I'm a long time reader, first time poster. I am finally doing something that I thought would be worth sharing with this awesome community of studio lovers like me. I hope you enjoy the unfolding process. (SPECIAL GS NOTE: I actually wrote this for my Tumblr blog, and copied the text across to here so I didn't have to retype it. Some of the language assumes readers know nothing about what I'm talking about. I'm sure many of you guys know way more about this than me, so I am totally open to suggestion and criticism. I hope borrowing text from my blog is not bad GearSlutz etiquette!)
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I started a new project this week, of the hands-on kind. It's something I've been thinking about, dreaming about, talking about for a long time, and this week I finally took the first few steps. I've been running my recording/writing/teaching studio out of a small commercial space on the Gold Coast for the last couple of years, but its proven to be quite an expensive venture to maintain, with many-a-limitation on what I can do in the space. Don't get me wrong, its been awesome having a dedicated space in an industrial estate where I can make plenty of noise (especially after business hours), but being in a joint owned my someone else, and turning an existing structure into a music studio is not ideal.
Much better to have EMPTY space to turn into something ideal right? The problem is, I don't want to tie myself down to another larger rental, and I don't want to buy a commercial property because the truth is, I don't know where I'll be in a couple of years.
Here's my existing studio space:
Not bad, eh? But not ideal. I hate the carpet, and its a pretty noisy estate so I can only really record there after hours. The kind of contraction I could do is also very limited, so time to move on and up (gradually).
A good six months ago I was doing a wedding gig in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, and a lovely man called Mark "Sparky" Paltridge was on drums at this particular event. The gig was great fun, and he seemed like a great muso, switched on dude, and knowledgeable engineer. I asked him what he did as a day job, and he told me that he had his own recording studio built in a shipping container called Spark1 Studios. I had heard of this, read about it on GearSlutz, and I had even lusted over the photos of it on his website. It was exciting to meet the man and pick his brains. If I wasn't already sold on the idea of a shipping container studio, I was after that night.
After the gig, around midnight, he invited me to come back to his house (which was conveniently 10 minutes away from the venue) and have a closer look at the studio. When I got there, I was in love. He had made a fully functional and really quite beautiful studio in a transportable steel box! Brilliant. Sparky said he was thinking about making a business out of producing these studios, and though I thought that was a superb idea, I knew I would prefer to Do It Myself, as I love the process of a project like that, and I love to learn and get better at that sort of thing. Have a look at the amazing studios-in-a-box he is producing commercially now at: Container Studios :: Shipping Container Recording Studios
(from my reading here, I believe Sparky is a member and has already shared his awesome containers with some of you? Has anyone bought one from him yet?)
This week, I coughed up close to $3000 and bought myself a giant box (a refurbished one in really good condition, delivered to my door)! I hit Bunnings (hard) and started to gather the materials I needed to build it, and so far I've spent two mornings in there getting my hands dirty and knees bruised building what will one day be my permanent moveable recording studio. For now it resides on the property in Northern NSW (near Byron Bay for those who don't know the region) that I live on with my wife, son and parents-in-law. It will probably stay here permanently, but there's comfort in knowing that if I ever move interstate, or even overseas, there is the option of bringing it along. Expensive process yes, but cheaper than building a new one every time I move!
I thought it would be nice to document the process of building the studio, even if it is a slow process. In my research about how to do it for myself, I have found that most of the construction photo diaries online are incomplete or lack detail, so I will try to fill that niche by offering a complete, detailed and brutally honest account of my process - even if that does highlight the fact that I am a completely amateur carpenter with no training, skill or experience, and a terrible habit of being impatient and doing things before I've fully considered or tested them.
Here goes! DAY ONE - BUILDING HALF A FLOOR!
The Mud Map.
Outside of my box, now filled with materials. I bought treated pine sleepers, and stacked them two high at the front and back, and then put them on two solid concrete pavers in each corner. I figure this minimise moisture on the timber, and puts the container further from the ground - easier to clean and maintain the underbelly and less likely to rust through. The doorstep is made of two steel framed MDF display stands that were chucked out at my local Big W, so I nabbed them thinking they would one day be handy. And I was right!
(Note the brand new Ozito circular saw from Bunnings. Cost about $40 and worked a charm cutting Yellow Tongue particle board flooring to size). I love cheap power tools!)
I decided that it would be a good idea to create a moisture barrier between the body of the container and my internal construction. These things are meant to be water tight, but you just never know, and it could always rust through. If that happens at least I can repair the external body knowing that no (or at least very little) moisture will get through and start rotting my floor! I bought a cheap bag of builders plastic and laid it down inside the container to cover the area of the floor frame, and then some. The plan is to do the same with the walls and ceiling, and run each ascending layer BEHIND the previous so any water that leaks in through the roof (hopefully none) will run down the outside of the plastic and escape through the floor. Held it to the wall (temporarily) with duct tape as I measured out the 70x35mm pine studs for my floor frame.
