How feasible would it be to use an office space for a recording studio? Would it be a good idea? Is it even possible? This article tackles the burning question that has crossed the minds of many would-be studio owners, and even a few that have made an office studio a reality.
The short answer is: it is possible to convert an office space into a recording facility‒a fully functional and productive one at that!
Of course, transforming an office into a working studio isn’t something that should be taken lightly nor can it be done overnight. It will take a lot of planning, hard work, and resources to convert a room or structure intended for ‘regular’ work into a creative musical space.
Check out this detailed guide on how musician, producer, and engineer Robbie Moore transformed a warehouse into a recording facility. You might find the accompanying video on the recording studio self-build especially informative.
So obviously, it can be done. With sufficient time, resources, and knowledge, you can convert almost any type of office space into a recording studio. So if you are willing to devote yourself to this gargantuan task, read on to find out how you can have your own recording facility in a converted office!
Office Space for a Recording Studio: Structural and Practical Considerations
Most sound-related factors apply to almost any type of studio, whether it is a dedicated facility or a converted office space. We’ll address those factors later in the article. For now, let’s focus our attention on the structural and practical considerations of creating a studio in a space designed for office purposes.
Purchasing vs. Leasing
It is almost always better to purchase the office building outright rather than to rent it. Why? Transforming an office into a recording studio entails extensive remodeling and reconstruction, which translates into major expense. Spending all that money and going through all that work would be devastating if you had to up and leave when your lease is up. So if you have the option to do so, purchase the building where you wish to set up your studio.
If buying the building isn’t possible, try to find a place that offers a long lease. Three years is about the minimum period that will allow you to set up a studio and get a return on your investment. But make sure the lease is legal and binding, and that the property is zoned for commercial use.
Structural and construction issues
Before you being installing soundproofing and hauling in equipment, make sure that the building can support the weight. Keep in mind that most offices aren’t designed for extremely heavy loads, which you will be subjecting it to if you want to build a professional-level studio.
Your main consideration in this regard is if the floor can support a “room within a room”. Pro-level facilities typically consist of a second interior room within a larger space. This room is acoustically isolated from the outer walls to prevent sound transference. If you want to avoid issues related to noise leakage, you will need to design your studio in this manner.
As you might imagine, a room within a room places a tremendous load on the office floor. And that’s not even taking into consideration the weight of all the equipment you plan to bring in. Make sure to cover your bases by getting a structural engineer to inspect the building and determine if it can bear all that weight.
If your office studio is in a multi use building with other tenants, you might have to schedule your activities after regular office hours. Even if you install soundproofing, you could be subject to excessive noise complaints. When in doubt, communicate your concerns to the owner or building manager before signing the contract.
In terms of sound quality and accuracy, the most important factors to take into consideration are soundproofing and layout and positioning. Let’s tackle each in detail:
Soundproofing is a fundamental requirement of any recording space. You will need to have a way to minimize the sound coming in and out of your office studio. Otherwise, you risk having your takes ruined by external sounds from office equipment and other people in the building. You could also be subject to excessive noise complaints, resulting in legal problems and possibly getting you evicted.
Soundproofing is a complex and expansive topic, so we’re just going to go over the broad strokes in this article. For a more in-depth coverage of the subject, I suggest you read the informative articles in our soundproofing series.
The right materials can make or break your soundproofing system. Mineral wool is a favorite among professional studio designers, and it is especially effective when employed in a “room within a room” design.
Commercial studios typically have mineral wool stuffed into the walls. Combined with the insulation and walling material, this creates a multilayered barrier that effectively absorbs different sound frequencies. As a result, very little sound escapes or enters the room.
Door and Window Seals
Doors and windows are where most sound leakage occurs. Mineral wool can be just as effective for soundproofing window frames, but doors are a bit more challenging to work with.
Look into installing neoprene strips to make the door seals airtight and place a baffle behind the door to minimize leakage further. If your office studio is located below ground level, blocking only the windows may be sufficient to prevent sound from going out or leaking in.
What if you can’t soundproof your studio as extensively as you wish? Remember that office spaces are built for an entirely different set of applications, so installing a room within a room might not be possible from a structural standpoint.
There are still some alternatives you could explore, such as recording and mixing your tracks with high-quality headphones. Check out our headphones article for some excellent suggestions at different price points!
As for recording instruments, you could connect your guitar and bass amplifiers to load boxes, which give you as close to an authentic amp sound as possible without the noise. You could even record your guitars directly into the console or soundcard using a hardware or software amp sim.
Even drum performances can be recorded noiselessly using electronic triggers. You also have the option to program your drum tracks or use loop libraries, some of which are virtually indistinguishable from real drums.
Layout and Positioning
Layout and positioning are important concerns in any recording studio, but they are especially crucial in converted offices. Optimal placement is the key to getting an accurate sound that translates well to different playback devices and listening environments.
Here are some of the most important things you need to know about layout and positioning as it applies to an office-cum-studio:
You need to know how your room reacts to different frequencies, particularly those in the low end of the spectrum. Cue up a bass-heavy loop and walk around the different corners of your studio. You will probably hear the bass accentuated around the corners and diminished toward the center open spaces.
The ideal mix position is where the bass is neither boosted nor reduced significantly. This prevents you from overcompensating by cranking the low end, which will result in ‘woofy’ or ‘boomy’ mixes. You also don’t want to mix in a spot where the bass is dampened, as this could result in flat mixes that lack punch and body.
Pay attention to the high and mid-frequency response as well. Too much of these will cause you to pull down the faders, resulting in dull mixes. Too little, and you could crank up the high end and cause your mixes to become brittle and ear-piercing.
Monitors should direct sound lengthwise throughout the room. This might be difficult in a typical office space, as most are designed with multiple sections. If that is the case, try to position your monitors so they are pointing toward the longest open space, preferably at least a foot away from the wall to reduce bass reflections.
Remember to allow enough space so you can sit back away from the monitors a bit. For mixing and monitoring, you want to form an equilateral triangle with your head and both speakers.
You should also have your monitor’s tweeters at the same height as your ears. You can place them atop adjustable stands that also isolate them from the floor and reduce resonance.
If space is limited and you have no choice but to place your monitors on your desk, purchase small stands or decoupling pads to eliminate resonance. This will help you create more accurate mixes that translate well to different playback devices.
Every studio engineer knows that taming low end is a constant battle in any studio environment. Bass traps are your best friends in this struggle, and they could be invaluable for offsetting any deficiencies in your office space. These should be installed on surfaces that reflect bass frequencies that could interfere with how you perceive your mixes.
Transforming an office space into a workable studio is a monumental task, but it can be done. Take the time to consider the relative pros and cons of choosing this type of space and consult with studio owners that have a similar set up. Doing so could help you avoid costly mistakes and ensure that you have a facility that will help you achieve the best recordings possible.