How Much Does it Cost to Record a Song?
The most asked question to every recording studio, “How Much Does it Cost to Record a song?”
Should you just show up to the studio with a massive bag of money? Probably not. Let me help you a little bit. Not a day goes by when a recording studio doesn’t get a phone call asking how much does it cost to record a song.
There is a reason that recording studios don’t advertise a price per song. This is because the time needed to record, edit, produce, Auto Tune and mix a song varies too much. Every studio just prices their studio at per hour or per day either with or without an engineer. Obviously unless you’re a freelance engineer or you’re hiring a freelance engineer or producer like myself, you’re going to book a studio per hour including an engineer.
This way it works out fairer to the artists and the studio. Taking an unknown time to do something would mean the studio would have to guess how long it might take. This works fine for small studios and engineers with low skills but the more skills and services that the engineer and producer has to offer, the more he/she can do to the song and the longer he/she can spend taking the song to a higher standard. The more time spent, the more the studio would need to charge. This is why the hourly rate and day rate have become a standard.
Leaving this up to the artist/client though might leave new artists a little confused as to what the cost to record a song will be so this article is hear to help.
Hourly Rate & Day Rate
Check the hourly rate and Day Rate. Does it include the engineer? Does it include a producer? You will at minimum need a sound/recording engineer as well as the studio time.
An experienced engineer will charge a lot more than a newer sound engineer. You can also read my blog on How to Choose a Recording Studio in Los Angeles for help on finding a good studio.
But how many hours I will need? How can I calculate the cost to record a song?
Most independent musicians are concerned about the price, after all, recording is not cheap. It’s best to work out a budget and stick to it. This is what most singers, rappers and bands do.
A good way to start is to just book a studio with the engineer and if you can afford it, a producer and see how much you get done. If you go walking into a studio demanding to do 5 songs in a day or recording and mixing a full band in only 3 hours, you are likely to be very disappointed with the result.
Keep reading below for my tips, time estimates and common mistakes people make when calculating the hours needed in a recording studio.
Call the studio
Recording studios are used to getting this question and usually don’t mind helping your work out how much time to book. So if you know where you’d like to record, it’s not too hard. A simple phone call and you should be able to work out how many hours you might need and get an idea of the price range of the cost to record a song for yourself or band.
Different studios offer different services and have different levels of experience. Generally more experience means more efficiency/working faster but it also means greater skills and more services. Therefore, what a highly skilled engineer and/or producer can do to enhance the song will be more.
So how long it will take depends on how far/how high of a standard you want to take the song and how far the engineer and/or producer CAN take the song.
Some studios will only charge you for the hours you actually use. This means there is nothing to worry about and you can simply pay for the hours and services as you go. Unfortunately, not all studios do this. (Mine does though, little plug to my recording studio, Current Sound lol)
Experience is a main factor when working out the cost to record a song.
The cost of recording, producing and mixing a record label ready release is not the same as the cost of recording a rough demo. Studios that do both will need to know where to draw the line. This is why it’s best for you to decide what you need/want.
For example an inexperienced engineer might record a band live and do a quick one hour live mix on the spot on an old console.
An experienced engineer might record a band, over dub all the parts, edit all the parts individually, Auto Tune the vocals one note at a time in graphical mode, replace or layer the drums samples, re-amp the guitars and if he/she is a producer they might even play some instruments or replay all the instruments or bring in session players or add electronic music production or remix the whole song.
You can see how that would take longer than recording a band live without editing everything and doing a quick on the spot mix. However, the experienced engineer will provide a radio ready release. The inexperienced engineer will just give you a rough demo. You’re not getting the same end product. You usually get what you pay for, as long as the engineer is talented.
Listen to Their Songs
On a similar note with you get what you pay for, sometimes you pay a lot and don’t get a lot back. Just because an hourly rate is high, doesn’t mean the skill level of the engineer doing the session is high. Make sure to listen to the songs that your engineer and/or producer has recorded before booking the session.
Very few studios come with a music producer. The producer can add extra elements to a song or even create all the music from scratch (beat-making) as well as help direct the performance. Obviously having a beat made from scratch is going to cost more than recording over a pre-made beat or backing but the end product is likely to be more unique, more suited to the artist and of a higher standard than a generic beat that you’d find online.
The Cost to Re-Record a Song
Like with anything in life, if you pick too cheap of a service, it’s likely you’ll be unhappy. If studio you choose doesn’t have the equipment, acoustically treated space, skill or can’t do the style/genre you want or if the producer doesn’t have the same vision for the song that you do, it’s likely you might want to re-record and/or re-produce the song from scratch at another studio with another engineer and/or producer.
So be a little careful. If the prices look too good to be true, they probably are. It could end up costing you more in the end by having to redo the whole song elsewhere.
