Soundproof Your Home Studio – The Subtle Art of Not Getting Noise Complaints
Drums are loud. If you want to record in your home studio without irking your neighbours, you’re going to have to do something about that window that’s wide open, carrying your drum waves throughout the entire neighbourhood.
However, soundproofing your home studio isn’t just about minimising noise leaks, it’s also about colouring your room sound. Have you ever heard audio engineers call a room really “good” sounding before? It’s likely because the room doesn’t reflect sound frequencies too much, making the drums sound dry when it’s recorded into the microphones. Engineers love this because they can tweak away at reverb, spatialization and all that funky digital audio units to their heart’s content to truly get a good tone from the drum sounds produced.
At the very heart of it, there are two main goals of soundproofing. One is sound isolation, to prevent sound from entering or escaping the room. The second is sound absorption, to keep the room sounding as dry as possible (no echo/reverberation) so that the engineer can better mix your audio.
Unfortunately due to the irony of physics, these two goals are counteractive. Trying to improve one goal will only worsen the other. For example, if you border up your window with a large glass pane, you will do a better job of sound isolation, but because the window reflects all the sound energy back to you, you end up with a room with more reverb.
To solve this issue, we need to use a combination of sound isolators and sound absorbers. Since this article is aimed towards home studio musicians, I will be focusing on the cheapest and easiest ways to soundproof your room, for a quick fix and a bang for your buck.
First Task: Isolating sound in your home studio
The main culprit which causes sound to leak through walls separating rooms are holes in the wall. As long as air can travel through this, vibrations can too. These holes include the crack under the door, the ventilation shaft, even cracks inside the wall. The smallest of holes can cause the biggest of sound leaks, so it’s important to treat them well from the get go when furnishing your studio.
To prevent vibrations from travelling through air, the simplest and most effective way is to simply ensure your room is airtight!
Whether you are trying to soundproof a room in an apartment or a landed home – a room has many ways air can escape though, here are a few easy fixes for the most common air pathways found in a room.
Windows and Sliding Doors
The best way to seal the gaps from these is to use a weather-strip tape. These are thick pieces of tape that once installed on the edges of the frame of the window or door, can ensure airtight closure when you shut the window or door.
They are not very expensive and usually a roll or two can get the job done. There are only so many windows and doors you can have in a room anyway.
If you live in an apartment, adding a simple door sweep can help lessen air leaks from beneath the door, and cause sound vibrations to be blocked. Sure, it won’t be as perfect as a well constructed recording studio – but it should help to an extent.
For wall cracks that run deep in the wall especially in cement walls, use a wall crack sealant. These come in the foam variety as well, so you can just inject them into the wall.
Making your room airtight (or close to it) is a great start to improving your sound isolation.
Further steps to isolate your room usually involves some renovation work, and that can be expensive. Consulting an acoustics firm will be able to advise you better options for long run solutions, but these methods are cheap and quick and will make your recording space much quieter in no time.
Second Task: Tackling sound absorption
Now your room is sealed, but your sound is reflecting off these closed windows and doors, causing unwanted reverberation! To solve this problem, we must now address sound absorption. Any soft object are good absorbers, so if you have pillows, carpets or blankets with you, you’re in luck!
Why do so many home studio (and even commercial recording studios) place a carpet underneath their drums? Here’s why.
Using a carpet below your drums not only helps it stay in place, it also lessens low vibrations from travelling through the floor, through the wasolls, and into your spouse’s bedroom.
Some people even install a “soundstage” – a wooden frame below the drums so that there is less direct transmission of low frequencies to the floor. However if you’re cheap and lazy (like me), a carpet alone will already help with eliminating high frequencies bouncing around, lowering reverb.
Probably one of the cheapest options out of all these. They can be draped over your doors, windows and walls. You could install them to hang over the door using nails for example.
Make sure they hang loosely from the surface you are placing them on, to have some distance between the blanket and the door. This distance is crucial to ensure the sounds from the drum can be absorbed, due to acoustical properties of reflection of sound. If you placed the blanket completely flat against the wall, it would drastically reduce the effectiveness of the absorption of the blanket, so we want to avoid that.
If you want to capture a very dry drum sound you can also drape the blanket over the drums to create a cavern of sorts, like this:
Thicker blankets will capture lower frequencies and help eliminate the “boominess” of the room. If you have more cash to spend, you could invest in fiberglass blankets, such as these:
These have better absorption qualities than the laymen blanket, and are usually large, so you can set up your draping easily – controlling the sound bounces in your home studio.
These can be installed on walls in place of the blankets, and they work just as effectively. There are some specific soundproofing curtains out there, but in my experience, their effectiveness is limited and not really worth the upgrade. Sometimes things that are more expensive… are worse.
If you feel that the room is still too “boomy” when you play the drums, you can make your own bass traps by placing soft furniture in the corners of the room, where bass frequencies usually concentrate. The more furniture in general that you have in the room, the drier the room will sound. Just a good thing to keep in mind.
If your budget allows, getting a few acoustic foam bass traps from companies such as Auralex – would help you tame standing waves as well.
Extra Tip: Hanging art pieces or record albums on the wall of your studio can slightly add to killing standing waves as well. Using a picture hanging system makes this easy without having to spend too much.
Another clumsier but still cheap option is to have bookshelves where you record the drums. These act as great absorbers as well and make the room really dry, and because of their larger size in nature, they then to capture lower frequencies better than blankets or curtains.
Also, yay for reading!
With this, your music room or home studio should be prepped good enough for a decent drum recording & mixing. If you still suffer from echoes or reverberation, it is worthwhile checking into installing absorption panels on the ceiling, as well as carpeting more of the flooring.
All in all, these quick and dirty methods won’t solve all your sound problems and turn your home studio into a commercial recording studio, but it’s a good place to start immediately at improving your home studio sound if you’re on a tight budget.
Now go forth and make that hit record.
This post is written by Boba Lee Jia Wen, who currently studies at Berklee College and is raising funds for his drum teacher, Jasmi Budin. You can contribute to that fund here: https://helpgive.to/budinbigboifund