Studio workflow

You may find yourself in a similar situation or you might just be curious and getting ideas about how you might set up your studio and be productive. If either apply to you then this is the post for you.

What does the space look like

My new studio is on the second floor of my finished, detached garage. I did all the drywall, painting, and flooring myself. All that was here when I moved in was unfinished drywall boards, a wall with a doorway that separated it into two rooms, and the subfloor (that one inch thick fabricated wood they lay down on top of the floor joists that you’re supposed to put an actual floor on).

The space itself is rectangular shaped with a sloped ceiling that starts about 4 feet above the floor. It’s about 700 square feet, and is longer than it is wide in the area I made the live room and just about 2 feet from being square in the control room.

The space has just enough natural light to make the place calming. There’s a window in the center of the first wall as you walk up the stairs, one on the far wall in the control room, and one that’s inside a small dormer that juts out of the center of the entire space (just off center if you’re in the live room). The building is situated so that the sunrise enters directly into the live room window in the morning and the sun sets right outside the control room window.

The control room is one third of the whole space and acts as a home office and control room. There’s a small work desk for my day job when I work from home and a much larger L-shaped workbench that sits on a Craftsman tool chest and a few sets of 2 by 4’s. That’s where I do my mixing and synth work.

Acoustic treatment and comfort

Climate control

A detached garage is great as a studio space in mild climates but here in the Midwest we’re susceptible to wild heat waves and polar vortexes. That means insulation, heating, and air conditioning is key. I’ve also noticed that in cooler temperatures the garage traps heat and will be warmer than the outside air which may be good for me in the winter.

I just moved in and have to work with what I have and can afford to upgrade for now. The first thing I did for comfort was to make sure I had a heater and window air conditioner installed. I also bought an air quality monitor from Amazon that works with Alexa routines to make it work just like a normal HVAC AC system. I set it up so that the window air conditioner is turned on whenever the air quality monitor senses a temperature over 77 degrees Fahrenheit, turns on a fan plugged into a smart plug to blow that cool air out of the control room doorway and into the live room and then sets the air conditioner to a higher temperature or off once the temperature goes below a certain level. I also have a couple of evaporative humidifiers that I set around 50% humidity in the fall and winter.

This isn’t just for my own comfort but for the comfort of my guitars. I wouldn’t want all my guitars to slowly dry out or get warped necks because I couldn’t keep the climate relatively stable.

I’m the winter I have a garage heater which runs on gas along with a couple of space heaters that I’d use a safe distance from myself and my guitars. The only issue with this is that you can’t run the garage heater all the time. It’s meant for use when you are present. Leaving it on all the would result in it breaking, costly heating bills, or burning down the whole garage. I haven’t had a cold season in there yet since I just moved in so I’ll update when I figure out if or how I can use the studio for guitars all winter long. Right now I assume I’ll be recording in the fall and moving the guitars into the house for the winter.

The dormer is an area that gets extremely hot. I imagine it would get extremely cold in the winter but it might just absorb all the sun’s heat and be the warmest part of the studio still. I solved that problem partially by putting reflective tinting on the window glass, adding white blinds that always stay closed, and putting a blackout curtain that claimed to reject heat in front of the opening to the dormer. Right now nothing happens in there. I was going to use it as a vocal booth or for storage since it’s behind a curtain now.

Creature comforts

When you have a space completely to yourself, in a separate building from the rest of the family, you should definitely turn it into something you absolutely love with no compromises. That’s why I was so happy I got to build this out from scratch. I wanted something minimal but also comfortable and functional.

I have two couches and an ottoman (which doubles as a cushy small table). One couch rests against the shooter far wall that butts up against the stairs. I brought that one from my old house. It used to be my old studio couch and doesn’t get much use. There’s another small sofa on the long wall that I sit in while writing songs on guitar or playing video games or watching tv. In the middle of the live room is a rug. The long sides of the rug run parallel with the long walls of the room and on either side of those long walls there’s the sofa and ottoman on one side and my amps and TV on the other.

On the short wall of the live room in which the door used to be, I have six guitars (3 on either side of the doorway) hanging. My bass is in a corner of the room. The door between the two rooms is separated by a curtain in the doorway to act as not just a barrier but help reduce reflections from hard doors too.

Also, if you remember from when we were in Bear Dance studios, we had the Darph photo and cardboard cutout. Those are both in the live room.

