Songwriters: Do You really need that expensive and over-produced song demo?

This is one of the most common questions Marty and I get in the SongTown Mailbox. It seems a common myth exists that says in order to have a record company or artist pick up your songs, you have to produce a song demo that sounds like a finished record. Fortunately for our wallets, this is NOT always the case. An over-produced song demo is often a big negative.

Here’s what’s absolutely essential to get your song demo picked up and recorded by a major recording artist:

1. A great song. This is a must. Remember, if your song is simply “as good” as the songs the artists can write themselves, then the artists will record their own song! Step 1 has to come first before you even consider demoing a song.

2. A cool vibey demo. Artist, producers, and A & R reps today care more about demos that are interesting and less about sounding like a polished expensive record. They hear hundreds of songs every month. Your demo needs to be different and stand apart from everything else they hear. You need cool sounds, cool arrangements, and feel good performances.

3. Less instruments. Just listen to the radio and the major records coming out each day. Things are more “stripped down” and “organic” sounding. Even in country this is happening more and more. Check out Keith Urban’s single “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16”. The 1st verse is drums and bass guitar with a vocal on top. The chorus kicks in with more guitars and a keyboard. This gives you a big dynamic chorus.

4. Great performances. Even if your song demo is a simple guitar/vocal demo, it needs to sound good and be performed with magic. It needs to turn people on when they hear it.

Here are things your song demo cannot have:

1. A song with holes in it. Poor songs will not get you closer to your goals- even with a great demo performance.

2. That over-produced song demo sound. I can’t say this enough. Stripped down, raw, organic, cool, vibey – these are terms that are going around music industry circles. Polished, perfect sounding, overproduced demos can sound dated.

3. Poor vocal or instrumental performances. Your song demo needs to excite the listener. Expecting them to listen through a bad vocal will kill your chances of getting your song recorded by a major artist.

So here are some of the foundation points I keep in mind when approaching my song demos today. I’ve included below a couple demo examples of recent radio hits so you can have a better understanding of the things I’m mentioning above. Good songs, good musicianship, and “simply” produced. Check out a couple of the stripped down demos on some big hits you may recognize.

Write on! ~CM


Clay Mills is a 16-time ASCAP hit songwriter. He has 2 Grammy nominations for “Beautiful Mess” by Diamond Rio and “Heaven Heartache” by Trisha Yearwood. Clay is also the co-author of  The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Co-writing. 

7 thoughts on “Songwriters: Do You really need that expensive and over-produced song demo?

  1. Can I ask when you want to shop a song for a TV or film and you hire a demo singer and obtain commercial use with the intent not to sell to an artist but to put directly on YouTube and Spotify will that lessen the chances of the song getting picked up for TV/film?

  2. Clay,
    I wrie more traditional Country songs as in the style of Jhonny Rodriqus,Marty Robbins, Ray Price, Ect…Is there a place for this type of music today. it seems to be more Rap/Country and Pop/Country. Help! I’m going out of my mind here!

    1. There are traditional country artists in the indie world. A few are on major labels but most are independents.


  3. My late father was both a publisher and songwriter. He also owned his own record label.

    His style was country Nashville Sounds/Countrypolitan. In the late 1960’s he had many songs (45’s) and an album that were published and charted in USA and Europe. There were articles written in Cashbox and Billboard magazine and royalties were coming in at that time. My sister and I inherited his music catalog (at BMI). We are now interested in learning how to republish, license, sell, etc. and are getting started learning about the music industry. His published songs were very high quality recorded with the Nashville sounds with lots of strings. We have the actual old Mother master reel to reel tapes from the 60’s. Any guidance where to begin? Thank you.

  4. Hi I write songs with a musician. We believe in the songs. Problem is, I’m not a seasoned singer whereas, he is. I was thinking of duets, to show the diversity and the possibility of the songs. Of course, the next step is who the heck do you present them to and how to find people that can push them?

    1. Hey Elio, we have a great course on our member site on How To Pitch songs. We’d love to support you guys on your journey. There’s lots to learn and no time better to start than now!

      Cheers, Clay

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