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Studio History                                         Tiles Avatar.jpg (9776 bytes)    

Hopefully, by discussing the evolution of my home studio and by sharing some of my trial-and-error experiences, others may find something worthwhile to read. Or not. What the hell. It's free.

The Floor
My studio had a roaring good beginning: six bottles of Samual Adams and several glasses of red wine. Now I'm ready. Beneath the wall-to-wall carpeting in our front bedroom lay the home's original oak flooring. This room served as my office, and I had grown bored with all the damned carpeting that smothered the whole house. At least one room needed to have the hardwood floor exposed. Around 2 a.m. one Friday night, long after the queen of the castle had fallen asleep, I took to hollerin' at that beige crap I had fallen face-down upon, and before dawn, I'd rolled up every last thread of it and packed it the hell out of there. All the giggling and snickering about doing something I might regret after I sobered up came to a stop when I cut myself twice. So I slept off a few of those beers before removing the tack strips that held the carpeting in place. Anyway, with the glad assist of friend Alcohol, my bedroom studio was born.

The Room
The room is square, which is most unfortunate from an acoustic standpoint, 8 feet high by 11 feet by 11 feet, with walls of sheetrock and/or rosewood paneling and a six-foot by four-foot window on the north wall. I don't want to get ahead of myself, but the room modes and standing waves were a nightmare, although I didn't realize it or do anything about it for nearly two years. Poor acoustics have an amazing impact on a studio, entirely bad, and though I didn't know why, I could certainly tell that something was wrecking my mixes. More on that later.

The Closet
The closet is three feet deep and six feet wide along the west wall. I dismantled the sliding closet doors and gave them the heave ho, along with everything inside: clothes, boxes, knick-knacks, and especially, everything that wasn't mine. This not only opened up the room a bit and altered the perfect square, it created a nice display area to store my guitars. The storage space from the two floor-level drawers was too valuable to take out (although I considered it for several days) and I also kept the overhead shelf for storing excess gear.

Displaycloset1.jpg (56836 bytes)     Pictured: Closet with the doors removed. I installed hooks for hanging cables and left the clothes bar for straps and whatever. Note the MiniTrap on the wall in the rear.


The Gear Bug
About a year before I ripped out the carpeting, my brother, Doug, had shipped me his old Tascam Portastudio 244, and that was all I had for recording. For the preceeding 25 years, the highest level of recording technology that I had ever experienced involved two cheap, portable cassette recorders and their condenser microphones. I would record a rhythm and vocal track on one tape, then mic both the cassette output with a second layer of lead guitar and/or vocals over the first. I didn't get very far, although I learned a lesson or two about overdubbing and found great assistance with the songwriting process. So when the Portastudio came along, I was a bit wowed, not to mention overjoyed. It served well as a custom little home four-track recorder, and it was the cat's meow in its heyday. But the cassette recording format frustrated me because it recorded at 3 IPS, which is faster than standard cassette time. (A 30-minute tape would only last 15 minutes or so.) So nothing I recorded on the 244 could be played on anything but the 244. I understood the reasoning well enough: the faster the tape ran while recording, the better the audio quality would be. But lacking a second tape recorder to convert the 244's audio line out to standard cassette time, I had no way to hear my work on other systems. Even worse, I couldn't give my demos to anybody else for feedback. This situation lasted at least a year, until Nick La Salle announced around 1999 or 2000 that he'd purchased a DigiDesign 001 with ProTools. Doug also spoke with a high degree of satisfaction about his own digital recording efforts, which was why he gave up the Portastudio: he said he wasn't ever going to use it again. For some damned reason, I had believed that I could not afford to collect the gear necessary to outfit a home studio, but those two finally woke me up to stop being such a tightwad and to start springing for some equipment.

Actually, since working with the 244 and getting my first taste of true multi-track recording, and all the possibilities that it offered, they may not have needed to say anything. I had tasted chocolate ice cream for the first time. And it was sensational. So I bought a Tascam US-428, partly because it wasn't orbitally priced, and partly because of the way Tascam modeled the unit after their Portastudios. I naively thought that I would learn digital recording in a matter of days or a couple of weeks, because I was already familiar with terms like panning, trim and fader. Terms like clipping, compression, EQ, headroom, mastering, mixing, standing waves, velocity and innumerable others, all crucial concepts to the recording engineer, remained far from my lexicon.

The US-428 connects to my PC via USB. Plenty of professionals and pseudo-professional engineers scoff at USB, and I understand why commercial studios would not use it. But for a home studio, where you're not recording more than two inputs at a time, it works.

It didn't take long to realize that I needed decent monitors. Computer speakers are cheap and don't reproduce music on the quality level that you really need if you're trying to mix your recordings down to some degree of universally listenable music. I saved my money for eight months, and finally was able to spring for a pair of Mackie HR824s, which are just sensational monitors. They weren't cheap, but they do sound brilliant.

Here are a few recent shots of guitars, monitors, and other room view.

StudioPurcell01.jpg (145553 bytes)    StudioPurcell02.jpg (115088 bytes)    StudioPurcell05.jpg (121053 bytes)    StudioPurcell06.jpg (125387 bytes)    CorkBoard04.jpg (180567 bytes)  

ACOUSTICS
The learning curve is steep with all this gear, if you're new to it. But it's cool. And there are plenty of websites that have tons of information. Through constant reading about recording techniques and the general information-gathering process, I found Ethan Winer's postings at www.recording.org about acoustic treatments about a year ago, and started wondering what my mixes were lacking. I had trouble getting the bass to sit correctly in the mix, and oftentimes my recordings sounded muddy. In a well-mixed song, every instrument sounds transparent. You hear everything in its own space without trouble. When you can't really discern instruments clearly, hearing just a mash of sound, I would call it muddy. A good portion of my problem was that the standing waves and room modes were discoloring the sound as I arranged my mixer settings. If a deer were to fall off the deck into your above-ground swimming pool, hypothetically, the waves would spread outward until hitting the edge of the pool, then bounce back in toward the center and collide with the waves that are still spreading outward. This is exactly what sound waves do in a room. (Meanwhile, the fricken deer will struggle to get out in a blind panic until it drowns from exhaustion and stupidity. And you then have a thousand-dollar repair on your hands, plus a giant dead corpse that you have to bury on the side of county road in the dark if you don't want to dig a big hole in your yard. I could write a book about those stupid bastards.)

Now for an experiment that your wife will appreciate, fill your bathtub with cold water, then drop a ceramic cup full of hot coffee into the middle and watch the waves. (I did it by accident, ha ha.) This resembles what it is like trying to mix music in a small, square room. Like having a small, square bathtub. So I purchased four bass traps from Mini Traps, only because I learned a lot from Ethan, and because I like the fact that they're adjustable and easy to move to a new location. The traps helped absorb some of the bass frequencies and I found my mixes improving.

MOVING
Which brings me to where I am today. I've just moved to Camino, California. And I'm preparing to build myself a custom recording studio from the foundation up — bigger floor, higher ceilings, and with acoustics in mind right from the start. It's also higher up in the mountains and farther out in the forest than I was before. Where snow happens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still a member of the die-hard Kate Bush fan club! KB av.jpg (8152 bytes)