Running a recording studio for the past two decades, I’ve recorded songwriting demos for GRAMMY-winning songwriters, major music publishers all the way down to first-time songwriters. One of the things I’ve noticed is that for newer songwriters there’s often confusion about what a demo can be used for. Strictly speaking, your professional song demo is a “demonstration” of your song. This means it’s designed to show off your song to potentially interested parties. That being said, these days demos can be appropriately – or inappropriately – used in a variety of other situations. In this post, I’m going to describe a few of the acceptable uses for demos and some of the uses that require either additional permission or payment in order to be acceptable.

The Cans

1. Pitch your demo to publishers, record labels and artists

Pitching your demo as the above mentioned “demonstration” is the first and best use for your recording. The understanding here is that if your song is selected to be used by an artist, it will be re-recorded in the production style of the rest of the artist’s repertoire.

2. Put your demo on your website/social media for promotion

Again, promoting your demo on your own website or any social media service is a great – and acceptable – approach. You’ve paid good money to do a polished, professional recording to represent your song so it’s absolutely in your best interest to get it out there any way you can.

3. Use the instrumental mix of your demo to try a potentially interested artist’s vocal

One of the lesser known – but excellent – uses for a demo is to take the instrumental version (which any professional studio will provide for you at no extra charge while they’re doing your mixes) and allow a potentially interested artist to record their voice onto it. The rationale here is that at no additional expense to the artist, they’ll be able to hear their voice on a professionally recorded instrumental version of your song. This, sometimes, can be the difference in whether an artist will decide to cut your song or not.

The Can’ts

1. Pitch your demo to film/TV without additional permission

The moment you intend to use your demo as a potentially income-generating recording, a whole different set of rules applies. In other words, without the appropriate releases from the singer and musicians, you won’t have the necessary permission to submit your demo for placement in a film or TV show. That being said, asking the studio in advance if their singers/session musicians are willing to sign a release is the proper and professional way to handle this situation. Often the release is designed to allow the songwriter to pay demo scale to the singer/session musicians but if/when the song becomes a “master” (in other words it gets placed in a film/TV show) there will be some agreed upon additional compensation for those involved.  Drop me a line via my website if you’d like a free copy of the releases I use with my songwriting clients,  demo singers and session musicians.

2. Sell/stream your demo without additional permission/payments

Since selling or streaming your professional song demo – via any of the online download stores or streaming services – is using your demo to generate income, this puts your demo in a different tier of recording. Generally, this requires the express permission of and an additional payment to the demo vocalist as you’ll be using the specific recording of their voice to make money. As a side note, since most session singers have their own artist careers, it is standard practice to either not list the name of the singer at all or to use a pseudonym in order to keep the singer’s artist and demo-singing careers separate.

3. Pitch your demos too much

I’ll admit this is a tricky way to remind you what you can – and should – do but as a rule songwriters rarely take advantage of as many pitch opportunities as they should. Spending good money on a professional demo means you should investigate any and all chances to get your song out there and into the hands of the music business decision makers. I’m fully aware this is hard, unromantic work but I’m also aware that even the greatest song recorded beautifully doesn’t help you if you don’t show it to people.


Recording a professional demo is a big investment and should be treated with the respect and understanding it deserves. Use the “cans” in this article as motivation and the “can’ts” as indicators that you need to get the appropriate permissions and make the appropriate payments to move forward with your songwriting career and you’ll go a long way towards setting yourself up for success when it comes.

Good Luck!

Learn how to prepare for your song demos.

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71 responses to “What You Can-and Can’t-Do with Your Finished Song Demo”

  1. Hi, Cliff. Two clarifications:
    1) Does YouTube count as social media or as streaming? Does it make a difference whether the videos are “monetized” or not?
    2) Am I correctly interpreting “You can’t pitch too much” to mean that there’s no such thing as too much pitching? (As opposed to, “You’re not allowed to pitch excessively”?)

    • Hi Linda. Great questions!

      1. When YouTube isn’t monetized and counts more as social media, you’re fine. But, yes, if you’re monetizing your YouTube videos, then they’re generating income and the demo becomes a master.

      2. I mean “There’s no such thing as too much pitching.” The more the better!


  2. Suzanne says:

    Hi Cliff,

    Can you clarify the circumstances under which you would use the releases you address here as opposed to Work for Hire agreements? Is it predicated solely on Demo vs. Master use?

  3. David says:

    Good info, Cliff. How does this apply to the performing singer-songwriter or artist performing and releasing their own material for revenue? Would this be considered a master from the beginning?

