Recording Studio Feng Shui

This article on recording studio feng shui 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! PS: you may find affiliate links in this post and I may get a commission if you buy something. 🙂

I’ve lived a lot of places and built a lot of home studios. Once, someone came in and said, “this place will drive you insane”. That was probably because every wall was covered in ugly yellow egg crate bed foam purchased from Target – a bad acoustic solution and an even worse environment to spend time in.

In a later space, we had an “old man clothes room” – a walk-in closet stuffed to the brim with an entire wardrobe inherited from the deceased father of an ex. We squeezed a condenser in there with enough room for a singer with a ukulele. It sounded great, but it was creepy. A drunken artist vomited in there once, and somewhere we have the recording.

In Oakland, my space was acoustically ideal – potentially. We framed a double wall and everything, and now I knew how to treat a room- mostly. For reasons of poverty and ignorance, we stuffed the double wall not with fiberglass – but the clothes from Houston’s old man clothes room. We spray painted Chinese creativity talismans inside the drywall – and never installed a door or window.

None of these crazy spaces was sustainable. Some of them sounded good. And some elicited tons of creative output.

Your space is yours

Your space should and will reflect who you are.

Yes, a studio needs some things to be technically sound: acoustic treatment, gear, ergonomics that suit your workflow. You don’t want to be hunting for cables for an hour every time you have an idea. You don’t want your back to hurt from a crap chair. You don’t want headaches from computer screens you can’t see.

You need the right gear. If you’re a mixer, you need accurate monitoring. If you’re a singer, you need the right mic(s) for your voice, and maybe a booth. If you’re a drummer, you need space for drums.

These are the basics. Ergonomics, workflow, proper treatment, accurate capture, and accurate reproduction. But you also need inspiration. You need to want to be there. You need a bit of studio feng shui.

This looks different for everyone. Trent Reznor once appeared in an interview with candles dripping on monitors in a darkened lair. One of my mentors operated from a ghetto one bedroom apartment and filled the recording room with little gifts from clients. Ocean Way Nashville is housed in a 100-year-old Gothic revival stone Church. I lined one control room wall with old CDs – for some reason.

A few tips

While every studio is as unique as its owner, there are some things I’ve noticed that you may want to think about:

  • Everybody wants a dark lair – until they realize how depressed they are. Consider some natural light. Acoustics gets trickier with windows, but light can be really refreshing.
  • Anticipate change. You may grow out of phases, so don’t lock in extreme stuff – like a whole wall of devil paintings or a ceiling full of pansies raining pollen.
  • Consider modular treatment. If you move a lot, you may want to build treatment that can move with you.
  • You’ll be there a lot. Certain things can be great at first but get really overwhelming after a while. Dark red walls are an example. Bright orange walls. The aforementioned wall o’ CDs. Groupies.
  • Make space. A lot of studios are cramped like a space capsule. It’s fun, but if you don’t have room to move, it’s inefficient and tiring. A least make yourself some desk space for writing lyrics and notes.
  • Keep it clean. It’s tempting to let a studio space reflect your insane (ingenious?) mental process. But if you die of dysentery because you left your pudding cup on an amp for 6 years, you’ll miss the Grammys.
  • Make space for others. This may not apply to DeadMau5, but likely you’ll want a collaborator or significant other to come over at some point. Plan accordingly.

Have fun with it

Studios are awesome, and half the fun of making your own is turning it into a super inspiring den of mind-blowingness. Rather than just throwing a laptop into a box and hoping for a hit, go ahead and put a little creativity into your space – it’ll feed you for a long time.

I work in one room with lots of light, moveable treatment, and a nice little daybed. It’s way better than the student ghetto lair with beer bottle caps and stained sheet music littering the floor. Discuss on Facebook @AaronJTrumm or Instagram @AaronJTrumm

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