Step 1:

So you want to design your own studio, all by yourself? Great! But where to you start? What's the process? Over the next weeks and months I'll be writing a series of articles about that, t in this area of the forum, focusing on three very different types of home-studio: 1) treating an existing room in your house, 2) building a studio in a garage, basement, or other room, and 3) building a studio from the "ground up", on an empty piece of land.
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Step 1:


Postby Soundman2020 » Sat, 2020-Jun-20, 18:05


Step One

(If you haven't already done so, then before reading this you should read: INTRODUCTION TO DESIGNING YOUR OWN STUDIO. Read that first, then carry on here)

After reading the intro, the very first step you should take in designing your studio, is simply:

Define your goals

Sit down with pen and paper (or keyboard and screen), and write down, as clearly as you can, and in as much detail as you can think of, exactly what it is you want to achieve with your studio, home theater, rehearsal room, etc. It doesn't matter if you are planning to just hang a few panels on your bedroom wall and move your speakers around, or if you are planning a large multi-room commercial facility: either way, you NEED to describe that, on paper, in detail! It would be a HUGE mistake to start building something when you don't even have a clear idea of WHY and HOW and WHERE and WHEN... (and HOW MUCH...). Just the simple process of putting your thoughts into words will bring a lot of clarity, and start crystallizing many aspects.

Things you should cover in that written "brief":

  • Why do you want it?
  • What motivated your decision to make your own place?
  • Write a detailed description of what you imagine yourself doing in there on a typical day.
  • Are there any technical specifications that you want to meet (eg: isolation, frequency response, RT60, etc.).
  • Where are you going to make it?
  • Reasons why making your own place is better than the alternatives.
  • Dates: When you do you need to have it finished?
  • Budget: How much do you plan to invest in making it?

Be realistic! If your descriptions says: "I want to build a studio better than Abbey Road in my closet, for no more than US$ 100".... well, you are totally out of luck with that!

I was actually hesitant to put "Budget" on that initial list, because regardless of what number you put in there, it will be WRONG! The actual cost of building a studio is ALWAYS higher than you first imagined. Even if you have built one before, and understand how this works, the second one (and third! and fourth!), will still cost you more than you expected. So take that first number with a gain if salt. That's no more that what you would LIKE to spend: the amount you ACTUALLY spend will be very different. Your initial budget is just wishful thinking.

Some aspects you should consider at this stage, when writing your goals:

Are you building it so that you don't annoy family / neighbors / the cops with your attempts to make music? If so, then define an actual, objective, numeric goal: how many decibels of isolation do you need? I'll discuss that in a later article, but there's already some discussion of that in several threads on the forum (use the "Search" feature)

Do you live near an airport, railway, major road, major waterway, subway, stadium, race track, or any other noisy thing that could mess with your ability to do what you want to do in your place? If so, include that in your goals: ("I need to isolate against the neighbor's dog barking, and the trucks that drive past frequently."), then as for the previous point: put a real objective number to that: Use a sound level meter to measure the actual strength of that sound, measure how quite you want your studio to be, and define the isolation.

Do you have enough space to do what you wrote? For example, if you wrote that you want to track a full rock band with ten people along with their instruments and gear, but the room you plan to use for that is a small bedroom measuring 2.5m x 3m (8ft x 10ft), then that's not realistic: either downsize your goals ("I will track just one or two people at a time, then bring all the tracks together in the mix"), or find a bigger room (basement? garage? living room? rented space?: "I will leave my car out in the street, and convert the garage into a tracking room".).

Are you allowed to do this? If you are planning to use your studio commercially, then you should first check with your local authorities to find out if you can! Residential zones often do not permit commercial uses. If you are allowed to do that, then there are very likely certain requirements that you will have to meet, such as parking, bathrooms, emergency exits, accessibility for people with disabilities, etc. So check carefully! Make sure you actually can get all the permits you need to avoid disappointment later. If you live in a condominium or other shared facility, there will likely be other restrictions: check your contract. I have heard sad stories of people investing big money in building a studio in their back yard so they can offer their skills in tracking and mixing... but then they got shut down as soon as they started, because the neighbors complained about the cars parked outside, and the cops agreed.... It's a lot easier to get a permit to build a personal hobby "music room" in your house, than it is to get a permit to build a commercial recording facility!

Do you have the skills and tools to do it? Firstly, to design it. Secondly, to build it. If you don't have the design skills and acoustic knowledge, then either you'll need to learn or you'll need to hire someone to design it for you. That said, you are probably here on the Soundman forum because you want to learn how to do this! So welcome aboard! Browse around all over the forum, but particularly in this places:

Also, take a look at the many design and build threads here on the forum, by other forum members: there's a LOT of useful information in those! You can see how other people of already done what you want to do, and you can get ideas for your own place.

The same applies to construction skills, and tools: If you have never built anything yourself, and aren't even sure which way around to hold a hammer, then you might want to take a basic course in carpentry. Not just an on-line course either: a real-life hand-on course. You will likely then need to buy the tools you'll need to build the place, but that can wait a while: at this point in your quest, you are a loooong way from needing a hammer! So you will need to figure in the cost of that training course, and the tools, when working on your budget. Some tools might be very expensive: for those, you'll have two options: 1) Rent them on a daily basis (from Eg: Home Depot, Lowes, Homecenter, Bunnings, or whatever your local hardware store is called). 2) Buy them, then sell the again once you have completed the place. This is actually a good option! If you rent something expensive, such as a compressor and nail gun, or a table saw, or rotary hammer, or something like that, after you have paid for five or six days of rental, you have probably paid close to the purchase price of a new one, or a used one on e-bay. Buying and reselling would enable you to get back some of your investment in those tools.

Do make lots of notes as you work through this stage! Write everything down, keep a file with tool brochures and prices in it, etc. And update that regularly: it often happens that, as you work your way through the design process, you realize that you need to update your goals, to reflect stuff that you have learned so far. You will probably figure out that some things you originally wrote are not realistic, or even the opposite; that you can do more than you originally thought in the space you have! That's good news! Sometimes it happens with clients who hire me to do some basic design work for their place, but as we get into it, I see opportunities they hadn't seen, and make suggestions... That often opens their eyes a bit, and they re-think the purpose of the studio, to do more than they had imagined at first.

( At this point, it would also be a GREAT time to start your own thread here on the forum! (Post it in the design area of the forum (click here) ). In your first post, introduce yourself, summarize your goals, and maybe post your initial thoughts on how you plan to proceed. )

Finally, take into account that what you are writing in your "Detailed Description of the Goals for My Place", is a work-in-progress. As you get further into the design process, you will probably want to come back to that and update it, as you realize that some things you wrote are not realistic, or that there are other things you want as well, or that you forgot some stuff, or that there are better ways of doing things. So this "Goals" document will probably need several updates along the way.

So, once you have all these "Step One" factors figured out ON PAPER (not just in your head), it is time to move on to Step 2.

- Stuart -

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