How long does it take to record something and how much does it cost?

There's really no "one-size-fits-all" answer because there are a lot of variables involved. But let me at least give you some generic information that might help answer some immediate questions.

Most of  the "rock band" demo projects I've been involved with - say, 4-5 songs, nicely mixed and mastered - come in at around $300. This assumes the band or artist is well-rehearsed and is able to record the songs in two or three takes. You can figure about an hour per song for the tracking process and maybe a half hour per song to mix and master. That's pretty typical for most bands. If you're a solo artist, you're probably recording and overdubbing various instruments one thing at a time, so it's going to naturally take a little longer.

The cost for a full-blown, well-polished commercial album can cost you anywhere from $500 - $2,000 or more depending on the number of songs involved, the style of music, number of overdubs, amount of post-production editing and mixing work required, your end-game goals, etc. Perfection takes time (usually). 

I charge a flat rate of  $25/hour. There are no hidden fees so you can kinda budget pretty easily based on that figure. By comparison, most of the other studios in the area are charging two or three times that amount - or more if you're recording on analog tape.

I should also mention CD mastering/duplication since that factors into the amount of time involved. I talk about those processes in more detail elsewhere here in my FAQ section. These days, a lot of artists are going direct to the internet with MP3's and bypassing the CD duplication process altogether. Some clients are going back in time and getting vinyl pressed (LP's are making a comeback). Usually there's artwork involved. All these things affect the release time. 

We really do need to talk in order to get the best estimate possible. I suggest you call or stop by for a visit so we can discuss all this in more detail. I should be able to give you an accurate estimate once I understand what you're trying to achieve. There's no obligation and I promise there won't be any hard sell tactics. I hate it when people do that to me.

Some personal observations and general comments:

1) Probably better than 90% of my clients schedule recording sessions over the course of many days, weeks or months.  Most free-lance musicians have day jobs and family commitments. It can be a problem to take time off from work to record an album. Heck, it's hard enough to get people to show up for a rehearsal once a week. Also, the musicians I normally work with aren't independently wealthy so they tend to schedule sessions based on cash flow. The advantage is that it gives you a little more breathing room and time to experiment with sounds and song arrangements. It also gives you a chance to go back and fix little things that maybe weren't up to snuff. I think the level of satisfaction with the final product is usually higher when you can afford to spend the extra time to evaluate and fine-tune things.

2) I've recorded albums here in a less than a day. An experienced, ambitious artist or band can start in the morning and walk out in the evening with a fully mixed and mastered recording. An album recorded in a day probably won't have the same level of sophistication and polish compared to an album that was recorded over a longer period of time. But then again, that sort of raw, immediate quality might be exactly what the artist is after. 

3) Truth be told, recording projects have a tendency to take on a life of their own. Clients will often come in with one set of expectations and leave with another. The game plan can change on the spur of the moment. For example, a band might book time here with the intention of recording a quick demo and then decide halfway through the process to go the extra mile and really polish it up nice. That happens a lot. But the reverse is also true. Occasionally, a client will come in here with grand expectations only to find out that it ain't working for whatever reason and stop short. There are many reasons why that happens. I've seen bands literally disintegrate halfway through the recording session because they aren't getting along. I could write a book ha ha.

4) A good work ethic helps. If you're used to working quickly and efficiently, you're naturally going to get more done. But you know, this isn't a factory. We're not making transistor radios here. This is art. Sometimes it's important to experiment in order to get the right results. A lot of clients record alternate takes of parts and then sleep on it for a few days to see if they like the direction. During the course of a session, it's important to take a breather every so often. Helps clear the brain. An occasional ten minute break probably saves you wasted time in the long run because you're not frustrating yourself into an artistic coma. Bring some food or munchies along. Hunger pains are distracting. Don't try to do marathon sessions if you can avoid it. Mental fatigue and ear fatigue are very real things you have to deal with. Not everyone in a band has the same endurance levels.

5) If you can't perform the songs all the way through at rehearsal without screwing up, it definitely won't work here either. Things go a lot smoother if you are well-rehearsed but even well-rehearsed clients sometimes have problems. I guess it's just a matter of experience, or mileage, or whatever you want to call it. If your songs aren't fully developed, and you're still working out the arrangements, then obviously that will have a bearing on the amount of time it takes to complete the project. Songs that are fully realized before the session starts will usually sound more confident and come together a lot quicker. There's also another common problem: a lot of bands aren't really sure what they sound like. It can be a shock to actually hear yourself when you listen to a playback. If you're used to rehearsing in a crappy sounding basement with no monitors or crappy equipment or whatever,  you might not even really be paying attention to what the others are doing. You're just happy that it sort of sounds like music ha ha. In the studio, everything is under a microscope.

6) It's been my observation that the number of friends and acquaintances you bring to a session will usually have a negative impact on workflow. The entertainment factor wears off after about 15 or 20 minutes and that's when the trouble starts. People will inevitably start laughing and joking around. They'll start asking me what those buttons do. Cell phones start going off and, well, you know what I mean. My advice here is to bring only those people who are actively involved in the session and leave friends and family at home. However, if you think additional people will add to the energy level of the performances (people usually like to play to an enthusiastic crowd) then bring 'em along. 

7) The more you drink the more you stink. A glass of wine, or a few beers, or a shot of whatever isn't the problem. If you've just finished off a fifth of Hennessy, that's a problem. I've lost track how many people have fucked up their own recording sessions by drinking too much. I never drink during a session so I'm the least of your problems in this regard. Nuff said. 

8) Make sure your equipment is in good working order. Change the strings on your guitars before you get to the session. Make sure your guitars are set up and intonated properly. Bring spare parts (batteries, strings, tubes, cables, etc). Nothing worse than an equipment malfunction, dead battery or broken string in the middle of a song to ruin the flow of the session. 

9) I find that it helps to map out a game plan before we start each session. Just a short five minute group meeting to discuss things is good enough. People usually have questions and comments and it helps to get everything out on the table so we can make intelligent decisions later on. It just helps the session flow a little better.

10) Time flies when you're having fun. It's the theory of relativity at work. Consider this very typical scenario: you want to record a four minute rock song. The song is four minutes long. The band plays the song all the way through from start to finish. Now they want to hear a playback. That's another 4 minutes. Then they spend 5 minutes discussing the performance and whether or not they should do another take, or keep what they have and fix any problem areas. Almost 15 minutes have just flown by and that's just one take. So let's say the band decides to do another take. That's another four minutes. Let's hear playback. Another four minutes. Discuss again. Go to the bathroom. Go smoke a cigarette. Tune your guitars. Make a phone call. Tell a joke. etc etc etc. Before you know it, an hour has gone by. And all you have is the beginning of a single song. You still need to lay down a few vocal tracks or who knows what. See what I mean about time flying by?

If it's any consolation to you: I like to work quickly and steadily. I prefer it when sessions move along at an even, comfortable pace. I like to get mics up, things dialed in, and get the session moving as quickly as possible. I don't like to waste time (my own or the client's). I don't need to make money like that. If you feel like things aren't moving along the way you'd like, stop and say something. I try to be as efficient as possible but if you think there's a better, faster way to go, let me know. Sometimes, things take however long things take. If I have to stop a session to deal with a problem (like a squeaky drum throne or amp buzz or something), I'll try to get the problem resolved as fast as I can. If it's going to take a while I'll discuss it with you and we'll decide as a team what to do. My standards might be different than yours. You always have the final say on things like that. Rock on!

 

Back to FAQ