What’s Expected of a Songwriter When it Comes to Recording Demos

Posted in The Weekly on July 17, 2018 by

In my previous articles, I’ve discussed what engineers, producers and demo singers should bring to the table in a recording session. Now it’s time to talk about what’s expected of the songwriter.

A Finished Song

It may sound obvious but make sure your song is melodically and lyrically finished before you start recording it. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had clients come into the studio only to start rewriting a part that should have been caught as a trouble spot before the demo process began. It is significantly less stressful – and quite a bit less expensive – to write a song and get it where you want it when you’re not paying for studio time.

The Definitive Rough Recording

By definition, a rough recording is any simple, inexpensive recording that you do directly into your smart phone, laptop or any hand-held recording device. Generally, a piano or guitar plus a scratch vocal will do the trick. The key here is not a perfect recording but rather an accurate representation of the song structure. In other words, it doesn’t have to sound great as long as the chords, melody and lyrics are correct. The purpose of this recording is to provide the vocalist and session musicians with a completed version of your song that they can learn from. Trying to play it for them live exactly the way you want it can add a lot of stress to the session.

Lyric Sheets

When you get to the session, it’s important to have printed lyric sheets for everybody from the engineer and musicians to the vocalist. The lyrics should be printed - not handwritten - and have each chorus written out in full. This is because it’s easier for a singer to read a lyric sheet straight down from top to bottom. Secondly, you’ll be using these lyric sheets to mark spots that need fixing – or spots on certain takes that you like – and having “Repeat Chorus” written for the second and third choruses won’t allow you to take good notes. The better the notes you take on the lyric sheet while the vocalist is recording, the easier it will be to tell them what works and what needs to be fixed.


Know that studio professionals want nothing more than for you to be thrilled with your demo. That being said, it’s tempting to suggest exactly what the players should play and the singers should sing. I’d recommend that you start by trusting that these experts have well-developed musical instincts and allowing them to try things their way first. If you’re not thrilled with their approach then, of course, you should feel free to make specific suggestions as to what you’re looking for. But my experience is that the players and singers will, almost always, exceed your expectations when it comes to how they perform on your songs.


This, too, should be understood, but being polite in the studio is essential. Even under the best of circumstances, the studio is an intense environment. You, as the songwriter, have a deep emotional - and financial - investment in your songs and want everything to go perfectly. That’s completely understandable, but it’s important to remember that thoughtful, constructive suggestions will go a long way towards getting you what you want whereas critical or curt comments can damage the fragile vibe during a session.

There’s nothing more exciting than listening to world-class musicians and vocalists record one of your song demos. That being said, the better prepared you are, the more you’ll enjoy your studio experience.


Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, music producer and educator with recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Through his studios, Cliff provides songwriters outside of Nashville with virtual, live access to Nashville’s best session musicians and demo singers for their songwriting demos. To find out more go to You can download Cliff’s FREE tip sheet “A Dozen Quick Fixes To Instantly Improve Your Songs” by going to

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