The recording industry is big business. Whether it's classical, rhythm and blues, rock-and-roll or a host of other music genres—you name it, there are droves of music aficionados who love it. Producing audio recordings and music videos for today's artists requires extensive marketing, production and distribution, and the recording studio is at the heart of every undertaking. These acoustical and architectural environments and their talented staffs work in concert to create the sounds that set our toes to tapping.
The Russ Berger Design Group (RBDG), Addison, TX, specializes in designing recording studios, broadcast and production facilities. Robert G. Traub, AIA, design principal at the firm, offers key design considerations for ensuring the development of successful recording studio projects.
"Everything begins with the program, just like every other architectural endeavor," Traub says. "How the room will be used, the services that will be provided, the types of groups and the number of people the rooms will accommodate, and the relationship between technical and non-technical spaces must be determined before any further steps can be taken. The recording requirements for accommodating a full orchestra are very different from those for a solo guitarist. One must thoroughly understand the studio's market to get it right the first time. Making changes to the design after construction is underway can be very expensive because there aren't always easy fixes."
Acoustics is another primary concern, and it begins with the building's foundation. Often each room's floor slab must be separate from the building structure to allow adequate isolation between rooms. From there on up, everything about the construction—walls, ceilings, electrical and mechanical systems—must be implemented with the same attention to acoustical performance.
Even standard finishes should be subject to the same sort of scrutiny. For wood floors, for example, sleepers may create undesirable resonance that a continuous plywood subfloor would avoid. Carpet may be used in public areas, but it is often avoided in the control rooms and studios due to wearability issues.
Materials impact both acoustics and aesthetics. "You must look to both sound absorption and diffusion in the sound-critical rooms," says Traub. "Acoustical materials and design features should diffuse sound energy to the room's sweet spot. You want sound to spread both horizontally and vertically. At the same time, you want enough sound absorption, tailored to the entire range of audible frequencies. It's a careful balance."
The increased demand for music video production has made lighting requirements even more of a design concern. Varied light sources may be featured depending on the types of media produced in each room. A softly lit control room will allow viewing screens and monitors to be easily seen, yet adequate illumination is needed for the recording console and other equipment to be operated efficiently. Traub says that task-oriented lighting or combinations of line and low-voltage lighting is generously used to provide targeted illumination to individual areas. To avoid any noise from light sources that might interfere with listening and recording, transformers for low voltage fixtures are located outside of the studio and control room spaces.
Communication between the control room and the recording studio is critical, and that doesn't just mean audio connections. "Visual communication is very important," says Traub. "The mix engineers often need to take in everything that is going on in the studio. We use glass extensively—often as an entire wall—between two rooms, and ensure that our design provides for optimum sight lines from the control room to other recording spaces."
Regarding a facility's aesthetics, Traub says that RBDG prefers to create timeless designs. "Talent and staff often hold long recording sessions," he says. "They need environments that are comfortable and easy on the eye. Detailing must be of a caliber that stands up to physical wear as well as aesthetic trends."
Two of RBDG's recent projects illustrate Traub's points. The firm designed a 3,500-square-foot addition, dubbed Studio 900, to PatchWerk Recordings in Atlanta, GA. A warehouse attached to the company's existing studio was transformed into a recording facility including a new 5.1 mix room, a studio with three isolation booths, a machine room, and a kitchen and client lounge. The space required extensive reconstruction to become both aesthetically and sonically suitable as a studio.
On the interior, an open feel was achieved by using large expanses of glass throughout the addition. The three isolation booths have glass fronts, and two were stacked vertically to maximize sightlines. The client lounge was located above and to one side of the main recording room and looks through the third isolation booth into the space. Personnel in the control room can easily make eye contact with individuals in the studio, client lounge and isolation booths.
Interior materials used in the PatchWerk addition include a combination of hardwoods, metals and stone, demonstrating a unique use of acoustical finishes to create a natural, calming environment. Slate flooring in the hallway, distressed metal doors and hardware, and white oak flooring in the recording spaces create architectural interest while meeting material longevity requirements.
RBDG faced a similar acoustical challenge when it was asked to design new audio post and music production facilities for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), Stamford, CT. This renovation project involved the creation of new technical rooms as part of a larger facility, working within an existing shell and adjacent to other ongoing functions. The firm transformed a 9,500-square-foot warehouse area that had formerly housed a "practice ring" and dozens of storage boxes into an audio post control room and announcer booth; a music control room, live studio and isolation booth; a central equipment room; offices; and a lobby that provides a separate outside entrance for the department.
The existing warehouse slab was continuous. In this case, the cost-effective solution was to create "floating floors" to isolate individual rooms. The floors were built atop the base floor to provide acoustical separation for the new technical rooms.
With the additional height of the floating floors, it was necessary to construct ramps to reach the entries of the new rooms. As a result, these ramps help to architecturally define each technical space. A distinct black and white checked floor, part of the circulation path, further helps to guide users through the improved layout of the new facility.
Sound diffusion in the audio studio was achieved in part by waves of acoustically diffusive ceiling treatments and cherry wood diffusers on the walls. These features add architectural interest while also contributing to an excellent acoustical environment.
Brazilian cherry floors, split-faced concrete block and a warm-toned transitional aesthetic add to the comfort and richness of the new technical spaces. The result is a timeless facility that will meet the WWE's production requirements for years to come.