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How to Make a Great CD - Demo
By Jaci Rae - 03/16/2007 - 01:35 PM EDT

Because you may not have face-to-face contact with potential fans or music industry executives, a CD or CD demo must tell a unique story about you and your music. Learn how to make a lasting impression that will have them tuning in instead of turning you off.

A great CD / CD demo can mean the difference between getting the job and not working. Here are a few tips on how to make an excellent CD that will impress the decision makers.

Back in the day, there were full-length CDs and CD demos. A full-length CD was usually put up for sale, while a CD demo, which was usually three to four songs in length, was used for marketing purposes. In today's digital world, recording a partial CD (previously known as a CD demo) is easy and cost effective; therefore, a traditional CD demo has become obsolete.

A great CD is your calling card to the world. Because in many cases you may not have face-to-face contact with potential fans and music industry executives, it's important that your calling card tell a wonderful and unique story about your music.

Things to remember when making your CD / Demo:

The Music

If you wrote the words and music, protect your intellectual property by applying for a copyright. If you didn't write the words and music, contact the publisher or writers of the song in order to obtain mechanical licensing for your project.

Recording Studios

Research recording studios in your area to find one that works for your needs and budget. Many studios have different discounted rates. E.g., if you book your recording session for an entire weekend in 12-hour blocks, the studio offers a price break. Be sure to ask the studio manager permission to drop by during the same time of day you want to book your session. Listen for any sounds, such as loud music from a club next door, which might interfere with your recording session despite soundproof booths.

Time is Money

It's important to remember that studio time can become expensive. Be prepared before you go into the recording studio. Have your music charted for each player prior to your recording session. If you can't chart music, hire someone who can. Find out if the musicians in your session can read a Nashville Chart (a.k.a The Nashville Number System developed in the 1950's). If they can, only have one chart made. Make Xerox copies for everyone else. You will need to have a special chart made for the drummer.

Stage vs. Studio Musician

When a musician is on stage, they may be able to bring the house down by delivering a high-octane performance. However, the same musician may not have the correct technique to be a studio musician. Clanging pedals and whizzing strings do not translate well in a recording studio. While some musicians can perform well in both mediums, many cannot. A studio musician must be very exact in the use of their instrument, avoiding all extraneous sounds.

Using a Producer

A good producer will not only move your recording along, keeping it on budget, but also can make or break a song. Additionally, some producers will double up as an engineer, but only charge one fee for both work hats.

Finalizing Your Recording

You've done your homework, finished recording and now it's time to finalize the mix. Take a day or two and step away from the recording before you listen to it again. This will give you a fresh set of ears. Once you've distanced yourself from the recording, listen to the "final" mix on your car stereo, iPod and the worst boom box you can find.

Most people will be listening to your recording on their iPod's and boom boxes. If your recording sounds good on sound systems that aren't perfect, your job is nearly done. If the recording sounds bad, it's time to talk to your producer and band mates to figure out what should be done to make the recording better.


A good mastering job can really make a difference in the sound of your recording. Use someone who knows what they are doing. Get references.

Pressing a CD vs. Digital Distribution

If your goal is to have CDs to sell at your shows and on your website, you might want to use a professional disc manufacturer. Low-end costs can range $0.39 to $2.00 a CD depending on the amount you press. It is possible to press the CDs using your own printer and computer, but the quality won't be as high and the labels have a tendency to peel off. Additionally, the cost of ink may raise the cost of each CD printed.

If you decide to go the digital route, after the recording has been mixed and mastered, convert your file to MP3, MP4 or .wav.

Whichever route you choose, make sure your project is graphically pleasing on top of sonically superior. The cover (digital or paper) is the first thing a consumer or music professional views. Make an impression by having a cover that impresses.

Note: Not all music industry personnel and music reviewers will accept a digital press pack. You might consider a short disc run to fill their needs. When you press your CDs, make sure you have all contact information directly on the CD. Jackets usually become separated from the actual CD and if they can't reach you easily, you may have lost your chance.

One last thing to think about: If your goal is to impress music industry personnel, you have 10 seconds to make an impact on them before they skip over to the next piece of music. In days gone by, music industry personnel said they listened to a piece of music for 15 30 seconds. However, today many say they give the music 10 seconds before they turn it off.

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