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Recording Mythology, Pt. 32 / Baffles and Room Resonances

Never let it be said that I’m not creative, resourceful…and cheap. After all, I’m a songwriter, it’s 2013, and people like us don’t make much money these days. I’ll bet that most of you aren’t aware that if one of my tunes gets played on Pandora a million times, I’ll net somewhere in the neighbourhood of sixteen measly bucks. Unless your name is Taylor Swift, Justin Beiber, Lady Gaga, or Katy Perry, you ain’t making much of a living at this job. I won’t go into a rant concerning which of the above-mentioned performers is a talentless hack, but his initials are Justin Beiber.

The majority of us who continue to trudge onward through poverty do so out of the love of Craft. There are still the rewards, but they are not monetary in nature. It must be pointed that for most performers and writers, there is a certain level of ego that sustains us all. Many still appriciate the applause of a live crowd after we put on an especially rousing performance. Others, such as myself, find satisfaction in waking in the morning to find that, as we slept, over three hundred people in China shared a link to one of our tunes on ReverbNation. It isn’t anything to be smug about, but it makes one feel that not all is in vain.

Still, the fact remains that, although we may be widely known and/or highly regarded, we are also largely broke. This leads us to relying on our wits and our frugality to maintain our favorite pasttime or full time. Those of us who play live depend on the pecuniaries received through performances to keep us supplied in fresh strings and an occasional piece of rack gear or foot pedal. Many of us augment our addiction with our normal earnings via gainful employment.
Whichever the case, junk costs money, and sometimes, given the meager earnings of a musician or songwriter, and especially in the currently stagnated economy, making gear purchases becomes difficult.

I’ll make no bones about designing and building what I need in order to get the job done. Case in point: As pointed out in previous articles, I’m no longer a live performer, so paying Disc Makers to burn a run of 500 CDs to sell at non-existent ‘shows’ was out of the question. ‘Piss on it’ I figured, ‘I’ll produce them myself in low quantities’, so I shelled out $500. for a master burner instead. Professionally printed inserts sure looked good, but I wasn’t up for the expense. ‘Piss on it’ I decided. After all, I’d been a visual artist long before I ever picked up an instrument. I determined that the only alternative approach was to produce the inserts myself. But I didn’t have the proper equipment. ‘Piss on it’ I said, ‘I’ll go low-tech’. To make a truism out of a Hilary Clintonism, I ain’t no way proud. I’ve used Crayola crayons to create my CD covers, but I’ll do it in a way that compliments the concept of the cover. The bottom line is simple: I don’t farm out any of my work to somebody else. When you get one of my CDs, it’s 100% my art and my work. Then I wind up giving half of them away.

If you have a home studio, you’ve probably perused the websites like BSW, Markertek, and the like, looking at all of the high-tech room treatment. After all, if you’ve read enough articles in Recording magazine, you’ve become completely confused, convinced that there aren’t enough graphs and specs in the world to give you a ‘flat’ sound, and you’d have to be a millionaire to afford all of the stuff anyway.

You know what I think about it? ‘Piss on it’.

Nobody really wants a ‘flat’ sound. When is the last time you heard one guitarist turn to the other and say, “Dude…you’re tone isn’t flat.” Flat means dead. Why spend $700. on ‘practically flat’ monitors when your room isn’t flat? Besides, you’re freaking ears aren’t anywhere near ‘flat’, so how do you even know what flat is or how it sounds?

I’m not suggesting that you mike a room that resonates at 300Hz and every harmonic thereof. Of course your recordings would sound like mud. But as I pointed out in the last installment of this highly opinionated blog, there are ways to take your recordings to the next level without robbing a bank for the cash.

Good Intentions Studio started out as a two vehicle carport back in 1958. Later, the owner decided that a large den was in order, complete with fireplace. The concrete floor was padded and carpeted, and the walls were bricked with mountain stone (to match the rest of the structure), but only to a height of two feet on the Southern and Eastern sides; which were completed in huge panes of glass. After deciding that this room had the right ‘vibe’ for the studio, I took sonic measurements. Holy guacamole. The walls were 47 and 55 Hz., and the floor to ceiling was 147 Hz. I discounted the effect of the floor to ceiling frequency, since there was the carpeted floor and the ceiling was solid grooved redwood. The converging fundamental of 333 Hz. ‘Warm’ in acoustic terms, however, to me it was Mud Mecca.

Be aware that every irregular shape within the room will act as a baffle and somewhat retard some early reflections, so couches, chairs and junk like that will do wonders to break up the sound waves and help prevent them form bleeding back down the microphone, but when we also use our recording space as our control room in which we monitor, we encounter a double whammy. Without treatment, when we record in a room that favours a particular frequency, then listen back in the same room, the effect is intensified at that frequency as well as each harmonic. This is why things sound awful when we ‘record the room’. We don’t want our monitors doing math while our ears do algebra.

After deciding not to turn the den into something resembling a padded cell, I decided on a relatively small corner of the den as my recording ‘space’, and went about isolating that area as much as possible. First, I carpeted over the two solid wood panel walls. I built a desk across what used to be planters and situated my recording equipment there. Next I had to deal with the Demons of Tetrahedra. The monitor god warned to never monitor in corners. By now I shouldn’t have to tell you what I was thinking. I set up a shrine to the ogre of thunder and placed each monitor four feet out from either side of the corner. Just to piss off the gods, I hung a Beyer M201 from a ceiling gooseneck within the tetrahedron itself. Embrace the mud. But just learn how to use it.

Next, I went to the second from largest retailer for building supplies and bought some old-time beaded tongue in groove ceiling boards, perforated hardboard, glue, shellac, screw hooks, and (as Alan Redmond would say) ‘Blah, blah, blah, blah, so on and so forth’, and built me a couple of hanging baffles. Here’s a photo of one:

Studio gear 002

Two or three of these units hung from strategic places effectively negates the room delay, and although extraneous sounds are not elimated, as soon as one walks into the partitioned area, it ‘sounds’ as if a tiny closet has been entered. The recording becomes much more intimate as well. Anyway, by the time I got my studio, Good Intentions, tooled up for CD production, CDs had become as passé as vinyl LPs. Well, shucks.

I finally got to the point to where the technology wasn’t worth keeping up with, because for me, it wasn’t financially viable. Sure, I continue to upload mp3s of my work, and if, sonically, that suits you, then knock yourself out. Personally, I think mp3s sound like ass. I work waaaaay to hard on my productions, and feel that they deserve better than the ‘ultimate compressed digital format’, so I still offer CDs to those who still know how to appreciate music and have something to listen to it on besides a freaking mobile phone.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go nurse my Muse.

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About Johnny Nowhere

Johnny Nowhere is a songwriter/composer and owner of Hell Paving Company, music publisher. Johnny doesn't really exist outside of the music industry and Facebook. He is simply a figment of my imagination.

One response »

  1. Another well written -right on the money- blog that both inspired me and made me laugh! Well done, captain!!♫

    Reply

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