September 1, 2008
June 8, 2007
So now that I’m almost finished with the studio (see the post below) I finally got to do some actual work in it today. I spent about 3 hours putting together a big orchestration for a project I’ve been hired to do. It was a good test run for the studio and I have to say that it was a huge success. All those hours thinking about my workspace needs and space issues came to fruition. The new studio is everything I wanted it to be. The only thing it lacks is the second monitor (and the space for it). I think I’m going to do some minor fiddling with the space here to try and gracefully shoehorn one into the space. While working in Finale I had 25 measures and about a dozen staves visible at one time at 75% magnification. It was great but I had to cover up the score with all kinds of windows and menus. A second monitor would be much appreciated.
I’m thrilled to have all this ROOOOOM on my desktop, too. Can’t wait to show y’all the pictures.
No, it’s not done, but that’s only because I refuse to call it “done” until every door is made and hung and every last bit of touch up is done. Otherwise it becomes the same kind of finished project that lives on, zombie-like, not quite finished but still ambling about on its putrid stumps.
Okay, bad comparison. But I still don’t want to say “it’s done” until there’s nothing left to, you know, do. The rest of the Auralex came in the magic Amazon Brown Van today and I installed it in the booth. Tres Bien. The booth stinks of industrial chemicals as the foam panels outgas their noxious fumes. Erin asked me if there was anything harmful in the Auralex panels and I told here they were made of the finest asbestos and pesticides. I’m a funny one, I am. The booth is so airtight that it doesn’t matter how long I let them hang. If I don’t open the door the fumes just get thicker and thicker. I’m sure one day soon the door will bulge out until it breaks off its hinges and the window will shatter from the pressure of the putrid vapors. But at least with the door closed I can’t smell the stinky stuff. I was going to open the door and set a fan up to shoot the fumes out the window, but that would waste the A/C, but wait! I installed an exterior weather sealed door as the main studio door! So if I shut the a/c vent and close the outside door I can treat the room like it’s outside and it won’t hurt anything (except for letting the ants in the window). I like that idea. Sort of a fake-out to Mother Nature- you can come in… not! Ah, hang it, I think I’ll let the fumes accumulate and stick a match in the booth in a few days to see if they’re flammable.
Three cabinet doors and one attic door to go- all in various stages of construction. And then, then it’s Done.
June 3, 2007
There’s an ongoing discussion online about the current lack of hand tool skills among a certain generation:
some people I knew were building a three-level stage at a Ren-fair somewhere back east. Lots of local volunteers, almost none of whom could do anything with tools, including measure: they told one guy they needed a piece of plywood 48×60″, and he(and those around him) couldn’t figure out how to get that out of a 4×8′ sheet.
In related news: the studio is almost done (and I really mean it this time). I have to build three doors for the cabinets and a simple door (with paint) for the booth attic, plus put up some auralex and it’s finished. I’m sitting at my new desk right now typing this and it feels grand. Just Grand. The tinted windows and blackout curtains make an enormous difference in the heat that comes into the room. It still gets warm with all the equipment running at cruise, but it’s not the sauna it used to be. Should be interesting in the winter.
I tested out the new cabling yesterday and it all works flawlessly! No ground loops or weird audio gremlins, and so far the extra long midi cables don’t seem to introduce timing problems (which can happen on occasion). I’m still getting used to the physical layout, but I love the way the space feels. Erin and I traded time in the booth last night speaking into my new mic. Even without the Auralex in there the booth sounds pretty good. It’s not 100% soundproof, as I knew it wouldn’t be. If somebody outside the booth speaks, the new mic is sensitive enough to pic it up at high levels and play it back through the headphones, so that it’s actually easier to listen to someone talk outside the booth with the cans on than it is to take them off and strain to hear. I’ll need to watch my monitor levels outside the booth but I kind of anticipated that. The low frequencies get through somewhat, but that’s to be expected.
