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Are you at the point in your musical endeavors that you are ready to start recording? Whether you are working exclusively on covers or original pieces, recording your work and putting your content out there is a great way to start gaining recognition.
My first experience recording was in 9th grade when I took an elective radio class where we developed and recorded our own radio segments for a local radio station. From that moment, I fell in love with the whole process of recording, although it took me nearly fifteen years to return to my love of recording as life had other plans for me in the meantime.
When I was in 9th grade, we had nothing like the sophisticated smartphones we do now, so recording anything on our phones back then was impossible. Now, however, the technology in our smartphones allows us to produce fairly high-quality recordings.
Of course, in an ideal situation, microphones, audio interfaces, and digital audio workstations (DAWs) are preferable but do not let not having those things stop you from recording your music.
So, how can you get a good-quality recording only using your phone?
There are many ways to record on your phone to create high-quality recordings, such as using your camera or a voice recording app already installed on your phone. To optimize these recordings, considerations such as phone placement, volume levels, frequency considerations, and editing software can all be utilized.
If you want to learn in more depth about how to record your music on your phone, keep reading below.
Different Recording Options On Your Phone
The first task of recording music on your phone is determining the best method. Typically, the three primary options are to use your camera to record video/audio, the voice memo option, or to download an app.
It is really as simple as that. You do not need any fancy and expensive gadgets or external microphones that you need to hook up to your phone unless you’re trying to do more than just record.
Smartphones have fairly good quality audio recording capabilities and you don’t have to spend money on expensive pieces of equipment in order to get the most out of your phone.
Each of these methods has benefits and drawbacks, which I will discuss in more detail below.
Option 1- Your Camera
I almost exclusively record with this method. However, that is primarily because I use my videos to create YouTube covers, but I will actually mute my recorded video audio and sync up my mixed and mastered audio I produced within my DAW using video editing software.
Here is an example of the raw audio of a guitar section from just my video recording straight from my phone before I have done any EQ work to it in my DAW:
Now, here is the same audio track, but after I have gone in and applied my EQ and other mastering work to it (Note: This is also recorded through an instrument microphone and directly into my audio interface):
As you should be able to hear (headphones are best for listening to it), the edited version is much tighter sounding. The highs and lows are compressed and the frequencies have been dialed in to get the most out of the guitar and amp’s natural sound. The reasoning that is sounds different is that I have eliminated unwanted frequency levels that muddy up the recording.
The difference might be slight, but this is a big reason why I advocate investing in a DAW (read below), especially if you are only using a phone to record.
Of course, the phone recording still sounds pretty good, and there won’t be a big difference for the average listener.
In fact, some listeners may prefer the un-mixed track to the mixed track, especially as a standalone recording. However, the edited version sits better in a mix because the unwanted frequencies are not competing with other instruments (I’ll explain this more later).
Side note: Converting video to MP3 or WAV files is super simple. All I do is upload my videos onto my google drive, then use Cloud Convert to convert the files to MP3, WAV, or whatever audio file you desire. An added bonus is that it is free for up to 25 conversions per day.
Option 2- Voice Memo/Other Voice Recorder
Voice Memo, or whichever your phone brand has, is another free tool that comes on your phone. The process is exactly the same regarding recording, uploading to Google drive, and converting into whatever audio file you desire.
If you are using a DAW, I have found it best to use WAV files when possible as they are a bit easier to work with when trying to edit them; however, MP3 files usually also work. With Ableton Live, I can grab the WAV or MP3 files directly from a file and drop them into the project I have open. It is super easy and extremely convenient.
Voice Memo is a better option if you do not intend to do anything with a video. If nothing else, it will save storage space on your phone and speed up the conversion process, as video conversion on Cloud Convert can take some time.
Further, many online forums agree that Voice Memo will produce higher sound quality than your camera because the app is specifically designed to capture audio.
Option 3- Other App Options
Many other app options are available in the app store, but like many other apps, many require in-app purchases to unlock the full features. Others are intended to be used with microphones in specific settings.
A quick google search will give you tons of top ten lists about which audio recording apps are the best, but I will leave that up to you to search for.
When in doubt, I would opt for the free options of using your camera or the Voice Memo app that is already installed on your phone.
Tips To Produce A Higher-Quality Recording
In a perfect world, either you have all of the necessary equipment and skills to record, mix, and master your work, or you can afford to send your music to a professional. However, we know that is not a reality for most musicians, especially those just starting out.
The benefit of being a musician now is that not only can you make a good quality recording with just a phone and your computer, but you have access to free information (like Range of Sounds) that can help point you in the right direction to give you the best possible sounding work without breaking the bank.
Below, I will give you four tips that I wish had been given to me when I started out in my home recording studio. These four tips would have saved me months of frustration, and I am confident they will also help you.
1. Phone Placement
Phone placement is going to be crucial when recording your music. Too far away, you will risk a muddy-sounding recording that makes it difficult to distinguish individual notes. Too close, and the sound will likely be overpowering to the point where you won’t be able to determine what is being played.
This is true whether you are recording one instrument or multiple instruments simultaneously.
If you attempt to record multiple instruments at once, it is essential to place the phone in a location that will pick up all performers equally.
The default placement would be to put the phone directly in the middle of those playing. However, doing this can have some unintended negative consequences.
