Planning Your Ideal Recording Space

Moving is always a stressful experience, but all the more so when your personal recording studio is going with you. Careful planning and some expert advice can make the process as painless as possible. EM explains how to conquer the challenges of relocating your project studio.

FIG. 2:Visualize your new studio in operation, taking into account physicalattributes such as the location of doors, windows, posts, closets, andelectrical outlets, before you begin planning your equipment layout.(click graphic for bigger version)FIG. 5: Thisdiagram shows the room in Fig. 2 with all the equipment arranged infunctional stations. The locations of instruments such as keyboards orvibes will depend largely on how often they will be used. Note that thedrums are away from windows and near the garage door. (click graphicfor larger version)

Relocating is a major physical, emotional, and financial undertakingthat every person faces at some point. If part of your world is arecording studio, you have more to consider when moving than mostpeople do. Relocating your studio isn't a big deal if you have littlemore than a portable digital audio workstation (DAW) and a pair ofsmall speakers (that's why many musicians on the road carry suchsystems). For anyone with more gear than that, though, it is a very bigdeal.

Everything changes: the old studio you knew goes away, and a new onerises up. Between those two points lies a crucial transition process,the success of which could have a powerful effect on your musical andaudio experiences for years. Relocating your studio correctly is worththe added time and effort.

This article comes out of many studio moves and redesigns that I'vedone myself or that I've participated in. I learned a lot of lessonsthe hard way and saved myself trouble many times, too. Perhaps I cansave you some now.


When moving your studio, you must address many considerations. Mostare the same as when you're building a studio from scratch, buthopefully to a lesser degree: they consist of logistics, acoustics,electricity, ergonomics, and so forth. That's a lot of ground to cover,but what distinguishes relocating a studio from building one islegacy.

The most significant legacies are your existing hardware andsoftware, and another is the physical layout of your old facility. Youwill transport some legacies to your new studio unaltered, while otherswill change anywhere from slightly to radically. The downtime youexperience while you're moving could be a rare opportunity for you tomake significant changes.

The most effective way to move a studio is to establish what studiodesign and building technique you will use, determine what legaciesexist and how you will handle them, and practice good packing andmoving skills.

The first principle is that a smooth move depends on carefulplanning. It's impossible to overstate the importance of planning for astudio transition, and you can't plan your relocation in too muchdetail (see the sidebar “The Yellow Brick Road”). Planningfor a studio move or redesign is incredibly time-consuming. You have nochoice but to put in the hours, either before your move or afterward,when you're troubleshooting in the middle of sessions. Most of yourtransition from a working old studio to a working new one will involvelabor for your analytical left brain, though right-brain leaps willcertainly come in handy at times.


Any studio-design process should be application-driven, butcircumstances often define contextual ground rules that you must factorin to your planning. Ask yourself key questions such as, how quicklydoes your new studio need to be up and running? Will you own thebuilding or otherwise have the ability to make major modifications, oris it a rented space where serious alterations are out of the question?How long do you expect to be in the space? Will you be doing the samekind of audio work or taking on new directions?

How soon your studio needs to be operating after the move candetermine how much change can be tolerated in the process of buildingyour new studio. And if you are planning to do another kind of work— moving into sound design, for example, when you previously didonly music — your functional needs may change, and your task maybe closer to a complete redesign than just moving your old setup.

If you will be moving near the start of or during a project, yourmost effective strategy for getting back online quickly will be totransport your studio as is — lock, stock, and patch bay —to the new location and set it up exactly as it was. If it worked whereit was originally, you know that any problems showing up in the newplace are due to something that was changed in the move rather thanbeing fundamental to the studio's functional design.

With thorough planning and orchestration of the process, you canmake radical changes in your studio, but only if you can afford somedowntime. Are you moving soon? Now is the time to take a long, hardlook at what continues to serve you in your present studio and what isno longer of use.

Many personal-studio owners are moving production entirely intotheir computers (see Fig. 1). Perhaps it's time to sell off abunch of outboard synths, signal processors, and even your mixer, andbeef up your DAW to handle everything. Such a change could make yourmove much easier by reducing the amount of hardware you'll have to setup, but it will involve more software configuration andtroubleshooting, which might take as much time if not more. On theother hand, adding surround production to your new studio means havingto deal with significant hardware issues — not only speakerplacement (though that's enough), but additional acoustical issues,monitor control, and cable runs.

