In this day and age, technology has advance well enough for small, home recording studios to become a reality. So much so that most amateur producers are dedicating a room in their house for this specific purpose. However, a majority of people who undertake this task are focused mostly on the tech side of the story. By doing so, they are completely disregarding what is probably the most important aspect of building a home recording studio. We are of course talking about soundproofing a room. Soundproofing takes a bit of planing and today we are going to walk you through the basics.
Lets say that you have invested a decent amount of money into a recording setup that can take on actual recording sessions. You have your PC ready, you've found a perfect USB audio interface or a mixer, and you have your microphones in place. If you have dedicated a room in your house to serve as a studio, this is most likely what you would hear when you press that record button. For starters, you would run into outside noise. No matter how sensitive and precise the polar pattern on your condenser mic is, it is still going to be susceptible to environmental noise pollution. Even if you live in a quiet suburb, all it takes is for someone to honk their horn or for your neighbor to test that new straight pipe exhaust. Before you know it, you will have to do a retake. In short, outside noise is a real issue.
However, the noise coming from the inside is equally as problematic. We aren't necessarily talking about having a source of noise in your studio, but rather how sound bounces off different surfaces. It is quite simple, really. Any sound that is confined within a small room will bounce and reflect in numerous directions. This can add natural reverb to your recording, which is something you definitely want to avoid. Bottom line, soundproofing is used to keep the outside noise out, and minimize the effects of inside noise.
Someone who is completely new to the world of music recording is susceptible to mistaking soundproofing for acoustic tuning. These two things are similar but ultimately different. As we have mentioned just now, soundproofing is there to reduce noise pollution inside your studio environment. Acoustic tuning builds upon this and dials in the acoustic properties of the room. For all intents and purposes, acoustic tuning is an art form that requires a complete guide of its own.
Acoustic tuning or treatment is imperative for a variety of reasons. Especially if you plan on using a good set of studio monitors. If you are just beginning, soundproofing is a good step in the right direction. Building upon a well soundproofed room is much easier than dealing with a mess of failed soundproofing and shoddy acoustic treatment. Take it slow and be through.
The very first step is to figure out where your studio is going to be. It would be ideal to use a garage or similar space that is isolated from the rest of the house. However, if that is not a possibility you should try to find the most remote room in the house. Your job of doing proper soundproofing will be that much easier if you eliminate a good portion of noise simply by using a suitable room for your studio. Basements also work pretty well, especially. One thing to keep in mind is that vibrations are every bit as bad as audible sound pollution. If you live next to a busy street with a lot of traffic, you would definitely want to find a room or a portion of the basement that is as far away from that street as possible.
Due to the fact that soundproofing requires investment in various materials which we are going to get into shortly, there is such a thing as a room that is too large. Especially if you are running on a limited budget. In that case, one good solution is to build a light wall and reduce the size of the room that way. Sure, it's not a perfect solution, but it can definitely make your life easier if you are dealing with large open spaces.
Decoupling is one of those processes which tend to be confusing, but are rather straightforward. The idea is to build an additional wall frame, place it over existing sheetrock and cover it with another layer of sheet rock. Doing so will prevent the sound from penetrating all the way to the hard surface of your house's main structure, thus soaking up a good portion of that sound. It is a good idea to use thicker sheetrock for the additional wall frame as it helps you set up a good foundation. As we will discuss a bit later, similar principle applies to floors.
Best way to stop soundproof a room is to build the walls thick. If you were starting from scratch and were about to build the studio from the ground up, your options would be diverse. However, adding mass to preexisting walls is somewhat trickier. One of the best ways to get the job done is to use a material called Mass Loaded Vinyl, or Sheetblok as it is also known.
This is a dense layer of material that efficiently blocks sound. Sheetblok comes in a variety of thicknesses, but the general rule of thumb is that thicker is better. With that said, Sheetblok isn't cheap. Depending on the size of your studio, it can eat up a good portion of your budget. It is worth it, though. A good alternative would be Sponge Neoprene. It is much thicker on average, but not as efficient. At the end of the day, it is much better than nothing.
