Audiences always hear the finished songs that show up on an artist’s albums, EPs, or singles. However, they don’t normally get a chance to listen to the demos that preceded them. Demos are an integral part of constructing and solidifying musical ideas. Yet, it’s inevitable that some songs never exit the demo stage for artists. A demo might never grow into a full-fledged song because it’s not strong enough, or because an artist feels they don’t have the energy or tools to move it along. If you’ve got loads of demos floating around your hard drive, here are three tips for what to do with them:
Save them for later
Don’t delete your demos, not even the ones you think are awful. Working on a batch of demos that seem to go nowhere might be frustrating. But on the other hand, you have no idea how you’ll feel about them after a year or two. Your work is valuable, even if you aren’t able to see the completed versions of what you’re doing right now. If your ideas aren’t ready to be finished in the short-term, save them for later when you’re ready to give them the time and energy they deserve.
Bring in collaborators to help you finish
When it’s clear a demo isn’t finding its way to the finish line, consider bringing in a collaborator to help. It’s important to remember that you’re just one person working with a relatively narrow set of tools and ideas. Working with another songwriter or producer can transform a dead-end demo into a compelling song. If you have multiple unfinished songs, working with a collaborator can result in a creative atmosphere that colors and shapes your unfinished ideas in unexpected ways. If your unfinished songs are just taking up space, asking someone to help can turn them into something great. And if you don’t like the direction they take while working with someone else, you can always save the original versions.
Release them how they are
A decade ago, releasing demos was something unthinkable for most artists, but that’s changed in recent years. If you love the energy of a demo but can’t seem to translate it into a finished song, consider releasing it how it is. This might not work for major artists, but you should think about doing it if you’re a new or even established artist. Instead of releasing each and every musical idea you come up with, you should only think about sharing demos that are exciting, memorable, and musically solid enough to connect with audiences. It’s also important that you indicate in the song’s title that what you’re sharing is a demo and not a polished song. We live in a strange time in music where it’s completely possible for an artist to release a couple of interesting demos and gain a large following, so if you think yours are good enough, try sharing your best.
Whether it’s sharing, saving for later, or working on them with collaborators, your demos can find other meaningful purposes if they don’t end up becoming finished songs.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.