much does it cost to record a song? How long does it take?
It's all about time and it's never the same:
There are many variables involved such as how many times you go over your part until you are pleased with your performance. Three times or thirty three times? Multiply that by the amount of parts in a song and the number of songs you will record.
One estimate for a simple arrangement with a well-rehearsed 4 piece group would be 6 hours per song (loosely figured at 1 ½ hours for every finished minute of music). Others say an hour per finished minute to track and for every hour of tracking figure 2 hours to mix. For a 3 ½ minute song: 3 ½ + (2 x 3 ½ = 7) = 10 ½ hours working out to 3 hours per finished minute. More time, especially in mixing, usually means better quality. Many engineers not only mix on a different day but will only mix one song a day and take the whole day. There is also the option to remix a song again and have many versions. Mastering a complete album with no major problems averages about 45 minutes a song. One song alone would take longer.
Sometimes we find ourselves going very fast recording and mixing towards the end of the day or session. Maybe 3 songs in 9 hours, but this is not the ideal way to do it. I consider these rough mixes even though some time has been spent on them. The best mixing sessions are done on a different day with fresh ears and lots of breaks interspersed throughout the mixing.
One of our fastest band recordings was with six amazing old jazz guys who had probably been playing all their life. They did 14 songs, some instrumental, some with vocals. Total time spent was 18 hours on 3 different session dates. Here is the approximate time breakdown: 6 hours recording, 8 hours mix, 4 hours edit & master.
Steely Dan was known for spending a year recording an album and their popularity and reputation shows it worked for them.
With the technology we have we can capture your best performance and possibly even go beyond that.
There is a balance between being too rushed to do a good job and knowing when to stop. Some musicians can be their own worst critic and hit a point of diminishing returns. You don't want it to become endless. Part of a producer's job description is to say it is finished and time to move on to the next project.
For some people "how long" may mean a song in 3 or 4 hours, for others 3 or 4 days, and in some cases 3 or 4 months.
The big question: "How long does it take?" is closer to the impossible question. I hope this gives you some helpful insight. Bottom line: time spent on the right things with a good engineer increases quality.