5 bad questions artists ask about recording (part 4)

Bad question #4 : Why is this going to take so long?

Often as part of the budget conversation, a prospective client will say something like this: we only have 4 songs, and at about 5 minutes a piece, I would think we could get it all done in an hour

When I suggest that they shouldn't expect to even be tracking anything in the first two hours, sometimes these folks are nearly fuming, thinking that I'm trying to rip them off. 

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Here's what happens: a typical session with let's say a 4 piece rock band will be nearly an hour of load-in and discussion (how are we going to do what we're going to do before we set everything up and then waste time rearranging it later), an hour of drum set up (the most microphones, the most variables, probably testing different snares and cymbals that we might use on different songs), and an hour of dialing in the other sounds and the headphone mixes. There are ways to speed it up (like using the house kit), but you get the idea: other than for maybe a vocal only session, you usually can't just walk right in and play. 

This is just the setup "day-of" part of the equation: often I suggest to the artist or band that we have a preproduction meeting or two, and this isn't free. The reason I do this is because I want to have a great plan in place for the artist, to save them time and money and make the best record they can. If we decide we are going to hire a keys player, maybe we should have them there for the initial tracking sessions, so we are not paying extra time for them to come in separately and record their parts; maybe we shouldn't. Everything depends on the band, the material, the approach that's desired. What's clear is that when you don't have a great plan and you're figuring it out as you go, it can get very expensive


When clients are paying by the hour, it's very understandable for the discussion to be somewhat tense when they start to realize how much time will actually be involved. Although I could probably land some clients easier by glossing over or downplaying parts of this conversation, I (and all the other good producers I know) would rather you know what you're realistically going to be looking at so you don't end up frustrated later, or wors, out of money and sitting on a half finished record.

There are definitely ways to make the project happen efficiently by way of preparedness, but in general great art doesn't happen when you're in a frantic hurry.

Better question: What’s a reasonable ballpark timetable for my project?