There are over 11 million search results for “podcast studio setup” and nearly all of the articles ignore one of the most important aspects of recording: the space itself.
It doesn’t matter if you buy the fanciest microphones and digital recorders. If your room sounds terrible, so will your recordings.
Most people turn existing spaces into recording studios. My team recently wrote a guide to setting up a podcast production studio. However, I was in the unique position of being able to build a home office/podcast recording studio from the ground up.
It taught me a lot.
Here are my 4 biggest takeaways from building a podcast studio. (Keep reading if you want to nerd out on the full story complete with before and after pictures!)
P.S. This article is not sponsored and doesn’t contain affiliate links. I talk about Audimute a lot, not because they paid me or sent me free stuff. I just really like them.
4 Things to Know Before Building a Home Studio/Podcast Studio
1. Build with the future in mind.
Where you are now and where you want to be are likely two completely different places. And when you’re doing major construction to a home or office space, it’s important the space can grow with you.
I like the flexibility of rearranging the space I’m working in. My computer requires a hardwire Ethernet cable and I sometimes run long audio cables from my setup to other parts of the room.
In anticipation of this, I had the electrician run a tube/conduit inside of the wall from the ceiling down to the electrical outlet. Now I’m able to run any cable I’d like through the ceiling to my computer.
If I didn’t have the tube installed, I’d be stuck running cables across the floor or I’d need to cut into a brand new wall after the fact.
Another thing I had the electrician do was install electrical outlets in the ceiling. I don’t currently do much with video but I will be before the year is over. So now I can hang and plug in equipment from the ceiling instead of taking up valuable floor space with big stands.
You can avoid a lot of extra work, clutter, and further renovation when you build with the future in mind.
2. You’re only as strong (i.e. soundproof) as your weakest link.
It doesn’t matter if you soundproof 95% of your space with the best materials. It will only sound as good as the remaining 5%.
For example, if you soundproof all of your walls but have a hollow core door or a window open, unwanted sound will still get into your space. You have to account for everything to make it truly sound great.
I had two problem areas I needed to consider:
- the door
- the cold air return
Even with a semi-solid core door, some sounds were getting picked up in my recordings. So I bought the Audimute Isole Sound Barrier Sheet to hang on the outside of the door and a breeze stopper to put at the base of the door.
As for the cold air return, they are typically made out of sheet metal. This makes it easy for the unwanted sounds of the furnace or even people talking upstairs to bounce down into my space.
Instead of using sheet metal, I used the Audimute Peacemaker material. It still functions like a cold air return but it absorbs the sound instead of bouncing it around.
Keep your potential weak points in mind when you are planning and budgeting for your space.
3. Leverage what you have.
Even when you’re building from an unfinished space, there are likely materials and structural features that you can use to your advantage.
For example, two of the three existing walls were already insulated with soundproof-type of material so I had no need to do additional work to them. I also had nice drop ceilings in my space that helped remove a good amount of the noise from upstairs. These saved me a ton of time and money.
Review your space and see what you can use to your advantage.
4. Buy quality (and when you can’t afford it, get creative).
It’s not worth cutting corners on soundproofing a room. I’ve seen several popular streamers (especially YouTubers and Twitch streamers) hang the cheap, ½ inch foam squares that you can buy off of Amazon to “soundproof” their space.
It’s not worth it and it doesn’t work.
You’d be much better off saving up for something higher quality and hanging it in strategic locations in your space.
For example, I have a 2’ x 4’ sound panel from Audimute hanging on the wall directly in front of my desk. That way when I’m recording, my voice is hitting that first and not getting bounced off of the wall and back around the room. It’s more expensive than the foam squares—but it actually works.
If you can’t afford quality right away, get creative. Before I had the opportunity to build a wall, I used a 15lb weighted blanket hung on a moveable clothing rack to help control unwanted sound. It was bootleg but got the job done.
Wait to buy quality. When you can’t, there is no shame in recording in a closet or under a blanket.
Building a New Room to Become My Home Office: From Plans to Finished Recording Space
The project started late 2021. I live in a long ranch-style home in the Midwest so we decided to section off one end of our finished basement. There were several factors we needed to consider:
- How would I be using the space?
- How large did we (we meaning my wife and I) want the space to be?
- How can we leverage the existing construction?
- How will it work for the rest of the family?
Planning the Space
I’ve been working from home since 2014 and producing podcasts full time since 2016. It’s critical I have space to record and work. Up until this point, my space was located in the basement and no one was allowed to come downstairs when I was recording or on meetings.
However, our kids spend a lot more time inside during the winters and we wanted them to be able to come downstairs to play without interrupting me. Thus, we needed to add a wall to the existing finished space.
Hiring a Contractor Who Understands Sound
I’ve done a fair amount of construction and woodworking but I wasn’t comfortable cutting through the existing drop ceiling or cutting and pulling back the carpet. On top of that, we would need a decent amount of electrical work (which I don’t do either). So we decided to hire a contractor.
There is a TON of nuance when it comes to constructing a proper soundproofed space. I knew going into this project the studio wasn’t going to be 100% soundproof, but it was going to come close. It was important that whoever I worked with knew about soundproofing or could at least follow instructions on how to build a quiet space.
Contractors who specialize in soundproofing do exist but most of them are working in corporate settings like hospitals and law where confidentiality and privacy are important. They also charge significantly more than your average contractor.
I decided on researching a bunch of materials and leveraging my own construction background instead.
After reading books like “Home Recording Studio: Build It Like the Pros” and watching hours of YouTube from channels like Home RenoVisions DIY, we settled on a contractor who understood what I needed and began construction.
Leveraging the Existing Space
When building or deciding on a space for recording, it’s critical to consider the noise outside of your space. In my situation, my family would be on one side of the office, our workshop was on the other side, and our bedroom (i.e. sometimes crying baby) was above me.
