How many hours does it take you, from start to finish, to complete a one song recording project ?
I realize the answer is likely to be “It Varies”, but in general what would your answer be? There’s probably many different factors that come into play that effect the total time spent on a recording. Cover songs are likely to be completed much quicker than original songs (especially if you feel very invested in an original song that you really value). With cover songs you only have to learn the parts, while with originals you have to make creative choices with arrangements, note choices, phrasing, lyrics, etc., etc. Actually, sometimes you even have to learn and practice the parts that you write just as you would when recording a cover. Obviously the complexity, length and technical difficulty of the song can be a factor too.
Things that eat up time would be;
Creating the idea ( initial inspiration usually happens pretty quickly but many times it takes some mental fishing to find additional parts and pieces to complete your initial idea)
Choosing the arrangements, song structure, individual pieces of instrumentation, vocal attitude and affect (do you want a raspy vocal or clear vocal, do you want do deepen your voice or do you want your voice to have a bit of a whine or bite …the choices are extensive when it comes to deciding how you want to sing), vocal harmonies (not always simply using 3rds or 5ths, vocal harmonies can become fairly complex when you’re trying to create a specific mood), (vocal harmonies can also completely change the feel of the lead vocal…You can make or break the lead vocal with your choice of harmonies/ background vocals). I guess writing harmonies, arrangements, all note and phrasing choices are really part and parcel of the creative/ writing process. There are infinite choices too be made at this stage.
Often you need to prep for this stage. If it’s a technically easy song there may not need to be much prep…maybe even zero prep, but usually if you want a really good, tight performance you need some rehearsal/ practice. There have been times where I underestimated the amount of precision required to lay down a certain guitar, bass, vocal or drum part and upon playback I hear a slight hiccup in my performance. Some hiccups can be tolerated if they don’t detract from the song but most of the time I don’t like the little blemishes. Often times just a short bit of rehearsal and you’re able to perform the piece well but occasionally a particularly technical part will require more practice to tighten it up. With vocals you have to be careful with phrasing, attitude/ affect, pitch, and DYNAMICS (you don’t want any part of the vocal peaking too much higher than the quietest parts of the vocal…you need to watch for EsseeSsss, transient spikes and plosives…tons of little nuances to vocals!! Acoustic drums,… and to a lesser degree acoustic guitars can be problematic also. But vocals have an enormous amount of …delicacy. Not sure that’s the right word.
My least favourite part of the writing process!
I was prepared to continue a long list of things that require “time” during the creation and completion of a song recording but I’m running out of …TIME ! I’ll continue this later.
Generally, it takes me between 20 and 25 hours to complete a cover song and original song can take up to well over 100 hours. I’m thinking specifically of a song I recorded a few years ago. My most recent song took 75 hours to complete, and I still have to return to it for another remix and to clean a few small things up.
I have notes dating back 14 years that track my recording time for each song (I log my recording hours per song every time I record). I want to go back to look at them for the purpose of seeing how much time I spent working on each one. I’ll report back here to let you know what I find.
The reason I started this thread is because like many of you, I have so many original songs that I want to record but I know there’ll never be enough time to do that. Not to mention, new song ideas are constantly popping up in my head, sending me down another rabbit hole. When I come up with a new song or song idea (part of a song), I do a quick recording of it in Audacity, so that I don’t forget it. I’ve got thousands of these songs, or song ideas from over the years. I would guess that I would like to eventually record about 70% or 80% of those ideas.
Anyone else have this sense of “Too little time, Too many songs/ ideas”?
And…How long does it generally take for you to complete a good quality recording (not rough demos) for you?
I have my days… it can range within 20 minutes to a year
But I am pretty quick in a production turn around from concept to finished product, usually a couple of months. I dont overthink anything and work on instinct most of the times.
I am in the zone right now and recordings are taking meager minutes (thankfully). It started from writing a small film score for an International Wuxia animal spirit-ish type film.
When this happens I tend to make an entire series of it. I am working on an Album right now…as a matter of fact. I am calling it “Life Songs” its stupid simple… Piano, Cello and a little Flute.
Averaging about a track a day.
I simply skip that part and just write a melody. Even though I write a poem every now and then, I leave it at that and I try not to muscle it into a melody. Just doesnt work for me.
Great question and one I was thinking about in regards to projects rather than songs only yesterday.
To expand on the inevitable “it varies” answer, it all depends on the project I am working on.
