How to Set Up Your Recording Studio Environment for Creativity
A version of this article originally appeared on Bandzoogle.
By Adam Percy Apr 15, 2015 10:00 AM
If you’re a musician, then you’ve been involved in recording in varying degrees. 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 are a few helpful methods to get the most out of the space in which you record!
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 to; it can give you a little bit more control of the sound and add some visual vibe.
All rooms sound different, so here are a few really basic points for setting up a space for optimal sound.
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, as they can sometimes help reduce outside noise.
Bass frequencies are some of the most important, no matter the musical style. They’re 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.
X marks the spot
After 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 – 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.
Invest in some quality office chairs with proper lower back and lumbar support. Avoid seats with armrests for guitar, bass, or 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, it can help deaden the room.
If you don’t have a lot of light, set the mood with cool lamps, Christmas lights from a cheap 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.
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 singer’s 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 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.
Test everything before recording
Do really basic test recordings with simple scratch vocals and instrumentation. Don’t worry about performance just yet – focus on getting the setup right. Programs like GarageBand are excellent for this, as they can give a rough sketch of your recording-to-be and fill in any gaps in case 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.
Have plenty of spare cables
If you’re getting “snap, crackle, and pop” somewhere, nine 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.
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 use the other in a pinch.
Read your manuals
Boring, I know! But you’ll get the correct information right away from the manufacturer, which is the best way to learn 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.