Tips for Songwriters: Prepare your songs to show to artists

Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter/engineer/producer/author and owner of recording studios in Nashville and New York City.  Download Cliff’s free e-book, “The Songwriter’s Guide To Recording Professional Demos”

As a result of recording and producing hundreds of demos, I’ve learned that it is always better to “prepare and prevent” than to “repair and repent.” Here are a few steps you can take to help make your demo recording experience more successful.

Song Preparation

It may sound obvious but make sure your song is FINISHED. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had clients come into the studio only to start rewriting a part of the lyric or melody. It is significantly less stressful (and quite a bit less expensive) to write a song when you’re not paying the studio an hourly fee.

You can also benefit from trying a few rough recordings at home before you get to the studio. The simple act of listening back to a song instead of performing it will reveal any weaknesses or issues that need to be dealt with before the studio clock is running. The last of these rough home recordings will become the definitive work tape.

The Rough Recording

This is any simple, inexpensive recording that you do on a hand-held recorder, mp3 recorder, or computer program etc. 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 work tape is to provide the demo vocalist and session musicians with a final version of your song that they can learn from.

To hear an example of a rough recording click below
Does She Make You Laugh – Rough

The Players

Let’s start with the demo vocalist. It’s always a good policy to get a copy of the work tape and the lyrics to the singer a week or so before the session. There are several reasons for this. First of all, the singer can let you know what key the song should be in to best suit their voice. This way, if you end up recording instrument parts before the singer does their part, you’ll know the correct key. Secondly, the more time the singer has to learn the song, the less time he or she will take to sing the song when the studio clock is running.

When you get to the session, it’s wise to have printed lyric sheets for the engineer, musicians and vocalist. The lyrics should be typewritten and have each chorus written out in full. The reason for this is that 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 the vocalist what works and what needs to be fixed.

The session musicians do not need a work tape in advance. They will be learning the song from your work tape when they get to the session. You can save a little time by writing a chord chart of the song if it’s something you’re comfortable doing. If not, the session musicians should have no trouble doing it for you quickly using the work tape you bring to the session.


After that, it’s up to the singers and musicians to bring your song to the next level. There’s nothing more fun than listening to world-class musicians and vocalists record a song you’ve written. The more you prepare in advance, the more you’ll enjoy your studio experience.

To hear an the same rough recording from above as a finished demo, click below
Does She Make You Laugh – Demo

Good luck!

  • Andre Michaels

    Well I am a singer/songwriter I record my all of my songs
    In a home studio I have a 24 trk digital recorder. I even went
    To school and got a degree in music and took recording and song writing courses. I feel like I don’t have to have someone else re-record my masters. So how do I get my songs to Artist
    To listen to them

  • Jeff Willoughby

    Okay, now for the difficult part – getting the artists, producers, A&R, and publishers to HEAR the demos.
    “No unsolicited material accepted” is the order of the day. How do you get past that?

  • Jaden

    Is ita good idea to work with a professional vocalist for vocal training if you want to use your own voice for your demo?

  • Tom

    How to get the songs to the artists, THAT’S the question. I set up an 8-track at home and did all the instrumentation and vocals. The quality was as close to studio as anyone needs to get so spending $1,000s for big studio time, not to mention hired musicians??? If you have the talent to write good songs, you should have it to perform and record them yourself. My point is all these “experts” seem to have all sorts of advice EXCEPT on how to get the finished songs “in front of” the right ears.
    As the old detective Friday used to say, “Just the facts, M’am”. So, how about it? Just the contact facts, man!

  • ericdwaynemusic

    Labels have their own writing staff…from there on, it would be word of mouth on the street. Or you canstart flashing cash around to the right folks.

  • spikemelon

    it’s all who you know & NOT what you can do – it’s favoritism, nepotism, cronyism, etc. Then it’s having the right “look” – not necessarily the talent. After all of that, you still go nowhere unless you’re mob affiliated friends can threaten some lives of major players in the industry !!!
    Think of this, there are SO MANY names making music -out there today that who’s going to give a crap about you ???
    why even bother ???????

  • Zander Van

    So very lame…and pure kids stuff..More useless info and no inside track word…we can all do the prepping and writing…this article worked maybe 20 years ago before Fostex 4-tracks – but now…go to TAXI..way more appropriate…and Mike is still alive!

  • Albert Prien

    Why do we always want “to be Discovered”,or have a Artist do your song.Why do we write? Folks its a gift,so take it to the “People”.You never know what kind of an effect it may have on someone.Music is a powerful medium.Go play in the park,coffee house,open mike’s etc.Try fulfillment not fame.Remember when this was fun?I’ve done the recording,the road thing,lots of good experiences.Upload some stuff on tunecore internet radio, or a song at a time.I did in Dec.2009.Have some fun!