Deciding well before the move what equipment changes you want iscrucial to effectively planning the new studio. Failure to make suchdecisions almost guarantees a kludge when you have to find a place forgear you hadn't factored into your new layout. It's not enough to knowwhat equipment you'll be adding or changing; you must also know how itwill be housed, what the furniture will look like, and what cable andAC power needs will be introduced. Without complete information, youwon't properly understand your studio's footprint when you get into thenew space.

If you can make real modifications to the building or space, you canconsider a whole raft of solutions that you would need to finesse in atypical rental situation. Adding or removing walls, cutting holes forcable runs or ventilation, or even mounting diffusers or bass trapsaren't considerations for most apartment dwellers. For them, lessersolutions and resourcefulness will be the way. Whereas a home ownercould install solid-wood quadratic diffusers, for instance, rentersshould probably stick to lightweight plastic or foam models.

Unless you have a job that requires it, don't plan extensivephysical modifications to a place you won't be staying in for long. Anymodifications you do make should be easy to remove and have the leastpossible impact on the building. I once moved into a house I knew Iwould not be staying in more than a couple of years; I thereforedevised my overhaul so that when I moved again, I could tear down thestudio, transport it, and quickly set it up again in approximately thesame configuration. And when I did move to a new house, I was up andworking within days of starting setup.


When you relocate, improving your studio setup has a lot to do withhow well you understand its present strengths, weaknesses, andidiosyncrasies. What systems work well? What things are a royal pain?What limitations are imposed by your needs and equipment? Sometimesspace constraints or other circumstances prevent you from keepingsomething that works well. Recognizing what works and why will give youinsight into how to replicate or improve it in your new location. Weakspots in a studio are usually quite obvious, so heed those and try toimprove on them in the upcoming round of studio building.

Question everything in a left-brain, analytical way; don't overlookan important change because you're so used to your currentlyless-than-optimal system that you simply accept it. If you're acomposer working primarily from your keyboard, examine whether thekeyboard is placed where you can see your computer monitor readily,hear everything clearly, and easily access all the necessary controls.If your most important work is mixing, look for ways to improve accessto your mixer or control surface and outboard gear, to make patchingand routing easier, and to make your monitor setup moresymmetrical.

Will you be recording with mics? Note what made the best recordingspots in your old studio and why, how well sight lines worked out, andwhether your headphone monitoring situation was adequate. Double-checkall the basics for the kind of work you do and learn what you can fromyour history.

Every studio contains items that were placed in the only spot wherethey would fit. Sometimes that creates a situation that invitesrepetitive stress injuries or other ergonomic dysfunction. It isimportant to remedy such problems when you move.

Your new space will offer a fresh set of layout opportunities andlimitations. If you analyze your present studio and identify seriousproblems its layout causes, you can make better equipment placement ahigh priority for the new studio.


After you've determined in detail what your priorities will be for anew studio, look at the physical space you'll be using and take stockof the layout. First try to notice obvious characteristics that mighthave a large impact. Is the new room significantly larger or smallerthan your current studio? What shape is the space? How high is theceiling? (Is it all the same height?) How thick are the walls? Whereare the windows?

Inspect the electrical service: note the number of outlets, theirlocations, and whether they are grounded outlets (or if — luckyyou — they're hospital-type isolated-ground outlets). Determinethe number and capacity of the circuits servicing the room. Finally,test each of the outlets. A standard outlet tester from the hardwarestore will tell you what need to know. It's amazing how many houseshave improperly wired electrical service, which is dangerous to bothequipment and people.

Look closely at ways in, out, and through the studio. Some equipmentin my studio goes out for live performances or sessions in otherstudios. In one of my previous studios, one door led to the garage; notonly did I have to always avoid blocking that door, but I also had tomaintain sufficiently wide passage to move equipment in and out of it.I placed my drums, which were some of the largest items that went inand out, right next to the door.

What lies on the other side of each wall? How close are theneighbors and on which sides? If neighbors are close on one side butnot on another, consider where your biggest noisemakers will gorelative to the close side. In one studio, I faced the monitors awayfrom the side closest to the neighbors, and the drums sat next to thegarage, which acted as a sound buffer. When you look at doors andwindows, also consider security. Should you put in an alarm system? Ifso, what doors or windows should trigger the alarm? Where might youwant motion detectors?

