Recording At Home: My Demo Process On A #1 Song I Co-wrote With Darius Rucker

by Clay Mills
Feb 25, 2022

People often ask me if they have to do full-production demos to present songs to publishers or major artist? I do a fair amount of full demos, but I also have had about half of my major cuts from pitching home demos done on a very basic set-up on my mac laptop.

The Home Studio Recording Gear I Used…

Let’s break down the process and equipment I used on my simple home demo of “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” (The first #1 hit for country artist Darius Rucker). First let’s look at the gear I used:

1. Refurbished Macbook Air Laptop Computer- $499

2. Garage Band (recorcording app) – Free with my computer purchase

3. Audio-Technica AT4033 Microphone ($399)

4. UAD Apollo Twin Duo interface w/effects plugins ($999)

5. Mic Stand and pop filter ($94)

6. AKG K 240 Studio Headphones ($71)

7. Yamaha HS-5 Powered Monitors – ($399)

My Recording Approach…

So you can see for the price of a couple demos, I had a complete recording studio with everything I needed.

After spending an August weekend on a tour bus co-writing with Darius Rucker, I headed home with a voice recording I made on my iPhone of our new song “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It.” This was the first song I had written with Darius and it was important that I record the song in a manner that would make Darius, his management team, and producer Frank Rogers want to record the song. After all, I was up against steep competition. Darius had spent two years in Nashville writing for this album.  And he had written 300 songs with some of the heavy-hitter song writers in town!

I knew that his producer Frank Rogers had a great ear for hearing songs and turning them into full blown records. So I didn’t want to over-produce my demo and not leave room for Frank to work his magic. I decided to make a simple guitar/vocal demo, recording a couple acoustic guitar tracks along with lead and background vocals. I felt I could create enough energy with this approach that his team could be excited by the tune and his producer could imagine all the detail he wanted to add himself. A lot of being successful comes about by trusting your gut. We’re not always right but this time I played it perfectly. Here is the recording process I used…

Acoustic Guitars

First, I recorded two strumming acoustic guitar tracks with the mic pointed straight-on to the neck of the guitar guitar (where the neck meets the body). Just about 4-5 inches away from guitar. I then panned the two guitar tracks hard left and right in the mix to create a full sound and leave lots of space in the center of the track for the vocal. I added a little chorus and pedal compressor effect on one of the guitars to fatten up the sound and make it sound more electric, since Darius comes from an electric guitar rock band.

Next I recorded my vocals…

I usually record my vocal about 6 inches away from the mic for loud sections like a chorus, and move up closer to the mic for more intimate sections like verses. I didn’t fuss too much over picking the right mic. An inexpensive Audio-Technica mic was handy and for a demo always does the trick.

I sang the song all the way through about four times until I had a take that felt good. I didn’t worry about it being perfect. But, I did want it to feel live and have some vibe to it. After I felt I had a good vocal performance, I recorded to background vocal tracks. One part above the lead vocal and one part below. I also doubled each part to give it a tad more energy. Again I panned these left and right but around 2 o’clock and 10 o’clock, leaving the center of the mix for the important lead vocal.

Add a couple effects…

Finally, with the recording process complete, I added a touch of reverb and delay to the vocals. All this done with the Apollo Twin plugins which are world-class plugs. 

After a quick mix-down, I sent an email over to Darius’s manager with the recording. A month went by… 6 weeks… crickets! I didn’t hear anything back and figure the song was dead in the water. But 2 months later the manager passed the song along to Frank Rogers (Darius’s producer) and I got the call that it was going to be recorded by D. As luck would have it, it not only was recorded but it became the debut single to launch Darius’s solo career. It became his first #1 song of his career. And my 2nd! Yes, occasionally all the stars do line up for songwriters and the world embraces your art in a big way. 

So, as you can see, with a small investment of what you would spend on two full demos, you can have your own pro sounding set-up at home. It does take some lead time to learn to use the gear, but this set-up is small. You’ll be off to the races creating music in a very short time. The beauty is, once you have the gear and learn to use it, it will save you a fortune compared to always hiring someone to do a demo for you. 

If you’d like to hear my original demo for “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It, side-beside the radio hit, check it out below.

Write On!  ~Clay

Download Clay’s Recommended Studio Setup

Original Writer’s Home Demo:

Finished Darius Rucker Hit Record:

Clay Mills

Clay Mills

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


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