  • Geoff Casino

    Any little snippet of information is a good thing as far as I’m concerned. No need to sound so jaded and hard done by people, maybe it’s time these people with their negativity give up in music all together – after all, if noone is going to give it all to you on a plate then surely it’s all a bit too much like hard work, isn’t it???

  • john doe

    Yes, some of you guys seem slightly bitter, cynical and wanting “out of the box” solutions(maybe its the fault of an internet fuelled “the answer’s gotta be 1 click away” mentality.
    Errr no-one owes you anything and sorry to burst bubbles, but with the advent of internet marketting tools (FB, Myspace, Youtube etc) and cheaper, higher quality home recording technology there’s music on these platforms that quite frankly should have stayed on the hard drive.
    But….if you have stubborn determination, self belief, faith and a little lady luck, then go for it. Who am I to knock you?
    Just be honest/big enough to accept that
    a) (on occassion) your music simply isnt ready for market – ie it sucks. Yes my friends, I speak from experience!!
    b) Its a graft. If you worked in the music biz as an industry vet, and wanted to get into your day job occupation IT, accounts, health whatever. How would you do it? Who in your industry would you engage? Now apply those to your efforts to tackle the music industry.
    c) often you will be playing the long game, so relax, remember why you started making music in the first place and learn your craft, hone your skills, master your technology – if/when you do come accross you come accross less “full on”. The journey is the experience as they say.
    d) take positives from everythng you read and dont be soooooooo negative

  • Ray

    I believe we should all start with one understanding. The music business can be a frustrating business more often than not. Now before all the ‘damn right its frustrating’ statements start, I have one more thing to say. “So what”. If you thought it would be easy and you’d get to sleep in every morning, all I can say is “I’m sorry you picked the wrong profession”. The people that make it in music are the ones that never hear the word no as a ‘no’, they hear it as ‘no not now.’ I am fortunate to work with an artist that works 358 days a year. I don’t mean 358 days plus weekends off. I mean 358 days a year of work on their career and allowing themselves one 7 day vacation. They are always looking for ways around or over or through the frustrations. My advice would be get over thinking its going to come easy and see if you have enough passion and energy to make it work in spite of the obstacles. Excuses never got anyone anywhere. Now if that seems ‘hard ass’, so be it. Because you will run into many no’s and you are just going to have to brush them off and do better next time. Those that get what I am saying will push forward, those that don’t will blast me and make excuses. Best of luck to all.

  • Michael J. hundley

    There’s an old adage:”chance and circumstance happen to us all”. Researching who to contact or paying someone who has and specilizes in getting the finished product to the right people doesn’t hurt. The days of just sending your recording to the A&R guy are over. Hiring someone who has the right connctions seems to be what’s going on.

  • Roman

    Yea. The hardest thing to make them hear your song. Is there anybody who can give an advise about best way to reach artist or a&r?
    producer, songwriter

  • mama chill

    you just have to keep on keepin on, that’s life, the music bizz is about who you know and circumatance but most of us knew that anyway but are still optimistic enough to keep trying, after all, circumstance and chance might just come our way some day.
    The usual rejection line is “sorry we have our own in house team” the second rejection line is sorry but X is a proficient songwriter in their own right and doesn’t sing anyone elses material. Three months later they release a track written by a well known artist so what they really mean is ” bog off no mark, you’re not famous and X only sings stuff by famous artists/songwriters”
    But like i said 99% of the time is spent hitting your head against a brick wall so you have to be passionate, strong and love what you do, regardless otherwise, go work in Mcdonalds. :) xxx

  • Olayinka Oladeji

    It’s good reading this, i’m a singer/songwriter, based in Nigeria. I’m presently making plans to go do a diploma in audio engineering or sound and music recording so as to have the right kind of knowledge to record my songs just the way i would love it while writing them. But all the same i love the steps you gave.
    But would still love to ask if you can recommend any good institute to study good sound engineering course.
    Olayinka Oladeji.

  • jesus espinoza

    so if i write a song who do i email it too. 347-421-6806

  • Glenn Waters

    Greetings, I am contacting you because I have a song that I wrote and have recorded. Who do I send it to,so it can be heard?

  • matt

    You have to find an bonafide entertainment lawyer or a manager(meaning they work with record labels or producers regularly), but most likely it will be an entertainment lawyer and have him try and shop the songs around for you, or you can go to local clubs and find a talented young band that plays well and maybe doesn’t quite write the best songs and give them some of your tracks and see if they like any of your songs.

