As a musician, your demo is your calling card. It can help you expand your audience, and it's your ticket to getting noticed by record labels, so it's important to get it right. Contrary to popular belief, demo recording doesn't have to be elaborate or expensive. If your songs are great, listeners will hear it, no matter how much cash you spent on the recording. Here are some helpful tips.
Pick Your Recording Venue
Are you going to book a studio? Are you going to record at home using your computer or even go totally old school with a 4-track recorder? Make sure whichever venue you choose is equipped with everything you need, and if you're recording at home, make sure you understand the acoustical quirks of the room.
Choose Your Recording Method
There are two basic choices available to you: The right one for you depends on the music you are making. Hardcore punk? Go live. Radio friendly pop? Go multi-track. Recording live - that is, all instruments and vocals being recorded in one take - produces a raw, rough sound.
Each instrument is recorded independently on its own track- gives cleaner and more polished sound.
For the drums, each individual drum should be miked, and the cymbals should each have two mics. The bass and guitar should each go through a DI. If you have a double guitar part, or to get a really clean sound, the guitarist can have a mic plus be hooked up to an amp in a separate room, to prevent bleed off the amp sound into the mic.
Time to do the actual recording. Don't get caught up in the details and don't record for hours on end. A demo should be short, sweet, and to the point.
Mix Your Recording
Remember that labels don't expect a demo to be perfect. If you're recording at home on a computer, and mixing is easy enough, don't feel pressured to execute a perfect mix. A rough mix is fine. If you're recording in a studio, the engineer or producer can mix your recording for you.
One more time: a demo is not intended to be a release ready recording. Mixing is one of the most important parts of a professional recording, but not of demo making. Don't get caught up in spending too much time and money on this step.
Master your recording
(This step is completely optional) Mastering involves a final EQ process and also adds a bit of compression. Keep in mind that people who master recordings have styles all their own; no two people will master the same recording in the same way. If you decide to get your recording mastered, make sure you get an unmastered copy as well, in case you don't like the finished product.
More Helpful Tips
- Never, ever, ever spend tons of money recording a demo. Record labels understand recording and the difference between studio and home recording, and no great artist has ever gone unsigned because their demo just didn't sound professional enough. Worry about writing top-notch songs, and then let the labels shell out the dough for the professional recordings after they sign you!
- Keep it brief. Record labels are not going to sit and listen to your 20 track epic demo album. Put two or three songs on your demo, at the most. If they want to hear more, believe me, they'll let you know.
- Put your best song first. Ideally, it should be something catchy and fast-paced rather than a slower track. Demos usually get about 30 seconds to make an impression before the A&R guys hit "next", so put your best foot forward.
What You Need
- 4 Track or 8 Track, or access to a recording studio
- Recording software and a preamp that allows you to plug instruments and microphones into your computer
- Microphones, mic stands, and mic cables
- A few great songs