I hung the diamond shaped auralex panels today as well as allfive of my signedastronautphotographs. My favorite one is hanging front and center in the cutout above my computer monitor. It’ll be replaced once I get a 32″ flat panel HD monitor (once they drop in price a bit more), but for now it’s a great centerpiece.
I should be able to open the Glenlivet and toast a completed studio by the end of the week!
June 2, 2007
Major progress! Our friend Greg (and his black lab Leeloo) stayed with us this past week> This was really fortunate since there was some major backbreaking moving to do. I finished building the desktop and we moved it upstairs (it’s probably 150+lbs). We also moved the end pillars and the corner mic cabinet. The desk is assembled!
Before the desk went in, Greg and I spent a few hours carefully tinting the windows, so that job is done. It looks really nice and will keep the room much cooler. Greg and Erin helped me pull the cable bundles through the wall and we moved the mixer into final position. When we were done I stood back and took a look at the final physical layout of the room. This is it! This is how the room will feel from now on. I was quite a moment to see the fruit of all my labor (now at 400+ hours of work) come together. There’s still a bit left- I have to build the cabinet and iso booth attic doors as well as install the Auralex in the booth. Oh, and I have to install the secondary sound stripping (weather stripping) on the door frames.
Today I’m cleaning up the library, moving the rest of the equipment in, and wiring up the mixer. I’m also moving my computer out of its exile on the kitchen table and into the desk.
May 30, 2007
Spent today constructing the microphone cabinet for the corner under the desk. Lots of cutting, laminating, and finishing. I also built the cable run for the back of the desktop. Now all of the cables can run invisibly behind the desk. Very slick! After I was done Greg and I moved the massive desktop up to the studio from the shop. It weighs about 150 pounds and is 80 inches by 100 inches in a giant L-shape. It was really difficult to move the thing up the narrow staircase and through the doors (which, last time I checked, were definitely not 100 inches tall), but we managed to get the beast upstairs and leaned against the wall. What a pain! That thing isn’t moving any time soon, and I pity the movers who will move it back down one day.
I got the desk pillars sanded and oiled and they’re beautiful. They’ll both get moved up (along with the mic cabinet) once the doors are completed. Tomorrow I get to mill up the stock for the doors and trim on the mic cabinet, pull the cables through the walls, and learn how to wire up a Cat 5 ethernet panel with 6 jacks.
May 25, 2007
I’ve been doing all this studio construction work lately, and I’ve spent the last week in the shop building furniture. There’s a lot of what appears (from the outside) to be downtime as I sit and ponder my next move, cut, or decision point. In fact, today I spent 90 minutes just sitting in my office chair, which I had moved into the shop to help decide on the final layout of my desk. I sat in that chair for probably an hour and a half just looking at the layout and going over every single detail to make sure it was just right. I had set up the two 21″ wide “pillars” of my old desk (which have been refashioned into teh new hotness with Lyptus trim). On top of these supports I set plywood in a rough shape of the final desktop, supporting it temporarily with sawhorses. I taped the outline of that corner of the studio on the floor to get the dimensions just right. Next, I brought some of the equipment down and set it on the desktop to get the general spacing worked out (monitor, keyboard, computer keyboard, speakers). One of the unfortunate things I discovered was that I don’t have enough room for the second monitor! Big bummer here, but I may be able to fix this.
Anyway, I just sat and stared, occasionally getting up to shift something incrementally, or to extend the desk a bit to get the exact right spacing. It was a long process of minute adjustments to get the space functioning just right. I’m really happy I did it, because once it was done, it was a fairly easy (and fear-free!) process to cut up the plywood and fashion the desktop. I now have my final desktop in rough form. It’s 79″ by 100″ and has plenty of space for monitors (1), speakers, rack boxes, keyboard, trackball, and printer. Plus, lots of open workspace. It consists of a 3/4 inch piece of maple ply laminated to a 1/2 inch layer of ply. The corner will be supported by a custom microphone cabinet I decided to build. Because it’s over an inch thick and glued and screwed every few inches, the thing can hold a tank, but the top is still light enough (just barely!) for me to maneuver it around. It’ll be trimmed in Lyptus and topped with black laminate.
