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Several years ago, I was building a Lotus Super 7 replica using a wrecked Mazda Miata donor car and a body kit. After my wife and I had our second child, I had to sell the car due to lack of time. That’s when I said to my wife, “By the time I’m 40, I want to have a home studio and a Lotus Super 7.” Her response was, “You can choose one.” It was a tough choice, but I eventually went with the studio. And in early 2018 at the age of 36, I bit the bullet, got a home equity loan, and got started.
This is my studio and this is the story.
Building a home studio is easily one of the best and most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. Sometimes I sit in here and gaze with childlike wonder over how much I love this private 280-square-foot creative oasis. Part of me knows it’s because of all the literal blood, sweat, tears, and money my friends and I put into it. Part of me knows it’s because I’ve built a place where I can find peace. Part of me knows it’s the ikea effect on a pretty large scale. But the most interesting aspect is what it represents: freedom.
Like many musicians, I’ve dreamt for years about moving my gear out of a cramped bedroom and into a proper, dedicated creative space. It all started as a teenager when my dad and I built a small studio in my old bedroom using an Alesis ADAT XT, a PowerPC Mac tower with an A/V card, a cheap 8-track Mackie mixer, a CD burner, and a CD stomper. We would track directly to the ADAT, run each output through the Mackie, and print to the stereo inputs on the Mac’s AV card. From there we put the audio files into a CD-burning app called Toast and we were able to get our music into people’s ears quickly and easily.
We mixed and recorded several albums there, including his musical interpretations of the Mesopotamian story The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Navajo story Big Star Way. I also recorded my first two “albums” Hansel Vs. Gretel and Mytopia there.
As a teenager, I saved every dollar I could to buy music gear, including a Johnson Millennium amplifier, several instruments, strings, ADAT SVHS tapes, blank CDs, and CD label stickers. It was an incredible, hands-on learning experience for several years. Then in 2002 I got an internship with Steve Vai and learned how things are done in the big leagues. My dad and I went all-in on Pro Tools after that.
When I moved out and got married, I still kept a bedroom studio, complete with Tupperware containers full of cables, hard drives, CD spools, and instruments. When my wife and I had kids, I got rid of my amplifiers and got a digital drum kit, which allowed me to record at any hour without waking a sleeping baby.
Eventually, when I started MWM 5 years ago in 2014, the recording studio also became a video production studio and required a ton more gear, including lights, cameras, tripods, and a backdrop. The site grew and grew, as did my collection of gear, until I just couldn’t fit in a 110 square foot room anymore.
In late 2017, after a couple years of discussion, we bit the bullet and decided to build something new in the backyard. We set a budget of about $25K, got a home equity loan, and I worked with my neighbor who runs a construction company. He and I got a design together and spent several months refining and getting through the permit approval process until we finally broke ground in May 2018. We went through every idea from an upgraded Tuff Shed to prefab kits to structural insulated panels to storage containers to tiny houses. I spent hours and hours and hours researching this stuff.
I live in Arizona where it gets very hot in the summers and fairly chilly in the winters. I also live next to a main road with lots of traffic, so insulation was a major concern. We decided on 2x6 16” on center construction for the walls with R-19 fiberglass batts. We did 2x12” 16” on center for the roof with R-38 fiberglass. I wanted a southwestern-style building with a single sloped roof so I could have a square wall to film against in the back of the building. I wanted to walk into the building and have a rising ceiling to give the illusion of more height and it worked out great. This also had drainage advantages to handle Arizona’s flash-flood rains that could drop several inches of rain in just a few hours.
Speaking of drainage, we also had to design new drainage flows for the areas surrounding the building. We put in a French drainage system and graded the dirt so water would flow into the French drains. We also added gutters on my house to help with the drainage. The last thing I needed was any chance of flooding or risk to the foundation.
My neighbor and I designed the inside with two zones in mind. The front half would be the entry zone with computing, socializing, and slumber functions. I work from home a lot, we like to have company over, and we frequently have touring musicians looking for a place to stay for a night. The back half of the studio would be the video production zone where I could film and keep gear set up without constantly tearing down and reassembling when I wanted to film.
