A music demo, or simply a demo, is a sample recording of your music. Usually, demos are rough recordings of songs and often do not include an entire album's worth of material. Demos are frequently sent by bands to record labels to try and land a deal.
How Musicians and Songwriters Use Demos
Demos of new songs can be given to producers before a band goes into the studio. The songwriter in a band may give rough demos of new songs to other band members.
If a band or artist is looking for an agent or manager, the demo is a key tool to raise interest. And sometimes, a record label will allow the media to hear demo recordings to build some buzz around an upcoming release.
When this does happen, usually only a select few media members will get to hear the demos. Generally, this happens when demos contain "finished" songs. In other words, songs that are still in the writing and tweaking stage don't often get played for people outside the band and label.
Don't Spend Money on Production (At Least Not Yet)
One of the most important things to remember about a demo, especially when you are getting started, is that it is not intended to be a finished product. There is no need to spend a lot of money in a recording studio to make a demo.
Labels expect your demo to be rough, and no one is going to give you a record deal (or turn you down) based on the recording quality of your demo. Also, remember that a demo should be short. It should contain your best songs; three or four is ideal. Demos offer a taste of your music, not your whole catalog.
What's more, when a label receives a demo with studio-recorded songs, it may indicate the artist is naive about the way the music industry works.
Despite your best intentions, this communicates to a label that you believe your music is production-ready, and you may not be humble and accepting enough for them to work with.
You may not feel this way, but this approach causes labels to question whether you're ready to undertake the process of trying to get a music career off the ground.
Not Everyone Needs Your Demo
A label has to be interested in your kind of music to have any interest in releasing your record, so make sure you investigate the labels that you approach with your music. If your band has a sound like Metallica, for instance, don't send your demo to recording labels that work exclusively with hip-hop groups.
Also, there are many web-based platforms that allow you to demonstrate your music without the need to shop around for a label. The odds are, if you use these platforms, a label will find you. Soundcloud, Bandcamp, and Youtube are three popular platforms you could use to let many people hear and share your music.
Know What You're Getting Into
The worst thing you can do is send out a demo blindly. Many recording labels have very specific rules about demos that you have to follow if you want to make it through the door. Some require you to get permission to send a demo in the first place.
Consider that unsolicited demos could get a label in legal trouble. If they're not careful, an artist could claim that the label stole the song from the demo. Demo policies can usually be found on label websites. Respect the requests of the studios and labels.
A demo doesn't have to be long and drawn out to be effective. Rather, it should be a sample of your work. The goal is to give whoever it is you're trying to reach a taste, so they come asking for more.