Recording Studio Design Guidelines

wow, this is tough because it really comes down to understanding what you are trying to do, your budget, and the location of your new studio. it really is a pain to hear “it all depends” but it does… it’s nice to dream about but in order to make it happen you need to get organized. there are a lot of Internet and book based resources for compiling a set of guidelines for your studio design, but in the end, there are a few key questions to answer to shape your design.

assuming you found the right location, then here’s a few guidelines to consider:

– isolation does make a difference — most people assume they can get by on little or no isolation, and in rare cases that is true, for most of us, getting a good level of isolation is going to keep things more organized in terms of odd sounds entering our recordings, or having disruptions because of neighbors concerned about noise levels. either one is distracting and can throw off those most excellent moments…

– good acoustics is essential — you need it, you want it, yes, really. always start with broadband bass treatments. this way, if somehow those treatments result in enough low, mid, and high frequency control, you’re done. nothing worse than starting with high frequency absorption and finding mud, then trying to correct for the mud, only to find you’ve taken every bit of life out the room. if the low frequency trapping is too much for the mids and highs – add some panels, slats, etc to get some of that life back – your recordings will love you for it.

– visibility is important — people like to communicate with one another directly – not through video and talk backs – try to get as much glass as you can into your walls so people can see it other. if you can make that glass open, then they can talk to each other and hear each others instruments, and generally bring life into your sessions that are just not nearly as fun as face-to-face productions.

– good vibes — no one likes to play in a dungeon (well, not many :-)) so good aesthetics do play a role. if you are running a commercial facility its important to consider flexibility in the aesthetics so they can be adjusted to accommodate the mood of the client and the session in general.

– ease of use — make it easy to get set up, rehearse, record, mix, party (if allowed ;-)) so consider layout carefully, try to design it so people can move large or heavy equipment in and out without risking damage to other equipment or people (do you really want someone carrying that B-3 in its road case over your new SSL console?) if you know you’re going to have long sessions – plan on a lounge with bathroom, kitchen, and some recreation. make sure that lounge is isolated from the recording space to avoid things like loud shrieks from the winners at the pool table from disrupting the 12th vocal take…

so that’s my short list – isolation, acoustics, visibility, aesthetics, and ease of use. there more technical details like electric, security, and so on but from a guideline view these are the main ones to think a lot about.

Do I need a designer?

Of course you do! but that doesn’t mean the designer isn’t you! without wanting to use “it depends”, sorry, it depends. to be an effective designer of a complex studio construct where isolation, treatment, layout, aesthetics all play important roles, it will take a lot of study and practice to create a proper design. and if physics and acoustics and construction engineering are not your primary skill set, then its an uphill road. on the other hand, if you are simply looking to treat an existing room using DIY or commerically available acoustic treatment products (such as GIK Acoustics, Real Traps, etc), you can probably learn what you need to know in just a few weeks of self-study on the product sites and main acoustic forums.

You might need to learn a bit of math and some terminology but the essentials are learning to accept room modes as the primary problem area for small spaces, and getting the RT60 adjusted for your space. a room mode is simply the result of sound waves being trapped within a set of walls, floor, and ceiling. RT60 is the reverberation time. usually, once you add the treatments for room modes using broad band treatments (broad band meaning wide number of frequencies) you can often find that RT60 and miscellaneous echoes also come under control. in “dry rooms “(low RT60) you might need to add some panels (like plywood or boards) to get some life back into the room. in “wet rooms” (large RT60 or lots of echoes) you will want to add absorption to get all the energy (sound is energy) from bouncing around for too long a time. It depends…

Did that sound alien? possibly. but in a short time you can review product sites for examples of solving common room problems, some reading up on the acoustics forums, you can learn what all this means to you and prepare you to make the decisions needed to shape your space.