Home studio homework


This week’s song is an old one. It was recorded a number of years ago (in 1999, I think) for a Shelflife Records comp. It’s one of the first songs where we dabbled with bossa nova and Brazilian music influences.

As for the title of this post, I, as countless other musicians, have a home studio, and I, as countless other musicians, have been doing it the wrong way from the start, when it comes to acoustic treatment.

Yes, it’s embarrassing to admit, but I’ll have to go on record to say that my studio is less than optimum when it comes to acoustic treatment. There’s zero soundproofing, and I’ve mixed three records in a very small room with nothing in the way of sound deflectors and absorbers. Don’t do that!

Seriously, I’ve done it out of ignorance and laziness. Soundproofing can be expensive, but acoustic treatment can be done cheaply, and there are no excuses not to do anything about it.

Very few lucky people can afford the luxury of building their studio from scratch. If you’re one of them, all you need is a book like this, and you’re set. You can also hang around the Recording Studio Design Forum to learn a lot about the subject BEFORE you start building.

However, if you’re retrofitting an existing room into a recording/mixing room, there a few things you should worry about, and I’ll only hint at things here, and perhaps save you from a lot of aggravation. Don’t ask me technical questions, just go and do your homework. Research.

I’m moving into a new home soon, and I’m planning on doing a number of things to my new studio. I’ve decided not to do anything to my current “studio” (really, calling this small closet-like room is an offense to real studios), mainly because I’m moving away, and also because it’s way too small to even do anything to it. Yes, I COULD do something to improve it, but, as I said, I’m moving, so I won’t do anything for now.

Anyway, a few pointers as to what you should worry about in your MIXING room (recording room acoustics is not as crucial as mixing room acoustics, and if you recording in the same space you’re mixing in, it’s only one room you’ll have to treat anyway).

One of the problems in my room is that two of the walls have different surfaces. One is all glass while the other is concrete with a curtain hanging over it. I could reduce the issues by putting up curtains on the glass side too. Walls facing each other should have the same kinds of surfaces, even if you place absorbers and diffusers on them you should set them up so there’s one facing each other. What you’re worried about here is standing waves that emphasize particular frequencies, so diffusers are a must if you have parallel walls. If you’re building, you can avoid this by design a room with nonparallel walls.

Another issue with my room is that it’s square. Yes, I know, big no no. The front wall is way too close to the back wall. Your front wall needs to be far away enough from the back wall so that your ears can differentiate between sound you’re hearing directly from your nearfield monitors and sound reflected from the back of the room. When it’s too close, it all gets jumbled together by the brain, and it’s detrimental to your perception.

One way to help this situation is to place absorbers on the back wall. The side walls and the ceiling should be treated the same way, if they’re too close to your ears. The ideal solution for the ceiling is to build a slant into it, making it lower in the front, and higher in the back, so the sound coming from the monitors is reflected to the back of the room.

Another big issue especially with small rooms is bass buildup in the corners of the room. You can solve this easily by building bass traps. If your monitors are somewhat near to the corners of your room, you should look into placing bass traps in those corners. I have been to studios before and after the installation of bass traps, and I can tell you it makes a lot of difference.

So far we have seen that my recording/mixing room has all the flaws imaginable, and I have done nothing right about it except for accidentally placing shelves full of books on the back wall (they act as diffusers rather than absorbers, but they help a little anyway).

There’s a lot of info all over the internet about all this, and there’s no excuse for anyone to work in a completely messed up environment like I’ve been doing. My life could have been a lot easier all this time if only I had done a few things to improve the situation. Don’t be like me, and do something about it.


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