Building a Professional Recording Studio

In the final 3 months of 2021, I embarked on a mission to design and build my own bespoke recording and mixing facility. In this blog post I break down the process, touch on some of the science, and include some pretty pictures. I had a lot of consultation from Jesco Lohan of Acoustics Insider, who is an utterly tremendous source of knowledge, and an incredible person to work with. If anyone reading this is considering their own build, I cannot recommend Jesco highly enough. Jesco has been an audio hero of mine for many years, so having the opportunity to work with such a heavy hitter on such an important project was a dream come true.

I also had some help along the way on the tools from my close friend Jonny Avery, who is an astonishingly talented electronic and pop music producer. If you want your music to go doof and wobwobwob in a good way then you’re on the wrong website – hire Jonny now. He’s also good with a nail gun and can eat 2 butter chicken pies in under 90 seconds.

Let’s get straight into the cool stuff. Enjoy, nerds.

The Design

The goal of the design was to create the best listening and recording environment possible within an existing structure, using pourous absorption and diffusion. Acoustic control was the first priority, with sound isolation being less of a consideration given the location and type of use of the space. The space we had to play with was a 6x6m garage, and a 4×3.5m bedroom, both 2.4m high. The garage became a control room, and the bedroom a vocal booth.

The Issues

Neither of the rooms were a perfect quadrilateral, meaning we had some strange ‘nooks’ that would create resonance build ups. The control room was also much too near a square, resulting in an uneven spread of room modes across the frequency spectrum. To solve this, we built a rigid, non-load-bearing wall in the garage to cut off the nook, and make the room more of a rectangle. This video goes into some excruciatingly boring detail on the acoustic reasons behind this decision, and how we figured out the perfect dimensions down to the centimetre!

The control room was designed to be ’20/20′ on most walls (20cm insulation, 20cm air gap). The exceptions are the back wall (30/30) to help nail a 55hz room mode, and the rear ceiling (10/10) which isn’t responsible for any low end modes. The control room has a stepped ceiling, so the section above the listening position retains the 20/20 depth. The vocal booth is 10/10 on all walls.

The Build

Framing

After building the internal wall, the first step of building the studio itself was to build all the framing ‘in-situ’. We had to fix the floor plate to the concrete pad and add the studs, top plate and nogs. We had to be careful of where we framed around windows and utilities, as we would ‘cut in’ to the main structure later to retain access.

Next we framed out all the fiddly bits, taking into account where all the fabric would be mounted. This included making framed perimeters around lights,  sockets and windows, and supports for deep window sills to connect the inner and outer rooms.

At this point we had Prolight Electrical come in for the prewire.

Finishing the Skeleton

After all the basic framing was in, we pre-stained and fixed the pine sills and trim. Stained plywood was used to in the doorway, and to connect the inner to outer rooms. The stained plywood matches the trim and matches the visual theme (‘Scandinavian’ whitewashed pine).

We built simple ‘insulation shelves’, hanging backwards off the framing. These would prop up the deep insulation. We added package strapping behind the shelves to make sure the insulation doesn’t fall backwards into the air gap.

We lined the framing with ‘Fabric Track‘, a plastic extrusion product that is stapled to the framing, and holds the fabric cleanly in place. We had to be very thoughtful with how we lay this out in order to avoid any gaps and end up with as seamless a finish as possible. We also had to create intricate labyrinths of track around fittings and wall mounts.

Insulation / Acoustic Absorption

And so began the incredibly messy and itchy process of installing the insulation. This is an immensely satisfying milestone as you can really hear how the studio will sound, and you get the feeling of the finished size of the room. It’s the moment a garage becomes a studio.

When it comes to choosing the right insulation, the primary consideration for acoustics is density. Acoustic Modelling is an amazing tool that allows you to calculate how efficient certain densities and depths of insulation are. I found that most products didn’t include the specs for ‘‘ so worked with the mass stats instead (kg/m3), on the very unscientific assumption that 25kg/m3 might end up around 7k – 10k

Other important practical considerations are

  • Smell – Get a product made in your country so that it isn’t saturated with rank pesticides
  • Safety – Is it breathable? Generally water soluble products such as rockwool are safe bets. I used Pinkbatts. Another option, Knauf Insulation, ticks most boxes but smells like weird maple syrup.
  • Supply – Can you readily get enough insulation delivered to you exactly as you need it? I built my studio during nationwide supply chain breakdowns so had no end of project management issues on this front!

