In this post we outline how to build your own soundproof practice space. Like most things, you can do this yourself. And like most things, doing it will take a ton of effort. There will be parts of the process that suck. There will be parts that hurt. The only way out is through. By going through, you will learn new skills. Do not be deskilled by this world of convenience. Build something of your own that is useful. After doing so, you will be more useful yourself with the skills you pick up along the way.
The techniques below worked well for us when we built our current practice space in my basement. Our space sounds great inside, much better than our old practice space did. Outside of our space it is audible inside the rest of the house when we're playing. But it is not loud, it sounds like a roommate playing some music from their room at a reasonable level. From outside of the house, you can't hear it at all. Our neighbors don't know we practice at home. We spent around $1,200 + 100 hours of work to make our space, it saves us about $4,800 a year in practice space rent.
If you end up actually building your own, please feel free to ask any questions that you end up having in the comment section of this post. We are more than happy to help you out of the cycle of abuse our society calls rent. All questions are welcome. There's a good chance that one or more of us would even be down to come help build yours with you.
The info below is for making a soundproof room that abides by Portland, OR city code. Both for noise and for building permitting guidelines. If you are in a different city, you can usually find city code regarding building permitting and noise ordinances on your city government's .gov website. Or just call City Hall. They are typically way more helpful with finding this kind of information than you might expect. For Portland though, I (Bim) already did that legwork and there are a few key things to stick to when building your own practice space: the space you build must be freestanding (not touching any part of the house other than the floor) and it must be under 200 square feet (that's the biggest size room you can build without needing any permitting from the city). There is a third thing that is worth explaining and it has to do with how sound works, and how soundproofing works. The easiest way to think of sound in the context of stopping it from escaping a room is to think of sound like water minus gravity. Sound expands outward from it's source. To isolate sound, we must have two main features: mass, and an airtight seal of that mass around the source of sound. When making your practice space, you are making a two layered container with an inner and outer shell. Think of water again. When it can leak through even a tiny crack, the whole game is up. The problem with sound is that it doesn't just trickle out like water would. Sound will find any way out and if it gets out at all, it all gets out. Or as a wise person once told us: "Making every part of your practice space airtight and heavy AF will be the most annoying, and most important components to making your soundproof room actually work."
How to start:
Measure the space. When measuring, remember that you need room for 5-6 inch thick walls, plus at least a couple more inches of space between the outer walls and ceiling of the space you're building and the existing walls and ceiling of the basement/garage/house you're building it in. It is imperative that you have this buffer of air between the practice space and any part of the basement/garage/house because if any part of your practice space is touching the building it is built inside of, that part will transfer sonic vibrations from your space through the framework of the house. If that happens, those vibrations transfer noise, especially low frequencies from the bass. This also matters legally because if you build something at home that touches the structure of your house in any way, you could be accidentally building something that technically needs permitting and/or is violating city code.
Our space is 12 feet by 10 feet and just over 6 feet tall. Make sure to think through the roof/ceiling and any walls that are too close to the walls of your basement/garage/etc before putting things together. You may have to create finished sections of walls or of the roof that are pre-drywall'd, sealed, and totally finished before placing them. That way, you can hoist them up into position and screw them in from below or wherever you can get to. All this is because you likely won't have room to work on top of the room, and you'll probably also run into this problem on one or more of the sides depending on the amount of space you have. Here's a picture of us finishing a wall nearest the basement wall before hoisting it up and screwing it in with the exterior drywall pre-finished.
Get Materials. Once you've measured the space and decided on the dimensions of the space you are building, grab your calculator and figure out how much lumbar and Drywall (also known as Sheet Rock, & Gypsum Board) you'll need! Here's roughly what it took for us to build our 12 X 10 X 6 foot soundproof room:
-x70 sheets of 4x8 foot 3/8th inch thick sheets of Drywall. This is the walls, in the floor, and the roof/ceiling. You will have to buy these new, which sucks, but getting them new means they can deliver them which is actually awesome because they will weigh like 2,000 pounds all together. Get ready to be fucking sore.
-x48 eight foot long 2x4's. These can be bought used, we got all the lumber we needed from Rebuilding Center which happens to also be a non-profit and one of the coolest organizations in Portland. Get as much stuff from them as possible, you will save tons of money doing that.
-x20 twelve foot long 2x4's. Same as above, get wood used!
