You need to polish your work. But over-polishing takes away the initial rush of creation and magic of performance. So how do you keep all that goodness intact?
I’ve worked as an A&R for over a decade. I’ve seen countless artists agonizing over final revisions of a track only to end up going back to a demo version.
The 5 reasons your demos are priceless…
- The soul of music is in the first take.
- A spotless mix doesn’t necessarily FEEL better. Going too far ‘cleaning up’ a mix can lead to total sterility.
- Obsessing over arrangement details can make your mix sound overworked.
- Small mistakes and flaws add charm. They give your music a human feel.
- Letting go early makes sure that the central idea hasn’t gotten buried in all those layers you added later.
Here are six amazing examples of demos that rival—and sometimes surpass—the final album versions. Proof that sometimes your first take is your best take.
Stevie Wonder – I Can’t Help It (Live in Studio)
A studio outtake can become a smash hit. Like this Stevie Wonder performance.
Sound familiar? That’s because it became a single on Michael Jackson’s earth-shattering album Off The Wall.
Be careful what you leave on the cutting room floor. It could be a hit…
Jai Paul – Jasmine (Demo)
Jasmine (Demo) is distinctly Jai Paul. It has a dark and individual touch. It’s proof that a demo without alteration stays personal—rather than bland and over produced.
Talking Heads – Psycho Killer 1975 CBS demo
There is magic in live performances that’s hard to preserve in mixdowns. This Talking Heads demo captures the intimacy that exists between artists when they’re all playing in the same room.
It’s a special quality that comes from a small group of musicians feeding off each other—a sound that only a demo can truly capture.
Pet Shop Boys – Bubadubbadum
This is one of the Pet Shop Boys’ earliest demos. They hadn’t even recorded in a proper studio yet. But this still stands as one of my all-time favourite songs by them.
It has that quirky charm and brilliant pop sensibility. Totally untarnished by excessive production. Perfect b-side material.
Metallica – No Life ‘Til Leather
Feeling uninspired? Dig up those first demo recordings you did. Chances are you’ll remember what gave you that initial spark to start creating.
That’s what Metallica did. The demos that got them their first record deal were released for the 2015 Record Store Day—fittingly on cassette.
The Clan Of Xymox – No Words (Demo)
Clan of Xymox’s finest moment was this demo. It captures a direct and emotive arrangement that’s hard to duplicate in the studio.
The vocals sit further back in the mix adding to the overall feel of the track—rough but organic.
Demos aren’t just old songs. They’re documents of your entire process. They’re invaluable for remembering why certain things worked and others didn’t.
Plus they capture your sound in a way studio recordings never can.
So keep your demos. Or better yet, release them! Considering how important they’ve been to your development, they’ve already gone gold.