Acoustic treatment

This is a hard one. Everyone’s space is different. The (mostly) universal law of acoustic treatment is to put bass traps in the corners of your room. Not regular foam padding but the stuff specifically made for bass. They sell them as little corner wedges.

I first decided on how I’d decorate the studio and hid acoustic foam behind paintings and even a sound diffuser. Then when I was finished with wall art I put the rest all over in patterns that looked nice.

The question is, where should they go? The point of first reflection. That means if an amp faces a wall then you put it exactly where the amp’s speaker is aiming at.

At the moment I have a decent baseline but the space does have slapback delay/echo still. It borders on something I want to capture on a room mic while also being close enough to muddying up the sound. I have plenty of wall art and foam acoustic panels to experiment with. This first record in the new space may be closer to the way I wrote and recorded the first Darph record than any other because of the way I’m finding my footing, experimenting less (at least on purpose) and am forced to do things more bare bones this first time around.

Studio “zones”

As mentioned, there’s the live room and control room but even then there’s more to it than that.

The hang out spot is the couch facing the TV and guitar amps. It gives you a place to noodle on an instrument while you watch something or as a place to sit down while tracking. The small loveseat on the far wall of this room is for when guests are over.

The lighting is warm. I replaced all the fluorescent lights with circular LED panels that are flush with the ceiling and set the color temperature to something soft. I replaced the light switches that controlled the old lights with smart dimmer switches that of course allow me to dim the lights but also turn them off remotely which is great when I’m in my living room and I look out the window at the garage and see I’ve left the studio lights on.

I normally set the lights to 5% brightness and then turn on a lamp or two in either room for ambiance.

In the control room the work desk remains largely untouched as that’s where I work my day job. It’s clutter free, small, and barebones.

The L-shaped desk is what I use. That has my studio monitors, computer, computer monitor, a space for writing notes, a shelf for tools, the built-in tool box for grabbing cables, microphones, etc, my interface, and an area for synths and tape machines that can be used with the interface or alone with headphones as they’re all connected to my TX-6 mixer that can send audio to the interface or headphones or both.

Recording a song

Be warned: this is a new space and this workflow is subject to change but this is how I’ve learned to use this setup best.

The first thing I’ll do is get a guitar tone I like in the live room. I won’t check it on monitors. I just listen to how it sounds in the room.

Then I’ll mic up the amps and add a room mic for fun. With that set up I go back and forth from the live room to the control room to set the input gain for each mic after strumming a guitar. I aim for -6dB clean tone if I strum hard and -12dB when strumming softly.

Once I’ve got my tone then I need to use a headphone extension cable to walk from my control room to the live room to play. Logic Remote helps a lot here because I can select tracks and do a lot from there without having to put everything down and walk back and forth every time I need to work with Logic.

The only issue with Logic Remote is that I don’t know an easy way to view the arrangement track so I can go back and redo a take when I need to.

Once Logic has all the tracks I need set up with the correct levels I get to work. I normally start with a drum track which I program from the control room. I generally try to input the arrangement into Logic before I record so that I don’t lose time trying to figure out what to write next or what to loop next. I just know.

When it comes to guitar tracking I move back into the live room and open my iPad with Logic Remote installed. From there I mainly choose the right amp and guitar and remotely control the recording functionality from the live room.

It’s not much different than what I did before except I used to be in the same room with everything. There was a benefit to that because I didn’t have to move around, could see everything at a glance. But the downside was that I had to use a load box with my amps and use cab sims to get my sound which sounded great but I wanted something of my own.

The downside to recording in a live room with separate control room is that you need to buy bigger cables, there’s more need to run back and forth between rooms to record, and you’ll need some serious help if it’s hot out and you have a fan and/or AC going. You’ll need to wait for them to turn off or turn them off yourself and boil in there which may not be conducive to a good performance.

My plan to remedy this is to do my writing during the hot months and then record when it’s cool enough to turn off the fan and air conditioner. Things like drum and synth programming, luckily, aren’t affected by such things so there’s at least something you can do if your song doesn’t need any writing or editing.

When it’s time for mixing a mix of headphones and studio monitors are how I’ll do it. In headphones having an example mix from another artist doesn’t help as much as when you’re using monitors. Right now I’m unsure if I’ll be doing a first pass on monitors and second pass with headphones but it’s best practice to use both anyway.

And that, friends, is how I set up my studio and it’s workflow. Don’t forget acoustic treatment, comfort, and to decorate the space to be cozy for you.

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