Excerpted from our new “Home Studio Series” guide, Creating a Home Project Studio, How to get optimal results from your space and budget.
How to get optimal results from your space and budget
If you decide to convert space in your home to function as a recording studio, it’s easy to spend a lot of money before you plug in your first microphone. While quality recording gear is less and less expensive, acquiring everything you need to start recording adds up. And that doesn’t begin to address the costs of properly outfitting your home studio space.
“One modality I often recommend to home recording enthusiasts is, don’t outfit your home to do the big work,” says producer/engineer/studio owner Drew Raison. “If you have a limited budget to build a studio, why invest in all the necessary microphones, microphone stands, and cables? You start there and you could be well into thousands of dollars. You might be better off spending less on your place and taking your stuff to a studio that’s already outfitted with all the accoutrements.”
“Let somebody else spend that money. Go in there, cut the drums, have the engineer transfer the tracks or a stereo mix to your file format so you can overdub guitars, bass and vocals at home. If you have a limited amount of money, I say put it into a vocal recording system. Get the correct microphone for an acoustic, get the best microphone for an electric, and cut all that at home. You can leave the big, multi-channel recording to a professional studio.”
Whatever your expectations, a major component to your creating quality finished recordings in a home environment is to control the acoustics. The first step toward achieving an acoustic environment that will produce great results at home is to understand some of the basic principles of how sound waves work and how to control they way they inhabit and interact in a room.
When a sound wave meets a surface – a wall, a couch, a desk – some of the wave is absorbed, some of it is reflected, and some of it gets transmitted through the surface. Most dense surfaces do a good job isolating sound, but will reflect sound back into the room. Porous surfaces typically absorb sound well, but transmit sound.
The best way to stop sound transmission – sound leaking in or out of a room – is to isolate sound from the structure before it has a chance to vibrate. In other words, walls need to be isolated from ceilings and floors, achieved by decoupling – referred to as “floating” a room.
But floating a room is precisely the type of construction effort that isn’t an option for most people. So what can you do?
Early Reflection Points
Sound bouncing off the walls and floors and surfaces in your room need to be addressed as the reflections will cause problems. One fix is to address the reflected sound waves in your environment by adding sound absorbing wall treatments. But rather than hang carpet on every wall or nail egg cartons or carpet padding all over the place, a controlled and deliberate approach will yield the best results.
Chances are the room you’re considering has 90° angled corners, so the walls are parallel, as are the floor and the ceiling. The first place to start is with the early reflection points.
“Once the direct sound from the monitors has passed by you, you want something behind you to either soak it up or shatter it all over the place,” says Raison. “In either case, you don’t want a direct early reflection to hit your ears too soon. If it does, it will completely smear what you are hearing and it will give you problems. It’s those early reflective points you want to knock out.
“One trick is to use a pocket mirror. If you have a pair of speakers on a desk in the middle of a wall and the speakers are sitting on that desk, you can look around the room and see what reflective points you’re going to have. Points on the walls, and also the ceiling and the floor, those initial reflection points are my first go-to spots for sound absorption. Ill sit in the engineer’s seat and have someone move a pocket mirror along the wall until I can see the speaker reflected in the mirror. That’s where you want to put up some sort of an acoustical absorbtion product.”
Using professional sound absorption and diffusion products by Auralex, Sound Channels, Sonnex, or Sonora (to name only a few) can help you target the appropriate frequencies and help the sound you hear be as true to the source as possible. They also boast safety and fire ratings that surpass non-regulated materials.
“It’s the early reflection points on the ceilings and floor or desk that most people overlook,” warns Raison. “Even applying just a thin absorptive membrane on the ceiling can help knock down those highs and mids that can cause the early reflection smearage. People typically don’t do things to ceilings in the regular world, but in a recording environment it makes a substantial amount of difference.”