The space that you use for your recording studio can truly make or break the creative flow and enhance or impede your music creation process. A great space can be as much of an instrument in your recording sessions as a guitar or drum set. The recording space places your listener in the room with the musicians, which is why a vocal recorded in an untreated bedroom sounds drastically different than one recorded in a treated vocal booth. It’s why high ceilings make a drum kit sound huge and expansive.
Many engineers and mixers try to pump some of these spaces back into their mixes using reverbs and delays, but both options have some limitations. There is some non-linearity to how a source interacts with a microphone that can only happen in real-time (in a real space).
In other words, you can’t change the way your instrument bounces off the walls going into the microphone; you can only simulate a similar result after the fact.
For engineers and producers working in a cabin environment, this is just where the benefits of their studio start…
Natural Room Treatment
There are literally thousands of acoustic principles that go into great acoustic design, but one of the most common ones to get addressed in the recording studio is the topic of diffusion. If you’re unfamiliar, diffusion is essentially the process of spreading out and breaking up the audio waves to prevent standing waves in your studio space.
This principle is why you rarely see parallel walls in a studio – having 4 walls all at 90-degree angles to each other at the same length is great for simple construction, but terrible for sound. These cookie-cutter square rooms create standing waves by reinforcing some frequencies while creating unwanted nulls in others depending on the size of the room.
An engineer’s first instinct should be to apply treatment to break these up. While treatment can range from bass traps to acoustic foam placed strategically, another common way to break up standing waves is with diffusers. These are the panels (commonly wood) that look like 3D checkerboards you’ll usually find scattered around a recording or mixing space, although other types of diffusers exist too.
So where do cabins play a role in all of this acoustic treatment? Well as it turns out, the natural wood walls of a cabin do a lot more for sound than many people would expect.
The porous, uneven surface of wood is a great, natural way to break up standing waves and cut down on the early reflections you might get with drywall. The space between the wood boards allows some waves to pass through, albeit with less of an impact than dedicated diffusers might. If your space has rounded wood timbers such as the outside wall/frame of many log cabins, they’re great at dispersing sounds evenly in all directions.
Use the Space
Whether you’re working in a small log cabin or a big one, you can use the space (inside and out) to your advantage. A cabin’s natural beauty can inspire some creativity just off of the surrounding views. By having a secluded space to work on your music, you can really soak in the beauty of a great cabin and it’s surroundings from lakes to mountains and everything in between.
It’s not just motivation for the musicians – engineers and producers should soak in the creative inspiration a cabin studio can offer as well. In the past, engineers have been known to record OUTSIDE of the studio, letting the ambience of the outdoors become the space in their tracks. A big city studio with a lot of traffic could never offer that kind of flexibility.
Inside, you can take some liberties with how you’re recording too. While a small cabin might offer a more intimate performance with just a booth, larger cabins offer the flexibility of recording in multiple rooms. A cabin with a large room and an “A-frame roof could be perfect for recording big, open drum recordings. These types of spaces give you even more flexibility by allowing you to experiment with your microphone placement within the space.
Mixing In A Log Cabin
Mixing in a log cabin has proven to be one of the most efficient environments if you can optimize your workflow within the space. When I first heard that my good friend Billy Decker was churning out mixes in just a few hours, I couldn’t believe it. His explanation made me a believer though…
By having a secluded space, his cabin studio has fewer distractions that allow him to really focus on the things that he needs to. His approach doesn’t involve EQing a kick drum or guitar to death – he trusts the recording engineer to get individual elements right for him. By the time the session gets to Billy, he’s working with his tried-and-true chains for each instrument, making tweaks to his plugins, but never spending a few minutes getting too focused on one piece unless there’s a big problem with it. In other words, his role is to glue all of these instruments together, not make them sound good on their own.
This approach was really eye opening for me. As someone that often works with a band from beginning to end, I’ve started spending more time on getting things right in the recording session and in turn I’m spending less time mixing with the same great sounding final product.
A Final Note On Cabin Studios
It’s important to keep in mind that cabins won’t create the “perfect” space without a professional acoustic engineer’s input, but between the building’s unique characteristics, a bit of room treatment/calibration & great microphone technique – you’ll certainly be off to a great start. I love working in a studio that’s quiet and secluded, as well as the great benefits that come from it.
For those without access to a cabin studio, many of these principles can be applied to your own space. Take advantage of all that sound treatment has to offer and introduce some diffusers to your space if you need them. Find ways to disconnect from the outside world as you work with curtains over the windows or using Airplane Mode on your phone to avoid unnecessary distractions.
Once you’ve got your space set up for productivity, the only limitation to your work is your ability to effectively mix a song. For all of our best tips, be sure to subscribe to our email list and join the JST VIP group for even more great guidance.
If you join through this link, you’ll get access to a mix critique from Billy Decker as well as all of the other perks we offer to JST VIP members like exclusive plugins, production guides & hours of guided lessons on improving your sound.