Demo tracks are the elevator pitches of the music world. Industry professionals will spend countless hours in a day listening to a huge amount of demo tracks, so it’s important to do whatever you can to make your demo stand out and truly represent what you bring to the table as an artist, songwriter, composer or producer.
At a basic level, demos should be designed to demonstrate what a track ‘could be’. It shows the core of a song; so it may not fully represent what the song could potentially end up being. That being said there is a number of aspects that should be taken into account when creating a demo.
Start at the beginning
Before any work is done on a demo track you have to make sure that the song you are working with is up to scratch. This may sound obvious, but it is important to remember that you can’t build a great house on shaky foundations; the fundamentals of the track need to be great. This comes down to standard elements of great songs:
Great Intro/first 30 seconds – Effective tracks need to be able to grab the listener almost immediately, this isn’t to say you can’t have the introduction build, but it has to be a means to ends and not linger too long or you risk losing the attention of the listener.
Refrain/Hook – This is the bread and butter of commercial music, every great track ever has a specific recognisable element, whether this be a melody line, a repeating lyrical element or a distinctive instrumental part. This can separate an okay track from a great track.
Individual Element – Similar to the Hook, the track needs to have something that separates it from songs within its genre. Try to imagine listening to the song as an outsider for the first time.
Depending on what genre or style your song is, your demo needs to highlight or draw attention to these elements. For example if your track is focused on the lyrics, the vocals need to be clear and stand out within the mix.
What matters in a Demo Track?
As previously mentioned, a demo is for all intents and purposes a work in progress. It brings ideas to the table that are then developed on. When listening to a demo track from a critical point of view there are essentially 2 elements of the song which are considered most important:
If push comes to shove all other aspects of a track can be changed, altered or removed entirely. Looking at a song from an industry professional perspective, those 2 elements are what matter; as if those have potential you can take them and turn the song into almost any track. Instrumental elements or arrangements can be completely changed, even the genre could be altered, as high quality lyrics and melodies transcend genre and can be applied to almost any artist and style. Critical listeners are able to pick out this quality, and the ability to create and write effective melodies and lyrics is a very useful talent to have.
The Quality of the Recording
When it comes to the quality of demo recordings you have to tow the line. Demos are never expected to achieve the same audio fidelity or sonic quality of a fully mixed and mastered studio recording. Tracks that are picked up by labels for their artists will always be altered and re-recorded. However it would be ill advised to completely forget about recording quality, as you have to remember that the demo will most likely be the listeners’ first interaction with the track. If they are presented with a low fidelity recording with little attention to detail it would be an unfair reflection on what otherwise may be a fantastic, really effective track.
This may seem contradictory to what I previously said about the melody and lyrics being the most important aspects. This is still true, but none of that quality will matter if the overall quality of the track is distractingly poor. Think of it as like being a highly qualified individual applying to a job with a really lacklustre CV, or arriving at a job interview for job you would be perfect for massively underdressed – it's all about the first impression you give and whether it is a fair representation of your ability.
Achieving a decent level recording may be a daunting prospect if you are an artist or songwriter with no experience of recording. This is understandable and the solution would either be to collaborate with a producer to help achieve your vision or educate yourself on some fundamentals of recording or mixing, and adding to your skillset could only ever be a good thing.
These tips are simply a few pointers on how to create a more effective Demo Track. Making a good first impression is always great and anything you can do to develop your ability is a bonus. The more effort you put in and the greater attention to detail given the more success you are likely to have when submitting Pitches to Projects on Music Gateway. If you think you have a killer demo, take a look at the Demospace, where Demos can be sumbitted to Record Labels, Music Publishers and many more.