Evolution of a Studio

I’ve always loved taking pics of my studio and seeing other people’s setups as well. There’s no shame in having a bedroom studio and many great songs have been recorded in humble spaces.

My studio now is pretty spiffy, and I get a lot of comments along the lines of “whoa lucky!”

Yes, I’m absolutely lucky. But it’s not like it just fell in my lap… where my studio is at now is the product of more than two decades of evolution.

So I thought I’d put together a little timeline of how it’s grown over the years. Unfortunately, since digital only really became a thing for me around 2007ish, this only covers the space back to around that time. If I stumble on any of the older setups on 4×6 from 35mm then I’ll come back and tack them in later.

 

2004ish

 

2007

Beaverlodge, Alberta. This was around when I picked up my Axiom 49. That little keyboard would get so much use… I can’t even. Main synth was Yamaha RM1x and using a Roland SP-808 for fx processing.

 

2008

Beaverlodge 2.0 ..Bought a Behringer MX9000 and then it promptly shit the bed, problem with the capacitors in the power supply. Behringer offered no solutions. Last time I bought anything from Behringer with more than a few channels… their little mixers are handy but the MX9000 debacle ruined it for me.

 

Early 2009

 

Kamloops (Royal Ave) When I split with my wife my three kids (ages 1, 3 and 5 at the time) moved into a shitty single bedroom suite in a shady part of town, where the kitchen and livingroom were all one room and a tiny bedroom with a single queen sized bed for all of us to sleep on. The walls were so thin that when I was watching TV at a normal volume the landlord upstairs would complain about the noise… certainly not a great environment for a music maker. Stay humble.

Also, sorry about the ass crack.

 

Late 2009-2010

Kamloops (Fortune Drive) Managed to get a daylight basement suite where the kitchen was not the livingroom and there were two bedrooms, one for myself and one for the kids. The other half of the livingroom outside of this frame is where the TV was set up for Spongebob. The fellow who owned this house used the upstairs as his getaway house from the wife, so he usually wasn’t home which meant I could get pretty loud without bothering anyone.

 

2012

Kamloops (Sunvalley House) Upgraded to a whole house, with two rooms for the kids, one for myself, a spare room … and TWO livingrooms. Naturally, the downstairs one (“The Cave”) became the studio. Unfortunately, the neighbors across the street did not like me having a studio and I had a lot of problems with the bylaw enforcement officers, culminating in a showdown where they brought a sound level meter over and measured it objectively and ended up saying I wasn’t being too loud. Nevertheless, I don’t like knowing I’m disturbing anyone – I’m just trying to make some music! – and a better solution needed to be found.

… it was also the beginning of the WALL OF SPEAKERS. The bottom one (on each side) is a Peavey SubCompakt 18″ bass bin driven by a 800W bass amp.

So, I kind of understand why the neighbors complained.

 

2013

Continued evolution of the Sunvalley Studio.

 

2017

Knutsford (Shadybrook Studio A) .. In 2014 I bought a house on an acreage on the outskirts to town – not only was the property beautiful but it also meant I could be as loud as I wanted and never disturb anyone… which had turned out to be important.

 

This tiny space was actually a pretty decent recording environment, despite all the hard surfaces – mainly because of the diffusion provided by the odd-angled wood and stone. It was extremely tight however, any time I needed to record someone we basically had to reconfigure everything to make room for it all.

 

2018

Knutsford (Shadybrook Studio B) This is the space that would become my current setup. Previously a garage, I had re-finished it by walling up the former garage door and getting the ceiling drywalled – it became a guest room for a couple of years while I ran an AirBNB to help pay the bills.

The BNB was actually pretty popular, I was booked most nights (during the summer) and it helped me cover my bills. It was, however, the largest room in the house and what I wanted more than anything was to level-up my studio game.

I started by moving my setup in the guest room, but going back to a bedroom studio at my age when I had a whole damn house didn’t make sense so I ended up taking the nice king sized guest bed for myself and converting the whole room into Studio B.

 

It really started when my oh-so-talented and beautiful partner said that the wall where the garage door used to be looked like a big canvass to her. She spent a weekend working on it by freehand – even staying an extra day to get it done – and when she left to go back to Kelowna on the Monday, an old man ran a red light on the highway and T-boned her. She survived but the accident has significantly changed her life, so this is the last large piece that she did.