The number 1 mistake that people make when recording to a budget is… Wanting to do too many songs.
You’ve written some great songs. You love them. You want to record them all. So you must record them all right now!
Most musicians are driven by emotion. This is great for songwriting but often terrible for making calculated marketing decisions.
Artists almost always want to record too many songs for too little money, forcing the engineer to cut corners on each song which results in a poor quality product.
One Awesome Song is Better than an Album of Crappy Songs
How many artists do you know that have gotten famous of just one amazing song? Now how many artists do you know that gotten famous of a poorly mixed and purely produced album?
More and more artists these days are starting to realize that recording a full EP or Album at once isn’t as effective as recording one or two songs. A well produced and mixed song can help break a new artist. If you record a whole album or EP, later you’re going to want to release a single off that album. If the album or EP was rushed in the studio to keep everything under budget, you’re single will not be as strong and radio friendly. That makes it much harder to promote.
The cost of promoting a song is very high. You want to be happy with it. I’ve noticed that most independent artists that have been recording for a while will book a studio just to record a song but new artists are often stuck thinking that recording an album or EP is the best way to go. They seem to learn later on that when recording to a budget, it’s best just to do a song or two at a time. Then once their reputation starts to build it becomes easier to afford to keep coming back to the studio. In the mean time, they can still save up to come back to the studio to record other songs. This means they are getting higher quality songs and more exposure even if they are doing less songs.
Bands are the worst at estimating the cost of recording a song. Often they will want to record an entire album. They spend a lot of time performing and will most likely have an album’s worth of material and each member has their favorite song. But… If they go into the studio with too small of a budget, each song will not sound the best it can.
It’s a problem most bands face. First of all, you’re going to need a bigger studio than the project studios that just deal with singer and rappers and the rate will be higher.
The best thing a band can do, although tempting to all be lounging around the big studio A of a large studio to be in comfort the whole time is to track in a larger studio then mix in a smaller studio. This way, you’re not paying for the large space at times you need a smaller space. This will make the cost to record a song much less and as long as the sound engineer in the smaller studio is talented, the end product will be better as you have more hours to work on your song within the same budget.
Bands Are the Worst at Thinking They Should Record a Full Album or EP
Even for bands, they are still better off going into a studio to record a song. Unless you’re touring around the US and selling out venues, you’re not going to earn much from selling a CD at your gigs. In my opinion, you’d be better off selling merch such as T-shirts etc… at gigs and directing your fans to your website where they can listen to your latest single purchase it on itunes and sign up to your mailing list. Building an online fan base is important and is also an important factor in getting signed. Moving people to your website is better for your brand than giving them your CD.
Plus, young people don’t really listen to CDs anymore. Some bands have even gone back to pressing vinyl. This is kinda like the T-shirt thing. People just want something to remind them of the night. The vinyl record could probably be blank and most of them wouldn’t know lol. Note: Don’t do that! But seriously, handing out a CD might not be as important as you think.
Considering doing less songs or even just a single song and allow for enough time to do it high standard so that you have something that is more marketable as apposed to doing too many songs and not doing any of them properly.
Average Time to Make a Song
There is no official average times for recording and mixing but I’ll give my times here which are about inline with most experienced engineers that and making radio ready songs.
- 3-8 hrs depending on how unique or generic it is. Obviously generic productions and easy and quick to make but to make something completely new and original requires more experimentation and time.
- 4 hours to mix on average after the vocals are tracked.
Rapper Over a Pre-Mixed Beat/Backing Track
- 2-3 hours per song if the rapper is highly talented and isn’t doing any doubles but can range from 2-8 hours depending on the skill of the rapper and how many takes is required.
If the Pre-Mixed beat isn’t mixed well at all, it will have to be remastered which adds on another hour. I always recommend getting the track outs for a beat as beat makers aren’t usually good mix engineers and they also compress and limit their beats which makes it harder to get the vocals to sit nicely in the mix.
The only reason to rap over a pre-mixed beat is if you love the beat but can’t get the track outs or you just want to save some time/money in the studio which might be a good idea if it’s just promotional and not for sale such as a mix tape but even then, often rappers want the best sounding release and will pay to have it done from the Track Outs.
Rapper Over a Tracked-Out Beat
- 4 hours on average to mix the track outs plus vocal tracking and editing time (as above).
Getting the Track Outs for a beat means your vocals will sit much better in the mix and you’re song will almost always be a better end product as most beat makers aren’t good mix engineers so pre-mixed beats usually suck.
