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The technology of today enables many musicians to produce high-quality recordings of their own music in the comfort of their own homes, with little more than a laptop and an audio interface. In our homes, however, we have to choose a place to perform our recording activities. As none of our rooms have been designed with music production in mind, the choice of room to record in is not always an obvious one.
In general, the best room to record in at home is a bedroom or room with lots of soft furnishings. These absorb sound wave reflections that can potentially ruin a recording. Avoid rooms with lots of hard surfaces such as bathrooms for the same reason. Ensure you have enough room to work comfortably.
There are three main considerations when choosing a room in your home to record in…
- The physical space available; do you have enough room to work comfortably without obstacles?
- Sound and acoustics; the sound of the room itself, background noise
- Interruptions; you need a space where you can get a reasonable block of time to yourself uninterrupted
All of these will be considered in some detail below, allowing you to choose the best room from those available to you in your home.
If you are new to recording, you may be interested in my article on how to record your own music at home. It takes you through the basics of what you need to get started, and shows you exactly how to make your first recording.
If you are interested in checking out the best recording gear such as audio interfaces, studio monitor speakers, microphones, etc., you can find them at Amazon by clicking here.
Does the size of your recording room matter?
Room size for recording matters, in that you need to make sure you have enough room to work comfortably. Beyond that, the size is not that important. Any room can be made to work, although very small rooms are probably best avoided due to strong sound wave reflections as the walls are so close.
There is a lot of discussion online about what the optimal room size is for your home recording activities. My opinion is that it doesn’t really matter, and most rooms can be made to work. Even very small rooms can be used with strategic placement of soft furnishings to absorb the sound reflections, such as cushions, duvets, big winter coats etc. More on that later in this article.
This also leads to the question what exactly is a home studio? It can be as simple as a laptop and an audio interface. It can be as complex as an acoustically treated dedicated space, with a vocal recording station and other fixtures permanently set-up.
I recommend you check out my “what is a home recording studio” article for much more detail. This will help you decide what you actually need. I think you’ll be surprised with just how little you can get away with quite comfortably.
My current home studio room where I do my recording measures 9′ 2.6″ (2.81m) x 11′ 10.5″ (3.62m). I would say this is a medium-size room, in my fairly typical detached, suburban, residential house. This room has been my studio for about the last 15 years, and is ideal for my requirements. I have plenty of space to record vocals, guitar and keyboards comfortably, and have done so many times. If I am recording vocals, I usually put some cushions, blankets, etc. behind me to absorb some of the sound and prevent reflections.
In the previous house I lived in, I worked in a much smaller room. Although it was ergonomically a little more difficult to work in – having to move things around when needed rather than leaving them set-up – it was absolutely fine, and I recorded many songs in that room.
Don’t get too hung-up about room size. It is more important to consider external noise sources, interruptions and the contents of the room for absorbing sound to prevent reflections. You probably need less space than you think.
Whatever size of room you record in, you are going to need a good quality audio interface. Fortunately, there are some excellent audio interfaces on the market that sound great whilst taking up very little space.
My personal choice is the Focusrite Scarlett series. I have been using these for years, and they give great sounding recordings for not very much money. You can buy the Focusrite Solo from Amazon (affiliate link) for a very reasonable price.
How much space do you need for recording?
The minimum space required for recording is enough space to contain…
- A laptop
- An audio interface
- Small table or desk
- Microphone and stand
As you can see, that is not a lot of space and is probably less than you thought. A corner of a room with a small desk or table in it could easily be sufficient.
You may need to add guitar, digital piano, and other instruments depending on what you personally want to record.
More important is that you have enough space to record what you want comfortably. If you are trying to record a guitar part and the headstock is banging against a wall, that is obviously a less than ideal situation. Bear in mind what your personal recording activities are when choosing a space to work in.
Having a space and layout that you can comfortably work in is a vital component in getting professional sounding recordings. Check out my article on recording professionally at home for further tips on getting a high-quality, polished sound on your recordings.
The sound of your recording room matters
The sound of your room is important, as that sound will be captured on your recordings. This not only means the actual physical acoustic characteristics of the room, but also any background noise that may be present such as traffic noise, the sound of a TV from next door, etc.
Room sound only matters if you are using microphones
If you are not recording audio using a microphone, then the sound of the room is far less important. For example, these days electric guitars are often recorded using amp sims, with the guitar plugged directly into the audio interface with a jack cable. There is no room sound in this case, and background room noise has no way of getting onto that recording! Check out my recording guitar using amp sims article for more information.
