For those who have been unaware the founder of Pro Tools Expert Russ Hughes has been building a new home studio. We couldn't let this pass without getting some information about the process and design so we have asked him to write a series covering the entire process. We hope that it will help others considering a home studio build. Over to Russ...
In this first article on building my home studio I want to talk about vision, because as I learnt the hard way vision is everything, let me explain.
I only told my wife a few days ago that the reason I bought the house we now live in was because of the building I saw in the garden. How often do you get handed a recently-built, high quality brick building on your land that is structurally sound and ripe to be turned into a studio?
Joking apart the whole house is fantastic but when I saw the garage I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it. Some of this article was recently published by me in a separate post but I felt it was a key part of the lessons I learnt in the process.
I recently celebrated my 50th birthday and even though I've spent over 30 years making music and recording I had never had a purpose designed and built studio at home. Yes I had rooms in houses that were converted as best I could, but this was a blank canvas which I thought was too good to miss.
In March 2016 we acquired the house and moved in and soon we set to work fixing up some rooms inside the main house. My wife was adamant that I should set to work on the studio as soon as possible, even though there's a list as long as my arm of things we want to do to the main house. However I also knew that even though she was sincere that I would make sure certain rooms in the house were up prioritised before I moved onto the studio.
I also thought it would take some time to work with an architect and designer before we could really move on the studio and planned to be completed and in by July. The reason I hired an architect and designer was because I wanted to make sure that the studio would meet planning regulations and building specifications.
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.
Vision Is Everything
Then one evening 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.
Here are three things I've decided matter to me in my studio design:
My new studio would 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 designed to reduce sound coming in or bleeding out.
We rightly spend 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 paid 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.
It is so easy when designing a studio to look at other studios or to read articles or forum posts and think there is one way to design and build a studio. I explored the whole offset wall stuff, the floating floors and all the other stuff but in the end prioritised based on what I need. You'll be given a lot of advice, much of it conflicting. In fact I've learnt a new joke since embarking on this journey. Q: How many people does it take to design a studio? A: 10, 1 to do it and 9 others to tell you how to do it another way.
My studio is primarily for writing and mixing, that accounts for about 90% of its use, the stuff that I was focussing the design and build (and a lot of budget on) was the other 10%. I could have built something that was technically great for a recording studio, but it would have been wrong for what I do.
We've still worked hard on the insulation and other factors that can affect a studio - more on that in later articles, but now I have a room that works for me.
So the first lesson I'd like to leave with those considering building a studio is this, make sure you know what you want the studio to do and then design and build that. I was very close to making a big expensive mistake, but thankfully I trusted my instincts and now have a studio that is fit for the intended purpose.
So make sure you have a vision that makes sense for what you do and then build a studio based on that - I have and I couldn't be happier with the result.