If you’re new to the world of recording studios, it’s hard to know what to expect. Some people walk in thinking (often wrongly) they’ll have their entire twelve song project done, mixed, and mastered in a day. Some (also often wrongly) think it will take years of backbreaking labor. The truth is, it depends on many variables – from the skill of the person running the board to the scope and budget of the recording. Every project is different, and there are several factors to consider. Here’s just a few guidelines to help you know what to expect.
How Big Is Your Project?
Are you doing a quick demo/single, a five song EP or a double album? While there are always exceptions, the shorter and simpler the project, the quicker the turnaround. If you’re doing a demo for a single song, it’s not unreasonable to expect it to be completed and within a day. A five song EP could take several days to a week, and of course a crazy big project like a double album could take significantly longer.
What About The Instrumentation?
Again, the rule of thumb applies here: the more elaborate the arrangement, the longer it will take. Is it a simple guitar vocal? That can often be knocked out fairly quickly – often just an hour or two. Is it your vision to record your album with a seventy piece orchestra? That could take significantly longer – and be more expensive. Think of it this way – the engineer or producer has to set up mics for each individual instrument (assuming they don’t go direct). That can mean some amount of trial and error in terms of finding the best mic and placement for each instrument, adjusting levels, running cables, and so on. Some instruments, like drums, might need more than one mic. As you can see, even something seemingly “simple” can balloon into being more time consuming than you might expect. If you’re on a budget or facing time constraints, simple is the best policy.
What about skill?
Who’s going to be playing on your recording? Is it someone inexperienced in the studio or new to the instrument? Can they reliably play to a click track, as most pro musicians can? Is the person behind the soundboard experienced, or is it someone who’s seen a few YouTube videos and learning as they go? Even if the song is simple and easy, recording might not be. What happens if all the snare hits are off-beat and the engineer has to edit them? That could be hours of time consuming work. If you want it done great – and fast – you’re gonna have to pay a little more for it, and that means hiring experienced professionals.
Have You Done Your Homework?
This can surprise some, but doing some of the legwork yourself should be expected as part of your project. That means having at least a rough idea of arrangement and instrumentation – even something as simple as “I really love the instruments in this Pop song…can we do something like that?”. Are all your songs ready to go, or will they need last minute rewrites? Writing in studio burns the clock – major acts with label money can afford this, but self-funded indies often can’t. Changing your vision for the arrangement midstream can also cost you time and money too – bad news if you’re on a budget or deadline. Bottom line, have some idea of what you want before going in and have as many ducks in a row as possible. It will help you get your project done much more efficiently!
The Bottom Line
So you’ve read this far and still want some concrete answers. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Another way to gauge how long a project will take is how you’re going to go about the recording process.
Live in studio: If you’re looking to get the raw energy of a live performance (or just doing a quick demo), this is the quick and dirty way to do it. If your band is tight, you know the material, and you’re not looking for a lot of overdubs, it’s not unreasonable to bang out several songs in a day.
One instrument at a time: With a few exceptions, this is likely what you’re used to hearing on the radio – clean, polished, perfection. The producer spends time with each instrument, often punching in to get the perfect take. This dog’s eye view of the project can pay dividends if you’re looking to really make yourself shine. On the downside, it’s more time consuming. Figure one or two days for drums, bass, and other backing tracks, a couple more for vocals, another for overdubs and background vocals, plus anything extra you might want to throw in. Allow another day or two for mixing per song and you’re probably looking at a couple weeks for a full album – that is, if your band is tight and everything goes perfectly to plan.
Recording can be stressful, but it should also be fun – you’re bringing your vision to life. Be open and honest with your producer about your expectations and skills. They’ll let you know if it’s realistic. Remember to be as prepared as possible, but don’t let that drive out your creative spirit!