In all my reading and talking about acoustics and studio construction, two things are abundantly clear: 1) floating your floor/room on rubber, and in any way possible decoupling said room from external structures is essential to creating a soundproof environment; 2) U-boats are freaking expensive!
U-boats (for those who don't know) are a little U shaped dense rubber socket that fit over floor joists and sit between the timber and your floor surface (be it concrete, or in this case hard wood on steel). They are made of pretty solid rubber, and if you distribute the right amount of them across your floor, they don't over-compress wit weight and the result is a room sitting on a ever-so-slightly squishy surface that absorb the vibrations of your internal noise making. The problem is they cost $5-$10 a piece, and you need HEAPS of them.
Being on an incredibly tight budget, but not wanting to forgo the float age completely, I opted to buy 1 metre of this rubber matting from Bunnings. It is quite dense, quick thick, and has a ridged surface that means it is effectively thicker than other flat rubber sheets for not much extra cost. I cut this into strips of about 35mm wide (the width of my pine floor studs) and stapled them to the majority of the timber lengths used in my floor frame. Effectively, my entire floor is on tyres now, not just every foot or so. In my head this is better (and hundreds of dollars cheaper) than U-boats. I could very well be wrong, and I guess it largely depends on how the rubber holds up under the weight of my room (NOTE FROM THE FUTURE: After finishing the floor frame and installing all the yellow tongue floor panels, and resting most of the materials for the walls and ceiling on top of the floor substructure, I can see no signs of the rubber compacting yet. This is a good omen!)
My wife and (baby) son helped me hammer together the frame outside the container (its good to have some elbow room to hammer, ever better to have a wide open, straight-edged front door to carry frames in later!), now fitted with "tyres" and we lifted the first (rear) section of floor into the container.
A snug fit, with a few millimetres either side of "breathing room". Once this first section of floor frame was in place I measured and cut my supports between joists (not sure of the chippy terminology here). I had planned ahead (amazing!) and made the centres (the spaces between joists) the same size as my insulation batts (580mm), except for the last one which had to be smaller to make the whole thing work (see mud map above... haha). The longer spaces were made exactly 1350 long (the exact lengths of my rock wool batts) and the shorter ones ended up about two thirds of a batt long. A few cuts were needed, but most of the insulation batts fit perfectly into the frame:
I used Bradford Soundscreen Rockwool batts - these are made of volcanic rock, shredded into microfibers and mashed together into rectangular cubes of wools. I know... amazing right? This stuff absorbs the most sonic vibration of any insulant, and is also really good at keeping heat out and cool in. Ideal for recording studios. It also makes you really freaking itchy if you get it on your skin, so do as I did and suit up! I used the R2.0 thickness (partly for price, partly for practicality). As you can see, my frame was pretty much perfectly sized in advance for these batts. This may seem rudimentary to DIY kings and chippies, but to me it is an historic breakthrough as everything I've ever built before this was devoid of foresight.
Final step of day one, I lay down the first few sheets of Yellow Tongue floor board and hammered them in. This stuff is particle board (made of pine shavings basically) glued together with a thick sticky resin that makes it very strong and can support a lot of weight. It's a tongue-and-groove style board, so you can lock them in together using the yellow plastic tongue that sticks out one side into the groove on the other side. Or so the brochure says.
I myself found it very difficult to get the tongue into the groove (that's what she said!)... maybe its a two man job, maybe I didn't have enough room to manoeuvre, maybe I should have refrained from hammering once sheet down until the next was fitted to it. Either way, I only managed to get some of the tongue in, so most of my flooring has these little grooves in the seams. Probably not such a problem later on as I will be laying down a foam sound and moisture barrier and laminate flooring (that looks like beautiful cedar boards) over the top. I guess I'll find out if this was a dumb mistake or not.
So that was all I managed in day one. Felt pretty darn tired after this much. Couldn't be bothered cutting the rest of the flooring into size and placing it, so I adjourned for the day ready to head off to my existing studio to start teaching. I've already done day two and photographed it, but I'll blog it another day. Suffice to say my process got faster, so I was working at 150% efficiency on day two and I finished the floor completely (the front section and cut and placed all the yellow tongue). I also started to see the flaws in my planning and execution emerge - don't worry. Nothing derailing... just some raw truths about how much of an amateur I am!
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More to come as I've already completed Day 2... just need to organise the photos and write it out!