Making music in an old warehouse

September 14, 2018

Photo © Semco Salehi[1]
Photo © Semco Salehi

By Steve Titus, P.Eng.

There is a critical shortage of rehearsal space in Toronto. In an era when developing a condo or office building is more lucrative, creating spaces for musicians is not a priority for property owners. However, Lynx Music is looking to stem the tide of losses and produce a space for musicians to enjoy their trade or hobby.

The company has opened a new 929-m2 (10,000-sf) music rehearsal and multimedia production facility in west Toronto by converting an old warehouse. It combines music rehearsal spaces with a comprehensive recording and post-production suite as well as a film and photography shooting space.


Typical ceiling construction for rehearsal and recording studios. Image courtesy Aercoustics & Gensler[2]
Typical ceiling construction for rehearsal and recording studios.
Image courtesy Aercoustics & Gensler

Usually, rehearsal and recording spaces have different objectives. Recording requires soundproofing to ensure the quality of sound is pure. Rehearsal spaces are a place to create, test, and play with good acoustics but without worrying about recording.

For Lynx Music, the desire to offer both rehearsal space and recording studio was a challenge. While the project’s engineering team has worked on acoustics for music production and rehearsal studios separately, this was the first time they have encountered a design wanting to incorporate both spaces. It meant finding the right balance to meet the different acoustical requirements so musicians could play without worrying about sound. With multiple potential noise transmission paths to evaluate and test, Lynx Music became a technically demanding project but allowed for some outrageous engineering to ensure the client had a space suitable for all its creative users.

The design requirements for recording and rehearsal venues can be simplified as follows:

When working on such a facility, design professionals need to understand what happens to sound energy in this type of space. It can be absorbed, reflected, or diffused. In most cases, the goal is to minimize the noise transfer by maximizing the sound isolation of demising partitions, and also to include acoustically absorptive finishes within the rooms. While old warehouses can be an interesting space for interior designers, the lack of walls causes some unique acoustical considerations and construction issues. The exterior of this warehouse is old masonry, beneficial because heavy brick and stone limit sound transmission to nearby buildings. However, the interior posed some problems. The floor plan provided limited space for wall, ceiling, and floor assemblies. This can be a challenge as developing sound isolating rooms can require a lot of space. This is also why most rehearsal facilities are the equivalent of garages with little to no thought to the acoustics of the space. Acoustically designed wall, ceiling, and floor assemblies can manage or mitigate noise transmission. So, not being able to add them immediately introduced challenges.

Developing sound isolating rooms was a challenge at Lynx Music as the floor plan provided limited space for wall, ceiling, and floor assemblies. Photo © Semco Salehi[3]
Developing sound isolating rooms was a challenge at Lynx Music as the floor plan provided limited space for wall, ceiling, and floor assemblies.
Photo © Semco Salehi

The interior timber floors and steel structure also added to the acoustic difficulties. A limited loadbearing capacity reduced the ability to develop traditional designs. In fact, neither the lightweight timber floors nor the steel frame was ideal for creating soundproofed studio spaces. The design team had to approach the existing structure and its limitations with open minds to develop suitable spaces, balancing the performance requirements with technical and budget constraints.

The design

Lynx Music is a two-storey facility consisting of nine rehearsal studios and a fully floating recording studio block featuring a live room, control room, vocal isolation booth, and a production room. Each area had its own acoustical requirements but needed to be part of a cohesive space.

Recording studio

In most cases, recording studios need to have low background noise levels and a high level of sound isolation from a rehearsal facility. In this design, it was not possible to completely separate the rehearsal space from the studio. Although this presented a considerable design challenge, it was accomplished by creating a fully floating recording studio.

Installation of rubber pucks and formwork for the floating floors. Photos courtesy Lynx Music[4]
Installation of rubber pucks and formwork for the floating floors. Photo courtesy Lynx Music

The floating concept was achieved by having the entire studio block resting on resilient mountings. The concrete floor was poured on rubber isolators, and then walls were built on top of it. The ceiling is resiliently suspended from the structure with springs to complete the floating concept. Resiliently suspending the components of the room provides a higher level of sound isolation than can be achieved through conventional construction. To prevent flutter echo (i.e. the sound or chatter trapped between parallel reflective surfaces), there cannot be any large areas of bare wall or ceiling. To address this, acoustical finishes such as fabric-wrapped fibreglass acoustical panels and ceiling treatments were used in the studio. The fabric-wrapped acoustic panels varied in thickness depending on the usage of the room. Most rooms were fitted with 25-mm (1-in.) panels while rooms needing greater sound isolation were fitted with 50-mm (2-in.) panels and bass traps, thick absorbers employed to provide more control for lower frequencies.

