Once you’ve got a basic collection of gear…the next big task on the list is your recording studio design and setup.
While most beginners underestimate the importance of this step, the truth is…
A well-designed room can be the difference between smooth sailing and major headaches down the road.
So to spare you the months of frustration…
In this post, we’ll go through the ENTIRE step-by-step process of setting up your recording room the RIGHT WAY.
So let’s get started. First up…
Table of Contents:
- STEP 1: Choose the Best Room
- STEP 2: Clear Out the Room
- STEP 3: Add Acoustic Treatment
- STEP 4: Arrange Your Workstation
- STEP 5: Arrange Your Stations
- 3 More Useful Accessories
- STEP 6: Connect Your Gear
- STEP 7: Position Your Studio Monitors
STEP 1: Choose the Best Room
In an average household, you might have the option of 2-3 rooms to set up your studio.
If you only have one option…then just use that. Otherwise, you have a decision to make.
And since some rooms are better for recording than others…here’s what I recommend you know to make the best choice:
The Top 4 Recording Studio Design Mistakes
Choosing room is less about finding good qualities, and more about AVOIDING bad ones. Particularly, these 4:
1. Small Spaces
The general rule of thumb is: the bigger the room, the better.
Big rooms allow for:
- More space for multiple musicians, and…
- More space for your ever-growing collection of gear/instruments
Not to mention…they sound better (more on that topic later).
While beginners might prefer the privacy and coziness of smaller rooms, my advice is…
Be smart…and choose the bigger one.
In everyday life, you forget how much noise is actually around you. But once you hear it through a microphone, all that noise is magnified 100x.
All these things are common sources of noise that can easily ruin your recordings:
So pay close attention to which rooms are the worst noise offenders, and choose the quietest one with the fewest neighbors.
In addition to avoiding outside noises, you must also realize that YOU will undoubtedly be a source of noise for OTHERS.
Ideally, you want a perfectly silence space where:
- you can make as much noise as you want.
- at any time of the day you want.
But since very few rooms are like that…
Some degree of soundproofing may be required in order to create a useable workspace for yourself.
3. Poor Flooring
For your recording room, hard flooring such as concrete, tile, or hardwood is ideal.
Carpeted rooms often cause problems for two reasons:
- studios get a lot of foot traffic, and carpet wears out quickly.
- carpet absorbs high frequencies, but not low ones, which hurts the acoustics.
If and when you need carpet, such as for a drum kit, you can always lay down an area rug instead.
The other problem to watch out for with upstairs floors especially is excessive foot noise. If possible, choose a downstairs room instead.
4. Poor Acoustics
Bedrooms in a typical family home look something like this:
- They’re small,
- With low ceilings,
- And parallel walls made of drywall.
Sadly for us…it just so happens that ALL those features NEGATIVELY affect acoustics.
Ideally what you want is a large room with high ceilings, asymmetrical walls, and lots of irregular surfaces. However, the chances of having access to a room just like this are virtually ZERO.
Pro studios have them, but only because they spent tons of cash to DESIGN them. You on the other hand, will most likely need to compromise.
Don’t expect perfection, just choose your best option.
You can always improve the room sound later by adding acoustic treatment (and we’ll get to that part in a bit).
But if at all possible, it’s best to use a room with great natural acoustics, as it will be less work for you later.
Got it? Moving on…
STEP 2: Clear Out the Room
Once you’ve chosen a room, it’s time to prepare it for the project ahead.
So before we start adding new things INTO the room, let’s take everything that we don’t need OUT.
- Clear off all floor space
- Take everything off the walls
- Remove anything that vibrates
If the room also doubles as bedroom, living room, etc…you may not be able to clear it out completely, but anything that CAN be removed, SHOULD be removed.
Done? Let’s continue…
STEP 3: Add Acoustic Treatment
Previously in Chapter 3, I showed you everything you need to know to put together an amazing acoustic treatment plan on virtually any budget.
Now that you have an empty room to work with, it’s time to put all that knowledge into practice.
So put up your acoustic treatment, and come back when you’re done.
Classic Example Package:
Done? Cool. Up next…
STEP 4: Arrange Your Workstation
Now that you’ve got an empty room with great acoustics, it’s time to add some some gear.
Since your desk/chair will always be the centerpiece of your room…
It makes sense to start with those two.
While any desk/chairs you have lying around the house can be used for starters…
Ideally you probably want your workstation to look a little more professional if at all possible.
And so…to find out what I recommend and why, check out the following two articles:
Classic Desk Example: Acme Furniture Eleazar – (Amazon)
Classic Chair Example: Herman Miller Aeron – (Amazon)
STEP 5: Arrange Your Stations
While pro studios have the luxury of multiple rooms for multiple tasks…
In your studio, you’ll likely be using ONE room for EVERYTHING.
So the setup will be different.
The general idea here is to have TWO stations:
- a desk/mixing area for the engineer (which we’ve already done)
- a recording area for the musicians (which we’ll do right now)
The problem is…
A setup that works well for recording others, usually doesn’t work so well when recording just yourself.
But don’t worry, because there’s a workable solution for every scenario.
Let’s start with this one…
The SOLO Recording Studio Setup
For an efficient “one-man” setup…
What most folks do is cram all their gear around them in a circle…
Which allows them to play BOTH engineer and musician from one location.
