How To Take Your Demos To The Next Level

2010 Mar 17, 2010

I hear so often from musicians and bands that they don’t know what they need to do to take their recordings from just demo material to being a legitimate independent studio release. What distinguishes the two? How do you know when your demo is no longer a demo? Well, much of the discussion on this is subjective, but allow me to point out the two biggest areas that separate the millions of demos in the world from “finished” projects.

Via free photos Flickr

A Good Arrangement Changes Everything

When recording a demo your goal is usually to capture a quality recording of your song or idea; and that’s about it. Whether you intend to shop it to labels or use it to help you and your band remember songs you’re writing, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to satisfy the needs of a demo. What usually goes out the window at this point is a well thought out arrangement. And that, my friend, is the first step to a top notch release.

Good arranging is subjective and doesn’t look the same for each genre, but one thing is for certain…your song should stay interesting from each section to the next. Verse 2 should be more interesting than verse 1, and chorus 3 should have slight variation from chorus 1 and 2. The idea is that your song should flow from beginning to end and keep the listener completely engaged. Give them something new as they go along. Examples could be: new instrumentation, rhythmic change, tempo or key change, layered vocals at different points, changing dynamics (loud to soft), etc. The idea here is to not simply settle with the core elements of your song. Rather, push yourself to create tasteful and meaningful sweetening tracks to your song.

Remember, the really good songs in the world (even the simple ones) have a good arrangement. You may not have thought about it, but believe me when I say a lot of thought and time went in to creating a moving, exciting, and fresh arrangement.

Think “Album” Not “Songs”

When recording your songs, have a goal in mind. Whether it’s releasing an album, EP, or live album, you need to have a unifying feel to your songs. Otherwise that’s all they are: a random collection of songs. And typically demos are just that, random. Professional albums aren’t simply the 10 to 12 songs that artist wrote in a given year or two. There were likely another 20 to 100 songs written that were “thrown” out after careful consideration by not only the artist, but their producer, their label, and other close friends.

Why is this relevant? Simply because as I’ve written about before, quality gear and technique alone don’t equate to a great recording. You have to a have a great song. And let’s be honest, not every song we write is great. It’s unfortunate, but true. That’s why we need third parties to listen through and critique our work in order to help us gather together the best of the best. And this happens WAY before any actual recording or arranging takes place.

As you’re picking out your strongest songs, you’ll also want to have a vision for the final product. A complete musical piece from beginning to end. Now, this doesn’t have to be a “concept album” or anything, but at least pick out songs that will compliment each other. Having the end in mind during all phases of recording will be that subtle thing that glues your songs together and help them stand out from your run of the mill 5 song demo.

Get Ready To Work

Taking your demos to the next level involves work. It’s more challenging and time consuming to sit down and sift through your songs (being willing to throw some out) and then come up with creative and interesting arrangements for each. It takes effort to fight against your desire to just “Bounce To Disk” and be done with it. If you want your recordings to move up a notch in professionalism then you my friend need to move up a notch in your work ethic in the studio. It’s the only way!

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