How to get Signed – Recording Your First Demo

how to get signedAs promised lets have a look at how to get signed and the all important demo – a must have for getting gigs, promotion, support slots and maybe even the elusive record deal. This used to involve going to a recording studio and paying to record your songs. That’s still a good option if you have the budget but these days there are other options depending on what skills you and your band members might already have. Lets deal with the studio first.

Recording A Song – The Studio Process

Back in the distant mists of time when my first band started to record a song or songs for demos, things were very different technology-wise so the recording studio was the only option for us. We would decide based on feedback from our fans and gigs what were our best 3 -5 songs and we’d rehearse those like crazy till we could play them in our sleep.

We would then book 15 hours in a studio to record and mix them. This I have to say is optimistic – we soon realised that a separate session for mixing was a better bet. When recording a song you need to factor in a few things: Are you going for a live recording or are you going to record the instruments one at a time? Basically  recording a song will be a mix of both.  Normally the whole band will play and a guide recording will be done at that stage. That gives you a basis to then re-record the separate parts.  A live recording with just vocals overdubbed can be an option as you’ll see later.

Recording A Song In An Ideal World

In an ideal world we want the drums done first as A. They are the loudest and B. they usually take the longest time to get sounding good. The engineer will be looking to get those down while everyone plays but in booths, listening to the overall sound in headphones. You should all have eye contact even when recording a song in this unnatural situation to preserve at least some of the – band playing live feel.

Most demo type studios have a single soundproofed room so that spill from the other instruments can be eliminated. The very expensive, professional recording studio setup often just has huge rooms and build partitions around drums and amps that allow a degree of spill into the mix through the drum mics to give a liver feel but for your first demo you probably won’t be going there.

So with drums done you now have the basis for the rest of the recording. Bass would be next. The bass player then goes into the booth, straps on the cans and lays their parts down over the great sounding drums and the guide recordings of the other parts. If the studio set up allows everyone else to play along again do it. Even if everyone else just mimes it keeps the band feel going.

Remember when recording a song you are trying to capture a performance – to “sell” the song.

Repeat the process with guitars, keys, trumpets – whatever else is in your band and then it’s time for the vox. Although you might feel a bit miffed to hear it, the important parts of the mix when your record your song are the vocals, kick drum, bass and snare in that order. Vocals might take as long as everything else put together.

recording your music
The Joys of mixing

So when all of the above is done to the engineer’s and your satisfaction (you may need to do any number of re-takes during the process – it’s worth getting it right but bear in mind this is costing you money…) It’s time for the mixing.

Mixing – Do’s And Dont’s

Mixing is a subject in it’s own right but here are a few pointers that will save you time, money, frustration and agro.

Try and keep the objective in mind. It’s about a finished, polished sounding representation of your song or songs – it’s not about individual parts. It’s actually a very good idea to take a break before mixing – even to come back another day. Ears get tired and the constant repetition that recording a song often involves is doubly tiring. You get sick of the song to put in bluntly. A common mistake is for the whole band to gather round the desk each chipping in opinions – usually about how their parts sound. Not good for the mixing engineer or for band relationships.

In the ideal world just one or two of the band should be present but of course that relies on everyone else setting their ego’s aside.…… This is the stage where you can spend hours and a lot of money arguing and fussing over details that don’t really matter.

The first demo that ever got us record company interest was recorded live in an old barn using a PZM microphone hanging from a mic stand placed between the bass amp and the drums – to capture both. Guitar and vocals were also recorded live in the same room and all onto a 4 track tape recorder. Keyboards were overdubbed at home later.

This demo got us a showcase gig n London with Creation records and had every record company in the land on the phone to us. It was an ADEQUATELY recorded demo of a catchy song played live bloody well – recording your song is the important thing in the whole “how to get signed” question.  No demo we ever paid for sounded as lively or got the same results even if technically they sounded a thousand times better.

Next time I’ll look at home recording demos: Tip – don’t actually think of recordings as demos when you record your music – think of them as finished recordings of your work and treat the process accordingly.


I'm Dave Menzies a digital entrepreneur, photographer and guitarist. I live on the Argyll coast of Scotland. My partner and I write, record and produce our own music and videos in our home studio. I love to help individuals discover the lifestyle freedom offered by the digital world and guitarists to develop their own style.