While this setup CAN work well…
The downsides are:
- Too much gear around you creates added reflections, which hurts the acoustics.
- With the computer so close to the mics, fan noise can leak onto the recording.
The biggest problem of all with this setup is…
It doesn’t work for multiple people. To record others, you must completely rearrange your studio…
Into something more like this:
The DUAL Recording Studio Setup
To record in your studio with two or more people…
The standard strategy is to divide the room into two stations.
On one end, there’s a station for the engineer…
Which includes his mixing desk, and all the standard gear such as an audio interface, studio monitors, etc.
On the opposite end, there’s a station for the musician…
Which includes microphones, and any instruments/MIDI controllers they might use.
The problem with this setup is…
While it works well for multiple people, it doesn’t work AT ALL when recording by yourself.
Because to play both engineer and musician requires you to constantly jump back and forth between stations…which simply isn’t practical.
So up next…here’s a 3rd option:
The Hybrid Setup
Ultimately, what you want is…
A setup that works well for both solo, AND group recording.
So what I recommend here is, a hybrid setup closely resembling the “dual” setup…
With one KEY addition:
On station 2, you’ll need some kind of remote, that at the very least…
Allows you to press record, play, and stop while away from your desk.
Over the years, people have tried many ways of doing this…and until recently, all of them SUCKED.
The earliest versions were stand-alone hardware devices such as the Frontier Tranzport that were hard to program, and frustrating to use.
Later on when wireless keyboards and wireless mice grew more sophisticated, some folks starting using those instead.
While they worked somewhat, it still left much to be desired. It wasn’t until years later that someone finally invented something GOOD…
The “DAW Remote”
Far more sophisticated than a simple transport remote…
An app created by the Eumlab company, known simply as the DAW Remote…
Offers an unprecedented level of functionality, rivaling that of a real control surface.
While there are other similar apps available, this one is BY FAR the best.
The 2 different versions are:
- DAW Remote – for iPhones and other smartphones.
- DAW Remote HD – for iPads and other tablets.
With this one tool, you can run your session and record your instruments from anywhere in the room, all by yourself.
For mounting, one great tool is the IK Multimedia iKlip Expand.
Simply by attaching it your mic stand, you can precisely position your iPad exactly where you want it.
And it eliminates the need for adding extra stands in an already cramped studio.
For the iPhone, check out the iKlip Expand Mini instead.
3 More Useful Accessories
To make your studio even more user-friendly for solo recording…I also recommend the following:
1. A Headphone Extension Cable
When you work alone, you spend a lot of time moving around the room…
And for most of that time, you’re wearing headphones.
The problem is…
The average headphone cable is far too short for unrestricted movement.
Which is why I recommend a headphone extension cable at least 20 ft long, such as this one.
NOTE: When choosing a headphone cable for this specific purpose, avoid cheap ones, as they’re prone to crackling sounds with constant movement.
2. A Secondary Computer Monitor
One of the tough parts about running a session with a DAW remote is…
You don’t have the same visual feedback you get when sitting in front of the computer.
But with a large flat screen mounted on your wall…
You can clearly see what’s happening within your session from anywhere in the room, and it’s a great visual aid for others as well.
The only downside is, it’s expensive, because in addition to the monitor/TV, you’ll also need a desktop computer with multiple video outs, such as the Mac Pro.
- LG QHD FreeSync Monitor – (Amazon)
3. Virtual Instruments/MIDI controllers
I think we can all agree, that to record music by yourself…
You MUST be a multi-instrumentalist.
But since few of us have enough real instruments to cover an entire song…
The standard solution is to use a virtual instrument/MIDI controller combo instead.
In addition to saving you both money and space…
The editing features of most virtual instruments are a great way to compensate for your lack of playing skills on an unfamiliar instrument.
- Spectrasonics Keyscape – (Amazon)
STEP 6: Connect Your Gear
Now that you’ve finished the layout of your studio…
The next step is connecting your equipment.
If you don’t have much gear right now, then the setup should be pretty simple.
As your needs grow over time, so too will the complexity of your routing.
In order to make that work…
You must have a solid understanding of how it all fits together to form a single working system.
In recording circles, the concept is known as signal flow, which simply means:
The path an audio signal must travel through your gear, from beginning to end.
To learn how it all works, check out this post:
And once you understand that, you still need to know which cables to use to make all those connections.
So check out this article as well:
STEP 7: Position Your Studio Monitors
Now that everything is set up and looking good…
The final step in recording studio design is tweaking the position of your monitors.
A lot of folks assume that just because they have an expensive pair of studio monitors…
They’ve solved the problem of “good monitoring” once-and-for-all.
But the truth is…it requires SO much more than just that.
Besides a whole bunch of other stuff which we won’t go into right now…GOOD MONITORING starts with GOOD POSITIONING.
And good positioning depends on a wide combination of factors including:
- The position of your head
- The position of the walls
- The position of “spot” acoustic treatment
Needless to say…this topic is far more complex than you imagine.
To see in full detail, exactly how to position your monitors, check out this post:
As you will discover in that post, the ideal spot for your monitors requires very precise positioning, which you may or may not be able to achieve by placing them on your desk.
So one last item to consider is a pair of studio monitor stands.
With a fully adjustable height, angle, and width, they make it possible to position your monitors literally anywhere.
To see which ones I recommend, check out this article:
- Ultimate Support MS-100 – (Amazon)