I was recently asked by a client “how long does it take to write, produce, and mix a song?”
I sat the client down and asked, are you asking this question due to budget and time constraints or just a general knowledge of what works in the music industry to make a commercially equal song? First they asked, what is a commercially equal song? So I told them equal to what you hear on the radio & gave examples such as Adele, Jay-Z etc. Their answer was that’s exactly what I want, a commercially equal song. So I asked, did they have the real budget to accommodate such and I heard crickets…lol
It’s common these days on any social network or even offline for so-called producer/writers to say & even guarantee in some cases that they can make a track in a half hour , finish a joint in a day, or make radio-ready recordings for the low, but what are you really getting? You surely are not getting a recording on the level of a Jay-Z, LMFAO, Linkin Park, or Erykah Badu.
The biggest confusion regarding this subject these days is that due to technological improvements, availability, & the ability to do certain functions easier than the past that the creative process somehow is easier. I would say it’s tougher. Why? More choices and more things you can get bogged down with such as auto-tuning, time correction, layering, large track counts, etc. Mind you, all the things I listed before have nothing to do with creation because all you need is a guitar and vocal to create. In fact, I create most of my songs that way so as not to get caught up in the production end of the deal. Some may say that’s an old fashioned approach and it may be but to make solid songs they should be as lucid & powerful as if you had the entire production. That’s a big part of what’s missing in today’s music from many artists is that they have over-produced tracks but the songs might not be viable or solid to hit the souls of the consumers. If you don’t believe me Google any of the pros who write…you can see them in the studio writing songs with a guitar/vocal or piano/vocal. Examples: Ryan Leslie, Olivia, Siedah Garrett, Diane Warren, Rico Love, etc.
As a long time professional musician and producer over the years, I can pretty much predict how long it can take me to create a song but I must admit I am a horrifically slow writer yet have never had no problem making deadlines. If you really, feel what you are doing you should be almost drained when you finish writing a song because it should be a part of you that just had to get out. That’s why I so admired DJ Quik for so many years because he was one of the first top hip hop producers out in the game who said it took him a week to make a beat to just sit just right, then create the rhyme and the remainder of the process another week or so.
Lady of Rage said it took her a week to write a rhyme. In fact, I remember her saying that she saw others just writing any old thing thinking she would have a problem making it in music since she was so slow. But was she really too slow? I would say no.
Erykah Badu said about recording her last cd and maybe all of her prior music that she likes to live with the songs aka demo love for months. By the time she records the album she has everything she needs to be able to execute her songs to the utmost so her fans can feel what she feels. Why do you think she is so popular? It’s not just because of the production though that is a very big part, it’s because she gets to the root of the entire idea.
Don’t get me wrong on occasion I wake-up and a song has written itself to a point that all I have to do is go to my guitar and write the words & melody down but generally speaking to make the song sound right to me at least a week and some songs may take months. It depends on the artist and how burned out I may be from making music. I can make hooks and the basic shell in a day but the entire song could come the same day or next month. Ultimately, I ply my craft daily whether I have clients or not so technically I can write an entire song in a day but will it be a hit or commercially equal song all the time? You bet not. Most times I have to write 3 or 4 songs to find one that is that song that I am confident will represent that artist properly. Some songs require me to utilize technology as well which in some cases makes the writing process longer because I get bogged down with the tools & not the creation. Again, this is just the creation portion I am not even including the production end of the deal.
Many of today’s aspiring artists whether signed to developmental deals or underground and Indie do not understand such yet they still want the recording to sound like what’s on the radio without the financial backing to produce the music, promote neither it nor the patience to create their best work in the first place.
These days I turn away clients because of their lack of understanding this important aspect of making music. They will still expect commercially equal recordings for whatever you quoted, so why deal with the headache?? If you work with me you will get everything you hired me to do. I am realistic. I would never say I could create and produce a commercially equal song in a in a day. To promise such is stupid, ruins your credibility, and reputation. So my suggestions to aspiring producers stop lying to your clients or artists & tweeting you are making industry level work for the low!!! If you don’t know any better then you need to re-read my prior tip to “know your craft.” Anyone who knows anything about making music a good song needs to marinate. Again, why do you think groups like P-Funk, James Brown, Mariah Carey, etc. are so great? They didn’t rush a song when a greater one was and is waiting to be developed. If you spend the proper amount of time in the creation phase you may just have a chance of catching that break.
You can make crap in a half hour but to make commercial shiiii… time, attention to detail, heart and soul have to be a part of it.
THE HARDEST WORKING MUSIC PRODUCER AND ALL AROUND ENTREPRENEUR IN THE GAME!
KNOW YOUR CRAFT BLOG:
Here are some thoughts from other folks who are only referring to the production end in terms of time…no one addressed that the creation part to lead up to the recording can take extensive periods of time. But I still wanted to post these responses because many don’t know how much is truly involved in the recording process on a professional & Indie levels:
It all depends; kinda broad question because I know to go from no tracks on the MPC to a finished beat could take me a week. Not because it has a billion tracks but because i add or take out. I would say 2 days to make the track, 1 full day to record vocals, and another day to mix it, another day to do any changes, and I don’t master so that would be up to the ME.
That’s really a tough question, it’s also genre dependent. How much “hip-hop/pop producing/beatmaking” (i.e. writing, playing and programming every part vs. “traditional producing” (bringing in musicians etc).
I used to finish song in 3 days, but now it is taking me over a week a song. If I have, say 40 tracks (which is way below my average), between editing takes (lot ‘o work here), vocals tuning and timing, eq, compress, delays, and other effects, I could spend days setting all that up before I get to actual mixing and automation. Track counts can go on to over a hundred, and time required to work on them is proportional to the amount of material involved.
A week or more.
I’ve taken 3 weeks on a complex mix.
Usually I’ll end up spending about 5 days on a track, from start to finish. 1 day making the track, 1 day recording the track, 3 days editing and mixing. What takes the most amount of time is by far the vocal editing. Aligning, tuning, and cleaning up 40 - 80 tracks is time consuming. Then i usually mix the track one day and the next do the final tweaks with fresh ears. If I also have to do the mastering I usually take a week off from that track and work on something else and come back to it with fresh ears.
I will say that if you are “FULL TIME” you should be able to knock out MINIMUM 2 completed songs in a week
I don’t think there’s a good general answer to your question, just for the fact that every project is different.
It can take a couple of days, but also a couple of weeks sometimes, depending on the style of music and how extensive the track or session is.