Guest writer Tom Simpkins takes us through creating the perfect workspace for recording
Knowing how to set-up your home recording studio doesn’t require a degree in acoustics or electronics (although it can help…). We check out the key areas that need to be covered to get the job done with minimal fuss.
Let’s get some things straight from the start
There’s a distinct difference in terminology than many people creating their home recording studio needs to remember; that’s the difference between soundproofing and acoustic treatment.
Soundproofing attempts to block out external noise in a room, making it quieter and helping to get clean recordings, whereas acoustic treatment aims to make a recording sound as good as possible within a room. The former is the basis for any recording space, while the latter includes more advanced steps for recording, such as absorbing excessive ambient noise from within the room.
Anyone who’s serious about creating a high-quality recording studio in their home, or as a business, needs to consider pursuing ways to handle acoustic treatment, whether it’s by utilising technology such as digital reverb programs or installing soundproofing foam panels, but those looking to get started with simple soundproofing has plenty of easier steps to take. Some vital things to remember when setting out to create your soundproofed, recording sanctuary is that it can be quite the gargantuan undertaking; regardless of whether you’re aiming for a small set up or beginning to weigh up the benefits of having two rooms dedicated to recording. Creating your home recording studio can take a lot of time and even more money, so be prepared to pay for higher quality.
Easy Soundproofing Tips
First things first, you’ll need the minimum equipment for your home recording studio. Each item performs a specific job and getting to grips with your equipment will be vital before you can begin considering the more specialist areas of soundproofing. These items are:
- A computer with recording software & ear training software
- Studio monitors
- A DAW/audio interface combo
- One or two microphones with adjustable mic stands
- A pop filter
- Studio-grade headphones
- Ample amounts of cables
It’s also worth pointing out that certain myths should be addressed when considering soundproofing. As appealing as it might be to go with a super-low budget, the old myth of using the likes of egg cartons and mattresses will do little to effectively soundproof a room. However, there are still some simple starting points that you can work on relatively stress-free.
- Consider the Location: The first step you should take when considering a home recording studio is where it’ll be positioned, as well as what’s going to be in it. Most instruments will cause plenty of noise, yet some can boom out more so than others (think drum kits and tubas). Ensuring that you’ll be somewhere that noise won’t disturb anyone outside of the room will not only help you, it’ll also work both ways; shared walls in a house, or even walls between houses, brings plenty of chances for external noise to intrude your recording space. Picking an isolated room or space can only be beneficial.
- Get the Right Equipment: One of the easiest things to get wrong when considering a home recording studio is also, thankfully, one of the easiest things to fix. A little bit of specialist research when searching for equipment can make life in your DIY soundproof room a lot smoother (and your recordings equally so) but generally choosing diffusing microphones and reflection filters can make an incredible difference.
- Deal with the Gaps: Ensure that any gaps into the room are dealt with; draft excluders can serve as charming ways to sort out the crack in the door. This is more of a temporary, small fix for doors, and installing the likes of sealing strips along the door can help to seal the door (and avoid sound leakage) when it’s closed. Gaps in the room can come from unexpected places though, as even tightly installed windows can result in sound leakage.
- Reduce Sound Waves Bouncing: Reducing reverberation is key to getting clean recordings, so even minor touches to the room can help tremendously. Sound waves will bounce off surfaces, including floors, walls and the ceiling, so putting down a rug, hanging wall hangers and placing soundproofing foam panels on the wall can help to take care of a lot of reverberation.
Advanced Soundproofing Tips
- Fake Floors, Fake Ceiling: Certainly, tasks for the more advanced DIY handyman, creating a fake floor or a fake ceiling takes effort but yields brilliant results as it technically decouples the surfaces between an instrument and the floor, preventing vibrations from being carried across. The same principle makes fake ceilings almost priceless for a truly professional-grade recording studio, as they can help to eliminate reverberation that, when considering a room simply soundproofed along the walls, might persist in an open space.