It will be beautiful.
May 23, 2007
Just got back from the lumberyard after picking up a truck full of lyptus for the final push. I got about 20 board feet of the stuff in varying widths (all 1″ thick). I’ll use it for the trim around the desk, the top of the small rack boxes, and the rail/style parts of the cabinet doors. I got a beautiful piece of maple plywood that was slightly damaged. The guy at the lumberyard let it go for a song (not literally, I still had to pay, and they asked me to quit my dulcet tones).
More shop time today. It’s getting hotter here in Texas and I’m racing the seasons.
May 21, 2007
Chairs! We have chairs!
We went back to Target yesterday on an unrelated errand and discovered that the leather chairs I had been eyeing had been put on sale! I had resigned myself to waiting for six months until they reduced the price, and living with the empty spot in the studio, when lo and behold they went and dropped the price by $80 each. I applied for a Target card (which will be summarily canceled) and saved a bunch of money.
So one big step in the final process has been finished. The two leather seats are assembled and sitting in the studio. They look great, though they need a bit of breaking time to soften up- the cushions are rather hard! But judging from how comfortably squishy the displays were at Target it shouldn’t be too long before they start to get that broken in feeling.
Today I start the trim out of the desk support pillars and build the rack boxes for the top of the desk. I’m trying madly to finish things since I have some work ready when it’s together (sorry Patrick! I’m going as fast as I can!)
May 18, 2007
If you could have seen me this morning you would have laughed. It’d take too long to explain, but trust me. I tried to get some lead string through the buried wall pipes in order to pull the cable through later (remember when I sucked the original string out? Now’s the time to put it back). I had string tied to string, color coded for the proper opening. Tied to the wrong thing and getting stuck in the tube. It wasn’t pretty, but it’s done.
Not much progress today. Mowed the lawn and moved 20 bags of mulch from my truck to the back yard. Erin and I are mulching the beds tomorrow. Then I’ll start working on the desk “pillars” and top rack units. The desktop is the only thing remaining after that.
May 17, 2007
I spent all day today wiring up the studio. First, I took about two hours to route and neatly tie off all of my power cables (about 20), then I had to route them so they won’t interfere with the audio signals. Next I hooked all the midi cables up, which was pretty easy to do since I’m forgoing the midi return bus. I don’t really need it and it does add to the cable mess something fierce. I then spent a few hours labeling the dozens and dozens of audio cables and constructing a makeshift snake using twist ties and pipe cleaners. I now have a massive cable trunk with all of my wires. It’s nice and neat but about 15 feet longer than I need it to be. I think I’m going to fasten some kind of hook on the wall behind the equipment cabinet so the cable trunk loops can hang on the hook. This way I will have achieved what I was beginning to think what was impossible in such a limited space: total audio/electrical signal separation. If it works out there won’t be a single instance of a power cable crossing, touching, or coming within several inches of an audio or midi cable. Truly signal nirvana.
Unfortunately, I can’t finish hooking up the audio cables until the mixer is in place, and I can’t put the heavy mixer in place until I run the wires through the wall, and I can’t do that until my special order cables get here (the pair of 30′ Midi cables and my special 25′ serial cable). I’m tracking them via DHL and UPS’s websites, but it may be saturday or monday before they arrive. So in the meantime I’m going to turn my attention to the big desk pillar/storage unit, desktop rack enclosures, and the desktop itself. A few more days in the shop should see all of those pieces built just in time to bring the last few pieces together.
Erin and I went to Target tonight and found some very nice leather seating on sale. Still pretty expensive but just barely within the budget I had set. Still not 100% sure, but they’re the best thing so far. I still might be convinced to go with some sort of table arrangement in there. We’re going to check out this place tomorrow. If we don’t find something there I think I’ll apply for (and immediately cancel) the Target card to save 10% on those chairs.