    • Hi David,

      Good question. Your songs – with you as the artist – are not demos. They fit under the heading of “limited pressing” and you have every right to sell them and exploit them any way you wish.

      If you were to sell over 10,000 copies (a problem I wish for you) then there would be a discussion about an additional “master payment” for the players involved.

  4. Bernice Souleyrette says:

    Hi Cliff,
    Very helpful information.

  5. This is a fantastic resource. I have a question – what about entering a demo into a songwriting contest?

  6. Thanks Carol! No problem entering a demo in a contest as far as I know…

  7. Kelley says:

    Hi, Cliff—-Great article!

    So, I should not list any musicians/singers who are on the demos. I thought they would want any publicity but I see now about keeping the 2 careers separate.

    I didn’t know about the streaming—good to know!

    Let’s say a demo turns master for a tv show—is it common to revisit the payment plan afterward, i.e., don’t worry about it until it actually happens? If you have the signed agreement, you’re essentially off to a good start?

  8. Kelley says:

    One last followup—If a songwriter hasn’t received all of the signed Letters, should they go ahead and contact, say, the musicians when (keeping it positive) it turns master?
    Thanks again!

  9. Cliff says:

    No. I’d be very careful not to pitch to film/TV if you don’t already have releases. You don’t want anything to hold you up if the music supervisor wants to move forward because music supervisors hate to wait. Hope that helps!

  10. Kelley says:

    Thank you!

  11. Tony Rexhouse says:

    Cliff, this information is really valuable. However, I’m confused about a few things and I have a couple of questions:

    Hi Tony! I’m going to answer these questions inside of your comment so that people can read them together.

    Q: As I read it, If I am just putting the demo out on social media for people to listen to I do not owe any additional payment to the musicians but if I generate revenue from the demo in any way I would have to pay the musicians. Is that correct?

    A: Yes. Once a demo is used for anything other than to “demonstrate” the song, there will be additional payment (often small) due to each of the players who were only paid for playing on a demo.

    Q: If I do decide to monetize the demo I would have to compensate the musicians. Would that be a one-time payment and how can I go about getting an idea of how much that would cost? I think that would be an important consideration in determining whether to use the specific demo recording for income purposes (i.e., you don’t want to lose money on your recording).

    A: The short answer is that, yes, it’s a one time payment and it would be a small percentage of the “master fee” that you’d receive. For example, if you received $1000 master payment, you’d pay each of the musicians an additional $50.

    Q: You reference use of the demo in a film or TV show and indicate that would make the recording a master. Is this also true if you release the recording on a social media platform or website to generate revenue?

    A: Yes. If you’re generating income, then it is no longer a demonstration of the song but, rather, a “master.” But it’s rare that songs on social media generate income so it would have to be a special case. Selling copies/downloads from your website is more common as an income source.

    Q: This is going to sound worse than I mean it but in the event I was to have the song re-recorded by other musicians in the style of the original demo recording, would I need to compensate the original musicians for utilizing their ideas in the second demo?

    A: No. That kind of thing isn’t something you have to pay for but if you’re doing it to get out of paying a master fee to the original musicians, you’d most likely end up spending more bringing in a new group of musicians to re-record similar parts.

    Thanks. I know this is a lot but I am seriously considering using your services and I’m doing my due diligence.

    My pleasure, Tony, hope that helps!

  12. Cheri says:

    I have a demo of an original song I wrote and all parties are work for hire. Because of the lyrics and who I wrote this for, I wanted to share a link in the description area for a non-profit organization. I get no money and collect no money. No downloads, etc., simply a reminder to give during the holidays. I’m not affiliated with the chairity. I want to pitch my song on YouTube with a video showing lyrics. Any feedback?

  13. Chris says:

    Greetings Cliff!

    If you’re hoping to build a career as a songwriter, then possibly as an artist later, would it be beneficial to stream (Spotify, etc) a new demo you’ve had produced and performed by a session vocalist, thus requiring the artist on the work to be listed as the production company only, with no mention of your name as the songwriter on the various streaming sites?

    • Hi Chris. My instinct is that if you’re considering an artist career, why not put your versions out there first? That being said, if you’re not ready to pursue the artist side of things, just be sure you have the demo singer’s approval to firstly, not list their name and, secondly, generate potential streaming income using their voice. Hope that helps!

  14. Dee Roberts says:

    Can I self publish my song and submit it to an artist allowing the artist to add and / change anything and let the artist become a co writer? I would become a co writer and remain the publisher.

