Are you a producer, session musician, mix engineer or recording artist? Design your studio to reflect your musical personality, communicate what you do, make your clients feel inspired and work efficiently.
By Josh Bonanno
What makes a great home studio setup? Is it the gear or the aesthetic?
The layout, format and vibe of your physical studio space is an often-overlooked part of the creative process but can be a huge inspiration to both you and your clients when you’re working. Much like clothing and fashion, the interior design of your studio not only communicates a lot about what you do but can also equip you to perform efficiently.
While home or bedroom studios might not be the most ideal recording or mixing setup – since, generally, you won’t have the ability to build them intentionally from the ground up – there are still some great practical steps that you can take to make your room convenient for your workflow. Let’s talk about a few key things to consider when designing your home studio.
Know the Use and Intent of Your Space
The most important thing to think about when beginning to design your home studio is to consider what you will mainly be doing in this room. A studio that is set up and intended solely for mixing or mastering has its own set of physical needs and will likely look very different aesthetically to a studio designed to be a multipurpose tracking room. Each person’s situation will be different, and that is the reason it’s critical to define what you need your room for!
Ask yourself, will clients be attending sessions? What instruments, if any, do you need set up and ready to play at a moment’s notice? How much storage space do you need for additional instruments, cables, microphone stands, etc.? How many people will be sharing this room and collaborating together at one time? How crucial is proper speaker placement and acoustic treatment? What genres of music do you work in primarily, and what sort of aesthetic comes along with that?
Make yourself a list and keep all these things in mind as we continue to explore some ideas to create a better home studio experience for yourself and your clients.
Make The Room Work for You
A common issue in home studios is that the room itself often doubles as a bedroom or other residential-purpose space. That usually means that you will have furniture like a bed, dresser, closet and other storage items that can be intrusive and not easily moved. It also means that the aesthetic may need to be flexible and easily adaptable to the uses of the room.
While this can feel like a big limitation and hindrance to creating a good workflow, inspiring vibe and inviting atmosphere, there are some creative and clever ways to get around it.
1. Use furniture that can be multifunctional
A typical issue in bedroom studios is the bed itself. It can often be a bit awkward to have artists or clients over when the only additional seating in your room is the bed you sleep on. A great way to combat this is to find something like a higher-end futon mattress that can quickly be transformed between a bed and a comfortable couch. Even in a room where you are solely mixing or mastering remotely (without clients sitting in), substituting the bed for a futon can be helpful in creating a healthier and more mindful work/life balance, as well as giving you the option for an artist to comfortably be in the room if desired.
If you are a keyboard player, another great multi-functional hack is to find a desk that has a pullout keyboard stand built-in. This allows you to save space instead of having your keyboard reside elsewhere in the room on a large and clunky stand of its own and also allows for quick and easy access without even needing to move your chair. Some more expensive studio desks will include rack space for gear, but there are also plenty of more affordable options.
2. Save as much floor space as possible
In small-bedroom home studios, real estate is almost always limited. It is for that reason that saving as much floor space as possible will help the room feel larger and more open and allow more space for you to move around. Using things like creative wall hangers or shelves can save valuable space by storing cables or smaller instruments like synths, midi keyboards or guitar pedals – while still leaving those items readily accessible for use. The same goes for instruments that can be easily mounted on the wall, like guitars.
3. Get creative with mic stands and computer monitor mounting
It is often hard in small rooms to find the proper placement for peripheral items like microphone stands, computer screens, and the like. Finding low profile, ergonomic and flexible ways to mount a microphone or computer screen can once again not only save floor space and real estate in the room but also allow maximum flexibility regarding their placement.
These items also allow for an efficient workflow as they can be left up, ready to use whenever inspiration strikes. Another useful idea is to velcro things like guitar pedals or smaller outboard gear on a sliding rack shelf or drawer that can be hidden away but easily acceptable at the same time.
When considering the aesthetics of your studio, the quickest and most effective way to change the vibe and emotion of a room is through lighting. A lot of home studios tend to go for a much darker, moodier sort of space where the light is controllable.
The Philips Hue line of products seems to be a favorite for this application as they are controllable from your phone, but any interior lamps and traditional lighting can serve a similar purpose. Using lighting like this allows for the space to be flexible and adapt to whatever the mood needs in the moment. It’s also easily transformable back into a traditional living environment if needed. Colors are interchangeable depending on the desired emotion, and lights are dimmable in their intensity, so all spectrums of dark to light are available at the push of a button.
While dim lighting is popular, it’s also not uncommon to see studios utilizing windows and natural light. The disadvantage of natural light is that it does require windows that are likely noisy and not ideal for the sonics of the room. It’s also not very flexible or controllable at a moment’s notice, like LEDs or lamps. However, natural light can make a small room feel much larger and can keep you grounded in the daytime with a fresh, natural feel.
5. Decorations and Trinkets
Something that is often not thought about, likely because it doesn’t directly relate to most people’s workflow, is the physical decorations and art you display in your space, or as I like to call them, “trinkets.”
Trinkets can really be any decor that inspires you. Whether it is paintings, pictures of your family, plants, candles or something else, the trinkets that are around your room will most definitely have an influence on your environment, and therefore have a lasting effect on your creativity.
There’s a reason that large studios proudly display their gold and platinum records down every hallway; it is to make a statement and start conversations. You may not have any gold or platinum records, but I am certain you have other art you are excited about. It is often these trinkets that communicate to your artists and clients what exactly it is you are passionate about, and they can help to build trust and form deeper relationships through the power of the stories and value that they hold to you. I personally like to keep a few special items that have been gifted to me over the years from friends, family and clients lying around the room just to inspire and make the room mine.
6. Let your room be a reflection of you and your work
We have covered some practical ways to make your room better for your workflow and more inspiring for your clients. But at the end of the day, the best thing to keep in mind is that your room should be a reflection of you, your personality, and your work. Once you begin to view your room as an extension of yourself, the room itself can very easily begin to work as a key differentiating factor in your business and set you apart from others in the market who compete with you. An inviting room that tells a story and allows people to open up, feel comfortable, inspired and create art is an incredibly valuable and attainable asset to have when building your business.
Another thing to realize is that your studio is a space where you are likely going to spend dozens of hours, so having a space that brings you joy to sit in is the most im-portant rule of all. A studio that is uncomfortable to work in and inefficient to use will always be a room that you make excuses to not be present in, and you therefore won’t get work done.
So, what does your home studio look like now? What approaches will you take to transform your studio into an inspiring space?
Josh Bonanno is a mix engineer, producer, and beer snob based in Nashville, TN. To hear his work and know more about what he does check out joshbonanno.com
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