May 16, 2007
After helping my friend Greg move this morning I started in on some of the wiring in the cabinet. It took me a couple of hours to juggle the exact unit order- where to put the amps and power supplies and where the instruments and audio units go (compressors, effects, etc). There are a lot of things to think about when wiring: cable length, electrical runs, power requirements, physical dimensions, accessibility, etc. Balancing all of these things means that you sometimes have to dismantle a setup once it’s in. No big deal apart from removing a few screws since I haven’t hooked up the wires.
Once the boxes go in I have to manage the power supplies and cables (keeping them as far from the audio cables as possible). This would be made so much easier if the different manufacturers would just settle on a standard layout. If the power cords were all located on the same side of the back panel you could just fasten them all together and bundle them out of the way, but some come out the left, some out the middle, and some emerge from the center of the units. Ugh. On top of that, some units have universal, removable 3 prong cords (my favorite), some have integrated cords that you can’t remove, and some have those ugly wall-warts. It doesn’t stop there, though, because some of the wall wart power supplies are located in the middle of the cord (!?!?!) and the ones that are on the end -the normal black boxes with the plug blades we’re all used to seeing- are different sizes or orientations, so they take up different amounts of room in the rack-mount power supply units. It’s like assembling a puzzle.
Finally, when I had my studio in its old configuration there was a bit of distance from the different boxes to the mixer. Some of the runs could be as long as 10 feet. So I bought 12 foot audio cables and labeled both ends of all of them with printed labels and heat-shrink tubing. It worked great. However, now that the mixer is basically right next to the equipment there is a TON of extra cable and nowhere to put it! I really don’t want to invest in new cables just to keep the spaghetti down, but it’s pretty ridiculous. I may spend a few bucks to at least get shorter midi cables and try to make my own snake. That’ll cut down on about 20 or so cables. If I had an 8 foot 24 cable snake it would be great, but unfortunately those things run about $250 and I can’t justify that just to avoid the snarl.
Oh, I had to jump on the net and order a pair of 30 foot midi cables to make the run through the wall to my main controller keyboard. I thought I was going to have to shell out $50 for the pair but I jumped on ebay and found them for $14 new. Yay, ebay!
Tomorrow I’ll continue wiring but I can’t do much more until the new cables arrive. I definitely can’t make the in-wall run until I have everything ready. That’s a one-shot deal. I have to bundle all the cables together (staggering the ends by several inches) and pull them all thorough at once. If I need to add another cable in the wall down the road I’ll have to yank the whole bunch out since it’ll be too crowded in there to send a single cable through.
I know, I know… two more weeks. This is getting ridiculous.
May 15, 2007
Well I’m getting good at making those studio rack cases. I finished the smaller one today and put the lyptus accents on the front. I also made the solid wood top. If I did it correctly the whole box will slide on its casters underneath my mixer with only about 1/8 inch to spare. If I didn’t to it right you’ll probably hear some cussin’. Luckily my mixer legs have adjustable feet so there’s some tolerance for error there.
I accidentally made the top too short by about 1/2 inch. No big deal. The whole box will live under my mixer so unless you pull it all the way out you’ll never see it. I could have done without the solid wood top since you’ll most likely never see it, but you know me. I couldn’t live with myself if I had kludged it.
The oil finish is spectacular. The case is already up in the studio waiting its load of equipment tomorrow. Wiring will commence very soon.
May 14, 2007
I think I’ll just edit my MarsEdit preferences to automatically put “Studio Construction” into the title field of every blank post window. Geeze…
So I decided to bite the bullet and make the smaller cabinet. It turns out that practice does indeed make perfect. It was a breeze for me to cut the stock for the walls and laminate the sides with leftover laminate from the first cabinet. It took me about 90 minutes to get that much done. Tomorrow I’ll go back to the lumberyard for a bunch of lyptus (now that I’m sold on the wood) and a couple more hours to finish up. In about 3-4 hours I will have made a hardwood lined rolling 12 rackspace cabinet that would sell for around $300. Not too bad. Maybe I should make these things professionally!