I had to do something about that glaring white drywall ceiling, so I went a little nuts with the saris. I’d decorated with them before but my local Value Village had so many nice ones for cheap I decided I was just going to drape everything in it, create layers of fabric to feed the bohemian vibe that was starting to develop.

Now, like Studio A this room had surprisingly good acoustics despite all the hard surfaces, again mainly thanks to the odd angles of the wood used in construction – built-in diffusion, scattering waves. I build 4 floor-to-almost-ceiling acoustic panels out of 2×4 and insulation and covered them in a lycra I got on liquidation at the local sewing shop, stood them off in each corner and I was almost golden.

 

2019

The ceiling was proving to be a problem however – long, hard and most of all FLAT surfaces reflect sound.

By happenstance, I managed to procure these tiles on liquidation for about 90% off – which is great because they’re actually pretty expensive if you’re paying full price.

And, it would cost a fortune to install if you weren’t a DIY’er like myself. Each panel (there are 33 of them) had to be painted 3x before going up. You can see from the pictures that there were a lot of thumbtacks involved to hold them in place until the adhesive cured. Then the gaps between had to be caulked and then re-painted two more coats.

All in, it took about a week solid to get it done.

I’m pleased with the result though, so it was worth it – and besides looking trippy as hell, they serve the function of diffusion. The wonky reverb that was in here no longer persists, and while they don’t absorb sound they do a good job of scattering the mid/highs, giving the room a “lively” but not “bright” sound.

The next problem was the actual production end of my production studio. I have always liked having arms-reach access to a midi keyboard/controller so I could throw some input data into whatever I was working on, and although I loved my Arturia KeyLab 88, it was just so damn big. Plus, I wanted the other devices I used (like my Maschine) to be on the desk instead of on random tables off to the side.

After spending about a week looking at what was available on the market (and being astounded at the asking price of these desks), I decided to design one and either fabricate it myself or pay a counter shop to make it for me. Ultimately, I ended up buying a pre-made 9′ countertop from Home Depot and setting it on the desk I intended to use. The backsplash keeps things from falling off the back, there’s plenty of realestate to fit everything I wanted on there and it only cost about $150.

Here I am still struggling with placement of my midi input. I added an iCon QCon Pro X as a control surface for the DAW which was great except that there’s only 8 channels and most of the projects I work on average around 30 tracks, so I found myself paging through trying to find the offending output. Also, with the keyboard set up like this, it was within reach but pushed me back a fair ways.

Hell with it, I upgraded my Maschine to the MK3 and tacked on a Maschine Jam to use as a step sequencer, just like in the old days, and picked up the Presonus StudioLive 32 Series iii console which would replace the aging Avid M600 interface I’d been using for close to 10 years, plus it would replace the QCon as a 32 track motorized fader interface. Shortly after this pic was taken I was lucky enough to get my hands on a KeyLab 25, which is the baby brother of the big honking KeyLab 88 I loved but which was too big for the main desk.

The last thing I really needed now that I had a big honking console was some patchbays so I could keep my outboard FX processors hooked up and be able to plug in whatever I wanted whenever I needed to without having to climb around behind the console.

Note the Pyle power station that is a piece of shit and is getting returned. They actually made a 1u power strip that is slightly larger than 1u… And yes, that’s a 13 port USB3 hub. I have a LOT of USB devices and I got sick of trying to find an open spot.

Meanwhile, my Wall-o-Speakers had room to re-appear and so had begun growing again…

Into it’s more present form…

This end seems to get a lot of attention. In total, there are 16 pairs (so 32 speakers) in this room at this point.

Ostensibly, I use these speakers to test mixes with. They are mostly powered by a consumer level Sony home theater amp (running in 2 channel mode) fed into a pair of Aton DLA6 audio routers, which lets me choose how much power goes to which pair (and to independently turn them on or off). This way I can see what a mix sounds like on, say, a pair of shitty bookshelf speakers, or some vintage rock’n’roll 3-ways, or mid-range hifi. There’s also a tube amp and a vintage Sansui amp that run some of them.

It’s not really intended for all of them to run at once – although it sounds amazing – but one pair at a time, to see how a mix sounds on different equipment.

If nothing else… it looks super cool.

And that brings us to today! I’m very pleased with where it’s at now. I’d like to say that it’s “complete” but anyone who loves music and gear and music gear as much as I do knows that there’s no such thing. Over time I’ll add some things and get rid of others. But for now, I’m quite pleased with how my little production studio has evolved over the years.

And, this might be the coolest garage conversion I’ve ever been in. 🙂

 

 

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