Another major consideration was electricity. In the old bedroom studio, I tripped our circuit breaker in the summer pretty regularly because of all the electricity I needed to film at night with lights, computers, and a dedicated air conditioner. That room shared a circuit with our kitchen appliances, so if I drew too much power and my wife used the microwave, it was bad for everyone.
I had a lot of grand ideas in mind when designing this thing. I wanted tons of shelving, everything on wheels, a ramp system outside the house to make it easy to transport rolling gear, and more, but a lot of this was pure fantasy for someone who’d never built something of this scale before.
We had an in-ground hot tub in the backyard with its own 160-amp circuit and subpanel. We used all that amperage for a dedicated HVAC mini split system and two 15-amp circuits inside the studio. I knew I would primarily use LED lighting and camera gear, so the 30 amps would be overkill, but better safe than sorry. I made sure there were plenty of outlets in the design, so we put in floor outlets, ceiling outlets, and lots of four-gang outlets on the walls. Altogether, I believe there are 52 outlets in the building, as opposed to the 6 outlets I had in the bedroom.
We faced several weeks of delays in the permit approval process. We ripped out the hot tub, my neighbor’s company poured a slab, and we framed it very quickly. I spent weeks putting up OSB and plywood sheathing waking up early before the scalding Arizona summer heat would begin. I usually started at 6, would have some meetings from 730 until 8, then I would work more until 9. If I could work through lunch, I would. Then I would work from 5pm until dinner and sometimes after dinner until about 9pm or sometimes later, like until midnight.
The hours were grueling, but I was incentivized to finish as soon as possible. The quicker I finished, the quicker I could start working out there. I barely published any MWM videos during that time. Plus it was so hot that I just wanted to be done with the project. I almost passed out several times nailing down plywood sheathing on the roof in direct sun that was easily 120 degrees.
My kids helped out a lot too and learned on the job. They used a skillsaw, measured wood, and helped out with the fire blocking pieces protecting the roof from risk of fire. They also helped a lot with installing electric wiring and outlets. It was fantastic even though we were all so so hot out there.
I can’t articulate how difficult and painful the framing process was for me. I hit my thumb so many times that it bled internally under my fingernail. I had dried blood in my thumbnail for at least 4 months. I dropped hundreds of nails when they would bounce out of the OSB sheathing. It was so infuriating that I had emotional breakdowns at least once a week that ended with me smashing 2x12” scraps into pieces with a hammer. I’ve never been so angry at my mistakes as I was in this process.
After the framing was complete, I hired a contractor to install a membrane roof and “dry in” the building. This was a major milestone because I could then leave tools in the building without worrying about weather. Many beers were had to celebrate and enjoy this milestone.
Another friend helped me with all the electric work and the ceiling lights. I hired a contractor to install the high voltage wiring and subpanel inside the building. He also helped me get my wiring up to code. I learned how to wire outlets and switches on YouTube and used the pigtail method on every outlet, even when it was unnecessary. I loved doing pigtails, cutting and stripping wire, capping everything, and preparing the building for live power.
Once the electric was done, I bought some windows off a friend who was remodeling his home. Then I had another couple of friends help me install them and the doors. They also helped with the insulation installation. This was a very grueling process because our framing wasn’t exact and required a lot of unnecessary cutting of the fiberglass batting. We spent several days working on that. It was painful. Really painful and we worked past midnight for several days.
The best part of the insulation installation was that I could bring my portable air conditioner into the building. Between the windows and the insulated walls, I could keep the room in the 80s as opposed to the 90s or 100s in the weeks prior. This was amazing, although the air conditioner kept filling up with water and I had to drain it almost every hour during the rain season. It was a pain and I eventually just let the water drain onto the floor so I wouldn’t have to drain it manually.
The next step was drywall, which was a bit of a fiasco because I wanted the ⅝” longest sheets possible for the ceiling. I ordered 12-foot sheets from Home Depot and my friend and I installed them with a lift. These sheets are REALLY REALLY heavy. This was easily the most frustrating part of the construction because we kept measuring and cutting incorrectly. We had to buy replacement sheets and it was a huge mess. I still can’t get all the gypsum dust off the floor. I will never do drywall installation on a ceiling again, especially with 12-foot sheets that weigh more than 100 pounds each.
