Soundproofing a room for music recording is a massive project. It is financially demanding, physically demanding and even mentally demanding.
The truth is a recording studio is meant to be like a sacred meditation ground. You should be able to hear a pin drop in the room practically.
Well, anyone who is ready or intending to build a recording room should be thoroughly oriented with the damage background noises can do to your recording.
Imagine you recorded a song in your “not soundproofed studio,” then you have to submit that recording to a possible client. The client slots in the tape and you both begin to enjoy your mind-blowing record.
Suddenly here comes the static in the background, before you figure that out here comes a car horn and then to cap it all; there’s a particular humming sound that sounds so strangely like your air conditioner.
Imagine the thoughts and emotions running through both your minds at this time. There is no need to tell you that you just lost that client and probably your good, professional reputation.
A recording studio needs to be as soundproof as possible. This article is a guide on how to efficiently soundproof your studio.
First, we need to clarify some misunderstood facts about ‘soundproofing.’ A room cannot indeed be a hundred percent soundproof.
The reason for this is that noise or sounds are transmitted through different means, but we can reduce it to the least possible magnitude. So….
What Is Soundproofing?
Soundproofing is the application of techniques or methods to reduce efficiently or block sounds from entering or leaving a room.
The essence of soundproofing is to keep outside noises out and inside noises in. So, what’s happening on the streets or in your neighbor’s room can’t affect you, while what’s happening in your recording room cannot disturb others outside.
Soundproofing is often confused with another term in the recording niche known as Acoustic treatments.
What Is Acoustic Treatment?
Acoustic treatment is the application of specific tools or techniques to absorb excessive ambiance or rather noises generated within a room.
The essence of this treatment is to improve your room’s acoustics, hence making your recordings sound much better. Read my detailed article related to acoustic treatment.
In acoustic treatment, insulation batting or rigid fiberglass panels hung on the walls, help to absorb those bouncing sounds. It converts the sound vibrations into heat.
Both soundproofing and acoustic treatments are needed for you to have a real, working music recording room.
What Are You Up Against?
To efficiently soundproof your room, you must know the sounds you are up against. When you can identify the source, it is easier to block or reduce.
Outside noises such as voices, cars, weather, and machines are all transmitted via the air. They are airborne sounds that can travel through the tiniest cracks, and the most prominent cracks available are windows and doors.
Therefore, as long as air can get into your room, sound will come along with it. The vents, gaps, outlet boxes and windows are what we call, flanking paths. They are practically a part of the home structure, expected to do more good than harm.
Inside noises include more of impact sounds. For instance, a book thrown on the floor is an impact sound, so are the sound of heels on the same floor.
These sounds are usually from within the home or the room, and they travel through the house structure. They use wall studs, ceiling joists and wooden floors as a pathway.
Equipment noises are sourced right there in your recording room. They include the sounds of your air conditioner, computer fans, hardware racks, feedbacks from the microphone and sounds from other equipment you might have.
You see the sources of noise around us seem unbeatable. But this is why each one will be tackled accordingly. When you deal with the outside noise, then you move to inside noise and finally equipment noise.
The structure of a typical room consists of a wall, a ceiling, a floor, a door and a window. These are all entry points and would have to be treated individually.
We will begin with the outside noises, but first, there are some other terms you need to be familiar with.
STC and STL are metrics used to measure or rather give a numeric representation of the magnitude of sound.
STC (Standard Transmission Class)
STC measures the effectiveness of building structures, such as a wall in reducing sound. It is estimated in decibels (DB).
For reference, here is a chart of STC ratings:
STL (Sound Transmission Loss)
STL is another metric that represents the amount of sound isolated efficiently by a wall, ceiling or floor.
It is measured at specific frequency bands. Hence it is especially useful for low sounds. It is equally estimated in decibels (DB).
STC is the more commonly used metric because it is quite straightforward, but it is not useful for low-frequency sounds.
