Design & Build
Welcome back to BIG AUDIO. In the last edition we looked at how to find the best location for a professional recording studio. This month we are looking at how to design and build a recording studio.
A professional recording studio can be built within an existing commercial building or from the ground up. Let’s look at the first option first.
Since most commercial bays are usually sandwiched between other businesses, this option can typically be a compromise, with the need for isolation being critical in order to keep your noise in and keep the neighbor’s noises out. This involves designing and building the studio control room, live room and isolation booths as separate structures within the outside shell of the commercial space. This double wall approach can work well if the inner structures are several inches away from the outside walls, plus both the inside and outside walls should be well insulated to minimize transfer of sound vibrations, in particular low frequencies because they contain more power (at the same relative volumes) than mid and high frequencies. The floors and ceilings will also need to be separate structures kept isolated from the building in order to prevent low frequency traffic rumble from being picked up by sensitive studio microphones.
As for the second option, a new separate studio building, the same rules of double-wall construction still apply but the floors and ceilings can be easier to deal with. For example, when building my studio at its quiet, semi-rural location, the concrete floors were poured extra thick, with a separate slab for each room to prevent low frequency sound transfer. Another benefit to this location is the studio has many windows to let in light and show the beautiful lake views. But the windows needed to be either laminated glass or two sets of double-pane glass for each window opening to maintain adequate isolation. Another benefit to having a new studio building is each room can be built with non-parallel walls and floor/ceiling dimensions. This is very important for the room’s acoustics because this minimizes low and low-mid frequency standing waves (peaks and dips in certain frequencies that cause unbalanced acoustics). This phenomenon is much harder to deal with than mid and high frequencies which can usually be tamed with wall, floor and ceiling treatments such as foam, carpet, batting and other tuned absorbers that can be attached to the walls and ceilings to help balance the frequency response of each room, especially the control room. When designing my control room I wanted it to be used for mastering which requires a near perfectly flat frequency response. Thanks to the design, construction, and treatments the control room is excellent for mixing and mastering with virtually no ‘colouration’ of the audio playback.
Other considerations that should be incorporated in designing a professional studio are:
- Sight lines (clients should be able to see each other, or at least all other band members should be able to see the drummer).
- Room isolation (same double-wall construction as above to prevent audio bleed such as loud drums into a vocal or instrument mic).
- Ambient versus non-ambient rooms (some ‘dead’, others ‘live’ for flexibility during recording).
- Space (big enough for musicians to feel comfortable in each room).
- Wiring (isolated AC electrical circuits to prevent ground hum and surges which can ruin recordings).
- HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning that is comfortable yet does not add noise or transfer sound between rooms).
- Comfort (furniture, bath fixtures, appliances etc. for client use).
- Interior design, etc.
A great example of professional studio construction can be seen in photos on the website of Jim Vallance, who built Armoury Recording studio in Vancouver, B.C. Click here for his website http://www.jimvallance.com/
Stay tuned next month when we look at professional recording studio equipment considerations. And keep on lovin’ music!
Bob Gabelhouse is a certified Audio Engineer, Music Producer and owner of BIG Audio Productions recording studio in Kelowna. He is also the Instructor of the Audio Engineering & Music Production program at Okanagan College.