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In The Studio: Successfully Dealing With A Dead Room

Attaining better recording results in an acoustically "dead" space

Many studios built in the 1970’s were designed not to have any acoustic influence on the recorded sound produced in them.

This was accomplished by over-deadening walls, floors and ceilings so no sound waves (leakage) would reflect and add (or subtract) from the instrument’s original sound waves.

Bass traps were purpose-built for controlling sound from electric bass amps, small isolated (and dead sounding) drum booths were mandatory and heavy gobos or baffles were used around all musicians separating them and their instrument’s sound.

Even before 16-track tape recorders became standard, engineers and producers were overly concerned with maximum separation of each instrument for ultimate mixing control.

I can remember throwing extra rugs on the floor, laying moving blankets on top of pianos, and using a beach umbrella over the drum kit to contain and control sound emanation.

After a few years of this approach, some musicians began to complain that they couldn’t hear themselves, and more importantly, couldn’t hear the other musicians.

Their instruments didn’t sound or feel right in these dead spaces. Any time I happen to record in older rooms, built before the ‘70’s dead zone era, musicians are much happier, especially brass sections and drummers.

I had occasion to record a brass session recently in a private-use studio that was built in the ‘70’s, and I was immediately confronted with a disgruntled group of horn players very upset to be stuck playing there.

The producer and I wanted good performances from these guys, yet all we initially heard was complaining about the room and the poor sound of their horns. I needed to liven the room up now!

Short of ripping up all the wall-to-wall carpeting and pulling down all the acoustic treatments, what could I do?

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