Some things to consider when choosing that dream professional studio space
Below, Focal author and former technical director of Virgin Records, Philip Newell outlines some common things that are often overlooked or not fully considered when searching for new studio locations.
The Need for Space
Space is something which many potential studio owners underestimate. Whilst it is not universally appreciated just how much space can be consumed by acoustic isolation and control measures, it is still alarming that so many studio owners buy premises in which the rooms, when empty, have precisely the floor area and ceiling height that they expect to be available in the finished rooms. The owners of the studio shown in Figure 1.1 were very distressed when they saw their space being eaten up by the acoustic work. They could only breathe easily again when they realised that the isolation was adequate and that the relatively small remaining space had an open sound in which they could make excellent recordings. They eventually had to market the studio on its sound quality, and not on its size; which on reflection was perhaps not a bad idea. The studio became very successful.
If prospective studio owners can consider space in a new building before it is completed, then access by the acoustics engineer to the architects can usually provide some remarkably inexpensive solutions. Concrete, steel and sand are relatively cheap materials, and most structures can cope with supporting a lot of extra weight if this is taken into account at the planning stage. What is more, results are more easily guaranteed because the precise details of the structure will be known. Old buildings often lack adequate plans, and the acoustic properties of the materials used are often unknown. Hidden structural resonances can thwart the results of well-planned isolation work, so it is often necessary to err on the safe side when trying to guarantee sound isolation in old buildings, which usually leads to more expense.
Obviously, though, what we have been discussing in the previous few paragraphs require long-term investments. Many start-up studios are underfinanced, and the owners find themselves in short-lease premises in which the acoustic treatment is seen as a potential dead loss when the day comes to move. These people tend to be very resistant to investing in acoustics. Not very much can be done to make serious studios in such premises, certainly not for high-quality music recording, though exceptions do exist.