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Making the most of your home studio space

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These simple tips can help you create a home studio space that’s efficient, productive and inspiring — especially if you’re limited by the size of your space.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

There are many things that set professional studios apart from one another — other than the equipment and talent behind the board. The actual space inside the walls of a professional studio is designed to control the acoustics in myriad ways: through the angles of the walls, design of the room, acoustic treatments to dampen and manage reflective waves of sound, and the sheer dimensions of the rooms to provide maximum comfort and space to work, relax, and produce and record a great performance.

Of course, home studios rarely allow that much forethought into the creation of the space. Usually, you’ll be converting an existing room, basement, or garage and making the best with what’s available. That said, there are things you can do to maximize comfort and create a home studio space that is conducive to good tones and good vibes, and has room enough for the necessary equipment and players.

Here are a few tips to help your raise your home studio space above its limitations to provide a comfortable, inspiring, and productive environment to compose and record music.

Eliminate clutter

You can make even a small room feel more spacious and open by eliminating as much clutter as possible and keeping your color scheme monochromatic, using various shades of one color. If you have a 20′ x 20′ basement space, one quick way to help solve your clutter problem is to build a closet. Not only does this help eliminate clutter, it can go a long way to help avoid or eliminate standing wave problems caused by parallel walls.

Set your room up for long hours of work

To make your home studio space feel comfortable and relaxing and conducive for long hours of work, focus on ergonomics, soothing lighting, and coordinated colors. It’s easy to collect gear and consider that the center of attention, but there are other things worth considering as a focal point in your room. How about an inspiring piece of art? Or some comfortable seats with pillows and a side table?

And one thing worth investing in is a durable, adjustable, comfortable chair. The Herman Miller Aeron chair, for instance, is certainly on the expensive side, but considering how much time you’ll be planted behind your board through tracking and mixing sessions, this can be just as important as investing in a class-A microphone. Many a professional studio has a chair like this at the big board.

Plan your workspace for ease and productivity

There’s no one way to lay out and arrange your home studio space — how you set up and orient your recording equipment is largely a personal thing, and there’s really no right or wrong way to work. You’ll likely want to be able to reach and access almost everything easily and quickly, without a lot of movement — kind of like an airplane pilot.

As we collect gear and are limited to the space available, a problem arises when there’s just too much equipment. But there are some basic tenets to consider. Make sure you can wheel your chair easily to critical listening positions. As much as you can, put the most important items (board, monitors, performance area) close to the acoustic centerline of the room. When you’ve positioned everything where it feels comfortable and functional, then find ways to make the acoustics work. Symmetry is a critically important design concept to focus on when arranging a room.

A room with a view

If you have a window in the room, whether you position yourself to face it or not is largely a personal preference. Some producers will only look forward, into the room, when working with talent, so this may help answer that question out of the gate. But if there’s a great view from your studio space, why not take advantage of it?

Again, once the window and physical orientation decisions have been made, then make the acoustics work. And remember, glass isn’t a bad thing in a studio environment — what you want to avoid are reflections from whatever surfaces you have that might cause harsh acoustic responses, like comb filtering and flutter echoes. Almost any piece of glass can be made to work acoustically in your room, as long as you take the time to use appropriate acoustic treatments and manage the reflection, absorption, and transmission of sound waves.

Don’t make lighting an afterthought

One big element that often gets neglected or forgotten about in a home studio space is lighting. For many home studio enthusiasts, lighting is an afterthought — or not considered at all. If you’re installing recessed lights, get professional advice, choose the fixtures carefully, and make sure everything is properly matched with the dimmers, as they can add noise in your studio. Ease of maintenance and control over the mood with lighting improve the functionality and ambiance in your home studio environment.

Get creative with storage

If you’re in a small space, you’ll inevitably have a problem with clutter, but there are things you can do to minimize it. If you can splay your acoustic treatments on your walls — i.e., extend them off the wall so there’s space behind — that provides an opportunity to hang shelves or hangers for storage behind them. Raise equipment off the floor and store things below. Use rack mount units and install drawers in them. Consider orienting the entire room on a different axis and you might find you create storage space in the front, back, or sides of the room.

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Planning and executing the design and orientation of the equipment and elements in your home studio space from the start will help you create an environment that’s comfortable and productive from the first day you use it. If you have experience in your own home studio and have tips to provide, let us know in the comments below.

This post was adapted from a interview with Mitch Gallagher, originally published on this blog in 2011.

Andre Calilhanna is a decent writer, drummer, and vocalist, as well as a terrible pianist and guitarist. He’s also a book editor and blog manager of the Disc Makers and BookBaby blog. Contact him at andre@discmakers.com.

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About Andre Calilhanna

Andre Calilhanna is a drummer, vocalist, writer, editor, and all around music fan. He's also a golf "enthusiast," pianist-in-progress, and a below-average guitarist (thanks for asking). Contact him at vitamindre@gmail.com.

2 thoughts on “Making the most of your home studio space

  1. I agree with both, Mitch and Rudy, I’m not ready to record in my space yet, the space is not usable at the moment, but again it’s only about 7×8 feet tiny but I’ll be doing solo work and a few tracks at a time band stuff. I live in a row house so noise is going to be a problem with sound coming in and going out. I’m thinking about floating the floor for drums or just use a drum machine, I’m not crazy about them, but do what you must. We’re there’s a will there’s a way.

  2. I certainly agree with Mitch on all of his points regarding a home studio. Mine is very much a small 9’square that continually evolves depending on my solo recording efforts. It began in 2010 and I really do need to remove clutter and unused equipment in the year/s to come but it is functional for creating/recording/mastering all of my music. A better chair rather than a barstool or cheap piano seat would be helpful to. LESS IS MORE…it’s just hard to know what to remove/relocate in a 650sq/ft home.

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