[Editor’s Note: This is part two of Bobby Owsinski’s series on how to improve a basement studio without busting one’s budget. Part one can be found here]
Before you begin to place your gear in your basement studio, there’s one big question that every musician has to tackle: how do you keep the sound of your recording and rehearsals from disturbing everyone else in the house?
The answer is that you have to beef up your isolation. Isolation comes from a combination of construction techniques and plain old mass, and unfortunately, this can get very expensive. If you’re only renting a space, you probably don’t want to spend any dough on something you can’t take with you. With that in mind, here are a couple tricks that won’t cost too much and will provide at least a little bit of improvement.
If you were to fill a room with water, it would flow out through any and all openings, no matter how tiny. The same is true with sound. Wherever there’s a space, sound is going to leak through it. Get some regular caulk and seal all of the cracks in your walls. Be sure to use two beads, since a single bead usually doesn’t do the job. Also, remember that normal caulk dries out after about five years, which is why many pro studios use the more expensive acoustic caulk.
Because sound is like water, regular doors present a huge problem for isolation. Thankfully, they’re one of the easiest items to isolate, and it doesn’t cost that much. First, find a solid core door that’s at least 1.5 inches thick, then make sure that the door has a proper doorjamb and weather stripping that properly seals all around both sides of the door. If you really want to make a difference, add a layer of sheetrock to the side facing the studio or control room.
In most rental units, you can’t plug the windows. That doesn’t mean you can’t work on them in an inexpensive way.
The easiest thing to do is mount a piece of ½ inch plexiglass (or thicker) against some weatherstripping so that it covers the outside of the window as tightly as possible. The gap between the pane and the plexiglass will absorb some of the sound, and the thicker pane of glass helps lower the resonant point. For the weatherstripping, I recommend heavy duty, closed cell interior/exterior Frost King that’s 1/2″ wide by 7/16″ thick.
To improve the isolation even more, add some drapes to the inside that you can open as needed. If that’s still not enough isolation, add another pane of plexi on the inside as well. The window will no longer open, but you’ll still have plenty of light. This is very inexpensive and does the job a lot better than many much more expensive methods.
Add Mass to Walls
All of the above tips won’t help much if you have quarter inch drywall. By adding just a sheet of 1/2- or 5/8-inch drywall to your existing walls, you will hear a difference. The more sheets you add, the more isolation you’ll have. This gets expensive and cuts down on your available space, but without getting into any exotic materials or construction techniques, that’s basically how it’s done.
Remember that studio isolation is an all-or-nothing proposition. Just as you can’t build an aquarium by putting just one piece of glass in a frame, you have to treat all of the walls, the floor, the ceiling, the doors, and the windows for your isolation efforts to be effective. You can’t successfully isolate a room just by putting up a another piece of sheetrock on a single wall.
Here are some extra notes and rules of thumb that will come in handy when you’re improving your basement.
- A wall must extend to the structural deck in order to achieve optimal isolation. Walls extending only to a dropped ceiling will result in inadequate isolation.
- Sound will always travel through the weakest structural elements, which are usually doors, windows, HVAC openings and electrical outlets.
- When the mass of a wall or ceiling is doubled, the isolation quality increases by approximately 6 dB.
- Installing insulation within a wall or floor/ceiling cavity will improve its isolation by 4 to 6 dB.
- Usually specialty insulations don’t perform any better than standard batt insulation. Note that this isn’t true when treating the acoustics of a room, only for isolation.
- Metal studs perform better than wood studs. Staggering the studs or using dual studs can provide a substantial increase in isolation.
- Increasing the air space in a wall or window assembly will improve isolation.
- In the next installment of this series, we will look at how to substantially improve the acoustics of any space for about $150.
You can find out a lot more about how to build a home studio effectively and inexpensively by consulting The Studio Builder’s Handbook. You can read some excerpts from the book on my website.
You can find more music marketing tips at my Music 3.0 music industry blog. For music and production, check out my Big Picture production blog. To read some additional book excerpts as well as some from my other books, go to bobbyowsinski.com.