All good. There are many functioning studios with less than ideal ceiling heights.
I think the best way to start is putting on a pair of headphones, have the vocalist stand next to you, then muting your monitors when you hit record. That gets you going and requires absolutely no wall building or construction off the cuff. It'll give you some time to play with your environment before you start chopping and molding it into a more permanent setup. Use a rug and some cushions to absorb sound. Hell, you can even pile folded clothing on shelves to deaden space if the reverb is out of control.
Not if you want to bring in a credentialed studio/cinematic/theater architect into the picture. These guys are willing to work on small 2 room studios with sub-$100k budgets, but they don't run around putting bandaids on bedrooms and attics. The good news is that with a construction background, the DIY stuff is going to be much cheaper. I'm horrible with tools and probably couldn't even build a square box out of wood. It really comes down to research. Maybe starting hanging out on Ethans site in addition to ours ;D http://the-audio-expert.freeforums.net
Ah! I understand. And absolutely agree. When I decided not to pursue a masters degree, and took the money and bought a console off NBC, then merged it with another mixer from a large multi million dollar film studio, what actually happened is I had to learn the maintenance, upkeep, debugging, hardware configs, and soooooo much that I would have never learned in college. Hell, many of the audio instructors at Berkley don't know what I know about that console. I promise you, most instructors at Berklee and Full Sail haven't EVER had to take it apart their S5, deal with a bridge card failure, debug a malfunctioning summing matrix, or calibrate the brightness on their module screens. Most of them will never have to solder ELCO connectors for the proprietary preamps. I learned how to do all of this myself, and could school some of those arrogant fucking audio instructors on how the damn system works.
I also eventually got into private audio tech groups with other engineers that own the same console and work on it daily. This was available through avid. Those other huge name mix engineers wouldn't have even spoke to me if it wasn't obvious that I owned an S5bp...specifically my particular serial number. But I have an open line to the other engineers and techs who work on the console at Park Road, Technicolor/Paramount, Disney, Sony, etc...
So the point of a college degree in audio is the trade skill. Its the hands on experience with half million dollar consoles and the networking, job placement, and internship opportunities provided through the college. Right? I ended up with a lot of that, and much more, and at the end of 7 months, even have a mixer, PT rig, and mic locker to show for it too lol.
Sounds to me that your first priority has to be getting to know yourself better. I don't know if you can really know what your strengths and weaknesses are as an actual engineer because it doesn't sound like you've done quite enough hours in the producer seat or drivers seat. You really need to build the studio around your own strengths. A good example is Chris Lord Alge...hes one of the best mix guys around in the contemporary DAW/analog hybrid market. His entire studio uniquely reflects his sound and his voice in the music recording field. The shape of the rooms, the signal flow wiring, his unique ergonomic layout, the acoustics modifications that were made to his building in Tarzana California, they were all built around HIS needs. Mine are very different. And opposite. I'm all digital. Most video game sound design is generated in the box and it never leaves. Broadcast audio (which i also do) has very little to do with analog outboard processing. So instead of having a system to nuke every ounce of audio goodness out of a kick and snare drum, mine is designed to push enormous digital channel counts from multiple sources in a highly efficient and organized manner. My point is that I would have never known what to buy if I'd have taken a random guess 10 years ago. I let the studio grow as my career progressed, and as I discovered what I really wanted to be doing in music.
As for where to start...just dive in. Literally, go get a decent mic and a pair of cheap monitors and find someone to sing into it! That's all it takes. When you hit a problem you don't know how to solve, start digging and figure it out.