As a result of recording and producing literally thousands of song demos, I’ve learned that it’s better to prepare and prevent than to repair and repent. Here are a few steps you can take to help make your demo recording experience more successful.

Song Demos

Song Preparation

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’s hourly rate for the privilege.

The Rough Recording

You can also benefit from trying a few rough recordings at home before you get to the studio. The simple act of listening back to a song instead of performing it will reveal any weaknesses or issues that need to be dealt with before the studio clock is running. The last of these home recordings will become the definitive rough recording.

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.

The Demo Singer

When working with the demo singer, it’s always a good policy to get the a copy of the rough recording and the lyrics a week or so before the session. There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, the singer can let you know what key the song should be in to best suit their voice. This way, if you end up recording the instrument parts before the singer comes in, you’ll know the correct key. Secondly, the more time the singer has to learn the song, the less time he or she will take to sing the song when the studio clock is running.

Song Demos

Lyric Sheets

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.

The Session Musicians

Professional session musicians do not need anything in advance. They will be learning the song from your rough recording when they get to the session. You can save a little time by writing a chord chart of the song if that’s something you’re comfortable doing. If not, the session musicians should have no trouble doing it for you on the spot using the rough recording you’ve brought to the session.


After that, it’s up to the singer and musicians to bring your song to the next level. There’s nothing more exciting than listening to world-class musicians and vocalists record one of your songs. The more you prepare in advance, the more you’ll enjoy your studio experience.

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14 responses to “What To Do Before You Record Your Song Demos”

  1. I have copyrighted four songs. I just signed to Sound Cloud, CD Baby, ITunes, and Artistecard I’m a gospel composer. And I want to compose songs for gospel artists. Thank you.

  2. Charles D Springston says:

    Hi Cliff,
    I have written some christian rock songs, but I lost some recordings when my computer crashed. Luckily I have the lyric sheets and remember the melodies. Money is tight but I will continue to write. Its what I do. Thanks for the great info.
    All the best

  3. Janice Honeycutt says:

    I am a songwriter but I needed to take a break for health reasons. One of my songs is “Jukebox Junkie” a country music song recorded by Ken Mellons. I am so grateful for your website and your great advice to songwriters just starting out. I will be using your services as well.
    Janice Honeycutt

  4. Penny Garrison says:

    I am in the process of working with Cliff on recording my song. There can’t be a nicer person in the music industry. He is professional, thoughtful, kind and very patient. He will do the best job possible. It has been a joy to work with him. He certainly knows what he’s doing and has years of experience to back it up. I would HIGHLY recommend him to anyone who is serious about writing songs.

  5. Francis Curtin says:

    Enjoyed your seminar at the Taxi Convention. Thanks for presenting to the benefit of newbies to the industry as myself as well as those that needed more help after years of songwriting in a fast changing world.

  6. Martin Epp says:

    Hi, Cliff, having written and recorded several albums over the years and currently working on the 3rd with my country act, I must say this advice is priceless. You can never spend too much time pre-production. ProTools and other similar, relatively inexpensive home recording programs are not only invaluable in songwriting and pre-production but can also be used to contribute tracks to the actual studio session saving time and money there. Thank you for all your great information and advice.

  7. My Question Is Why Can’t Or Why Wouldn’t Any Artist Take A Chance On An Unknow Writer And CoWrite With Them.
    I Believe A Lot Of Of Great Songs Are Not Recorded This Way. Married. To The Same Great Lady For 33 Yrs.

  8. Chuck Thomas says:

    New to this and have what I’m sure is a very naive question to ask. Is it smart for a new songwriter to pay for high quality (maybe very expensive) demos, when very few publishers even accept unsolicited songs? Thanks!

    • Hi Chuck. Those are really two separate questions. First of all, new songwriters should make sure (via song critiques, playing your songs live, etc.) that they are confident their songs are ready for a high quality demo. This confidence is a little harder to come by early in a career so anything they can do to help make certain a song is as good as it can be is worthwhile before they invest in a demo. That being said, if a song is ready for a demo, a high quality (even if it’s just a guitar/vocal) is worthwhile as there is no way to undo the first impression an amateurish recording/performance makes. Regarding unsolicited songs, take a peek at this article… Hope this helps! -Cliff

  9. David Hardy says:

    I know this is good sound advice. No pun…
    With us procrastinators, though, it helps to have the fire of on way to studio. Better get this done. Helped me twice force a finish. Thanks for this helpful info and guidance.

  10. Sconnie Songster says:

    I mainly write lyrics/sing melodies so my barriers to demo are many. I did have a great Nashville experience with a studio other than Cliff’s. However, I became aware of Cliff during Bree Noble’s Profitable Musician Summit 2019. His generous interview encapsulated so much wisdom and he was so effusive about mentoring that I look forward to his emails, which I use as motivators! Lucky are the folks who get to work with him on their songs.

  11. Ken Lawyer says:

    Thanks, Cliff. Even though I’ve done these things over the past 20 years, it was good to hear I was doing “something” right since I haven’t had anyone record one of my songs yet. I appreciate your wisdom and experience!

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