Treating a Bedroom Studio
Getting great recordings at home is becoming more and more of a reality for the average Joe. Each year gear gets better, more affordable and there is now more free information out there than ever before. If you are recording everything “in the box” then you really have very little to stop you from making professional sounding tracks. However, many folks still struggle with the process of recording with microphones. And this makes sense, there are a lot of factors at play and mic recording requires a lot more work on the engineering side of things. While I won’t be able to help you solve all your problems with regard to getting great recordings, I can address one of the most overlooked.
The room is a massively important part of recording music. Most rooms are not set up or treated, all that well for acoustics. In fact, sometimes, rooms can be awful and seriously limiting your ability to make great-sounding music. Even if you are not recording anything with mics, mixing in a bad room is also a severe handicap. Let’s walk through some of the basics of what room treatment looks like.
What’s the Problem with an Untreated Room?
There are a lot of issues that can come with an untreated room. Oftentimes you will be dealing with weird reflections and perhaps even more importantly, inconstant frequencies. The reflections of your room can be picked up by mics and will cause you to receive a bad recording. The reason this kind of recording is considered “bad” is that it is going to be very hard to polish into a mix.
Now some of you may be thinking, “hold on I thought that the room sound could be good ”. Yes, sorry if I am making it sound like the room is bad. Room sound itself is not bad, yet a “bad” room is very problematic. If you have a good room with a pleasing ambiance, that can be a fantastic tool to have at your disposal. In fact, there are many recording studios that have become famous for having a very specific room sound. The key here is to treat the room, making it sound good, we are not trying to make a dead room with no atmosphere. Although there are some cases where this is advantageous (i.e. voiceovers), music is not typically one of them.
Types of Treatment
There isn’t just one best way to treat a room. Every space is unique and different problems will need to be addressed for all types of rooms. Also, there are things like soundproofing that often get lumped in with kinds of treatment. While this is like treatment in some ways, it is very different from that which is focused on echo and frequency. So, to clear this up a bit, below are the two main types of treatment that can be done. I will also describe soundproofing as well. In each, I will describe what they are and how they are often achieved.
So, what can we use to cause sound absorption to occur? Well, you are already probably familiar with the rather popular option of acoustic foam. Yes, foam panels do absorb sound and the ones that you see most people buying in packs of 12 to 40 do get the job done. They will take care of many unwanted mid to high frequencies in the room. However, they do not cover everything. Most foam squares like the ones a majority of people get are about 1 inch thick, at this width the foam will not be able to absorb anything under 800Hz. In fact, you’d be lucky to catch many frequencies under 1000-1200Hz. In order to catch low frequencies like this, you’d need several feet of foam. This is why we have bass traps. The combination of foam panels and bass traps placed strategically will help most rooms quite a bit.
As far as applying this process to the home studio… it’s sort of up for debate. It is definitely expensive to pay for a professionally designed diffuser for your space. This is mainly because to do it right, you would need an acoustician to come to your room and custom make one. If you really want to try something, I have a little DIY tip later.
What most people do agree on is if you add diffusion to an untreated room it’s not really going to work. Furthermore, for small spaces like home studios, the effectiveness of diffusion is greatly reduced and potentially even not present. So, maybe hold off on diffusion and focus on the absorption side of things. You will at least save yourself a massive headache by doing so.
One of the best ways to soundproof a room is to build another room inside of the room, this works for obvious reasons. There are also several insulation and drywall tricks that can be enacted here. Unfortunately, it is hard to entirely soundproof a room if it is already completely constructed.
Common DIY/Cheap Solutions
This is not the section where I tell you to place egg cartons on the walls or to start singing into your closest, because these don’t work! Seriously, don’t do either of those things they can sound terrible. But there are a few unconventional methods that have gained at least some credibility in the recording world.
If you really want to try diffusion you can make your own with some random stuff on shelves. Common uses for this are CDs and books. The key with this one is to make it as random as possible and do a lot of test recordings to see what sounds good. There is no guarantee you will find a good room sound out of this, but some people find success this way.
If you want to make some really effective abortion panels there are plenty of DIY tutorials out there. The main difference between all of these DIY panels is what material they use for the heart of the absorption. Good solutions can range from towels to Rockwool to fiberglass panels. Obviously, some of these will be easier and cheaper than others. However, all of these can be much more effective than just buying the cheap foam stuff. These DIY builds will absorb a wide range of frequencies and thus leave less out in the air.
It is important to remember that having a good sounding room is one of the most important parts to getting great sounding recordings. This often-overlooked concept is a large part of what separates the pros from the amateurs. If you want to take your recordings to the next level, get your room sounding as good as you can. It won't automatically make every track you do great, but it will give you an excellent starting point to create from.