May 6, 2019 - Robert John Hadfield

Talking in the Echo Chamber

The Slapback of Listening To Yourself


We recently decided to add a new sound booth to our recording studio. We had an old storage closet in the studio that was the perfect size, so we spent an afternoon pulling out all the boxes and little bits of chaos that had built up in there over time.

It is a small room about 6’x8’ with flat parallel walls, a finished cement floor and a flat painted ceiling.

Parallel walls are not great for a audio management because sound bounces back and forth between them. Similarly a flat ceiling with no carpet on the floor creates additional echo. So when I stepped into this closet after removing everything I was literally standing in an echo chamber. The echo was so bad that carrying on a conversation was almost disorienting. After a moment I had to step out of the room and talk in the front office where I could hear.

Fortunately it’s possible to remedy these issues with a little engineering, but in the moment it seemed almost impossible that the room would ever work as a sound booth.

After working in studios for decades I reaized that sound management is all about absorbing and deflecting.

The first thing we did was cover all four walls with cloth. The cloth had a “pipe” pattern similar to all-weather carpet. Covering the walls with the cloth made an enormous difference right away. Then we put more cloth on the ceiling followed by carpet on the floor. Covering those six surfaces took care of 90% of the issue. Then we placed a couple of dozen egg-crate acoustic panels around the walls and ceiling which also reduced more of the remaining reverberation. Then we took a large piece of carpet and created a long wave-like curved pattern on the ceiling. Finally we placed a large piece of wood covered in cloth and egg-crate acoustic panels at an angle in the corner.

It was shocking! All of these steps deadened the room to the point that it was completely unrecognizable both visually and sonically. It wasn’t the first time I had done something like this, but it was still astounding to see and hear the transformation.

There is an interesting life-lesson in there. Many of us live our lives in an echo chamber. We find comfort in our own ideas, thoughts and beliefs. We surround ourselves with sounds and voices that are just like our own. It’s a natural tendency to do this to ourselves. Although it’s not really a terrible thing, it can be limiting. We tend to become convinced that our way of thinking is always correct. More and more we shut out other voices that don’t fit. When we live in an echo chamber we actually become more rigid and unwilling to recognize our own imperfections and faults.

We all need something that slows our voice down much like the cloth, carpet and acoustic panels we put in our new vocal room. We need something that can redirect our ideas, thoughts, etc. If we are to become a successful person in relationships, and almost any area of life, we need something that pushes back. We need something that reduces the echo and helps us hear.

I have a project called the Thick and Mystic Moment where I interview people about life-changing moments. As I have discussed these moments with many people, one theme comes up over and over – that the presence of another person is almost always a significant part of a major life change. Whether it’s a marriage, a business, or even an addiction, true success often comes by having another person in your life who can help you see or hear clearly.

Listening to other voices doesn’t mean accepting their views. For example, you can be liberal or conservative and listen to the other side without ever changing your mind. But listening helps us understand, question and even fine tune what we believe and why we believe it. Living in an echo chamber never allows for that.

Surround yourself with voices that don't sound like yours. People who don’t just reflect back everything you think and say. We all benefit by having someone that stops the echo. Ultimately things are more solid, clear and usable.

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