I usually seal off windows and doors to reduce sound leakage in bothdirections. In one house, my studio had a sliding glass door to theoutside. Because two other doors led into the studio, the glass doorwasn't really needed and provided nothing but sound leakage and asecurity risk. Because I was renting the house, my solution couldn't betoo extreme. A woodworker friend created a fairly heavy wooden boxfilled with foam. I attached it to the door frame using only fourscrews (though quite a few screws held the box together) and usedweather stripping between the box and the frame to protect the paintaround the glass and provide a seal. I also mounted diffusers insidethe studio. Thus, isolation was much improved. When I moved out, Iremoved the entire affair in less than a minute; the four screw holesthat remained were easily filled.


One of the toughest issues to deal with in a studio is ventilation.If you're renting, chances are you're stuck with the existingsituation. However, if you can modify your space, examine how theventilation is situated and consider what would improve it. Often thestudio's location within the building will tell you something abouttypical temperatures in the room. If the room is in a basement, forexample, the temperature will be more stable than if it's a room withlots of windows facing the afternoon sun.

Regardless of location, though, project studios often end up beingwarm because the measures required to isolate for sound usually make itdifficult for air to get in or out. Filled with equipment and people, astudio with no airflow can get very warm indeed. Commercial studiosspend tremendous amounts of money on high-capacity, low-velocity airconditioning. Such a solution is beyond most personal-studio budgets,but you might devise your own methods to imitate professional tacticssuch as placing insulation where the ducting turns in labyrinthineductwork, which reduces sound transmission through the ventilation.

It's safer and often cheaper to do your own ventilation than yourown electrical work, but a professional will likely do a better job. Itis reasonable, however, to do some research, plan your ventilationsystem, and then hire a professional to at least look at your plans andyour space and offer feedback.

Another point of infrastructural analysis should be storage. Storageis often overlooked because space is limited. You will need space,though, for empty boxes, product literature, documentation, supplies,unused or broken equipment, and media archives. You can break down yourstorage needs into three areas: storage for things you need close athand (manuals for the gear you use most often, headphones, and so on),storage for items to which you need fairly easy but not immediateaccess (such as blank project media, cables and adapters, andmicrophones), and “cold” storage for items you rarelyneed.

You've probably provided storage space in your existing studio forclose-at-hand items to save time and annoyance having to hunt for them.However, your intermediate and cold-storage spaces might be verydifferent when you relocate. Cold storage can sometimes be off-site,but beware of spaces in which the temperature or humidity may vary. Ifyou're storing empty boxes, you'll probably have no problem, butsensitive items such as archival media must be stored in a controlledenvironment if you ever want to use them again.


When you've made a thorough assessment of the new space's presentstate, your next step is to visualize it as an operational studio. I dothis by actually standing in the (hopefully) empty room and visualizingmy studio's major stations in the space before me. Although I later getmore detailed with measurements and mock-ups, my initial visualizationsession usually leads to the basic plan I end up following.

Again, the room's physical features tend to push the layout in acertain direction (see Fig. 2). For example, a doorway thatcan't be blocked affects the placement of large objects. Unless theroom is square, you must decide on the orientation of the studio and,most especially, your monitoring. I generally position a studio'scontents lengthwise, with the most space behind me, for three reasons.First, it decreases audible reflection (slap) from the back wall.Second, it allows the most space for placement of surround speakers.And third, a lengthwise orientation places most of my equipment behindme and thus reduces many sources of asymmetrical lateral and frontreflections.

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Electrical service will always be a factor in setting up a studio.If all the outlets in the room are on two walls, you must place theequipment requiring the most outlets along those walls; otherwise,you'll need extension cords to carry the power to where it's needed. Ifthe outlets are ungrounded (which they almost always have been in myproject studios), you will want to at least run a ground wire from theoutlets to a ground point such as the breaker box or a cold-water pipe.While you are visualizing, try to identify the path the ground wiremust take. And be warned that cold-water pipes are not reliablegrounds; they might be plastic or, even if they're metal, have poorelectrical connections between lengths of pipe, because the solder usedfor plumbing is not the same as solder used for electrical wiring.

Without a doubt, it is always best to hire a licensed electrician todo your electrical work, even though it may seem like a lot of moneysimply to run one wire. You don't want to take chances with wires inthe breaker box, and you don't want to violate building codes (seeFig. 3).


Youcan break down the studio-transition process into the steps below,which I recommend doing in the following order wheneverpossible:

  1. Consider yourschedule (including impending sessions)
  2. Understand yourcurrent studio
  3. Assess the newspace
  4. Spec the newstudio
  5. Generate a setupplan (including documentation and procedure)
  6. Generate atear-down and packing plan for your old studio, based on your newstudio setup
  7. Make newhardware acquisitions or changes
  8. Tear down yourold studio
  9. Pack up your oldstudio
  10. Makeinfrastructural changes to the new studio
  11. Move thestudio
  12. Set up the newstudio
  13. Test the newstudio
  14. Get back towork

Evenwith good planning, your schedule might not work out in this exactorder. Still, you can come pretty close to this sequence of events,which should simplify the move. Note that almost half of these stepsinvolve advance planning, before the move even takes place.

