Zack and Miri Make a Demo (Part 1)
Updated: Jan 17, 2019
Sometimes you just don’t want to record you first attempt at doing something. Of course I’m talking about playing music. That’s why making a demo is one of the most important parts of the recording process. If you aren’t in the habit of making demos for everything you record, I’m going to try to convince you it is worth the effort and give you some suggestions about how to make a useful demo.
Why is a demo so important?
There are so many good reasons to make a demo, here are just a few:
The final songwriting step: It’s hard to say when a song is “done” being written, but a great way to settle on a final version is to lay it out in a recording. During the demo process you are forced to make sure all the parts are nailed down enough to record and settle details like the song’s tempo and key. It is also super useful to use a demo as a scratchpad for experimenting with additional layers or production such as vocal harmonies, synths, effects, or any other idea that may pop into your head.
Communication with the rest of your team: By your team I mean musicians, producers, engineers, mixerers, or anyone else who will be involved in the final recording. Band members can reference the demo to learn or practice parts, and the studio team can have a baseline for understanding your aim for the song. Without some sort of demo a studio engineer may have to guess the kind of sounds you want for the recording without ever having actually heard the song. This will make life harder for everyone. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but when it comes to describing a song to someone a demo is worth a million.
Getting ready for the studio: When you play a song live, no matter how good you are, mistakes happen. The hard guitar solo you kinda fake your way through or the vocal note you can’t always hit may just be a blip in the live set, forgotten by the end of the song. But in the studio these little things eat up hours doing repetitive takes. Nothing will make you confront the rough edges of a song more than having to record it or listening back to a sloppy recording of yourself with a critical ear. Take special note of these aspects of your music and take special care to practice and be ready to nail it at the final recording.
Scratch Tracks: Having a demo, particularly one multi-tracked to a metronome, means that any band member can record their parts in any order by playing along to the scratch track of the rest of the band. For instance, it’s popular to record drums first for many reasons but it would be more comfortable for the drummers involved to record their parts in the studio to a demo arrangement instead of just a metronome and their imagination.
All of these reasons share the same end goal: to save you time, money, and frustration in the studio. Making the demo early on saves you from having to waste studio time on things that could have already been done when there is was more flexibility and not a looming deadline.
In part 2 we will talk about some different ways to actually go about recording a demo in order to make it as effective and efficient as possible.