Should You Make a Demo of a Song?


In the April issue of Sound on Sound Magazine, Rostam Batmanglij, guitarist of the band Vampire Weekend, stated the following: "I immediately try to go for the finished article as far as possible, because I don’t believe in demos and re-recording. Not in this day and age. You will always try to recapture the magic of that first recording, so I don’t do it.” What do you think? Are demos counter-productive?

It wasn't long ago that making a demo tape was the only way to go. Studio time was expensive, and multi-track cassette recorders were affordable. A songwriter might make a demo on a cheap recorder, then they would record the song again in a local studio with better equipment, then they would get a record deal and spend three months recording the song yet again.

The trouble is that often times the original lo-fi recording of a song is the best version. What it lacks in fidelity it more than makes up for in performance, spontaneity, and yes, magic!  

I respectfully disagree with Mr. Batmanglij. I think artists should make the magic of a recording the top priority, and not limit themselves with strict recording processes that could inhibit recordings from happening. Today many people have really good quality recording equipment in their homes, and really awesome sounding portable digital recorders in their pockets. However, I would still rather listen to a lo-fi take of a song recorded with a telephone, as long as it was the more powerful version.

What do you think?

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No doubt it depends on the band in part and in part on whether they record as a group performing simultaneously or individually with each member ****** down his/her tracks solo.

I know Pete Townshend always recorded demos (and in fact has released many after The Who has recorded and released their versions). It's instructive to me to see where the band hewed to Pete's original concept and where each band member's individual expertise took the song into previously uncharted waters.

I've read that David Bowie went into the studio with very little of the finished songs and for him it was the studio enviornment and the studio experience where the songs came together. I don't think he had enough for demos before that (expensive) process began.

I also think about Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead. Two groups as different as could possibly be. Makes me wonder how each survived their particular studio experiences.

OTOH wasn't Springsteen's Nebraska originally just a demo on a cassette he carried around in his jeans pocket before he finally decided those were the songs he was going to release as is? Cannot argue with spontaneity.

My problem is the demo is sooo good and the studio always loses the magic... whats the solution?