The Alien Lard project I am making is all about working fast and with energy. All 5 songs had the guitars and bass written and recorded in one sitting (so maybe a couple of hours including the coming up with the ideas). Lyrics are not overly important in this project and the vocals are not “sung” as much as other styles so that’s pretty quick too. Lastly, the mix is easier as there are generally only drums, two rhythm and one lead guitar, bass and a few vocals to mix.
In all, I’d say each of the Alien Lard songs are taking maybe 10 hours each from first notes being tinkered with to a final product, mixed and mastered!
Compare that to my Giggons work and with the more refined song writing, longer songs, layers of orchestration and more detailed mix, I’d say I’d be pushing 5 or 6 times as long! At least that’s what it feels like.
I’ve not once thought about how much time it takes for one song to go from an idea to the final product, I tend to think more in terms of the project.
I would love to know but also HATE to know as well. We all know people who are “first takers” who get their bit recorded first time (anyone here?) but I am not one of them on anything!
Is that the final product or just a demo? And would you be coming back to the song to correct, modify, alter any of the recording?
I know what you mean, but sometimes when you’re not confident with your mixing skills it takes even longer because you’re going to pause and question every choice you make. That can slow you down a lot. But if you don’t know how to mix, you might just say, “It’s done, I’ve finished the song” well before the song is completed. I think that’s what you meant when you wrote that comment, right?
20 minutes is pretty quick! That would be pretty much be a live performance. It takes me time to just get moving at the start of a recording session (plugging things in, naming the project, naming tracks, setting levels, deciding on guitar sounds etc. …also, there’s sometimes issues that pop up and get in my way…for instance - projects crashing, guitar strings breaking, batteries dying…the list of things is huge). By the time I get through with the preparation for recording 20 minutes might have passed already.
In that 20 minutes you have to do all that and listen back closely to the recorded performance to study it for technical imperfection and if you’ve captured the correct feel. Is the BPM too high, is it too low? You know what I mean? There’s lots of small things you need to double check. You want to be sure that you have a good tight performance. Then you need master your song before rendering your file to an MP3 or WAV. It takes time to choose your mastering level because you have to check what kind of LUFs reading you’re getting before rendering. Most of the time that we spend while recording is actually spent in listening to what is recorded. That seems to consume most of the time…Listening and choosing if and what can be improved, or should it be left alone.
I’m going to google, “How many hours in a year”?
Well according to google, if you didn’t pause for sleep, meals, leisure, bathing or anything else, that song took you 8760 hours to complete! That’s a helluva magnum opus !!!
Very nice piece, Michelle!
How many hours do you spend recording in that day (approximately) ?
Ah, that will save you a bit of time. That’s a step I would like to skip too, but most of my songs are written with vocals.
That’s really quick, in my world ! Ten hours per song sounds like a pretty reasonable and acceptable amount of time to expect to spend. I’ve thought about giving myself a fixed time limit to complete a single song recording. I was thinking of somewhere between 10 and 20 hours for an original song would be pretty good. I might even put a shorter time limit on it…Maybe 3 to 7 hours, just to see if I could actually do it. I’m sure I could do it, but I don’t know how satisfied I would be with the final result.
Ok, so 5 to 6 times longer, that would mean about 50 or 60 hours per song. That’s probably similar to what I average per song. So, it’s good to know that I’m not the only one that spends a lot of time recording their original songs. It would be nice to shorten the amount of work and time that we have for making a good product.
Yeah, I know what you mean but I think being aware of the hours you put into this is important. I think some people might be surprised at how much time is spent on creating and recording good music.
For me, it depends a lot on how well rehearsed you are and how certain of the part you are recording. I mean, maybe you like the guitar riff that you created but there are 10 ideas/variations on that riff. So you record the 5 different riffs…then you have to choose which of the 5 you want to use in the song. Maybe you’ll use all of them, maybe you’ll use 3 of them or maybe you’ll use one of them. I have one song project in Reaper that started with one guitar riff and 2 variations on that riff. As I was recording those riffs, more variations on that riff developed and now I have somewhere between 10 and 15 variations. Now I have to choose which ones I consider the best and which to include in the song. The amount of choices in this situation will cause me to spend more time working on the song.
If the riffs/ licks/ drum grooves/fills, basslines/ piano are familiar to you and in your “historical musical repertoire” it’s usually not too hard to get a good take on a first pass but it’s also pretty easy to make little arrangement mistakes when you’re not familiar with the new song and arrangement. The good thing though, is that with this modern digital stuff, we can do a lot of editing fairly seamlessly.
