People often ask me how long it takes to produce a finished recording of a song or other musical composition.

The answer to this question depends on a few factors. Let’s start with defining some of these variables:

Budget- If there’s money set aside to pay for the production of the music, then things will move quicker. There isn’t a hard line drawn in the sand for where a someone is composing for a living and where someone is composing for fun.  A project with a budget can afford many time-saving expenses. (Hiring performers, recording engineers, contractors, mix engineers, mastering engineers, ect)

In addition to saving time, the quality of a production also goes up with these time-saving options. Furthermore, the producer might be able to afford a new plug-in, sample library, microphone, or piece of hardware that pushes the overall quality of his or her studio to the next level.

For “independent” projects, there usually isn’t an ‘executive’ figure-head enforcing a hard deadline, so a project can remain on the back-burner for weeks, months or even years before a master recording is produced. Inversely, lots of music can be produced relatively quickly by DIY musicians because the pressure of rejection from an executive producer isn’t there to make the artist filter or edit themselves.

Genre- Some genres require many people coming together to make music, others may be accomplished by only one or two people. Electronic techno, for example can generally be produced with fewer people and in less time than a vocal ballad.  A ballad may require strings, acoustic guitar, female vocals, background vocals, drums, bass, keyboard and percussion. If I need to hire a female vocalist, then I need to take a few extra steps including writing out the music/lyrics, delivering a “backing track” to the vocalist to practice, set up my studio, and schedule a time to record the vocals.

Timeline- In the film and TV world, executive producers and directors regularly face extremely demanding deadlines. As a member of the post-production team, the composer assumes these deadlines as well. In extreme cases, thanks to computers and the internet, a complete piece of music can be composed, arranged, recorded, mixed, delivered and dubbed in ONE DAY. These situations are highly stressful and should be avoided because they leave practically no room for error/miscommunication/revision.

As a safe and friendly average, film-makers/executives can count on a professional composer to deliver 3-5 minutes of finished music per week once the demands of a project have been defined, the budget determined and the delivery deadlines put in place. This usually doesn’t happen the first week of talking to the composer (we might already have work on our desks!)

It’s important to note that professionals will know their limits if you just ask them.