You’ve enrolled in a music production course at college and now you’re piecing together your equipment. Setting up your bedroom studio as a new student is exciting, but there are a few things you need to do to squeeze the best out of the space and equipment you have.
By setting up your equipment thoughtfully, your bedroom studio will serve you well as you learn production skills, critical listening and creative composition.
With a properly set up studio, you’ll be well on your way to creating tight, creative, warm, punchy and balanced audio – never underestimate the power of a well-crafted bedroom studio!
So what is the anatomy of a student’s bedroom studio, and how can you tune your bedroom studio for the best results?
The Anatomy of a Bedroom Studio
Every bedroom studio is built differently and no two studios are the same.
However, there are some equipment and basic furnishings that you’ll absolutely need, no matter what sort of audio you want to produce:
Your Audio Gear
First and foremost, it goes without saying that you’ll need your audio gear.
There are 3 main things you’ll need, in the triumvirate of music production:
- A computer, laptop or desktop
- An audio interface
- Monitor speakers
This is the bare minimum and will get your rig up and running with a DAW. If you want to record audio then you’ll need a microphone, or multiple microphones if you want to record multiple sources.
A basic all-rounder microphone that can record most sources is the legendary Shure SM57 and SM58. It’s also worth looking into the Sennheiser Evolution range.
You’ll also need the cables required to connect everything together. Typically, you’ll need mains kettle leads (power cables), XLR cables (for microphones) and either RCA, TRS or XLR cables for monitor speakers. Use balanced TRS or XLR for monitor speakers where possible – this will reduce buzz and feedback.
Chairs and Desks
Chairs and desks are absolutely crucial to any bedroom studio. You can buy dedicated desks like this one, these are designed specifically for music production and other studio work. They come with raised platforms for your monitor speakers, which is handy because monitor speakers need to be raised to a certain height and angle to work effectively – more on this in a moment.
If you just want to use your standard flat computer desk then that’s fine, but you’ll need to purchase monitor speaker stands separately.
These are inexpensive and are no less than essential – you simply cannot just plonk your monitors flat on the desk. You could also buy floor stands if there’s no desk space available.
Don’t underrate the importance of your chair either. A comfy chair is essential for any and all desktop PC work.
You’ll reap the benefits of a good chair on those long sleepless nights fixing your snare drums and basslines!
Your room is as much of a part of your studio setup as anything else. Sound waves interact with the space that surrounds them – tuning your room’s acoustics is one of the best things you’ll ever do as a bedroom producer.
The idea of a studio is to reduce environmental acoustic distortion close to nil.
This involves creating a soundproofed, dead-sounding space. It’s only then that you’ll be able to monitor your music with total control and accuracy.
By starting with a dead, blank canvas, you’re in a better position to assess your audio as you produce it. This avoids all sorts of unnecessary psychoacoustic hiccups and mishaps.
So, before you set anything up, you’ll need to think about your room.
It’s best to clear out your room prior to setting up your gear. There are a few initial steps you can take to prepare your room for audio production:
- Lay carpet over hard floors or employ thick, soft rugs and mats. This will go some way to soundproofing the floor.
- Ensure you have enough power sockets. Buy some decent quality surge-protected extension leads for your gear.
- Consider soundproofing the walls of your room.
Here is a short guide on bedroom studio soundproofing:
Bedroom Studio Guide to Soundproofing
Soundproofing is pretty expensive and you’d be amazed at how much it costs to fully soundproof a top studio. And let’s face it, as a hard-working student, you want to keep costs to a minimum. Top studios create what is effectively a ‘room within a room’ by raising the floors and adding floating walls.
Luckily, you don’t need to go that far to hear the results. Soundproofing your bedroom studio can yield huge differences in the room’s acoustics and tone.
Bass will sound tighter, deeper and clearer. High-end will sound more focused and controlled.
Also, if you have close neighbours then some soundproofing is probably essential, unless you want them to hear you editing the same bassline or kick drum over and over again!
You can get solid results from budget soundproofing materials. The first place to start is your walls, particularly the walls directly opposite your monitor speakers.
Soundproofing panels like these are cost-effective for bedroom studio wall panelling.
Bass traps are another soundproofing material that sits in the corners of the room, both on the floor and in the ceiling. There’s tons of choice when it comes to bass trap materials and again, many cheaper options won’t break the bank.
Finally, you’ll need to consider the ceiling, particularly the area just above your monitor speakers.
The more soundproofing, the merrier and the better the results will likely be. You can soundproof an entire bedroom studio for under £300 or so, but it’s possible to spend much less and still achieve solid results.
Bedroom Studio Tip: Some DIY materials to consider are carpet underlay, upholstery foam, cardboard and humble egg cups, which can be filled with foam to enhance their effectiveness. Pretty much anything soft and with plenty of air cavities can work as soundproofing, including old duvets, blankets and mattresses.
The Acoustic Qualities of a Room
So why does the room matter so much? Can you not just set up your production rig and go?
It’d be wise to delve a bit deeper into room acoustics first. A little knowledge about room acoustics and audio physics can go a long way for any beginner or novice producer.
Here’s a short guide to room acoustics for bedroom studios:
We hear standing reflections in corridors or other rather empty and hollow echoey spaces.
Sound hits hard surfaces and reflects away from them, much like light does. Some sound energy is lost in the process, but a good portion of it bounces back – kind of like a bouncy ball.
Standing reflections are at their worst when dealing with hard, reflective surfaces like glass, wooden panelling or thinner interior walls.
In your bedroom, positioning your monitors opposite a hard, thin wall is a bad idea – avoid it if possible.
Your audio will hit the hard wall and rebound into the back of your head, distorting the way you perceive your audio.
