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Why Your Home Studio Needs Acoustic Treatment

Why Your Home Studio Needs Acoustic Treatment

Technology benefits from the “trickle-down effect” – a phenomenon which lowers the price of consumer goods so that what was once affordable to only the very rich can be had by the common person for a fraction of the price.

This means that, unlike even three or four decades ago, the average music enthusiast can piece together a home studio capable of producing high-quality recordings, with less space taken up and the sort of potential that could only be dreamt of in the early years of music production. In fact, with little more than a moderately-priced computer, a pair of monitor speakers, a DAW (digital audio workstation) and a couple of microphones, you can record and mix in a spare room. But something is missing…

What’s that sound?

    A home studio will never be a professional studio. The former is bound by size constraints, often less-than-ideal surroundings and the acoustic effects of conventional construction techniques. The latter – well, the latter doesn’t suffer from those problems because it’s purpose-built from the ground up. But the biggest issue facing home studio owners is, fortunately, also the easiest to address. It doesn’t require moving or tearing down walls. Rather, it involves treating the chosen room to make it as acoustically honest as possible.

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    Room construction – the dimensions and proportions of a space, the thickness of the walls, the insulation, and placement of windows – varies from one home to the next, and furnishings, wall coverings, carpeting, and flooring material all add unique acoustic characteristics. But why should all this matter when you have your head a few feet away from a pair of accurate monitor speakers?

    Sound waves travel fast. Fast enough so that what you think you’re hearing from your speakers has already been colored by the surrounding space. An untreated room has a frequency response – the way it reflects sound back – that is uneven. In short, that means what your ears are telling your brain isn’t true. It’s like taking a photograph of a tree in a field and adjusting the brightness and contrast, then applying a color filter. The outcome is a landscape you still recognize, but it isn’t a true representation.

    Unless you make music for your sole listening enjoyment in the one space it was recorded or mixed in, the end result of an untreated home studio is that what sounds good there probably won’t “translate” well in the real world where most people listen to music. Your mixes will be colored by the excesses and insufficiency related to the unique acoustic properties of your room.

    Why treat your home studio?

    Total acoustic deadening is neither necessary nor desirable. A well-treated space is not covered from top to bottom in foam paneling – that’s more akin to what you’d find in an anechoic chamber. The goal of room treatment, according to Andy Munro – a specialist in acoustic design – is to achieve a “neutral sound balance”. That means that various frequencies are neither exaggerated nor deficient; it means that your ears perceive the source material as it was meant to be heard.

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    Dimensional and budgetary constraints may limit the home studio owner in what they can do. However, treating a room as optimally as possible will create a listening environment in which you can learn what a good recording sounds like. You’ll be able to make better decisions which will be evident when your music is played in the outside world.

      The problem with bass

      Of primary concern to the home studio owner are low frequencies. Bass travels far, passing through walls and leaving most of the mid-range and treble behind. If a low-frequency sound wave could be visualized, its cycles – the number of times the wave repeats – would be significantly longer than that of a higher frequency. The unique sonic characteristics of bass make it particularly problematic.

      Left untreated, an average room allows bass to bounce from the wall behind the listener, building up in the corners. The result can be a significant dip – as much as 30 decibels. You might think your music sounds balanced and powerful, with a deep, driving rhythm that supports the entire song, but take it out of the studio, and suddenly it sounds muddy and boomy, with bass overpowering the other instruments. What happened?

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      The aforementioned dips – often referred to as “nulls” – altered your perception of the bass in your music. You compensated for what you heard by adding more low-end frequencies. As soon as your music was played in a different environment, the effect of this compensation became evident.

      How to create a bass trap

      The solution to bass nulls is placing a “bass trap” in each corner of your studio. These “traps” are made from material of varying thickness, density, hardness, and softness, sometimes containing air gaps and covered in an acoustically transparent fabric which allows sound waves to pass through without reflecting them back into a room. When low frequencies hit a bass trap, they encounter resistance and slow down. The reflection, dispersion, and accumulation which would be caused by hitting an untreated wall are reduced, resulting in a more even, accurate representation of the sound.

      How many bass traps does a home studio need? Twelve are ideal – one for each of the room’s eight corners, and an additional trap for each of the four vertical junctures between walls.