  • M. J. Calhoun

    I go by L8 Nite and I am a producer/song writer. I am 27 yrs old. I quit a great electronic job just to go to school and learn about the industry. I will be graduating in Spring 2011, and interning. I intern now for the hell of it because Im not gaining credits but I am gaining knowledge and experience. Cmon guys you have to have passion and drive to make it in the industry. Why do you think that its so secluded? Sure its about who you know, but the ones who have the talent and passion are the ones with longevity. Family, friends, and co-workers told me that I was stupid for my transition, and said that I will never make it but I took it and smile because that’s the kind of drive that I need to never give up or look back, and to get from point A to my final destination. Go intern, kiss ass, network or what ever you think will work. Life is what you make of it, you choose your own destiny. I grew up poor and in a hip hop background but now I am interning and working with a world famous country group. Being open minded takes you beyond imagination. Feel free to contact me anytime or keep tabs on my progression. Thanks and remember. ITS ALL ABOUT NETWORKING!!!!

  • M. J. Calhoun

    Oh yea and CO-WRITE. There is nothing wrong with co-writing. Surround yourself with industry heads, learn their language and all. Last but not least, you might not believe me but even grammy award winning writers have a hard time getting songs cut. I’ve seen it happened. Keeping fighting and use the word “No” as a step in your step ladder to get to the top.
    M. J. Calhoun ‘L8 Nite’

  • ffxiv gil

    Just be honest/big enough to accept that
    a) (on occassion) your music simply isnt ready for market – ie it sucks. Yes my friends, I speak from experience!!
    b) Its a graft. If you worked in the music biz as an industry vet, and wanted to get into your day job occupation IT, accounts, health whatever. How would you do it? Who in your industry would you engage? Now apply those to your efforts to tackle the music industry.
    c) often you will be playing the long game, so relax, remember why you started making music in the first place and learn your craft, hone your skills, master your technology – if/when you do come accross you come accross less “full on”. The journey is the experience as they say.
    d) take positives from everythng you read and dont be soooooooo negative

  • dylan nicole martin

    im dylanicole martin and i write songs which’s got an effect just like justin bieber’s songs…help me out

  • keith jones

    I am a hip hop songwriter and if I have tracks I recorded on my pro tools, how can I get it out to other artists to see if they like them?

  • Victor Chukwuka Nwabudike


  • Michael A-Lyric

    I only know three ways to get covers:
    1) Co-write, either with a recording artist or someone that already works for one;
    2) Through a publisher or label;
    3) Through professional tipsheets.
    That’s it.
    For the first two, you have to get out there and meet people. For the third, you have to cough up good money only to realise that you are not yet at a professional level. So I recommend taking options 1 & 2 before trying n° 3.
    Michael Leahy

  • Tom Selden

    I’ve had the “right” connections in the country music business for a long time, I write pop songs so all those connections don’t really matter. If I had a country song where I am the songwriter AND knew for sure in my heart that it is a smash hit I could get it heard and if my connections agreed, they would have my song covered by a major country artist.
    It IS who you know when placing a song but if you’re not ready to show what you’ve got you need to get your music to that point.
    A no holds barred version of your best creation with no excuses given when you play the song to someone.
    If you are sure your song is BETTER than what you hear on the radio then you are ready.
    I remember talking to my Nashville friend when he was working for the largest publishing company in the world. He said he and his staff would listen to thousands of submissions a week and he said you were lucky to get one song in 10,000 that would be a consideration to pitch to artists. These were songs that had already been somewhat filtered before submission.
    In the country music business, my friend is still in the top twenty people in powerful positions in the industry and if you ever had a chance to talk with him you would see that the business at this level has people that are still truly passionate about there work. He has been involved in over a 1000 hit songs and now produces new country artists for a major label. When you get as far as having him produce you, there is probably no stopping your huge success. He is very rarely wrong. He doesn’t have time to get involved with songwriters that are not country and his passion is the country music business.
    Find someone that has this kind of passion for your music and you are almost there.
    When he used to listen to my songs he would say, “You were born with what makes your songs stand out, but just keep writing”.
    For whatever reasons I have come up with over time, I still have only a handful of songs that I’ve written (less than 40). Some made onto daytime TV shows and one was held by a member of “Chicago” for 2 years but never got recorded.
    Now I’m releasing singles on Jango and finding out how hard it is to get people’s attention if you are an unknown.
    The next song I release I’m going to put the hook at the very beginning of the song because I think I have 5 seconds before they click the “next” button.
    Tom Selden

  • nathan

    songwriters and all star like all my album call nathan carmola dynamite i want to join this records universal this is all messg.