If You Recorded A Demo You Are Already Dead In The Water

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One of the mistakes bands make everyday is still putting demos out there and try to “get signed” or get attention with them. While in 2004 this was still a way you could get somewhere in the music world, it is no longer the case. People have grown accustomed to hearing a perfect recording by bands that formed 3 weeks ago. By definition a demo is a demonstration of what you could do if only you had a budget and some more help. When you plan your next recording and you are planning for it to be a demo – meaning that it is going to be an inferior version of what you could do if only you had a budget – we have sad news, but no one is going to care. Follow me to the jump and I will explain how the world of music changed and how you can adapt to it. 

No Vision
One of the first things to keep in mind when you consider going the way of the dead idea of a demo is that people have no vision to see the potential you have. Even A&R people who are supposed to see the potential in young bands do not have the ears to hear the potential in a band. There is a common myth that A&R have “ears.” This is total bullshit 99% of the time. A&R don’t train or have natural talent to hear a band in the raw and see the potential. In fact it is much the oppisite they have no vision and look for bands where they hear a band that has already gotten a great recording and then run with it. Sure, they may have the power to increase the bands budget so the next recording is better but the majority of A&R is not picking bands out of demo obscurity, they are finding bands who have already made something that is getting them a huge buzz and then sign them up and give them tools to do something better.

It’s Not 2004
Normal music fans are just the same. We all hear a million bands who have spent time getting a perfectly executed version of their song bombarding us everyday. Since the playing field between the majors and unsigned bands gets leveled by the Internet everyday, it becomes more and more important that you get something amazing from a recording. Amazing recordings do not happen by accident, they take a great planning and research. While some great recording have indeed happened by circumstance it is not as common as when a band figures out how to be prepared to record and choose a great team to put out a great song. With thousands of bands being able to record a pretty great sounding version of their self, if you think just going in and laying down your songs and hoping for the best is going to get you somewhere you are about to live a life of disappointment.

When planning a recording it is best to think of it as aiming for the quality of the bands that you admire. Anything less is going to net you bad results. I often say to bands when they come to for recording advice that you need to make something of the quality of your favorite indie release that got another of your favorite bands into your stereo. In English this means if you love Vampire Weekend you better make something as good quality as the record of theirs that made you like the band. Otherwise all your hard work marketing and promoting is going to be painful and not be half as helpful as if you had taken the time to record a great version of your song

So What Do You Do?
Now that we know we are going to have to achieve something more than a demo and make a recording that is worthy of release by your favorite indie label. How do we go about getting this?

  • Be realistic about how much time and money you are going to need to put into your record. In order to get fans and everyone’s attention you are going to need to make something great, not just a demonstration of how good you could be if someone would invest in you. If you need to record less songs to obtain the quality of recording you feel you need go that route rather than making something mediocre.
  • Research to find a producer who can help you get to this point, look at credits on records or Allmusic.com and choose a producer who has delivered quality recording before. Not just the closest studio to you that will give you a deal.

Jesse Cannon is the editor of Musformation. He produces records at his studio Cannon Found Soundation. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseCannonMusF. For more info please visit his website.

  • Kit

    We recorded a demo for close friends and family, and to give ourselves a test run of what it would be like in studio. We did it for free, since we have a friend who is a recording engineer. We found the time spent useful, and we learned a lot about ourselves before laying down the money for a full out EP.
    Now we’re getting ready to go into recording in a few months time, once we’re done with writing new material and picking the best of the best.
    If it hadn’t been free, well, we wouldn’t have done it, because we feel the same way you do about the demo. It is pretty much useless.

  • R

    I disagree. A demo might be of no use to get a record deal via A&R people but it is a fantastic tool to “create a huge buzz”.
    When you start playing with an unheard-of band how are you going to convince the owners of small venues that you write decent songs without demo ?
    Also when you tell someone about your music they are bound to want to hear it and if you want that person to “make some buzz” you’ve got to give them a CD or a download to take home and share with their friends…

  • Brian Tracy

    I think the point here is that no one has an excuse to have a recording that sounds like a demo.