      The problem with treble

      What about the higher mid-range and treble frequencies? There are two approaches that can be taken. The primary is the placement of acoustic panels, of similar construction to panel-shaped bass traps, at various points on the studio walls. When high frequencies hit an acoustic panel, the sound is absorbed and converted into imperceptible heat, instead of being bounced back at you. Absorptive acoustic panels are an important tool for reducing rapid echoes and the “ringing” effect found in sparsely furnished rooms.

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      Another way to deal with troublesome high frequency reflections is through the use of “diffusors “. Unlike acoustic panels or bass traps, a diffusor breaks up sound using an array of three-dimensional patterned surfaces. They may have the appearance of a random arrangement of shapes, but are actually based on precise equations. Diffusors – which should be used only as an adjunct to, not a replacement for, panels – help improve your “sweet spot”, the space where you sit between the speakers, leading to more accurate auditory perception.

      Buy or DIY?

        Whether you make your traps, panels, and diffusors yourself or purchase them will depend upon if you have more time than money, or vice versa. It’s entirely possible to build everything you need and get a good outcome – there are many tutorials to be found online. The drawbacks are the time involved in research, calculation and design, the acquisition of materials and, of course, the creation and installation of the end product. You’ll also need a few basic tools and a space in which to work. The benefit is the money saved.

        Conversely, you can purchase everything you need, professionally made and finished. You’ll save a great deal of time, needing only to install the room treatment products – and with purchasing them comes expert guidance from someone who is already well-versed in acoustics. The only downside is the cost, which ranges from moderately to significantly higher than doing it yourself.

        In either case, your music – whether it’s strictly recorded, electronically sequenced, mixed or any combination thereof – will improve. So too will your mood. You’ll be confident that what you hear in your studio will sound great everywhere else!

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        Last Updated on September 16, 2019

        How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

        How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

        You have a deadline looming. However, instead of doing your work, you are fiddling with miscellaneous things like checking email, social media, watching videos, surfing blogs and forums. You know you should be working, but you just don’t feel like doing anything.

        We are all familiar with the procrastination phenomenon. When we procrastinate, we squander away our free time and put off important tasks we should be doing them till it’s too late. And when it is indeed too late, we panic and wish we got started earlier.

        The chronic procrastinators I know have spent years of their life looped in this cycle. Delaying, putting off things, slacking, hiding from work, facing work only when it’s unavoidable, then repeating this loop all over again. It’s a bad habit that eats us away and prevents us from achieving greater results in life.

        Don’t let procrastination take over your life. Here, I will share my personal steps on how to stop procrastinating. These 11 steps will definitely apply to you too:

        1. Break Your Work into Little Steps

        Part of the reason why we procrastinate is because subconsciously, we find the work too overwhelming for us. Break it down into little parts, then focus on one part at the time. If you still procrastinate on the task after breaking it down, then break it down even further. Soon, your task will be so simple that you will be thinking “gee, this is so simple that I might as well just do it now!”.

        For example, I’m currently writing a new book (on How to achieve anything in life). Book writing at its full scale is an enormous project and can be overwhelming. However, when I break it down into phases such as –

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        • (1) Research
        • (2) Deciding the topic
        • (3) Creating the outline
        • (4) Drafting the content
        • (5) Writing Chapters #1 to #10,
        • (6) Revision
        • (7) etc.

        Suddenly it seems very manageable. What I do then is to focus on the immediate phase and get it done to my best ability, without thinking about the other phases. When it’s done, I move on to the next.

        2. Change Your Environment

        Different environments have different impact on our productivity. Look at your work desk and your room. Do they make you want to work or do they make you want to snuggle and sleep? If it’s the latter, you should look into changing your workspace.

        One thing to note is that an environment that makes us feel inspired before may lose its effect after a period of time. If that’s the case, then it’s time to change things around. Refer to Steps #2 and #3 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity, which talks about revamping your environment and workspace.

        3. Create a Detailed Timeline with Specific Deadlines

        Having just 1 deadline for your work is like an invitation to procrastinate. That’s because we get the impression that we have time and keep pushing everything back, until it’s too late.