Installing the Fabric

We mounted fabric into the fabric track using roller tools. This is so much harder than you’d expect, especially on the ceiling pieces. The whole studio took about 3 days to cover with fabric, and was by far the most physically demanding part of the build. Pushing hard into the ceiling for 15+ hour days absolutely fries your core. Thank god I got a spa pool for the studio before starting this project…

Once the fabric was in, we could finally do the electrical, lighting and audio channels fit off, making the studio so much easier to keep building in.

Diffuser Strips

The diffuser strips needed to have 3 coats of stain, carefully applied to avoid dripping down the sides given the sides would visible. The floor of the studio became a staining room for what I thought were the 3 most boring days of the entire process. That boredom was subsequently eclipsed by the sanding process, which I can’t even bring myself to describe. Lesson learnt: don’t stain if you’re doing so many, just paint the bastards.

For all the effort involved with staining, the result was subtle but beautiful. With whitewash, the first coat makes little to no difference as it is mostly absorbed. The second and third coats can then mostly stay on the surface, so really make the wood come to life. Whitewash makes pine look so clean and expensive.

Panel Mounts, Doors, and Final Touches

The final step of the construction itself was to build and mount acoustic doors, and removable acoustic inserts for access to utilities. These were built with exactly the same design as the walls, so that the doors would essentially become a part of the wall acoustically and not distrupt the symmetry. Doors are tricky, and as a relatively inexperienced DIY-er I made a lot of mistakes on these, practiced my swearing, and spent a lot of time disassembling and ressambling my botched efforts. Throughout the whole build, about 30%  of the time was spent scratching my head thinking, 30% making mistakes, 30% fixing those mistakes, and the last 10% actually being productive. These doors were no exception…

Final touches such as curtains, wall mounts for monitors etc went up easily. The last big issue was the snake wall panel as I foolishly wanted 10 sends from the booth, an awkward 9 sends from the back of the control room, and therefore a 19 channel return snake behind the desk. Who’d have thought that it’s hard to buy 19 channel snakes off the shelf(?) so I had to wrestle these myself, which proved expensive and very difficult. Lesson learnt: buy premade panels in advance and design your snakes to fit the panels, not the other way around.

And that was it! 2 months of intense learning, sweating, swearing, and fun. To anyone wanting to undertake a similar task, feel free to reach out. I’m always keen to yarn about this niche, nerdy nonsense.

Refining

Speaker and Desk Placement

I took acoustic measurements of the room before any framing went up, and then multiple measurements as I was finding the perfect position for the speakers. It’s amazing how accurate the Amroc and Acoustic Modelling calculations were, and it was really validating to see that all our research and planning actually paid off big time.

The desk reflection created a big issue around 600hz, which we solved by moving the desk forward and the speakers down to lessen the effect of the early reflection. During the experiments, the tests showed that movements of even a few cm would create valleys of up to 12db, really reinforcing the importance of testing, experimenting and refinding. Be warned, watching the video in this section takes you past the point of no return into the endless void of becoming an unlovable ubernerd. Proceed with caution.

Room EQ Response: Red: Before | Purple: After

Closing Thoughts

If you have made it this far through this cursed blog, I’m very grateful but mostly just shocked. You’ve reached new lows, reclaimed virginity, and likely already forgotten anything you may have learned. Jokes on you, loser.

If you have any questions or would like some help with your own acoustic adventures, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m very passionate about all this stuff and could talk about it all day. Having the voodoo demystified can be really hard in the beginning, so I’m always more than happy to help anyone who is banging their head against their desk trying to make sense of all info out there.

I’ll leave you with my most valuable lessons learnt:

  • If you are not an acoustics consultant, hire an acoustics consultant. This is the best advice I can give.
  • Over prepare, but don’t over prepare to the point where it stops you from starting. It’s never the right time to start, you just need to put in that first nail to get the ball rolling.
  • Set up a trade account at a local building materials supplier – NOT a DIY store. They have by far the best prices and stock.
  • Never let a dog sniff sawdust.

Related Post

Jake’s Mixing Philosophy​

Jake’s Mixing Philosophy​

Jake’s Mixing Philosophy // What Does a Mix Engineer Do? Mixing is arguably the most difficult part of the recording…
What is Pre-production?

What is Pre-production?

What is Pre-production? Pre-production might be the best ‘bang for buck’ service that producers offer, yet it’s sometimes the most…