    • Hi Dee,

      Yes. There’s no reason you couldn’t give an artist co-writing credit if they added/changes your fundamental song (melody and/or lyric). That being said, the more typical path would be to have the artist record your song as is without changing it. Hope that helps!


  15. Ray James says:

    Does the demo company that did the melody provide any copyright protection or does the author take care of it?

    • Hi Ray,

      In my experience, demo companies (studios) aren’t the ones who provide the melody. That’s part of the songwriting process. Demo studios are there to turn your already finished songs into quality recordings. Anyone providing a melody to your lyric would be a collaborator and it would be up to the two of you to register/copyright the song when the time comes.

      Hope that helps!


  16. Nicholas J. Kattar says:

    Hi Cliff:

    I had a song recorded at a Demo studio in Nashville in 2012. They told me I could use the demo as I wished including film/tv sync licensing without any need for a release or permission.

    I asked them as well if I needed to contact them again regarding the song if an opportunity arose with a music supervisor for a placement and they informed that it wasn’t necessary. That I owned 100 percent of the “Master” I was also never given any of the demo singers or musicians contact or info as they had a policy for there privacy/protection.

    I wanted to send the singers a thank you note and was told that wasn’t possible for the privacy requests of the individuals. So in this case what are my options? Am I still able to submit to film/tv opportunities? This was also seven years ago and I wouldn’t have anyway to contact anyone as the studio no longer exists. Thank you for your help.

    • Hi Nicholas. That’s a tricky one. Not because I don’t believe that the studio was sincere in your ability to use the master but because if a music supervisor asks for releases, you won’t have them. You can submit but you’d have to tell the people you were submitting to – on the front end – that you had no way of getting releases. That way everyone is proceeding with their eyes open. In the future, as I’m sure you know, getting signed releases is essential. Hope that helps!

  17. Nicholas J. Kattar says:

    Okay thank you!

  18. Cindee says:

    Hi Cliff,
    I’m very new at songwriting. When you record at a studio and pay for the recording, can you assume that it is work for hire and that the studio gets no cut if the song ends up making money?

    • Hi Cindee. While I wish that were the case, it’s always better to confirm in advance as all studios are different. Also, as the article mentions, it has everything to do with how you end up using the recording. That’s what the releases are for. Hope that helps!

  19. Alexandra says:

    Thanks for your advices. Just to clarify things further since I am new in this field… Is it OK to pitch the same demo to several artists/record labels? The reason I am confused is let’s say the demo is selected by an artist. Wouldn’t it be a problem that other artists might already have heard it when sending it to them?

    I hope my question is clear enough.

    • Hi Alexandra. It’s actually quite common for songs to be pitched to multiple labels/artists. Songs can be recorded multiple times by multiple artists. Generally, though, when you’ve had a song “picked” as you say by an artist, you can stop pitching that song for a while as a courtesy to the artist who is going to record it first.

  20. Alexandra says:

    Thank you very much for replying. Does this mean that if artist A picks the song, he/she will not complain that it has been sent to artist B and C before?
    And since A will record it, should I let B and C know that this song is no longer available?

  21. Cliff says:

    The short answer is “yes.” The longer answer is that there is no reason multiple artists can’t record the same song BUT as a courtesy to artist A, it’s good to let artists B and C know the song is about to be recorded by artist A.

  22. Hello Cliff I’m looking for a career in songwriting and I was wondering what exactly a demo is. I write and record all my songs and when I reach out to record labels or artist management and they allow me to send some songs how do I send a demo properly? Do I send the whole song or do I send a verse and a hook? Can the demo start in the middle of the song?

    • Hi Krishna. A demo is a “demonstration” of your song. Generally it’s the entire song but you can omit things like an instrumental solo or long introduction as your primary goal is to showcase your lyrics and melody. It should be professionally recorded and performed but doesn’t necessarily need to be fully produced. Hope that helps!

  23. Krishna Nundurmati says:

    That was helpful, thank you very much.

  24. Tony says:


    I have a work for hire agreement for a demo and the song is also being re-recorded by a DJ / Record label. Could you please advise if I can still use the demo version for sync licensing?


    • Hi Tony,

      If you have agreements signed for the version you’d like to try to place in film and TV, you should be fine assuming the record label doesn’t have any issues with it.

      Hope that helps!


  25. F Mike Campbell says:

    I had 5 songs recorded by 2 different artists and several musicians. I do not have signed releases but they were paid for the day of recording at the time they were recorded. Can I put these songs on social media with the express intention of attracting a singer or band with a recording contract to record them. The artists were aware that they were recording a demo.