To produce a good-quality recording with multiple instruments playing at once, you must factor in the volume levels of the instruments being played.
For example, if you are recording a song with drums and an acoustic guitar, you would need to move the phone closer to the acoustic guitar as it does not produce nearly the same volume as the drums.
It may take some practice to get a good feel about where you should place the phone and how that impacts the overall sound quality.
Further, you should be aware that the angle of the phone from what you are recording will impact the sound that gets recorded. Similar to how microphone placement in front of an amplifier will drastically alter the tones getting picked up by the microphone.
2. Volume Level
Volume level goes hand-in-hand with where your phone is placed because, of course, where you place your phone considerably impacts volume levels. This is especially true when you are recording multiple instruments at once.
However, certain instruments are going to cause you more issues than others. Percussion instruments, in particular, can be quite challenging to get a good recording on a phone.
Below is the raw recording from my phone. You will be able to hear a popping sound, and the audio drops out slightly sometimes when I hit the snare (audio starts at three seconds):
Compared to the mic’d version, this popping and dropping out of the recording doesn’t happen anymore (audio starts at six seconds and ends at twelve seconds):
There is a clear difference in sound quality between these two recordings.
As I said in the introduction, the best solution is to invest in mics. My drum mic set was less than $150. It is not top quality, but it certainly gets the job done.
However, if you do not want to spend money on drum mics, I have found that something as simple as putting an old kitchen dish towel over the snare helps to reduce the popping and subsequent dropping out of the recording from happening.
In my experience recording drums with a phone, that is the biggest issue I have run into. I have not had many problems with other instruments regarding volume level because guitars, vocals, piano, and other instruments are easier to control volume.
3. Frequency Considerations
A big challenge in recording multiple instruments simultaneously with a phone (and placing them in a mix) is that some instruments will compete against one another regarding the frequencies.
For example, a typical bass guitar frequency can range from 40 Hertz (or lower if you have a five or six-string bass or utilize drop tuning and a little higher for an electric guitar) up to around 400Hz (but usually much lower), and the kick drum typically hangs out in the 50 to 90Hz range.
Right away, you can see some serious overlap in the frequencies, and this pattern will continue for all the other instruments. This overlap can be a problem, especially when recording multiple instruments at once without being able to EQ, as the frequencies might start drowning each other out.
Being able to play around with frequencies and editing out and accentuating the desired ranges is incredibly important for developing a good-sounding mix.
This leads me to the fourth and final tip on how to make a good-sounding recording from your phone: Investing in a DAW.
4. Invest In A DAW
I stated in the introduction that having a DAW is ideal. A DAW is essential for producing quality audio productions, especially if you do not have microphones or an audio interface.
By using a DAW, you will be able to mix and master your recorded tracks, along with adjusting different EQ levels to ensure that only the frequency ranges of the instruments and vocals that are wanted will be heard.
Unless you are doing a solo piece or a vocal and guitar/piano piece, etc., it will be difficult for you to end up with a high-quality recording without using a DAW.
This is primarily because of the three factors I listed above. Suppose you are trying to record drums, bass, guitar(s), vocals, a piano, or any other combination of multiple instruments. In that case, it will be tough for a phone to record and maintain good sound quality with so many frequencies competing for a tiny microphone.
Listen to the sound quality of concerts when people send you Snapchat or post on Facebook. It usually is not very good, and the recording misses many frequency levels, especially low-end frequencies like bass and kick drums. Of course, the recorded instruments also compete with crowd noise, but you get the point.
I use Ableton Live 11 Standard, and it works perfectly for what I need. Currently, Ableton Live 11 Standard is USD 359, but there are cheaper options, like the Ableton Live 11 Intro version, for just $99.
The reason I chose Standard is that it has unlimited audio and MIDI tracks that you can use, whereas the intro version is limited to tracks. This is important for me because my drums alone use seven tracks. There are many other popular DAWs, such as Cubase, which many of my friends utilize.
However, if you are not yet ready to commit to purchasing a DAW, there are free options such as VoiceMeeter. As long as you are downloading the application from a secure location, it is generally safe for your computer.
Of course, VoiceMeeter will not have all of the features you will get in a top-of-the-line, paid software, but it will do the job, especially for a beginning musician or one who exclusively uses a phone to record.
In fact, I co-hosted a fairly successful fitness-related podcast for three years. We only used VoiceMeeter and a pair of $40 Blue Snowball mics and ended up with sound quality as good as many of the other shows that used much more expensive equipment and soundproof studios.
Using a DAW allows you to record instruments with your phone and mix them together to make sure sound levels are in sync with one another. The last thing you want in your recordings is to have one of your instruments overpowering everything else.
Thanks to the amazing advances in audio technology, it is possible (and even easy) to record and produce great-sounding music without investing in expensive microphones and other equipment.
Eventually, you can start worrying about other details like perfecting your studio setup and getting into all the nitty gritty details. But if you have a smartphone and a computer, you have just about everything you need to begin recording music today and not worry about anything else!
Good luck, and happy creating!
Hi everyone! I have been involved with music most of my life, beginning in grade school with the trumpet. I am a largely self-taught multi-instrumentalist (drums, guitar, bass, and starting the piano and violin). I currently play drums in two rock/folk cover bands and write and produce many genres of music in my home recording studio. I am also an avid guitar and drum collector.