The Best Approach to Making a Demo Recording
So you’re interested in making demo recording of your music—but what’s the best way to go about it? Should you shell out the money for an expensive recording studio, or just make a simple demo in your bedroom?
A while back, making a demo could be as simple as recording vocals and a single instrument on a tape machine, and sending it off to the A&R departments at the labels. However, things have changed a lot in the music industry over the past 10-20 years, and tactics that worked back then don’t work the same way now. If you’re trying to get your music heard and noticed, you need a different approach.
How you make your demo will depend a lot upon what you plan to do with it. If you are trying to promote your act or your band, your demo will be much different than if you’re simply trying to sell a song to a publishing company, for example. In fact, these are the two most common reasons for making a demo recording, so let’s cover each of them.
IF YOU’RE TRYING TO GET YOUR BAND NOTICED…
If your intention with making a demo is to try and land a record deal with a label, you should know that the competition has become incredibly fierce in recent years, and most cold-call demos never even get listened to. The record labels are being bombarded by thousands of excellent bands, and they just don’t have the time and attention to give to all of them. Simply put, the best way to get a label interested is to build a fan base and have some proven success on your own. If you’re already generating millions of YouTube views and selling thousands of copies of your record without their help, you’re much more likely to attract them.
What this means for you is that you need to treat any band/artist demo as though it were a professional recording. Don’t wait to get signed to a label to make a great record; cheap digital technology makes it more affordable nowadays to make a high-quality recording. If you do a 4-5 song EP, for example, not only can you pitch it as a demo, but you can also sell it directly to your fans, whether or not the labels bite. So invest in yourself, raise some money, go to a good local project studio, and make the highest quality, most polished recording that you can afford—and be sure to get the project mastered, not just mixed. Then get your music out to the world, not just into the A&R departments. If your band is good, you might be surprised at where this approach can take you.
IF YOU’RE A SONGWRITER TRYING TO GET YOUR SONGS NOTICED…
If your goal is to land a publishing deal as a songwriter, rather than as a recording artist, your approach to making a demo can be a little simpler. It should still be well recorded and mixed, and as close to “broadcast ready” as possible, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a full-blown finished product—in fact, overproducing the tracks can hurt you if it overpowers the lyric and melody. Record 2-3 of your very best songs. Keep the arrangements fairly simple so that the vocals can be heard clearly, and include lyric sheets and chord charts when you send the demo to publishers. If the publisher likes the song(s), you may be offered a single-song contract or a publishing deal for a certain number of songs. Once you have that deal, if a better demo is needed to pitch the song to artists and labels, the publisher will often foot the bill for it.
Finally, whether you’re pitching songs or your band, it’s important to make as many industry connections as possible along the way. Labels and publishers almost never take unsolicited demos anymore; you really need to establish relationships with these people before you ask permission to pitch your music to them. Remember that the best approach to making a demo recording is not just about the quality of the demo itself; it’s also about building relationships so you have somewhere to send the demo when it’s finished.