#1
Hi everyone. I seek advice from those who have experienced recording a band's demo. We are going to record a three-song demo this month and I'm equally anxious and excited.

I'm the guitar player and singer, though I'm not an expert at neither of those, but I make do. So I would like to ask you: what things should I bear go mind as a first-timer, both as a guitarist and as a singer? I have recorded demos at home a thousand times using virtually on other equipment than my guitar and computer, but this will be a completely different scenario and I don't wanna screw this up.

Another issue that I'm unsure of is what exactly to record. My musical influences are many: Green Day, The Strokes, Foo Fighters, The Smiths, Oasis, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the list goes on. So my band has songs that sound a bit different from each other. I like that, I like that I can write and play different kinds of music, but when it comes to doing a demo that might cd handed out to venue owners, sold to fans/concert-goers, should I go for variety or would it be better to record songs that sound similar to each other?

I would really appreciate it if any of you can share your experience/knowledge on this. Thanks.
#2
Talk to the studio mgr and most will have a checklist or suggestions for preparation. I always bring a few reference tracks so the engineer knows what we are shooting for in the mix. Know what gear they have vs what you need to bring. Get the drummer there way early for mic setup.

I usually like a variety of songs on a demo but others disagree. The ones you play really well should be on the short list. Don't plan on pressing a ton of CDs at your first pressing. Almost nobody buys em anymore so unless you are The Beatles Part Deux, they will be purely a cash drain. My cousin recorded 5 CDs in 5 years and he probably still has 4500 left over in his closet after the band has long broken up. Pretty depressing. Make first rate recordings, post em on your website, Soundcloud and/or youtube, and make CDs as demand grows. You can get 10,000 pressed in about 2 weeks these days.
"Your sound is in your hands as much as anything. It's the way you pick, and the way you hold the guitar, more than it is the amp or the guitar you use." -- Stevie Ray Vaughan

"Anybody can play. The note is only 20 percent. The attitude of the motherfucker who plays it is 80 percent." -- Miles Davis

Guthrie on tone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmohdG9lLqY
#3
Watch out for the Pro Tools money pit, ie edits. Used to see ton of people get bogged down into pitch shifting, time aligning their tracks. If you want to go that route start with metronome at home and create a tempo map.
Make sure your drummer knows how to tune his out and that he has decent skins on. Can't tell you how many times bands have paid for studio time and come in with badly tuned drums, worn skins, no drum sticks or tuning key, old strings on guitars and badly intonated guitars, basses, crackling cables, no guitar tuners, picks, no spare 9v batteries. One punk rocker came in with 2 year old strings and was surprised that he sounded like a** and broke string on the 2nd song and sat out the rest of the recording session while the other guitarist who actually took his Axe for proper setup got to play his and the other guy's parts...who's the punk now?
Bring in spare strings and spare snare head. Plan on food and drinks, whatever you need to be comfortable.
Also communicate with your band members!

To give an example, a band paid for 8hr block, about $600 to cut tracks. It was communicated to me that all will be there to record as a band as they play live and it will all be keepers, we'll edit full performances, which is cool as you cut each track several times and pick section or even whole track, the way things were done in the 60s and 70s, making for more organic record. Then vocals get to be overdubbed and we might do some punch ins but we are to do it old school like early Maiden and Priest records. I set up the studio and prepare mics, gobos, vocal booth.
Then guitarist and drummer show up, set up, vocalist comes in briefly says that he cuts all his vocals home, goes somewhere. Bassist never shows as they're not recording him today. Guitarist says they're cutting drums, so he doesn't even bother to tune 100%, gives me a guitar cable to di into the board and dial him in some metal sound, whatever I got.
Drummer shows unprepared, he hasn't played in more than a month and is hazy on arrangements and technique. We mic him and he pulls a few primadonna stunts as to how the mics are supposed to be as usually he's miked such and such way. Vocalist brings in bimbo du jour and proceeds heavy petting on the couch behind me, the engineer, and proceeds to maul her, scream suggestions, walk up to the TalkBack mic, screams a few things, go back to couch, maul babe, and so forth...
After few aborted takes it is apparent drummer sucks and can't keep steady beats, especially his double kicks are sucking big time. He tells me after cutting some really bad takes to time align and fix them. Now this is without metronome since they said they don't need it. I tell him that he can't afford to do that as it is really costly since I'd have to manually detect tempos, time align, slice and dice his whole friggin mess...
At this point him and the guitarist get into it about who was supposed to bring what, who was supposed to do the tracks on the metronome and didn't. Singer and babe exit stage left.
After about an hour, during which somehow they didn't beat each other up, they proceed. Now we're to do click track in pro tools... So I'm told this is the tempo and program that for whole track. We start tracking to find out that actually the tempo varies, and on top of that we have few odd metered passages, which bozo on drums can't play right. I'm supposed to time align his kicks again...we get some robotic mess, guitarist and drummer are at each other's throat again...so on, I got to babysit these morons until they burned through a whole day's session. Lucky for me, I at least got paid. Hopefully it is educational for TS. It certainly was for me, my last day as record engineer
Last edited by diabolical at Dec 9, 2014,
#4
I love diobotical's story. Very funny but I'm sorry to say that in my 2+ years working in a commercial studio this tale is not that unusual. It's amazing how many people book time and then show up with no idea of what they want to achieve. There were so many times when performers would book a four hour session and think they can record four or five songs with overdubs and mixing in that time. After two hours they haven’t gotten basic tracks for even one song.
The things above cover a lot of the important and useful suggestions that you should think about before actually going to a session. It was well covered. I would also suggest that you have a clearly typed set of lyrics to share with your band and most important, the engineer so you all have a common reference. The engineer was not at your last rehearsal and doesn’t know where the verse ends and the bridge begins unless you offer some kind of written reference. It saves a lot of extra discussion which ultimately will save you money.
The most important thing is, practice, practice, and practice. Get your arrangement nailed down to the smallest detail. Play the songs so much the whole band could do it their sleep. Too many musicians want to keep things “loose” so their song sounds exciting. They are hoping that by being loose and not tightly rehearsed that magic will happen in the studio. That’s a nice theory but it usually doesn’t happen.
Some quick final thoughts: be on time and ready to go. If you booked the studio for an 8:00 session, the money clock is running at 8:00. No excuses or notes from home about why you or your band mates were late. You pay right from the agreed start time. Like diabolical said have your instruments ready to play as soon as you arrive. Every minute is costing you money and taking away valuable recording time. Another thing to consider is are you coming back for mixing or are taking a copy of everything with you and coming back. If you plan to leave the studio with a complete copy of the recordings what kind of media should you bring. Ask the studio for suggestions. You may need nothing more than a 64 or 128 gig thumb drive but make sure you are ready or you may go home empty handed with just a rough mix CD. Ask ahead of time.
Last edited by Rickholly74 at Dec 10, 2014,
#5
Yeah, just try to all be as prepared as possible and be clear from the start what you want and expect from the engineer so there's no surprises at the end of your studio time. Be aware of exactly what you're paying for, and any potential extras that might suddenly crop up.