Dealing With Outside Noise And Inside Noise
Soundproofing a room from outside noises, is done using these five elements:
- Insulation or Absorption
Adding mass or increasing mass means to add weight or density to something. Mass is an element that is feasible on walls, floors, and ceilings. It is the fundamental method of soundproofing any room.
If you are building the room from scratch, then you are in luck because mass can be conveniently added to the walls right from the start.
The walls of a studio require a lot of mass so that sound can be efficiently absorbed. Hence, if you already have a room, adding mass will entail an entirely different procedure.
To do this, you will have to add dense materials to it. Materials such as drywall and mass loaded vinyls can be used.
Drywall is an efficient soundproofing material when used correctly. It is dense and large, giving you enough material to work with.
As we discussed earlier, sound vibrations could use the structures of the room as a pathway to transmit noise. Decoupling is the technique that breaks that pathway by separating the contact points.
There are several ways to achieve decoupling. All you need to remember is that we are isolating, separating the connected channels.
Decoupling applies to the walls- if you like- floors and ceilings especially. You can also use this method for your equipment and home appliances.
For example, if you place an isolation pad between your subwoofer and the speaker stand or a rubber mat between your refrigerator and the floor, you would be breaking the pathway of sound. That is decoupling.
The materials used here include resilient channels, whisper clips, joist tape and pliable rubber. These materials are placed in-between the wall, ceiling or floor structure.
When there is a gap between the joist and the opposite drywall, the pathway is broken and sound eliminated.
Floating floors can be achieved using rubber insulators. A standard product is Aurelax U-boat. It will give you a capable floating floor.
Floating Walls or Ceilings
Isolation is carried out here with the use of resilient sound clips and resilient channels. They are placed between structures to create a gap with joist gasket tape.
The tape is used on studs also to cause a decoupling effect. Joist gasket tapes are a reasonable choice because a single roll can be applied for a whole room.
Decoupling is an essential principle in soundproofing otherwise nothing else you do will matter.
Insulation and Absorption
Airborne sound can be transmitted through the air cavities or space within the walls, floors or ceiling. It is this airborne sound that carries the waves of conversation, music and other activities that do not create floor impact.
The principle behind insulation is to absorb noise transmitted through the air. This means that the air cavities within ceilings, walls or floor have to be insulated to absorb sound.
Insulation is done with materials such as loose fiberglass, cellulose or rockwool. The insulating material should be of low density.
Damping is an energy absorbing mechanism that decreases the amplitude of a wave. Damping results in the dissipation of sound into heat.
Damping is done by using a damping compound between floors, walls, and ceiling. A popular damping compound is Green Glue noise proofing compound.
When a damping compound is applied to a surface, it takes some time to begin its effectiveness. For Green Glue noise proofing compound it takes about a month to become fully active.
The Green Glue damping compound is the most famous and productive damping compound in the market. It is easy to use and harmless to the user. To apply this damping compound, you can directly read the manufacturer’s instructions or follow these simple steps.
A damping compound must be applied to panels or a rigid surface such as drywall, plywood, gypsum board or medium density fiberboard (MDF).
Use one or two tubes for a 4×8 sheet of drywall; while one tube will give you a level of efficiency, using two is the best choice.
Also, you don’t have to worry about the frequent mention of heat. When sound waves are converted to heat energy, the heat is of no consequence.
Damping deals with the bass region and bass vibrations. The damping method is an efficient and necessary sound blocker.
Sealing is what I would describe as adding the final touch. It is also understood as closing the air gaps in your room. Sealing is a necessary step in the soundproofing of your room.
Otherwise, you might have a situation like a bucket with a hole in it. The sound will keep leaking in despite your efforts.
Sealing is a final must do process because, without it, all your effort of insulating, damping, adding mass and decoupling would come to significant waste.
The materials for shutting those holes include:
- Acoustical caulk
- Automatic door bottoms and
- Foam gaskets
These materials block specific holes in the room so you would need all or one at least.
