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The Insider's Guide to Home Recording: Record Music and Get Paid

The Insider's Guide to Home Recording: Record Music and Get Paid

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The Insider's Guide to Home Recording: Record Music and Get Paid

324 pages
2 hours
Feb 3, 2015


The last decade has seen an explosion in the number of home-recording studios. With the mass availability of sophisticated technology, there has never been a better time to do it yourself and make a profit.

Take a studio journey with Brian Tarquin, the multiple-Emmy-award winning recording artist and producer, as he leads you through the complete recording process, and shows you how to perfect your sound using home equipment. He guides you through the steps to increase your creative freedom, and offers numerous tips to improve the effectiveness of your workflow. Topics covered in this book include the following:

Studio location, set up, and alteration
Equipmentmicrophones, plug-ins, amps, mixers
Recording software
Mixing techniques
Roles and responsibilities of artists, producers, engineers
Getting the best performance from hired musicians
And much more!

Experienced and novice musicians alike will learn a multitude of tips, tricks, and techniques to control the studio environment and create excellent sounds. Novices, or those just starting to record on home equipment for the first time, will learn everything from setting up a studio properly, to operating the mixers and processors, to improving the acoustics of your work environment. This guide will help every musician, producer, or engineer to build a successful home-recording business.

Allworth Press, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, publishes a broad range of books on the visual and performing arts, with emphasis on the business of art. Our titles cover subjects such as graphic design, theater, branding, fine art, photography, interior design, writing, acting, film, how to start careers, business and legal forms, business practices, and more. While we don't aspire to publish a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are deeply committed to quality books that help creative professionals succeed and thrive. We often publish in areas overlooked by other publishers and welcome the author whose expertise can help our audience of readers.
Feb 3, 2015

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The Insider's Guide to Home Recording - Brian Tarquin


Chapter 1

Building the Foundation

Think of creating a studio space similar to building a house—the foundation is paramount! What good is a beautiful house built on a weak foundation or on a soft marshy area in the middle of an open field? I’ll tell you one thing: once the foundation is compromised, it is all over! A perfect example is the Tappan Zee Bridge, which has been a part of my life as a New Yorker from birth. They decided to build it over the widest point of the Hudson River with less than standard material. It is so bad that the History Channel dubbed it one of the most dangerous bridges in America on their special The Crumbling of America. It has become known as the hold your breath bridge; hope you make it across before it collapses. Well, the same goes for building a workspace for music—the shape of the room, the wall and ceiling reflection, electrical setup, floor material, etc. are all foundations. Don’t get me wrong, you certainly don’t need to have an architect design your room, but awareness of these things is good before diving into it. Of course, with today’s technology, you don’t need as much space as studios did in the past, but the same basic sound reinforcement applies if you plan on not using headphones all of the time.

If you’ve been down this road before or you are thinking about creating the perfect recording space, I’ve got some helpful step-by-step tips to make your space work for you. First, if you’ve browsed your local bookstore, you will find that there are a plethora of books on the subject, as well as numerous opinions on what issues to prioritize first. The considerations are endless, from studio size to acoustical treatment to wall panels, absorbers, and diffusers, to spacing of glass, sound reinforced doors, floating walls, ceilings and floors, to blah, blah, blah. But the first and foremost important aspect is the electrical! No matter how much money you spend on your design, whether it is a large professional studio or a small eight-by-eight room, do not overlook the importance of setting up the receptacles and lights before the wall goes up. Believe me, I learned this the hard way when I built my first studio. The wrong electrical setup can cause an irritating, persistent hum that goes through the board and ultimately to your recordings. I ask you, what good is using a SSL, Neve, or even a Trident Recording Console when the sound quality is stifled? Ground loops are the most common problem in home studios, as well as that nasty light noise that feeds itself from wall dimmers. Having built a number of studios and grappled with this common problem with grounding noise, I took a journal and a digital camera to record the process on one of my builds.


On this particular project, we were dealing with one large open space, so we needed to create a control room with a separate live room. The room had thirteen-foot ceilings, so we had to figure out a creative and affordable way of dividing the space. So I started by breaking the room in two halves, and at the narrowest point between walls, I built an eight-foot wall (Fig. 1.1). First, I framed it out with two-by-sixes at a height of eight feet.

Figure 1.1 Eight-foot studio wall frame with double pane four-by-six glass window

Figure 1.2 Powerstat dimmer mounted on the frame before insulation

Once it was framed out, I mounted the Powerstat wall box in the control room and mounted the orange receptacles both in the live room and the control room (fig 1.2). We also brought in a double paned four-by-six window for the control room, which looked out into the live room, and placed it within the wall frame (fig 1.3).

