1. Be selective
You don't need live experience to make your first demo. It is however a good idea to practice playing songs at an open mic, a friend's house, or in any public setting, to see which of your songs are most popular. You should then choose between 2-4 tracks that are catchy, and really represent your sound. However, you shouldn't base your choices completely upon the opinions of others - you have to like your demo too!
Extra tip: If you haven't had the chance to play live, try putting some songs online first. You will then be able to see which ones are listened to or downloaded the most before you make physical copies of your demo. You could even ask your fans on Facebook or Twitter to nominate their favourite songs, meaning that your fans are involved in your merchandise from the start.
2. Pick your recording method
There are many ways to record your music these days, ranging from the extremely simple to the elaborate. What you do depends upon the time, money and recording skills you have at your disposal, but here are the main options:
1. Smart phone - either at home or in a practice studio. You can then edit the sound using a programme such as GarageBand, Logic, or any other computer recording software. This method does not produce high quality recordings, but they can sound pretty cool.
2. Digital or analogue handheld recorder - products specifically designed to record at a higher quality than the smart phone, but still very quick and easy to use.
3. Computer software (Digital Audio Workstations) at home. You can use your computer microphone, or plug in an interface and use a higher quality microphone to record your voice and instruments. The success of this method depends a lot upon your skills - it is not too difficult to record a basic demo for a soloist, but even for vocals and guitar there is a lot that you need to know. If you want to mic up a drum kit or find a really perfect sound, you really need to be experienced to make this method work. Check out our post on current DAW's.
4. Hire studio space. This is a good idea if you don't feel confident recording yourself, or if you don't know anybody who can help you. It is much more expensive, but if you are well prepared, know what you want to do with your songs, and have a high budget, it's a good way to get your first recordings done.
1. You also need to decide whether to record live, or whether to use a metronome and multitrack your instruments. Some people prefer live recordings because they can capture the energy of a song more authentically, but multitracking is more accurate and allows more room for extra instrumentation.
2. Think carefully about what kind of band/musician you are, and try to use the method that most reflects your aesthetic - if you like making a grungy or DIY sound then homemade recordings might be the best way to appeal to your fans. If however you want a very clean and polished sound, you'll have to invest a little bit more in proper equipment and engineering from the start.
3. Use different formats
You should make your first demo available digitally and physically.
For the digital demo, don't feel tempted to upload more songs, the principle of 2-4 songs remains valid. You don't want to give away everything at once - a demo should offer a tantalising glimpse of what you're capable of.
For the physical copies, you can use CDs or USB sticks relatively cheaply. You should be as inventive as possible with your production, as novel ideas really catch people's attention. Always have a couple of physical copies at your gigs, to sell as merchandise or in case you meet potential managers or bookers - you never know who might be there! You can also make your demo available via digital download codes generated by sites such as YOCADO or Bandcamp. These offer you the opportunity to design how you present the codes to your fans. They could be placed in little envelopes, painted onto balloons, or put into any number of unusual formats.
4. Be creative
Try asking a friend with a camera to make videos for you, during live performances or anywhere else you think looks interesting. Videos can function as another form of demo, saving you time and money if you haven't had the chance to record. They also make your overall online presence as a musician much more exciting. Use interesting artwork. Pick an amazing image for your musical project. The sooner people can start identifying your band logo or image, the better. This can be a fun and collaborative task. If you have friends who are artists or photographers, try asking them to help you with interesting and original artwork. You should also make sure that your band logo fits the kind of music you make, and the kind of personality you want to portray with your band.
5. Be realistic
Remember, a demo is only the first step. Don't spend too much time or money on it, otherwise you might get burnout before you've even started. It's good to put a lot of love and care into your demo, but nobody is expecting it to be perfect. The purpose of a demo is to increase your exposure. It is something you can present to people to show them what you are capable of creating. As soon as it's finished, you need to get it out there for people to hear. Look out for our future posts which will give you some interesting tips about how to distribute your finished demo wisely.
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