Home Acoustics

As me, most people start of creating music in the comfort of their own home, since most of us do not have the financials to build or rent a studio.

Over the years, I have gathered a few tricks that I share with you, here and now.

To understand how to create an (as) optimal (as you can get at home) environment you need to know what happens to the sound in a room. And not as your ear hears it, but as the microphone registers it.

As you might have already read in the “What is Sound?”-section of Guide of Sound, you know that each soundwave has a (or rather many) frequency. The frequency is measured as the length it takes for a cycle to complete (or the distance between two wave tops). The reason for bringing this up again is that should you, in your room, have two parallel surfaces, say two walls or the floor and the roof, there is a fixed distance between those surfaces. As your sound travels through the room, it will bounce back and forth on all hard surfaces, and if you are unlucky, your sound source emits a frequency that is an exact match (or double, or triple, or quadruple etc) of the length between two parallel surfaces in your room. This cause a “standing wave” and it boosts the amplitude of this particular frequency, making it louder than every other frequency your sound source have emitted. So you have to watch out for standing waves (in reality, it is hard to create them at home, but you should be aware of them).

What is far more common at home is that you have hard surfaces here and there, like the walls, a painting with cover glass, bookshelves, a roof and a floor, windows, furniture etc.

On every flat and hard surface the sound wave have the opportunity (and it will use it) to bounce off in another direction. This is what causes the sound of the room giving the room its character. In most cases (far from all cases) the sound of the room is unwanted, so you have to listen to how your room sounds through a microphone before you start making changes.

Put the mic where you intend to use it to capture your sound source. Listen in headphones while you stand in front of the mic clapping or snapping your fingers or create a noise with your mouth (I will not assume you can sing).

You will probably hear that even if you stand rather close to the mic, you will have (unwanted) support from the room itself, giving your sound source its own colour and ambience.

In cases where the ambience is indeed unwanted, there are a number of things you can do to reduce it. Be creative, use your imagination and stuff you have at home.

Here are a bunch of stuff you can try:

  • Break parallel surfaces. Use what you’ve got, if you have a bookshelf with books (or movies or CD’s), make sure that they are standing irregularly (yeah, I know, it looks terrible, but it will help to break the sound waves from bouncing around in your room).
  • Put pillows or a mattress on the floor, cover things with blankets and other soft materials.
  • Cover windows (no not on your computer screen) with curtains or blankets.
  • Open your wardrobe and put the mic in front of it, so you actually sing(?) straight into your closet.
  • Use your winter clothing and put it all over the room.
  • Turn the TV or computer screen so its flat hard surface does not face another flat and hard surface.
  • Towels, if you have read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you know you should never be without a towel, spread them around together with your clothes, defy your mother and build small piles with clothes here and there on the floor and on the tables. Does not matter if they are clean or not.
  • Turn a bookshelf and pad the back with your mattress and pillows and blankets, creating a small, isolated (well padded) space to put your mic to minimize the room ambiance.

In other words, use what you’ve got. All soft materials will help to break the bouncing of the sound creating less ambience, giving you a more dry signal from your sound source.

Don’t forget to listen to the mic in your headphones as you keep making the changes in your room, so you know how it affects the character of the room!