Electrical and Lighting Considerations when Building or Setting up a Recording Studio
TL; DR: Fluorescent bad, dimmer questionable, lamp good. Grounded AC power: Also good 🙂
All studios start out as a mess of wires in the back of a desk filled with stuff. Somehow everything gets plugged into a circuit breaker strip. Eventually you may run out of wires or trip a breaker if you put everything on one circuit. Without properly grounded AC power, electricity in the studio can be deadly, when you you talk about plugging in older amplifiers, and dusty beer soaked wires with the plastic insulation all cracked and dried out, a simple circuit breaker strip or rack mount Furman power supply are popular ways to make more areas to plug things in. Usually a few 15A circuits for musicians, and a few 15A or more circuits for the audio and recording equipment is enough, but keeping LIGHTS and AUDIO separate is usually a good idea, especially when dealing with guitars. Using as many grounded and shielded audio cables (Such as XLR, can help eliminate that stubborn hum in your older guitar. You may want to put some mood lighting or spots to help feel the vibe, but using fluorescent lighting isn’t great for recording Radio Frequency Interference (RFI), and some cheap dimmers may buzz or make the lights or amplifiers hum.
Recording Studio Lighting Temperature
Studio lighting should be on a separate circuit than the audio equipment and amplifiers. RFI and EMI (Electromagnetic interference) are a part of everyday life, so using a Furman Power Conditioner, or using Battery Backup (UPS) power is a good idea for sensitive recording equipment. Keeping studio lighting chill and in the vibe is important, so if harsh fluorescent lights are already in place, consider a a secondary “mood” lighting with a warmer feel. Clip on lights with incandescent bulbs can be used for an inexpensive option, but the temperature and power consumption may be better with COB or LED lights. Color temperature ranges from 3000k to 2500k for most bulbs, with the 3000k being a brighter blue light and with 2500k being a much warmer light. Some people swear by bright 3000k task lighting which gives a bright awakening energy, where as 2500k bulbs give a warmer, sleepier vibe.
Natural Lighting, Track Lighting, LEDs, Spots vs Wide angle bulbs, Lamps, Lamps, Lamps
Some engineers rave about the positive effects of natural lighting in the studio. If a window or brighter lights can be incorporated into your studio design go for it. It is very energizing and dim lighting can make everyone sleepy after awhile. However, in a metropolitan area, you’ll usually find windows are the enemy, because one loud chopper motorcycle goes by when you’re recording the flute and you might be doing another take.
Track lighting with spots on the important stuff like console, keyboard, lighting for reading or generally working around the studio can be important to being able to see what your doing. A few wide angle bulbs to illuminate the corners and more focused light on some of the controls is popular. Track lighting can use LED, or incandescent bulbs, and generally is better for interference blocking than Fluorescent bulbs with no ground (3rd green neutral wire).
LEDs and COB (Chip on Board) lighting can save a lot of power and heat over halogen or regular tungsten incandescent lamps. A few little moody lamps are usually nice for a home like vibe. Try strip lighting or small modules that can be stuck underneath the edge of stuff.
LED or Fluorescent lighting can flicker in video, so a few older options for lighting is usually wise if you’re trying to do video or take decent pictures.
Dimmers (What To look for in Problems with lighting and Dimmer Interference)
Most cheap dimmers work by just chopping off a little of the top of the sine wave of the AC 110V coming out of the wall. This results in horrible square wave in the power line and can resonate other devices, resulting in gross noise in the audio signal. Metal shielding like conduit is great at blocking this interference. Fancier dimmers that feature a VARIAC, or more complex circuit can greatly reduce noise from dimmers picked up in the signal of guitars. In addition, low voltage DC lighting such as 12V DC has virtually no interference versus a fluorescent lighting ballast that has a voltage surge of around 600 volts when someone flicks on the light switch.
What To Do If you hear a buzzing in your guitar or bass amp setup
Try switching off some suspect motors, lighting, or other likely culprits, as well as moving the device to a different circuit can help with troubleshooting. If the amplifier is plugged into any pedals or cords, try plugging the guitar directly in and see if that helps. Some crappy stomp boxes have no shielding or sketchy gain circuits. Rotating the gain knob on the amp, or guitar can help determine whether the buzzing is coming from the guitar or the amp. Guitar cables fail all the time, and jacks wear out and need repair. Testing with multiple cables and different guitars, will often times help determine whether its the guitar or amp or the cable. Some Telecasters or similar single coil pickups are notorious for being noisy and buzzy. The Humbucker pickup became popular for its hum rejection properties, and a more modern guitar like a newer Les Paul maybe much less buzzy.
As a last resort, sometimes a ground lift (AKA 3 prong to 2 prong adaptor plug) can be used to get a stubborn buzzy amplifier to work. This can be potentially dangerous and people have died from electric shock when something when wrong with the amp wiring so use this “hack” at your own risk. Always use Grounded plugs whenever possible, and don’t mess around with mains voltages if you aren’t careful.
Power Consideration for Recording Studios
A regular 100a or 400A breaker box is usually sufficient for a large setup. Several 15A circuits for lights, and several 15A circuits for the stage or performance space. A separate circuit for any heavy duty power amplifiers or power supplies is also wise. For a large commercial venue, a dedicated 100A circuit for lighting or a “breakout” for “distro” is sometimes used. A 5000 watt or 10,000 watt light is not unheard of in the photography or film world, so make sure any video or photography lighting rig is plugged into a circuit separate from your recording stuff! A big light bulb can trip the breaker, and if the computer and console are on that without any backup power, you’re going to be in for a bad surprise.
It may be necessary to keep guitar pedal boards and guitar amplifiers on the same circuit, or keep the computer and mixing board on the same or separate circuits in the recording studio.
UPS battery backup and Other Alternative Sources Power
UPS or Uninterruptible Power supply or battery backup is essential if you are trying to get serious about your studio. Having a few minutes to SAVE what you’re working on. Peace of mind and the benefits of clean, stable, filtered, regulated, AC power makes a UPS on at least the computer a must have. Most studios are power hogs. Some engineers like to leave everything on 24/7 for long term gear stability, so Solar or Wind power could be a great way to save on electricity, with the added benefit of a large battery system that can function as a UPS.