While professional demo sessions are notable for what the songwriter doesn’t have to do (i.e. perform, record, produce), there are nonetheless important things that every songwriter needs to bring to a demo session to assure a successful result. I’ve listed the most important ones below…
It may sound obvious but make sure your song is FINISHED. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had clients come into the studio only to start rewriting a part of the lyric or melody. It is significantly less stressful – and quite a bit less expensive – to write a song when you’re not paying the studio for the privilege of observing your creative process
By definition, a rough recording is any simple, inexpensive recording that you do directly into your smart phone, laptop or any hand-held recording device. Generally a piano or guitar plus a scratch vocal will do the trick. The key here is not a perfect recording but rather an accurate representation of the song structure. In other words, it doesn’t have to sound great as long as the chords, melody and lyrics are correct. The purpose of this recording is to provide the demo vocalist and session musicians with a completed version of your song that they can learn from.
When you get to the session, it’s wise to have printed lyric sheets for the engineer, musicians and vocalist. The lyrics should be printed – not handwritten – and have each chorus written out in full. First of all, it’s easier for a singer to read a lyric sheet straight down from top to bottom. Secondly, you’ll be using these lyric sheets to mark spots that need fixing – or spots on certain takes that you like – and having “Repeat Chorus” written for the second and third choruses won’t allow you to take good notes. The better the notes you take on the lyric sheet while the vocalist is recording, the easier it will be to tell them what works and what needs to be fixed.
Know that studio professionals want nothing more that for you to be thrilled with your demo. That being said, it’s tempting to suggest exactly what the players should play and the singers should sing. I’d recommend that you start by trusting that these experts have well-developed musical instincts and allowing them to try things their way first. If you’re not thrilled with their approach then, of course, you should feel free to make specific suggestions as to what you’re looking for. But my experience is that the players and singers will, almost always, exceed your expectations when it comes to how they perform on your songs.
This, too, should be understood but being polite in the studio is essential. Even under the best of circumstances, the studio is an intense environment. You, as the songwriter, have a deep emotional – and financial – investment in your songs and want everything to go perfectly. That’s completely understandable but it’s important to remember that thoughtful, constructive suggestions will go a long way towards getting you what you want whereas critical or curt comments can damage the fragile vibe during a session.
There’s nothing more exciting than listening to world-class musicians and vocalists record one of your song demos. That being said, the better prepared you are, the more you’ll enjoy your studio experience.