Build out a Mixing / Recording room – Part I

Studio Buildout:

From time to time I am hired or asked to provide technical services in the design and construction of recording studio spaces and systems. As a partner with my good friend Kevin Sucher, in a studio, we find ourselves in a situation where we need to do a buildout in a residence on a pretty tight budget. In the following months I will blog about the experience to document and hopefully provide insights and thoughts to help other persons in such an endeavor.
-Jacques Sewrey

The Space:

An unfinished room in a residential basement. Dimensions are roughly 17′ x 29′ x 7’9”. This what we have to work with for better or worse. The better part is that the room is a fairly large space and is rectangular in nature. The worse part is the ratio dimensions are not the preferred kind and the height is a bit on the short side. Preferred height would be a minimum of 10′.

In looking at a space for the monitoring of high quality audio, many considerations need to be taken into account. The size of the room, the type of audio production that will be done in the space, the type of building construction of the bare space, any other adjoining rooms of the space and their use, the neighborhood in which the space is, proximity to any low-frequency generating business’s or sounds, access to electrical and HVAC systems.

The use is going to be production, mixing, vocal over-dub and small acoustic instrument recording. Possible drum recording will be done in the garage.

Our space uses construction block as the type of material that the walls of the space are constructed from. This is a very good thing. Construction block or poured concrete is very good at stopping the transmission of sound from and to the outside. And being below “grade” is also helpful. However, being below grade can be an issue if the space is located near low-frequency generating sources as the low-frequency can pass through the ground and into the studio space then get trapped and reverberate. This is unacceptable!! One of the numbers you may run across is the STC. Sound Transmission Coefficient. Which is the amount of sound that is stopped by the material/construction. A wall, floor, ceiling, sofa etc.. The higher the number the more sound is stopped. The average hollow wall in a normal home is 30-35. Filled block and poured wall construction is 50-55. A double wall separated by airspace with 2 layers of drywall on each side and fiberglass insulation is 55-60.

The biggest issue we face is noise coming from the living room and laundry room above the space. I will talk about this in the next installment of the blog.

The first thing I did was to measure the room dimensions and plot them (to scale) on paper. Do all the nooks and crannies. In doing this you can start to layout your room. Make decisions of equipment locations, speaker placement. Added walls and possible sound treatment. Always try to set up your monitoring position in the first 1/3rd of the longways of the space.

Come up with a budget, something you can do with-in your business plan. The budget for this project is a healthy $8000. This only includes the buildout, no recording equipment. In planning a studio think of everything. The equipment you have or will add. How it will be wired. What cue system you will use. Storage space. Internet. Lighting. How you will incorporate HVAC.

Stay tuned for more to come on this exciting project!

. Record . Mix . Master . Music .

9.9.2013 – Please note – this project has been put on hold. If you have any questions on your Studio Build Out do not hesitate to contact me directly.

Acoustic Bass / Bass Violin

Recording the Bass ViolinIn discussing electric bass recording techniques I failed to mention the acoustic bass. Also known as the bass violin, the acoustic bass is used quite a bit in jazz, country and bluegrass genres.

In the studio put the bass in a separate isolated room if at all possible, with the exception of acoustic country and bluegrass styles. For a jazz group while it is advantageous to keep all the players together there usually is too much bleed from the drums and piano.

You can get a great sound by using two mics. A large diaphragm condenser aimed at the lower body of the instrument below the “f” hole and a small diaphragm condenser aimed above the “f” hole sort of at the fingerboard. Both of these mics are about 12 -18 inches away from the instrument.

Roll a little of the high frequencies off on the bottom microphone and just a smidgen of the low frequencies off on the top microphone. Record on separate tracks and blend to taste in mixdown.

If recording a bluegrass group or one with no piano or drums you can get away with having the bass musician with everyone else in one larger room. You can also use gobos (go betweens) to help isolate the sounds while still keeping the group together in one area.

What are your favorite acoustic bass recording tips?

. Record . Mix . Master . Music .

Tips for Headphone Monitoring in the Studio

Headphone TipsFirst off, the quality of sound in the headphones will not be even close to what you will hear in the control room. Headphone use is designed for you to hear the other players so that you will all play in time together. Do not be concerned about how the tones sound in the phones. If you hear any weirdness in the control room at playback, then mention it to the engineer. You do need to hear yourself and others.

Make sure you have the mix that you want. It can help you perform better and maybe even inspire you to greater creativity. For guitarists, if you are in the same room as your amp try an open ear phone. This will let you hear more of you amp acoustically.

Bass players, use a closed phone with good bass response so you can hear the bass better. Drummers, the same as bass. Closed headphones will help you hear the bass and drums better and will keep the click from bleeding into the mics.

Vocalists, the use of headphones is very tricky for you. Singers usually sing sharp or flat when using both ear pads. To help remedy this situation take one side of the ear pads off. But be careful, you don’t want the sound from the headphones going into the vocal mic. So, watch your levels.

One last item of note, most studios today only have 2 to 3 mixes for headphones so you may need to share a mix another player.  Drums and bass go together well, keys and guitars go together well also. If you are doing vocals live, try to keep them on their own mix.

What is your favorite headphone monitoring tip?

. Record . Mix . Master . Music .

Readers Poll

Today’s rapid diffusion of home recording gear is giving artists many options for recording their music. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Even though the DIY route is becoming more widespread, many artists realize that delegating the process to a recording engineer will most often yield more productive, albeit more expensive, results.

What is your opinion:

– Do you prefer to record at a studio, or DIY at home…?
– How many projects have your recorded at home…?
– Which method did you try 1st…?

– Do musicians become more creative in the DIY recording process…?
– In the studio is there more attention paid to the quality of work…?
– Why is it assumed every musician possesses an aptitude for DIY recording…?

Reader's Poll
Leave a comment and answer these questions.

. Record . Mix . Master . Music .

Preparing for the Studio Experience

So, you have selected the studio you will be doing your project with and the dates are set. You have been rehearsing right? Playing your songs in the studio is going to sound very different from the sound you heard in your rehearsal space. Sometimes its a huge difference. You will typically be separated from the other players. Physically as well as sometimes visually. You will be referencing your sound via headphones.
(More on headphones in the next blog)

Know your songs forwards, backwards and in between. In other words, be able to start the song from any measure and know where you are in the song. You may be asked by the engineer or producer, to play just a certain section to be edited later into the main take. New heads on the drum set the day before and tuned appropriately. New strings on guitars 2 or 3 days before the recording. New power tubes if using tube amps. If using a piano or keyboard tune to that. Record scratch (not really keeping) vocals so the rest of the band has a reference. Your engineer may even ask you to write out the vocals – it’s a good idea to do this beforehand and bring them to the session with you. Anything you can do to prepare before the session will save time/money and once in session everyone can focus solely on recording.

Record the rhythm tracks first, for all the tunes, then add the vocals and solo stuff as overdubs. Jam or play different songs, than what you will be recording, for at least a half hour to get a feel for the headphone sound and mix. Once that is done then and everyone is comfortable, go thru one of the project songs so the engineer can make sure tones are good and levels are good. Then make it happen.

There really is no sense in playing a song more than 4 times or takes. You will lose the freshness and it will sound bland. If it doesn’t happen, move on and come back to it later. Always have a couple of other songs to record in case it doesn’t work out with one of the tunes. Remember you do not need to record all at one. Sometimes its just a crappy day for playing. End the session and come back fresh the next day. If takes are going great pound the songs out, if not take a 20 minute break go outside get some air, relax and go back to it. Also, recording should not be arduous. Challenging a bit, yes and certainly fun and creative.

. Record . Mix . Master . Music .
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