How To Soundproof A Room For Music
You only need to try recording in your quiet room for you to realize how truly noisy it is. The noise from your AC, the car zooming down the road, the birds chirping in the trees outside, all that noise you never knew existed finds a way to mess up your recording.
Of course, if you’re recording for amateur purposes, these ambient noises may not mean much. Heck, they could even be part of your charm. However, if you want to record professionally, ambient noise can quickly get irritating.
Sure technology has improved to allow us to edit most noise out of our recordings, but having to do that for every song would be a dire waste of time and cause inefficiencies in your production process. Imagine how many great songs you could record in the time you’d be using to edit bird noises!
Also, noise reduction plugins, which have become popular, usually ruin the recording quality as they try to filter out the noise.
Soundproofing is important because it helps musicians keep out noises that would otherwise have made their lives a living hell. In a soundproof music room, you can create cleaner recordings that are easier to mix and master.
Some of the subtopics we’ll be considering are:
- Soundproofing vs. acoustic treatment
- Can every room be soundproofed?
- Common soundproofing materials
- How to soundproof a small room
- Soundproofing a garage for sound practice
- How can I soundproof a room for cheap
- How to acoustically treat a small room
Soundproofing vs. acoustic treatment
One common mistake people make is to confuse soundproofing for acoustic treatment. While both terms lead to setting up your studio for better sound, they mean different things.
Acoustic treatment usually attempts to control the reflection of sound in the room to avoid delay or feedback. It can simply be achieved using acoustic panels which absorb sound. You can read more about acoustic treatment here: How Many Acoustic Panels Do I Need?
On the other hand, soundproofing is a more complex project that aims to prevent sound from filtering into the room. Fully soundproofing a room is a fairly large-scale project for one person and requires a lot of specialized equipment.
Both procedures help to improve the quality of recording in a room. While acoustic treatment is mainly targeted at delayed feedback into the mic, soundproofing tries to eliminate external noise.
Can every room be soundproofed for music?
An important question to answer before getting started on soundproofing your room for music is whether it is possible in the first place.
Soundproofing is regarded as a construction job, and you can see this from most professional studios. These studios are built with the end in mind, so every brick is fitted for keeping the noise out.
Thankfully, you can fully soundproof any room. However, your budget will vary based on the material of the room and its size.
Rooms can be completely soundproof by building another room inside of them. This process creates some dead air between the walls of the inner and outer room. It involves creating false floors and ceilings and also installing new internal walls. As you can guess, it costs a lot of money.
If you’re looking to soundproof a room in your apartment, chances are you don’t have that kind of budget. We will be looking at some simpler ways to soundproof a room within a modest budget.
Common soundproofing materials
Here are some of the soundproofing materials you should know. You’ll be needing at least one of them as you attempt to soundproof your room.
- Soundproofing Spray foam: this is spray foam used in between walls, windows, and other gaps. The foams help to absorb sound.
- Acoustic caulk: similar to regular caulk, it is used to seal gaps in windows, walls, and doors. Acoustic caulk is created with noise-blocking properties to block sound leakage.
- Acoustic window inserts: these can be fit into a window to air seal it. It prevents the reverberation of windows that can lead to leakage.
- Sound absorbing wall panels: these are wall panels made from foam; they absorb sound that would have bounced off the walls. They typically come in a variety of colors.
- Acoustic tiles: these are like regular floor tiles, but they absorb sound during impacts.
- Sound underlayment: it’s a rubber mat you can put underneath flooring materials to help provide some cushion and decrease sound transmission. It is handy for people who have neighbors on the floors below them.
One thing you should always look out for in whatever acoustic material you’re buying is the Sound Transmission Class (STC). It is a measure of the effectiveness of any material in reducing sound transmission. It is measured by the decibels reduced (dB). The ratings can be read as follows:
- 20 - 30 means the material is a poor absorber of sound.
- 30 - 40 is average.
- 40 - 50 is good.
Usually, harder materials like concrete have a higher STC than softer materials.
Another commonly used metric for grading acoustic material is Sound Transmission Loss (STL). It measures the amount of sound isolated by a material in a frequency band. It is much more complex than STC to understand but is a more accurate predictor of performance.
How to soundproof a small room
The science of soundproofing is simple. Sound travels through the air; to prevent sound from leaking in or out of your studio, you have to prevent the air from escaping. The ultimate solution is to build a room within a room. However, there are much cheaper alternatives. Here are some tips for creating a soundproof room:
- Avoid shared walls: Depending on how thin your walls are, it can allow sound to filter in and out of your room. If you have a choice of rooms, choose one that doesn’t share a wall with anywhere noise. The garage is typically one of the best places to have a home studio because it is usually placed away from most house walls.