Typical Full Rock Band Recording & Mixing
- 1-2 days per song depending on the skill level of the band and how much editing and overdubs are required. Most songs that can be done in one day are those that don’t want graphical mode Auto Tuning or extensive editing and/or overdubs
Singer Over a Backing Track/Beat
Even the best singers require a lot of editing to find the best possible composite take. This takes time.
- On average singers spend 4-8 hours in the studio when singing over a backing track.
Singer/Songwriter Recording Only Vocals and Acoustic Guitar
To be able to comp the takes from the Acoustic guitar and vocals separately, they need to be recorded separately.
- Depending on the skill of the singer as both a singer and guitarist it can take between 2-8 hrs. On average around 3-4. This doesn’t include full lead vocal graphical mode Auto Tuning, just a bit of spot tuning. I’ve actually done 1 per hour for super talented singers but it’s rare.
Singer/Songwriter Recording Only Vocals and Piano
- Again 2-8hrs. This comes down to skill and how perfect you want it to be. Average is closer to 3-4 hrs.
Cover Songs to a Beat/Backing
- If you want to record a cover plus record the video for You Tube at the same time, you have to nail it in one main take with a few overdubs. This can take between 4-8 hrs.
- If you don’t need video done at the same time, it will take less time.
Graphical Mode Auto Tuning
- 4 hrs on average for one note at a time Graphical Mode Autotuning by ear.
T-pain Style Auto Tuning
- Instant if you just want that hard tuned effect however, you’ll notice that actual T-pain songs are flawless in the way they move between the notes. You can contol the T-pain effect more in Graphical Mode to do a combination of hard tuned and semi hard tuned phrases. You can also use Melodyne to change the melody completely or create a melody from speaking as you hear on lots of Youtube remixes. That takes more time though.
EDM/House/Techno/Dance Music Mixing
EDM and Dance songs can have a much higher track count than typical urban and pop songs. Often you have little effects here and there that might only happen a few times in the whole song. Also synths might require delays and effects not typical of other genres.
- For this reason they usually take on average from 4-8 hrs. More if they contain vocals and you add in Graphical Mode Auto Tuning (as above).
- 45 min to 2 hrs per song.
You can see now why studios can’t just have a “price per song”. The cost to record a song depends on so many factors. Despite the genre and type of recording, the talent of the artist and musicians also plays a large part as you’re trying to capture that perfect take.
Even thought the guides above are just averages, you’ll find that when studios are working on mixes for record labels the expectation of flawlessness and perfection increases and therefore, often so does the time but then the labels typically have a higher budget than most independent artists.
The guides above are just based of my own experience as an engineer and what I usually tell clients over the phone but it can obviously take more or less time. The good thing about modern recording is that not everything has to be done at once so often people will come to the studio and then come back later to take the song to a higher standard by adding other services such as vocal tuning or production or mastering or just spending more time on the mix if it had to be rushed due to budget constraints.
Studios Will Often do Their Best to Stick to Your Budget
If you have a budget, just tell the studio. If it’s unrealistic, they will usually let you know otherwise, they’ll try to stick to it but some minor compromises will likely have to be made.
My Studio is a Little More Flexible than Others
My blog post wouldn’t be complete without a mini plug lol. If you come to Current Sound it’s very straight forward, you just pay for the time/hours that you use.
Some studios require you to commit to a time block prior and will still charge you if you don’t use the whole block. If you’re going to a studio like that, I’d suggest booking closer to the minimum time and being prepared to come back later to finish the song off. Otherwise, you might pay money for nothing but as long as the engineer is talented, there is almost always something extra he can find to do to improve the song so it’s not as risky as it seems.
-Tom Watson, Current Sound
P.S If You Want Other Opinions Online for the Cost to Record a Song, Here They Are…
Soundbetter which is an online mixing service has a calculator to apparently calculate the cost to produce and mix a song but since the site works on fixed prices, I find the prices on the calculator are actually higher than the average price that my clients pay. As I mentioned earlier, when working to a fixed price, even if it’s online, they have to allow a little extra time for revisions which would otherwise be less likely to occur when recording and mixing in person. This is actually why I haven’t added a calculator or fixed prices to my own studio website as without a fixed price, it’s likely you’ll pay less as you’re only paying for the studio time and services that you want/need.
All the other links online seem to suck. There is also this post on reddit where someone also ask the cost to record a song but the answers are not helpful at all.
The other top result on Google is this one which is totally wrong in my opinion as it adds in the costs of all the musicians in a band purchasing their own instruments and then coming to the studio. That seems crazy! Musicians usually have their own instruments and if you did need/want a particular instrument to bring to the studio you could always rent it or borrow it.
Help Share This Online
This might be the only realistic article online for the cost to record a song. It’s not a question with a one word answer but hopefully this helps give you a bit of an idea. Remember, when in doubt, just ask the recording studio.
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