Is your tracking room too small?

As many of you know, last month a water pipe burst in Kevin’s studio while he was out and it flooded. Luckily, the computer, instruments, and other gear was high enough off the floor to evade the waves, but the main wall between the control room and the tracking room was ruined. After the shock and “wet reverb” jokes wore off, Kevin thought, “instead of just rebuilding the studio, why don’t I improve the studio?” So long story short (you can go back and check out the various plans Kev made by clicking here), Kevin went through a series of layouts and floor plans and finally arrived on one that he thought looked good. He also showed it to me and I thought it looked good. The idea was to take a really large tracking space and split it into three separate spaces, one large room and two really small booths for vocals. This way Kev could track a larger assemble at his studio than he could in the past.

Our friend Dave Rochester is a studio designer and room acoustics specialist. He travels all over creation building, tuning, and consulting studios so Kevin asked if he would come over and take a look at the studio and see how it could be improved. When Dave arrived he very patiently showed Kevin and I why this most recent plan needed a complete overhaul. He stood in the corner about as far from the wall as the projected room size would allow and yelled, spoke, and clapped. There was a high frequency echo, and some crazy mid range build up. Rooms this size would only make the echo and build up worse. This was the moment we shredded the plan for those small rooms.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard of someone building a vocal booth into a small closet-sized space. This seems to make sense to us I guess, because it’s the “perfect size” for a microphone and a person. But a the smaller a room gets, the higher the room’s resonant frequencies will be. And as this resonant frequency is brought into the range of the recorded instrument (in our case vocals) it can make what could have been a great day of tracking, and make it a terrible day. Thinking back, the most troublesome rooms I have recorded vocals, guitars, etc in have been relatively small rooms. The rooms in which I have achieved the best sounds, with less work, were larger rooms.

When we visited Capitol studios a while back I saw pictures of vocal tracking sessions they had done for Katy Perry. The photo showed a large studio space (studio B I believe) with a line of various microphones lined up in the middle of the room. At first glance the size of the room would be mainly to accommodate the large number of microphones they were using and trying out on each song, but the large room also keeps any resonant frequencies from creeping into the range of the vocal. (Plus Capitol Studios just has some amazing sounding spaces)

So what does this mean for most engineers? It means that if you are struggling with recording a vocal or other instrument in a small room, maybe try to move to a larger room. This could mean recording in a bedroom as opposed to a closet sized vocal booth. This could mean moving a drum set from a bedroom to a living room to record. This could mean altering your studio redesign plan to have two large rooms rather than 1 large room and 2 small “vocal” booths.

Needless to say, as the day progressed Dave worked out the best possible plan for Kevin’s studio and talked about the bass traps, the diffusers, and other acoustic treatments that would make a huge difference in this newly designed space. The new plan is moving forward to great success, and we will definitely keep you updated.

Oh… and there’s another lesson in this: Always ask for help from specialized professionals. If you’re getting an album mixed, talk to professional mixers (i.e. the professional team here at MixCoach and MixCoach Member). If you’re building a studio? A studio designer and acoustics specialist is your best bet.

By Jon Wright

As a graduate of MTSU with a degree in Audio Engineering and Technology Jon has been working as a full time mixer and engineer in Nashville. He loves running, writing, and all forms of entertainment. He also enjoys long walks on the beach with his wife.

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