Starting small - bedroom recording

Bedroom recording = the art of making a digital recording in a bedroom. One does not need a studio to begin recording, and what more available place than a bedroom? Family rooms, basements, and other rooms work just as well, but for this article, bedroom means any room in your house that will be used as a temporary studio.

What are the things to consider when setting up a bedroom recording project? What will the challenges be? I've done some recording in bedrooms and basements before, so I'll share the things I learned. Among the things to think about are acoustics, noise, and monitoring. Let's look at these.

Acoustics
Acoustics means the science of how sound works as it bounces off different surfaces, and of how materials absorb and diffuse sound. How does this affect us in bedroom recording? Plenty. The reason studios spend so much to put up treatments on the walls is primarily of acoustics. Nasty reflections make a nasty sound, and controlling those is part of how you can get a better sound.

In a bedroom recording studio, we don't have the money or facilities for acoustic treatment, but that doesn't mean we can't do anything. Let's do a quick crash course in acoustics, then apply this to our bedroom.

Acoustics Crash Course
Sound travels in invisible but audible waves of varying frequency (cycles per second). We say a sound is low pitched if the frequency is slower, or we identify high frequency sounds as high pitched. There are different strengths in different frequencies, ie., one frequency is not like another. The lower sounds tend to be stronger and will pass through materials much easier, while higher sounds will reflect off hard surfaces much quicker and will be absorbed by soft surfaces. This is why you can hear the bass but not the higher sounds outside a car - the lower frequencies pass through the frame but the higher ones are reflected around inside.

Applied to the Bedroom Studio
Let's start with the easy stuff: the highs. Hard surfaces reflect highs while soft surfaces will absorb. If our goal is to tame high frequencies, we need to drag soft stuff around, like mattresses, sleeping bags, and blankets. I sang with a quartet (someone else did the recording... bummer) and we recorded in a basement. We set mattresses on end for the "walls" of our bedroom recording studio, and used blankets to fill in the ceiling and remaining wall. The mattresses are denser than blankets, so they took care of some lower stuff, but not all. It was quite a neat experience, and basically anyone can do it.

The not so easy stuff is the low frequencies. They are much more powerful and require more elaborate schemes to control them. For a bedroom studio, probably old mattresses will be the most efficient things to use, because more control will require other treatments starting to cost more. For more about this, see the acoustics page.

Noise
Another problem we will have to deal with in a bedroom is noise coming in. Noise comes from many places, from cars and airplanes to air conditioners and refrigerators. The nasty thing about it is that it is often missed during recording. It's hard to control such noises, but proper planning goes a long way.

Let's look at two different types of noise, uncontrollable, environmental noise, and controllable device noises. Uncontrollable noise comes in the form of passing traffic (cars, trains, airplanes) and weather. (There may be other sources, we'll just look at these two.) There is little to do about these noises sneaking into your recording. For traffic, you'll either have to work around it during recording (by stopping when it occurs) or schedule bedroom recording when the traffic patterns are lower (like at night or early morning). Controllable noises are much easier to fix - just turn them off! An air conditioner? It's gotta be off during recording (turn it on between takes or just sweat it out). Fridge? Turn it off. Computer noise? Locate the computer away from the mics, and put some sort of gobo between them. Neighbors? This is a little tackier - you could ask them to be quiet, or try to schedule a time to record when they are away.

The biggest step in eliminating noise in your recording is also the first - be ready for it. Listen for it. Listen without headphones in the room where you'll be recording in. Learn to identify sounds and hear what all is going on. As I type, I can hear an air conditioner, an audio program playing downstairs, cups being put away from the dishwasher, a washing machine, and the keys of my laptop being typed. It is only when you can identify noises like this that you can work to eliminate (or minimize them).

Monitoring
Another challenge in working with bedroom recording is monitoring, or listening to your material. You need some way of accurately hearing what has been recorded to make decisions about EQ, mixing, and evaluation.

You might want to use a set of earbuds to do it, but I would recommend you get a pair of pro or semi-pro headphones. Earbuds are so very small, and the fit is usually not consistent, so the sound is not dependable. Besides, the drivers are so small in earbuds that lower frequency sounds are not reproduced very accurately. I would try something like the AudioTechnica M40 headphones. I've used my pair for years (and all but wore them out!) and absolutely love them. Or look at the Sennheiser 280 headphones. I've tried them already, and liked their sound.

To go further in monitoring, consider a set of studio monitors. There are some affordable speaker systems that allow you to have a different perspective on your sound than headphones can offer. When I mix I use both monitors and headphones. The monitors are my main listening devices, but headphones allow you to get closer and listen for super small things. (Headphones work better for listening for noise in recordings.) The speakers I use and love are the Event TR6 Tuned Reference speakers. They are active, so you don't need a separate amplifier.

Let's go a little further on the what gear you need to record. At first, everything feels so confusing (a mic and a what?), but really it's simple. Hop on over to Recording Equipment for a primer on what's available and what a small studio needs.

Well, hows that for a quick survey of bedroom recording? We talked about acoustics in the room, noise in the recording, and monitoring the mix. It's been fun for me to gather this information together, and think about it again. Even for those of us that have done it before, it's good to review. Reviewing and repeating is how one learns.

Do you have specific questions you would like me to talk about in this page? Please let me know! Contact Bedroom Recording.

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