Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Recording your stories at home - 1 Space

This is the first of a handful of posts I will be making about recording at home. These will help you understand how to make the best results you can on your own. This does not mean I recommend this route, as it is full of pratfalls, pitfalls, learning curves and such, but when you GET it, it is so much fun. If you do not like learning software, this is probably not for you, unless your desire to record outweighs your loathing of technology!

If you really want to record your own audio material and publish it, it is not a hard nor expensive task these days. Well, not really. It is incredible how simple it can now be.  And if you are a seasoned teller with a bunch of stories, and can use a computer, there really is no excuse to not have recordings out there. You have material, you most likely have a computer, and there are free programs to use. And let's face it - tweens and teens do it on a daily basis!  So why haven't you?

Let's talk about space for recording.  For spoken word, you need a dead space to record. This does not mean a room at a mortuary! It means a room with little to no echo, or reflection of sound. If you are in a blues band and play the harmonica I would recommend the bathroom with all the towels put away.  For voice-only work, I would suggest, at the most basic, the bedroom.  Most people have carpets in their bedroom, a bed with covers, and a closet filled with clothes.

Do this simple experiment:
Go into your bathroom, take every towel, bath mat, dressing gown, jammies, anything that is not a hard surface or nailed or glued down, out of the room. Clap your hands, talk out loud and listen. What do you hear? Lots of echo, sound reflecting off the hard surfaces.
Now go into your bedroom, open the closet doors wide, pull the curtains and hang a blanket or two over the doors. If you have hardwood or non-carpeted floors, floors without rugs, throw a few blankets and or towels down on the floor. Now clap your hands and talk out loud and listen. GO back to the bathroom and repeat.
Do you hear the difference? What you have in your bedroom is the closest thing to a dead space, acoustically speaking. When recording, this is the ideal sound you are looking for. Reverb can, if wanted, be added later.

Echo and Narcissus, 1903 - John William Waterhouse

But is the bedroom the best place to record. It needs to be quiet. Really quiet! Close the door. Close the windows. Listen for your clock, heating system, furnace, fridge unit and dishwasher. If you can hear these things they need to be turned off.  If you can hear traffic, you need to find a room further away from the road. Can you hear the kids playing? If there is no room in the house where you can find silence, you need to find another location, or build a space. For that you will need space!

Maybe there is a large closet somewhere you could convert into a home studio. Or part of a garage, even an attic or basement space. If the garage is concrete and the roof well insulated, either of those would work, of course if the garage is made of wood, in fact anything other than concrete, there will be issues with sound.

The room I had was a sun room. It was the only room in the house I could use for my office/studio that was left. Two walls were/are windows, measuring in total 14 feet of glass in length. Glass is not the friend of a studio. So I built a couple of false walls. These were made in 4 feet sections so they could be slid over one another to let light in when I was not recording. They were as tall as the windows. The frame contains layers which are:
Outside wall - painted plywood (to reflect sound away from the studio inside)
Layer of sound/thermal insulation (to prevent as much sound still carrying through the ply from getting to the inside of studio)
Layer of Audiomute's Peacemaker (to stop dead any other sound frequencies which the insulation didn't stop, and to absorb that sound. Also doing the same from the inside of the studio)
Inside wall - Homosote (to absorb any sound in the studio, to prevent reflection and echo)

I built frames out of 1" by 4" and 2" by 1" pine with 2 supports down the middle. One side of the frame I covered with 1/4 inch plywood. This would be the outside of the wall and would, when painted reflect sound away from the wall. Flipping them over I then filled all the seams and places where the plywood looks a little cracked or weak, with sound insulation sealer. The point of the insulation sealant is that if there are vibrations (more for loud rock music, but also for passing vehicles!), as the frame moves, the sealant will stop and sound from being transmitted through the wall (in this case). Basically where air can travel, so can sound. You can imagine sound acts a lot like water - if it can find a way, it will make it through. The sealant does not have to be pretty, it just needs to stop the air/sound waves.

The 'channels' were then filled with the highest thermal and sound loft insulation I could lay my hands on. I want to say the R rating on this was 27, but cannot remember! These I stapled into place. A lot of noise and sounds are stopped by this, but some frequencies still can make it through.

