Creating and recording a song, for any songwriter/producer/musician, is one part creativity and one part science. There are times when inspiration hits and we just go with our gut, but there is also a very practical process and methodology to follow.
I often get asked by my new clients how long it takes to make one song. Many people underestimate what it takes to go through this process, so in an effort to help my audience understand my process, I wanted to outline what it takes to take a song from scratch to fully mastered.
On average (for me), one song takes 24 hours of work. This reasonably conservative estimate takes roughly three days of studio work.
Now, we can help the process by batch recording say all of the drums for 4-5 songs at once, but if I’m given one song (which is what I do most), this is what it takes.
PRE-PRODUCTION: 1-2 hours
I always ask if I can listen and give my opinion for how the song can be better. I’ve never had anyone tell me no. I listen and think about the chord structure and the arrangement. There are common songwriting elements that make a great song. These principles have withstood the test of time because they work. These are the things I am searching for in your song. There are exceptions, but in general your listeners want to hear a structure that is similar to what they are used to hearing in popular music.
DRUMS/LIVE/PROGRAMMED: 3 hours
If we are bringing in a live drummer, then we will set up the mics and stands and spend about an hour making sure we are getting great sounds/tones. Then we’ll track the drums, comping together the best takes as we go. If the client doesn’t have a drummer or the track calls for programmed drums, we pull up all the drum sounds and tools we have (which is a lot), go to my favorites, and start experimenting with beats and patterns that work. Many of my finest works, that you might think we used real drums on, are actually programmed samples. The technology is so good these days that no one can tell if you do it right.
BASS: 1 hour
Bass is my specialty and something that only takes about an hour or so once the structure is laid out and the basic drum pattern is established. The bass and the drums (especially the kick) must work together and build the pocket that everything else will build on.
RHYTHM INSTRUMENTS: 2 hours
What instruments carry the pulse of the track? A lot of times it might be an acoustic guitar or piano. We build this on top of our established rhythm section (bass and drums).
ELECTRIC GUITARS: 2/3 hours
Electric guitars (or lead instruments) usually get layered in at this point. We start to fill up the track with layers of guitars that fit the song. Between micing an amp (or using an amp simulator plugin), recording the basic parts, and experimenting with new parts, this process usually takes about two or three hours.
ADDITIONAL INSTRUMENTATION: 2/3 hours
I’m using a broad term here because this could include a lot of different things depending on what the song needs. If it is a pop tune we might consider bringing in some synths or pads, but if it is a country track we might consider bringing in a fiddle player. Depending on what the song calls for, there is usually additional instrumentation needed that will help the listener stay engaged, and not get bored, with the track.
LEAD VOCALS: 3 hours
Vocals are something that I’m extremely passionate about, too. No one will honestly remember what instrumentation is on the track or what the drums or bass are doing. But what they will remember, will be the vocals. Energy, timing, pitch...all of these things must be considered. For one song, it can take a vocalist 2 hours, on average, to really nail one song. Afterwards, the editing and tuning of those vocals can take up to another hour or so.
BACKGROUND VOCALS: 2 hours
Background vocals are the same as the lead vocals and have to be taken into consideration. Will the lead singer be doing their own background parts or will we need to bring in a professional singer? It all depends, but most of the time, background parts add another hour to the recording and another hour for editing and tuning those vocals.
MIX PREP: 1 hour
Once all of these pieces are in the puzzle and the client loves what we have, it takes time to export all of these individual song elements as stems into a brand new mixing session. This process can take up to an hour to make sure all the edits are clean and the tracks are ready to be delivered to mixing.
MIXING: 3/4 hours
Mixing is where all of the hard work pays off. We bring all of the stems together to find the perfect balance for the track. Adding the final reverbs, delays, EQ, and compression will make everything sound so professional and polished. Mixing is a passion of mine, and I get very excited every time I get to this part of the process.
MASTERING: 1 hour
Mastering is taking the final mix into it’s own session and putting the final layer of wax on it. The main focus of this process is EQ, compression and overall level. I will reference other commercial masters at this point to see where the mix can be improved. Typically this takes about 1 hour of serious focus.
TOTAL TIME: 24 hrs.
Add up all of the time above and this process takes about 24 hours. It’s a lot of work but it really pays off in the end. When you have a final song that you can submit and sell on iTunes, it’s all worth it. When you have a song that you can send to promoters to get live gigs, it’s all worth it. When you can share your song with your fans and get your message to the world, it’s all worth it.
And it’s not only exciting for the client, but as a producer, I get equally excited about this process and really believe that the work and effort we put in really is worth it.
LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW:
What was your studio experience? Did it take you longer or shorter than you thought to record?
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