It is difficult to describe the process of producing a song/composition/album without direct communication between myself and the other person/people involved. This is because each project is unique and, as such, each requires in depth discussions, planning and logistical considerations in order to produce efficiently, work economically and, most of all, harness as much creativity as we can cram into the project!
That said, there does seem to be a trend in the way I have worked as a creative producer with artists over the past few years (the process for commissioned composition is similar, but it is not as linear).
Firstly you and I would simply talk about what you are trying to achieve; what your expectations are; what you have already done as an artist. If you have demos of your work we would listen through them together and discuss their strengths and their weaknesses (in terms of structure, harmony, melody, arrangement etc.). We would then talk about how you might benefit from working with a producer and - if you are an independent artist - some ideas for how to use the eventual production as an asset for furthering your artistic career.
After discussing the purpose of the project, how and where we will create the product, and getting any of the nitty gritty paperwork that may, or may not, be needed out of the way, we'll be ready to get creative!
As with anything in life, the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. With that in mind we would work together to strip the piece of music as it is (in demo form, or however else it might be) down to its core foundation and, budget depending, we might record a new demo of the piece together or (if you have basic recording equipment) you could record the new demo yourself. At this point the sound quality of the recording is not that important. We are more concerned with making sure the structure of the piece is working.
Once we're happy with the demo, we would probably spend a while discussing ideas for the instrumental arrangement of the piece of music. Nothing is set in stone, of course, and this process would usually happen over the course of a week with emails/phone calls to discuss ideas.
Now we would be ready to actually record. As mentioned before, the budget will determine whether we would record in a studio or whether we would fabricate our own set up in a different location (I am as at home in an unusual space as I am in a studio - perhaps even more so), but either way, my philosophy is always to make the most of what we do have and not complain about what we don't have.
Don't be fooled by a small studio saying that you can record a song or two, or maybe even three in a day. Whilst you technically could, the quality of pretty much every aspect of the recording will be compromised. A full production takes a considerable amount of time and it is not uncommon for three or more days to be spent recording the performances that make up a professional production of a song.
Just to put it in context, in the case of a basic five minute pop song, comprised of drums, bass, two guitars and voice, the first part of the recording process might go something like this:
The drums are set up and it takes between 30 minutes to an hour to set up all of the microphones, test the positioning and all agree on a good placement and overall raw "sound" of what is being captured. The first take lasts five minutes and then, of course, the musicians involved want to listen back with the guide, which takes another five minutes. After listening there needs to be a discussion on how the drummer might better his/her performance, which takes another ten minutes.
The first take of a five minute song just took twenty minutes, and that's on top of the time it took to set up the kit. Multiply that by, say, four or five takes, as well as some minor splicing, and then any immediate timing edits that need to be addressed, and you can see that capturing a great performance takes time, patience, communication and great attention to detail. Skimp on these early stages and the "backbone" of the song has developed scoliosis.
And so it goes on with double tracking, overdubbing and generally getting creative in the studio. The general trend is that the further into the studio session we go, the more material we have to respond to and the more creative we get. We would obviously refer the original notes we made in pre-production, but this is the exciting time where we ask ourselves "why the hell not" frequently and take risks (because we can always press the delete button if an idea doesn't work out).
Finally I would mix the project. This would normally happen in my own control room and, dependent on geography, we would communicate throughout the process so you can hear progress and be confident that it is moving in a direction that we both agree on. The mix usually takes a ten-hour day for an average length piece of contemporary popular music.
As I said before, this is a process that has happened on most of the projects I have produced in the past, but it is by no means definitive. The best way to find out how you and I might work together is to get in touch via the contact form and we can get the conversation started.