This is possibly the most frequently asked question and also one of the hardest to answer in simple terms, as several key factors come into play.
First the obvious ones:
The Budget A major determining factor. Good preparation and planning is essential - see points below. You may be surprised how much can be possible, even on a smaller budget.
How well is the band prepared? The better the band is prepared (rehearsals, on-going gigs) the less time it will take.
How many performers are in the ensemble? The more players, the harder it can be to continuously achieve the collective focus needed during a recording session. Or in simple terms: The more people, the more chances for something to go wrong.
How complex is the music? Sometimes it is good to record the tracks in sections, which can then be joined together in post production.
Does the music include improvisations? It is quite easy to repeat a performance of a set part over and over until you are happy with it. However, that is not the case with improvisations, which can become 'stale' when played again and again. A solution can be to record these parts as overdubs. This can work very well with short solos and improvised backings, for example a horn playing behind a vocalist, but has the disadvantage that interaction with the rest of the band is 'one-way'. Another possibility is to limit the amount of consecutive takes of a track (usually 2 or 3) and attempt to record later in the day or in another session, preferably on the second day of a two day session booking. It is not uncommon that a band records alternate takes on the second day, even when they were happy with the takes already recorded. Playing with the knowledge that there is a good take 'in the can', can free up the playing. Several albums recorded at Pughouse Studios consist almost entirely of alternate takes recorded on Day 2.
What is the duration of the songs/tracks? If you play 2-3 versions of a 5 minute song the pure recording time will be around 20 minutes. Often you will need to listen to the takes during the session to make decisions (do we record another take; record a pick-up or edit piece; do we change the arrangement, etc.). It is easy to see that allocating an hour per song is not as excessive at it may seem. Of course, the budget comes into play here and may determine the recording schedule. Therefore knowing, at least roughly, how long your songs are is important.
Are the performers experienced in a recording situation? The experience of a recording session - even when recording in a 'live' set up (for example with everyone in the same room and without headphones) - is very different from a concert or a rehearsal. The major difference is that you can hear much more details in a multi-tracked recording. The nuances in articulation, dynamics, timing and pitch for example are greatly revealed. Of course no one is always perfect (see next point), but it can be confronting to have one's imperfections and possibly the band's, too, revealed. The question is, how are you dealing with this during the session. With 40 years of experience as a recording musician, I can help to make your recording session relaxed and successful.
How much of a 'perfectionist' are you? How much time are you prepared to spend on getting things 'right'? Is this something you look at during the recording stage (how many takes of a song, pick ups and fix ups) or in post production, or both.
Does the recording feature vocals? When someone sings, that's where the focus should be. Therefore getting the vocals 'right' will be one of the most important aspects.
Is it possible/desirable to record some parts as overdubs, such as horn backgrounds, backing vocals, solos, etc.? This can save time and let you focus on the main structure of the songs. Keeping certain parts separate, i.e. avoiding spill into other microphones, is also an important part of planning your session. Simply put, any vocals or instruments that spill onto the microphones of other instruments are difficult to redo or treat in post production - often impossible. However, spill is not a bad thing and can help to create a more 'live' sound, with the disadvantage that if something goes wrong, everyone will have to record again.
Availability of musicians I recommend to draw up a schedule, especially if not all musicians are involved in all songs. It can be draining to wait for hours until someone else finished their parts.
What is the best time of day for the featured artists? Some instruments are easy to play for hours on end, but it is quite impossible to sing for a whole day. The voice also changes colour during the day and the vocals might end up sounding quite different in the last track of the day.
So how long will it take?
A well prepared band should be able to record their album in a day, or even less. There could be even some time for overdubs end edits.
More relaxed are 1 1/2 days or 2 days, allowing for more takes, overdubs, edits, etc.
I have recorded and mixed an album in a day, admittedly for a duo that plays regularly, so we recorded max 2 takes from memory.
Other productions have taken 3 or 4 days.
As a rule of thumb, mixing an album could be done in as little as a day.
I will write a separate blog about this part of an album production.
Call me to talk about how you can get the most out of your session at Pughouse Studios, even if you are not ready to make a booking yet.
ps: This does not make me a 'producer' or cost you anything extra. I am happy to help you with my experience of 40+ years as a recording musician and 20 years as a sound engineer.
If you are looking for more input (song selection, arrangements, attending rehearsals, etc.) I am happy to help and we can discuss an additional fee arrangement.