Once this was done I covered the frame and insulation with Audiomute's Peacemaker material. It comes in various thicknesses, and I used the 3.2 mm thickness. This is great stuff, not too expensive and with everything else worked really well. I went straight to the dealer and got the best price I could find on-line. Peacemaker is designed to stop sound from travelling further through a wall, and to absorb that sound so it does not continue or reflect back. Audiomute have a range of products from acoustic curtains and blankets, to panels, and if you like this sort of thing, it's a fun website to look over.

 Once nailed into place, I used their Peacemaker tape to hold the sheets together creating a good seal. The tape is supposed to be 'acoustic' tape but being so thin I wonder how much sound it actually stops! This also went over the edges, sealing everything in.

Over all that, adding to the other side to the plywood, went a sheet of Homosote creating the sealed wall. This stuff crumbles easily, so be careful when setting it down and screwing it in.

Again I used the acoustic sealer, filling any and all gaps. Once this was dry I painted the plywood with gloss paint. As I mentioned earlier, the idea is to make the outer, or outside surface as 'hard' as possible to reflect as much sound as possible. The Homosote, being very soft and absorbing, I left unfinished. One could put some material over it, hang curtains (my option) over it, or decorate in some way as it is pretty boring to look at! This is the inside of the studio, so you want it to absorb as much sound as possible, making the room as audibly 'dead' as possible. You do not want to hang framed pictures behind glass and other hard surfaces up on this as you will be undoing what the Homosote does!

The above photo shows the two false walls up against each other. Each one is very heavy. I have not weighed them, but for me they were heavy enough to struggle with getting them upright. To move each one takes two people. The finished product looks like this on the outer side:

I made these walls the sizes I did because I did not want permanent walls in the sun room. Neither did my family, despite it being my office! If you are converting a space to make it into a permanent studio, then build the walls in place and anchor them permanently to the floor and ceiling, or build a new ceiling for your cube. If you ever wanted to build your own tiny house, this is a good way to see if you are up for that, especially if you are adding a door and window (so your partner sees you are in fact working and not passed out or sleeping in there!

Once I had the walls in place they cut out 90% of the sound. The only time I had to stop recording was when a large truck came by or noisy kids were screaming in the street outside the house!

"Had" he said? What does that mean. After recording two of my own CDs in this space, and 6 audio books there, I recorded a 19 and 1/2 hour audio book and had many interruptions during the process. The door from the sun room to the house was thin and it meant if I was recording with folks home, they had to be quiet. So I moved my studio (and walls) to a different location. I set the studio up against an inside wall in a room. Each of the walls I had built created 4 foot side-walls. I built a ceiling for this cubicle room, and made a new wall with a better door. I now have a much smaller room, but a much more sound proof space.

These two 7' tall by 4' wide false walls cost about $600.00 to build. They have easily paid for themselves many times over and created space for me to work in silence. Or hide from the kids! Bare the price in mind when you are thinking of buying a pre-made studio space. It might be better to buy one fully made IF you have the space for one.

If you found this information useful in any way whatsoever, please considering following my blog and subscribing. Click there on the right!
I will also invite you to visit my website:
where there you can listen to recordings made in the studio, short movies of me telling tales at various places, and where you can also sign up for newsletters (which are a lot shorter than this blog) among many other cool things!  Thanks for reading.


NEXT "RECORDING YOUR STORIES" BLOG about voice recorders and other studio equipment!

Intro about recording:


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, Simon. It arrived at the perfect time. I spent 2 hours at a studio yesterday as I begin my new cd project. I was not super happy. I often record stories at home to submit as auditions but my other cds have been studio revorded. I think with a little of your ideas I can adapt my home without changing its real estate value. Then I can revord on my own time & edit as I prefer.
In past I!,3 used NCH eduting software. Since I'll probably have to pay for an upgrade, what software do you suggest?
With thanks, Yvonne Healy, Past President National Storytelling Network

Tim E said...

Great idea, Simon. I'm not quite ready to build an entire booth. I'm working on a smaller setup, since I don't record as often as you do. I found this as an inspiration: