How to set up your recording studio environment for creativity

Home Studio Creativity

If you’re a musician, then you’ve been involved to varying degrees in recording. While many of you have probably been in a pro studio, it’s likely that you’ve dabbled with the idea of doing some recording yourself at home or in your own space - for demos, making beats, or even full fledged recordings.

Recording technology has made huge leaps while dropping in price, but having a creatively inspiring and good sounding environment can provide that extra special ‘something’, and make those long nights seem like an hour or two. Here’s a few helpful methods to get the most out of the space you record in!

 

Listen to the Room

Listen to the room and where you are in it

Remember, sound is simply vibrations moving through air, so the space you’re in and where you happen to be recording or listening can affect the outcome and color of your sound. In any recording, don’t try to ‘soundproof’ your space, but ‘tune’ it by picking the best sounding locations, or using objects and materials to control the vibrations that bounce around the room.

If you can’t afford things like studio traps to tune your room, heavy area carpeting can add some vibe to liven things up, and reduce vibrations, especially on wooden squeaky floors. You can also move it around fairly easily as you need it too - it can give you a little bit more control of the sound and add some visual vibe.

All rooms sound different, so here’s a few really basic points for setting up a space for optimal sound:

1. Avoid windows: Windows provide natural light in an enclosed space, but they also translate sound vibrations very well and let in outside noise. Be aware of this for lower volume sources like vocals - if a truck driving by lands on a perfect take, there’s no software or studio trick on earth that can get rid of it. If windows can’t be avoided, try to find very heavy curtains to pull while recording, they can sometimes help reduce outside noise.  

2. ‘Trap’ bass: Bass frequencies are some of the most important no matter the musical style - they are a big part of the sonic spectrum in tracks, so you want to make sure you’re hearing the low end accurately. Bass LOVES corners - in some cases, if not ‘trapped’ (controlled) it can negatively affect your recording.  

To apply basic trapping, try hanging those heavy carpets in your room corners to ‘round’ them out. Egg cartons won’t ever work - remember the heavier or denser the material to control your sound you can find, the better. On a tight budget? Any local charity store will have decent area rugs and / or heavy curtains, just remember to give them a wash first and add some freaky retro vibes to your digs.

3. X marks the spot: When you’ve ‘trapped’, clap your hands around the room to listen to the room sound. If you like what you hear in a certain spot, record a rough take from that spot to review the sound from another source, then mark it with tape so you remember that exact spot for later.  

I knew an engineer who’d assign a hockey player bobble head toy for each band member - he’d place them in the room exactly where he wanted us to set up and play. Tracking in the right place in a space can help reduce ‘post’ work - EQ, effects etc., so invest some time to get it right before hitting record.

 

Consider Comfort

Consider comfort - it’s a marathon, not a sprint

Working in a great sounding room is critical, but you can do this and be cozy at the same time. The more everyone is comfortable, the easier it will be to pull that all nighter to get the record done.  

1. Chairs: Invest in some quality office chairs with proper lower back and lumbar support. Avoid seats with armrests for guitar / bass / sitar players; high stools are good for singers and horn players.  If you have the means a comfy couch is always good for listening back with the band or letting the bass player nap off the day job, and depending on where you place it, can help deaden the room.

2. Lighting: If you don’t have a lot of light, set the mood with cool lamps, christmas lights from the dollar store, or LEDs. It’s your creative space, so add inspiration around the room - pictures, posters, bobble-heads, candles - whatever makes you relaxed and keeps things fun.

3. Take breaks regularly: Rest your ears - they can get tired, especially when you’re employing critical listening or exposing them to higher volumes. Keep food and beverages handy (try to avoid alcohol until you’re done recording). Keep an electric kettle and tea to rest your singer, and have healthy snacks to keep the energy up for the band.

Remember, if your singers voice box cracks from overuse or everyone is exhausted, there’s no getting blood from a stone - the session is over. Keep your ears, minds and bodies fresh, it’ll be easier to keep perspective, and be creative longer.

 
Know your gear

Know your gear, know your music.