Positioning your speakers opposite thicker interior walls is preferable to exterior walls or windows.
Soundproofing the wall opposite your speakers will drastically improve the problem and this is your best bet to tackle standing reflections.
Bedroom Studio Tip: The back wall opposite your monitors is the prime spot for soundproofing material. Layering up that wall with soundproofing will dramatically reduce the effects of standing reflections. If you can’t soundproof it directly then consider placing a large, soft object between your chair and the back wall. You could rest your mattress against the wall whilst you work, for example.
Room resonance happens when soundwaves, usually in the bassy 300 Hz range and below, resonate back and forth between surfaces. This primarily affects the bass and can have the effect of ‘sucking’ the bass out of your room.
The peculiar thing about resonant frequencies is that they can collect and intensify, and may even pop up in a different room of your house (or neighbour’s house!).
Your bass might seem quiet in your room but when you walk into another room, you can hear it really rumbling away – nightmare!
Resonant frequencies usually dissipate in the corners of the rooms, so that’s where you’ll want to target with soundproofing. Soundproofing the corners of your room can greatly reduce resonant frequencies.
Bedroom Studio Tip: Placing a large, sound-absorbent object in the centre of your room is a great idea for sponging up resonant frequencies. A large, soft couch is ideal. You’ll see these in many studios – they’re not just good for sitting! You could also move your bed into the middle of your room when you produce music. Other than that, focus on soundproofing your room if you feel it has a serious resonant frequency problem.
Why Do Room Acoustics Matter For Audio Production?
Because of audio physics.
If you’ve ever been to a gig or festival then you might have noticed how sound does some weird things. You might be able to hear a tune clearly from the campsite, walk 200m closer and you can barely hear it anymore.
The same principles apply in the studio – sound is a complex medium that is hard to tame, but that’s what we have to try and do when constructing a bedroom studio.
As an example, try placing your monitors on your desk and moving about your unmodified room as you play some music.
Stick your head in the corners of the room. You’ll likely notice some pretty major changes in the way you perceive the music.
You’ll probably find that some parts of your room are very, very bassy, whereas the position directly in front of your monitors is not bassy at all. There’s usually a ‘sweet spot’ where your audio is at its most clear and punchy – this could be a good spot to construct your bedroom studio around if possible.
Your room’s acoustics will affect the way you produce and mix your music:
- Bass is weakened or exaggerated, causing you to overcompensate by turning up your bass in the mix. When you play your track on another system, this overcompensation will be exposed and your track won’t sound right
- Your high end could become amplified, causing you to turn it down in the mix. When you play your tune back on another system, the hi-hats and other high-end sounds fade into nothing.
- Room acoustics will also distort the stereo image. You might work hard to widen sounds and then discover that your mix has no mono centre anymore.
These are some of the most irritating problems for any bedroom studio producer and they can really get inside your head.
You’re not producing music to be heard solely in your room – it has to sound good elsewhere too.
The last thing you want to do is waste time painfully mixing your track when all you’re really doing is tweaking it for your room’s acoustics.
Once you play that track elsewhere, you’ll come to the overwhelming realisation that your room’s acoustics are probably terrible!
The good news is, whilst your bedroom’s acoustics won’t be perfect unless you really go hard on soundproofing, you can definitely achieve a well-balanced space on a budget.
From there, it’s about listening critically to your music and being aware of how your room might be distorting your sound perception.
Monitor Placement Suggestions
Here are some quick tips to help you place your monitor speakers correctly:
Avoid the corners of your room. It might be tempting to cosy up in a corner of the room but this is a bad move for room acoustics. Keep things symmetrical. If you have a rectangular room then sit towards the centre of the longest edge. Place soundproofing directly opposite your monitor speakers. This is a solid starting point.
Don’t place monitors too close to the walls. Sound, particularly bass, emanates from both the front and back of your monitors. If you place your speakers too close to the wall then the bass coming out of the back will rebound off the wall behind, possibly cancelling out bass reflecting off the back wall via the process of phase cancellation. Move your desk slightly away from the wall, or at least make sure the monitors aren’t touching the wall at all.
Avoid the centre of the room. The centre of the room is also called the ‘null zone’ or ‘dead zone’ (terms frequently used in reference to in-car audio). Make sure you position yourself beyond the halfway point of your room. The same also goes for height. If your room is 10ft tall then do not place your speakers at the 5ft half-way point, place them at 4ft or 6ft instead.
- Place your monitors in an equilateral triangle with your head at the far point. See diagram below. This is the standard positioning for any and all studio monitors. You want to line the tweeters up with your ears. High frequencies are more directional and need to be pointed accurately. Always place foam padding under your speakers (most stands have built-in padding).
Instruments and Microphones
Instruments and microphones are another consideration.
If you’re producing electronic music then you might not need acoustic instruments, but could still have a MIDI keyboard, synth or drum machine.
There are no real definitive rules on where to place these, so long as you’re comfortable.
The only exception would be an instrument or vocal booth. There are some excellent guides on how to build DIY vocal booths or instrument booths. The general idea is to create a separate, highly enclosed and soundproofed space.
Summary: Basic Bedroom Studio Setup Ideas
Setting up bedroom studios is fun and exciting, but don’t skip the crucial steps presented in this article.
If you put some extra time into sorting out your bedroom studio then you’ll reap the rewards later on.
The psychoacoustic challenge of producing in a naked bedroom devoid of any real production-oriented design can be the unravelling of beginner and novice music producers.
Luckily, you can easily avoid this fate!
The good news is, by putting some time and effort into creating your bedroom studio, you’ll produce better audio quicker than if you just left everything as it is.
Tuning your bedroom studio is one of the best things you’ll do as an audio producer.