Creating a REAL Cool Recording Space

If you’ve been involved in recording voice over for more than 30 seconds, you probably know that the room you record in has more to do with your sound than your gear.  I’ve heard it said that your recording environment (meaning the room you’re in, the stuff in the room, and the material that stuff is made of) accounts for up to 90% of your sound!  With that knowledge, you should be able to understand why it is SO important for you to treat your environment BEFORE you spend a bunch of money on great sounding gear.

A great sounding mic, preamp, and interface are pretty important in voice over (if you don’t sound good through your signal chain or your gear introduces noise into your audio you can’t deliver high-quality voice overs); a decent and effectively configured computer is important in voice over (if your computer crashes every five minutes or adds pops and clicks because it can’t keep up with the data stream, you can’t deliver high-quality voice overs); and competency behind the mic is very important in voice over (if you don’t know how to act, don’t have proper mic technique, or can’t take direction very well, you can’t deliver high-quality voice overs).  BUT, even if you have every piece of that puzzle NAILED, if you’re room sucks, your audio sucks…period.  Here’s a quick rundown on what makes a room sound good.

Here’s my studio in all it’s glory!Image

To start, let’s identify some terms that are often confused.  

Soundproofing and Sound Deadening  

Soundproofing is what you do to stop sound from ENTERING (or leaving if you’re recording drums in your garage) your recording space.  Sound deadening is what you do to keep the sound that originates WITHIN your room from creating unwanted reflection (or reverb).  Both of these areas need to be treated for an effective recording space to be created, however, most people start with deadening a space that they have found to be relatively quiet.

 If you aren’t going to build a space (or use a prebuilt booth such as a WhisperRoom), you will need to start by finding the most isolated place in your home.  This is often times an interior closet, or closet in the basement.  The only thing that can stop sound (especially low frequency sound) is mass.  The more mass you have between you and the source of the sound (like the garbage truck outside, or your neighbors leaf blower that he just HAS to use at 10 o’clock at night!), the less sound will reach your microphone.  Once you’ve found the best place to record, it’s time to kill it.   

The Death of a Room

Small rooms sound like small rooms…duh.  If you want to record quality voice overs, you can’t sound like you are recording in an echoing coffin.  This is where sound DEADENING comes in.  Often times, a closet full of coats or shirts won’t sound horrible.  It won’t sound professional, but it won’t sound like you’re recording in a tiny box (for the most part).  The only problem with most materials is that they don’t absorb low frequency sound.  High frequencies are easy to deaden, mid-range frequencies are also not too tough to deaden (though the lower you get in the mid-range, the harder it gets), but low frequencies can travel through most materials.  This is where you need some density.  Your room will still not sound GREAT until you do something about those low frequencies.  

There are quite a few ways to deal with this, but they all involve adding some sort of deadening material to the room (ceiling and corners included) that will absorb the sound before it can reflect back to your mic.  If you aren’t on a budget, there are tons of prefab items built by companies that do a great job.  If you aren’t on a budget though, you probably aren’t trying to record in your closet.  For those with budgetary constraints….read on!  

Back to materials.  As I said, density (but porous density) is necessary to trap sound.  The materials that I have found to trap most frequencies best are mineral wool insulation (this stuff is nasty to work with, sometimes contains formaldehyde, and has tiny fibers that can escape into your space, so COVER IT WELL), recycled denim insulation (specific types of this insulation trap just as well as mineral wool with no fibers or formaldehyde), and even different foams and moving blankets (these can work if you are REALLY on a budget, check out eBay and buy a bunch of them).

My pick of the bunch is recycled denim.  It’s cheap, easy to work with, doesn’t create a nasty environment, and can be purchased at your local Lowe’s store (if they stock it).  The 3.5″ version is great at absorbing sound, and you can build a frame easily with some basic lumber and a few screws (or a brad nailer works much faster if you have access to one).  If you’d like information about framing and covering panels, feel free to contact me.  I built a ton of panels with mineral wool (before the recycled denim was available).  Then I recently pulled out all of the mineral wool and replaced it with recycled denim.  Guess what!!  It sounds practically identical.

You don’t, however, even need to cover the recycled denim.  If appearance if of no consequence to you, simply tack the stuff to the walls!  

That Pumpin’ Thumpin’ Bass

Now low frequencies like to pool in the corners of your room and create a low resonance EVEN if you treat every inch of wall space.  For this, you just need to cover the corners.  The method I have found very effective is cutting right triangles of insulation, and then stacking them in the corner like this:

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I’ve read that others will cut equilateral triangles and tack them in every corner.   I haven’t personally tried that.  Either way, corners have to be dealt with for great sound.

If you have any questions, I’m always happy to chat or direct you to resources that will help.  Just shoot an email to:  Jason@TheREALCoolGuy.com 

JasonCreating a REAL Cool Recording Space

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