        Break down your project (see tip #1), then create an overall timeline with specific deadlines for each small task. This way, you know you have to finish each task by a certain date. Your timelines must be robust, too – i.e. if you don’t finish this by today, it’s going to jeopardize everything else you have planned after that. This way it creates the urgency to act.

        My goals are broken down into monthly, weekly, right down to the daily task lists, and the list is a call to action that I must accomplish this by the specified date, else my goals will be put off.

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        Here’re more tips on setting deadlines: 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

        4. Eliminate Your Procrastination Pit-Stops

        If you are procrastinating a little too much, maybe that’s because you make it easy to procrastinate.

        Identify your browser bookmarks that take up a lot of your time and shift them into a separate folder that is less accessible. Disable the automatic notification option in your email client. Get rid of the distractions around you.

        I know some people will out of the way and delete or deactivate their facebook accounts. I think it’s a little drastic and extreme as addressing procrastination is more about being conscious of our actions than counteracting via self-binding methods, but if you feel that’s what’s needed, go for it.

        5. Hang out with People Who Inspire You to Take Action

        I’m pretty sure if you spend just 10 minutes talking to Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, you’ll be more inspired to act than if you spent the 10 minutes doing nothing. The people we are with influence our behaviors. Of course spending time with Steve Jobs or Bill Gates every day is probably not a feasible method, but the principle applies — The Hidden Power of Every Single Person Around You

        Identify the people, friends or colleagues who trigger you – most likely the go-getters and hard workers – and hang out with them more often. Soon you will inculcate their drive and spirit too.

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        As a personal development blogger, I “hang out” with inspiring personal development experts by reading their blogs and corresponding with them regularly via email and social media. It’s communication via new media and it works all the same.

        6. Get a Buddy

        Having a companion makes the whole process much more fun. Ideally, your buddy should be someone who has his/her own set of goals. Both of you will hold each other accountable to your goals and plans. While it’s not necessary for both of you to have the same goals, it’ll be even better if that’s the case, so you can learn from each other.

        I have a good friend whom I talk to regularly, and we always ask each other about our goals and progress in achieving those goals. Needless to say, it spurs us to keep taking action.

        7. Tell Others About Your Goals

        This serves the same function as #6, on a larger scale. Tell all your friends, colleagues, acquaintances and family about your projects. Now whenever you see them, they are bound to ask you about your status on those projects.

        For example, sometimes I announce my projects on The Personal Excellence Blog, Twitter and Facebook, and my readers will ask me about them on an ongoing basis. It’s a great way to keep myself accountable to my plans.

        8. Seek out Someone Who Has Already Achieved the Outcome

        What is it you want to accomplish here, and who are the people who have accomplished this already? Go seek them out and connect with them. Seeing living proof that your goals are very well achievable if you take action is one of the best triggers for action.

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        9. Re-Clarify Your Goals

        If you have been procrastinating for an extended period of time, it might reflect a misalignment between what you want and what you are currently doing. Often times, we outgrow our goals as we discover more about ourselves, but we don’t change our goals to reflect that.

        Get away from your work (a short vacation will be good, else just a weekend break or staycation will do too) and take some time to regroup yourself. What exactly do you want to achieve? What should you do to get there? What are the steps to take? Does your current work align with that? If not, what can you do about it?

        10. Stop Over-Complicating Things

        Are you waiting for a perfect time to do this? That maybe now is not the best time because of X, Y, Z reasons? Ditch that thought because there’s never a perfect time. If you keep waiting for one, you are never going to accomplish anything.

        Perfectionism is one of the biggest reasons for procrastination. Read more about why perfectionist tendencies can be a bane than a boon: Why Being A Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect.

        11. Get a Grip and Just Do It

        At the end, it boils down to taking action. You can do all the strategizing, planning and hypothesizing, but if you don’t take action, nothing’s going to happen. Occasionally, I get readers and clients who keep complaining about their situations but they still refuse to take action at the end of the day.

        Reality check:

        I have never heard anyone procrastinate their way to success before and I doubt it’s going to change in the near future.  Whatever it is you are procrastinating on, if you want to get it done, you need to get a grip on yourself and do it.

        More About Procrastination

        Featured photo credit: Malvestida Magazine via unsplash.com

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