Soundproofing the Small Studio

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This is when floating floors and dropping ceilings becomes necessary. It’s a major construction job, but building a full-scale “room within a room” or even a small freestanding isolation booth is the only way to fully and effectively soundproof a space meant for regular music use. This is especially the case when you have neighbors above or below.

For many apartment dwellers, this is too costly an option. After crunching the numbers, you may find that that renting an outside rehearsal or studio space is the best bet for your needs. But if you’re lucky enough to have a basement space (especially one with brick or concrete exterior walls) there are some significantly more cost-effective options.

Under the right conditions, you can take advantage of two or three pre-existing exterior walls to create an isolation room on a modest budget.

Greg Stare, a regular drummer and occasional recordist, has built himself a few soundproofed practice and recording rooms over the years. When he built his latest space, which is set into the basement of a building in Greenpoint, he relied on the existing structure to do some of his soundproofing work for him.

Since the basement floors are concrete (a material with excellent sound-blocking properties) and since he has no neighbors below, Stare was able to go without floating his floors. And, since he had a real soild brick exterior wall he only had to build three more walls to create a drum room.

If you’re lucky enough to have two reasonably soundproof brick or concrete walls to draw on, things get even easier. All you have to do to create a large well-isolated booth is to find a corner, add just two sturdy, double-thick gypsum walls, and then rest a dropped ceiling on top of them. To cut down on parallel surfaces, you could even create a diamond-shaped booth in a corner like this one.  Simply add three walls at 45-degree angles, rather than two walls at 90 degrees.

Dispensing with the need to build a floor and all the walls from scratch can cut the cost of creating a room-within-a-room literally in half. The isolation may not be absolute, but in Stare’s case, it’s been more than sufficient for daily use.“Just remember to include some way to vent the space,” he says. He learned that the hard way on his very first DIY buildout. His newest soundproofed room has an AC built in.

The materials for a build like this could cost in the high-hundreds rather than the thousands if you really scrimp and scrounge. But unless you’re prepared to do the entire job yourself, expect to set aside a good chunk of change for the help of a seasoned contractor.

Budgeting

“There is no average job,” according to Jim Keller of Sondhus. He’s a producer and mixer who has found regular work in helping musicians, recordists and everyday city-dwellers build quiet spaces, and he says everyone expects something different. But from the singer who wants to practice at home without being concerned about the neighbors listening in, to the engineer who wants to build a full-fledged home studio, he’s discovered that you can accomplish something at any reasonable budget.

San Francisco-based producer/engineer Count built a room within a room studio inside his one-car garage (inspired by listening to mixes in his car). The whole project (see ‘after’ pic below) was completed for $10K.

“What often works best is when the client comes to me with a budget and a goal,” he says. “Maybe it’s a drummer who has $4,000 to spend, and then we talk about what he can do with that, and how significant his results would be.”

There’s no strict minimum or maximum for any job, but when pressed for general parameters, Keller says that, “you probably couldn’t expect any real results for under $1,500 or $2,000.” As for the construction of something that resembles a real recording studio, he says you might expect to spend $25,000 or $35,000, “and even then were not talking about a very large one.”

Ultimately, there’s a range of options and goals, from replacing a hollow door for a little extra privacy, to building something like a truly isolated recording room.

In any event, the cost of meaningful soundproofing (which has nothing to do with gluing up some foam squares) usually ranges in the thousands – not the hundreds.

For those who want to create a sonic haven in their own home, the investment can sometimes pay off, whether it be in quality-of-life or in dollars. All it comes down to is an honest understanding of your needs, your budget, and the alternatives that are available to you

If you’re serious about soundproofing and want to know more, don’t rely on interweb hearsay. Reach out to a contractor who specializes in acoustic design, or pick up a book like Rod Gervais’ Home Recording Studio: Build It Like the Pros, or Jeff Cooper’s now-classic Building a Recording Studio.

Justin Colletti is a producer/engineer, professor and journalist who lives in Brooklyn. He is a regular contributor to SonicScoop and edits the musician magazine Trust Me, I’m a Scientist.

Count’s completed studio. (Note the control system built into the right-hand side of his Aeron chair. More on that in a future article on creative studio ergonomics.)

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  • Anthony

    Creating a sound proof by building a room within a room can be inconveniencing though it can give one more chances of designing the inside room the way they want it……. for me this is so helpful i think i now got an idea of what i will do for my studio soundproof.!

  • Great article. Has really helped me plan for building my band room in my attached garage (brick wall on neighbor side, plaster wall on house side). Was hoping you could help me ensure I have enough soundproofing going on so that my neighbors (20 feet away) won’t be able to hear my music (at least inside their house). I used a decibel meter app on my iPhone to measure my max db and it’s @ 100db when drums and guitars are rocking. How far down do I need to get this db level (via soundproofing) so that my neighbors won’t hear? We are planning to use 2×6 studs to build a frame inside the garage and use either closed sell spray insulation or 3″ thick strips of pink insulation, double drywall with green glue in between the dry wall layers. We will also replace the door and make it airtight. Is this going to be enough? How many db will this reduce the sound (outside neighbors and inside house adjacent wall)?

  • Bucky Nelson

    Thanks for the information. It can be the best way to sound proof the walls. I have too go with acoustiguard for sound and vibration control devices. Yes this article is too helpful for me to get the best sound proofing solution.

  • Karina Babcock

    Loved the article! I just moved and have an enclosed garage under a ranch that I am trying to turn into my music room/studio for rehearsing/amateur recording of my flute quintet and other small ensembles that would include brass & woodwinds perhaps light percussion and private lesson instruction. The room I have has three cinder block walls (1 w/door to rest of basement and second w/bomb shelter alcove which is poured cement). The 4th wall is the closed in garage door end that appears to be stud wall with sheet rock.
    My primary concern for sound transmission is the ceiling above which is floor to bedrooms. I know I will have to caulk with acoustical caulking as well as insulate. I am not concerned about transmission to outside since it is driveway end and neighbors aren’t that close. Any thoughts here?
    I also would like the to put something on walls that help with energy insulation and enhance the acoustics of the space, but not add to sound transmission. What suggestions do you have?
    Floor and outside walls have received US Open grade sealer, my next planned step was to install Dri-Core flooring to create moisture barrier and provide a sub-flooring to add flooring to. What is best floor material? Hardwood vs. laminate?
    The plan is to add more outlets and heating (forced hot-water) to the space as well. Any thoughts & recommendations are welcome.

    Do you ever take a video walk through of the space and give recommendations?

  • FT27

    How did you go with soundproofing that space?