I had more fun that I thought I would making both cabinets. There weren’t any tricks to them (90 degree corners and easy to handle pieces) and they went together admirably fast. The lyptus is a dream to work with and the Tried and True goes on like butter. SO much better than the overpriced junk you get from the music stores.
So I’m installing my pile of equipment into the new cabinet when I realize something… I don’t have enough room. There is a stack of equipment that I’ve stored away for several years. I don’t use it very often, but it would be nice to have handy, and the lights are a good addition; clients hear with their eyes after all.
Anyway, while I was deciding how to orient all of the equipment I realized that there was nowhere to put about 12 rack spaces worth of gear. I have a DAT player, a DA-38 digital 8 track (it’s much more modern than it sounds, the DA series was THE system to have in the 90’s for TV, film, and commercial production. Everyone has gone to hard disk based recording systems now, but I still can’t bring myself to sell the unit for the $200 or so it would get. I paid $2500 for it new and it has less than 10 hours of operation on it. Ouch. It remains my single biggest gear purchase “whoops”), a patchbay, a couple of reverb/fx units, a sampler, and a few other things. I’m afraid I might have to spend a few days making another, smaller, version of the equipment cabinet I just built. This one could sit under the mixer. I’m going back and forth on this. I could just stick the stuff back in the closet, or I could sell the stuff (for pennies on the dollar). Of course, if I build the case I’ll have a nice box full of stuff I don’t need and never use. But it would give me room to grow. I’m over capacity now and the extra space would provide some ventilation.
The equipment cabinet is built! I’m finishing the lyptus with Tried and True Varnish Oil. It’s a great product that creates a beautiful surface. The grain of they lyptus positively pops out and there’s no thick film between the user and the wood like there is with polyurethane. It’s not as durable as poly but the T&T can be reapplied easily. Best of all, it’s completely non-toxic (you can apply it with your fingers) and a little goes a long way. I found a pint for $18 and thought WOW, that’s expensive. But based on the advice of a friend I bought some a few years ago. I have now put multiple coats on several pieces of furniture and still have about 1/4 of the quart left.
Unfortunately, you have to let the stuff dry for a long time. Like, a LONG time. In high humidity (is there anything else in Texas?) the first coat can take a week to dry. I’m going to give this a few hours and then move it up to my studio so I can start the rewire. It’s so easy to apply and so thick- more like putting on face cream than oil- that I can reapply it any time with little risk to the electronics. And if I get it out of the shop I can keep making dust while I build the desk boxes and desk top.
I wasn’t 100% sure of the lyptus/oil combination, but lyptus was about a quarter the price of cherry and has the same tight grain and similar color. It’s heavier, too. I have to say that after seeing the Tried and True on the lyptus I’m really happy. It’s exactly the color/grain that I had in mind. The cabinet looks beautiful- even better than a store-bought plastic trimmed cabinet. I can’t wait to show it off.
*UPDATE* Thanks to my neighbor James the cabinet is now in the studio. Thanks, James! Let the rewiring begin.
May 13, 2007
Got the equipment cabinet completely constructed today. I have to finish it with oil, but that’s the only thing standing between me and a rewire of the studio. The cabinet is great! It’s over 5′ tall and has wheels underneath for easy moving around. I have to put a pad on the floor to keep the wheels from denting the laminate, but once the cabinet is in place I don’t think I”ll have to move it much (hopefully).
Anyway, tomorrow I’ll apply the oil, clean it off, and try and figure out a way to move it upstairs.