  26. Bridge says:

    Great article! Appreciate it! My question is: if I hire a demo singer to sing a melody and lyrics that I wrote over a track I produced, and get all the proper releases so that I am merely paying the singer for their services and they do not get any additional money if the song is placed/synced, would I include their name as the artist in the metadata? Or as a “feature” in the song title in the metadata? Follow up to that, if the demo singer does indeed get additional payment if the master is placed or synced, do you include them in any part of the metadata then? Lastly, is it common for the demo singer to receive extra payment for sync or any monetized master if they are only singing and not songwriting? Thanks so much for clarifying!

    • Hi Bridget,

      Great questions. I’ve copied them over and I’ll reply to each one individually.

      1. If I hire a demo singer to sing a melody and lyrics that I wrote over a track I produced and get all the proper releases so that I am merely paying the singer for their services and they do not get any additional money if the song is placed/synced?

      The short answer is “yes.” A “demo” is a demonstration. That is what you’re paying them for. If the recording then becomes a “master,” the singers would be entitled to an additional payment (see the link to the release forms from the blog post). If, however, you choose to pay the singer “master scale” up front, then there would be no additional payment required. That’s between you and the singer. The key is to be clear on what your goals are for the finished recording.

      2. Would I include their name as the artist in the metadata? Or as a “feature” in the song title in the metadata?

      In my experience, studio singers prefer NOT to be named on client recordings. Generally, they have their own songs/performances and tend to prefer the client use a pseudonym to avoid any confusion between their personal work and client work. This is not a value judgment on clients’ songs but, rather, a simple way of keeping this separate.

      3. If the demo singer does indeed get additional payment if the master is placed or synced, do you include them in any part of the metadata then?

      Generally, no. See the answer above. If the singer would like to have their name included then that’s fine but, as I said, that’s not often the case.

      4. Is it common for the demo singer to receive extra payment for sync or any monetized master if they are only singing and not songwriting?

      Yes. If you are paying a singer to sing a “master” that will cost more than paying them to sing a song that will only “demonstrate” the song and then, hopefully, get re-recorded by the artist who likes the demo and wants to release the song on their own project.

      Hope that helps!


  27. Bridge says:

    This helps a lot. Thank you for answering so thoroughly and quickly. I appreciate it, great info! I’ll be sure to check out the release page you mentioned.

  28. Jane says:

    Thank you for this article first of all.

    May I ask does Soundcloud count? I am a songwriter and hire via Soundbetter singers for demos that I want to promote on Soundcloud, Instagram and YouTube to build relationships with publishers to get interest. I do not intend to make money nor am I with the voice on the demo.

    Is it ok to post my written and music created song with a demo singer on Soundcloud full length no problems? Including Instagram and YouTube still?

  29. Fred Lancia says:

    Cliff, thank you so much for the valuable article and for your detailed answers to questions. Very useful and much appreciated!

  30. JP says:

    Hi Cliff,
    Just finished demo cuts of 10 songs I own—my lyrics, vocals, and guitar accompaniment and no production, just play through rough demo. Christian genre. What would you suggest as my next step? I would love to be able to share these songs—no real goal to be famous. Just want to get them out there and see what (if anything) happens. Not in my hands! Thanks for your thoughts, and blessings to you!

  31. Ben Neumann says:

    Hey Cliff, great article, exactly what I was looking for. Especially the Youtube clarification in the comments.

  32. Rachel says:

    Hi Cliff, this has been really informative. Thank you. I have a question. I am a songwriter only. I don’t sing or play instruments. Do I need to hire a vocalist and a producer to make a demo to pitch to artists? Also I have melodies for all of my songs If I hire a muscian to accompany me and play the melody. Is that considered a co/write?

    • Hi Rachel.

      First of all, if you have a melody to go with your lyric then, strictly speaking, you have a fully-written song. Adding a musical accompaniment is NOT part of the copyright (or a co-write) but, rather, a for-hire job done by a producer and arranger. And, yes, you’ll need a finished, professional recording to pitch your songs.

      Hope that helps!


  33. Rachel says:

    Hi, I am looking to make a demo of some original songs I have written. This is all new to me. Do well known artist expect the demos to be made with a full band ? Can I pitch an acoustic demo to a well known artist or are they expecting more? What is considered a programmed demo? Thanks for your time.

  34. Zach says:

    Good info and great advice

    I’m in the process of recording a demo album of songs. I have eight in mind currently. Five I’ve composed and song wrote myself , and 3 covers. I’ll own pretty much everything as I’m performing most the instruments except piano on one song. Area I’m in just doesn’t have the reliable musicians so. The songs will have good mix and masters of vocals, guitars, piano, bass, and drums.

