Sunday, September 11, 2016

How to Build a Vocal Booth

Morph Productions, my Toronto based studio ended up moving this summer and the new space required that I build a vocal booth.  I'm pretty handy and have tackled many home improvement projects but nothing so involved as framing and drywalling a room within a room from scratch.  In addition to that I also had to make space for a window and door (with extra wide) door jamb.  Sometimes when life gives you challenges you just have to give yourself a little pep talk before you get started and then... get started.  Here's a few pics and descriptions on how I made my vocal booth for the new studio.  I'll also put a few things in of times where I went wrong to help you if you're building your own vocal booth.  I'm by no means an expert and you'll want to reference other resources to build a booth of your own but hopefully you'll find a few useful nuggets of info that will help you on your build.

#1 Supplies:

I decided to make the booth double studded on the two outside walls (walls not against walls within the room).  Originally I was going to make them all double studded walls but backed off from that when I realized doubled studded walls with double layers of drywall on both internal and external walls makes for a wall thickness of about 8".  That adds up pretty quick in a small space.  I bought about 56 2x4s to do the framing.  For the drywall I decided to go with 2 layers of 5/8th drywall on the external walls and one layer of 5/8ths and a layer of 1/2" for the internal walls.  The reasoning behind that is so the walls would (theoretically) vibrate at different frequencies which would require more energy for the sound to enter the booth.  I bought about 27 sheets of 5/8 drywall and 8 sheets of 1/2 drywall.  In total the booth ended up being about four and a half feet by five and a half feet inside with a height of about six foot five inches.

I had to rent a truck to bring all the supplies to the studio. In retrospect I should of just had it delivered.  5/8ths drywall is extremely heavy and lifting 27 sheets of it into the truck and then out of it sucks.

With the help from a friend of mine we got all the supplies moved in.

#2 Planning

Now that I had my supplies is was time to plan exactly how I was going to build and where.  Obviously you'd want to have that all done in advance of buying supplies but there were a few logistical challenges for me to do that and I just made sure to buy a bit extra of everything.  I placed some painters tape on the floor and spent about 2 hours rearranging everything to get the right size and location.  I made sure to do approximate inner and outer wall thickness so I could see how much space was going to be taken up and how much would be left over.

A few things to note about vocal booth shapes and sizes.  A square is a big no no for sound purposes.  In addition it's always good if you can have your walls a bit off in angles rather than completely straight and 90 degrees.  Honestly I did make mine mostly straight for aesthetic reasons (the taped off layout isn't what I chose) but putting them at different angles is something worth considering before building.

#3. Framing

Next comes framing the vocal booth.  Because two walls were double studded I had to make 6 framed walls in total.  Due to low ceiling height I opted not to frame out a ceiling but instead capped the ceiling with 1/2" thick plywood with drywall screwed into it.  This allowed me to save a few much needed inches of ceiling height.  

First I cut the floor and ceiling plates:

After that it was cutting and screwing in the studs.  Note the studs doubled up on the ends for extra strength.

A few things to note about framing.  Unfortunately, even though I spent quite a bit of time researching this I didn't find out till later that the soundproofing compound I used Green Glue company recommends 24" on centre studs.  I ended up doing 16" on centre.  Apparently the more freely the materials can move the better the Green Glue works.  Something to consider when building and this will also save you some 2x4s as well.  

A tip for getting the spacing of your studs quicker is to measure out and pre-cut a piece of wood as a spacer while screwing in each new stud instead of having to measure each time (this was my friend Mike Langford's idea).  To get 16 on centre we had a 14 1/4" spacer.  Using this method my insulation fit in perfectly after I was done framing.

After the framed out walls were completed I screwed the two pieces that would be the walls that would ultimately be up against the walls in my room.  I then added the dry wall to the external sections and when I was done I had to move it into place where I wanted it.  Not a completely easy task but I did it.

Next the other walls are screwed into place:

I also began cutting out the spot for the window box I was installing.

I connected the double studded walls to their exterior counterparts with some metal covered in Green Glue Company Joist Tape so there would be some mechanical separation from the interior and exterior walls.  There's better more expensive ways to do this but I didn't have the time to pursue getting them.  In the end these worked out fine.

#5 Insulation

Insulating and drywalling are done at the same time because you have to drywall the outer walls before you put the insulation in.  I used Roxul Safe and Sound insulation.  On the double studded walls I was able to use two layers of it.  Roxul Safe and Sound is used primarily to soundproof interior walls and has almost no R value for insulation.  I have mixed feelings about using it because I really wonder how much of a difference it makes (years ago an old place of mine had a basement redone with it as it's only soundproofing measure and the results were disappointing) but nonetheless you gotta use everything you have to soundproof in such a small space.

