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.

Site Selection

one of the most common questions i see in the forums, as well as private messages, is about site selection. if you already own/rent/lease the property and you have a limited budget, then you’re very likely going to have to live with whatever situation you have. on the other hand, if you are exploring your options, its all about location location location. find the best possible location and facility you can find that meets your budget.

1) access and security – find a place that is easily accessible from car, public transportation, and other neighborhoods which are conducive to your studio operations. consider parking, nearby hotels, food, and drink. Security is often overlooked but the location and the facility should have good security, or be readily secured. Nothing worse than having your studio robbed, or clients harassed.

2) suitable for purpose – make sure you pick a building which is suitable for purpose. pick a place with tall ceilings (12′ or 3m+), plenty of open floor space (makes designing and building it easier), organized plumbing, HVAC (if possible), electrical service, etc. this way you can build your studio correctly and not struggle with layouts that have to address problematic building construction.

– do not pick a place with 6′ high ceilings, lots of odd permanent partitions, next to another organization with induction motors or other noise generating machines.

3) get a long term lease – you don’t want to invest a lot of money in building up your studio only to have your lease run out, and make sure you have termination clauses that protects your investment – don’t let a landlord run you out so they can rent your studio to someone else – make sure they have to give you enough time to disassemble it 🙂 maybe some business insurance to cover costs of a bad landlord.

if you find yourself in a lease/rent situation with low ceilings, bad layout, no or crummy services – get out if you can – it really will not be fun for anyone to accept a substandard location for your dream studio.

when in doubt, get a hold of me to discuss a site you are looking at as a possible location for your studio. i don’t charge for an initial consult (but even if i did it would be worth it!) so feel free to ask advice. Cheers!