I have been embarking on the exciting yet daunting challenge of building a new studio space – this time in my garden. In this series of posts I’ll be sharing pics, resources, tips and any pitfalls that I find along the way that may help musicians or producers looking to utilise some space in their yard. Living in a 2 up 2 down with a small garden, the space I’m working with here is limited… 3m x 3.5m. So I’m building something the size of a small office, big enough to write and compose music, do some production, the odd vocal recording and some admin stuff. I’ve also got a relatively small budget, so I’m doing everything I possibly can myself.
I am not a professional on the subject of soundproofing and room acoustics, electrics or woodwork, (so this is not a definitive how-to manual – disclaimer right there) but I know a few people who are. So as always I’m up for the challenge, learning new skills and sharing what I can with you.
To give you some background on the situation; this is actually the third time I have taken on the task of building a creative space, my previous space being 3 times the size of this project.
For the past few years I have been in the fortunate, but unrealistic position of renting a commercial unit on land that was earmarked for housing development. This meant super-cheap rent, and a contract that was no more than a hand shake. Nobody knew at the time when it was going to be bulldozed, but I did a little bit of digging around for info and hedged my bets that I would have a few years to make the most of it.
Well that fun-filled few years is up, and sadly the deadline to vacate has come for me and many other business owners on the land.
Faced with a hike of 3-4 times my current rent for commercial property anywhere else in the SE of England, I poured over the economics of moving, building, renting and running a small independent music business with the huge added costs.
I also looked at what I was actually doing with the nice big space I had; writing music, some recording, and admin and places that I could affordably do the work elsewhere.
I came to the obvious decision to downsize to a building on my own patch, move my recording projects to the other studios I work at, and shed some equipment I no longer use (excuse the pun).
So I have been shovel in hand doing ground works for the shed base and power supply, rummaging around the internet and picking brains on how I can get away with making noise in a garden shed without upsetting my neighbours.
There are so many things to think about at the beginning regarding the type of building to go for, and there are many views online about the pros and cons of brick, wood or tin out buildings, so I’m not going to go into too much detail here.
I also did a lot of research into converting a shipping container, and even got offered an arctic lorry trailer. Both of which are very narrow if you want to get a wide stereo field from your monitors, and shipping containers have serious issues with condensation.
So for my limited budget, timescale of build and garden aesthetics I decided to go with a wooden shed.
This will undoubtedly pose bigger challenges in sound proofing and acoustics, but as I said I’m not looking to record bands here as I can do that elsewhere.
It was clear from the start that I would need a solid structure to work with, so I opted to go for a custom-built workshop type shed. Something with a strong frame to take the weight of internal plasterboard and shelving, a thick shiplap shell and with a minimal amount of window area as this will be my prime nemesis for escaping sound.
If you’re feeling really adventurous you could build your own shed, but I found it cost effective and much less hassle to order one. The guys at http://woodcrafttimberbuildings.co.uk prefabricated it in their workshop to my design, and it was erected in a matter of hours.
One thing they required of course was a solid level base. I managed to acquire some Type 1 base aggregate, and the necessary plastic sheeting to prevent damp and weeds from rising.
TIP: Think about access to your garden – not having a garden gate is good for security, but it means that everything has to go through your house. Explain this to your shed contractor well in advance because they will have to prefabricate and deliver it in manageable parts.
A key thing is power supply to your shed, and it takes some planning right from the start. Building regulations govern what you can and can’t do yourself, and most mains voltage electrical work has to be certified and reported to your local Building Control Body. Keen to save a buck I have ended up wrangling with electricians over wanting to do some of the internal shed wiring myself. For ‘safety reasons’ and maybe some financial ones I’ve found that many won’t even touch a job if you want to go DIY alongside their work.
I have come to the conclusion that it’s just not really worth trying to save money by doing any of it yourself. A good sparky will not only do the wiring probably quicker than you can, but they can get discount on the materials.
This means registered electricians are in high demand and you’ll need to factor this in as a large part of your budget. Plus you will probably have to wait for some weeks before they can book you in.
What you can do though is the ground work ie. dig a trench down to your shed to lay the mains cable, and you can also be prepared by working out exactly how much power you will need to run all of your kit.
Add up the combined wattage of all your gear inc. speakers, computers, outboard equipment etc. Not forgetting things like lighting, lamps and heating. Unless you live in a warm climate you will need to run a heater in your out building pretty much 24/7 over the winter.
Once you’ve got your total wattage, divide that by your voltage supply (230v in the UK) to get a rough figure of the Amps you will be drawing. This will determine the size of cable and fuses your electrician will need to install.
Another thing to bear in mind is the route through or around your house that the mains supply cable will have to take from your consumer unit. All of the electricians that came to give me a quote wanted to go up the wall and under the floor boards of our bedroom. Having recently decorated and laid new carpet that wasn’t happening, so we opted for the cable running in trunking around our living room. It’s hardly noticeable to me, but might not be so agreeable with your partner! :0
In Part 2 i’m going to be unpicking the confusing world of Soundproofing and Acoustics