Anything that is recorded via a DI (directly connected to the audio interface) using a jack or MIDI cable will be immune to background noise. Background noise is only important in this situation if it affects your work by being a distraction to you.
By the way, if you are in the market for a versatile microphone to add to your home recording setup, you can’t go wrong with a good ol’ Shure SM-57. I’ve been using one in my home studio for years, and they have always given me great results. Amazon offers the Shure SM-57 (affiliate link) for a surprisingly competitive price.
Acoustics of the room
Every room has its own sonic characteristics. Think of something like a large cathedral, with its huge reverb. Or a bathroom, with its lots of hard surfaces making the room sound very bright and harsh due to lots of sound wave reflections off those hard surfaces.
Bedrooms and other rooms such as living rooms with lots of soft furnishings are generally considered the best for recording. The soft furnishings absorb unwanted sound reflections, giving you a neutral-sounding recording that you can add effects to post-recording.
You might be looking at your own home situation, and thinking wouldn’t I be better off just going into a professional recording studio? It’s actually amazing the quality of results you can get from all sorts of home recording set-ups. Check out my “Do you need to go to a studio to make music?” article; it should put your mind at ease regarding what you can actually achieve in your own home.
Bright vs dead
The general consensus is that you should record in as dead a room as possible. This gives you a neutral recorded sound, which you can then add character to after you have recorded, for example using a reverb plugin in your DAW.
But what if you like the sound of the natural reverb of your room, and want to capture that in your recording? Well that’s absolutely fine, if that is what you want. But bear in mind that you will not be able to change it once it is recorded. If when you mix several tracks together in a song, you then decide that there is too much reverb on one of the tracks, there is nothing you can do about it.
One possible solution to this is to record the sound of the room using a separate “room mic“. This is a microphone that is set up in the middle of your room somewhere, which records some of the sound of whatever you are recording, along with the room sound. You can then can blend this recording in with the actual recorded part.
My recommendation is to record as “dead” a room sound as possible, then add your “room” character in afterward using plugins.
Too-bright sounding rooms
If you have ever sung in your bathroom, you will be familiar with the unique sound of that room. You get a distinct, hard, bright sounding reverb due to reflections coming off all the hard surfaces like tiles, bath, hard floor, other fixtures and fittings etc. The same can be usually said for the kitchen.
Now, you might think that when you sing in your bathroom that it sounds great! Why would I not want that on my recording?
Even though the bathroom often does sound good, the problem comes when you start combining other tracks. The reverb starts to add up and build, and things start to get either too harsh or too muddy. At this point you are stuck – even though you want to be able to remove some reverb, you can’t.
This is why it is generally considered better to record in a more dead-sounding room, and add in the reverb and other effects afterwards in your DAW. It gives you far more control and flexibility doing it that way.
The more soft furnishings, the deader the sound
Bedrooms are generally good for recording as they contain lots of soft furnishings. Duvets, drapes, carpets, hung-up bathrobes – these all absorb sound reflections.
So logically, you can deaden the sound of a reflective room by adding more soft furnishings. Try adding cushions, blankets, duvets, big winter coats etc. to the walls and other hard surfaces around the room. You may be surprised at what a difference this makes.
Carpets are also great for absorbing sound. If getting a carpet fitted into a room for your recording is a step too far, try adding a rug or two over a hard surface to add more absorption.
Glass is a very reflective surface. So if you have drapes or curtains on your window, make sure you close them when you are recording.
Whereabouts in the room is the best place to record?
The best place to record in a room is away from the center, but not too close to any one wall. Avoid corners, and turn your recording source so that you are at an angle to and not directly facing any one wall. Don’t get too close to windows, and close drapes or curtains if you have them.
Following the above advice will minimize the effect of reflections in the room, allowing you to get a cleaner more neutral recording.
Room shape can also be a factor in the sound of a room.
A perfectly square room is not ideal, as the reflections coming back from the walls travel the same distance from each wall. This means that any reflections will add up and effectively be amplified, causing an even bigger potential problem on your recording. The effect is even worse in small square rooms.
If you only have a square room available though; the most important thing you can do is to not record in the center of the room. Move your recording source and microphone closer to one of the walls, and follow the rest of the placement advice above.
Whatever your personal home recording situation, it is always a challenge to decide what order in which to record your tracks. That’s why I wrote my “What to record first” article, which will help you find a method that works for you and your particular style.
Should you record vocals in a closet?
As a general rule, recording vocals in a closet is not recommended. Because the space is so small, the reflections from the sides will be greatly amplified. However many clothes are inside the closet, they will not absorb enough of the sound to prevent these reflections.