Studio grounding is a complex subject that involves managing achallenging relationship between safety ground and signal ground. Theground wire I'm referring to is to provide safety ground, and it'sclearly the more important of the two. Hum and AC noise don't mattermuch if you're in the hospital from a bad electric shock. Once again,if you can make significant modifications, you have the option of doingthe studio AC power right by constructing separate circuits andisolated-ground outlets with a star-grounding scheme that leads to aproper spike sunk into the earth. For that, you should definitely hirea licensed electrician, and preferably one with experience wiringrecording studios.

Don't overlook what might be the most fundamental consideration forelectrical service: how much power you need. Do the math to figure outhow much current your studio will require, and make sure the electricalservice will accommodate it. If it won't, make sure that more servicecan be added. In one studio, I was so close to the bone on electricalservice that I blew the breaker whenever I cranked up one seldom-usedbut power-hungry piece of equipment. Because adding capacity was not anoption, I had to run an extension cord to another room whenever Iwanted to use that device.


Your next step is to consider what needs to fit in your new studio.I break down a studio's layout into functional stations. Someexamples are stations for mixing, visual and audio monitoring, outboardprocessing, patching and routing, a keyboard controller, otherinstruments, and a computer. I have several modular analog synths in mystudio, so it has a modular-synth station, too.

For each station, there are three major considerations: ergonomics,connectivity, and footprint. Take my modular synth station, forexample. It is not the station I use most frequently, but it consumes alot of space. So to accommodate its size and its connections, I preferto place it against a back wall or somewhere that isn't a primelocation but is still close enough for cabling to be practical. Thelast time I moved, I really wanted to keep the cabling from my previousstudio. I used a mic snake (which I already had) and a handful ofadapter cables to connect the modular synth's outputs to the snake'sstage box. At the other end, I used adapters to plug the snake intopatch bays. That was a simple, versatile, and robust solution, as agood mic snake is designed for heavy-use cable runs.

Note that cable-run paths and lengths are not the only aspects ofconnectivity to take into account; you must also consider how you willaccess the connections. Any station that has a substantial number ofconnections will require you to physically get in and deal with thoseconnections at least occasionally and in some cases, regularly. Makesure your plans allow sufficient access.

In my studio, I need two or three feet of access behind my rack ofpatch bays and routers for the normal futzing around I have to doduring projects. Because I never have studio spaces that allow me toleave the rack that far from the wall, though, I make sure I haveenough service loop (extra cable) and clearance in front of the rack toroll it out when I need to (see Fig. 4).

If you have stations for acoustic instruments, such as a piano (Ihave a vibraphone in my personal studio), one very importantconsideration is finding the locations that are best for themacoustically. My vibes live in a space that's convenient forpracticing, but for recording, I move them to a spot with betteracoustics. If you have a piano in your studio, that approach might notbe an option, and the piano's location might dictate your studio'slayout.

After you've figured out what needs to fit, your next step is tomeasure existing stations and estimate the footprint of any newstations you plan to add. My approach is to go into a two-dimensionaldrawing program, draw a scale representation of the room, and make andlabel objects proportioned to represent the stations in the studio.Then the game becomes a cross between chess and a jigsaw puzzle as Ishuffle the stations around onscreen, looking at each possiblearrangement and evaluating its desirability in terms of ergonomics,connectivity, and footprint for each station (see Fig. 5). Ingeneral, the more you bring from your previous studio, the fastereverything will fall into place, because many of the problems you'llencounter in the new space are the same as problems you faced andsolved in previous rooms.

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My project studio, Toys in the Attic, has a lot of outboardprocessors that produce sounds I have yet to get from plug-ins andsoftware tools. It also houses a digital mixer. Consequently, I have alot of cabling, which is a primary consideration whenever Irelocate.

Given what it would cost to replace some or all of the cabling, Iprefer to keep what I have. Cable length, then, imposes obvious limits.I have my DAW interface in a rack that must sit within several feet ofmy computer's soundproof enclosure. Accepting my cable-lengthlimitations severely restricts where I can place my mixer, my patch bayand routing rack, and my computer enclosure.