Figure 1.3 Double pane four-by-six glass window mounted onto the wood frame before insulation

Figure 1.4 Enclosed outlet mounted on wood frame

Figure 1.5 Inside outlet showing isolated ground to prevent hums or ground loops from external sources

Then our trusty electrician came in and wired everything back to the box, outlets, dimmer, and track lights (figs. 1.4 and 1.5). Now it was time to finish the wall. To contain the noise factor, we used mounting sound board, which you can find at Home Depot or Lowe’s, and nailed those directly on to the frame (fig. 1.6). Once the frame was completely covered, we added a nice knotty pine wood to add warmth to the space (figs. 1.7 and 1.8).

Figure 1.6 Soundboard attached to the wood frame of two-by-fours helps absorb sound

Figure 1.7 Tarquin using an air gun to nail the knotty pine boards to the frame

Figure 1.8 Final knotty pine finish and trim to window adds finishing touches

As for the door that fits between the live room and the studio, we used a heavy single swing three-by-seven acoustical door fitted with a small window purchased from Acoustical Solutions (fig. 1.9). The door’s STC (Sound Transmission Classification) ratings are available from STC 41 up to STC 57. What’s great about Acoustical Solutions is that they also make custom doors, as well as oversized doors, undersized doors, double doors, swinging doors, tandem doors, and doors with or without windows. You will also need a reliable door jamb seal that fits above the door to the wall. They make an acoustical seal, which features a unique compress-o-matic design with a sound-absorbing neoprene rubber gasket that compresses to form a tight seal as the door is closed. The door jamb seals include adjusting screws for field correction of irregular clearances that might otherwise compromise the sound performance. This ensures a tight seal for the door, and the adjust feature is useful in future adjustments (fig. 1.10).

Figure 1.9 Acoustical Solutions door mounted on wall frame with Powerstat dimmer

Figure 1.10 Studio door has an adjustable seal on the bottom and a sound-absorbing neoprene rubber gasket

Figure 1.11 Finished studio door with knotty pine surface and trim

Figure 1.12 Finished door and window with flush mounted Powerstat dimmer

After that, we had to address the five feet of space between the top of the frame and the ceiling (fig. 1.13). I wanted something that would be lighter and more flexible, so we didn’t have to build another heavy wall. So I framed it with two-by-fours and used an acoustical treatment made by the company Acoustical Solutions. The product is called AlphaSorb™ Barrier Fabric Wrapped Wall Panels, consisting of AudioSeal™ Sound Barrier with the addition of the sound barrier septum. These panels offer an outstanding STC rating of twenty-nine combined with an NRC rating of 0.85–1.05, which is a good bang for the buck, plus they can customize the size of the panels. The fabric wraps a one-inch fiberglass with a sheet of sound barrier vinyl in between the layers of fiberglass. We used a nail gun and got the panels up quickly (figs. 1.14 and 1.15).

Figure 1.13 Upper part of the wall framed with two-by-fours and anchored to the walls on each side

Figure 1.14 Final AlphaSorb™ Barrier Fabric Wrapped Wall Panels, consisting of AudioSeal™ Sound Barrier

Figure 1.15 The outer wall with the AlphaSorb™ Barrier Fabric Wrapped Wall Panels


This is the room where everything goes down. This is where you’ll live, both to track and mix, so it’s got to be right. In the control room area, we were dealing with cement walls, so this made it a little harder to manage concerning walls. So I built a floating wall system framed with two-by-fours, making sure to angle all of the corners (fig. 1.16). The frames were then fastened with cement wall screws at strategic places to hold the frame tightly in place (fig. 1.17). I then took more panels of the AlphaSorb™ Barrier Fabric Wrapped Wall Panels and placed them on the outside frame side by side and screwed the panels in place (fig. 1.18). This designated wall was where we placed the Trident mixing console. Because we were dealing with a space with high ceilings and a lot of cement, we also hung a few heavy-duty Oriental rugs on the back wall to absorb some of the reflection from the monitors and slapback from side to side.

