When my wife and I bought our new house there was so much to like about it, but for me the winner was the recently built garage in the garden. Right away I could see the potential of turning it into a studio and as soon as we moved in I set to work with an architect to draw up the plans. However as time passed things just did not feel right and I couldn't put my finger on what was bothering me.
The plans went through several iterations, mainly around the inclusion of a vocal/instrument tracking booth as well as an entrance via a corridor that would seal off the old garage door and also give us further isolation. I would talk through them for extended periods of time and go back and forth because something wasn't working - so much so that I put the project on hold.
A couple of weeks ago I was watching a TV show about bringing the outside in and at that point my studio issues hit me like a bolt of lightning - it was light that was the issue or in fact the lack of it. In an effort to try and reduce as much outside noise and keep as much inside the building we were designing the studio around the recording needs, but in truth that's a much smaller part of my work compared to composing and mixing - live recording takes perhaps 10% of that. So I was designing a studio around 10% of what I really do and not the other way around. It was at this point everything dropped into place.
In this article I want to talk about 3 things that I've come to realise matter a lot to me and may need to be considered if you want to build your own studio. Before that I want to say that I have learnt two valuable lessons on this journey. The first one is to trust your instincts and don't just build a studio based upon how everyone else does it, that's the mistake I was making. This leads me to my second point and that is build a studio around your needs not some kind of arbitrary list of things 'every studio' must have.
All that said, there's still work going into the construction to meet building regulations and to reduce sound going out and also coming in.
Here are three things I've decided matter in my studio design:
Natural Light Is Important To Me
My new studio is going to have a large set of glass doors that open fully on hot days, this will now be the main entrance into an open-plan space. They will flood the studio with natural light, something that matters to me for two reasons; firstly I spent too many years in dingy studio caves under the glare of spotlights, when I prefer, and work better, under natural light as it helps to keep me energised and also informs me in a natural way what time of day it is. Secondly, energy considerations also matter to me and I don't want to be sat in a dark room spending money on light that the sun can supply for free. The triple glazed doors are designed to be both energy efficient and acoustically designed to reduce sound coming in or bleeding out.
We are spending time on the need for acoustic treatment in the walls and also essential tools such as bass traps, diffusers and acoustic panels but I'm also aware that it is possible to forget that this is a place that needs to feel right too. I was in danger of building something that sounded right but would not have any soul, so I'm now paying more attention to what goes on the walls and the floor, how the feel and how they look. So close attention is being paid to the fabrics and furnishing too so that when people visit it's like walking into a well designed room in the house such as a lounge or kitchen... attention to detail matters.
The Outside Matters Too
Now I have a huge picture window to look out at of all day I also realised that I needed to consider what I would look at (and when open on a warm day) what I could smell and hear. With this in mind I've designed and built a large raised bed and planting it with lots of grasses and flowers that grow to some height and move in the breeze, as well as attract wildlife. This will change over the seasons but I feel it will be a great thing to look at when I want to daydream, or sit outside and enjoy with artists and clients.
Creativity Extends Beyond Our Ears
As creative people working in audio production we can sometimes forget that our other senses need stimulating too. I had forgotten this as I tried to create my new studio, concentrating on the acoustics and the technology and in doing so missing a vital part of what makes a great studio for me to work in as a composer and songwriter.
You may have different priorities and that's part of the reason for writing this article, build a studio that works for you and the way you work, trust your instincts and make sure you remember, as a creative, to feed all your senses.