Because my studio has so much outboard gear, I spend a lot of timeplanning cable runs — their lengths, paths, labeling, bundling,and protection from foot traffic. Make sure your cable runs areidentified and measured well in advance. I use a database to keep trackof every cable and every connector on every device.

If you're moving into surround production, you face additionalrestrictions. Few things will limit your studio-layout options likeadding surround monitoring, because it involves placing monitors allaround the room in what ought to be a symmetrical configuration.


When relocating your studio, carefully think through theimplications of any changes you plan to make. If you're buying abeefier new computer and adding a RAID array to lessen your reliance onoutboard hardware, for example, you will eliminate and shrink somestations, but you'll need to isolate fan noise and provide sufficientventilation for the equipment. You might also need a changedconfiguration of AC outlets or more power treatment, such as a voltageregulator or uninterruptible power supply (UPS).

If you will be making significant structural modifications such asadding layers of drywall, be aware of how that will affect thedimensions of the room (see Fig. 6). With thicker walls, narrowpassages could become impassably tight.

So far I've focused on the control room, but you might want to putother available rooms into service as recording rooms. Before lockingin your studio design, identify those spaces and what you'll need tomake them functional (see Fig. 7). You will always need at leasttwo lines running from such a space to the control room, for example— usually a microphone cable and a headphone feed. Plan foradditional lines in case you ever want to use more than one microphoneor you want send headphone mixes to two musicians. Consider whether youwill simply run cables as they're needed or if you should route cablingthrough the walls to a connection panel in one or more rooms.

After you've identified your needs, surveyed the new space, anddevised a layout that factors in changes you want to make, it's a goodidea to double-check your design by imagining a typical session indetail, step by step, to make sure you've considered all the normalactivities and built in enough flexibility to meet unusual needs.

You may ask, for example, what you will do if your new studiodoesn't have enough space to keep seldom-used equipment in the controlroom. If such equipment will be set up on demand, you might want toanticipate where you'll set it up and lay appropriate cables forconnecting it. The cables can remain attached at the destination end(often a patch bay), with the source end properly labeled and coilednear where the equipment will be placed. You might take it one stepfurther and install a box with various connectors for quickly hookingup the equipment you know about as well as other carry-in devices.

You should also anticipate ways you might expand your studio and howthose changes will be accommodated. If you have a business plan thatdefines a growth path, knowing how you'll handle new additions isespecially important. If you know what to expect, it is foolish not toplan for it now.


If you own your studio location and feel entirely confident of yourplans, now is a good time to begin making serious modifications to thespace. You may need to obtain permits, learn about building codes,consult contractors, and purchase materials. Starting the process assoon as possible can greatly reduce the time it takes to get the studioup and running after you've moved. However, be cautious, because makingmodifications prematurely can be disastrous if your plans changesignificantly.

Common improvements are installing acoustical isolation (moredrywall, for example), interior acoustical treatment (bass trapping,absorption, and diffusion), ventilation, and AC power. You might alsowant to seal windows and doors, add a view window between the controlroom and the recording room, run cable through the walls, hangspeakers, or mount video monitors.

Structural modifications can be involved and expensive, but they canalso yield great rewards. If you just bought a house, you might hire anelectrician to run a dedicated ground for the studio, installisolated-ground (hospital) outlets, add circuits sufficient in numberand capacity for the studio, and balance the AC power load. Thoseefforts can go a very long way in making your studio quieter andcleaner than might be possible if you were to use existing householdwiring that's shared with a refrigerator and washing machine.

Whatever your circumstances, it is important to time modificationsthoughtfully. Some must happen before you move anything in, others canbe done as soon as you arrive, and some are best done after everythingis set up. You'll probably want to take measures that affect acousticalisolation before moving in (see Fig. 8). Even if you do, youmight need to adjust it after everything is in place.

Beyond making modifications, you should map out the setup procedurein detail, in terms of setup order, dependencies, and functionalpriorities (what needs to be working first). Those are additionalplanning tasks you need to document in detail and visualize in steps,and I will discuss those topics in more detail in the section onexecuting that setup.


Tearing down and packing your existing studio requires organization.Again, make plans by sitting in the studio and visualizing as you takenotes. Plan the entire teardown and packing process, includingscheduling, before you begin moving anything.

Two factors to consider are dependencies in the teardown (you can'tpack A until you deal with B) and the setup order. Also considerschedule dependencies: which pieces you'll likely need right up untilthe move, and which pieces need to be immediately functional in the newstudio (they're usually the same components). If you have recordingsessions planned, you may have to work your teardown and setupschedules around them and the equipment they'll require (see Fig.9).