-x4 Plaster (putty) for sealing the drywall. I think we used four of the gallon buckets of this stuff. You can buy it as you go and see what you end up using. You'll have to buy this stuff new. Just get the cheapest stuff, it is all the same.
-x1 Solid wood door. You'll need to be able to add layers of Drywall to both sides of this door and add a outer piece with rubber door jam stuff so that it creates an air tight seal when closed and is as soundproof as the rest of the room. This will take some doing, but there are some pictures of how we solved this in our space in this post. Rebuilding Center has doors, hinges, latches, rubber strips, and all this kind of things.
-x1,000,000 screws. You'll nee one of the big ass boxes of 2 inch long drywall screws. You'll also need a big box of 2 inch long wood screws. You may end up needing two big boxes of each. Get some good drill bits, crappy ones make life not worth living. It's usually worth also getting some shorter 1.25 inch long screws for when you're putting up the first layer of drywall so you don't have to drive in those long puppies just to tack up 3/8th inch sheets, ya know?
-x8 4x8 3/8th or 1/2 in thick sheets of plywood. This will be two layers of the floor. The floor should have 2x4's on the floor, then a layer of plywood screwed to those, then a layer of the Drywall on that plywood, and then another layer of plywood on that drywall. The final layer of plywood will be the floor you stand on inside.
-x10 fifteen foot long fiberglass insulation rolls. You'll need to put this in the space in the walls and ceiling between the inside and outside layers of Drywall.
-x20 Caulking tubes. You want the stuff that's for drywall. Cheapest of that will work fine. This is used after you have the framing all up and the outer layers of drywall all done. You then use this to create another seal on the inside of the room by caulking the inside of the drywall to the 2x4 framing. You can see this in one of the photos below that shows the 2x4's with caulking lines where they meet the drywall. This is another good redundancy thing to do, to make sure that airtight thing is happening.
-Carpet/foam. This is after your done with the difficult build. But you will want to do some sort of sound treatment. Sound treatment is making it sound good inside, sound proofing is making sound not escape). So if you built your room soundproof, it will be SUPER LOUD inside before you do any sound treatment. Carpet on the floor, foam on the walls and ceiling. We scored a shit-ton of nice foam at Scrap PDX and got it for a deal 'cause we offered to take a van full all at once. Scrounge around, you got this.
Tools! Not So Mysterious After All.
Here's what you'll need to buy borrow and steal. If you don't have tools, there are places in most cities called Tool Libraries. These function like any library, but for tools. Neat! If you happen to be in NE Portland, the Northeast Portland Tool Library is a wonderful resource. You can probably find one that serves wherever you live. Here's the essential tool list:
Circular saw. This is the one that you hold in your hand that has a circular spinning saw blade. Very Robot Wars-esque
Power drill(s). Good to have two if you have a few people working at once.
Long metal ruler. If you can get a six foot aluminum one that will come in handy cutting drywall.
Mat knives. You will need these to cut the drywall. Speaking of, how you do that is to lay it flat on the ground, use a straight edge (that six foot aluminum ruler perhaps?) and cut through the paper on one side of the sheet of drywall. Then pick it up in a way where you can hold onto it and use your knee or hand to hit it on the other side right where you cut the paper. The sheet will crack all the way down the line that you cut. Then simply cut the paper along the other side and boom, you measured wrong and are now frustrated. Last part was a joke, we know you are a brilliant measurer.
Putty scrapers. You know those plastic spatula looking things for scraping putty into gaps in drywall. Get some of those.
Caulking gun. You know these right? You put those tubes that have a long tip on them and then usually seal a tub or a window with them? You'll need one of these.
You may end up finding that you need other random stuff, these are the essential tools we ended up needing though.
Building the Floor. For our floor we first laid out a grid of 2x4's on their sides (so they are sitting on their wide sides on the ground) and then laid out and cut up plywood to screw down to those 2x4's. Making sure that there were plenty to not end up with a floor that had dips in it from there being to far a distance between the floor grid of 2x4's. We also made sure that those flat-laying 2x4's ran all the way along all of the outer sides so that when we built the framing of the walls we could screw down through the floor all the way into those base 2x4's that were on the ground. After the first layer of plywood for the floor we did one full layer of drywall on the floor, sealed that with putty, and then put another layer of plywood on top of that which is now our floor.