    Would it be smart to release my demo on streaming platforms and wherever else? I’m thinking it’s just a demo, but I could use it for a lot of other deals as well while at the same time make some money and gain a following. If it really generates alot of follows and interest, I could follow up with an EP album with some of the same originals just mixed and mastered better for radio and commercial.

    • Hi Zach,

      I think releasing the demos (if you feel like they represent you well) is a good idea. The simplest way to do this, however, would be to NOT include the covers as you’d have to license them from the music publishers of those songs.

      Hope that helps.


  35. Jada Cowan says:

    Do I add a beat to a demo ? This will be very first demo that I will be sending out

    • Hi Jada,

      It depends on the demo. If the beat is essential to communicating the feel of the song, then you should. My general rule is to start small but professionally recorded and performed. You can always add extra elements later if you need them for a film/TV pitch for example.


  36. Mark Scanlan says:

    Hello Cliff,

    In regards to session musicians and potential additional payments, is there a differentiation between union and non-union musicians?

    Thanks, Mark

    • Hi Mark,

      Great question. The union requires up front payment of “master scale” if the recording is going to be pitched as a master. With non-union sessions, you can pay “demo scale” up front and then only pay “master scale” if the song is ultimately placed and used as a master.

      Hope that helps,

  37. Grey says:

    I I noticed how you said how you can place your demo on social media but what if your demo singer said not to be posted anywhere is this fair to the songwriter that’s trying to get their music out for publishing and mainstream artist ? I hired off sound better and I really appreciated the amazing work done. I have had demo singers say cannot post for promotion but I don’t understand because I wouldn’t post the name. I have sound cloud can I make my sound public or have to keep it private?I have a known studio that would love to pot it on there site but I advised I cannot due to the demo saying I cannot post it anymore . What should I do? Social media is big for getting things heard. I don’t want the demo singer to be the artist on the song I would love for a mainstream artist to pick it up. I know the demo singer has their own thing going with their career but I wouldn’t post the hired singer name . How can I approach the demo singer on this? It’s really hard getting heard by publishers due to no unsolicited materials so the next best thing is social media. How can I get through to unsolicited big publishers I’m new to this anything helps. Amazing article.

    • Hi Grey,

      I’m sorry to hear your demo singer isn’t willing to let their voice be heard (even if you don’t mention their name). I’d ask them if you could use a pseudonym. That’s what my demo singers request. That way their name isn’t mentioned but you can put the music out there. Otherwise, I’d simply recommend using singers who are ok with you posting their performances (with either no name or a pseudonym) on social media.

      Good luck!


  38. Noble says:

    If an artist accepts my demo, what’s next for me to do?

    • Hi Noble,

      First of all, celebrate! ; )
      Then, you’ll need to license the song to the label releasing the artist’s material.
      Generally, the label can help guide you through the process.

      Hope that helps!


  39. Linda Ratliff says:

    I wrote lyrics and paid to have the melody done had demo with singers can I post my songs on spotfly without permission from the demo singers

  40. Matters says:

    Ola my man. I am a beginner and I don’t know anything about music but I have lots of demos. I am trying to mix and master but my music doesn’t sound professional. What must I do because I want to start my own thing not to join others as they are predators. Sorry to say that but please correct me.

    • Thanks for reaching out. Your best bet is to continue to work on your recordings. There’s no shortcut for putting in the time and learning your craft. You can do this!

      Best of luck!


  41. Tom says:

    Thanks Cliff, your articles are always the best read .
    You have profound knowledge and I thank you deeply for taking the time to share it.

  42. Renata says:

    Hi Cliff:
    I’ve had a question for a long time that no one seems to be able to answer. I read in Music Biz books that the “First license is the most lucrative and the composer can make the decision of who records it first, as opposed to a compulsory license.”

    Question: Can releasing a song stating it is demo and tell the PRO it is a demo release? Will that keep it from triggering as a compulsory license? Streaming a lyric video but not making money? If you stream though on platforms not generating profits and your demo goes viral somehow, can you change non-monetary to making money midstream? Would it back pay?


    • Hi Renata,

      This is a rather complicated question that you should address directly with your writer/publisher representative at your Performing Rights Organization (PRO) or a music attorney. If you get an answer, please come back and post it in the comments. Thanks!

  43. Don says:

    Hi Cliff,

    Your method of doing demos looks very interesting. A lot of planning appears to be going into it. Can I ask, what would be the cost (range) to record a demo with you?

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