I have received several emails this week asking about the best approach to recording song demos. There are many things that have changed over the last year since I first blogged about this. Here are a few questions to consider when demoing your songs.
1. Who will be listening?
If you are playing your demo for an experienced producer or A&R person then a simple professional production will often suffice. If you are playing your song for a just out of college A&R rep then they may not have the experience to hear the tune through a basic work tape. In this case a full radio sounding production may be necessary.
2. Pitching to male or female artists?
If you are pitching a song that could be recorded by both male and female artists, but can only afford 1 singer and 1 version of the song, always choose to hire a male singer. It is harder for a male artist to hear a female singer on the demo and picture himself singing that song. Female artists tend to be more able to hear across genders.
3. Is your song a ballad or uptempo or groove song?
Ballads tend to focus more on melody and lyric. A simple piano/vocal or guitar/vocal can be very effective. Uptempo fun songs often need a bigger production to caption the fun feeling of the song.
4. Are the essential elements of the song showcased well when your song demo is finished?
Are all the lyrics audible? Or is that guitar riff too loud and you can’t hear the words? If the song is built around a bass line..is that bass line punchy? If your song is a fun uptempo song, is the final demo making you smile? Or is the tempo to slow and taking the fun vibe away?
5. Stripped is In:
Publishers have for many years often wanted full-band song demos. Especially in Nashville. The trend over the 5 years has been stripped down, raw, and simple. Many demos that go on to be hit songs were pitch as demos are done at home on GarageBand. The “full band” perfectly played sound actually is boring to some producers and publishers.
Therefore, this is good news for writers because a demo can be done by a track guy at a much cheaper than a 6-piece band. Check out the SongTown course with Daniel Ross if you wanna see a world-class track guy creating a demo from scratch!
6. Big Chorus Production:
Many productions today favor verses with drums and only one or two instruments. Then bring in the rest of the instruments at the chorus. This gives the chorus a big energy boost. And gives the overall demo some dynamics that have been missing the last 5 years on radio.
A & R people want genre authentic demos. So, if you’re pitching a song to Nashville and hire the best New York session players- don’t ask them to try to sound country. 99% of the time this won’t sound authentic to Nashville producers or publishers. Hire someone in Nashville to do the song demo.
Conversely, if you want to demo a club EMD track, then don’t hire local players in Iowa that are in a people rock band. This seems a little obvious but it happens all the time. That local guy that cuts you a deal may not be doing you a favor.
Write On! ~Clay
Clay Mills is a 16-time ASCAP hit songwriter, producer, and performer. He has 2 Grammy nominations for “Beautiful Mess” by Diamond Rio and “Heaven Heartache” by Trisha Yearwood. Clay Mills is also the co-author of The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Co-writing.