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Difference Between a Demo Recording and a Professional Recording

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Pretty much everybody else who writes songs today seems to already have a recording of their track - complete with instruments and all - that they must've done themselves, without a professional.  But there must also be some really quick, simple way to do it, because people post their recordings here looking for feedback, which must mean they didn't intend these recordings to be the final draft.  How do you all make your recordings, and how do you get them done so easily, if it is as easy as I imagine it would have to be?

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Hi Layla - everyone has their own methods, some easy, some not-so-easy.  Simplest way is with a video camera (or even your phone) set up in front of you and you just do a "1+1" recording - you playing your instrument and singing the song.  You can also do an audio recording the same way, one mic (again, it could just be into your phone) into a stand-alone recorder (like a Zoom) or into an audio interface and computer DAW.

It's really a matter of your expertise and desire (or none) to go further. 

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14 hours ago, chazmataz said:

An extremely good answer Mike...just wonder why a songwriter would ask it.

Well, just because I know how to write a song doesn't mean I was born with complete knowledge of how to record one.  It so happens I am not very good with technology, which doesn't affect my songwriting abilities at all, I might add.  I though the people here might be good enough to help me out a little.  How does anyone find out anything, if not by asking?

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2 hours ago, LAYLA said:

Well, just because I know how to write a song doesn't mean I was born with complete knowledge of how to record one.  It so happens I am not very good with technology, which doesn't affect my songwriting abilities at all, I might add.  I though the people here might be good enough to help me out a little.  How does anyone find out anything, if not by asking?

 

 

Of course, you are correct!   If you have more questions on this subject, let me know!   There are many songwriters/players who don't want to use their time with 'technology' when they could be playing/writing/doing something else, but will use their phones to record basic demos.  A good example is our own Onewholovesrock, JOe.  Sometimes a little experimentation is needed to figure out the best phone position, distance, etc.

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On 7/5/2017 at 13:23, LAYLA said:

But there must also be some really quick, simple way to do it, because people post their recordings here looking for feedback, which must mean they didn't intend these recordings to be the final draft.  How do you all make your recordings, and how do you get them done so easily, if it is as easy as I imagine it would have to be?

 

The quick, simple way to do it is to pay someone to do it for you.  Making homemade demos that sound halfway decent requires musical skill (can you play an instrument?) and some technical skill (at a minimum, you need a microphone and some computer based recording software).  With this, you can record a simple one instrument/one vocal demo.

 

Most of the folks who post demos on this site have advanced musical skills.  They can play guitar, bass guitar, keyboards, can program drums, strings, and other instruments, and they know how to put them together.  They also have fairly advanced technical skills.  Some recording programs are easier to use then others, but none are "easy."

 

Neal

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Hey Layla,

 I'm not very technology advanced. I can learn the stuff but I just don't like doing it. I'm basically technology lazy. I love writing/performing songs. I don't mind recording either, if someone else is working the recording end of things. It took me a couple/few years before I started making satisfactory recordings on my own. And then I just stopped doing it. It's been about 3 years since I did a studio multi track recording. Like Mike mentioned above. I record all my songs with my smartphone video camera just to get them down somewhere. The recordings don't sound too bad. But I play the guitar. Not sure you play an instrument. 

 Another option is finding someone with a good studio offering decent prices. Just yesterday I posted an ad on Craigslist looking for a small studio/home studio offering quality recordings without the big studio prices. I received 2 responses and asked for samples. One of them sounded pretty good. I've seen smaller guys offering recording for $15.00 - $20.00 an hour. The bigger studios around here are charging  $50.00 an hour. 4 hour minimums. That's from load in to load out. They usually stick pretty tight to their times. The little guys are generally more forgiving with time. But the big guys do sound fantastic and radio ready. 

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$50/hour for 4 hour blocks of time is pretty much the norm these days, with $20/hour for the small 'basement of my house' guys.  Lots of people still use studios - because they may not be technology or ability-capable.  recording and mixing, like anything else, takes practice and time to develop your skills.  Some people would rather spend that time playing/songwriting.  Others may only want to release/record a few songs once in a great while.  And still others may just not have a good 'space' to do it in.