The control room at Lynx Music was fitted with bass traps at the corners. Bass traps are thick absorbers employed to provide more control for lower frequencies.[5]
The control room at Lynx Music was fitted with bass traps at the corners. Bass traps are thick absorbers employed to provide more control for lower frequencies. 
Photo © Semco Salehi

Bass traps need to have more thickness because low-frequency waves have larger wavelengths and can be tougher to control than high-frequency sound. Another challenge with these lower frequencies is one can often have room modes excited at these frequencies and additional resonance can occur, creating an environment with the ability to amplify these low frequencies. Generally, low-frequency energy is less than 100 Hz and must be controlled to create a balanced environment to ensure a uniform acoustic response in the room across the frequency range.

As can be expected, there are no views in or out of the facility as all of the windows were filled in with masonry blocks for sound isolation purposes. All of the doors within the building were upgraded with adjustable neoprene acoustic seals. For the recording studio block, vestibules were used to provide the required level of sound isolation.

Conventional construction for similar spaces comprises gypsum or masonry walls. In this design, the combination of masonry, gypsum, and isolated assemblies as well as interior room treatment makes a significant impact on sound transfer. The floating design can provide 20+dB of improved performance in sound isolation.

The recording studio includes a live room where musicians can play and be recorded. Given the loud volume of some of the musicians (e.g. rock bands), the wall, floor, and ceiling assemblies were designed to provide extremely high sound isolation performance and to achieve a noise criteria- (NC) 25 background noise level. The STC rating of partitions ranges from 60 to 70, but the most significant consideration was to provide adequate low-frequency isolation which cannot be measured by STC because it does not assess low frequencies. This is an issue when it comes to bass. This is generally the most difficult aspect of high-level isolation in such a recording studio venue. The team’s solution was careful design of wall assemblies to provide adequate mass and correctly sized air spaces to keep sound isolated.

In such a design, even the smallest deficiencies in detailing and construction can lead to major issues in sound isolation performance. Isolated assemblies come with the significant acoustical challenge of avoiding rigid bridging of structural elements. An isolated wall assembly is made up of two sets of studs, and anything passing through (e.g. ducts, pipes, and conduits) cannot rigidly contact the isolated walls, floors, or ceilings. Noise transmission through ductwork was another issue that had to be carefully evaluated. Ductwork lined with 25-mm (1-in.) thick fibreglass duct liner with reduced airflow velocities was developed throughout the space to minimize background noise.

Rehearsal rooms

Installation of resiliently hung gypsum ceilings. Photo courtesy Lynx Music[6]
Installation of resiliently hung gypsum ceilings. Photo courtesy Lynx Music

The nine rehearsal rooms all vary in style with different themes and musically inspired, fun names such as “The Supernova,” “God Save the Queen,” and “The Tavern.” While the look and feel varies from room to room, the acoustical design is consistent throughout. The rehearsal rooms were intended to provide a comfortable environment for bands to practice, and a higher level of low-frequency isolation than typically found in similar facilities. Sound isolation is critical in rehearsal rooms to avoid interfering with recordings, mixing, and production happening in the neighbouring recording studio.

The rehearsal rooms were all designed with STC 45+ masonry walls to provide low-frequency sound isolation with minimal use of floor area. Fabric-wrapped fibreglass panels and low-frequency absorbers (membrane bass traps) were installed in all rehearsal rooms to provide an environment designed with rock band rehearsals in mind. One rehearsal room is directly adjacent to the control room so floating construction with masonry walls was used to provide the necessary level of isolation between the two spaces.

Additionally, one of the challenges was the wood-joisted ceiling and determining how to handle the joists with walls mating to them as well as controlling penetrations to ensure the sound isolation could be maintained. To eliminate this issue, plywood was installed at the underside of the joists, and the thicker beams were boxed out. This allowed for a smooth surface to mate the walls without a lot of penetrations. It also aided in increasing the sound isolation between the ground and second floors.

The result

Converting an old warehouse into a music rehearsal space is a novel idea. However, music studios and rehearsal spaces require acoustical considerations. Good acoustics, sound quality, and sound isolation are very important for musicians.

When exploring potential sites to create a music space, building professionals must keep in mind that extra weight and floor area/ceiling height will be needed to accommodate thicker walls, acoustical treatment (25 mm [1 in.]or greater), larger ductwork, and vestibules for sensitive rooms. The project may also need to consider fully isolated (floating) construction to keep the sound at bay. For Lynx Music, the floating floor was critical to achieve the required level of performance in the space.

Non-conventional spaces make a community interesting. While construction retrofits can be a vibrant addition to the neighbourhood, they most likely create multiple design challenges. With any construction, acoustics should be considered in the preliminary stages of a project to avoid issues once the doors open. It is easier to build with sound in mind than make adjustments to a fully constructed building.

[7]Steve Titus, B.A.Sc., P.Eng., brings more than a decade of experience to being CEO of Aercoustics Engineering[8], a privately held firm specializing in acoustics, vibration, and noise control. He has been responsible for the acoustical design and delivery of several high-profile projects such as the Sick Kids Research Tower, Corus Quay, Thunder Bay Courthouse, and St. Lawrence Market North redevelopment. Titus is co-chair for Canstruction Toronto, and he sits on the finance and audit committee of the Consulting Engineers of Ontario (CEO). He can be reached at[9].

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