- Pad the walls if they are shared: You can also pad your walls with foam to prevent transmission of sound in and out of the room. Other alternatives include acoustic blankets, mass-loaded vinyl, and thick curtains. The idea is simply to create an extra surface that can absorb the sound waves.
- Cover your windows: The glass used in most windows vibrates easily and can transmit sound. It is advisable to cover your windows with thick material. Most home studio builders rely on acoustic window inserts to help them seal the windows.
- Seal your door gaps: doors usually have a little space above and underneath to allow them to swing freely. However, in a studio, these spaces also allow sound travel in and out of the rooms. You can use a door sweep inside and outside the door to limit the amount of sound that travels inside the room.
- Treat your cooling ducts: Since cooling ducts are another way to get air into the room, it stands to reason that they’ll also carry some sound in and out. To further limit the air travel within the room, you should line your ducts with soundproof liners.
Soundproofing a garage for sound practice
As mentioned earlier, the garage is one of the best places to have your home studio. By design, most garages don’t have windows which means one less problem to deal with. Even if they have windows, they’re rarely facing indoors, meaning that people in the other parts of the house are insulated from the music.
If you have neighbors, though, it might still pose a problem. Because garages always have large outward-facing openings, there’s a lot of potential for sound leakage. This may mean angry neighbors banging furiously at your doorbell in the middle of sound practice.
Thankfully, soundproofing a garage is much easier than taking care of a room. Here are a couple of steps to focus on:
- Brick your windows: If your garage comes with windows, you have to cover them up. The best and cheapest way is usually to stack bricks in the windows. Bricking your windows converts them to walls. If you prefer something more temporary, you can use an acoustic plug.
- Soundproof the garage door: garage doors are typically the only part of the garage that opens. They’re also large, which means there’s significant space for sound to get in or out. You can simply drape acoustic blankets over your garage door to help you suppress sound. These blankets are made from fiberglass or other sound-absorbing material.
- Bulk up the walls: If you have thin garage walls, sound will travel through them pretty easily. You will need to bulk up the walls by adding sound-absorbing materials. Acoustic blankets and sheets are excellent options for the walls.
- Add a rug or a carpet to the floor: this is just an extra measure to reduce sound reflection in the room.
How can I soundproof a room for inside noise?
Apart from outside noise, you also have to worry about internal noise in your recording room. Some items, like a laptop and AC, produce niggling sounds that can ruin your recording quality. So how do you reduce the noise from them?
Computers: When overworked, a computer’s fan will start spinning rapidly to produce enough air to cool it down. An unwanted consequence of the fan’s work is a whirring sound that can get into your recordings. To prevent this, you should:
- Keep your PC and mics at separate ends of the room
- Keep the mic pointed away from the PC
- Use acoustic treatment to absorb noise from the computer. You can achieve this by treating the back of the performer.
- Use a laptop stand to prevent the laptop from heating up.
- Keep your computers and microphones in separate rooms.
Air conditioners: Air conditioners are a bit more tricky because we need them. Recording in a closed room with little ventilation can be very hard. You can’t always simply switch off the AC. To manage noise from your air conditioning unit, you can try:
- Seal up any cracks around the unit. Cracks around an AC unit can allow sound to filter into the room, and you don’t want that happening.
- Take out the vents: Sometimes, vents can rattle because of the airflow through them. Other times, they rattle because of resonance with the sound you’re playing. Removing them helps you avoid the rattling sound. You also get better air in the room.
- You can build an AC dampener with some acoustic foam and some plywood. It will help reduce the noise from the air conditioning unit by absorbing it.
Creating the perfect home studio can be expensive if you want to do it right. However, the investment pays off in the end. After you have done your soundproofing, you can follow up with the acoustic treatment of the room to deal with any delays or echoes.
One of the critical takeaways from this article is that trapping sound is about trapping air. Even if you can’t afford professional soundproofing, you can work to slowly close up all holes that allow air escape from your recording room.
Secondly, it is vital to use materials that absorb sound. Materials that reflect sound like tiles are not advisable for studio floors and walls. Even though the material may help with trapping the air, it will cause problems when you need to do some acoustic treatment.
Third, internal noise treatment is as essential as soundproofing the room. Noises generated by gadgets can interfere with your recordings too. Pay close attention to your equipment’s placement, especially the mic, relative to potentially problematic items.
Finally, Soundproofing is rarely a day’s work. For most musicians on a budget, it is something you keep updating until you get perfect results. The good thing is that once you start with even minor changes, e.g., padding your walls, you will notice a significant difference in your recording quality.
Start the journey to soundproofing your room for music today!