May 12, 2007
Aaaalright! The furniture is in progress! I spent yesterday and today cutting and laminating the stock for the equipment cabinet. That sucker is 5 feet tall and has room for 28 rack spaces. I’ll finish the front edges in lyptus (oil finish or poly) and put a solid lyptus top on it (it’ll look a lot like cherry grain on mahogany colored wood). Should be really beautiful and I think I’ll have it together tomorrow. Then I get to rewire the mixer.
Erin and I spent a few hours this morning looking at furniture. My hopes for a nice leather loveseat have been dashed since I can’t find anything in my tiny budget. I was looking at a couple of small chairs when I had a brainstorm. How about a bistro table or some sort of smallish work table with a pair of chairs? Obviously, the design and materials will have to be right, but smaller chairs put leather back on the menu, and I would love to have another work area in there (not just the main desk). This is all sort of up in the air right now, but I’m trying to hit that sweet spot between cost, size, and quality while also trying to define just what I want the new seating to accomplish. Hang out space? Client space? Look good? Comfortable? Still thinking on this.
By the way, how’s this for a chair?
May 9, 2007
The doors are hung and sealed. Man, it’s amazing. When I close the booth door I have to pull fairly hard against the air cushion to get the door to close. Once it’s closed, *WHUMP*, great seal. And I haven’t even put up the second seal yet.
The main door is good as well. The only problem is that the room is so tight now, when the A/C is on the air going into the room has nowhere to escape to equalize. So it finds the weakest part of the room and exits there. Right now that weak point is the attic access door in the ceiling. I have to get up there and replace the 5 year old weathered seal. It’s amazing to think that the room is that tight.
I also cut the stock for the equipment cabinet and got it clamped up. I have to take it apart so I can laminate each piece. It’s great! Very nice size and shape with plenty of room for equipment and some nice hidden casters. I was surprised at how quickly it went together. It’ll slow down now, of course, as it takes a while to laminate the 7 pieces on both sides. Then I have to get the cherry (?) pieces to do the trim and the top piece. After that…. the desk!
The madness continues. I got the casters from Home Depot today but couldn’t find any laminate. They no longer carry it. Lowes wants $64 for a sheet of black because they have to special order it. That’s $2/square foot! So I let my fingers do the walking and found a wholesaler in town that sells to cabinet/countertop shops. They have the black in stock and, lo and behold, they are having a sale on the stuff for .84/sq foot! So I got some extra. I think I’ll need it for the desk and this’ll give me enough to cover the insides of the boxes as well as the outsides. No, the insides won’t normally be seen (except at the very edges), but this is the way the Big Boys build their custom studio stuff so I won’t take shortcuts.
I also picked up a gallon of contact cement. I couldn’t find the water based stuff so I’m going to have to put up with the icky fumes of the solvent based type. The good news is that I took back a box of unused flooring for store credit so the solvent and rollers were free (and then some).
Just moved the doors back upstairs in preparation for installation tonight. I decided to forgo painting the outside of the main studio door until I get my bigger compressor (it’s waiting for me in Houston). Then I’ll remove the door again and rent a spray gun. Hopefully I’ll get much better results. The fiasco with the roller finish has convinced me of two things: 1. do it the hard/more expensive way (i.e. don’t cheap out on tools or techniques). There’s a reason the professionals use the better tools, and, as Barry says, the cheap way is the most expensive. The other thing I’ve learned is: don’t take the advice of anyone who hasn’t done that specific job before. And if they have, verify that their knowledge is applicable to your job. Which brings me to a point I guess I have to just come out and say:
If you’ve never done it before, don’t give advice on how to do it.
It’s a good life-rule in general, but especially applicable when it’s not your money, time, or project on the line. I wish more people would remember this. I know I come across sounding touchy with this, but as I look back on the last two months of work, most of the problems that I’ve dealt with have been the result of following the advice of people who only thought they knew what they were talking about. When I researched it for myself it usually turned out okay. It took much longer, yes, but what difference does that make once the project is done?
Anyway. Time to open up Sketchup and start CADding up the equipment cabinet.