How are recording studio facilities designed?
The great studios which have recorded each of the legendary hit songs and albums of the past were all designed for the purpose of recording great music. In the past, buildings which had great acoustical properties that were already built into their structures were often purchased and converted into recording studios. For example, buildings that had once been churches, theaters or even concert halls were often converted into recording studios. Homes, particularly those which had been built during the period that we often refer to as the Victorian Era (roughly 1870-1920) often become great recording studios with their high vaulted ceilings, hardwood floors, spacious interior rooms and carriage houses for office or even storage space. However, some recording studios were purposely built to record music from the beginning. Most of these facilities began making their appearance in the late 1960s and early 1970s for the very first time. It was at this time, that in the world of professional music recording, we began to see firms emerge that designed recording studio facilities and mastering houses, as well. How are recording studios designed and what considerations need to be made if you are thinking about constructing a facility— even a small one? It is a very important question to consider because it will determine whether or not your space is suitable for the process of truly making great music.
If you are an educational institution that is desiring to develop a recording studio or even a media center environment, there are several key elements to consider. Most likely, you are either going to have to build a new structure or repurpose an existing one for the creation of this space. I would figure that most of the time a school would probably be repurposing a space, unless the campus itself is going to also be constructed at the same time. The next considerations are truly often overlooked, but extremely important to keep in mind. How are you going to ventilate the area so that it stays either cool or warm, depending upon the comfort level of everyone that will be working in the space without introducing either undesirable noise or discomfort? How are you going to distribute electricity in the space for recording in the studio area and the massive amount of wiring which may be required in the control room space? How are you going to separate the noise of power supplies, computer towers, and amplifiers (if you have or require these units) away from your control room space, so that they do not impact the ability to listen to your work? How are you going to create a space that is acoustically perfect, so that your performers or musicians can be recorded in all of their natural splendor and so that those students and teachers who are working in the control room can hear all of the aspects of the work that is being recorded? How are you going to provide enough storage space for cables, stands and a microphone locker? How are you going to create or develop a space that is large enough to accommodate the number of performers that you may be working with and address each of the considerations listed above? The answer is simple, and it will start with an important relationship in your quest to design a great recording studio facility for your students. You need to consider a recording studio designer or design firm. It is their job to help you address each of the concerns listed above.
Building or Repurposing a Space
While it is true that so many of the great recording studios of the past have been repurposed spaces, in large part, studio designers and engineers who have been schooled in the importance of addressing each of the issues above played a major role in this process. For schools, there is an additional concern about repurposing a space. How much traffic will be around it? Most recording studios are located in areas where outside noise is not a major issue. Schools are different because of the sheer number of students who are being educated on their campuses. Having a space where listening and performance can work in tandem is critically important and it can easily be accomplished. The space will have to be large enough to record the members of the band, choir and theater programs— even if each of the members of these programs are together at the same time in this space. Plus, of course, it should also be able to accommodate smaller groups and ideally be able to isolate performers from one another, as well. There should be a tremendous amount of critical thought about who will be performing in this space, so that it can be able to accommodate each of these groups and individuals. If the space is an area that will have to be repurposed, it should be understood that the acoustical properties of it will have to be examined, but as noted above there will be other concerns that a studio designer will have to assist you with in addressing. Also, keep in mind, the aesthetics of the space will be important, too, to attract students into the program and also to inspire other programs to have the desire to want to bring their performers into it, as well.
Ventilation is a critical component of this discussion about the creation of a recording studio space in a school. If the space is repurposed, this could become a major issue of concern. The first major reason for addressing this issue is that ventilation— both heat and air conditioning are essential elements for keeping a space comfortable for both the students in the program and their classmates who may be performing in the space. The second major issue is that both heating and air conditioning systems can be noisy and in a recording studio space you want to be able to record performances without any extraneous noise, plus, in the control room your student engineers and their instructors need to be able to work without any noise from the ventilation system. But, the ventilation system is not just important to consider because of the creature comforts that it provides or the unwanted noise that it may generate, it is also important because you may (or may not) have a tremendous amount of electronic gear that will have to be kept at an optimal temperature, so that it can perform as expected. Though I am doubtful that most educational institutions would invest in a significant amount of gear that incorporates vacuum-tube based designs or large-scale (format) analog consoles, both of these types of gear or power supplies will require ventilation to keep them cool so that they can run efficiently and as intended.
Electricity and Wiring
It is critically important to consider how you are going to bring the necessary streams of power into the control room of a recording studio environment. In fact, if there was a major concern in the repurposing of an older home, (in particular) into a recording studio environment, it was the electricity. However, this issue requires much more than just making a decision about how many breakers may potentially need to be added to a system for a particular room. There are two crucial factors that will play an important role in the decision-making process about this issue. The first major consideration has to be whether or not the space will have a large-scale analog recording console. A console will require a significant amount of power to function at an optimal level. The second major consideration lies with how much gear or ancillary equipment will be consistently used in the control room. Also, though it is a consideration for any environment in any room on a campus, special care must be taken in the case of weather disasters or emergencies. The other major factor to consider is the tremendous amount of wiring that will have to take place for this space to be functional. Each of the pieces of gear will have to be connected so that these units, the recording devices and the console (if you have one) can be interconnected and work seamlessly with one another— commonly this is referred to as a patchbay. Plus, each of the microphones in the studio will have to have their signals routed to be able to work seamlessly within the patchbay system and so will the cue system, so that the musicians or performers in the studio and those who are working in the control room can seamlessly communicate with one another. In addition, it is critically important that the monitoring (or speaker) systems are also seamlessly interconnected (via the console or a monitor controller, for example) so that the students and their instructors can be able to critically listen to their work, as well.