Thanks! id say about 2 hours from composition to finished song. Piano was a single take around 10 minutes. Electric cello wasnt too bad either. I wrote extremely simple. I am trying to enhance some of my simplistic writing abilities. I wrote the piece on paper sitting on my porch. Just sort of mental writing.
Wrote a song once in 20 mins, playing all the parts on the computer keyboard like an absolute amateur. It’s one of the best songs (in my opinion) that I’ve written. Contrast that to the song I’m working on now. Started somewhere around the 2014-2015 period of my life - which I call “thou shalt start songs that will never be finished”
Songs can be written at lightning speed, even instantaneously and they can be recorded quickly as you said, in an a rough, amateur fashion, but that sounds more like a demo to me. Did you ever re-record it in a more professional manner?
Aside from believing it is one of your best songs, do you believe that it is also one of your best productions and performances? You mentioned that you performed it “like an absolute amateur”. Do you think you can improve on the performance and the quality of that initial recording/ arrangements/ lyrics/ note choices, if you spent more time on the recording, production and mix? I always spend much more time working on my better songs than on the songs I value less. Twenty minutes would be useful for laying down a rough sketch of the song but a piece of music that I consider to be one of my best songs would seem too valuable to just accept as a finished product in a total of 20 minutes, unless it somehow couldn’t be improved upon at all. It would be too easy to put a few more hours into it in order to improve it.
It’s a really silly story actually. Worked in Malaysia for a while in a school where we built a recording studio. A guy I worked with was into Dubstep, and would sit there endlessly tweaking his warble bass for hours. I stupidly commented that guitarists just lay down tracks and then move on. Offended, he tells me that I don’t know the “pain” of making electronic music. Yes, we were both being pretentious idiots. As he left the studio he says “it’s not easy making this type of music”. And that bugged me for some reason.
The studio was half finished at the time, so just a computer and some monitors and that was about it. I opened up Logic, grabbed a synth patch and in the absence of a keyboard switched the on screen keyboard to accept typing as playing.
For some reason I imagined a rock band that consisted of keyboard players walking into a studio and laying down a song live. So I started playing. And 20 minutes later I’d created a funk disco track that I think is fantastic. I’ve never touched it since then, not tweaked anything or mixed it in any way. So the performance I captured is what I did that day. And honesty, it’s one of my favourite tracks. Actually been meaning to put it on the Bash this Recording for years…
Are we counting sleep, eat, and doing other stuff time while a mix sits unfinished? Or only time in front of the faders?
I’ve knocked out full production covers in one afternoon. I don’t like covers but I often use them to try different recording techniques. And if it’s a song I already know inside and out, as in I don’t have to learn it, then it goes quick and easy. Some of those quickie covers end up being great finished products.
For originals…I don’t labor over original material. For me if it doesn’t “write itself” then it’s not worth pursuing. I’m not going to force a song into existence. I think most of my own best work is the spontaneous stuff that just hits me and happens. Others may hate those songs, but as the creator I think they’re my best stuff. So those too will go pretty quick, but I will spend time on arrangement and different mixing ideas before I call it done.
So to answer the question…I have no f’ing idea how long it takes. It takes what it takes. A couple hours to a couple weeks. Somewhere in there.
Interesting story for sure. I have had similar experiences. I have been told before that orchestral scores are very easy to create as it just involves playing instruments. Though I never had a falling out on that as you did.
I think regardless of what type of music people make, good melodies are the hardest to create, whether its sung or played on an instrument is immaterial to my ears. A good singer or a good instrument player can definitely take a melody to new heights but creating them is a whole another story. Be it John Williams’ Across the stars, or Farrokh Bulsara’s Bohemian Rhapsody or a rockin good dance melody. Even some of the best Electronic music tracks are melody-centric and not just fancy loops and sounds put together. If you listen to some top Deadmau5 or Moby tracks, they are extremely creative and not easy to create. So I “get” that electronic music does not come easy.
A good melody is the heart of every musical creation. A melody regardless of the tempo can still be very moving. Many songs can have similar chord progressions or instrumentation blips, but melodies are always tricky even the simple ones.
