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.
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.
“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.
“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.