Songwriters: Do You really need that expensive song demo?

by Clay Mills
Mar 12, 2024

One of the top questions Marty and I get in the SongTown Mailbox is “what is a reasonable song demo price?” 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! So Step 1, writing a great song, 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. Often. a vibey home demo can get the attention of artists and producers quicker than a full-blown demo. This has served me well with major artists like Darius Rucker and Lady A.

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.

Remember, No one cares what your song demo price was. They just care about how the music makes the feel. 

Song Demo Price- can't put a price on feel good music

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. It will also help you keep your song demo price lower. Good songs, good musicianship, and “simply” produced. 

Write on! ~CM

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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