How to Record a Song - Properly!

How long does it take? What is involved? How do you get the most out of the recording process?

It usually takes about 2 - 3 days to record a song properly, after reading this guide hopefully you will understand why!

There are several stages to recording and they will not always be the same for every song. Things can vary greatly depending on the complexity of the song, the ability of the performers, changes to the song during the process, and any number of other factors! You can also cut corners sometimes to save time or money, but this can compromise the final results.

Anyway, here is an overview of the general stages involved:


Songwriting often done before the session starts but not always
Pre-production playing through the song and working on any areas that might be improved, finalizing the arrangement, planning the instrumentation, and setting the goalposts for what we are aiming to achieve. Reference songs are a good idea!  
Initial recording session set-up setting up required tracks, microphones etc
Programming and Tracking usually starting with a rhythm track of some sort that will be the backbone for the song. Then various instrumental parts will be overdubbed, usually one at a time
Editing After tracking each instrument we will go through the parts to compile a master take from several takes that we recorded
Pre Mix set up a rough mix of the tracks for the headphones
Vocal Recording This can take a while - the vocal is generally the most important element of the recording. We will do several takes of each section
Overdubs track any backing vocals and harmonies that are needed
Vocal editing It can take a while to piece together the best possible vocal take. Clean up any noise, unwanted breaths etc. The same will need to be done for any backing vocals and harmonies
Vocal tuning and timing Even the best singers can sometimes benefit from subtle tuning and timing adjustments
Additional Instrumental Overdubs after the vocals are done, go back and work in some more instrumental content to work with the vocals. These also need to be edited
Mix final mixdown
Alternative Mixes instrumental versions, live performance or TV mixes, extended mixes for clubs or alternative edits for album or radio
Stems separated mixes of Vocals, Drums, Instruments as required by record labels in order to re-work or remix the song for alternative uses such as club remixes, tv ads etc
Mastering Final equilization (EQ) and compression to make the mix sound good on a wide variety of sound systems, and bringing up the loudness to fit with typical commercial releases
Delivery of masters burn CD’s or other media, prepare the files for CD manufacturing if you want to press commercial CDs
Revisions  After working on a song for hours or days it's easy to lose perspective. Usually the best idea is to finish a song, then go away and live with it for a while. After doing this, you will most likely find that there are certain elements that you wish to change or adjust. Maybe a simple “turn the vocals up”, or maybe “I want to rewrite the chorus and sing it again”. Revision is the chance to fix those little things. With Protools we have total recall of your song, so pulling it up again is fast and easy. Often simple revisions can be done by email and I will upload the final mixes for you to download at your end.


That’s it! I hope this has helped you to understand what is involved so that you can plan your recording session effectively! I’ve also written a “Top 5 Tips for Recording a Song” if you are interested in avoiding some of the common pitfalls in recording.

Best of luck with your recording project!


Steve Peach
Stereo Missile Recordings

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