The decision about how much to spend on your album should be based on multiple factors and your priorities for the project. Besides the recording, there are many different elements that go into creating the perfect sound. Regardless, it’s hard to make these budgeting decisions without knowledge of the general recording process. Below I’ll list the different parts of creating an album, and include some insight on how you could budget each step.
Booking The Right Studio
This is probably the most obvious place you’ll be spending some money. Studio pricing has a massive range from studio to studio. Some smaller, single room studios might cost between $35-$75/HR, whereas larger, multi-studio complexes could run anywhere between $75-$200/HR depending on which studio you’re using. In less expensive studios you might get less analog gear, a smaller microphone collection, it could be noisier than more expensive studios, and there’s most likely less isolation rooms. Less isolation means if you were to record a full band at once, the band members instruments would bleed into each others microphones, making it more difficult to edit and mix your song later down the line. Most importantly though, the reason you should go with a certain studio is because of the engineer you’ll be working with. None of the gear matters if the person running it doesn’t have a good ear, or isn’t proficient in the technology they’re using. The good news is that there are incredible engineers at both the more expensive, and less expensive studios. If you’re interested in a specific studio, book a tour and ask the engineer about their background and experience. Hopefully this will give you a good idea of how professional they are.
Side note: Not all studios make it clear whether their hourly rate includes an engineer or not. Make sure to find that out before booking!
If you plan on playing all the instruments on your album, then you don’t need to worry about hiring session musicians. If you do plan on hiring session musicians to help perform various parts on your album, you’ll want to budget them in. Some musicians charge hourly, some charge by the song. Typically for professional session musicians, you’re looking at $75-150/HR, or $75-150/song. Those who have more credits and experience to their name will typically charge more than those who are also talented, but haven’t been doing it for as long. The studio you’re interested in booking with will most likely have a great list of session musicians to recommend.
Mixing Your Album
Once you’ve recorded and edited all of your songs, you’ll want to get your songs mixed. A mixing engineer balances the volume of all the individual tracks in your songs and adds additional processing to make your music sound as professional as possible. Mixing engineers are the reason you can hear everything in your song clearly, and they make sure that the vocal is always present and heard over all the instruments. A moderate price for mixing is around $250-$300 a song. Just like session musicians, mixers with more experience and credit will charge much more (some make around $5,000 a song). Mixing is extremely important, and it’s worth allocating a good amount of your budget for it. It’s best to avoid novice mixers because after you’ve spent so much time and effort recording your songs the way you like them, it would be really unfortunate to have them all sound off balance and not translate the way you imagined them. If you can budget an average of $300/Song for mixing, you should be in good hands.
Mastering Your Album
When all your songs are mixed, the mixing engineer will then “print” each song into a single, stereo file format. This means that all the individual tracks (drums, bass, guitar, etc) will get consolidated down to one stereo track so that they can be handed off to a mastering engineer. A mastering engineer takes all those individual tracks and makes them loud enough to be competitive on radio, and processes the tone of each song so that it translate clearly out of all types of speakers (computer, car, phone, stereo). Mastering is very important even though it’s a step in the process that doesn’t get a lot of attention. On the more affordable end, expect to pay between $80-$100/Song for master. The more expensive and experienced mastering engineers will charged between $150-$250/Song.