Figure 1.16 Two-by-four frame attached to the cement wall for the absorption panels

Figure 1.17 Two-by-fours fastened with cement wall screws to hold the frame tightly to the wall

Figure 1.18 Wall frame with an AlphaSorb™ Barrier Fabric Wrapped Wall Panel

Figure 1.19 Finished wall with AlphaSorb™ Barrier Fabric Wrapped Wall Panels

One of the largest undertakings was dealing with the ceiling. Since it was thirteen feet tall with exposed beams and insulation, we had to find a way to control the sound for mixing, yet leave some of the openness of the space exposed. I opted to design a large angled sound reflector (eight-by-eight) that would be installed only above the mixing console. I started out by building a stand-alone frame using two-by-fours. I then secured the top of the hanging frame to the wood beams on the ceiling and the bottom of the frame to the cement wall at a ninety-degree angle (fig. 1.20). Because of the thirteen-foot ceilings, it was a bit tricky, but with a twelve-foot ladder, a power miter saw, and cement screws, I got the frame secured. The next issue to tackle was what material to cover the frame with. I decided to use a quarter inch of plywood with the pine furring across in rows, to ensure evenness. Once the basic framing of the reflector was done, I chose two sheets of composite board measuring four by eight, which I cut into four quarters each, and glued four Auralex two-by-two squares to each of the panels (figs. 1.21, 1.22, and 1.23). This made it a lot easier to lift each one to the frame and then fasten. For the top pieces, we had to use a pulley device so we could hold them in place while we screwed in the panels. The Auralex foam had to be pulled back a few inches so we could place the screws directly to the plywood onto the frame, so as not to tamper with the look of the foam.

Figure 1.20 Two-by-fours making up the basic frame for the overhead reflector

Figure 1.21 Ceiling frame with a covering of composite boards

Now there was a question of the back wall. This was made of wood and was a straight shot up to the ceiling. As I mentioned earlier, we hung two rugs on the back wall but they were only five-by-seven each. So I fabricated diamond-shaped wall treatments to be hung in strategic places in the room. I used twelve two-by-threes and three sheets of four-by-eight Luan board. What is Luan? It is a quarter-inch sheet of plywood veneer board, the same material typically used in kitchens or bathrooms. I took four two-by-twos and framed the two-by-threes around to fit, then placed the Luan plywood underneath as a base. I made three of these traps, placing two on the back wall about nine feet up and spaced about seven feet apart, and hung the last one on the perpendicular wall on the left, above the AlphaSorb™ Barrier Fabric Wrapped Wall Panels. Aesthetically, they looked great, and they worked great at absorbing sound, so we built three more of these traps and placed them in the live room as well.

Figure 1.22 Auralex two-by-two squares glued to the composite board

Figure 1.23 Finished large angled sound reflector (eight-by-eight)


Ground loops are created by improperly designed or improperly installed equipment and are a major cause of noise and interference in audio and video systems. They can also create an electric shock hazard, which we guitarists know all too well. Have you ever played through an old Fender amp and the ground switch on the back is accidentally turned off, and you touch the guitar strings and a piece of metal on the amp—zap! Thank you very much for that! Well, same idea. For instance, if two pieces of audio equipment are plugged into different power outlets, there will often be a difference in their respective ground potentials. If a signal is passed from one to the other via an audio connection with the ground wire intact, this potential difference will cause a spurious current through the cables, generating an audible buzz. You get this with certain keyboard workstations as well, so guys use a ground lifter—that little orange plug that has no ground prong on the end. Use it on everything, so as to dodge that surprising shock, especially if you are ground lifting audio equipment. The best way to eliminate this problem is use ground isolated reciprocals (fig. 1.24). I highly recommend that you use a licensed electrician to install them; not cheap, but your recordings depend on it. You should use only these orange receptacles for your studio equipment to ensure no unwanted hums. Otherwise, there’s a good chance of getting feedback noise from that microwave or mini refrigerator nearby in your mixes. I have worked in studios where a sudden surge from the microwave caused this crazy buzzing sound in the audio during a session. It always struck me as funny when guys worried about the microphone placement, but never addressed the obvious electrical hums buzzing all around their studios.

Figure 1.24 Ground isolated reciprocals to isolate unwanted hum and noise


Now it's time to address the lighting issues. If you are like many musicians who like to record under dim lights, you’ll need to invest in what is called incandescent lighting controls. What the hell is that? Well, it is a light control extensively used for incandescent lighting in residential, theatrical, institutional, commercial, and industrial installations. These dimmers are continuously adjustable transformers that control light intensity by controlling the voltage applied to the lamps. Basically, it offers a smooth performance with no audio or video interference. If you use a cheap three-dollar dimmer from Home Depot, as you dim the lights there will be horrible noise interference in the audio. Superior Electric makes these wall dimmer boxes called Powerstat. Professional recording studios around the world house several of these units in their facilities. The bad news is they are very expensive, but very necessary. I paid $500 for mine at the time. The good news is that after spending money on those babies, we were able to then buy some affordable track lights for the remaining bare walls (fig. 1.25).

Figure 1.25 Track lighting mounted on the wall above the AlphaSorb™ Barrier Fabric Wrapped Wall Panel

Figure 1.26 Recording

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