Gino Robair is former editor of EM

Gino’s Big Adventure: Building a Personal Studio, Part 1

One last look at the garage, the morning of demolition.

One last look at the garage, the morning of
demolition.

Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

In doing our part to stimulate the floundering US economy, my wife and I have decided to rebuild our garage. It wasn’t such a hard decision because the structure, which dated from the late ‘50s and had an in-law unit attached, was somewhat flimsy and heading towards uninhabitability. And, frankly, it’s a great time to do a remodel: Because of the building slump, it’s easier to get uninterrupted work from tradesmen.

The in-law unit has been my studio for the past 10 years. However, during the coldest days of winter and hottest days of summer, it was impossible to spend much time in there because of the lack of insulation. (Running a large fan or heater while trying to work with audio does not make critical listening any easier.) So my motivation for remodeling was to get a new room that I could outfit as a personal studio, literally from the ground up. And that’s where this series begins.

One of giant house-eating machines, mid-meal.

One of giant house-eating machines,
mid-meal.

Every few weeks, I will file updates in the Robair Report about the building and design process, with discussions of the various topics that musicians have to consider when they’re preparing a room for studio use. I will also interview others who have gone through this process, getting a range of hands-on tips and advice—what to do, what not to do, and the most valuable advice of all, “if only I could do this again, I’d…?

Tear it Up!
Of course the easiest part of this particular job was the demolition (see images at right). Easy, that is, when the pros do it. Although each of us in the household took our turn with the sledgehammer—how many of you wished you could smash in a wall when you were a kid!—we left the real demo to the T-Rex-sized, house-gobbling machines. Within an hour, the 400 sq/ft building was down, and within the next three hours, it was removed from the site. Local laws require that a major portion of the debris get recycled, and our contractor was on top of that. Additionally, some of the fixtures went to a salvage/reuse facility.

In just over an hour, all that’s left are the bones.

In just over an hour, all that’s left are the
bones.

The next two days were spent removing the concrete slab, which was exciting to watch… and feel! When giant pieces of concrete were dropped from 10 feet onto the ground, it literally rocked the house.

The next step was to dig a building-shaped hole where the new foundation will go. Because we’re in earthquake country (aka Northern California), there are plenty of extra building requirements that come immediately into play, such as 60+ supports that are planted a dozen feet into the ground. Depending on how much rain we get in the next few days, we’ll see how long this step takes.

Meanwhile, the contractor and I are already discussing three of the most important aspects of the studio: AC power, HVAC, and wall construction. Fortunately, he’s very open-minded about the high tolerances that a studio requires.

Scooping up the remains for recycling.

Scooping up the remains for recycling.

The overall design plans are already in place. Because this is part of a residence, the studio’s shape and external appearance, not to mention limited funds, play a major role in what I can get away with in terms of sound isolation.

Getting Schooled
There are a number of books about building a personal studio that are geared towards musicians and recording engineers, and I have found most of them to be good, but not always 100-percent satisfying. They introduce the topics of acoustics, room modes, and wall treatments, followed by examples of what the pros have done, and ending with anecdotes and abstract advice. I’m usually left wanting something more—details!

Time to remove the concrete.

Time to remove the concrete.

At the recommendation of Larry the O—a long-time EM contributor who has recently built a new personal studio of own and has built several in the past—I bought the book Home Recording Studio: Build it Like the Pros (2008, Course Technology) by Rod Gervais. What makes this book stand out from the others is that it is exceptionally detailed when it comes to the actual building materials and how they should be used. It also warns of the kinds of problems you will have when builders cut corners, or if you skimp on any of the materials. It reads like you’re in the room talking to a guy who has gotten his hands dirty building studios. Even if you’re just setting up a bedroom studio, you’ll want a copy of this book—it’s a winner.

For me, Gervais brought up a lot of issues in terms of the electrical and HVAC problems I potentially face with this project. It’s great to have these questions come up now, when we’re starting, rather than later, after the building has gone up.

In the meantime, stay tuned to the Robair Report: I’ll share the details as the project develops, as well as post some video of the construction and interviews with people who have gone through the same process.

Finally, a level playing field. “Now dig this!?

Finally, a level playing field. “Now dig this!?

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