Step three in the recording studio design process

Going green. It’s much more than money (assuming your currency of choice is green…). And in today’s constrained financial times, getting a budget and staying within the budget is more important than before. Once you are operational, you need to consider the day-to-day costs for the studio – electricity is the life blood of electronics and there are several aspects to consider.
Electricity is not free (unless you are one of the few people who are either producing it in a sustainable manner already or you have subsidies). The price you pay per unit of electricity is not the only cost to consider either. if you are not aware of the news regarding climate change and sustainability and carbon footprint etc. then you might want to look into these topics to better understand how your consumption of electricity flows in a cycle which impacts many places – from obtaining the fuels to run the power plant, power distribution, construction of the infrastructure that delivers it to you, and the radiation from your electronics which flows through you and your neighbors.
The construction of your studio needs to consider the sustainability angle as well as local requirements for use of building materials which may require permits or fees or additional inspections plus licensed or skilled installers. disposal of the construction waste should be performed in accordance with your local regulations as well as a clear conscience.
All of these details can impact your costs, timelines, and overall construction and working budgets.
Fortunately the Internet enables people to communicate more effectively than ever before and therefore finding the information you need about the rules for your studio and people with experience to do the work is easier than ever – but it is still work so don’t expect magic. that said, you are building something which many people will find desirable and unless you have the monetary backing, consider bartering the materials and work in exchange for time and output from your new studio. consider it “sweat equity”.
Using recycled materials can save much on costs especially if your new studio has a lot of finishing materials like flooring, slats, wood trim, etc. be aware that older materials could contain toxic or volatile materials or are not structurally up to specification, which you want to avoid for safety, health, and regulatory reasons. make sure you inspect (or have someone you trust inspect) the materials and verify their suitability for purpose.
Sometimes new is better as well. new insulation from recycled cotton products has both good acoustical properties as well as fire and insect / mold retardant – check your distributor. using paperless gypsum wall board saves paper and is generally better for environments where moisture could be an issue because it is less likely to promote mold growth. paperless GWB is more expensive in many markets so go with the type best suited for your budget and needs.
Lightweight steel framing is generally better for isolation walls than wood given similar construction and can lower the amount of lumber needed for framing (still best to frame out the doors and windows with wood or heavier grade steel). Using the steel framing can also cut the overall parts needed to obtain good isolation and the process of assembling it is generally understood by many carpenters.


Step two in the recording studio design process

so you’ve convinced yourself (and maybe your investors) that you want to build your professional recording studio. the next step is to work through the design details. these include documenting your environment, your space, and how you want to use it. i have a simple checklist on my site to use as a guide for capturing things of interest:

– noise levels

– neighbors

– details of existing construction (if any)

– dimensions

– key requirements

get yourself a sound level meter (Radio Shack™ has a nice digital one that’s inexpensive) and a notepad. make measurements over the course of several days and mark it down in your notepad. does the AM/PM rush hour, or trucks, trains, planes create high levels of noise and vibration? when? does that impact hammer test center next to the automotive crash lab make too much noise for your acoustic violin recordings? (see my blob on site selection) all the noise and neighbor factors will weigh in later when determining what you need to do for isolation.

next, take photos of the site showing any existing construction and important features. a good starting point is at least one photo per wall, plus some of the floor and ceiling. not only is this good for your scrap-book, but later if you need help from a designer or on the forums, people will need to see how things are built in order to provide good answers.

now its time to get out your measuring tape and a large grid-lined paper (easily obtained in many art supply or office supply stores) and start drawing out your space. make the dimensions (as notes, or if inclined to the grid) as accurate as possible (1/4″ is good for imperial, 5mm is close enough for metric). make sure you include all dimensions so you can fully calculate the length of a given wall based on all the individual measurements (i find many people include 2 or 3 dimensions when they needed 3 or 4…). include water pipes, ducts, windows, doors, beams, fire pipes, utility equipment, stairs, odd protrusions, etc. remember to include the height of the room and when it varies from a single height.

you might need a couple of pieces of paper – one per room if needed but remember to create a single drawing with the overall floor plan so its possible to recreate the layout later…

finally, document your key requirements – need control room, need live room, need 2 isolation booths, need to move in and out 11′ grand pianos, need a lounge, restroom, etc… these bits of information all play into the design because you don’t want to build something that results in a crew of people trying to carry large equipment through your control room… then again, if your space is mostly control room with a booth, you probably want access to the control room without having to go through the booth so you don’t disturb the artist at work in the event someone has to come in or out…

if this is a commercial facility (be honest) then you need to follow accessibility regulations – this means access for people with various handicaps – and yes – it will likely cost you more to build – but it will cost you way more to get sued or censured with fines. you also need to make sure proper safety, security, licensing, etc all in compliance with commercial facility regulations.


so now you have the noise, neighbors, site, dimensions, and requirements all in hand. armed with this information it becomes possible to begin formulating the first design – either with a designer or as part of your own efforts.

next week we’ll start to work through some methods of bringing this information into play with a series of design attempts.

Getting Started

you know you want it. but you’re not a designer or acoustician. don’t know how much money you need or can get. and haven’t swung a hammer or cut some lumber. you’re a musician, producer, or just someone who wants a great place to listen to music or watch movies.

without some understanding of the basics of acoustics, video, and construction, you’ll be pretty limited in how much you can achieve without getting some help. and that help is often going to cost you. money, time, aggravation, promises to be kept, and other bartering. even so, getting started in the right way can go a long ways towards having the facility you want. i’ll be skipping the whole site selection bit as thats covered in another blog, but we’ll visit the design steps a bit more.

step one – do you really want to do this? are you really committed? if not, we can stop right here because you’re not going to pull it off so save yourself the frustration and find other means to get into the facility of your dreams – rent, lease, etc.

step two – plan. you must figure out your market, your needs, a proposed budget, skills of the people involved, and how you’re going to get paid or pay back (yes, even personal studios need to provide value). this should be put together into a plan so you can track your progress, and if need be, get investors on-board to help.

step three – if you need help and have limited (low) budget – consider exchange/barter for services, materials, recycled materials, reduction in scale/scope, etc. there are some excellent examples of people putting out advertisements for people to help build a studio in exchange for recording and mix time. one studio in LA, the owner got over 200 responses in a week. his studio was built by a handful of construction professionals (he paid for materials) in about a month.

if you’re looking for investors, work with your designer to get some basic comps, renderings, and ballpark estimates (usually by taking the high level construction per square area costs X your square area = rough approximation – add another 15-25% – and then price retail on your equipment – because you’re likely to be paying installation costs even if you do get discounts on the equipment later, then another 10% of the total – worst case you’re high but its often easier to be high then to have to go and ask for more money later).

step four – be there. show up everyday on site and see whats going on as your facility is built. ask questions, bring coffee or soft drinks (don’t get the crew drunk while they’re working ;-)) show enthusiasm for your project. keep your investors up to date on progress. if this is a commercial facility, start working on your marketing, you want projects lining up in anticipation of your opening. take lots of photos and keep a log of the activities. track costs and time to your plan to see where you guessed right or wrong. plan a party for the construction crew and a party for your clients/friends to celebrate opening day.

step five – get to work! this is the best job in the world! if its your home theater, go relax, you’ve earned it!