Apart from that, just try to act professionally and it's fine to have a laugh and a joke as long as it's at the right time/place and not slowing down the session.

I think all of us here who record/have recorded other bands have had to cope with a few horror tales, but occasionally you're able to salvage something from it. Recorded a young (as in, most of them were still in school) death metal band a while back and even though I had to put a fair bit of work in to it, the drummer was pretty tight so was able to end up with something I was happy enough to put my name on.
Hey, look. Sigs are back.
#6
I didn't post my two cents worth of opinion on making demos for club owners. I have quite a bit of experience with this. First let me say that it all depends on what you are trying to accomplish. I will assume that you are looking to get out and find paying club gigs. If I am wrong just disregard this.

The best thing I can impart is to be brief, be varied and be professional. There is a misplaced perception that club/restaurant/bar owners or managers love having live music. They don’t, it’s another pain in the ass job they have to do but don’t like. They are in business to sell food and drinks and (hopefully) make a profit. In my (too) many years of experience dealing with club owners, I have learned that for better or worse they have little to no musical knowledge. They just want your music to bring in customers. That’s the bottom line. I’m not being cynical, that’s the reality of the business. Your band may be the best heavy metal polka band in your area with the world’s best kazoo player, but if your music doesn’t put a drink in someone’s hand, your band won’t be coming back. Consider this when creating a demo to find some paying gigs. Don’t just play just one style of music on your demo show off the variety of music your band can perform. With that in mind I suggest that you record 10 of your best covers and piece together 30-40 second clips of the best portions of these 10 songs to create a 5-10 minute demo. Most people who make decisions about hiring a band will only give you about 5-10 minutes of their time. Make an impact immediately or go home without a booking.
As I said this only applies to getting regular paying gigs and not original music or looking for the opening slot at a local concert.
#7
Only just noticed the last section of OP - are you recording original music? If so, variety or not, you want to record what you all agree are your best/most-attention-grabbing/catchiest/stick-in-your-head/whatever songs, that will have some form of impact with the listener.

As much as it doesn't sound cost-effective or a good investment, if you're taking the demo to gigs to 'sell' to fans, I'd probably give it away for free or for £1/$1, because if it's not the same professional quality as a commercial release and it's only a few tracks, people aren't gonna want to pay much for it and the whole point of it is to get you as much exposure as possible and win over as many new fans as you can.

If you want to make some money at gigs, get it from other merchandise (t-shirts, badges, stickers, branded cigarette lighters, posters, full-length albums etc.) when you actually have them. Besides, people will probably feel ripped off if the songs from the demo they bought are available online for free (which they should be if you're a new, unsigned band looking to maximise reach and exposure - whether that's on your FB page, to listen to on YouTube [doesn't have to be a fancy vid, just a lyrics vid or even the artwork for it or something], or via Spotify... which you have to pay to be on, via distribution agents, unless you happen to be backed by a label you aren't telling us about).


Basically, I wouldn't look at this recording as something to sell, but as a promotional tool (consider it POS [Point Of Sale] material, in the same way companies set up a small stand outside supermarkets with free leaflets, and other small mass-produced things).