Writing songs for me happens in a different time frame and setting (often on holiday!) than tracking and mixing (and something vaguely akin to mastering). I don’t ever think about other instruments when writing, it’s just me and my guitar. The arranging is something I do more or less on the fly while tracking. And tracking often takes time because I’m not much of a keyboard player, and playing solid even bass notes on time on a bass guitar is much more difficult than it should be . And it depends a lot on the nature of the song. Sometimes I get mysellf into a big project with 8 backing vocals, a strings section, horns, piano, 5 different guitars etc. My experieince is that the mixing is so much easier if the recordings are good. Unfortunately they are often OK at best, are rarely well aligned and some just suck. That’s what you get when you insist on playing every instrument yourself… I often replace a track while in an advanced stage of mixing…
So I guess:
writing: usually between 1 and 2 hours, sometimes I come back to the lyrics another hour or so.
tracking: between 15 and 50 hours
mixing: 15 to 30 hours
‘mastering’ (nowadays trusting Ozone to do most of the work): 2-4 hours
In all I guess on average about 60 hours.
So apparently that’s not a strange amount of time! And then, my mixes are pretty terrible compared to those of some of the people on this forum. So maybe 60 hours is some sort of maximum, after which it just isn’t any fun, and you stop? “That’s it, it’s good enough for my level of ability” I hear myself thinking. Does that ring a bell?
I enjoyed that story. It’s always interesting to hear others experiences and learn how it led them or inspired them to do something. I often find myself thinking the same way you did/ do about people who use only MIDI instruments to slap together a piece of music. In the right hands it can be used in a very crafty, musical way but it seems like there are many so-called “songwriters/ musicians” that are just throwing crap at the wall and seeing what sticks. If you throw enough crap at the wall, eventually something will stick. If you continue to swing at the ball, eventually your bat will connect and you’re going to hit one out of the park.
Another thing about some of those Virtual Instruments…, guitars, specifically acoustic guitars sound so fake that it just doesn’t sound right to me…And often the people who create those parts have no idea how the guitar should be played to make it sound like an acoustic guitar. Sorry about my rant. I’m going off the topic.
I was thinking of asking you to post it in BTR or here but I didn’t want you to feel pressured. I’m definitely interested in hearing it !
If that’s the case, would you consider them to be more akin to demos because they’re not really completed yet ?
Hey Paul, I’ve never tried Studio One, but I would think it’s similar to other DAWs. I wonder if you have something set up wrong or maybe you are limiting it too hard. I wonder if you dialed back the amount of limiting, you could get it sounding better? I’m using Reaper and I simply put a basic mastering limiter on my final mix. I check my LUFs meters to make sure I’m dialed into a good level and use the limiter to adjust the volume, while listening for any distortion or strange audio artifacts.
Only time that you’ve spent on working on the song. So, it can include any preparation or practice that you do before recording. I guess if you’ve been playing a cover song for months or years before you begin recording it, you’ll never know how much actual time you spent on it. In that case I just count the time it takes to boot up the computer, record, listen critically, re-record, mix, listen again and revise if necessary, mix again, master, render a master WAV, MP3, (Burn to CD, if that’s part of your process) etc.
Covers can sometimes be fun and easy because we don’t have to worry about the writing process, the arrangements, lyrics, etc. Of course we have to learn the parts of each different instrument but sometimes we have been playing these covers for years, so that makes it easier. Also, you can make it easier if you don’t learn the song note-for-note and you create your own bass lines, drum fills/ beat, and stray from the original instrumentation of the song. Although sometimes if you get too creative and adventurous you can find yourself almost rewriting the song.
I think using covers to practice your recording/ mixing technique is very useful and fun too.
To me, writing songs is like fishing. It almost feels like we fish for songs, we fish for ideas, for inspiration. Maybe others can relate to this, I don’t know. When I was a kid I would go camping with my grandfather and brother. We’d go out in my grandpa’s boat and fish on the lake. We’d all have our lures and lines in the water and sit in the boat for long periods waiting to get a bite. I don’t remember when or why I started to get this belief/ idea that I could coax the fish to take the bait/ hook, but in my mind I felt I could get the fish to bite easier than my grandfather and brother because I would always catch much more than them. My technique was to be focused (in the zone), patient and to do very small, subtle movements with my fishing rod, sort of emulating a struggling , wounded fish. I think this would be a common technique, though I’m unsure, because I don’t know much about fishing but I always felt very confident and sure that I would catch the fish. I don’t know if it was just pure luck, my technique or something intuitive in me (the sureness, confidence, faith). I felt like I was drawing the fish to bite the hook. Writing songs feels very much like that to me. It’s almost like you can intuit the song, that you can summon the song when you’re in the zone, in the right mood. Sometimes I just throw crap at the wall but most of the time I feel like I’m fishing for songs. So, I do understand what you mean about songs writing themselves, because often the song can come to you easily and immediately if you are in that mental/ emotional place…but you can also put yourself in that place and you can summon a good song. If you try to strong- arm a song and fight or wrestle with it, it doesn’t want to cooperate with you, in the same way that you don’t make a lot of noise in the boat and you don’t splash the water and you remain mentally/ emotionally centered when you’re fishing. If I have a one really good part for a song but it requires another part, whether a verse, chorus, bridge, I will labour a lot to find the rest of the song. The labour might take place over a period of minutes, hours, days, months and commonly years, also. Many times it’s the spontaneous, initial idea that sparks the creation of the song but to complete the song I will fish (labour) for it. The labour suggests a struggle , a fight, but it’s a more of a coaxing, or a summoning. So, in a way, you can say I do sometimes force a song into existence, or that I gently corral a song, or fish it out of the universe. I use spontaneity and labour both, depending on the situation. In most cases I would say even when you labour over a song, when you finally get the part you’re looking for, it comes to you in that spontaneous flash of inspiration, even when you’ve been working on it for years. So in a way, it’s all spontaneous. It can feel like a burden if you struggle too much with it though, so I understand what you mean regarding, “forcing a song into existence”.
