To Record or Not to Record

By Dana Lalevee on January 11, 2017

We get this question a lot at NSAI: “should I go ahead and record a demo version of my song so I can pitch it or get it evaluated?” The answer: Definitely maybe.

I had a professor in college that categorized something that doesn’t have a definitive answer as falling into the “Squirrel Area” – it’s gray and fuzzy. Deciding on whether you should record a demo of your song or not absolutely falls into the “Squirrel Area.” There are a lot of factors that could affect the decision you ultimately make when it comes to demoing your music. Some things to consider:

Do you have the monetary resources to get your song professionally demoed?

Professional demos with full backing band and mixing can run you anywhere from $500-$1,000, and beyond…per song. Consider the size of your catalog; do you have a good portion that you’d like to demo? Multiply that by $500+. How’s your budget looking now?

When it comes to NSAI services like Pitch to Publisher/Online Pitch and Song Evaluations, we always want you to put your best foot forward and showcase yourself. However, we never want you to break the bank to do so! Consider the cost when moving forward to professionally demo your songs.

Song Quality
Is your song at its peak performance and ready to be recorded?

This isn’t a judgement of whether your song is “good” or “bad,” but rather if your song has all the necessary elements it requires for your end goal. Is this a solo artist project? Are you aiming to have this song pitched and cut by a major recording artist? You need to keep these questions in mind not only when writing, but when it’s time to demo. Once you determine your song’s goal, more questions pop up: Is this a competitive song? Does it follow trends and sound commercially viable? It’s tough to answer these questions as the writer since you’re so close to the creation. It’s even more tough to analyze these questions once you’ve already spent money on a demo and it feels “set in stone.”

This is where workshops like Pitch to Publisher and Song Feedback, or NSAI services like Online Pitch and Song Evaluations become valuable tools for you prior to spending money on a demo. The publisher guests we invite to listen to your songs are aiming to give you the best advice and feedback based on the trends they see daily. Don’t take this lightly; they’re here to help you be the best writer you can be. In a similar vein, our Song Evaluations are designed to give you in-depth feedback so you can better align your song with your goal.
Once you’ve been given feedback from people who are “in it” every day, you can proceed to tweak your song to fit your ultimate goal and rest easy knowing you didn’t blow the demo budget too soon.

Do your cowriters want to demo the song? Who’s paying for it? How much are they paying?

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of getting a professional demo booked - after all, it’s a huge step in your creative process. However, like many moments in life, money can quickly turn that excitement to resentment. Did you determine how you were splitting the cost of the demo before booking the session? Did you ask your cowriters if they even wanted to demo the song? While cowriters can make the cost of demoing songs less of a burden (going “halvsies,” if you will), it’s still an expense for which everyone involved must account. Determining a plan of action prior to booking a demo session will save you a lot of heartache in the long run.

Studio Choice
What demo studio should you use?
That’s something we’re asked a lot at NSAI. The answer is: whichever you desire! We truly believe that the best demo studios are the ones that you and your peers discover during your own research. There are a ton of factors that go into the demo process, but feeling a level of comfort and attentiveness from the studio you use is a huge one. In fact, I believe it can make or break your experience. The only way you can determine nuances like that is to ask the people you trust, do a little bit of research on your own, and shop around! One quick google search for a demo studio in your town can yield a ton of results, and just might turn out to be the start of a new relationship between you and the engineers with which you work.

There is so much to consider when determining if you’re ready to demo a song or if you should wait for a bit. I hope these tips help you in making that decision!