By Michael W. Dean
The Freedom Feens
Genesis Communications Network
CASPER, Wyoming — In my August 1st TALKERS article “Quick-and-Dirty Three-Minute Sound Conditioning,” I showed you how to greatly reduce reverberation in a room at a cost of zero dollars. That solution is simple and quick, and it works. However, it doesn’t look very good. The Quick-and-Dirty Three-Minute Sound Conditioning method is excellent if you’re doing an afternoon of one-off remotes, or for temporary sound conditioning when you’ve moved into a new location and have a show to do. But you’re probably not going to want to keep it that way.
My more permanent method of sound conditioning won’t set you back a lot, and it looks nice enough to leave it up as long as you’d like. It also has the advantage of having a homey feel, as opposed to a “studio” feel. This is nice if you do a syndicated show from home. It can also work in a radio station, especially if you have a room where you often interview guests who’ve never been on the radio before. People who’ve never been on radio can often feel overwhelmed by the experience. You can get a more natural interview out of people who are not radio pros simply by making a room at your radio station feel more like a cozy room in a home. Your interview subjects may forget they’re “under the microscope” and open up more.
I did this sound conditioning treatment years ago, and didn’t take a “before” photo of the room. But here’s a room that is practically identical to how it looked when I moved in:
Basically, the enemies of good sound conditioning are hard, shiny surfaces; parallel walls and congruent angles. Before doing sound conditioning, my home studio had all of these things.
The friends of good sound conditioning are soft, squishy materials, non-parallel walls and non-congruent angles. That’s what we’ll be going for.
I did record some audio in my current studio the day after I moved in, and before sound conditioning. Here’s some before-and-after audio of the room:
You don’t have to cover 100% of all walls, floors and ceilings in a room with soft, squishy materials and eliminate all the congruent angles in order to have a good radio broadcast studio. In fact, I once covered every surface of a room with rugs at my old house and this has three distinct disadvantages. First, it makes the room hot in the summer. Second, it makes the room feel bunker-like and isolated from the world. Some folks like this, but for many people, it makes them feel less chatty and inspired. Third, it can make the sound so “dead” that audio produced in the room has no life.
In my permanent sound conditioning method, I covered most the floor, part of each wall, and none of the ceiling. This creates what I feel is an optimum environment for talk radio: acoustically dead enough to get quality audio, but not so dead that you sound and feel like you’re broadcasting from an underground velvet-lined mausoleum. With a good broadcast mic like any of the Eletro-Voice RE series, a good preamp, and a good voice, your sound will be high quality.
Everything I used in my permanent sound conditioning was purchased at the local big-box department store. It was a one-stop trip.
I covered the floors with two inexpensive short-loop utility rugs. I got inexpensive sound- deadening curtains for the two windows in the room. And I hung some strategically placed short-loop throw rugs on the walls.
TIP: It may be tempting to get a large clear plastic floor mat from an office supply store to put under your chair. But in winter or other dry weather, these will produce static clicks in your microphone chain every time you roll your chair or walk. And plastic floor mats produce so much static from contact with friction that they become magnets for dust and pet hair. If you have pets in your home, plastic floor mats have to be wet mopped about every other day to approach staying clean. Plastic floor mats are really not needed with short-loop rugs and a rolling office chair, and the mat will wreck your audio in more ways than one. They not only produce audible static, they also reflect, rather than absorb, sound. Anti-static mats are available, but cost about ten times as much as the regular office variety. I’d recommend skipping the floor mat entirely.
The curtains I used were labeled “Sound & light-blocking curtains.” The light blocking aspect is incidental to good sound conditioning. But curtains of the type you want are often labeled as blocking both, so look for that. These curtains are not only excellent sound conditioning, but also offer some soundproofing, which is useful if you broadcast from a residential or high-traffic area.
I usually keep the curtains on one window closed while doing a show (the window facing the street), but like to keep the curtains on the other window open.
It’s a nice view while broadcasting, and this window does not face a very noisy direction. We have triple-ply windows, so it keeps out all but loud noises, which are rare out this side of the house. This window looks out into nature, so I can watch birds and squirrels frolic behind my computer screen while doing a show. This gives a more open mindset, which leads to a better show, in my opinion. You may feel differently, and want to shut out the world while broadcasting. Or you may have a lot of ambient outside noise, and need to shut all the curtains. Even with the curtains open, they do provide some sound conditioning. They are thick, soft and squishy, which is what you want.
The rugs on the wall are the most important ingredient in all of this. You certainly don’t need to cover the whole wall, but it’s best to place one rug near the geographic middle of each parallel wall. I also added a long thin runner rug vertically in the corner behind my microphone. A 90-degree intersection of two walls behind a microphone is detrimental to good sound conditioning. It’s a breeding ground for reverb. Having a microphone near an untreated corner is bad studio design even if your microphone is largely directional, and pointed away from the corner. I not only recommend putting a runner rug there if you are near a corner, but curve the rug in a bit rather than trying to make it form to the hard angle of the corner. This is not only more acoustically sound, it’s easier to do.
I hung the rugs with small nails (18 gauge) about two inches long. I used a stud finder to locate at least one stud for each rug. But these rugs are light enough that you don’t need to put each nail into a stud. And I only put nails at the top of the rugs. There’s no need to hammer down every edge of the rugs.
I used two nails for the small rug, two nails for the vertical runner, and three nails for each of the three larger rugs. They’ve held securely for a long time.
All in all, my investment for the curtains, curtain rods, wall rugs and floor rugs was about $250. And it took less than three hours from the time I left home to go to the store until I was finished sound conditioning the room.
There are cheaper ways to sound condition a room, as I explained in my previous article. And there are absolutely more expensive ways. But those more expensive ways often produce a sterile-feeling and overly dead-sounding room.
I like the in-between sound conditioning method for a home studio, because it sounds good, alive and makes the room feel comfortable and inviting. This can help produce talk radio that sounds more natural…for the host, for in-studio guests, and for the listener.
Michael W. Dean is co-host of The Freedom Feens which is syndicated by Genesis Communications Network, and can be heard every Saturday and Sunday from 12:00 noon to 2:00 pm CT. Michael Dean also runs the free audio tip website Creamy Radio Audio. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.