You have just written your latest best song and you are asking yourself “What’s next? Should I do a full expensive version of this song or a simple piano/vocal demo?” This is often one of the most important questions a songwriter can ask themselves in this game. Getting this step right can often determine whether an artist records or passes on your song. Here are some guidelines I’ve used to help me successfully navigate the song demo waters.
Type of Song. Typically, if you’ve written a big melodic ballad, you can do professional guitar/vocal or piano/vocal demo of your song. Because the melody and lyrics are the driving force to these songs, you don’t need to feature other elements in a full band demo. In many cases a full demo might take away from the personal intimacy of this type of song. Show off your melody and lyrics by keeping the demo sparse! On the other hand, if your song is an up-tempo groove thang, you will probably need a fuller production with drums, bass, and instruments to create the necessary groove feel of your creation. In this case, you can first experiment with computer and samplers to get a proper idea before turning it into a recorded band version. A simple piano/vocal may not capture the attitude of this type of song.
Consider Your Budget. Songwriting should never add stress to your life. If you have 5 new songs and feel one is good enough to demo, then do one. If you feel 4 of them should be demo-d and can’t afford 4 full demos, then consider which ones can be presented well as guitar/vocal and which need full demo. And refer back to tip about “Type of Song” to see what is most pressing at the moment.
Who will be hearing your demo? If you have a contact who is handing your song to Adele’s producer and he will listen himself, simple may be better. Producers like to imagine all the bells and whistles they can add to a song, it makes their creativity engage. But if I’m playing a song for a 20-year-old intern or a newbie at a record label, I will most likely hand over a full demo that sounds like it can go on the radio tomorrow. Newbies may not have the developed ears to hear a song without production.
Keeping your finger on the Pulse: Trends change over time in the music business, and there are different for different markets. For example: in country music over the last 2 years there has been a trend for successful demos to be a little more stripped down, organic, and not sound polished. More and more demos are created by track programmers and less demos are big 6-piece bands. This has been the case in pop music for a while now but starting to appear more in country.
So here are some basic considerations that have served me well when deciding the type of demo record for my songs. Feel free to type any questions you have in the comments below.
Hangi Tavakoli is our in-house established and professional music producer with more than 14 years of experience in music production, mix and mastering, recording engineering, live sound designing/engineering, lyrics writing and music arrangement. He has produced more than 1000 and written more than 3000 published songs to-date, including some major hits in international scale.