Balancing time and money when planning projects

With a project plan, you have an overview before you begin. You know how long it’s going to take, how much it’ll cost, who’s involved and what the outcome is going to be. Delving one level deeper, you know which parts will take the least time, which parts will take the least money, which parts will take the most time and which parts will take the most money.

With that overview, you can quite easily see if you have the right balance. And if you need to adjust the balance, you’ll know how to do it. But sometimes it won’t be clear. Sometimes you’ll have several competing priorities that aren’t even a simple either/or scenario. If you need more clarity, consider the following questions:

  • Can I hire people? Hiring extra help can allow you to translate money into time. It’ll cost more, but it can save you time – either by allowing some work to be done in parallel, or by using an expert who can get the job done faster than you.
  • Must I hire people? Sometimes you want to achieve something that you simply can’t do on your own. Maybe you need a drummer who can play better than you can program samples. Maybe you need a mix that’s a whole level above what you’re personally capable. Maybe you need a mentor or guide (a.k.a. producer) to hold your hand through a bigger project than you’ve previously attempted.
  • Can I do it myself? This is the opposite of the first point. With today’s technology, tools are readily available for almost every stage of production. And with a bit of hard work, you can quickly become competent at almost any stage of production. If you have a project where money is tight but you have plenty of time (and/or friends willing to help), think about opportunities to avoid outsourcing by developing the capabilities yourself.
  • Will hiring a better studio help? This can be an important question to ask yourself if you’re recording an ensemble of musicians. If you try to record them one at a time in your home studio you might have to fight suboptimal room acoustics and inexperience at recording complex instruments (such as strings or drums). Hiring a properly-equipped studio can make a big difference. You’ll also get the extra vibe from having everyone playing together at once.
  • Will purchasing new equipment for this project help? Sure, new gear is fun and you don’t need me to give you an excuse to buy more. However, the right project can be an opportunity to make a purchase that you’d find useful but keep putting off. I’m talking about unsexy purchases like extra SM57s, acoustic treatment, headphones, multicore snake, etc. I’m talking about things that will increase your capabilities in future projects as well but aren’t usually at the top of the ‘things to buy’ list.
  • Can I reduce my time commitment by collaborating? If time is tight, you can gain a lot by teaming up with someone else. If you plan out the workflow and divvy up with work you can achieve a lot more in the same time. This is also a great way to create or enhance relationships and open up other opportunities further down the track. Remember – collaborators can have a variety of motivations. Some people are happy to take part just to be part of something exciting. Some people are happy to donate their time in return for some help on their own project. Some people will ask for payment but reward you with high professionalism.

Most importantly, you need to always consider the creative outcomes of the project. Don’t lose sight of the goal and don’t introduce efficiencies for their own sake. For example, if might not make sense to hire extra help if you’re recording your solo album and you want to do it all yourself. Similarly, it might not make sense to record a band in your living room if they want a slick professional sound. On the other hand, you might have an artist with not much cash but a lot of creativity and willingness to experiment – and quite happy to get a bunch of friends together in your living room for a few weeks.

Ultimately, as the producer, you’re in charge. It’s your call. But don’t be afraid to make the wrong decisions. Get in there, roll your sleeves up and make some mistakes. And have fun doing it!



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