Equipment can be cheap or pricey, but it’s talent and preparation that can really make the difference. Just make sure the performance going ‘to tape’ is the best you can make it.  

1. Test everything before recording: Do really basic test recordings with simple scratch vocals and instrumentation - don’t worry about performance just yet, get the setup right.  Programs like Garageband are excellent as they can give a ’rough sketch’ of your recording-to-be and fill in any gaps like if you don’t have a drummer handy.  It gets you ready for a ‘proper’ take, and can even help you tweak a song or two.  

2. Have plenty of spare cables: If you’re getting ‘snap, crackle and pop’ somewhere, 9 times out of 10, it’s a cable, not expensive hardware, so try changing a patch before kicking your computer. Invest in quality spare cabling and it will make life much easier when recording.

3. Backup programs: Consider having two programs on your computer to track with just in case  - some software is free or really inexpensive (like Audacity, Reaper or Logic), and if you run into trouble with one, you can always the other in a pinch.

4. Read your manuals: Boring I know! But you’ll get the correct information right away from the manufacturer which is the best place for it. Also, consider joining an online forum like gearslutz.com (no, this NOT some creepy musician dating site!) Some of the best musical technicians, producers, engineers and musicians are on this board and most of them are more than happy to help out if you have questions about recording. 

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Comments

David Whitmey
Posted by David Whitmey on Feb 25 2015 12:03 AM
Thanks for this knowledgeable post. One thing I want to share with all is that, In Music Base, you can take rooms for music rehearsal as well as band rehearsal. The music base room is fully equipped with proper musical instrument. Find us on www.music-base.co.uk/
Robert
Posted by Robert on Sep 15 2015 12:38 AM
It is better to have it off beat.
Brodie Kinder
Posted by Brodie Kinder on Nov 3 2015 4:19 PM
High five on this knowledge you've passed along. I have been recording with Logic and an Apogee one and have been rough recording tracks, and it has helped so much to use those to translate what the arrangements are for the band.
Ready Great
Posted by Ready Great on Nov 17 2015 3:18 AM
This post is soo educating, what I want to know is how much will it cost me to build a professional studio? ?
Adam
Posted by Adam on Nov 17 2015 1:55 PM
Thanks for all the positive comments! @Ready Great - the cost of a studio really comes down to what kinds of projects you hope to work on (are you recording live acts, are you a beat producer, etc.) - studio set up costs range from a few hundred dollars, to up to hundreds of thousands for really high end facilities. Recording technology has come a long way but there are a few tried and true things to consider when budgeting: 1. Invest in a quality computer - Mac, Windows, your recording software, doesn't matter it's mostly preference. However, audio software can be very processor intensive. The computer essentially is your 'tape' as well as a lot of your potential instrumentation, so be sure that the hardware you buy will last and perform well. 2. Get a digital audio interface /converter that suits your needs - if you're a beat producer, you may not need 16 outputs for mix, much of the instrumentation is 'in the box'. Live off the floor drum kit recording may require a bit more. Again, technology has come a long way, so you can invest low and high in this type of hardware, but assess you're needs first in this area. 3. Don't cheap out on cables - 9 times out of 10 that annoying crackle you hear in the mix is just a bad wire. Quality cables reduce the possibility of this happening. 4. Invest in at least 1 decent microphone and a pair of decent near field monitors - your recording chain pretty much starts and ends with these, so these are critical purchases. Each will generally range between $300 and $1200 on the cost low end. 5. Talk to people in the business! Sites like gearslutz.com are invaluable, but also check out production publications online like http://www.soundonsound.com/ for tips on anything from gear to buy on a budget, to configuring your space the best way possible for recordings. Also, feel free to go to your local music store and try the products - while it is cheaper to get decent recording gear, you don't want to be buying something that ultimately doesn't work with your set up or flow so be sure you get it right the first time. Music stores want your business, and can help you get the studio set up that's right for you.
Rxplanet
Posted by Rxplanet on Feb 21 2016 3:13 AM
Great catch Adam. Listen to the room - consider comfort - know your gear, know your music.