The blessing and the curse of recording your finished song is that you can really dig in a scrutinize every detail of the recording. The “blessing” part is being able to hear all of the things that are coming together to make your song sound great but the “curse” is that by listening so closely, you can tend to obsess over small – and sometimes insignificant – details which prevent you from taking in the big picture. To help get a more well-rounded opinion of your song’s recording it can be helpful to listen to it in a variety of situations.

Sometimes lo-fi works best

Given that the average listener doesn’t own a $1,000 set of studio speakers, it can be useful to listen to your songs in a variety of settings from your car to you smart phone or tablet (yes even on those tiny speakers) to those ever-present earbuds. Now while your recordings won’t sound as full and warm in these other settings, it will give you a much better indication as to whether your mix is well-balanced. What I mean by this is that you should still be able to hear the singer and how the vocals relate to the various instruments. If, for example, on your iPad speakers the electric guitars drown out the words, then that’s a much better “real world” indication that either the electric guitars need to be lowered or the vocals need to come up. Often, recording studios will keep a set of low quality speakers next to their regular ones to see how the mix translates. It’s always a good idea to compare.

Stop paying such close attention

Another risk in only listening to your songs in a studio setting is that by concentrating so hard you can’t “hear” the forest for the trees. Sometimes the best thing to do is to pay less attention and have the recording playing in the background. I refer to this as the “other room test.” In other words, if you’re playing your demo in the other room while you’re busy doing something else and something still jumps out at you as needing to be fixed, that’s a good indication that there’s an issue in your recording that needs to be addressed.

Even rough recordings can benefit

When it comes to rough recordings, it can be hugely helpful to listen to these in a variety of settings as well. Even if you are performing your songs already and they seem finished, listening back to your rough recording – a simple single instrument and vocal – can give you insight into whether your melody and lyric are working. The key here is to find ways to hear your songs differently to expose any flaws or areas that need further attention. A trick that was shown to me recently is to play your song while watching a music video of a similar genre and feel on mute. This can give you a sense as to whether your song would work for the masses.


In the end, the key is to explore different listening contexts for your songs so that you have a more well-rounded and actionable appreciation for what is and isn’t working in your recordings.

Good Luck!

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7 responses to “How Songwriters Should Listen To Their Demos”

  1. Lilliam says:

    Hello, I have scraps of paper all over my house of songs that just come to me. I’ll be driving in my car and I’ll sing a song while making it up like I’ve known it forever. I am not a musical person. I can’t sing nor play an instrument but I have tunes and lyrics that have stayed with me for years. I wrote some down, some are just melodies, like a whisper. I feel like I should share them and it would be cool to hear someone sing one of my songs if only to get them out of my head. What should I do? Thanks and I hope this email found you well.

  2. Credit where credit is due. Cliff’s recent blog about writing lyrics prompted me to change
    some lyrics in my 16 page Score.. The changes only involved a few measures but the changes were significant because they allowed me to put the song to bed, meaning I’m now ready to send it to Cliff, so he and his talented artists can produce a Demo..

  3. Tom Albano says:

    I’m an old guy.. I sang professionally at the Grand
    Hotel in Hoboken N.J. Sinatra sang there. Frank was a bit more successful than me. I have written many songs. with good melodies and lyrics with meaning. I am disappointed in some of the stuff I hear. I just hooked up with TAXI music.. I’ll keep you posted on my progress. They seem to welcome new—- old style music. I’ll keep you posted.

  4. Rick Erhart says:

    Ahh… the broken link between a guitar pull and technology. After creating a song, making sure it follows the rules of music sufficiently (music is the master), and getting a satisfactory arrangement I must move into the technological in order to create an electronic version worthy of being called a demo. I have a home studio with a DAW and mics and since I’m not presently marketing my songs I can come up with a reasonable demo but, I could do so much more writing if I didn’t have to produce and mix and test and remix etc. Just saying that there comes a point where professional producers/engineer and maybe even studio session musicians can get the electronic version nailed down leaving the songwriter to write songs. Over the summer at the lake on the deck I can turn out 20 plus songs using a cheap electric piano, my phone voice recorder and scraps of paper. Over the winter in the city at my DAW I can do the recording and mixing but I lose my groove for writing. That’s why I don’t take my DAW to the lake. The pros have the know-how to make sure the song sounds good on any system. When I’m ready to market my songs I’ll let them polish the apple. First I need to write 50 more songs LOL.

  5. Michael Sion says:

    Love these tips. Will be employing the YouTube music video-on-mute tactic when listening to mixes of my next song!

  6. Tom Crosthwaite says:

    I find that listening to a mix in mono helps.

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