Start with low-hanging fruit: things you can tear down and pack withthe least effort and impact. When I move, my modular synths get packedfirst because they have few wired-in connections, they sit in the backof the room, they are large, and they're least likely to be needed upto the studio's last functional minute.

As you consider each item, make note of what you will need toproperly pack it. If movers will be handling your equipment, you'llneed to pack it differently than if you are handling everythingyourself. And packing to go across the country is not the same aspacking to move across town. A long-distance move requires more care inpacking and in choosing your packing materials.

You can learn something by looking at factory packing materials andhow they protect devices. Lighter items may simply have plastic or foamcorners inside a standard cardboard box. Heavier items may have anadditional inner box with standoffs of some sort to absorb shocks.

Using more materials does not always translate to more securepacking, but don't underestimate the treatment your equipment mightendure on a long move. If you have equipment mounted in a good rackbuilt for the road, for instance, you might still want to use foamblocks wedged between each piece of equipment for rear support if itwill be hauled cross-country.

As you plan, identify and note anything that you just can't trust toanyone else. You'll then know what you will need movers to deal with,which will be necessary for them to give an estimate. Knowing exactlywhat you need to move yourself will also tell you how many friends youshould draft into bringing vehicles and strong backs to help with itemsyou don't want movers to touch.


After I've set basic teardown and setup dates and priorities andI've identified the low-hanging fruit, I dive into what, in my studio,is the heart of the beast: cabling. Once again, I survey, visualize,and document like a demon to organize tearing down and packingcables.

Identify all cables whose purpose will be the same in the new studioas in the old. Ensure that they're labeled (at both ends) anddocumented. Then consider how much of the cabling setup it's practicalto move intact. Because my studio was designed around the idea ofmoving it, I was able to pack most of my cable bundles and snakes asthey were. After all my planning was done, I knew which bundles I hadto separate from other bundles, which could stay as they were, andwhich to break down into separate cables for packing.

My patch bay and routing rack has so many connections that it couldhave taken weeks to tear it down and rewire (see Fig. 10). Icoiled and cable-tied most of the many bundles feeding it, placed thecoiled bundles in an open box, and carefully transported the rack withthe accompanying box of still-attached cables. Moving it was quiteawkward and required four people, but the approach saved me atremendous amount of time.

When you're finished scoping out teardown and setup, one taskremains: figuring out the timing. Do not underestimate the importanceof this step. Because of the demands of my day job and the amount ofoutboard components and cabling in my studio, it took two full weeks tocompletely tear it down and pack it. If you don't anticipate how longthe process will take, you may find yourself in a panic as time runsout to vacate your old space. Similarly, you should calculate how longit should take you to reach minimum functionality in your new space,and how long after that to reach full core functionality. (Worry aboutadvanced functionality later.)


Your plan is complete, and now all that remains is to carry it out.In general, I recommend tearing down and packing each item as a singlegesture. If you try to tear everything down and then pack it all,you'll quickly have no room to move, much less pack. Whenever you havekept factory packaging, it's best to use that unless the device beingpacked requires extreme disassembly or some other majorinconvenience.

Pack so that as many items as possible can be lifted and moved byone person. It is easy to pack so many items into a large box that itrequires more than one person or a hand truck to move it, which meansconsiderably more hassle at both ends. Some items will necessarily beheavy, but avoid unmanageably large loads when you can.

As you pack, mark each container and document its contents. I creategeneral classifications (keyboards, computer, speakers, signalprocessing, and so on) and then assign a sequential number for eachitem within each classification. I also sequentially number each itemindependent of the classifications. For instance, I'll have items (23)Keyboards 1, (24) Keyboards 2, and (25) Signal Processing 1. It is alsohelpful to indicate on the item the room it's intended for.

I document everything in a spreadsheet that lists each box's number,contents, classification, and number within the classification. I alsowrite Immediate on the boxes that contain high priority itemsfor setup, and I indicate their importance in the spreadsheet with anote or by using a bold font. Describing the contents in great detailwill really help when you're trying to find something specific in themess of boxes you'll have after you've moved.

Be sure that your equipment is adequately protected. I moved severalof my racks intact, but wrapped each entirely in a layer of packingblankets and a layer of bubble wrap. Secure cables that are beingtransported without being disconnected. I like to label fragile itemswith at least two levels of emphasis: Fragile and EXTREMELY FRAGILE!!The movers won't handle most items so labeled. Be paranoid: theequipment you're saving is your own.

