With the increasing affordability of quality recording gear, and a worldwide pandemic forcing everyone indoors, the concept of the home studio has become a popular prospect for musicians everywhere.
The days of saving up thousands of dollars for a week in a state-of-the-art facility are fading fast. However, opening your home studio is not quite as simple as setting up a mic in your spare bedroom.
All of your top-notch audio equipment won’t matter much if your recordings are full of noise and unwanted sounds. On top of that, your illustrious production career won’t last too long if your music is a regular disruption to your neighbors and housemates.
A properly soundproofed studio is a key asset for producers, musicians, podcasters, voice actors, and more.
What is Soundproofing?
The goal of soundproofing is to prevent external noise from getting in and internal noise from getting out.
Sound is effectively the movement of air particles. When you hit a drum, the air particles around the instruments begin to vibrate and sway back and forth in a wave-like motion.
These soundwaves can travel through gases, liquids, and solids. Blocking 100% of these soundwaves is nearly impossible, but any effort to soundproof will certainly make a difference.
Soundproofing vs. Acoustic Treatment
It is commonly misunderstood that soundproofing is the same as acoustic treatment. They are two completely different concepts, but equally important in building a professional home studio.
Acoustic treatment pertains to creating the best sonic space possible. It is about controlling reverberations and flutter echoes within a studio. It involves taking detailed measurements and dimensions of a room and determining how to create the most balanced sonic environment possible.
Adding acoustic treatment to your space is a great idea, but will be ineffective in the act of soundproofing, so perhaps it is a topic for another article!
Is Soundproofing My Studio Necessary?
Excessive noise is never welcome in audio production. Although there are numerous noise reduction plugins to help fix things in post, you don’t want to rely on them as your first line of defense. Plus, your time should be spent mixing, not fixing.
The best practice is to deal with the noise before recording begins.
How to Soundproof
Proper soundproofing is not as simple as hanging a few absorbers on the wall and calling it a day. You should treat this like a renovation or construction project. How in-depth you go entirely depends on your budget, time, and whether or not you own the space you are using.
Some of these techniques may entail skills you don’t possess, so consider consulting a handy friend, family member, or professional contractor.
Location, Location, Location
This may not be the obvious first step, but choosing the best spot for your home studio will make a huge difference in your ability to soundproof it.
Consider what other rooms you are sharing a wall with. Avoid being near bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, or other rooms with noisy appliances. A room with less windows is ideal. Try to avoid using a room that shares a wall with your neighbor. If you have a shed or garage on your property, consider turning it into your isolated recording studio.
You may not always have the luxury of choice, so find what works best for you and your housemates.
Adding mass and density to the boundaries of your room prevents sound waves from vibrating through them.
The thicker the walls, floors, and ceiling, the better.
Doing so will mean a lot more soundwaves are required to actually vibrate the surface and most mid to high frequencies won’t pass through at all.
Damping significantly reduces the capability of your walls, floor, and ceiling to vibrate. A sheet of drywall is a massive surface, so you can imagine how much noise is expelled if that wall begins to vibrate rapidly.
There are products like Green Glue that are utilized between sheets of plywood or drywall, and do an excellent job of damping the material.
When a soundwave comes in contact with a structure, it will vibrate every part of that structure and everything that it is attached to.
Decoupling means ensuring that no two structures are in contact with each other, by creating an air gap in between. Products like Auralex RC8 Resilient Channel are great for decoupling drywall from the studs. They can even support up to two layers of drywall for some added absorption.
Anywhere air can pass through, sound can pass through too.
Any gaps, cracks, holes, or openings should be adequately sealed to prevent noise from escaping. Try an acoustic sealant like Auralex StopGap to seal around windows and other small openings. Install foam gaskets on all your electrical outlets and light switches.
Addressing the Walls
If you are starting from scratch (or have space that you can afford to sacrifice), the room-within-a-room technique is a tried and true approach. This entails building a secondary wall in front of the existing wall, separated by an air gap. Using a thicker %u215D” drywall would be beneficial as well.
Additionally, consider using a product like Sheetblok which can be installed in between layers of drywall to further enhance the sonic isolation.
Soundproofing the Ceiling
The principles for soundproofing the ceiling are the same as the walls. However, working on your ceiling can be a lot more challenging than the rest of the room.
If you have the luxury of opening up your ceiling, add some fiberglass or rockwool insulation between the joists. If circumstances are more restrictive, consider installing some Sheetblok or underlayment to the floor above.
Don’t Forget the Floor
Constructing a floating floor is the most effective technique for soundproofing your floor. Install a new layer of flooring that is decoupled from the original. Utilizing rubber pucks or Auralex U-Boat Floor Floaters is great for this.
You could also add a layer of Sheetblok before installing your finished flooring. If your budget is limited, try adding some thick carpeting or a heavy rug instead.
Dealing With the Door
Most modern residential doors are cheap and hollow – they are essentially made of cardboard.
If possible, replace it with a much heavier solid-core door. Purchase a door sweep to seal the gap at the base of your door. If you want to take it one step further, try the classic “double door approach” by installing two doors back-to-back on the same door jamb. The air gap between them greatly enhances isolation.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, managing the sonic isolation of an entire room is simply beyond your control.
In this case, you may opt to build an isolation box for your amplifiers or purchase an ISOVOX Vocal Booth to ensure noise-free recordings.
Mind the Monitors
Though often overlooked in the soundproofing process, mounting your monitors on stands is a great decoupling technique.
Leaving your monitors on your desk allows sound to travel through the desk and the floor below. This won’t do much to keep external noise out, but your neighbors will certainly be thankful!
Soundproofing may be one of the least exciting aspects of building your home studio, but is an essential step that must be dealt with before any acoustic treatment can begin. It can also be an expensive venture, especially if you hire someone to do it for you, but you also don’t want to cut any corners here.
Remember, you don’t necessarily need to do it all at once. As it is with most aspects of your project studio, it is a work in progress.
Start with as much as you can now, and address issues as you notice them. Before you know it, that spare bedroom will be your very own state-of-the-art facility.