Beware of Demo-itisDec 08, 2021
Break It Down
“Demo” or “Demonstration” recordings used to be a thing back in the day before pro-level recording gear was affordable. The purpose of a demo tape was to show record executives that an artist had the “It Factor.” The demo would be the catalyst for a record label to green-light a project. Back then, budgets were a big deal because all recordings were done in the analog realm – which meant “destructive recording.” Simply put, you could not go back or get a do-over for free like you can today. Nowadays, you can go back and easily re-record things because it’s all done in the non-destructive digital domain.
Master Recordings Forever
So why are demos not as important as they used to be? With your laptop, a decent audio interface, microphone and some software, you can record professional sounding music from the comfort of your own home. Literally, you can make “master recordings,” ready for release and distribution.
To that point, if you’re tracking instruments yourself, doing your own overdubs, vocals, then mixing it yourself, what’s the point of a demo? In this instance, there is simply no need for a demo. You are in control of the entire process from start to finish, and there are no other parties that need to approve anything before moving forward.
Conversely, if you’re in a band and you’re in the middle of writing songs then yes, demos are a great way to share musical ideas between band mates, but even this can be done in the digital domain as a “master recording.”
Get In The Mix
Too often, people can get a very serious affliction known as “Demo-itis.” This is when you get so used to hearing the rough mix throughout the recording process, that you cannot detach emotionally from it. Demo-itis will prevent you from accepting a newer, improved version of the same song. Don’t fall into Demo-itis!
Before mixing your song or sending it out to be mixed by someone else, take the time to find at least 3 songs of reference. Look for other artists or bands that have a similar sound to what you envision for yourself and take notes! I mean literal notes with a pencil and paper. Write down various audible attributes of each song from the smallest nuance to the most obvious. For instance, does the overall mix sound more on the dry side or wet? Are there a lot of effects being used like large reverbs and long delays? Or is the overall sound more focused, tight and compressed? How many instruments are being used? How is each instrument being treated? Take note of the vocals… are they tuned to the tee? Or are they a little more loosey-goosey? Do they resonate or fade quickly into the next phrase? Are there electronic drums, acoustic drums or no drums at all? What is the relationship in volume from instrument to instrument? Does one instrument or group of instruments stand out in particular?
By taking the time to actively notice these qualities, you are actually training your ears to hear more clearly. This fine-tuning of your ears will help you express yourself more accurately when telling your mix engineer what you’d like to hear. Especially if the mix engineer is you!
And finally, stand back and listen with an open mind and fresh ears every time you listen to a new mix of the same song. Don’t be so quick to judge and try to remember that you’re now bringing your baby (the song) into the world after it’s been incubating all this long time. It should be presented in such a light that makes it shine! Don’t rush this process, but rather, take the time to educate yourself. This will make the mix process so much more enjoyable.
There’s another factor that you should take into consideration as well, DON’T OVER DO IT! It's easy to get to the point of diminishing returns when producing and mixing your own songs. The less people around you to bounce ideas off of, the less objective your opinion becomes. That’s why it’s important to take frequent breaks and employ tactics like the “morning after test.” That’s when you stop working on the song, get a good night's rest, and come back the morning after with fresh ears. This will tell you if you were on the right path or not. Learn to trust your gut and do not over think it! This is how you can avoid “Demo-itis!”
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