Whether you have all the latest equipment or you’re living modestly and hardly have any, setting up your home studio correctly can be the key to the perfect sound we’re all seeking.
The team at Track Spark have put together 10 golden home studio rules to make sure your personal recordings sound ultra-professional. They are also inviting BPB readers to sign up and receive a free copy of the FreaQ equalizer VST plugin by Audio Assault, along with a sample pack and a selection of free loops. You can also sign up for a free monthly trial and receive a selection of free VST plugins (Slam Dawg by Beatskillz, Extremum by Sinevibes and Dancida by CubicAudio).
#1 Pick The Right Room
Most of us don’t have the choice as to which room we use for our studio. But if you’re looking to fashion a soundproof haven, bigger is always better. This is especially true if your Live Room and Control Room are in the same space, but more importantly it allows you to scale with your ambitions. As your arsenal of hardware grows you’ll have somewhere to house it, and the bigger the space the more musicians you can fit in to record live. These hermetically sealed environments can be a bit unpleasant at the best of times too, let alone with five people crammed in, so you’ll appreciate the room to breathe. And less tangibly (but no less importantly), more physical space means more room to manoeuvre for the sound of the instruments you’re recording.
#2 Make The Room Quiet
You can make a huge difference to the sound of your studio by putting absorbers on the walls. Bought or homemade materials can have a big impact on your studio’s ambiance: Auralex foam is pretty standard, but there are also plenty of YouTube tutorials involving rock wool and acoustic fabric to earn your Blue Peter badge. Killing the primary reflections – the sound waves that hit the walls first – should be your first objective, and is pretty easy to implement. Put absorbers on the sidewalls to your left and right (between your monitors and your seat) at head height, as well as behind the monitors themselves. This will absorb the sound waves into the treated areas rather than bouncing off the walls and back to your ears. The same goes for the ceiling directly above you and your monitors. To establish the lines of sight (and sound), get someone else to walk along the sides of your room holding a mirror at your seated head height. If you can see the speakers in the mirror, then that’s where you want to stick an absorber.
#3 Have Good Monitor Placement
Taking the time to position your monitors for the optimum mixing conditions is crucial to how your music will be heard outside of the studio. Too close together or too far apart can cause havoc, so you’ll want to make sure they’re at the right distance for a great stereo sound. A good rule of thumb is to create an equilateral triangle between your sitting position and the two speakers. Make sure your speakers are the same distance from the sidewalls too, as this can hugely affect stereo imaging, and use monitor stands to cancel out vibration and create a clear sound from the monitors. Again, you have the option of buying them or getting creative and making your own from leftover foam.
#4 Take The Carpet Out
Whether it’s concrete, hardwood or tiles, hard floors are just better for your studio. Carpeted rooms cause issues, not least that they wear out quickly if you have a lot of musician’s walking in and out. They also tend to absorb high frequencies but not low ones, throwing your acoustics completely out of whack. You might consider scattering some rugs around to tame the floor reflections a touch though, so that you don’t completely ruin all of the hard work you’ve done putting up the acoustic paneling.
#5 Make It Look As Nice And Professional As You Can
This might seem like a moot point, but the more professional and generally cool your studio looks and feels, the more time you’ll want to spend in there. Decorate in a way that will inspire better writing and recordings. It should be a comfortable working atmosphere for you to work in, but don’t get too cozy: you also want visiting musicians and collaborators to feel at ease and inspired by the surroundings.
#6 Get Headphones That Don’t Bleed
Whatever DAW, plugins, VST instruments etc. you opt to use, it’s important to have headphones that don’t bleed so your mic doesn’t pick up unwanted extras. They don’t need to be massively expensive, just make sure they’re fully enclosed. It’s generally a good idea to avoid high volumes when recording: your ears are pretty important, and they’ll take enough of a pasting when you’re packing out Wembley.
#7 If You Can, See The Light!
The first thing most people do when converting a room to a studio is block up any windows for the best possible soundproofing. But without natural light it can feel like you’re working in a bunker. It may look like a panic room, but fret not: a combination of a double glazed window and acoustic glass, which is 2 sheets of glass with a thinner sheet glued in between, will work brilliantly if fitted correctly. On the other hand, most people don’t turn their monitors up to 100 dB when mixing, so don’t be afraid to open your windows and let in some light.
#8 Seal Your Doors
As with most rooms, your studio will have at least one doorway to navigate and keep noise from the lovely people around you. If you want to record some Ska without driving your family to madness, a big, heavy door will help. In Layman’s terms, the bigger and greater the mass, the more sound it will stop, so adding sheetblock to a standard door can be just as effective. To ensure that the doors are totally sealed shut when closed, you can use sealing strips made for studios, or buy standard strips from any DIY store.
#9 Don’t Suffocate
With all this decorating and sealing and soundproofing, you may have forgotten that you’re a human being who needs air to breathe. Make sure there’s an inlet and outlet with at least one fan, spaced evenly apart if possible. Don’t be afraid to open a window, but most importantly don’t die: we’d be really annoyed that you didn’t listen.
#10 Don’t Hide Your Power Baby
Everyone assumes that power cables should be hidden behind the plasterboard walls, but excising plug sockets has the obvious drawback of carving out great big gaps for sound to get through. It’s advisable that all power should be surface-mounted using trunking or conduits. Alternatively you can build a specific area for plugs using timber and plasterboard, materials that are conveniently not very conductive.
This article is by Tim Chapman from Track Spark and they’ll email you a free music producers bundle containing a VST plugin, samples and loops if you follow this link and enter your details. Track Spark’s aim is to introduce producers to great companies & developers making plugins, sample packs, VST instruments, music loops & tutorials for an extremely affordable price.