As much as we’d like to admit it, not all of our songs are going to be worth spending the kind of money and time that a professional demo recordings require. In order to know whether or not  your song is – or can be – worth that investment, a song critique can be helpful. In order to get your song up to a “listenable” level, you’ll need to make a rough recording. And, even though your rough recording won’t be the final, finished product, it’s still important to give your listeners the best representation of your song that you can. To that end, I’ve put together a few quick tips to help you avoid some of the speed bumps that have nothing to do with the quality of your song but can distract your listener and prevent them from giving you a constructive song critique.

1. Pay attention to sound quality

These days it’s easy and inexpensive to get awfully good sound quality even recording using a smart phone or tablet. The microphones in the devices themselves are decent but in investment in an attachable mic for your smart phone/tablet will make a dramatic improvement. As an example, I use the Shure MV-88 plugged directly into my iPhone and I’m truly thrilled with the results. Also, the engineer in me would be remiss not mentioning that these mics are sensitive enough to pick up everything in your general environment so it’s important to remember to make your rough recordings in a quiet room.

2. Tune your instruments

I understand the feeling of having worked – sometimes all day – on a song and wanting to record it the moment you’re done. That’s fine but as a guitarist, I can say with complete authority that our instruments will fall out of tune after any extended writing session. Take the time to properly tune your instrument(s) just prior to recording. It really does make a difference.

3. Give the vocal your primary attention

At the end of the day, it’s the vocal that communicates your lyric and melody. To that point, there are a few things you can do to make the vocal shine in your rough recording. First, make sure the song is in the best key possible for the vocalist who will be singing  it. Secondly, and equally important, make sure the vocal in your rough recording is up front – meaning loud enough – so that the melody and lyrics are clear. This deserves particular mention because often in our enthusiasm to play a new song, the volume of the instrument can overshadow the vocal. You might want to record a small snippet of the song first and listen back to confirm that the vocal stands out.


A rough recording will never take the place of a professional demo but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make every effort to create a solid rough version of your song as an intermediate step. Remember, when you submit a song to be critiqued, the listener should be critiquing the song itself and not your recording.

Good Luck!

Make the most of your studio demo experience.

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7 responses to “Tips for Songwriters Making Rough Recordings”

  1. Hi Cliff,
    This is such valuable information. As always, you are informative, upfront and helpful!
    Great for anyone recording on any level. We can all use this reminder!

  2. Tim Woodger says:

    Great advice! I’m so glad to hear that rough recordings have a value and one doesn’t have to immediately go to the more costly demo stage. I do get a surprisingly good quality from my smart phone but will now look for a compatible mic.

  3. beautifully done…
    as, all of us tend to overproduce
    (which then buries the song)…
    so, give it a groove (as even ballads need
    a strong pulse)…
    then add a simple evocative instument
    to give it structure….
    and sing it like ya mean it,
    as an honest reading of a narrative
    will deliver it….
    good luck….

  4. Cliff! Your observations are “GOLD.” I hope to use them to become a GOLD MAKER in music!

  5. Karl Crosby says:

    Great information. Without a good demo,
    getting your music heard and taken into
    consideration by professionals can be a
    waste of time and money. Again great info.

  6. RUTH PAPPAS says:

    Always helpful. As a songwriter, non singer, making sure my vocalist has correct key, is a small but crucial step. Many thanks!

  7. Tom says:

    Thanks Cliff, your posts are often the highlight of my day, and always worth the read.

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