It’s All About The Room

Why acoustic treatment should be your first expense

This article first appeared in Recording Magazine. I reprint it here with permission, and I encourage you to subscribe to that publication, as they are a stand up bunch of folk!

Being the adventurous, un-monied, and fairly non-famous soul that I am, I’ve been in a ton of low-end recording studios. Project studios, home studios, studios in strip malls, studios in cottages behind houses. I’ve visited rehearsal studios in Houston suburbs, band garages in Austin slums, electronica dens in Albuquerque, and video production suites in Oakland. I’ve also been in my fair share of commercial studios. And of course, I’ve built out countless bedroom studios of my own over the course of a 26-year career. Some were pretty bad, I admit.

That’s not to mention all the studio pictures I’ve seen and remote collaborations on Skype and Zoom. I’ve seen enough studio desks to last me a lifetime, and almost daily I see an image of some slick piece of gear I wish I had. Video monitors, big bad computers, control surfaces, pre-amps, mics, you name it.

It turns out that almost without fail, you can a tell a professional by the studio they keep – and it looks quite different than some might expect. You can also predict with reasonable accuracy how a recordist’s work will sound by looking around their room.

Given the topic of this issue, you may not be surprised to hear me say, it’s not the $50,000 Pro Tools rigs or high-end monitor switchers that make the difference. It’s not even the expensive preamps or vintage microphones (although those things don’t hurt).

What it comes down to is the room. Capturing audio is all about the space of course, but especially when it comes to mixing – we all know what a poorly responding room can do to a mix. So, it’s a harbinger of bad things to come when I walk into a studio that boasts $100,000 worth of shiny new equipment placed haphazardly in a hard square box.

Why does this happen? Who knows? Perhaps we gravitate toward the prestigious. Perhaps we need to be able to boast about our equipment to draw in clients. Perhaps we think acoustic treatment is only for top-tier, multi-million-dollar facilities. Maybe people just don’t know why or how to properly prepare a room for audio.

Whatever it is, that’s why we at Recording Magazine dedicate an entire month to monitoring and acoustics. And perhaps this issue should have come out in January, because your listening and recording environments should be the first thing you deal with.

Especially if you’re revamping or building a new studio, rather than spending as much money as possible on your recording computer, microphones, plugins, software, keyboards, and so on, start your spending (and your building) with the room.

Don’t be afraid of running out of money. With some ingenuity you can properly treat a standard bedroom for not much more than the cost of a Rode Condenser – if that. And you can make it look good too! Remember, you don’t need to build a million-dollar facility with 30-foot ceilings, non-parallel surfaces, and outer walls full of sand.

And here’s a tip: Although every room tests out a bit differently, the solutions are pretty much always the same. So, you can finish 90% of your treatment before you even pick out a pair of monitors. In fact, that’s what I’d recommend. Treat the room and make it sound great on its own before you even bring in the furniture. Then get some great monitors, bring them and the other gear in, and listen. Then, if you’re so inclined you can test the room and make tweaks.

It won’t take as much time as you may think, and it won’t cost as much as you may be afraid of. Make the quality of the space your first priority with monitors a close second and you’ll be working with a foundation that’s far better than most other studios.

It really is all about the room!

I work in a small, well treated room. I talk about acoustics quite a bit. I think about acoustics quite a bit. We can talk about acoustics a bit on Facebook if you want, @AaronJTrumm.

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