How To Record Songs In Nashville

Six Steps to Recording In Nashville

The only definite answer to this question, is that it will probably cost some money.

1.) Pick a studio

Home studios

They’re a dime a dozen and they produce great results.  Few people have the money to afford the luxury of a commercial studio.  Many home studio engineers have devoted a lot of time and money into making their home space as close to a commercial space as possible.  They probably don’t have a million dollars worth of high end gear but that doesn’t always matter.  They are the sole producer and engineer, and usually they play many of the instruments for clients who don’t have their own bands.  In Nashville home producers/engineers can play a wide variety of instruments very efficiently.  Whether you hire musicians or have your own band a home studio will certainly be acceptable.

Commercial studios

They’re scattered all around Nashville.  They don’t always have flashing neon signs that say “Open for Business”.  Some of these bigger studios have extravagant websites, numerous big flat screens, and leather couches, but these things are just aesthetics.  What you really gain by going to a commercial studio is the recording space, gear and talent.  These recording studios usually have huge rooms that are acoustically designed and filled with a million dollars of the most advanced recording gear that exists.  Great producers work at these studios and the musicians are regular session players who are called upon frequently.  These places operate like businesses and the producers, engineers, and musicians are all employees.

2.)  Know the Costs

The running joke is when people with home studios get random phone calls asking how much it costs to record an album, they’re tempted to just blurt out, “$10,000”.  It probably won’t cost that much but it’s such a subjective question.  Do you want a full orchestra or just two acoustic guitars?  How long are your songs?  How complex are they?

The range for recording a demo of one song could be anywhere from just $25 all the way up to $1,000.  It really comes down to how good the people are, how efficiently they can perform in the studio when they’re on the clock, how much work you’re asking for, and how well prepared you are for studio time.

If you are recording at a producer’s home studio then his fees usually include the use of his studio and you can find a great home-producer for around $25 per hour.

If you go to a commercial studio and hire an additional engineer that will probably be another $25 per hour plus the facility costs.

If you want truly professional musicians to play on your songs, expect to pay them about $25-75 per track, depending on how many tracks you are recording that day and how complex the music is.

A mastering engineer will probably charge $25-100 per song.

Any of these people could work by the song, or by the hour.  There are no hard and fast prices because these are creative services.

Often studios will give a fixed cost for the whole band, then maybe charge extra per hour of editing or vocal tracking.  Even if someone gives you a fixed price for all of it, you will still be surprised by something you didn’t expect before it’s all over with.  The costs are always subjective.

3.) Know the moving parts

People do one or more of these things:

  • Producer

    This person will work with you to understand your overall goal for your recordings.  They understand how to effectively communicate with everyone else involved.  They know the lingo, they know how to achieve the best results in various environments, and they will have the sole responsibility of ensuring that your project is a success.  They will listen to you and hear the big picture, and while the musicians are recording the rhythm beds today, the producer will be thinking about the guitar overdubs that will be recorded tomorrow.  They will be thinking of how to make your song the very best it can possibly be.  Long after the musicians leave, the producer will be investing more time into overdubbing, editing and mixing all the tracks.

  • Session Leader

    This is the person who is responsible for making sure all the musicians are scheduled to record your music.  This person usually writes out all the song charts which will be followed by all the musicians.  The session leader will be someone who is very familiar with how a recording session happens, and most likely he is the person who will select all the musicians to play on your music.

  • Engineers

    Just like there are different types of doctors called “specialists”, there are different types of engineers.

    • Tracking Engineer

    This person runs all the equipment; he mans the board and makes sure all the levels are set, that the mics are placed properly, and that the musicians and producer have exactly what they need to accomplish the goals.  The tracking engineer is a quick problem solver when the equipment isn’t operating properly, and having a good engineer can prevent a project from derailing if something goes wrong with the equipment.

    • Editing Engineer

    Sometimes people are just really good at doing a certain thing extremely well.  While a tracking engineer is really good at tracking a session, some engineers are really good at editing.  Even though producers typically take on the role of editing a project, it’s not unheard of to have a specialized engineer make the edits and mix very quickly as the producer directs him.

    • Mixing Engineer

    Mixing engineer adjusts the levels of each instrument, adds effects, adjusts the EQ, sets the panning, and basically puts all the final puzzle pieces together.

    • Mastering Engineer

    This person takes the final tracks and adjusts the frequencies and EQs so that your music sounds incredible to the ear.  This person is rarely involved during the full process.  Once the editing and mixing are finished, it’s the mastering engineer’s job to smooth everything out so that it can compete with everything else out there.