It is critically important that you have the proper amount of storage space for a recording studio environment. The facility should have a place where chairs, cables, music stands and additional electronic equipment (such as headphones, for example) can be stored and used on a consistent basis. Plus, you will need to provide for a microphone locker. I have never set foot in a major recording studio that did not possess at least 60 microphones in their collection. These devices will require an incredible amount of care and devotion to their maintenance over time. Plus, it is important to consider that— depending upon what type of console or monitoring system you will have in your facility— you may want to have a separate room where amplifiers, power supplies and noisy computer towers may need to be housed so that they are not introducing undesirable heat or noise into your control room space.
Acoustics and Space
If there are elements that most people are keenly aware of in the process of designing a place for their students to be able to record great music, it is the importance of both acoustics and space.
Normally when we think of acoustics, we almost always associate it with the studio space which is where the musicians perform in a recording studio environment. The studio should possess the flooring, wall surfacing, ceilings and adequate isolation spaces for recording a wide array of instrumentation and performances. The sounds of drums, acoustic instruments, guitar amplifiers (and being able to isolate them) pianos and vocalists are important in any commercial studio, but schools will also need acoustic spaces where choirs, bands (w/woodwind and brass instruments), orchestras and other performances can also be accurately captured. As important as each of those considerations are for the studio environment, the control room where all of the critical listening will occur is also very important. The acoustics of your control room will dictate what you can hear and also, how you will be able to hear it. For example, the monitoring systems that your students and instructors will listen to which will guide them in creating their products are heavily dependent upon both the acoustics and the sheer size of your control room. It is critical that what is able to be heard in a control room translates perfectly to other listening environments. In other words, if the work of your students sounds great in the control room, it should also sound great if they were to listen to the same material in their car.
The sheer size of your space is also a critical consideration that has to be made. In a commercial studio space you may have to house a grand piano, a drummer, provide for electric and bass guitar amplifiers, acoustic instruments and vocalists. You will most likely want to provide isolation for the acoustic guitar, piano and the vocalist. Plus, you may want to have a way in which you can isolate both electric and bass guitar amplifiers— perhaps, in small isolation closets away from the drummer, even though the guitarists can sit in the same room as the drummer with their headphones on in the studio space. However, in a school, your space may (as has been mentioned many times) have to be able to accommodate choirs, bands, orchestras and other large groups of performers. Plus, there is a small, but important consideration that should also be taken. You may want to consider the incorporation of an air lock into your studio design, so that you will eliminate the dangers of a feedback loop occurring between the amazingly powerful microphones in your studio space and the incredibly powerful monitoring system that your control room system will have in it.
What is a recording studio designer and how can this person or their firm assist me in the creation of my studio space?
It is the job of the recording studio designer to create a space where people can come and create great music. Recording studio designers are not just acoustical designers, but they are also architects who design control rooms, isolation booths and the tremendous space where musicians, choirs and other performers can come together to do their very best work. These amazing designers can place your monitoring systems, tune your control room and will make certain that everything in your studio— from the power supplies for your console (if you have one) to the locker where you will store your precious microphones after they have been used for the process of recording— is in a place where it can function as it should. They will design the layout for your studio, which will include the size and contours of your isolation booths and perhaps the placement of an air lock, so that dangerous feedback problems can be eliminated. Studio designers can also create the aesthetics for your studio and the control room space. It is to be noted that what a specific recording studio designer or firm can do for you depends on the person or group that you decide to hire. Each of them will offer an array of services for your studio and building a lifelong relationship with them will be critical for the success of your facility.
In fact, if you purchase an analog console from a major professional audio company, the very first question that you will be asked is— “Who is your studio designer?” Everyone who designs a component for your studio will be working (hand in glove) with your recording studio designer. Creating a recording studio is a team-oriented affair. Your recording studio designer is the person or firm who will be the point person for this process. It is important to note that recording studio designers are few in number. In fact, there are very few people in the world who do the amazing work that they or their firms do. These are people who work on a global scale— even as individuals and are some of the most respected people in the entire world of popular entertainment. They design facilities for Grammy-Award winning artists, engineers and producers and if you have the desire to create a recording studio facility for your school, these amazing people should be the very first people that you should bring your aspirations to.
One of the major problems with the world of popular music today is that recording is happening more and more in the homes of artists, engineers, musicians and producers. It is a simple problem to understand. After all, a home is a space where people live and the vast majority of family homes were never built with the purpose of recording music in mind. In fact, from 1958 when the Billboard Hot 100 chart was first introduced to today, the vast majority of the legendary songs that found their way to the top of the chart were completely tracked (recorded) and mixed in a recording studio facility. While the home studio could well be your model for how you go about the process of creating a recording studio for your educational facility, please make certain that the first step in that process is hiring a studio designer and building a life-long relationship with this person or firm.
Who are some of the amazing recording studio designers or firms who could create a recording studio facility for my educational institution?
Steven Durr— Steven Durr Designs
Thomas Jouanjean— Northward Acoustics
RBDG— The Russ Berger Design Group
WSDG— The Walters-Storyk Design Group