Building a Recording Studio — Part 1

Part 1: Why?

Back in the dark ages — before there was an internet you could even connect to — I worked in recording studios. They are magical places with racks full of cool audio gear, instruments and technology trying to capture the energy of a live performance to share with the world. At the University of Michigan, I helped create and run a small student-run 8 track recording studio in the East Quad dorm. An enterprising senior worked with the dorm to build a wall with a window between two music practice rooms and when I started as a freshman, we built that space into Quadrangle Studios and recorded lots of local bands and artists over my time at U of M. I loved working in that studio and the ability to use it myself to record music.

After college, I started a business recording and releasing podcasts. The challenge was that it was still 1988 and there was still no internet or iPods or — podcasts. Yet we persevered and created regular podcast content for companies that was shipped to their employees on audio cassettes. We had our recording studio and did basically all of the things that people do today when producing podcasts. Needless to say, we were too early for this to be a successful business.In the years since then, I’ve continued to create music and make my own recordings as well as recording in other people’s studios but I’ve never had what I would call a real recording studio. See, I like to feel the music when I’m creating it. And the process of recording and perfecting a song and a mix require listening to the same parts over and over and over… This gets annoying for other family members who are anywhere nearby.

“TURN IT DOWN!” is one of my least favorite phrases but one I’ve heard myriad times in my creative life. Starting as a teenager in a band, we had the police called on us multiple times because of our volume. It didn’t help that we were pretty bad then, but then again it was the noisy practice that helped us get better. My parents allowed us to use the basement for the band to practice (for which I’ll always be grateful) but even then we were regularly chastised for the liberal application of decibels. Even today (well, pre-2020 today), jamming with friends was at best tolerated by other guests we had over. I totally get the push-back. Unless you’re paying to see a concert with your favorite artists, other people’s loud music is somewhere between a nuisance and an outrage.

I’ve always wanted to have my own space where I can be noisy and creative. A space designed to write music, create great recordings and to play live with others without worrying about the sound bothering anyone else — and now I’m finally building it.

This is my current setup. It’s a lovely space but lacking both sound isolation and acoustic treatment

Isolation begets isolation

I’ve been working as a software engineer for the past few decades and the traditional nature of that work means I have usually lived in pretty close quarters to a lot of neighbors. Not very conducive to creating a recording studio but with the Coronavirus pandemic, working remotely is now not just tolerated, but it is required. This gave us the opportunity to buy a house a bit further away and continue to work remotely. The house we bought has a 1200 square foot detached garage and while we love being able to park our cars (and motorcycles) indoors after years of parking on the streets in Seattle, 600 square feet is perfectly adequate. That leaves the rest of the space for a recording studio.

Building a recording space requires consideration for two main things. Sound Isolation and Acoustic Treatment. Sound Isolation is the process of preventing sound from getting in or out of the recording space. This is what will let me be loud without annoying my family or our neighbors. It is also what will prevent recordings from being ruined by the garbage truck driving by or a plane flying overhead. Acoustic treatment is what you probably think of when you see pictures of a recording studio. That is all of the panels on the walls and ceilings to keep the sound of the room from interfering with the sound coming from the speakers. Both of these are huge topics that have been written about endlessly but both are critical problems to solve when turning an uninsulated detached garage space into a recording studio.

Before. The part of the garage that will become the recording studio. Note the tape on the floor indicating wall locations
Before. The part of the garage that will become the recording studio. Note the tape on the floor indicating wall locations

In addition to those issues, there’s also considerations for how the room is arranged, what part is for playing live with other people vs recording and mixing my own music. This space will also be my office while working on software. It needs heating and cooling and internet and lighting and storage.

Next up… designing the room.

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Chris Evans - Audiogust

Chris Evans - Audiogust

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Engineer (Software and Audio), Musician, Producer, Island Dweller