Figuring out how much material needs to be added takes trial and error. There is no exact amount we can recommend seeing how every room is different both in terms of shape, surface and construction. In essence, you want to find a balance where sound is deadened to a point where it doesn't affect your recording.
Once you add enough mass to your walls, it is time to seal all of those little gaps. We are talking about spaces between panels, exposed surfaces and so on. There are several products you can use for this purpose, one of them being Acoustical Caulk. Titebond offers a very good package that isn't overpriced and is pretty efficient. Another great brand is Sashco, who tend to be even more lenient on your budget.
Floors are a tricky topic. Reason for this is because they require soundproofing as well, but that goes beyond just laying down a layer of Soundblok material. Instead, a more radical approach is necessary. With floors, you want to eliminate sound reflection but also vibrations. Everything that sits directly on the floor creates vibrations. As a matter of fact, equipment that sits indirectly on the floor can cause vibrations. For example, a drum set placed directly on the floor will give you headaches. Same goes for guitar amps or even worse, bass amps.
The solution is simple but requires a bit of work. The idea is to float the floor above flat ground. One way to do it is to use a wooden framework made up of beams. Next you'll want to lay down layer of sheet wood on top and cover it with soundproofing materials. If you want to go even further, you can fill the gaps between beams with thick fiberglass.
Minimizing the vibrations from your studio equipment is among the final stages of soundproofing. If you have a PC inside the room where you are recording, it is a good practice to make sure that it won't affect your work. Computers and other gear use small fans to cool various components. These can become noisy over time. Placing the computer case on a buffer of some sorts will definitely help with reducing those vibrations. Same goes for racks, speakers and just about everything that tends to give off vibrations.
If you want to take the fail safe way of eliminating the risk of equipment interference, you can always keep your gear outside the actual recording studio. Naturally, this requires much more work and investment on your part. Building a two compartment studio setup is more complicated but ultimately allows for a more controllable environment.
What we have covered so far are the basics of studio soundproofing. As we have seen, some of the steps require you to do additional framing. This might be a good time to ask yourself where you want to mount your monitors. One of the standard solutions is to mount the speakers inside the wall. We won't go too much into this, but mounting cabinets inside the wall opposed to having them in the middle of the room, can be beneficial to finding proper room acoustics for said speakers.
Doing proper acoustic treatment isn't as easy as soundproofing. This is one of those things where you might need to consult with a professional since there is quite a bit of engineering that goes into properly dialing in a studio acoustically. With that said, by the time you get to acoustic treatment stage, you should have a decent idea of what your studio likes and what it doesn't like. Spending some time using the studio without any acoustic treatment will crystallize any faults, which then makes the job of acoustic treatment that much easier.
This is one of the most common questions people ask when it comes to soundproofing a room. Should you attempt to do it yourself, or should you hire a professional to do the work for you? Finding the right answer depends on a few things. Most obvious one is your budget. If you're on a tight budget, chances are that you will get much more bang for your buck if you do the job yourself. There are plenty of resources online which can give you a basic and even advanced idea on how to soundproof a room. Just be prepared to make mistakes and learn from them.
On the other hand, if your budget isn't restrictive, then hiring a professional sounds like a sensible thing to do. Most of the time the person you hire to do this will be happy to give you pointers on how to acoustically tune your studio based on their assessment. A professional will cater the solutions specifically to your space, needs and other niche factors. Additionally, pros will know exactly what kind of material to get and most likely have a couple of sources for said materials which aren't available to people outside of the industry. Naturally, this avenue of approach is significantly more expensive. However, doing there's a chance that you might reach that same price through trial and error if you're working with a difficult room. Ultimately just remember that price of the job will largely depend on the room you choose.
At the end of the day, the question isn't whether soundproofing is necessary, but how much of it will get you the results you want. As a matter of fact, soundproofing is one of the first things you should account for when planing out a budget for your studio. It's much better to complete the studio with a little delay than to rush things and disregard soundproofing. All you have to do is walk into a studio that lacks proper sound isolation, and then walk into one that's properly done. That will show you how important this step actually is.