#6 Drywalling

I mentioned drywalling a bit in the framing part because I had to drywall the walls that were against the room's walls so I could push them in and finish framing.  I'll go more in-depth into the drywalling here.  As I stated earlier I used two layers of 5/8th drywall on the exterior walls and a layer of 5/8th and 1/2" drywall in the interior.  After the first layer of drywall was put up I used Green Glue Company Sealant to seal all the seams.  Then when I put the second layer of drywall up I put 2 tubes of green glue per board on it before screwing it in place.  I used green glue at my last studio too and I can't say enough good things about it.  It's pricey but it works.  
After the drywall is up you have to use wall compound to fill in the holes and tape up the seams as you would in any regular renovation project.

Applying sealant on the first layer's joints.

Applying green glue on the second layer before screwing it in.

All drywalled, taped and sanded.

It's a good idea to put up your second layer of drywall so the seams don't match with the first.  In my case I put the board up horizontally, having one whole piece and one cut piece.  The first time I would have the whole piece on the bottom and for the second layer I had it on the top so the seams weren't in the same spot thus creating a weak spot in the soundproofing.

For the ceiling I had the 1/2" plywood sit on top of the frame and then I screwed two layers of 5/8th drywall with lots of green glue to spare.  I put the ceiling drywall up first so the wall drywall would further support it.

#7 Cabling

Obviously getting cables in and out can also create a weakness in your soundproofing so you have to be careful how you do it.  I chose to use conduit that's usually used for electrical wires outside.  I cut the conduit inside the wall to mechanically separate the inside and outside conduit as well.  They didn't quite line up after that so it made it a bit of a pain to get cables through but I was ultimately able to get the cables I needed in.  To do this this required 2 conduit boxes (one for the inside and the outside) to get the sharp 90 degree turns, one long piece of conduit about 6' long and a curved piece.  Having the cables come in through the top and then exit through the bottom allowed for better soundproofing because the interior and exterior walls were penetrated at different spots thus not allowing sound to go directly through them.

Conduit on the external wall.  The box was later filled with insulation.

Conduit coming from outside to in.  I coated it with sealant.  When making your holes make sure that  any conduit boxes you use have clearance (note my other hole I had to fill).

Conduit dropping down to the floor.

Filling in with insulation.  I also made some internal ventilation ducts in the booth for possible future ventilation.

With drywall up all that remains is the hole in the corner well insulated from the outside where the wires drop.

#8 Window and Doors

I wasn't sure if I wanted a window in the booth.  I personally don't like looking at the people I'm recording as they're recording and I'm under the impression they don't like looking at me.  I've always liked them to have their own space to do as they please while they're performing.  That being said the booth being relatively small I was worried about people feeling claustrophobic and it is nice to be able to see the person you're communicating with between takes.  I was fortunate enough to have the window box (made by the fine people at Peloton Contracting) from the other studio so I just measured it out and framed it accordingly.  I can't really take credit for this thing as it wasn't made by me but here's a few pointers if you make your own.  

The frame was routed out to allow the glass to fit into it better.  Use some Green Glue sealant in the routed lines to get an airtight seal.  My window box had 3 layers of glass, one of which was of different thickness.  Again, as with the drywall, the idea behind this is that the glass with different thickness will have a different resonant frequency which means sound needs more energy to penetrate the glass.  I'm not very knowledgable about this but it's actually better to have bigger spaces between the glass than more layers of glass.  Also you'll note that one piece of glass is at an angle.  That's so the sound bouncing off the glass in the booth fires up into the ceiling sound treatment rather than directly at the vocalist and into the mic.

For a door I had a real conundrum.  Doors made specifically for soundproofing purposes cost a fortune and this vocal booth was already costing me quite a bit more than I expected.  Another concern was that the window and the door were going to be the weakest link in the soundproofing chain so I couldn't afford to make a wrong move or all my other work would be for naught.  What I decided on was lifting a solid wood door that was left out by a neighbour and laminating it with half inch plywood with green glue.  The one unfortunate part of this was that the door ended up being thicker than a standard door and I had to spend 120 dollars on a commercial doorknob so I'd be able to open it.  Here's a few pics from the door restoring and laminating I did:

Here's the door as I grabbed it more or less.  I cleaned it with TSP and then removed the door knob.

After removing the door knob which is an older style with bigger gaps in the door I put shims in to fill the gap and then used wood filler to smooth it out.

Sanding and wood filler to take a few years off the ole girl.

Next I cut a piece of 1/2" plywood to the exact measurements of the door and screwed it to the back of it using Green Glue on it as well.

