Learn how to communicate your song demo recording goals to your demo producer. Learn which questions to ask of yourself and your song to get the best results – and have a plan before you go into the studio to record your song demo.
The demo recording is where you demonstrate your song to the world. Your goal is always to present your song in its best form. With that in mind, let’s look at some questions to ask yourself before taking your song into the studio to be recorded.
Some songwriters record song demos to pitch their songs to publishers and artists, some record demos for personal and other reasons. In this article, I’ll give you some tips on how to approach your demo recording session to get the best results based on your goal.
Song Demo Expectations of the Market for Commercial Songwriters
Art is really subjective and in one sense – there are no rules. But on the other hand… If your goal is to get other artists to record your song – sorry, but there are rules for that. I prefer to call them “expectations” rather than rules.
The “gatekeepers” (publishers, song pluggers, etc.) who can help get your song to an artist who might record it – definitely have expectations for what they want to hear in a demo, as well as, song structure and/or arrangement.
Song Demo Recording Goals: Market Expectations or Not?
The main purpose of this article is to help you align the goals of your song with an understanding of when you should record to meet the expectations of marketing your song – and when you can throw the rulebook out the window and do what feels good.
Okay, so let’s get started…
What is the Main Goal of Your Song Demo?
That may seem like a silly question at first, but it’s actually very important. In other words…
Why Are You Recording Your Song Demo?
You could be recording it for personal enjoyment; or you could be recording it to shop to other artists in the hopes that they will record your song; or you could be producing it to pitch to film or television.
There are big differences between those goals when it comes to recording your song demo.
Below, you will find helpful information for preparing to meet the most typical goals of demo recording: personal reasons, marketing your song, film and TV, and other common reasons. Scroll to the section that fits your current goal.
Goal: Recording Song Demos For Personal Reasons
If you are recording it for personal enjoyment, it leaves things wide open in terms of possibilities for how you produce the song. This is especially true if you are recording the song as an artist yourself.
When you are recording a song for personal reasons, there is less of a “rulebook” involved. You don’t have to meet any expectations and you can do whatever you want for the most part.
You don’t have to adhere to conventions that a music publisher would expect. You don’t have to adhere to conventions of the radio (e.g., intro 30 seconds, 3 1/2 minute song, etc.).
You are free to experiment, let your imagination run wild and do whatever you think makes your song better. You can take a completely artistic approach. If you want to record a tuba backwards, plugged into a distortion box and an echo chamber – that’s your call. You don’t have to do what’s trendy, popular or what’s worked before – unless you specifically want to.
This is the complete opposite of a “commercial” approach where trying to bend the rules generally makes publishers frown. In many ways, publishers typically want what’s working now – only different. The same, but new or fresh.
What to Say to Your Song Demo Producer:
Tell the producer you are recording the song for your own personal enjoyment. Tell the producer whether you want to produce your song in a commercial or non-commercial way. If you want to experiment with instruments and/or sounds, describe as accurately as possible what you are trying to achieve. If something similar has been done before, try to give the producer a specific audio example (or YouTube video) to help them clearly understand it in the same way that you do. For any and all sounds, the more examples you can give your producer, the better your producer can envision the goal and outcome in the same way that you do.
Goal: Recording Song Demos To Pitch To Publishers Or Artists
If you are recording your song to shop to other artists or to publishing companies… You’re going to have to take on a much more “commercial” mindset and production approach towards your project.
If you want to get the interest of publishers and artist for your song, it needs to be competitive with what is on the radio right now. I’m not saying write your song to the radio – but I am saying produce your song that way.
I don’t mean this to be harsh, but here is one reality of the way the music publishing industry works. You can’t bring in a song in a style of decades gone by. Even five years ago from this very moment is a long time in the music industry. Other artists have been there and done that.
Publishers and artists are looking for songs that offer something new and fresh. These are the kind of songs that grab the public’s attention. We all like new and exciting things, right? The music industry works in that exact line of thinking. If you do not use this thinking when producing your songs – you are putting yourself at a major disadvantage if you expect to get a publisher for your song.
Producers know the reality of how publishers think and how the market works very well. This is why (smart and successful) producers not only keep up on new songs in the main genres they produce the most – but also other genres as well. It helps them stay current and have a stronger imagination for creative ideas.
What To Say To Your Song Demo Producer:
Tell the producer you are recording the song in hopes of promoting it to publishers or recording artists. Tell the producer you want to produce your song in a commercial way, and ask for his advice on song structure, arrangement, and the overall production direction. If something similar has been done before, try to give the producer a specific audio example (or YouTube video) to help them clearly understand it in the same way that you do. The more examples you can give your producer, the better your producer can envision the goal and outcome in the same way that you do.
Goal: Recording Song Demos For Film And TV
If your goal is to pitch your song to Film and TV, these pieces of music come with some exacting expectations from music supervisors and music libraries. There will also be some variations in mixes that are needed if your song has vocals or if it is only an instrumental track
Generally, you will need some specific edits of the final mix. You may have a long form version of your piece, and then typically, you will have both a one minute and a 30 second version as well.
It is also standard on both the one minute and 30 second edits, to have a couple of different versions of those. In one version, the ending will sustain and ring. This allows them to fade your ending at whatever duration they choose. In the alternate version, you’ll have what is known by several different terms as a: “button” or “stab” or “mute” or “cut off” ending – where the music cuts off with a single strike.
If your song for film and TV has singing, music supervisors always want an additional mix that is called a “vocal down” version, where the vocal is mixed low in the music. The purpose of this is so that the film can have dialogue going on top of the music, without the vocal volume competing with the speaking in the movie. They will also want the mixed version with the vocal at the higher normal.
You also be expected to provide a music-only mixes that contain no vocals.
What To Say To Your Demo Producer:
This will vary depending on two things:
- If you already have the requirements for the project: Tell the producer you are recording the song or instrumental for film or TV, and let the producer know the mix and file delivery requirements for the project. Sometimes with film and TV projects, the music supervisor wants what’s called a “stem mix.” In a nutshell, it is a group of sub-mixes of different instruments. This is done because the supervisor wants to retain the ability to alter mix levels on-the-fly if necessary. If that’s the case, you’ll need to let the producer know which instruments should be grouped into what specific stems and how many.
- If you don’t know the requirements and are planning to pitch your music: Tell the producer your goal. Expect that you will need (at least) these specific mixes:
- A. Full song; full song without vocals; full song vocal down;
- B. For the following you will need 2 versions of each – a sustain ending and a stab ending: One minute mix with vocals; one minute mix without vocals; one minute mix vocal down; thirty-second mix with vocals; thirty-second mix without vocals; thirty-second mix vocals down;
*Note: that in most cases, it will be either the one minute or thirty-second mix that are most likely to be used for film or TV purposes (unless your song is being used for opening or closing credits).
Goal: Recording Song Demos For Other Purposes
There are all kinds of other reasons you may be recording your song. It could be a: jingle, song for a special event, song for a greeting system, and more.
What To Say To Your Producer:
Explain the specific goal for your recording and the outcome you would like to achieve. If possible, present your producer with audio examples for any particular styles or sounds you wish to match with your song.
Song Demo Recording Goals: Key Takeaways…
Knowing your goal for your song, helps your demo producer know what kind of production approach to take.
The more you have prepared yourself and your song before your project, and are able to articulate to the producer what you are trying to achieve – the better your outcome will be. Good luck!