To make it easier, I bought a tool called a rotozip and it was the greatest tool I’d ever used. The best $80 spent on the whole project, without a doubt. If you are doing anything with drywall, get a rotozip. You will not regret it.
I learned everything about drywall installation on YouTube. I also learned that drywall installation isn’t easy, especially the mud, tape, and texture process. I installed all the drywall on the walls by myself and did not want to deal with the mud and tape. So I hired a local crew and they did a fantastic job. Absolutely fantastic. They made all my flaws disappear. It was stunning.
Once the texture was finished, I started painting the inside and the room came to life. I also hired a crew to put exterior insulation and smooth finish stucco on. This process took a couple of weeks because it’s many coats of concrete and the process requires curing. It was also raining a lot during this time, so it took much longer than I expected for this to get finished.
After all this I was able to hire a guy to install the HVAC system. He did a great job, but the first unit he installed was defective. He also went on a 3-week vacation during all this and I had work travel so it was a real headache coordinating with him.
Speaking of headaches and coordination, dealing with the permit approval process was not easy either. Wow, did I learn a lot through that. Every major step required an inspection and there are only two inspectors for my area. To put this into context, my county has been the fastest growing county in the United States for many years. We have more new construction and building permits than anywhere else in America. And my city of several hundred thousand people only has two inspectors. Those guys visited more than a dozen sites per day and I had to schedule days or weeks in advance. This is a real problem when you’re trying to get something done quickly! Especially when one of them goes on vacation for a couple of weeks.
All in all, it took about four months for the building to be totally usable. By August 2018, I had a “studio opening” party and hired the band Evil Genius to come play. It was an awesome concert and there’s footage of that show on our channel. In March 2019 we finished the installation of the exterior patio, window and door trim, and baseboards. The studio is finally complete (except I have to paint the trim and baseboards). The only thing that remains is metal cap flashing on the parapet wall, and if you know what that means, then you’ll know it’s relatively trivial.
Almost all the tools I used for this project were borrowed from friends and family. Even though I probably built 50-60% of this building, I could not have done it without the guidance, contributions, and talents of many friends. Seriously, I owe it to all of them because I am not a particularly handy person. I have a master’s degree in technology, so most of my expertise is in computer stuff. I learned a ton from them and from YouTube.
This project helped me to learn about things like crickets and scuppers, UFER grounds, termite treatments and orange tags, pigtails, j-bolts, z-hangers, strong ties, fireblocking, 20 ounce hammers, rotozips, mud rings, and more. I went to Home Depot and Lowe’s 3-10 times per week. I taught my kids how to use power tools. I learned how to best hammer a nail through OSB on a 2x6 frame. I learned how to fail inspections and install windows. I know where every screw and nail and beam are in this building. There is literally still dried blood on the floor.
I’ve never felt so free and empowered in my life. This building has taught me that I can do anything I set my mind to. And now I have my own little slice of heaven. It’s not perfect and there are definitely some things I would do differently if I could do it again, but man what an experience. In a day and age where my hands are primarily on computer keyboards, glass touch screens, or guitar strings, to get my hands dirty and bloody was just awesome.
If you’re looking for numbers, here are the basics: the building cost me $25,000, so about $80-100 per square foot, but the real estate market is selling at $150 per square foot and higher in my area. It increased the value of my home significantly. Other people in my neighborhood spent $50K doing similar projects in their yard. The outdoor flagstone patio work was another $10,000, but that can be done much cheaper with concrete or stone pavers. We could have done a lot of things cheaper too, but I didn’t want to compromise much on quality. This is a once-in-a-lifetime type project for me, so we wanted to do it right.
If you’re thinking of doing something similar, I want to encourage you to bite the bullet. It’s good for you and it’s good for the world. We need more people who have hands-on experience instead of armchair expertise. More people creating their own destinies instead of waiting for life to happen to them. More people producing than consuming. More doers and fewer intellectual yet idiots. Feel free to reach out with more questions and please share your own studio projects if you’ve made one yourself. Even though I thought this project would be boring for people, there sure has been a lot of enthusiasm so thank you for all your support! You inspired me to finish and share! So thanks for listening to all this. I plan on sharing more about the studio in the future. If you have suggestions of what you’d like to know, let me know in the comments. If you would have chosen the Lotus Super 7 instead of the studio, I’d also like to hear from you.