Here's the finished door minus doorknob.

Door installed minus trim

Here's a good shot of the back of the door with the laminated piece of plywood at the back.

In all honesty the door is working out good but it is unquestionably the weak spot in the soundproofing.  I may revisit it again and laminate a piece of MDF on the back of it as well as the original plywood I had placed.  That and more green glue should give me the results I'm looking for.

#9 Lighting

I wasn't sure what to do with lighting the vocal booth and then after some research on Amazon I found these fun LED light strips.  The can change colours, flash (not essential but fun to show people) and it comes with a remote all for about 35 bucks!  Importantly they also don't give off a lot of heat.

In this picture I also have the monitor installed that is connected to my computer.  Good for ADR or when I'm recording myself and need to control my DAW from inside the booth.

#11 Sound Treatment

Last up was the sound treatment.  I had a lot of Primacoustic panels from my old studio including a bass trap so I ended up using that in the booth.  Soundproofing was obviously a big concern for me but also important was the actual sound within the booth.  I'm happy to report that it honestly sounds great.  I put sound treatment in the walls and the ceiling.  Here's a few pics:

When I get some downtime I'll have to put some work into not having it so cluttered.

In closing making this booth cost me a lot more time and money than I originally had planned but I'm super happy with the results.  It sounds and looks great and my clients have been super happy using it.  At some point I may revisit the door situation and I'll also look into adding ventilation so it's more comfortable but for the time being I'm able to work with it and everyone is really happy with it.  It's isolating the sound coming in and out of it and the sound of things I'm recording sound really good.  Not bad for a first try.  Hope you found this blog posting useful.  

Check out below for my website and social media.  If you have any questions feel free to email me.  Good luck with your vocal booth build!

Here's links to my site and social media:

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Year That Was 2015!

2015 was definitely an interesting year with a lot of different challenges and success.  In the year previous I was asked by Tep No to come up with a classical guitar line for a tropical house tune he wanted to do.  I did it late one night and he developed a great song around it that wasn't released till January 2015.  We had the fortune to have it premier on the BBC on Pete Tong's radio show and that really helped launch it.  By the end of 2015 it had 2 licenses (Michael Korrs video and a US tv show) and it got  4 million listens on Spotify.  We'll see how much farther it can go in the new year.  Here's the song on spotify and the Michael Kors video:

From this collaboration I ended up meeting other deep house producers who liked what I was doing and wanted to collaborate as well.  I've been doing a lot of work with Chicago producer Kiso Armic and a French producer Daitshi.  A remix I contributed guitars to for Kiso ended up going to number 1 on the remix chart on Hypemachine.  A song I contributed guitars to for Chris Lago got signed to Armada Music.  I did so many of them this year that I decided to make a SoundCloud playlist so I could put as many of them together as I could.  Here it is:

At the beginning of the year I also finished up my band's second and final EP entitled, "Prophecies".  I can't tell you how proud I am of that collection of songs.  It really was a great project and my only regret is that more people didn't get to hear it.  Here's a link to the EP if you want to check it out:

At the beginning of the year I also reached out to Canadian Musician about contributing articles to their magazine.  I didn't really expect to be taken seriously but the editor wrote back the next day and said he liked my writing style and could use some of my stuff.  I had two articles published by them last year and am looking forward to pursuing more writing with them and other publications this year.                             

In the spring my son and I got to do something different.  My favourite radio show, WireTap was doing an open call for people to be a part of a video they were making called "How to Age Gracefully".  I have loved the show since it started 11 years ago and jumped at the chance to be a part of the video.  My son and I got to go to the CBC and record little snippets of advice to our younger selves.  It was fun and both of us made the cut.  To date the Facebook video has 27 million views and even a few weeks ago I had someone emailing me saying they saw me in it even though I just appear very quickly.  The final version is simply beautiful.  Here it is:

So all this and tons of great indie artists I always love working with.  Let's hope we find more success together in 2016!  

Here's links to my site and social media:

Saturday, August 22, 2015

So Long Wiretap!

I just found out my favourite radio show, Wiretap isn’t going to continue this season after 11 years and I’m pretty heart broken about it.  I used to have CBC on all the time when I wasn’t working in the studio and I still remember the first time I heard it 11 years ago.  I was going into the fridge getting something as I turned the radio on and I heard this weird and funny conversation about someone who was watching their lobby security camera instead of an actual tv channel.  I’m not going to say I fell in love with the show that day but I was intrigued and a seed was planted. It wasn’t long before I was trying to make sure I could tune in every Sunday to hear what was going to happen next.  As time progressed the different personalities started poking out a bit more and I completely fell in love with the show.