- Sealing Windows & More: As aforementioned, gaps in windows and doors can allow noise to escape and invade your recording space, but by investing in specialist products can help to greatly reduce this. Filling air gaps (including any that may potentially be in the walls) with the likes of acoustical caulk or foam gaskets and damping (a method of soundproofing that dissipates kinetic energy and converts it into heat) areas like between panels, both soundproofing foam panels and the likes of plywood, can help to seal the sound in
- Strategic Open Spaces: Although ensuring your recording space is properly soundproofed is important, it’s almost equally as important to remember to keep some spots open, to allow the natural frequency of your sounds and music to come through in the recordings. The ideal way to deal with empty spaces is to set up diffusing panels, but anyone on a low budget can treat their recordings with the next tip.
- Specialised Software: There are free recording programs that can do a fairly efficient job, such as Audacity and Garageband, as they’re capable of handling multi-track recording and have pretty simple UI, but for more advanced sound engineers who have more ambitious projects (that is, beyond a handful of instruments in larger spaces) then investing in professional-grade software could make the difference between a passable track and something exceptional.
The more advanced programs and software, such as Pro Tools, Cubase, Ableton, and other DAWs, can cost a pretty penny, but in the right hands, they can make a pretty big difference to recordings too. Enhanced features, like huge back catalogues of stored sounds and digital instruments, and technical aspects that are right at home in a professional recording studio make these programs something well-worth consideration.
Acoustic Treatment Tips
As aforementioned, acoustic treatment can make the difference between a passably soundproofed room and a superb recording studio. Your options for acoustic treatment are incredibly varied, depending on the kind of sound you’re looking to capture, with greatly different results coming from either sound absorbing foam panels or sound breaking diffusion panels.
- Keeping Computer Noise Off Recording: Cooling fans, humming noises, even notifications; these kinds of issues can pop up if you’re recording from a laptop or even a desktop computer. As bad as an issue as overheating can be for a computer, it’s the noises they make that can interfere and ruin a recording. There can be simple issues to solving this, such as placing the laptop on a stand or having the equipment in a different room altogether, but more advanced fixes (if it needs to be in the same room) is buying or, in the case that proves too expensive, creating an acoustic box for your equipment.
- Diffusion & Bass Traps: As useful as they can be, soundproofing foam panels alone can’t completely solve reverberation issues, which is where the likes of diffuser panels and bass traps come into the frame. Diffuser panels can work much like in the same way as soundproofing panels, albeit with some key differences. One of these is that they can improve the acoustics of a room, giving the illusion of it appearing larger and able to reflect soundwaves similarly, and another is that they can evenly spread any soundwaves coming into contact with them.
Bass traps, on the other hand, can be much more complicated. There are two general types of bass traps; porous absorbers and resonant absorbers. The former normally attaches to the walls and are great for broadband absorption, which means they tackle most general problems with room acoustics, whereas the latter usually rest against the walls and are smaller in size, utilised to deal with more specific problems like a particular bass frequency.
- One Room or Two: Not only can investing in separate rooms for recording and mixing help due to the aforementioned computer noises, but it can also help to generally improve the acoustics of the recordings. By having one room solely dedicated to recording, you’ll inevitably have more space for soundwaves to travel and naturally be picked up than in a room that’s filled with a computer and mixing boards.
Of course, bumping up a home recording studio project from one room to two doubles the time, energy and money you’ll have to work into it, but the results can prove to be worthwhile, especially for those seeking a truly professional level of quality in their recordings.
Whether you’re looking for a more simplistic record studio for some fun or small home projects or you’re after a truly professional-grade space to perform and create masterpieces, there’s a lot to consider when planning your home recording studio. Crafting your musical lair is much more than just slapping some soundproofing foam onto the walls and setting up a mic next to a guitar amp, which is why everything within this article should be seriously considered.
Soundproofing R Us has been working with soundproofing for years and are no strangers to creating home recording studios, but even without their level of expertise you can make a fantastic space within your home; you simply have to consider how much effort you can put into the project and whether you’re able to meet the expectations you have in mind. At the end of the day, once all the blood, sweat and tears have gone, you’ll have a safe, creative space for all your musical projects, so be sure to approach each step of the process intelligently.
Jon has a passion for inspiring others to get involved in making music. After spending many years playing here, there and – pretty much – everywhere, he joined the Dawsons Music Web Team before progressing into his current role as Content Manager. Favourite things: My LTD MH-400NT, a decent brew, and Ron Swanson.