I tend to agree. It’s often the heart and centerpiece but not always. I definitely focus on it quite a bit in my own songwriting. Many people are suckers for a good groove too. I guess it depends on the style of music and what the listener has a preference for. Think of the lack of melody in Rap. Those fans seem to always talk about the beat. I better stop here before I say something bad about that style of music …
That’s much the same way I write. In recent years I usually write the initial vocal melody and guitar line on acoustic guitar and sometimes an electric guitar, or I get a vocal melody or I hear a riff in my head and I play it on the guitar. So when I boot up my computer and interface, I have at least the vocal melody, a line of lyrics and a basic background guitar rhythm or riff. Sometimes I come up with a bassline instead of using guitar. Occasionally, I’ll create an interesting drum groove in my head, then I’ll record it. Back in the 80’s I used to write 98% of my songs with a piano. It was a bit unorthodox because I was writing mostly hard rock, heavy metal songs. I found banging on the piano and singing was a lot of fun.
That’s often how I do it too. I might have some vision for arrangements before I start recording but I find it can be advantageous to lay down the basic tracks first, before I start committing to any specific planned arrangements. For instance, I might have a good idea as to what the bass is going to be playing behind the guitars and what the drum groove and fills might be, and an idea about the vocal harmonies or how long the verse will be, but when I record the basic tracks I might find that the verse is too long, or that the bass line is too busy, or that the drum groove or fill is not playing well with the bass or that there needs to be some alterations in the song structure.
Oh yeah !
Those multiple, stacked backing vocals can really add up. I can imagine multiple strings, horns and a piano creating even more chaos. You start out thinking you’re going to record a 15 track song and end up with 40 tracks! Just looking at all the tracks and trying to easily find things can become confusing at times.
Sixty hours sounds reasonable to complete the whole song project. If the song is still not complete and isn’t fun anymore I would still continue working on it…as long as it’s a song that you like and value. My guess is, that if you managed to work 60 hours on it, the song does have a fair bit of personal value, so I wouldn’t stop there. After that amount of time hearing the song and focusing on it, you might become sick of it, no matter how good it is, but I would keep on going until it’s completed to your satisfaction. Maybe take a little break from the song (a few days) or a long break (a few weeks or months) so that you gain some perspective and don’t burn yourself out.
Really curious on this, mainly the tracking side of things. Would a 50 hour tracking be because you are bad at the instruments and have to do them over and over, the sheer number of instruments, or would you be writing parts for such instruments at the same time (which is what I do once I have the structure down that was created usually on one key instrument)?
Hi again. Kinda fun this thread…like a morning coffee get-together. I have never used a limiter. I do find places in say an acoustic track or vocal that visually is too high. I break the track and reduce them a few db. I don’t know any of the technical stuff Mr Mike. I bet I put this in the wrong spot too…par
Oh absolutely!. As I said, I arrange on the fly. So I program the drum track which alone takes hours and I usually change things afterwards (now I finally got a decent e-drum set that shoudl go quite a lot faster), I try out bass lines, piano parts harmonies etc, etc. So it’s not just the recording. At least half of it is trying things out, comping parts etc. So I guess thats recording including a lot of editing.
its called multing and quite common. Its often time a better approach than overly compressing the entire audio. Doing this also allows you to handle vocal parts differently in different sections of the song. So you arent committing a mixing crime