Pages Navigation Menu

Start With Something That's True

Song Demo Process

Song Demo Process

The song demo process is different depending on where your song is done or if you use an online service.

I personally don’t like online services because I do demos for the experience – it’s my edutainment outlet, so I like going to real studios with real folks in the industry.

I’m not saying they’re not at online places, but “no faces” is something I avoid with song demos. To me email isn’t the best communication tool on the planet, and . . .

. . . showing up is part of the commitment to my songwriting if I’m serious about it.


The Song Demo Process Demystified!


So you have a work tape and want a recording you can pitch, put on a CD for your family, or just want to sound great. Now what?

How do you make sure you don’t overpay for a demo? Or end up getting something back you could have done better yourself in Garage Band?

Here are some tips on studios and how to go through the process in Nashville.

They can apply to your local studio as well – the point is – the more you know, the more you can manage how your song turns out.

As I often say, “Sending an email and saying ‘have at it’ will probably leave you disappointed when the song comes back!”


Step 1:  Choose Recording Studio

You should select a studio that fits your budget, but don’t over-buy. For example, you need the core instruments and a demo singer, paying for additional instrumentation should be based on your end-use of what you’re recording.

If it’s a simple demo, keep it simple. If you’re putting together a vanity album, you may want to add some things.

I’ve used three studios in Nashville (song examples included):


Demo sample: “Nothin’ Simple ‘Bout A Train”


Demo sample: “Before I Fall Silent”


All three have been great to record at and have good reputations in Nashville.  All have their own unique vibe when creating your demo and access to the best musicians and demo singers in Nashville.

The 515 Studio and Beaird Music are both located in Berry Hill.  Kim Copeland is located on Music Row.

I’d recommend any of the above for a quality demo, reasonable price, high caliber musicians and singers, and owners with a passion for your project (they don’t see it as a widget factory!).


Step 2:  Send Lyrics And Work Tape

Make sure your lyrics are what you want the vocalist to sing. Print them out and use them when you’re creating the work tape to ensure everything’s correct.

Your work tape should focus on the chord changes and annunciation of the lyrics. The goal is to make sure the melody line is clear as well as the chord progression, intro, tags and outro for the next step.


Step 3: Chart The Song

This is done by the studio at no additional charge (you should never be charged for this), so don’t worry, you don’t need to know how to do it.

I love this part. It’s cool to see your song transcribed into the Nashville Number System or a chord structure with music notations like a coda, repeat, split bars, etc..

This is the sheet that will be given to the musicians. No words, just the song chart.

You should make sure you send your song in at least two weeks ahead of when you’re scheduled to track your songs to ensure there’s time to chart them.


Step 4: Record!


Day 1: Record The Music

  • Everyone listens to the work tape sent earlier (sometimes they talk, but don’t worry – they’re pros and have it after the first 8 bars or so and are then listening for variations/changes).
  • Tempo is determined – loop or click or both decision is made.
  • Song structure changes like cutting the intro, adding an outro, cutting the bridge and making an instrumental are done during the listen-through meeting. Your producer will help with those decisions.
  • Musicians all pile into their rooms and start one take to get the feel down (some studios just go once through the whole thing vs stop).
  • Songwriter sings the scratch vocal for placement – so they knew where there was singing. This is called the “ref” or “reference” recording.
  • Musicians play the song through as a take. They usually get it in one.
  • The musicians will indicate to the engineer the parts they need to fix. All will complete their fixes.
  • The musicians will indicate where they want to add parts or stack and will work out with the engineer who’s doing what when and record.
  • The engineer will help you determine when you have a good final version.
  • Demo Song Recording Tips: The Music


Day 2: Record The Vocals

(Note: I pay to have a professional sing demos for pitch)

  • Your vocalist is chosen ahead of time. You should receive a link from the studio to hear the options.
  • On the day of recording, the vocalist will listen through the song and make notations around pronunciation, pauses, emphasis, etc.
  • The vocalist will sing through the song once – let them go all the way through it.
  • Note anything you want sung differently on your lyric sheet.
  • Let the vocalist be the first to point out what they think needs to be fixed. They’ve done it longer than you and will probably hear it. For example, Matt Dame is the first to jump in on what to fix, and he’s about 100% correct every time!
  • Fix those items and then move on.
  • Vocalist will sing harmonies. Again, let them recommend first – they know what sounds good where. Add on your comments.
  • Demo Song Recording Tips: The Vocals


Step 5: Final Product Delivered

Studio mixes everything down & sends you the finished song as well as the music only tracks. You’ll usually receive these via email or a link to a cloud-based server like Dropbox.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.