After 11 years of listening to something you amass so many memories of where you were in life while listening to different episodes.  Here are some of mine…

I remember a new girlfriend and I driving around Friday night and me sneaking the show on hoping she wouldn’t mind.  Both of us ended up laughing like crazy at a conversation Jonathan and Gregor were having.

Years later I remember listening to old and new podcasts many late nights building my studio in a house a different girlfriend and I had bought.  The one that stands out the most during that period was the Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong episode.

I remember listening when that relationship soured and I needed a distraction from what was a year long crisis called, “what am I going to do with my life now?”.

I also remember many long walks listening with earphones laughing out loud or tearing up while looking around making sure no one was watching me.

Wiretap had a way of approaching the most mundane and the most profound subjects with an intelligence and humor that is rarely done.  I’m sure I’m not the only listener that felt a kinship while listening, a sense that there’s others that see the world a bit like I do.  It was a great feeling.

The problem when a show like this stops running is that there’s nothing to replace it.  It’s not like a TV drama or something that you can replace with another show in its absence.  There truly wasn’t anything out there like it.  Instead of being sad that it’s over though I’m going to try and be happy that it existed at all.  Thank you to everyone who was a part of Wiretap who entertained and touched so many of us.  Your show was dearly loved and meant a lot to a lot of us.  Good luck with your future projects.

So glad that my son and I got to participate in what ended up being the farewell video.  It was great to be a part of it.

Here's a link to the Wiretap webpage:

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Write the Music You Love

One of the things I find puzzling when working with a new artist is when they choose to pursue a genre of music they don’t love or aren’t suited to because they feel that’s the only way that they’ll “make it”.  In my experience that attitude rarely works and the artist is left with a project that doesn’t reach its intended professional goal nor satisfies them artistically.  For a project to be successful there has to be a love and a deep understanding of the genre it’s in.  Sounds basic but without those two elements the project is unlikely to be successful.

In general the music genre that artists think they can cash in on is some form of pop music.  One of the misconceptions that people have that drives me completely nuts is that pop music is easy to do.  If that was so we’d all do our one big pop album, make our riches and be free to then pursue the music we really wanted to.  Unfortunately this is not the case.   I’m a big believer that to do any type of music really well is very hard.  In some cases seemingly more “simple” genres of music are even harder because that line between smash hit genius and complete garbage is very, very fine.  Trust me, being on the right side of that fence isn’t easy!

I’ve had the privilege of working on numerous projects that found success and even though they’ve been in different genres they have always had the same qualities. Everyone involved loves the music they’re creating and they find a good balance between their artistic vision and being mindful of what their listener wants to hear.   Even if the songs had some issues in the writing stage the finished product has an effortless quality that makes them sound ”complete”.  I’ve never experienced this quality with someone “chasing the buck”.  For the project to have success you have to be absolutely incredible at what you do.  How incredible of a writer can you be at a musical genre if you aren’t a big fan of that music?

If you’re looking for success in music create something you actually love.  Try to do it in a way that gives you a voice in your genre while still conforming enough that press, radio and others in the genre will “get it”.  This will give you the best shot at success while still giving you a project that you yourself will enjoy listening to for years to come.    

Friday, January 2, 2015

Albums vs Singles for the Indie Musician

A question that has come up a lot recently from my clients is whether it is better to release an album all at once or release multiple singles over time. It has been coming up so much recently, that I felt it would be valuable to share some of my insights on the subject.  

While most of us have grown up listening to albums and still want to release our music in that format, it's proving not to be very practical in today’s market.  The reasons for this are because of the way we all listen to music now, how much social media has affected our lives, and the way these two things have changed the way the entire music industry operates.  To be clear, when I say “album", I refer to a bunch of songs packaged together, either physically (CD etc) or digitally.  
Twenty years ago, recorded music was sold as a physical product. There was a cost to create this product and deliver it to the consumer.  It made sense to package multiple songs onto it in order to be able to charge enough to make money while ensuring that people were feeling that they were getting value for the cost.  This climate created releases that comprised of a few songs that were throwaways, some that were more interesting and inventive for the hardcore fan and then the1-3 songs that would sell the whole project.  Obviously I'm generalizing here but I feel that’s an apt description for the average album release.

Fast forward to today and the world of streaming music. Whether it be  YouTube, which is the largest streamer of music or  Spotify, people no longer need to own a copy of a song when it's available at any time through a streaming service.  With this new medium however, albums are only for the most diehard fan. When you can access the whole history of music with the touch of a button, the average person is only interested in the best of the best.  In this climate, it's more important to focus on truly great songs that will cut through the noise over subpar material that would have been considered "album filler" back in the day.  I don't even mean hit singles (although you'll need those!), but your songs definitely have to be able to stand out on their own rather than just being a part of a bigger work like an album.