This material serves as a multi-purpose sound barrier. It can be used to seal up any holes and cracks in the perimeter of the room.
Acoustical caulk works just like damping compound, but it is different in its form. Acoustical caulk is soft and pliable. More like a rubber sealant.
It is a necessary material because it does not become stiff, cracked or worn out with time. Hence, it remains flexible to vibrate and eliminate the sound.
Foam gaskets are used to seal the air gaps from electrical outlets, windows, doors, air conditioning ducts and so on. You can make use of any foam gasket.
They are not as effective as acoustical caulk, but they play their part.
Automatic Door Bottoms
You might have ignored this little detail, but it is equally important. The swing space between your door and the floor is a crack, an open space just waiting for the next sound wave to pass through.
Hand-made or custom made, these materials close the gap between a closed door and the floor.
Using these techniques, I can guarantee your room is now significantly airtight and soundproof. You are almost at that point of a complete soundproof room.
A practical room within a room but as we said earlier the techniques above solved half of the problem. The remaining half we will address from within.
Equipment Noise: Computers
A computer is a necessary part of your recording room. It has to be there no matter what. But computers have fans, and when they engage, they get noisy.
Computers also make clacking sounds, while you type, click or use them in any way. Computers are a threshold of sounds.
Now, these sounds may not seem significant to you, but as a musically inclined person, you should know they give very bad feedbacks and mess with your acoustics.
Here is a compilation of ways to deal with your computer noise.
#1. Acoustic Separation
Creating an acoustic separation between your computer and your microphones is not a hundred percent effective, but it reduces the problem. The first thing you want to try here is increasing distance.
Increasing the distance
Set up the computer as far away from the microphone as possible. It is a natural phenomenon that distance weakens sound. While enough distance might be suitable to reduce the noise from the computer, it is not the best you can do.
Change the directions
Another method is to change the direction of both parties involved. Make sure the microphone and the computer are facing opposite directions. For maximum effect make use cardioid microphones.
The effect of this is helpful, but it is feasible only when you have one or two vocalists. If you were to record a whole band, then other options will work better.
Try dynamic microphones
Dynamic microphones are less sensitive to the noise of computers. They operate at lower gain settings and are a better choice for clear sound.
#2. Acoustical Treatment
Place acoustic panels and bass traps around your computer or behind the microphones to absorb sound.
It is preferable to place the boards behind the mics because computers naturally give off heat; hence they do not need to be exposed to more heat. This can lead to overheating and a breakdown of your system.
#3. Tackle Overheating
When your computer overheats, the fans engage, and it gets really noisy. Therefore, avoiding the problem of heat can guarantee that your computer fans engage less or work silently.
Use a stand
Purchase a laptop stand to place your computer. When the computer is distanced from the table, air gets to flow freely beneath it. So, there is less overheating and less fan noise.
Get an Isobox
An isobox is a soundproof enclosure that prevents the leakage of sounds to the outside environment.
The isobox will protect the computer from overheating and is equipped with an alarm system to alert you should anything go wrong.
An Isobox is quite expensive, so it is not a popular option. It is also possible to get creative and build your own isobox. All you need is some plywood and acoustic foam, then some online tutorials.
#4. Go Pro, Create A Computer Closet
Most professional studios have multiple rooms. There is the equipment room and computer room both separate from your actual recording room.
To be able to do this, you would need a lot of planning and cable extenders. While you could use an entirely different room, creating a closet in your soundproof room is much better.
Make sure the closet is well ventilated and the cables properly extended through the walls and the floors.
The air conditioner is necessary to keep the room and the equipment cool. But air conditioners makes irritating noises that come up at the most unexpected moments.
Most people deal with this by just turning it off during recording sessions, but this is not convenient. If you have applied the steps above to your air conditioner with no luck, there are still other things you could try.
Close up cracks and seal the ductworks.