If you are hiring movers, screen them carefully to ensure that theyare conscientious and reasonably sensitive. Warn them that they'll bemoving electronics and delicate items, and be sure they see all of it.My last time move was within the San Francisco Bay Area; I choseCummings Movers (from Burlingame, California). They were excellent:punctual, fast, nice, and best of all, careful in their handling ofeverything.


Unbelievably, moving day arrives, though for me, it has always beenseveral days. Moving my studio typically involves one day of help fromthe Friends Armada, a day of movers, and numerous solo trips in my carover the course of a week or so.

Moving tends to be chaotic, but to the degree possible, manage theplacement of your studio gear when it arrives at its destination sothat you have some idea of where things are. You can also ensure thatthings end up in or near the right room, that nothing gets stacked inways it shouldn't, and that it's possible to navigate through the roomsand stacks. To give myself room to move within the studio, I usuallyplace some of the smaller and lighter items in a separate room such asthe garage.

As boxes are being brought in or immediately thereafter, turn themso you can see the identifying marks. Move key components near wherethey will be needed. Place large items such as racks and furniture attheir respective stations while people are still there to help withanything that will be difficult for you to move by yourself.

Once everything is moved in, it's time to start setup. Find thepieces that need to be set up first, and then find the second round ofitems, including cabling. Clear the studio area as much as possible andthen start unboxing and setting up.


I begin setup by connecting AC power, one station at a time. Then Igo through the stations in order of priority, doing the rest of thecabling one type at a time. After AC, I tackle analog audio. Althoughrunning audio cables so early can make it harder to maintain thenecessary separation between cable runs, analog is usually the mostproblematic cable setup, so I prefer to do it when the least number ofother cabling factors are in place. I connect each station's analogaudio and then check for noise and hum problems. I might then proceedto the analog audio for another station, or I might continue with othercabling for the same station, depending on my setup priorities.

For several reasons, monitoring is the most important system to getup and running first. Once it's working, you can play music to makethings more pleasant, but more importantly, this is the best way tocatch grounding or noise problems in your new studio. Set up yourmonitors, turn them on, and listen. Do you hear noise? Hum? No?Beautiful! That is a vital first step.

If you have a mixing console, that's the next station to set up, formuch the same reason. With the console set up and connected to themonitors, power up and listen again for problems. For me, the problemsusually start showing up when I begin connecting other equipment to thebasic console and monitoring system.

The next thing to connect and check is your recording medium; youmight have a DAW interface that requires a computer to be set up, too.If you use a standalone system or an analog tape recorder, you will bespared setting up the computer. After you connect your monitors, mixer,and primary signal sources, the rest of the setup order can be flexibleaccording to your needs.

Shoot for audio functionality first. For devices such as soundmodules, though, you might need to install MIDI or make otherconnections before you can test the audio. (Don't forget that manysound modules have demo sequences that come in very handy for testingtheir audio outputs.)

After you've installed each station's analog audio and rectified anyproblems, you can run digital audio cables, followed by networking, anddigital control and interface cables, including MIDI. The goal in thisprocedure is to follow good guidelines for cable runs, maintainorganization according to your documentation, and find as many problemsas possible during setup. When properly executed, you can happily livewith the job you've done for a long time. If you don't do it correctlynow, you will need downtime later to redo the cabling.

If the verbiage I've already devoted to cabling has failed to makean impression, let me state explicitly that cabling is tremendouslyimportant, and you should be as immaculate as possible in every detailrelated to your studio's cabling. You will almost inevitably encounterproblems. The more effort you put into keeping your cabling neat,however, the easier it will be to manage and troubleshoot overtime.

You'll want to install as much of your existing equipment aspossible before adding new equipment, but your individual circumstancesmay dictate that you incorporate some new items near the beginning ofsetup. If you're upgrading your DAW hardware, for instance, you willprobably need to do that early because of the DAW's primacy in mostmodern project studios.


Once you have cabled your equipment, you will need to check everyconnection in a methodical way. Do not expect this to proceed smoothly;you will encounter problems of varying severity and may need to makepurchases to fix some of them. Testing every connection is extremelytime-consuming, though in the long run, it takes less time (and is lesstrouble) than troubleshooting in the middle of a session. I have had tospread the complete test sequence over as much as two weeks because Ihad to jump right into sessions in a new studio. Before starting,however, I tested everything I thought I'd need for the sessions, and alittle more.