Building the walls:
Framing: For each wall, we built the wooden framing flat on the ground and then stood it up and screwed it to the floor and to the other wall it joined at the corners. The framing is simple, just a top 2x4 and a bottom 2x4 with 2x4's screwed in between those two from the top and bottom. For the spacing of the vertical 2x4's keep in mind that you'll be needing to put the frustratingly fragile and crumbly drywall onto them and drywall comes in 4x8 foot sheets and does not hold up if it doesn't have a 2x4 behind it on the edges of the sheets. Another thing to remember is that you will be putting insulation inside the walls before doing the interior layer of drywall.
Drywall: So, once you have the framing of the walls going up, get someone (best done with two people) putting all that drywall on there! For the outside of our space we went with three layers thick of 3/8th inch drywall. With each layer, we positioned the sheets differently to have as few cases where the adjoining sheets created a seam, and before adding each new layer we puttied all of the seams so that when the layer went on it covered that last layer's seams in addition to us filling them in. Remember, airtight. That's the goal. Heavy as fuck, and airtight everywhere. Don't get tired and leave a part that sucks. Or do, just not if you want a soundproof room. Another thing to remember with adding the drywall is that you want to seal the base and top as well. That is part of why we made that thick floor, you can putty that and then screw into it when drywalling to make sure that the whole thing is sealed up tight.
Outer should be 3 layers thick of 3/8th inch drywall. With all seams on each layer sealed tight with putty.
Interior should be 2 layers thick of 3/8th inch thick drywall. With all seams on each layer sealed tight with putty.
The pockets of space that the 2x4's create in between the outer and inner walls are good. Sound gets trapped in them, and with the insulation and space, the sound waves get confused and give up and go to bed and lays there eating candy and playing video games and just generally losing its ambition to find the way out.
Fuck the door. This is what took the most tinkering and frustration retries on our part. Basically, the door needs to be airtight, as thick (or thicker) than the walls, and latch in a way that maintains that seal. Here's a couple pictures of our janky ass door. It works but maybe we should have spent some money on this part, meh. It works.
Insulation, The Miracle Of Breath
Don't mess around. You will need to put insulation inside the walls. You will not need to get that shit all over you. Use gloves you can throw away after and wear long sleeves. Other than that, we just suggest getting the cheapest fiberglass rolls of insulation. We dug into this and cheap is good for this. It is a minor part of the function but does help the pockets in the walls and ceiling trap sound better so is worth doing but not worth getting any fancy stuff for.
How to install insulation. Put it in there with some staples on the vertical 2x4's and then put your interior layer of drywall up. Nothing much to it.
Power, Don't Overthink It.
Since you are probably not an electrician, do this instead. After the outer and inner walls are all done, get a drill bit that will make a hole big enough to fit the plug of a nice extension cord through. Use that to drill through booth sides of the walls. Then use layers of chunks of drywall with notches cut out of them to cover the hole that the cord goes through to hold the cord in place and create a new seal and as many new layers of drywall as the original wall has. The notches you cut out of these drywall chunks should be just wide enough to fit the cord through and they should go from one edge of the drywall chunk to the center. This way, you can fill in the notch before puttying and placing the next chunk. Alternate the side that the notch in on with each chunk and you'll have a nice soundproof thick airtight little brick with a power cord running through it! Here's a photo of how that looks when it's done. This requires liberal use of putty. Oh also, see that little black piece that's around the cord? That is a little metal ring that clamps down with two bolts, we put the outside one of those on and then went inside and pulled the other side snug (not yanking tight, just snug) and then attached the inside one so that the cord wouldn't work itself loose.
Finishing The Interior!
Once you have the whole outside done and the door working it's time to do all the same tedious drywall work that you did on the outside, but now on the inside! Remember, you want to end up with an airtight shell on the outside, and a separate airtight shell on the inside. By this point, you'll be so sick of doing this and so good at it. It may even remind you of whatever crap job society placed you in. But this time, you decided to make this thing yourself, you can't even blame bosses, the consolidated power of multinational corporations and their inherent greedy actions, or even ass-backwards politicians. Yes, this time it is all your fault. You are still just cutting drywall, screwing it in, putting putty on the seams, cutting more drywall, and screwing it in. After that's done and you test out the door to make sure its getting an airtight seal you have a little box to help you travel into the parallel dimension we call band practice!