Tracking Sessions

Looking to setup a tracking session in Nashville? Here’s some tips on how to get started.

I’ll assume the reader knows little to nothing about setting up a tracking session in Nashville. If you’ve had plenty of experience, please overlook the simplicity and get right to the information you do need.

First of all, what exactly is a tracking session? Most simply put it’s any combination of studio musicians working in a studio with an engineer, all helping you to create everything from the bare bones of a basic track to a completed song. In the culture of Nashville we use a loose system of what’s called 10s, 2s and 6s. This means a tracking session might begin at 10 and run till 1, a lunch break for an hour, then another session from 2-5. This is a common day in Nashville. Yet it’s not uncommon for a full tracking day to include the 6-9PM session as well. If so, this means recording from 10AM till 9PM with breaks for lunch and dinner (though honestly we usually take a break and snack a bit, put dinner off and keep recording). In Nashville, this is called cutting basic tracks. A basic track might actually be the finished arrangement or it could be just the beginning of what’s to come. It all depends on your artistic vision for the song.

The tempo of the sessions is solely up to the songwriter, artist or producer – that is, whoever is in charge. If you’re not working with a producer, a session leader should be designated so that someone is helping you meet your goals for the session. Note: All the seasoned pros in The Overdub Hub will do this naturally. The mention of “tempo of the sessions” is not about beats per minute, it’s all about how many songs you attempt to record in a single or multiple sessions. Some producer’s do one a day – some songwriters cut as many as 8-10 song demos in a full day of tracking. What is the tempo of your session going to be?

In trying to figure out how many songs you can record in a session or multiple sessions, a good rule of thumb for artistic sessions is to allow at least 2 hours for the first song. After that it’s possible to get one song every 1.5 hours.  Given this assumption, here’s how it might play out:

• One Session: You could very possibly get two songs done. If you tell the engineer and musicians “I need to get two songs out of this one session” they will get it done for you.

• Two Sessions: You can definitely get four songs tracked.

• Three Sessions: You could try for six.

Having said all that, for quality sake, go for five songs per day. If you get more, great. But don’t let the quality suffer by rushing through it. Also, if you’re making good time, all The Overdub Hub musicians will have, wait for it . . . overdub ideas. In the time it takes to listen to the song you could get percussion, electric guitar, keyboard, and mandolin overdubs.

If you have experience and aptitude, then you’ll likely be fine as a session leader. The engineer and The Overdub Hub musicians will help you get it done. If inexperienced and/or unsure, you will need to work with a producer or designate one of the musicians as a leader. The leader usually prepares the Nashville number system charts for the players and helps the session move along. A word on charts: Get them done! It will save lots of money in the long run and help you get more songs done. Either the session leader can do them ahead of time based on your rough demos, or you can hire someone to do them prior to the session. The Overdub Hub can help with all of this. Inquire at info@theoverdubhub.com

Every musician in The Overdub Hub is capable of leading a tracking session for you. For example if you know you want Jerry McPherson on electric guitar, not only can he lead the session but he can likely put the whole session together for you. The same goes for all the players in the Hub. You can put together any combination of players for your tracking session and even schedule a few sessions of overdubs with someone like Jerry McPherson, Sam Ashworth or Andy Leftwich – it’s your call. Again, if you need advice please use the email addy above.

All that said, for a tracking engineer, I highly recommend Richie Biggs. His Grammy award-winning resume speaks for itself.

So what should you expect to pay for tracking in Nashville with the people creating the New Nashville Sound? 

  1. Musician rates are either defined by American Federation of Musicians rate standards for demo, limited pressing, low-budget and master recordings or by the musician’s own day rate (though day rates are never lower than the AFM standards). You can look at our AFM 257 rates here: http://www.nashvillemusicians.org/scales-forms-agreements In short summary, you will likely never pay less than $240 per session or more than $500. It is not uncommon for The Overdub Hub musicians to make $1,500 a day for Master scale sessions, but they all do limited pressing sessions too for considerably less. Speak to your musicians about the budget and rate and they will help you through the process.
  2. Engineers work by the hour or a day rate. For tracking sessions the day rate is often more, as it can be with mixing as well. To help you in creating a budget I would put down anywhere from 400 to 750 a day for a tracking engineer. You can spend more and less. BUT, there are many good engineers who work within this window of cost.
  3. Tracking studios take many shapes and costs. You can book an amazing, fully equipped tracking room at the legendary Blackbird Studios here in Nashville for $1800 to $2400 per day, AND you can book an equally good sounding Producer/Home studio for $500 a day. For example, my home studio rents for $500 – $750 a day depending on the impact (amount of people on the property) and whether specific hospitality/food is involved or not. Your producer, engineer or session leader can help you find just the right studio for your budget. It’s Music City, there are many affordable studios to choose from. If you need recommendations, please inquire.

Using these estimates, in two days you could track a full-length 10 song record with drums, bass, guitar and keyboards, at AFM Limited Pressing Rate for somewhere between $7,750 and $15,000.  If you’re an artist and sing well enough to sing live at the tracking session, you could go home with a near finished recording – only needing to mix. If you’re singing vocals in Nashville, as well as doing overdubs, then of course it will cost more. Again, anyone in the Hub can help you pull all this together whether for a whole record or a single song. Feel free to inquire with individual Overdub Hub musicians or at info@theoverdubhub.com

When it comes to overdubbing on tracks you’ve recorded at home in Tokyo, London, or Anywhere, USA choose your Overdub Hub musicians and get started now – they are just an email or text away.

Happy recording,

Charlie Peacock