“SHOULD TAKE ABOUT SIX HOURS…”

/August 14, 2016

This was what I apparently told my mate Rick O’Neil a few years back when he asked me how long I thought it might take us to build a rear-wall diffuser for his Turtlerock Mastering room in Sydney.

In the end the diffuser took three weeks, although in my defence the plans changed a few times, and Rick decided to go on holiday halfway through its construction. But certainly from this incident it became abundantly clear that I’m not very good with predicting construction timeframes.

Studio construction is a tricky enterprise, particularly when it comes to predicting how long a job might take to finish. And by ‘finish’, I mean really finish. You know: put trims around windows and doors, paint rooms, lay carpet, install permanent (rather than temporary) lighting, finish off acoustic treatments and audio wiring to and from the various rooms, and so on.

In reality, most studio construction jobs are far more involved in practice than they first seem on paper. And when you’re a building ‘enthusiast’ like me, there’s always an eagerness to start working in the room – rather than on it – long before it’s finished. Problem is, the day you start recording is the day work on the studio grinds to a halt.

Maintaining your enthusiasm for a studio construction project – even if it’s your own – gets harder the longer things take. Most of us want to down tools as soon as possible and start miking things up, and resisting this temptation often becomes too much to bear.

In truth, commencing construction on even the most modest of studio structures without first having a reasonable crack at planning the design, construction method, choice of materials and budget, is folly. You don’t want to be like me and find yourself working on your studio eight years from now, but that’s what can happen when you let your naïve enthusiasm take charge.

In my experience – and as cynical as this sounds – the more a project is driven by an initial blast of exuberance, the more likely it is to never be truly completed. Studio construction can be an exhausting, costly, drawn out and difficult undertaking, even for a professional. For an ‘enthusiast’ the task is epic.

 

PLANNING IS KEY

Your studio construction timeline, budget and plan specifics should be represented by more than just a few scrawls on a napkin. But more often than not that’s exactly what people have – virtually no plan. Most studio owners I know who have built commercial or home studios have only had a floorplan sketch. Beyond that they’ve just winged it. But this is hopelessly inadequate, and only sets you up for a fall or technical stuff-up somewhere down the track.

People who end up working inside their incomplete studio do so for several reasons: either because they have no realistic sense of the time it takes, the effort required, or the costs involved. They either run out of time or money (or both), or the energy required to complete the project. Often they then have no choice but to start working in the room to pay the bills.

 

THE COSTS

Though it’s hard to budget any construction down to the nut and bolt, it’s another thing entirely to make no effort in this regard. Without a budget and some costings, things can get way out of hand financially and, needless to say, this can prove fatal to the project. If you’re thinking of embarking on a studio build, do yourself a favour and make some detailed drawings. Use these to predict what materials will be required and in what quantities.

Get an Excel Spreadsheet running and put some subheads into it of things like: Timber Framing, Slab Constructions, Floating Floor Underlays, Wall Construction finishes, Power and Lighting fixtures, Tool Purchases, Audio Cabling and Routing, Paint & Colour Schemes, Acoustic Panels & Materials, Glues and Screws etc.

In the columns you create for these subheads – which might include a list of specific materials, their quantities and pricing – add further columns for things like: Estimated Construction Time, Construction Method, etc. Where possible put numbers in these columns to represent hours or days, and make sure you sum these together at the top of each column. If you’re thorough, you may get a rude shock when you add these figures up. The costs and time involved might turn out to be four times greater than what you’d naively predicted over a beer in the pub.

The important thing to understand about all this is that the more information you can gather at the start of the project, and the more detail you can put into the spreadsheet, the better informed you’ll be about where this undertaking is likely to take you. Forewarned is forearmed.

 

MOTIVATION

This sort of planning also has a huge impact on your ability to stay motivated about the project, because let’s face it, if you lose interest the project is most certainly doomed.

A spreadsheet that gives you a timeline figure about how long things are predicted to take keeps the home straight in realistic view. In many respects this figure is as important as the total cost. It also allows you to work on specific tasks without dwelling on the big picture so much. Without it, the overall task can become daunting; the end seems nowhere in sight and your energy for the project can suddenly drain away.

Even if the plans or timeline go out of whack, don’t let that affect you. Make changes to the spreadsheet that reflect this inaccuracy by documenting the specifics of the added time or costs, and this will – ironically – keep your mind clear about where the project is at. Nothing is more demoralising than a project with no end in sight. An Excel spreadsheet clears this fog away and keeps your chin up during the difficult periods you inevitably face.

For those with concerned partners, the spreadsheet also lays things out in black and white in ways they can more readily understand. Keeping your spouse informed about things like time and costs, rather than having all the plans and costings in your head, can also dispel tensions that might arise around the project. This might seem like a trivial benefit of the spreadsheet, but I assure you it is not.

When your significant other is in the dark about this enormously time consuming undertaking, and your attempts to clarify what’s happening consist only of rabbiting on about how acoustic panels work or why the floor needs to float, you may be on rocky ground. Keeping things clear on a spreadsheet makes everyone’s life easier, not just your own.

 

PLANS FOR SUCCESS

Recording studios can be everything from fun things to own, to vital infrastructure central to your livelihood. Regardless of a studio’s significance to you, don’t be fooled into thinking its construction will be a doodle, or that they’re cheap to build.

If you’re on the verge of such an undertaking, get some plans going and work on their detail. Build a comprehensive spreadsheet alongside it and cram it with as much specific information as you can muster. Do all this and you will be setup for success. Dive in with nothing and you may never finish…