Writing and recording one hit single can be a struggle, so it follows that compiling a dozen such songs into a smash-hit album can be one of the biggest challenges that a musical artist might face.
It’s a subject that has been spoken about countless times over the years. There are artists such as Bob Dylan who have spoken of getting into ‘the zone’ before somehow managing to put together an album in just two or three days, whilst others such as Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses have revealed that it took almost thirteen years to write, record, and compile an album they felt happy with.
We are currently in the middle of a musical revolution, an amazing consequence of the widespread availability of cheap computers and music-making equipment.
Gone are the days when you needed a building full of expensive rack mount hardware, synthesizers, and mixing desks the size of a small bedroom. Modern Digital Audio Workstation software such as Cubase, Logic, and Ableton Live have made it possible for anyone with the time and willpower to learn to create professional sounding music.
This revolution has led to thousands of talented young producers springing onto the scene, many of whom produce amazing royalty free music that longs to be heard.
We spoke to three such producers; a dance music producer, a solo musician, and a recording engineer/producer, to find out more about the process of recording an album. How long does it really take to cut an EP in 2022? Let’s find out.
Tom – Dance Music Producer
After five years of DJ weekly on the national circuit, many of my friends who were also DJ’s began releasing music of their own.
In some cases, these guys were working with other people who handled the actual technical aspects of production for them… I wanted to learn everything myself and began spending every bit of spare time I had watching tutorials on YouTube and recreating what I saw using Cubase.
It took around 18 months before I finished a full song that I felt proud of, but it was an amazing feeling when I finally reached that milestone. It wasn’t long before I was testing out my work in the clubs, sharing my songs with friends, and, eventually, having a track picked up by a label.
Once I got my name out there, I began selling my work directly via a dedicated platform – I wasn’t making enough to go full time or anything, but it was a handy second income stream.
I began thinking about compiling an album pretty much as soon as I began writing my own songs, but I didn’t seriously consider giving it a go until I had been writing music regularly for around three years.
As an artist, you really want your album to be the best thing it can possibly be – the entire record should tell a story, with each song flowing into the next, eventually building to a peak, and then settling back down again towards the end… but the bigger your dreams become, the harder the process gets.
After more than a year of recording songs and getting fed up with them before committing them to the album, I eventually decided the best thing to do was put all the best things I had made together, and throw them out there and see what people made of it.
It sold well, but I still feel like I could have made something much better if I had carried on working on it. At the same time, you could spend your whole life striving for perfection and never releasing anything!
Mike – Recording Engineer & Producer
I think I have a much easier time in the studio than some of my friends who create their own music – my responsibility is simply to record all the parts and make them sound the best they possibly can in the mix, without worrying myself with the “musical value” of the songs that I produce!
I often have bands come in who will want to sit in during the production and mastering process, and they will regularly say to me that they are so glad they aren’t responsible for this part of the production process themselves.
The temptation to keep on tweaking and perfecting the mix will always be there, but at some point, you must be objective about things and make a judgment based purely on whether everything has its place in the mix and can be heard in comparison to all the other sounds.
One advantage of working “inside the box” with a modern Digital Audio Workstation is that you can re-record individual parts separately if necessary, and some bands will push me to do this quite often to make sure they get a perfect take on key bits of a song.
You must draw a line somewhere, however, and I’ll usually devote no more than two days to recording each song plus an additional day for production and mastering.
I’d say my average time to record an album is somewhere in the region of 30-40 days, but if the band is really good and nails each song on the first attempt, I have managed to complete one in as little as a week.
Ellie – Solo Musician & Producer
I learned to play acoustic when I was a teenager and I’ve always loved to sing, so it felt completely natural for me to start using my voice and my musical skills to earn a little extra money whilst I was studying.
People would often come up to me at the end of a gig and ask me if I had any CDs for sale, but I had no real idea of how to go about putting one together. In the end, I decided to learn how to do it myself.
I invested in some recording software for my PC as well as a small desk and several microphones, and with a great deal of trial and error, I managed to get something arranged that created acceptable results.
It can be difficult monitoring your levels at the same time as singing and playing the guitar, but if you take the time to get things set up correctly before you begin you can eventually get into a “flow”, and it will usually take me no more than two or three attempts to record a song after that.
I’ve only compiled two albums at the moment. The first album contained all the songs I had written since I was younger, and I had played them so many times in the past that I had no trouble recording them on my first attempt.
I spent a few days editing the parts and mastering the final recordings and had the entire album finished in just under two weeks.
The second album was much trickier – I was writing new songs just for the album, and it always feels much harder to be creative when you are forcing yourself rather than letting it come naturally.
In the end, I canceled just as many songs as I wrote – some of them just didn’t fit with the story my album was trying to tell. I finally managed to come up with a dozen songs I was happy with after nine long months, and I’m in no rush to try and repeat the experience!
A huge thank you to Tom, Mike, and Ellie for sparing their time to answer my questions regarding producing their albums. Best of luck to the three of you on your future work!