW

How to home record your song in your DAW without wasting time or wanting to smash your guitar… the Singer-Songwriter’s Ultimate Guide to Home Recording: How to Record Your Song
Recording Your Song in Your DAW

Table of Contents

Your song is ready to record… what do you do first? and then what?

In this article you’ll learn how to set up and record your instrumental and vocal tracks as fast as possible without the frustration of trying to figure it out yourself…

Follow the steps to avoid all of the mistakes I made when I was learning how to record my songs in my DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).

This is the next step in the recording process outlined in the Singer-Songwriter’s Ultimate Guide to Home Recording…

If your song is ready to demo… you’ll learn how to set up your DAW and record your song so you can get a great recording!

Below the video lesson is a written summary, bonus recording tips and links to other songwriting resources to improve your songwriting!

Before I started recording the video lesson, 

  • I opened my DAW and set up the tracks.
  • Set up the arrangement track
  • Choose and dropped in drum loops so I wasn’t playing to just a click track (I get a better groove with drum loops). 
  • I set the tempo, then recorded the scratch guitar track and double checked the arrangement
  • I tuned my guitar again and tested the mic setup for the best sound and to set the recording level. 
  • I tuned my guitar again and then started the video recording.

To record the guitar part, a few partial guitar retakes and all of the vocal takes took me 23 minutes total.

The Biggest Mistake I Used to Make When I Was Recording My Song!

I used to try to record my songs too soon… I’d usually just written it and I didn’t know it well enough. 

More practicing = better performance = less editing (easier to mix) = better recording!

As I was learning to record my own songs, I gradually improved but I hit a block with my vocals. I couldn’t sing as well as I wanted so I started vocal lessons, first with an online course, then online coaching and finally in person singing lessons. 

Your recording can only be as strong as the sounds and performance you’re recording.

So if you hit a block, instead of getting frustrated: consider what else you can improve to help your recordings!

Before You Press Record

What to do Before You Press Record and Record Your Song

For the best results, you need to know the song and be able to perform it all the way through.

It’s best if you can sing from memory, so you can focus on the lyrics and deliver an emotion evoking performance. If you are using a lyric sheet, put it on a music stand so you can see it comfortably while singing and don’t make any background noise moving the page or device with the lyrics.

Build the arrangement, know how the entire song goes.

It’s faster to take the time to lay out the song structure in your DAW. Freestyling might feel easier now, but later it will be frustrating trying to find your way around the song. You’ll want to jump around the song instead of guessing.

Use a click track or drum loops…

Set up a different groove for each song section. If you have trouble playing in time, recording multiple takes will be extremely frustrating. Learn to play with a click, it’s necessary not optional!

Choose and Set the Tempo Before You Record Your Song.

Once you start recording vocals or instrumentals it’s difficult to change the tempo… there are plugins that can adjust a tempo, but they also affect the sound. It’s more effective to re-record a track if you want to change the tempo later. Midi instruments (midi tracks) can adjust to a tempo change easily.

Record scratch tracks (guide tracks) for your main instrument and vocals.

In the video I skipped the vocal scratch track because the arrangement is only vocals and guitar (and the arrangement track at top of the screen makes it easy to find each song section). The scratch track is a good double check that the arrangement is set up properly and you can unmute it at any time to check where you are in the song. It’s a guide so the playing has to be correct but doesn’t have to be perfect. Record it in one try and move on to the next track.

Record your instrument first.

Mouth the lyrics if it helps keep you focused on the song, but don’t make any sounds that the mic will pick up. It’s easier to control and process both the instrumental and vocal tracks if you don’t have sounds bleeding into the other track. Mixing becomes easier and more flexable.

In a full band arrangement… 

Usually instruments are recorded in order: 

  • Drums, 
  • Bass, 
  • Rhythm Guitar(s), 
  • Keyboards, 
  • Lead Guitar, 
  • Horn Section (Lead first, then other parts), 
  • Lead Vocals and finally 
  • Backing Vocals. 

It’s easiest to add instruments from the bottom up, with a foundation of drums then bass. Vocals are usually recorded last, because it’s easiest to add them to a full mix. Backing vocals have to match the lead vocal phrasing, so they are recorded afterwards.

Tips for Better Instrumentals When You Record Your Song

Recording the Instrumental Parts for Your Song
  • Know your part extremely well before you press record
  • Always check your tuning (again) before recording
  • Record a short sound check and listen before recording a full take (I did this while setting up, before I recorded the video)
  • When you’re finished recording, have a listen to make sure you’ve recorded what you need before putting away your recording gear.
  • Save your song frequently (Ctrl-s/ ⌘s)

Tips for Better Vocals When You Record Your Song

Recording the Vocals to Your Song
  • Breathe in quietly, a loud in-breath usually gets louder when you’re mixing. It can become annoying and it’s even more irritating trying to manually edit every phrase. Breath in quietly!
  • Soften hard consonants – in the video I’m singing “I need exodic bean” … Plosives: b k ch t can sound harsh even with a pop screen in front of the microphone. I’ll discuss how to deal with them in the mixing lesson, but it’s easier if you don’t emphasize them when you’re singing.
  • Keep you mouth the same distance from the mic while you’re recording.
  • Sing louder or softer on purpose, to support the arrangement. For example, sing louder on the chorus because it has more energy than the verse. Keep an eye on your VU meter while recording.

Making Editing and Mixing Easier

Mixing Board, Setting your DAW is using a virtual sound board

Follow these tips while you’re’ recording to make the next steps (editing and mixing) easier

  • Record the best sound you can. Take the time to check your microphone placement. Test your sound and listen back before trying a full take.
  • Get the best take(s) recorded. Recording another take is easier than fixing an “almost great take.”
  • Keep as few takes as you can. The more choices you leave yourself for later, the longer it will take to edit and mix. If you record a bad take Ctrl-z/⌘z to delete and go again
  • Feel is more important than “perfect” your audience wants to feel, give them something to work with.

Have some fun with it!

Recording Your Song: Summary

How to Record Your Song: Summary

If you know the song and you can perform it well, it’s much easier to record it…


  • Set up your DAW with the tracks you need
  • Add the arrangement markers
  • Set the tempo
  • Add drum loops for each section (optional)
  • Record a scratch guitar and vocal part to check the arrangement
  • Set up your microphone
  • Test the sound with a short recording and listen to it
  • Tune your guitar (again)
  • Record the guitar track
  • Listen to check you have everything you need (it sounds good, in time, no mistakes)
  • Set up your microphone to record your vocals
  • Record the vocals
  • Listen to check you have everything you need (it sounds good, in time, no mistakes)

Remember to save the track regularly!

Do the best you can with the skills you have today… keep at it and your recording and playing skills will continue to improve!

Leave a comment to help other songwriters…

What’s your biggest takeaway from this article?

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Trevor Dimoff

Trevor Dimoff

Trevor Dimoff has taught, played and written music professionally for the last 25+ years.

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