You can make use of tape and other soundproofing materials to seal any cracks and holes.
Most of the noise from this unit is actually outside noise filtering through the cracks. Once airtight, the sound should reduce.
You can also call for professional help to get the unit re-installed properly.
Vents make the loudest noise. It is irritating enough on any day, not to imagine during your recording sessions.
Vents rattle from the air flow, and they also amplify other sounds in the room. The thing about vents is that they are not entirely necessary.
Removing them will do more good than harm. Read my guide on soundproofing air vents.
Using options like HVAC enclosures can help you create an effective sound barrier. The system consists of a channel containing fiberglass or acoustic foam to absorb sound while the cooling air flows through the channel into the room.
You can also build a DIY isobox for your A/C unit.
Deaden Sound of Your Equipment
This step is simple and efficient. It involves placing rubber mats or thick rugs under your equipment such as drums. These paddings muffle the sound by reducing the vibration that comes from them.
So, when you play the drums, you get a more precise quality sound.
Acoustic treatment makes your recording professional, and at the same time, it plays a role in soundproofing. The principle of acoustic treatment is to deal with inside noise, by absorbing it prevents them from bouncing back.
When sounds are released in the studio, the noise goes past the microphone bounces off an ordinary wall and returns to the receiver.
The sounds can also bounce off one another to create what is called “constructive interference” and “destructive interference.” This means that the interference can amplify or reduce sound.
Proper acoustic treatment is the final phase in soundproofing. You get peace of mind and quality audio recording.
Cost of Soundproofing a Recording Room
The truth is, soundproofing is no small undertaking. It is a large project, especially for a recording room. In soundproofing a regular room, you can cut corners, purchase cheaper material and use just some of the methods,
This arrangement can work considerably well for such rooms, but a music recording room is an entirely different thing.
All the techniques, methods and materials must be put in place if you desire that professional studio that can birth quality sound.
To soundproof a studio the right way can go up to several thousand dollars depending on your space and the extent you go to.
This takes into consideration everything from replacing existing walls to insulation, adding mass, installing the A/C unit, running electrical cables and of course the necessary acoustic treatments.
Noise is a universal problem. One can hardly make any productive thoughts or actions in the presence of distracting, irritating noise.
Most occupations require a sanctuary of peace to function, while others can manage. A recording studio is amongst those that need order.
If you have ever had the misfortune of listening to poorly recorded music, you would understand the delicate nature of a recording business.
To stand out as a professional quality provider in your niche, effort and sacrifice must be made.
Soundproofing a studio might not be an easy task. It is in fact financially demanding and physically demanding, but it is well worth it in the end.
Lots of people can recall loving a particular recording just because when you listen to it, you can almost filter or point out each beat, each instrument used.
That is when you truly understand the dynamics of music. There isn’t a person in this niche who would not want to give this joy to others.
Soundproofing your home is a lot easier than soundproofing a rented space. In a situation like this you will need to compromise on specific changes, but if you can get no restrictions permit, then you are good to go soundproofing.
Yes, a recording room is costly to soundproof entirely, but it is worth it for your reputation and production. It is advisable to get professional help for things to run smoother and faster.
If you don’t like the idea of calling on professional help, probably because of cost, you can ask some friends and colleagues to help you.
The methods above are inclined to solve everyone’s problems. If some ways cannot work for you, choose what can and use it.
Also, remember that you can be creative with soundproofing and keep your studio looking beautiful and organized. Purchase aesthetic materials if possible or at the end of the project employ the use of wallpapers, decorative panels and so on to keep the workplace comfortable and majestic.
Soundproofing is never just for you, but for your environment and your neighbors too. With these options, you can avoid problems with your neighbors by keeping your noise in and their noise out.
So, in the end, you, your neighbors, your clients will be glad you chose to soundproof your studio.
Thanks for reading! Before you go, take a minute out and check out the best insulation materials for soundproofing and acoustics which I highly recommend.