I’m never sure when and whether or not it’s worth making a demo of a song. When I’m writing songs for the Worms, we just play them for each other when we have a gig or a recording session. I don’t pitch songs to other artists or to record companies. So there’s no real practical purpose at this point.
However, I do find that recording the song really crystallizes where it’s at. By recording it you are forced to decided how to get in and out of the song and what to do in between verses and choruses. As well when you hear your own song you can sometimes get a better sense of where the holes are and what needs to be fixed.
So the tradeoff I find is between how quickly you want to make the demo and how good you want it to be. I’ve tried a bunch of different methods which I’ll go through here with some examples of a recent song.
Using a smartphone
I have an Iphone so the apps I use are obviously for it.
There are plenty of basic recording apps; the one I use is called VRP 7. It’s free, it allows a variety of recording quality and it’s pretty simple to either transfer the file to your computer or to Google Drive to listen to it elsewhere. The limitation is that you can’t do too much to the file afterwards through the app and that you are limited to the sound quality of the phone’s microphone. But it’s really quick and easy
GigBaby is a great app and probably the best 99 cents I’ve spent on the app store. It’s a 4 track recorder for iphone that has a variety of built in drum patterns that you can use. So basically, you select a drum pattern, fix the tempo (either by writing it in or tapping the beat), pick a track and go. You can sing one one track, play guitar on another, maybe add a harmony track or drop spoons on the floor (rhythmically of course). If you buy a gizmo like the Irig you can plug an instrument right in while still hearing what’s recorded.
The sound quality is again limited to the quality of the phone microphone but this is a really easy way to hear a song more fleshed out with either instruments or harmonies. I’ve used it to try and arrange a couple a capella tunes and it’s worked great. If you want the song to have different tempos you can go without a rhythm track, otherwise I don’t know of any way to change in the middle of a song.
My spouse or equivalent (inside joke between me and her) has an Ipad. I’m too cheap; I might get an android tablet on Black Friday or Cyber Monday! I digress. Garageband I believe started as a program for Apple computers and is now available for Ipad and Iphone. It doesn’t seem to work on my phone; I think it’s one of those things where the latest version of the app needs a smarter phone and the latest iOS which mine isn’t. However, the Ipad app works great and it’s a brilliant program. For drums you can either have it make up a pattern and just happily play away. It has great onboard sounds for keyboards, strings, and the drum sounds are also great. The only limitation sonically is when you try to sing or play an acoustic instrument, then you’re using the Ipad’s microphone which is crap. However, very quickly you can make a pop song sound really good.
I did a song for a curling bonspiel a couple of years ago and wanted it to be a James Brown style funk song. I used GarageBand to make up a backing track and sang live at the event and it worked out great. I briefly tried to figure out how to get the midi information out of the program
Now you can get all sorts of adaptors and microphones and guitar connectors for Ipad now so that you’re getting a better sound from acoustic instruments. So I guess it’s possible to make studio quality recordings with an Ipad. But I’m not really sure why you’d do it. All of these things make your Ipad stuck in one spot. Kind of like a computer. But without the processor speed and the memory and the disc space. So I’m not really sold on them. But you can make a great demo or a song fairly quickly with this program and have lots of stuff going on.