  • Musicians

    These are professional instrumentalists.  These people make their living from being highly efficient at playing their instruments.  They understand how to play in a studio environment, which is much different than playing in a live situation.  They will all understand how to read Nashville charts, and they can quickly play a part according to how the producer wants them to perform it.  If you are a band looking to record, then you are the musicians.

  • A Recording Space

    This can be a home studio, or a full-blown business with a million dollars of high end equipment.  Typically, studios have many different types of gear that make it possible to capture sounds onto a digital or analog medium.  These spaces are usually specifically designed with acoustics in mind, and often there are several different booths in which musicians are placed to prevent sounds from bleeding into other microphones.  A good recording space most definitely affects the quality of your recording.

  • Songwriter

    This person is the reason why everyone shows up.  “It all starts with a song.” as they say.  A songwriter has spent many painful hours writing a song which they wish to share with the world with hopes to move people emotionally.  Without a songwriter, there is really no reason for everyone else to get together to record.  In situations where a label or publishing company is backing the project, there is usually a separate vocalist singing the song, rather than the actual songwriter.  But again, there are no hard and fast rules because every situation is unique.


4.) Have a plan

I think it’s best to start by finding the producer you want to hire because a producer can help you plan your entire recording project.  Maybe you already have the musicians for your project chosen and just want to rent a facility.

  • Go to a home studio and let them handle it
  • Go to a home studio and bring your own musicians
  • Go to a commercial studio and let them handle it
  • Go to a commercial studio and bring your own musicians, producers or engineers.

5.) Know the process

Each producer has their own process; their own bag of tricks and secrets. Be sure you understand the full process before it starts, all the way to Mastering.  Ask about mastering for sure, Google it, it’s voodoo but it’s something for which you should plan.

6.) Act like a customer

Major artists have tens of thousands of dollars to record their albums and can afford ample time and production to make things sound perfect.  Besides using extremely high-end hear, time and expertise play contribute to your project’s quality.  Just like in college when you wrote a rough draft of your term paper, your final draft had more time and editing invested, which is what got you that “A” instead of a “B”.

We all wish we could record our songs with the budget of the major artists, but don’t discount the value of a home studio, because at the end of the day, if you can simply pop in your recordings and enjoy them without cringing at the quality, then you have accomplished your goal.  Any good producer/engineer has the ability to create a product that will move people, regardless of your budget.  At some point you have to understand that even with less expensive equipment, you are paying for their time and expertise, which is how they achieve good results regardless of the equipment.

Most importantly, it comes down to the song being good or bad.  I’ve heard beautifully recorded songs that just plain suck, and I’ve heard rough recordings of masterfully written songs.  Take Ani DiFranco for instance, she puts out very raw recordings, yet people love the songs.  Then you have Toby Keith who puts out super-produced songs that have all the marketing power behind them to make them soar into huge sales; even though Red Solo Cup makes me want to puke, I am in no position to critique the song because it’s made his camp a ton of money.

The music business is just that — a business.  Think of it like Starbucks and the coffee industry: I am completely satisfied with a cup of Folgers Black Silk in the morning, but Starbucks has commercialized the industry and made it cool to spend $5 on a cup of coffee.  Both music and coffee are subjective to one’s taste, no matter how much it costs to make.

And we all want a good cup of coffee.

8 Replies to “How To Record Songs In Nashville”

  1. Thanks for writing such an honest blog Andrew – I’ve sent it on 2 a mate who wants 2 record her songs. I’ve done a ‘home studio’ recording myself & had a couple of mates produce, engineer & play on it, making it very economical indeed! I even won some awards in Tamworth (our Nashville) for it! Cheers from Temora, NSW, Australia : )

  2. Mr. McGee, after reading your “six steps to recording” I feel as though I have met with someone who can give me an answer that seems hard to get. what would be an approximate cost of recording 8 songs including 5 musicians and a singer [nothing musically complicated]and studio/recording time and do you have any recommendations that I can look into.
    thank you for your time, I look forward to your response.

    1. If all your songs are ready, you could schedule a few sessions and knock it out quickly with a producer who has a home studio. Including all the musicians, the recording space, time, production, editing, mixing, et cetera, you’d be looking at somewhere between $4,000-5,000 for a project like yours. Keep in mind, the biggest factor in the cost is time, which is why being prepared is monumental. A good producer will know how to efficiently run your project so that you get the results you want. I know a few producers who do great work, I could have them call you. Shoot me an email.

  3. Thanks, Andrew, for offering such an honest assessment of the songwriting business. I’m one of those songwriters whose friends say I write great songs that “should be on the radio!” Fat chance.

    So, luckily, I have a day job and I write and record songs for my own pleasure without expectations. Your article drove that home even more.

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