Recording at home might seem like a great idea–until the first time you try to lay down a vocal or acoustic guitar track and your noisy upstairs neighbors decide it’s the perfect time to nail down some floorboards. Either that or someone decides to hold a backyard kegger.
The fact is, recording at home isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Noise pollution is a genuine concern, and many other factors can mess up a perfectly good take when you’re recording in your apartment or house. Unless you are prepared to invest thousands of dollars in professional soundproofing, noise is something that you will have to live with if you have neighbors.
Or is it? Is there a way to reduce the sound that enters your home short of professional soundproofing? Is recording at home feasible if neighbors surround you? Simply put, you may be able to reduce external noise to a considerable degree by taking a few simple steps.
The basics of sound insulation
Before we get into how you can soundproof your home, let us first go over the fundamentals of sound and how it works. Sound is essentially the energy that results from the vibration of a particular object. As the energy travels, it comes in contact with the air and other objects in its path. Subsequently, these objects vibrate at the same frequency as the sound energy.
Like light, sound travels in waves as well. In comparison to light, however, sound travels more easily through objects in its path. This is why you can still hear your neighbors even if you have all your windows closed. And if your neighbors are exceptionally loud, you could even hear them through the walls of your home.
The basics of soundproofing
The most effective way to reduce the amount of noise that enters your recording space is by soundproofing. There are several options to soundproofing a space. Your options include sealing the edges of your doors and windows and building a room within a room. However, keep in mind that soundproofing strategies vary in terms of effectiveness.
Soundproofing mainly involves placing additional obstacles in the path of the sound waves. With each other obstacle, the sound energy is reduced little by little. Ultimately, the energy is reduced to such an extent that the sound becomes inaudible or drastically dampened.
It is important to understand the term “soundproofing” doesn’t refer to a single procedure for reducing the sound coming in from the outside. Instead, it is a collective term for various procedures, all aimed at making a particular place less prone to outside noise. Some of the methods commonly employed in soundproofing are:
- Filling in holes and cracks in the wall. This involves placing caulk into holes and cracks. Some of the areas commonly treated are window frames, vents, and power outlets. If there is extensive leakage, it may be necessary to have a professional handle the job.
- Sealing doors. This involves installing weathering strips to door frames. Apart from preventing noise from entering, this also helps prevent the loss of heat.
- Replacing internal doors. Solid doors will block out noise much more effectively than hollow doors. Again, this is a job that is better left to professionals if you want quality results.
- Window repair or replacement. A excellent way to keep out unwanted noise is to switch out your windows for double or triple-pane designs with PVC frames.
- Wall and ceiling insulation. Applying insulation behind ceiling panels and walls can considerably reduce the amount of noise coming in from the outside. Materials commonly used for insulation are neoprene rubber, vinyl, viscoelastic foam, and fiberglass.
Soundproofing a home recording studio
All the above procedures can reduce the noise from the outside to a considerable degree. Each of these strategies belongs to one of four basic approaches to soundproofing a studio:
- Adding mass or density
- Filling in air gaps
Here’s how these approaches work:
Adding mass or density. Quick fix to prevent sound from entering your home recording studio is by increasing the walls’ mass or density. This effectively prevents them from vibrating in response to the energy produced by sound.
Adding mass to a wall is a relatively simple matter if you are building it from scratch. Simple fix is to make the wall as thick as reasonably possible. This is usually done with concrete or some other type of dense material.
The task is slightly more challenging when adding mass to an existing room. In such cases, you should build additional structures with Sheetblock, a mass-loaded vinyl material. Sheet block is used in both professional and DIY soundproofing.
Damping. Another way to prevent sound from entering your studio is damping. This method effectively dissipates the energy produced by sound waves and converts it to heat. Green Glue is a commonly-used material for this purpose, and it can be quite effective at blocking most types of sound.
When using Green Glue, you will have to sandwich the material between two plywood panels. You may also use drywall or medium-density fiberboard (MDF). For some of the best results, it is suggested to add two tubes of Green Glue for every panel measuring four by eight feet.
Green Glue makes it easy to create studio soundproofing barriers quickly with relatively little effort. You could even add these to any area of your home studio for more extensive dampening.
Decoupling. Decoupling addresses one of the most challenging aspects of soundproofing, which is preventing the transference of sound that occurs when two structures are in contact with each other. In your case, this occurs when your interior wall is mounted directly to the outside wall of your house.
An effective way to prevent sound from transferring between two walls is isolating the contact points of both walls with rubber sheeting. You could also employ one of the following methods for decoupling:
- Install a floating floor. You can use Auralex U-Boats or some other type of rubber isolator.
- Building double walls. You will want to leave an air gap between the walls and possibly even fill the space with insulation.
- Construct isolating layers. You can do this by installing resilient channels and sound clips that essentially create a “floating” wall or ceiling.
- Isolate studs. You can apply joist tape to isolate the studs from your walls, floors, or ceiling.
You may even employ all these methods in conjunction with each other to reduce the amount of resonance resulting from outside noise.
Filling in air gaps. Finally, you may be able to eliminate that last bit of noise from seeping through by sealing up holes and cracks in the room. This addresses any openings that may have been untreated after performing the first three steps.
Among the most common materials used for plugging up holes are:
- Acoustical caulk. This is useful for sealing cracks or holes in hard to reach spots. The caulk will remain pliable for a long time, so you won’t have to worry about gaps opening up.
- Foam gaskets. These are useful for sealing air gaps from electrical outlets, doors, and windows.
- Automatic door bottoms. These cover up the open space between the floor and the bottom of your studio door.
How do you determine the effectiveness of your soundproofing?
At the end of the soundproofing process, you will have a clearer idea of how successful all your efforts have been. Most soundproofing professionals rely on what is known as the Sound Transmission Class (STC). This provides a baseline metric that enables you to determine the effectiveness of specific materials used in soundproofing.
Hard and dense materials such as concrete tend to have the highest STCs. In contrast, soft materials such as rubber and insulating materials have lower STCs.
Here’s is how STC numbers measure up in relation to soundproofing ability:
Poor: 20 to 30
Average: 30 to 40
Good: 40 to 50
Apart from STC, Sound Transmission Loss (STL) is also used to determine the feasibility of specific materials for soundproofing. Some experts feel that STL is actually a more accurate metric since it measures isolation in specific frequency bands and in dB.
In comparison, STC utilizes only a single number for the entire frequency spectrum. This can result in discrepancies between the numbers and actual performance.
What are some other soundproofing strategies
All the steps outlined above should give you a solid foundation upon which to base your overall soundproofing strategy. Here are some other suggestions you should try as well, all of which can eliminate most of the remaining noise that comes in from outside your studio.
Soundproof your doors and windows. Many modern doors are hollow, which doesn’t do a lot to prevent sound from coming in. Use sealants on your windows as well to cover up any gaps that allow sound to come through.
Consider putting up soundproof curtains. Combined with the sealant you apply to your windows, dense, thick curtains should prevent practically all external sound from entering and messing up your recordings.
Soundproofing can require a great deal of time and effort and entail a bit of cost as well. Customizing a clear plan will help you determine the most effective and cost-effective way to deal with noisy neighbors and get the quiet recording space you need.