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December 22, 2016


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Building a Home Studio, Part 2

All right—If you're here, you've probably read Part 1 of our "Building a Home Studio" blog series.

So now, you’ve got your gear. Headphones? Check. The right interface? Good to go! A fridge stocked with PBR and your friend’s band itching to record? Plug in your laptop and get crackin'!

If only it were that simple. 

Veteran engineers to hobbyist musicians will all agree, where you record has as much bearing on your final product as your gear. There have been some great records made with less-than-stellar gear (check out Audio Equip for under $500) and some really less-than-stellar records made with top-of-the-line equipment. It’s not the size, it’s how (and where) you use it!

(While the subjects of sound abatement and acoustics could easy fill a small novel, we’re going to focus on the budget-conscious studio.  For an in-depth look at building and preparing a recording space, pickup a copy of Home Recording Studio: Built It Like the Pros by Rod Gervais.)

Selecting a Space

Before you run out and spend a fortune on studio foam and lava lamps, take look at your options. Audition a potential room with a live band or a solo artist. If the performance sounds good to your ears, it will sound good recorded. A space with high ceilings can add a natural ambience and openness to your recording, while a cramped basement can be great for loud guitars and close drum recording.

Stand in the middle of your room and play some acoustic guitar, sing loudly, or give a big loud clap.  What kind of natural reverb does your room have?  Now try a snare drum, or cranked electric guitar.  Do any windows or furniture rattle at high volumes?  Are there any noisy air vents, or audible noise from outside? These are the kinds of issues you want to address in advance, not while you've got five musicians tripping over mic cables and eating all your hot pockets.  

Another consideration is your neighbors: Are there any limitations to how loud you can be? Is your music audible from outside the building? Before you put down roots it's nice to know you wont be fined or evicted after your first session!

I’ll say this twice, there is no way to soundproof an existing room without extensive construction work. One more time: THERE IS NO WAY TO SOUNDPROOF AN EXISTING ROOM.

Unless you have extensive construction experience and a few grand to spend on new walls, a raised floor and an isolated ceiling, it simply wont work.  If a room is giving you problems at this stage, the best solution might be to find a new room!

 

Room Treatment

I know you’ve been itching to staple studio foam to every inch of your walls and ceiling, but chill out for a minute. Time and a place.

If your space is large and open, it might sound a bit like a bathroom. Drag in some comfy couches, thick throw rugs, large pillows or even bean bags! You’ll immediately notice a difference.  If you have a plaster ceiling, try tacking up some heavy comforters.  An old mattress, while not aesthetically pleasing, can absorb a lot room reflection when leaned against a wall. 

Whether you’re using a pre-made studio foam panel (such as Auralex) or blankets and rugs, reflections can be a real pain to eliminate.  Sound bounces much like a rubber ball ricocheting off the walls and ceiling.  This is especially true in rectangular rooms.

Try to cover surfaces that are parallel to each other, or in a pinch, cover one of two parallel surfaces with sound absorption. Taking the “bounce” out of your sound will allow more focused recording, without the influence of unwanted room noise.

In the same vein, sometimes that room noise is precisely what your recordings need!  A tall stairwell, tiled bathroom, cement basement; be creative with the tools you already have.  Some of my favorite sounding studios to record in are also the ugliest. The end listener wont be judging you on your interior decorating skills, but they will judge by how good your recording sounds!

 

Control Room

All right basement dwellers, your time to shine has arrived.  While the live room is a chaotic mix of taste and necessity, the control room (or the corner of the live room where your computer sits) is your domain.  Here you must evaluate and manipulate your audio in a “controlled” environment. 

Without a real acoustician to layout your room for you, symmetry is going to be your best weapon.

Speaker Placement

Aligning your monitor speakers will present the best representation of your recording, and when done right, reduce ear fatigue.  Think of your office chair, and your two monitors as the three vertices in an equilateral triangle.  You should be distanced as far from each speaker, as the speakers are distanced from each other.

Place the speakers on stands level with the heigh of your head when seated, aligned to face directly at you. 

If at all possible, keep your speakers positioned away from walls. Corners should especially avoided.  While they may sound great, room corners will create unnatural bass response that can interfere with your mixing decisions down the road.  

Kill those reflections!

Now is the time to bust out that case of studio foam!  Removing reflections in your control room will allow you to focus on your monitors output, and more accurately assess your mixing decisions.  Generously cover the parallel surfaces around your listening area.  If bass seems unusually loud, corner bass traps might be necessary.  Good ol' pink insulation, still rolled up in its package, from the local hardware store will tame that low end immediately.  Just stack two or three like a snowman right in the corner, you'll notice an immediate difference.  

Another trick of the budget conscious engineer is to audition your mixes on multiple sources.  Try playing your tracks back in your car, through your phone, or on a home hi-fi setup.  Take notes (and I do mean literally write down notes) of the differences between sources, and you'll soon get to know your control room well.  While your speakers might not sound "great" in the studio, they'll provide you the response you need to tweak your recordings to sound great everywhere else! 

In closing I'd like to recommend you join one of the many online communities dedicated to the very art of studio construction.  Here you can throw out the most basic of questions to guys that build these things for a living.  

Now go make some records!

 

Recommended reading:

Gearslutz

Gearslutz is one of the foremost forums for all things music gear.  Newbies and seasoned juggernauts of the industry mingle here like nowhere else on the interwebs.  Be polite, shut your mouth, and you might learn a thing or two.  

Sound on Sound

Sound on Sound has a wealth of invaluable information saved in their archives.  Worth a long browse. 

 

 


Brad Althouse
Brad Althouse

Author