Will add more later, warning you though - walls of text lol.
Hey, look. Sigs are back.
#8
As the other guys here say, be prepared, talk to the band so you all agree what you are recording and what outcome you expect realistically. Argue before you get to the studio, not when are there. I have spent many sessions waiting for the singer and drummer to stop fighting because the drummer is 'In and Out of time like Dr F'kin Who'. rehearse rehearse rehearse. One bit of advice is get the drums right. Good sound, In time. If you run out of time on this session you can always go back with the recorded drum track and record other stuff. It's hard to get a drummer to play again after the fact. believe me. Make sure you know what the drummer wants sound wise. On an EP I did years ago the engineer was struggling to understand what the drummer wanted and we spent a full day just mic'ing the kit.. We gave our live engineer a call and he walked in, told the drummer to hit shit, fixed the EQ and the drummer was happy and saved loads of time. Also be prepared for the, I'm the drummer so I have to hit that extra cymbal crap. They all do it. lol.
Whats the difference between a drummer and a drum machine? With a drum machine, you only have to punch the information in once....sorry.
As for content, whatever you have rehearsed the most. Genre doesn't matter. One type of music on your promo restricts you to one type of venue as a club or pub band. Mix it up a bit if you can.
#9
Woah guys, thanks a lot to all of you for your advice. I love reading others' stories and learning what I can from them. I'm making a point of rehearsing as much as I can, both individually and with the guys. I also have been trying to keep communication with them as open and clear as possible. Diabolical's story makes me feel like I don't actually suck as much as I thought and that's good.

What I'm currently struggling with is a couple of guitar arrangements in the songs I intend to record, but I guess I'll have to try at band rehearsal and pick what sounds better. We're kind of rushing things up because where I live, everything is batshit expensive and we're getting a huge offer to record, but only until the last of december. So, basically, we're doing 3 band rehearsals and a pre-production meeting or two before we go to record. At least, I think I've made it clear that it is much needed that we all master our parts by then.

Quote by DisarmGoliath
Only just noticed the last section of OP - are you recording original music? If so, variety or not, you want to record what you all agree are your best/most-attention-grabbing/catchiest/stick-in-your-head/whatever songs, that will have some form of impact with the listener.

As much as it doesn't sound cost-effective or a good investment, if you're taking the demo to gigs to 'sell' to fans, I'd probably give it away for free or for £1/$1, because if it's not the same professional quality as a commercial release and it's only a few tracks, people aren't gonna want to pay much for it and the whole point of it is to get you as much exposure as possible and win over as many new fans as you can.

If you want to make some money at gigs, get it from other merchandise (t-shirts, badges, stickers, branded cigarette lighters, posters, full-length albums etc.) when you actually have them. Besides, people will probably feel ripped off if the songs from the demo they bought are available online for free (which they should be if you're a new, unsigned band looking to maximise reach and exposure - whether that's on your FB page, to listen to on YouTube [doesn't have to be a fancy vid, just a lyrics vid or even the artwork for it or something], or via Spotify... which you have to pay to be on, via distribution agents, unless you happen to be backed by a label you aren't telling us about).


Basically, I wouldn't look at this recording as something to sell, but as a promotional tool (consider it POS [Point Of Sale] material, in the same way companies set up a small stand outside supermarkets with free leaflets, and other small mass-produced things).


Will add more later, warning you though - walls of text lol.


All of our music is original, yes. And when I said that it might be sold at gigs, I should have specified that I wasn't try to reaaally sell it as an album or anything, but offer it for a price that people wouldn't say no to. I have never thought about recording music as a way to make money, to be honest.

If you have more stories/tips, keep them coming!
Last edited by GMx at Dec 15, 2014,
#11
As has been said, make sure everyone's nailing their parts. That means practicing at home, probably to a click, until you know it so well you can play it perfectly whilst holding a conversation. Everyone hates a time-waster, and not knowing your parts is one of the biggest wastes of time possible. I tend to be 'that guy' who never seems to know his parts in rehearsal, but every time we've been to the studio I've spent hours at home playing to a metronome and have never had to do more than 2 takes and usually only 1.

Make sure everyone's got fairly new strings/skins, if your bass player doesn't want to buy new ones (they're expensive, I know the pain) then tell him to clean the ones he has (soak them in methylated spirits/denatured alcohol for a few hours then wipe them clean).

Finally if you're the singer enclose yourself in a germ-proof bubble. Seemingly every time I've been in studios the damned vocalist gets sick!
#12
There is a very good interview with guitar legend Larry Carlton on the "Making of Asia" DVD about his working with Steely Dan. He said that Steely Dan (Becker and Fagen) would spend the an entire morning with the band rehearsing one song till they were note perfect and playing to the point of being bored by playing it over and over. They were looking for perfection when rehearsing. They would break for lunch, get rested, have a laugh and get loose and when they came back to the studio to record they played with more feeling and intensity and were able to nail the song in a few takes.
At the rehearsal, they worked on getting the music perfect so that during the actual recording they could just lay back and play with feeling and emotion and didn't have to worry about the music or the arrangement. It is a great lesson on being prepared.
Last edited by Rickholly74 at Dec 16, 2014,