Things Every Songwriter Should Know
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7 Tips on How to Record a Demo that Gets Results

Written by Barry DeVorzon – Follow us on Twitter

Okay, so you have a great song and now you want to record a demo. Once again, a song comes first, and your goal is to do a recording that does it justice. Sometimes, you can take a great song and make it even better with a demo, while other times, great songs can suffer in the recording process. Here are some tips that will help you avoid that and get the most out of your recordings.

1. Start with a good studio.

When recording your song, you want make sure the quality of the recording is top notch.  Whether you choose to record at a commercial studio or a home studio, make sure you are working with quality equipment. This would include effects units, microphones, sequencing software, and the ability to edit easily. The sound of your demo is important so you should do everything you can to ensure that quality.

2. Work with a qualified engineer.

Working with someone who knows the equipment and knows how to get the most out of the equipment is essential. If you work in a commercial studio, do your homework and make sure you are working with the right engineer. If you’re working at home, the right engineer may be you or a friend of yours.

3. Work with the right musicians.

If you’re not doing it all, make sure you work with great musicians. Working with the right musicians is an essential ingredient if you want to wind up with a good recording. You want musicians who can take direction without letting their egos get in the way and who will freely contribute musical ideas to help you achieve your goals. Signature licks and fills can come from the musician while they’re playing that turn out better than anything you may have had in mind. I call these pearls, and you only get them when you work with the right musicians. That being said, the right musician may be you, which makes it all a lot easier.

4. Get a basic track that’s right for the song.

A good basic track is the backbone of any good recording. Start with the basics when laying down a track, you can always add to it. The basics are drums, bass, keyboards, guitar, and last but not least, the right tempo. Before you start recording it is important to capture the tempo the song was conceived in. Sometimes in a studio environment, people tend to forget that and speed up or slow down the original tempo, which can cause you to lose the natural groove for that song.

If you sing the song using your vocal as a temporary guide track while they’re playing, it will help them with the feel. If you’re a one-man band, then I would start with a drum track, add a bass, and then start laying down your keyboard or your guitar. Either way, once you have a basic track, take a moment and see how it feels. If it feels good, make whatever adjustments are necessary to make it better. If it doesn’t feel good, then start again until you get a basic track that does feel good. Now you’re ready to lay down the vocals.

5. Work with the right singer for your song.

If you wrote the song and you can sing, this is as good as it gets. If that is not the case, you first have to decide if the song calls for a male or female singer. Once you make that choice, it is important that you find a singer that relates to the type of song you have written. This is important because most singers are not a jack-of-all-trades, they feel comfortable with certain types of music. Find one that loves and feels comfortable with the style of music your song was written in. Once you’ve identified the singer, sing your song several times so the singer can get the essence of your phrasing.

Then, give the singer a copy of the track with and without your vocal and let him or her live with it for a while. When you’re ready to lay down the vocal, it’s better to do 2-3 takes before making any comments. This gives the singer a chance to relax and get into the song. If you start commenting too early it can sometimes throw the singer off. When you do make comments regarding the phrasing or performance, don’t always expect the singer to sing it exactly the way you sang it. What you’re trying to do here is to capture the essence of the song.

6. Now you can add the “goodies”.

When you have your basic track and vocals the way you want them, now is the time to add some complimentary elements. Now you can add additional guitar or keyboard parts. You may want to add strings or brass. Whatever you do, try not to overdo it, don’t add anything that might fight or neutralize your basic track and vocal. More often than not, “Less” is usually “More”.

7. Now it’s time to mix your tracks

Getting a good mix is the last and most critical part of making a good recording. Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules. Mixing is a very personal experience. All the elements have their place in a good mix and your ears and emotional instincts will be your best guide. My only bit of advice is don’t try and homogenize everything, some elements are meant to be featured over others. If you get confused, listen to some of the mixes on your favorite records.

A good demo is almost as important as the song itself. Make sure your recording does your song justice. Follow the 7 steps shown above and trust your instincts. The best way to get a song cut is with a good demo.

Do you prefer doing your demos in a professional studio or a home studio? Do you prefer playing all the parts or do you bring in other musicians? Share in the comments below. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

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