Back in the olden days… that would be, oh, 1997 or so… I bought an inexpensive microphone and plugged it into my sound card. The signal-to-noise ratio was very bad, so the recordings were quite hissy. I also ran out of budget before I purchased a mic stand, so at first I duct-taped the mic to a vacuum handle, stacked a few books under said vacuum, and hit “record.” Ah… duct tape… where would this old world be without it?
From that highly absurd beginning, my studio has morphed over the years into the high-tech facility it is today. For awhile, it was a spare bedroom with quilts suspended on hooks around the edges of the room to absorb unwanted reflections. It was awkward to set up, strange to behold, and claustrophobia-inducing in the extreme. (I have to say though… it worked.)
Here’s today’s version. It’s still a make-shift operation, and I’ve had to use my imagination in a lot of ways to make the best use of the space I have. When I inherit a million dollars it will definitely change again.
The pictures are thumbnails–click them to see larger images. In case you’d like to use some of these techniques in your own home studio (or just snicker at the lengths to which ingenuity will go) I’ll describe in detail the construction and function of various items.
My studio is built into two small (about 10′ X 11′) bedrooms on the main level of my house. It’s not a bad size for a room that gets used as an isolation booth, and another that gets used as a control room, but it certainly does limit how far back I can get for pictures–hence the closeup feel of all of these.
Here we have the east wall–a monument to squares of busy fabrics. The squares are constructed from canvas stretcher boards (available cheap in art stores) and the fabric is attached much like canvas would be–stretched taut and stapled. Thin foam insulation is inserted into the cavity thus produced, and they are mounted on the wall (or in this case, on each other) using your preferred method. (My preferred method is “any old nail you can find that isn’t overly large.)
The idea for this wall was simply to absorb reflections . It’s an exterior wall at the end of the house, so it’s well insulated and keeps noise out fairly well.
The couch below them is one of those fold-flat jobs. The room still has to double as a guest room at times, and that was the best answer I could come up with. The upholstery is a bit too reflective though, so it gets covered in throws and pillows.
Moving on, we see the ultra-sophisticated south wall. This is also an exterior wall, but unlike the east wall, it faces the street. It also contains the home recording studio’s worst enemy, the amateur-sound-insulator’s nightmare…a window.
We live on a quiet residential street, not too busy except for kids going to and from school, trash collection trucks, backhoes randomly digging up the pavement, dogs, deer, UPS delivery vans,.. okay, there’s a lot of noise to deal with. Even the birds that nest in the tree outside the window get annoying. The neighbors think I’m crazy at times when I go out and yell at them to clear off. (The birds, not the neighbors.)
What I did to try to counteract this was to hang two layers of sound absorbing curtains along this side of the room with about a foot of dead air space between them. This is the way they appear when the room is in use as an isolation booth.
The curtains are also of the light-blocking variety, which makes the room very dark and quiet for sleepers who don’t feel like getting up early.
There are curtains behind the plug, inside the recess of the window, so, no you can’t see that plywood from outside. We have the world fooled into thinking it’s a perfectly normal window in a perfectly normal room.
The plug is made from two layers of plywood with Green Glue sandwiched between them. Green Glue is good stuff. Easy to use and not particularly smelly. I also constructed a vent cover using the same technique on a smaller scale.
The window plug has made an amazing difference in the sound that inflitrates the room. It effectively shuts out high- and mid-range frequencies (including the twittering of the birds so I no longer have to chase them), but the low-frequency rumble of trucks is still an issue, and so far I’ve found nothing that helps with that. See the lovely bungee cord that holds the plug against the wall? Where would the world be without bungee cords?
Next we have the first of two interior walls. This one had its challenges as well, namely, a closet with great, big, hard, flat double doors, and the fact that it backs onto the computer used in recording.
The closet is actually not in the picture. (Could you tell?) Like I said, the room is small and I couldn’t back up any further. The solution there was simply to remove the doors and hang another double layer of curtains in their place. The closet is used for storing sound equipment (including a couple of real mic stands–no vacuum), but still has empty storage for the kids’ stuff when they come to visit.
The wall hanging is hiding yet another layer of sound insulation, which effectively blocks the relatively quiet noise of the computer on the other side of the wall.
At the top are bass traps. No disguising them. Any guesses what I used to mount them with? Heh… push pins of course. Where would the world be without push pins?
The door presented yet another challenge. Ideally, this would be a heavy, solid-core door, but in this house inexpensive, hollow-core doors are de rigueur. Fortunately we run a pretty quiet household unless the cat decides she wants in, so noise from inside the house wasn’t much of an issue. Reflections, on the other hand, were. I didn’t really want to mutilate my door, so I ended up using thumb tacks (where would the world be without thumb tacks?) to hang a long strip of fabric from the top edge of the door, and attached sound insulation all the way down using safety pins. (You guessed it… where would the world be…?)
This wall is a monument to overstock.com. The curtains (again concealing sound insulation) and wall sconces (the plug-in kind) were purchased there. My daughter Jen took one look at the curtains on the wall and said, “Oh! Cool! Goth curtains.” That wasn’t the intent. Honestly.
One other bit of insulation not shown (because it didn’t really look like much from my vantage point, flat on my back in the middle of the room) is a square similar to the ones on the wall but four times as large, suspended 4″ down from the ceiling.
Add a throw rug or two and some weatherstripping around the door, and there you have it. One overly-fussy, odd-looking, but fairly quiet room to record in. The mic and headphone cables are snaked through a hole in the closet wall to the computer in the next room.
The “control room” is nothing more than a similar bedroom that now holds masses of computer equipment and keyboards. It’s a bit less insulated than this one, but just as… unique.
As for equipment…. well, though it was all pricey enough, it’s not nearly as expensive as pro-studio equipment. Here’s the list if you’re interested:
Mics: I’ve used several different mics over the years, starting with an AudioTechnica AT4040, moving on through a Studio Projects T3 tube mic, a Bluebird (which is a pretty good workhorse mic), to my latest aquisition, a Pearlman TM1. This last is a really lovely, clear mic, perhaps a little on the bright side, but if you roll off the high frequencies it’s really nice.
Sound interface: My good old EMU-1820m has finally gone the way of all the earth (e-bay), and I’ve moved on to a RME Babyface. It’s a great little portable interface, but I’ve already hit the wall with inputs on it, so I’ll probably acquire a Fireface one of these days and use the Babyface for mobile recordings.
Keyboards: Mmmmmm…. love my Nord!
Software: Cubase for my DAW, and a bazillion plugins… too many to enumerate. Some I like, some I don’t. It’s all personal preference.
So there you have it. My Improvised Home Studio in a Spare Room. One of these days maybe I’ll land on Boardwalk in Mickey D’s bingo game and build a real one.