After your project is recorded, a promotion plan is necessary. Again, you’ll find that promoting a single can have many benefits. The reason single releases work, especially for the indie musician, is because of the way we promote music today.  Social media is great, but it's fleeting... like really fleeting.  You post a song up that took you hours and hours and lots of money to create and it's gone in a flash; lost in a sea of cat memes and time wasting top 10 lists.  The truth is it's very hard to get people to pay attention to one song, let alone a whole album of songs, when you're an independent musician.  Best to split up the promo into individual songs every month and always promote something new, rather than repetitively promoting an album for a year and getting tuned out.  What I find works for my clients is releasing a song every month or two.  At the same time as continuing to work on new material for the next release, try and get the most out of the single you’ve just put out.  Submit it to blogs, podcasts and music supervisors for sync licensing. Find new ways to make the release exciting over the month you’re promoting it.  Create a video for it, promote any use of the song (radio play, sync license, etc) while still promoting the song as well.  Basically try and find as many ways of telling people, “here’s my song” without it just being strictly about the song itself during the promotion period.

Once you have a good batch of material (between 5-12 songs) that you’ve released in this way, package them all together along with one new song as a way to launch an album or EP from that group of material. That way you're always releasing something new and you’ll have albums or EPs for those who really want them.  

As you’ve read, there's a lot of good reasons to release singles consistently over time rather than releasing albums.  It’s especially good for the independent musician who may have more limits on their time and financial resources.  Having said that, there are still reasons to release albums and if that's what you have your heart set on, then go for it.  Just keep in mind there will be more challenges with promotion when you’re releasing an album, unless you have a huge promotion budget. It’s a new world for the modern independent musician.  The more you try to adapt to the current market the more success you will experience.  Good luck with your releases!
Feel free to add some comments below on what your experience has been with your projects!  Also if you need help with your songs or recordings feel free to email me.

Here's links to my site and social media:

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Year That Was 2014

Well 2014 is finally over and I figured I'd write a year in review to close it off right.  This was my 15th year running my music production company Morph Productions and it was definitely a unique one.  Aside from my regular duties helping lots of indie artists with their music projects I was also put in the position of promoting my own band and seeing a song I co-wrote get released by Sony.  Always great trying new things and developing new opportunities!

The beginning of the year had my band, As the City Rumbles Underneath release their first EP.

As I've said in the past one of the reasons I wanted to do this project was to put myself in the position of my clients and learn how to promote an indie project.  Starting from nothing was really daunting but I ended up having a lot of success with my promotion efforts.  The band's music was featured on about 50 blogs, podcasts and internet radio (internet and FM).  I was also able to build our twitter following to 3600 followers and get a lot of interactions with the indie community from it.  I'm going to write a bunch of blog postings about band promotion from what I learned in the next few weeks.  Here was the first one I wrote about building a Twitter following:

Another interesting event that happened this past year was from a collaboration I did with Chris Lago.  We ended up writing a song that ended up being the "the little song that could".  After being released on a popular YouTube channel and getting tens of thousands of views within a few days Armada Music (Armin Van Buuren's label based in the Netherlands) decided to sign and release the song.  A few months later we found out that Sony owns Armada and Sony Canada decided to release the song with full radio support in Canada.  If this wasn't enough to get excited, the song became the "Bell Future Star" of november which means all the Bell Media owned radio stations (Virgin, etc) gave the song a lot of national airplay.  I've had songs on commercial radio before but not to this extent so it was a really good experience.  Here's the song if you want to check it out:

I also began an ongoing collaboration with electronic artist Tep No who had a really great 2014.  Some of our writing collaborations will be coming out early this year but in the meantime here is a remix Tep No did for Nora En Pure that I contributed guitars to.  Really proud of how this turned out!

Last but not least I've been doing a lot of work with The Airplane Boys for their new album that will be released early this year.  Always great working with those guys and I think this new project will be their biggest yet!

So in closing it was a pretty interesting year!  I'd be lying if I didn't say there were some challenges but some good seeds were sewn for 2015.  This year I'm looking forward to the new Airplane Boys project I've been working on being released, new collaborations with Chris Lago and Tep No as well as a new EP being released by my band.  In addition to these projects I'm going to continue to look for more music licensing opportunities as well as more artists to co-write with and develop.  Feel free to email me if you have a project you think I could help you with!

Here's to a great 2015 for you all!

Here's links to my site and social media: