Your Next Song Demo: Read These 7 Tips Before You Spend Money


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 that bass line punchy? If your song is a fun uptempo song, is the final demo making you smile? Or is the tempo too 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 pitched as demos are done at home on GarageBand. And, today it’s easier than ever to put together a killer home studio on an affordable budget. 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.

7. Authenticity:

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. 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. 


13 thoughts on “Your Next Song Demo: Read These 7 Tips Before You Spend Money

  1. Hey Clay!

    I really appreciate the advice” you are confirming what my gut is telling me. I just got a demo back and don’t believe the singer executed the essence or spirit of the song in the way I hoped.

    Not to bad mouth the singer, it’s just not an exciting performance on what I believe to be a great song.

    I am going to get some Pro Feedback on it, to see if it passes mustard performance wise…
    I don’t want to pitch anything that will burn any bridges..

    It could be me in my head because I had such high expectations for it, but I’m also hearing my gut tell me, I may have to find and pay for a new redo.

    Thanks again Clay!

    1. I paid a Song Service to put my country lyrics to music and they provided a drummer, keyboardist, electric guitar acoustic guitar and a vocalist. While I was somewhat pleased with the melody, the singer was TERRIBLE! What should I do?
      I don’t want to insult anyone but if I was a potential agent and heard that recording, I would have to pass on it!
      Thank you

      1. Contact the studio and let them know you’d like to try a different singer on the demo. This is not an uncommon situation.


    1. Yes. In fact, the two areas your song’s copyright covers is lyrics and melody. So that’s all you need for a complete song. But to pitch it to recording artists, you typically need an effective production to get the song accross.


  2. Hey Clay!

    Thanks for the great tips! Having demos made has always been a crap shoot for me, some
    come out okay and some very disappointing, I know most of the emphasis in this particular blog is about the production side, how much does the right singer matter?

    For instance, I know for the most part you want the singer to execute the song sells the song…
    but what happens if the song is there and the performance of it not quite there?
    How important is it to have the right singer, or can people A&R/Publishers hear through some lackluster performances?

    As always, thanks for your generous time and mentoring!

    1. Dana, the vibe of the demo and the singer night be the two most important elements. Nit that the singer has to be a tremendous vocalist, they just need to be real and sell the emotion of the song to the listener.


      1. Those 7 are very time and money saving tips, Thanks!
        Do you have your own preference for singing the song yourself? Maybe its better, but depends. A male you say is better in a demo unless heard by a female.

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