Usually the first thing that happens after a song is written is the recording of what is known as the work tape. This was usually done on a handheld recorder, but now is more commonly recorded on a cell phone or computer. It consists of the writer or writers playing their instruments and the melody being sung and perhaps a harmony vocal.


And this for the most part all that is needed…that is, until the song is going to be pitched. Then a bigger production is needed to provide the vision of what it will sound like as a finished product. Sure, the song can stand on its own, but the people who make the decision on whether it will be cut (or not) may not be able to “hear it” without the broad strokes of the song being properly demoed. (I heard a rumor that at one label an intern was the first to listen to a demo and decide if it’s passed upward.)

Perhaps the easiest way to get a full production recording is to hire a band and booking time at a recording studio that is set up to record an entire band at once. Since it takes a decent amount of time for the band to set up and the engineer to get everything properly mic’d and dialed in, it make more sense to record several songs at once.

In Nashville, the tracks for five songs are recorded in a three hour session, with an addition 30 to 60 minutes for each vocal.

While just about everyone knows someone in a band, and bands are generally eager to get in a recording studio (and get paid to do so), it would be tempting to hire friends. And, it’s not that you can’t…but you need to be honest with yourself if they are really good enough. If you’re having your material pitched, it will be going up against demos where professional studio musicians were hired, and no expense was spared on studio costs. It would be a shame that your song wasn’t heard because of an amateur production.

If you have the resources, hire professional session musicians because not every musician and/or band is session ready. There’s something about that red recording light coming on that makes some of the most fluid live players stiffen up. Some live players are not quick at transposing songs and may not be used to playing in odd keys like E flat.  And the money you saved by hiring a friend or acquaintance, could be eaten up in studio time as he/she plays the part over and over again trying to get their part right.

If you are considering singing on your demo, once again, you must be honest about your talent and the quality of your voice. Your demo will be going head to head with the cream of the crop, will your voice stand up against the pros.

Typically you’ll only need to find a bandleader and a singer or a few singers. It’s not usual for there to be a different singer for each song and two additional vocalist for harmonies. 

The bandleader, usually a guitarist or keyboard player, will choose what other players are needed for the session. The bandleader will also chart, arrange the song, and may run the session if needed to. For this, the bandleader makes double scale (twice as much as the other players make).

You’ll be able to find professional musicians at your local A.F.M. (American Federation of Musicians) and professional singers from AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) office. Since there’s contracts involved and things of legal nature it is best to check their websites for conditions and scale rates.

You’ll be looking for Demo rates, which are much less than other types of sessions. But, these rates are for recordings that are not going to be sold or used for anything other than demonstrating the song. If you get a wild hair to release your demo commercially, you can go back to the union(s) and pay master scale.

Next time we’ll look at what happens when things are set up in the studio and the record button is pushed.
Jake Kelly is a man on the constant search for enlightenment, if anyone finds it let him know so he can get some. For more of this hombre’s ramblings and the rest of L2P check out L2Pbandspace and


Originally posted 2010-11-08 16:38:25.