Wherever you choose to record, you will need a quality pair of headphones to be able to hear your recordings clearly. I highly recommend the AKG K-702 Reference Headphones (affiliate link), which you can get at Amazon for a very reasonable price. These are the headphones that I have been mixing on for years, with great results.
Sound clips from different rooms
I have recorded some short sound clips of an acoustic guitar in different rooms in my house, to give you an idea of the characteristics different rooms can give to a recording.
There is no processing applied to any of the sound clips, so you can get as true a representation as possible.
My bathroom measures 8′ 10.7″ (2.71m) x 6′ 10.3″ (2.09m). As expected, the bathroom results in quite a bright, bordering on harsh sound. Listen especially to the natural reverb of the room after a chord stops – you can hear the reflections from all the hard bathroom surfaces.
This small bedroom has the dimensions 7′ 10.5″ (2.40m) x 6′ 10.7″ (2.10m). The sound is warmer and deader than the bathroom sound, due to more sound being absorbed by the soft furnishings and therefore fewer reflections making it onto the recording.
Medium size bedroom
This bedroom has the dimensions 12′ 6.4″ (3.82m) x 11′ 9.3″ (3.59m). This room sounds even warmer than the small bedroom. I put that down to the walls being further away, so that any reflections that do make it onto the recording will have further to travel and therefore be weaker.
My kitchen measures 14′ 5.2″ (4.40m) x 8′ 6″ (2.59m). Again this room sounds bright and harsh, almost nasal. To my ears, it sounds even harsher than the recording from the bathroom.
My normal recording room
Finally, my actual home studio room measuring 11′ 11.7″ (3.65m) x 9′ 1.5″ (2.78m). There is nothing special about this room; it’s just a spare room on the 1st floor of the house. I think this recording sounds the closest to the natural sound of the guitar, and is the most neutral of all the room sound clips.
Choose a room with low background noise
Although not a physical property of the room itself, background noise is a very important consideration when choosing a room to record in.
Similar to the acoustic properties of a room, background noise is a lot less important if you are not recording using microphones. It could still be an annoyance though, in that it could be distracting and put you off your work. Imagine trying to work on a quiet section of your mix with some loud building work going on outside – a less than ideal situation!
Consider the background noise present in any potential recording room, and if anything can be done about it. This could be…
- Road noise – choose room further from road, fit double glazing, fit and close big thick curtains
- People noise – ask people to turn down a loud TV next door, choose a room further away from people, pick times to record when there is less noise
- Machine noise – washing machine, tumble dryer, vacuum cleaner etc. Again pick your times to record, or choose a room further away from the machines
Like background noise, interruptions are not a property of the room itself, but are vital to try and minimize if you are going to get any music recording done.
Don’t pick a room that is a thoroughfare like a corridor, hall or landing. Pick your times to work on your music when you are unlikely to be disturbed by others. Try negotiating with family members or housemates to get a block of time where they agree not to interrupt you. If you have a choice of two rooms, pick the one that people are least likely to go in and out of.
Interruptions are not only annoying, but they can greatly increase the time it takes to record a song. Check out my “how long does it take to record a song” article for details on how long you can typically expect the process to take in a variety of different situations. Obviously this wildly varies, but the article will give you a good general idea of how long various tasks should take, helping you to plan your sessions.
Here is some of my favorite home studio gear…
Thanks for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful in your home music-making activities. Here are a few of the tools that I personally use in my home studio. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to use any of them I’ll earn a small commission.
Audio interface: My personal choice for audio interfaces are the Focusrite Scarlett series. I have been using these for years, and they have always given me great-sounding recordings. For a very reasonable price from Amazon you can buy the excellent Focusrite Scarlett 4i4, or if you don’t need MIDI capability the Focusrite Solo is a great choice.
Amp sim: Guitar amplifier simulator software has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, such that I record all my electric guitar parts using amp sims these days. One of the very best is the incredible Amplitube from IK Multimedia, which I have used on many of my songs.
Headphones for recording: My favorite headphones for recording are the Sony MDR-7506s, which I use for monitoring during all my recording sessions. They can also be found in many pro recording studios. Get the Sony MDR-7506 headphones from Amazon here.
General-purpose microphone: You can’t go wrong with a good ol’ Shure SM-57, one of the most versatile and ubiquitous microphones around. I’ve been using one in my home studio for as long as I can remember. Amazon offers the Shure SM-57 for a very competitive price.
To see all of my most up-to-date recommendations, check out this resource I made for you!