Pre-insulated walls. First, I have to note I completely lucked out. The owners before us had the basement’s exterior walls finished with a canvas insulation material. It was likely to help regulate temperature but they are perfect for sound. Thus, two of my four walls were basically giant sound panels and were ready to go.
Existing drop ceilings. The drop ceiling was a huge help too. It hangs about 5”from the floor joists creating a natural air pocket. Plus, it’s suspended by wires so no vibrations from people walking around upstairs travel through the floor like it would if it was connected directly.
A single window. Having only one window is a perk. While I’d love more natural light, less outside sounds can get in and there is less glass for my inside sounds to bounce off of.
Leaving the nice carpets. Carpets, especially nice ones, are a huge help for nullifying echoes and sound bouncing around inside of a space. We decided to leave them as is.
So the construction team cut through the ceiling, cut back the carpet and construction of the wall began.
Creating the Space
As I mentioned, many decisions needed to be made on how we were going to keep exterior noise out of the space, specifically the kids playing on the outside of the wall.
Building a New Wall
Fortunately, three of the four walls already existed for the space I was going to use; two exterior walls and one wall dividing the finished basement from an unfinished workshop. We needed to build one wall with a door to close off the space.
First, we decided to go with a standard wall. Some sources will tell you to create a “double” wall, basically rough framing to walls and leaving an air pocket in-between them. I didn’t want to lose the additional space so went with one wall with additional modifications.
The room was already 12.5’ wide. We decided to place the wall so the room would be 16’ deep, making the space 192 sq ft.
We did this for a few reasons:
- Along with audio recording, I’m beginning to do more video work. It was important that I had enough space to make a few different “sets” to record from.
- The wall needed to be on the other side of an existing window to make sure I had natural light (and an emergency escape).
- Last, we wanted to increase the value of the home long-term. If we ever move, the house now has an additional bedroom.
After framing, we hung Audimute’s Peacemaker material on the exterior side of the wall. It’s basically a thick rubber material that helps keep unwanted sound out. Next, I insulated everything with Rockwool (a super dense material commonly used for noise reduction).
A semi-solid wood door was hung after the drywall was finished. This was a key piece because the entire wall would be pointless if we went with a hollow-core door. The semi-solid door helped block a majority of the sound (I did add some further modifications though—more on that in a bit).
Soundproofing an Existing Wall
After the new wall and door were finished, I personally worked on the existing interior wall connecting my office with the workshop. The workshop isn’t in constant use, but my wife occasionally uses the space for her business.
The interior side of the wall was already finished so I added rockwool to the exterior side, hung the Peacemaker material on the side facing the workshop, and rough hung the leftover drywall to finish it off. We’re eventually going to complete the workshop as well so it didn’t make sense to finish the drywall on the exterior side. Regardless, it worked perfectly well as a sound barrier.
The other noteworthy modification was to the cold air return. This is the vent that takes the cold air back into the HVAC system. Typically, it’s a register near the ground, in between wall studs covered with a piece of sheet metal.
The problem is that the opening allows noise to come through the vent and into my space. So I adhered some of the rubber Peacemaker material to the existing drywall and also used it instead of the sheet metal. Now I have a normal cold air return function without any unwanted noise.
Finishing the Ceiling
Last was the ceiling. The drop ceiling was good but not foolproof. I could still hear some baby crying and heavy footsteps. I added Rockwool in between all of the joists there to block the remaining noise getting through the floor and the air ducts.
Tweaks After Further Testing
Finally, I ran some tests. I had the kids come downstairs while I was recording episodes of our internal show, Podcast Bytes.
It was through that test my team and I noticed some unwanted sounds were still getting picked up on the recording. The weak spot was a small ½” inch gap at the bottom of the door and a little bit the door itself.
The solution: I purchased the Audimute Isole Sound Barrier Sheet and one of those weighted door draft things. This was installed to hang on the outside of the door.
The Sound Barrier Sheet came with some odd mounts that made the sheet hang slightly too high. I purchased some special heavy duty ties from the local hardware store and that fixed the problem.
Last, the door draft thing sits snug against the bottom of the door on the inside and does exactly what it’s supposed to do.
Helping with family procedures
On a side note, it has unintentionally become a visual code for my family too.
- When my door is open or unlocked, it means it’s ok to come in and talk to me.
- If the door is locked, only get me if mom needs me or it’s an emergency.
- Last, if the Audimute sheet is up, that means I’m recording. Only get me if someone is bleeding out (parents and babysitters will understand).
Looking Ahead: Designing, Furnishing, and Outfitting the Space
Currently, building the office phase one is completed. All of the structural elements to make it safe to record are finished. Next is phase two: designing the space.
I’m very excited for this phase. There has been a ton of researching, planning, blueprints, and far too many instructional videos from Becki and Chris’ YouTube Channel. I’m going to save the majority of it for a separate post but my priority is: to cultivate a completely functional and practical room that inspires very intentional work, filming, and recording.
Finally, phase three will be legalizing the space. In order for it to be a legal bedroom, we still need to add a closet and replace the window. These are both nice to have items but not necessary. They will likely happen in the next year or two.
Closing Thoughts on Building a Home Office Studio
This has been an amazing process and I’m very grateful we were able to do it. It’s made the quality of my work- and family-life noticeably improve.
I can’t stress the importance of planning your space enough. I’m all about taking action but when you’re talking about major physical renovations, you have to “measure twice and cut once” as the saying goes. You don’t want to make decisions you’ll soon regret.
Finally, if a full rebuild or redesign isn’t in the cards, there are still lots of ways to improve the quality of your work and recording space. Get creative and make it happen.