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Hi Layla

 

Another option is to collaborate with someone that has technical knowledge about recording.

It's not easy to get these people interested as they typically have their own backlog of things to do, but if you have a great lyric and melody idea you might just convince someone to help :)

 

Paul

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I wouldn't worry too much about pro recordings unless you have about 5,000 friends who you know personally. The fact is, people are spending tons of money on pro recording gear and their songs are not being bought anyway. Hardly anyone buys music anymore. So, if you can consistently produce content for youtube that is demo ready and makes people feel good, you could get yourself a following and subscribers and make money that way. Or, there's patreon. People will financially support your content monthly or something to that affect. Pro recordings without pro marketing and touring is a waste of money and time. I can testify to that fact myself. I could get away with singing and playing acoustic in front of a mic and camera and that's it; and people would eat it up. Less is more these days.

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There are quite a few ways to get this done. 

 

For someone not experienced with the recording process I think the first step is to realize you don't have to record everything at once. For home studios especially, things are often recorded piece by piece onto various tracks.  The tracks are then mixed (volume, eq and panning edited) together to sound cohesive. This process can cost as little, or as much, as you would like it to. The end result is going to be a direct reflection of how much you understand the process you are going through. 

 

On my desk is a PC with recording software (I use FL Studio), a USB Midi Keyboard, and a USB audio interface (Mine has an input for a microphone and an input for an instrument).

 

I like using FL Studio because it's was the most cost efficient option, and I'm comfortable with using it. These are called Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) and there are tons of options out there to choose from. They all work essentially the same way. They let you manage the tracks and put them together. Using this, I create drum tracks using samples (which you can spend zero to infinite dollars on depending on what you are happy with). Then I record audio through a microphone or instrument around that. 

 

The audio goes through the audio interface, which is essentially a way of getting audio signals into the computer while retaining quality. More inputs = more money. Mine was $150

 

The midi keyboard allows me to play digital instruments inside the DAW. From anything to a piano to ...literally whatever you can think of. More instruments = more money. Better instruments = more money. The midi keyboard was given to me by a friend so it was free. They can run as little as $50. The instruments can range from free to thousands. 

 

All of this wasn't what I would call cheap, but compared to the cost of putting together a professional studio it was extremely cheap. The professional studio setups you see in movies or documentaries are designed to maximize workflow and accommodate a wide range of recording scenarios. Mine is designed to accommodate one recording scenario: Me playing one instrument at a time.  

 

OR

 

If you have a smartphone you can download a multi-tracking app for as little as $1. With some headphones, you can use the Mic on the phone (which these days is usually pretty decent) and record the various tracks. If you have an iPhone, Garageband is a great tool and it is possible to add drums and other instruments into your song from the app. Using a phone requires the least expertise, as there are no messy components to force into cooperation. It also has the least cost to it, as most people already own a smartphone. 

 

If your goal is to capture an idea then using a smartphone is definitely the simplest and cost effective way to do it. If this existed 20 years ago it would have changed my life.

 

 

With all of this stuff however, there is some basic knowledge of mixing required to make anything sound good. I think the perception that there is a "quick and easy" way to get this done is a little off. For me it is quick and easy because I've been doing it for years and have learned a lot along the way. But even when I first started I was making songs on day one. Terrible, terrible songs :)

 

What seems like the route you would take? If you want some advice on putting it together I would be happy to help out. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On 7/18/2017 at 20:33, Vinnie Anzalone said:

 I could get away with singing and playing acoustic in front of a mic and camera and that's it; and people would eat it up. Less is more these days.

