How Good Does Your Demo Need to Be?

 You should see your demo as being every bit as important as your final product.

mixerIt used to be that a demo was rather rough around the edges. As long as you were giving the producer and other personnel the idea of the basic workings of the song, you were fine.

These days, demos really need to be well-written and well-recorded. The evolution from rough to polished happened hand-in-hand with the evolution of technology. Nowadays, it’s possible to make a very fine recording in the comfort of your own home, as you likely know.

If you don’t know how to do a professional-sounding recording, there’s lots of info online that can guide you.


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But what exactly are you looking for in a professional demo? Good demos don’t just refer to the quality of the recording itself, but the quality of the songwriting as well. Here are 7 characteristics of a great demo:

  1. The recording quality is very high. Even freeware, like LMMS or Sound eXchange (SoX), can get you where you need to be with this.
  2. The song has a great hook. Songs that really make a connection to listeners are ones that have that short, catchy, rhythmic idea, usually found in the chorus, and lots of fun to sing.
  3. It makes good use of repetition. Hooks are a demonstration of this, but even beyond the hook, you’ll find that the best songs use either exact or approximate repetition as a main important structural feature. Exact repetition is self-explanatory, but what about “approximate” reputation? The Beatle’s “Fool On the Hill” is a great example of a short idea that keeps getting repeated in an approximate kind of way.
  4. The lyrics are well-structured, and interesting to listen to. Remember that most lyrics will move from descriptive (verse) to emotive (chorus).
  5. It has a great chorus melody. Verse melodies can wander up and down as they attempt to help the lyric describe the scenario of the song. But chorus melodies need to be tight and repetitious, often with a climactic high point, and definitely fun to sing.
  6. It has an engaging energy build. Songs typically gain energy and momentum as they move along. So use everything you’ve got — volume, number of instruments, background vocals, increasing rhythmic activity — to help build song energy.
  7. The song’s been really well-performed. If the performance is weak and unmusical, it doesn’t matter how good your song is. Listeners will be distracted by wrong notes, weak sense of rhythm, or boring instrumentation.

In the final analysis, you should treat your song demo as if it’s the final product. Take great care, get lots of advice, and listen to the end product with as much objectivity as you can muster. Once your song is in the hands (ears) of industry personnel, you don’t get a second chance with it.


Gary Ewer

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics.  (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

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  1. Song writers have to be more than just someone who writes a song these
    days yes You have to be a producer and a good arranger, I have heard
    many badly written songs well produced by Great Studios, but that does
    not change the fact that many of these songs are just not good enough,

    Problem now in 2015 is a lot of groups who play so called New Country are
    actually writing rubbish, these same bands are signed by labels , who no
    longer have the monetary resources.

    If your songs are great I can assure you a decent publisher or A and R
    department will recognize that you can write, but it’s not about one song
    they want to know if you can do it all the time, if you prove that and you
    have a singer that can sing in tune , that’s all that matters, of course
    studios looking for work will tell you you should go to ,them, it all depends
    on your own capabilities

    • Yes, I quite agree with you, Peter. I especially like your final point, that it’s not about being able to write one good song. It’s about being able to write excellent music, and doing it consistently.

      Thanks as always for writing,

  2. We shouldn’t call it “demo” these days. You need a finished, polished product with great vocals. If you have anything less than that, you are already behind the competition. I have to disagree that everyone can get a “professional” sound at home. The ones that do, have a real studio set up, with vocal booth and enough room to record instruments Live! If you have that at home, you can produce professional demos at home, but then you’d have a real studio at home. Making demos on your PC with a usb mic, on a free software will not make a well enough demo to get you a cut. Competition is too high these days and there are enough songwriters out there that demo their song professionally. If you don’t, you already lost.

    • I definitely agree with you on the need for a finished, polished product. I’m not a technological expert, as it isn’t my area. But I do know of professional groups who record in houses, and get a very fine result. Chicago, for example, recorded most (close to all) of their latest album in houses and hotel rooms with a portable recording system.

      I suspect you’re quite right that the easiest way to achieve results is to get yourself to a studio that is already set up and ready for you. My only point was that now, more than any other time in the past, you can achieve excellent results in the comfort of your own home, just due mainly to advancements in digital technology.

      Thanks – I really appreciate your very good comments.


  3. What about vocals? As in, a songwriter who’s not gifted with the pipes? I can record it cleanly, professionally, on-key, but won’t a producer be distracted by the fact that it’s not sung by a pro? (Or at least someone who sounds like they could be a pro?) In the old days, there was a certain amount of “forgiveness” for a thin-voiced songwriter pitching his own songs. Seems like today, with all the “big sound” we see on televised singing competitions, that would no longer be the case. Your thoughts?

  4. It’s great you mentionned Linux MultiMedia Studio, Gary. This is a great software, evolving very quickly. But it has been rebranded to LMMS (simply), since it isn’t only “Linux” (Windows and MacOSX ports are there and work well) and it isn’t really “Multimedia” (no image, no video, only sound).
    Web site:

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