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It’s About Time

Once upon a time, when budgets were huge, a studio could expect up to a month’s worth of work on a major project

Once upon a time, when budgets were huge, a studio could expect up to a month’s worth of work on a major project. A typical Nashville session saw “two-a-day’s” for tracking, four or five days of tracking, laying down a couple of songs a day. A week’s work of overdubs and master vocal takes followed, then a day a tune was devoted to mixing. Occasionally, that pattern would get crunched into a tighter timeline, and even less occasionally, you’d have a producer who finessed a single song a day during tracking, but the pattern was fairly consistent and refined.

The advent of the ADAT in the early ’90s began to change that pattern. At first, it just affected the overdub phase as a producer could relatively simply set up a small studio space for a vocalist or a single instrumentalist. With an ADAT synced to a multitrack recorder, they’d lay a rough mix down on the ADAT at the end of tracking. Then, using good mics, mic pres, maybe a little EQ and dynamics processing and outboard converters, they could produce major-studio-quality overdubs for digital transfer back to the multitrack for mixing. Producer-owned studios rarely had the space for full-on tracking of a complete band, and practical mixing without a legacy infrastructure was not to the point of today’s complete studios In-The-Box.

Besides cost savings, this paradigm most notably gave the producer and artist time — time to polish a performance, time to experiment. And perhaps more significantly, time to step aside when a singer needed rest or things just weren’t coming together. When booking a big room, they had to pay whether they showed up or not, whether they worked all day or not. The clock was always ticking, upping the pressure and upping the tension. It’s likely that few projects actually required more on-the-clock time when working in a personal space, and may have actually run more efficiently while being more relaxed.

While many of today’s facilities, personal and commercial, are trying to cram as many sessions and projects in as possible to maximize profit, others find that the personal studio model is, like with those early ADAT overdub rooms, giving them time back during overdubs and mixing. In a recent interview, producer/engineer Ed Cherney commented that where deadlines were once firm and tight, “These days it’s more ‘deadlines, schmedlines.’ I find myself hurrying less and concerning myself more with making it great…If we’re not feeling it that day, let’s go golf or something and we’ll finish it mañana.” He calls it a matter of “quality of life” that ripples into the quality of production.

Here’s hoping your workflow allows you the blessing of time.