That's exactly what I started doing. Singing and playing acoustic in front of a mic and camera. I'm still missing the "people eating it up part"  lol

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3 hours ago, GPBrimer said:

With all of this stuff however, there is some basic knowledge of mixing required to make anything sound good. I think the perception that there is a "quick and easy" way to get this done is a little off. For me it is quick and easy because I've been doing it for years and have learned a lot along the way. But even when I first started I was making songs on day one. Terrible, terrible songs :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yup, that's how I started too! Ten years ago I was writing stuff on my laptop using a MIDI editor (Cakewalk Music Creator). The songs were terrible and MIDI sounds kind of like cheap 8-bit video game music, but I at least learned how to write multiple instrument parts that sound "right" together.

 

Then at some point I bought an adapter that allowed me to record guitar and bass by plugging directly into the headphone jack on my laptop. A couple years later, I got my Korg keyboard so I could record more realistic sounding violins/piano/horns/etc. through that same adapter. Everything kind of came out sounding like you were listening to it through an old walkie-talkie or drive-thru window or something, but I at least learned how to build songs one instrument at a time and keep everything on tempo with each other.

 

And then five years ago I got a USB audio interface and some proper recording software (Cubase AI 5); three years ago I got EZDrummer software so I could have more realistic sounding drums, and the whole time I've been trying to teach myself how to do mixing and editing.

 

So it's taken some time to get to this point, but every little bit along the way helps! :) Jury's still out on whether my songwriting has gotten any better though!

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Pro or homemade both can be good or bad it is the song itself that is important. If it is a good song it does not need many tracks and instruments.

 

I also think the aproach playing and recording it live is the best way to go. You probably can use your laptops builtin soundcard cause almost every modern computer have ok soundcards these days. Then you need something like a small cheap Behringer mixer and hook it up to your computers audio input. Those mixers sound pretty ok and do have mic preamps, almoast always at least two per unit.

 

There are lots of good recordingsoftware out there but choose one that works and looks as close as possible to a real mixer. This will make it easier and probably speed things up in the beginning when you start out with this. Its also the cheapest best quality setup and still very usefull when you get more advanced.

 

Condencer mics that work ok and sometimes even very good doesnt have to be so exspensive either.

 

place your mic as close to your instrument as possible and try to figure out so that it covers the "space" of the sound you wanna capture and start playing or singing. Watch the meeter on the mixer and slowly increase the gain knob till it is the closest you can to 0 db without clipping.

 

Hit rec in your daw and youre recording, easy peasy. 

 

If you have access to a mac and Logic 9 and filmed it with your phone just drag the video in to Logic. Logic at least Logic 9 can separate audio from video so you can synch up your reording with help from the audio from the video. Then you would eport your song out of Logic with the audio track you recorded in Logic instead of the track from the cam/phone.

 

Or you could buy a soundcard that works with your mobile phone or ipad etc etc. They do produce avesome video and sound today but the mics are often not so good and the built in compression is nothing you normally want in a music recording.

 

Behringer also have the Istudio, its a recording unit for an Ipad? I got one and I demoed it on youtube but in Swedish.

 

 

 

 

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I have to disagree with 90% of what Burnin_Sven has posted above.  If you are doing a simple demo to get an idea down, then these tips might work, but a real demo that is used to show others (at any level) the potential of a song - or to sell a song - needs to be as 'professional' as possible these days - because the leap from 'live demo' to much better quality is barely a hop these days.

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Agree very much with what HoboSage has to say. If you want full sounding demos on the cheap, you have to invest time and money into audio software. Namely DAWs (digital audio workstations).

Obviously you can still make demo's on the cheap with a Dictaphone (preferably a digital one) but if you want big sounding songs as your original post describes, its a DAW you want to look into getting.

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I guess I'm a little late here... anyways, a big difference between a "home-made" demo and a more professional recording is mostly the parts played! Of coure also cleaner recordin, lower noise and such, but really the parts is the shit! When I'm hired to play on a song, I bring parts to make the song better. Most of the time there is some "guide guitars" of some sort, and most of the time my job is to actually make the parts fit without overriding the vocals.

 

So my best advice to make a proper demo: invest a small amount of money on it. As an example, if you are great at programming drums, hire someone to play bass/guitar/keys. If you are a kick ass bass player, hire someone to do the other things.

 

Best of luck =)

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