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Whether you're just getting started or you're a seasoned studio vet returning to make your next production, figuring out what a new album costs can be tricky. Here are some things to make the picture a bit more clear.

What sets the budget?

First, let's think about what really sets a budget. Before pricing out the cost of your chai mocha double frappa-whatever's and only stocking the green M&M's that will get you in the vibe, think about what you're going to actually do with your album. How much demand is there for it? How much work will you have to put into your plan for releasing it?

The truth is, the demand for your album sets its budget. If you're going to start by selling 20 copies to your friends, then think about starting smaller as well in terms of production.

The Hilarious Absurd-Looking Formula That Actually Could Help You A Lot.

Here ya go!

I realize this is a throwback to that calculous class in high school that we never liked, and I don't know that I expect anyone to carry this with them, but it does work!

Arranging

If you're a solo artist looking to have a full band on your record, you may need someone to help you compose an arrangement for your songs. Typically this is the role of what today we call a producer.

A studio I started in Orlando, FL records singer/songwriters and frequently runs into artists that need their songs arranged.

The studio typically estimates it taking around 10 hours to arrange a song start to finish. The rate there is $30/hr. You can use these numbers to plug into the formula for now, or reach out to a local studio and get a personalized quote from an individual producer. If you're a band or if you don't need your songs arranged, you can just put zero for this part.

How many hours of studio time will I need?

The #1 factor that effects how much studio time you'll need is how prepared you are. If you're ready to show up and perform everything, then prepare to have an awesome time and get done quickly. On the other hand, if you aren't prepared musically and you get stuck on, say, the vocal...well then the number of hours could go sky high and you might blow through your budget quicker than anyone can say auto-tune!

Overdubbing vs Live-Tracking

The number of hours you'll need also varies depending on how many instruments you're tracking at once. If you're going to record one instrument at a time, it can take more time than if you can put all of the musicians in a room together and hit record just once.

Things to consider for live-tracking:

  • A studio that's big enough to record everyone at once may be expensive.
  • Scheduling everyone together may be complicated, so plan in advance!

Note: If you're going to track live with multiple people, make sure they can all play. If it's hard for them to nail the performance you're going to have to do another take until everybody gets a great one together.

How many hours already??

If you're multi-tracking, you can comfortably record a song with a full band in 10 hours. If you recorded some midi instruments during arranging the song, you'll probably need less than 10 hours to track the remaining instruments you need.

If you're live-tracking with awesome musicians, you can probably get a song done in an hour.

Studio Rates:

Studio time can cost anywhere from $30/hr to $100/hr. A lot of times this correlates to how big the studio is and therefor the number of people that you can record at once. It's ok to pay more for studio time if you're going to be able to track multiple things at once. Just to drive this point home, if you're a 5-piece band, you're better to book a big studio that can record all of you at once than to book a small studio where you pay $30/hr but to reocrd everything take 5x longer. If you're at a $100/hr studio with a huge SSL Console and 72 inputs, don't spend all day recording bass guitar.

Side Note: Acoustic Demo's

If you're a solo artist just starting out, you don't necessarily have to have a band on your record. You could make an EP of 5 songs, record them live, and have that tracked in-and-out in several hours.

How much do session musicians cost?

Depending on where you live, you can get find a good session musicians to record on your song in the neighborhood of $75-$100 per song. The real pro's can be much more expensive than this, especially if the session musicians in your area belong to a union (like in Nashville). At Custom-Tracks.com, we have deals with musicians and studios to bring these costs way down for you.

How many takes will it take me?

One. Go into your session honestly believing that you're going to perform the song once and that it will make a great take. I know I'm harping on this a bit, but it really is the #1 thing that has the power to drag out the cost of your album. If you aren't a studio veteran, you'll probably end up doing more than one take, and that's totally fine. But if you're pretty worried about this question, wait until you believe you could get it in one take before you hit the studio.

Putting It All Together

Ok, let's say now you've got your songs tracked. Everything sounds amazing so far, and you're rounding the home stretch. It's time now for mixing and mastering!

Mixing

Mixing is combining the different instruments in a song to bring out certain qualities in the song. In this phase, things like EQ, compression, and stereo imaging can be used to make a song sound more clear, crisp, and compelling.

Price for mixing is entirely open ended. You can find mixing for $50/song and you can find mixing for $500/song. It depends on who it is and how many elements in your song need to get mixed. Look into mixing at the place that tracked your record but also reach out to some other options online or in town. The best way to find a great mixer is to find out who mixed the records you like and then reach out to those people. Obviously this is going to lead to more expensive options, but you'll know that you're going to love what you end up with.

Mastering

All the way at the end of this process is mastering. The simplest way I've heard mastering explained is that mastering is like car detailing. If you show up with a Benz, it's going to come out as a really nice looking Benz. If you show up with a Chevy Impala (my car), it's still going to come out as an Impala, but it will be a bit prettier at least.

Expect to pay at least $100/song at a reputable mastering studio. You can also see for yourself what you think about the increasingly popular, yet controversial, LANDR mastering service.

Examples

Here are some different recording options and their prices.

  • Singer/songwriter: Records a song singing and playing guitar at the same time and records it live. No arranging needed, can be done in a $30/hr studio, no session musician needed, $200 mix, mastering with LANDR. ~$250/song

  • Rock Band: This band plays their songs at gigs regularly and doesn't need someone to arrange their songs. They don't need studio musicians because they play their own songs. They rent a studio for $100/hr and record the music live but overdub the vocals in studio B which only costs $60/hr. Spend $200/mix and use LANDR to master their song. <$500/song

  • Solo artist: Writes a song and takes it to a studio to get the music arranged by a producer and played by a session band. Arranging for 10 hours @ $30/hr is $300. Then 4 session musicians track the parts at $100 plus an hour of studio time at $100/hr. Spend $500/mix and masters it at a mastering studio for $100. ~$1,400/song

Obviously these numbers can vary heavily but this should give you an idea of what to plan for.

If you need to get a great production while saving some money, feel free to [reach out] to us(http://custom-tracks.com/contact) at Custom-Tracks.com and we'll try to find the best option for you.



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