When you've established that your existing equipment is functioningproperly, you can start introducing new pieces, hardware first, thensoftware. Hardware problems are usually easier to isolate. After all,you can usually unplug hardware and know that it no longer has animpact, whereas software can be trickier to disable with the samedegree of confidence. In fact, installing new software can easily bethe most vexing part of the whole setup procedure.

Once the entire studio is set up, turn your attention to smaller(but no less important) concerns such as unpacking supplies. Locateitems such as adapters and mic clips. Find a permanent home foreverything, and put any boxes you want to keep in cold storage.

In the end, setup and testing can be as application-driven asplanning. Here's an example: my first project after one move was analbum mix. I had little need for MIDI at the beginning of the mix, so Ifocused more on enabling audio and especially outboard processing, andI added MIDI when I was closer to needing it. I tested all of my DAWand mixer I/O and made sure I was getting signal into and out of myoutboard processing, and later concerned myself with samplers and othergear that I wouldn't need for that particular mix.

As you bring the studio online and run the first few sessions,document the problems you encounter, whether they involve equipmentthat is not yet functioning correctly, something that needs to beadded, or a system that needs to be worked out. Your efforts willresult in a checklist that you can work your way through as timepermits and circumstances demand. By the time you've begun diagnosingminor problems, you can consider your new studio functional and yourmove complete.


Moving is difficult and traumatic. The smaller and simpler yourstudio, the less this article concerns you (you lucky dog). Moving mystudio has always been far more work than moving all my otherpossessions. Having done it a number of times now, I know that planningmakes the difference between facing a challenging task and facing theseventh circle of hell.

Without adequate planning, a move will be chaos, and frustrationwill be the least of your worries. With good planning, tremendouseffort is still required, but it is directed and purposeful. The resultwill be a relatively smooth, largely predictable transition that willget you from Studio A to Studio B with the least amount oftribulation.


  1. Don'tunderestimate the importance of planning and the time it willrequire. Everything rides on it. The time you budget for planningshould be directly proportionate to the physical complexity of yourstudio and the degree of modification you intend to make.
  2. Plan to gethelp. If the job is big, help could make a significant difference.If you're drafting volunteers from among your friends, it will be mostefficient to organize the move for them beforehand. Minimize the amountof labor that will be required by documenting everything, by physicallygrouping all the items associated with a task, and especially by notingtasks that must be done in sequence. Also consider your friends'abilities; identify a number of light items for anyone with a bad back,for example.
  3. Don't skimp onpacking materials. In my last move, I went through five boxes ofbubble wrap, ten packets of plastic sheeting, ten packing blankets, andfive rolls of duct tape. I had no breakage at all.
  4. Take specialcare with small, important items. Computer cables and adapters, andeven your mouse, are critical to functionality. Pack such itemstogether and make particular note in your packing list of theirlocations.
  5. Takemeasurements. You'll feel frustrated if you try to set up anddiscover that a cable is too short, but you'll feel like a completeidiot if moving day comes and some objects won't fit through a door, upor down stairs, or in the locations you had planned forthem.
  6. Don't skimp onthe fudge factor. Remember Murphy's Law and add extra slack toeverything you can. Expect the first few sessions in your new studio tobe bumpy ones that will likely involve some troubleshooting and maybeeven additional setup.
  7. Be thorough inyour visualization. Virtual walk-throughs are extremely valuablefor anticipating problems, but only if you do them in fine detail. Itis tempting to make them quick and high-level, but the devil is in thedetails.
  8. Takecharge. When you have movers or friends working for you, your mostvaluable role is not schlepping, but managing the process. Dedicateyourself to that role, because you're the only one who knows how andwhere everything is supposed to go. Don't feel guilty; you'll surely doyour share of physical labor before all is said and done.
  9. Make to-dolists before, during, and after your move. Many tasks will arise inthe course of your planning and moving — so many that you'relikely to forget half as soon as you've thought of them — sowrite everything down as it comes to mind. (As I write this, I'mlooking at nine outlines dealing with things to do for my last studiomove.)
  10. Makecontingency plans. No matter how organized you are, things can goawry. Recognize your absolute highest priorities, such as items you canmove only with help, in case time runs short. Expect that not everyfriend who promises to help you will actually show up. Don't go crazymaking contingency plans, but always identify the tasks that absolutelymust get done and devise a backup plan in case something goesamiss.

Larry the Ohas operated Toys in the Attic for 23 years inover half a dozen locations, providing professional music andsound-design services.