How to Choose the Best Songs for Your Demo

Young band recording in studio
Getty Images/Zero Creatives

Good music is the crucial ingredient in a good music demo, naturally. But there's more to putting a demo together than just loading it up with your favorite songs. You've got a very limited amount of time to make an impact with your demo, so picking the right songs for your demo is key. Follow these steps to choose the demo tracks that will make your listener want to hear more.

Make a Demo Song List (and Check It Twice)

You (and your bandmates if you have them), probably have some ideas about which songs have demo potential and which songs you don't want to lead with. Make a list of the songs you'd like to consider for your demo. This list may be pretty short if you don't have many songs in your catalog yet, but remember your demo is only going to contain a few songs. Narrowing your catalog down to a list of "maybe" tracks will keep you focused and help stop you from going in circles and second guessing the decision.

While it's unlikely that you'll reach a unanimous consensus, your goal should be to make everyone as happy as possible before finalizing that list. Commit to the songs for the demo and don't look back.

Be Critical

Your demo needs to be short, so you're going to have to make some cuts. Try to think like a listener, and keep in mind that the person listening to your demo has listened to many demos and is very busy. You probably only have 20 seconds with each song before they move on to the next track (or the next demo).

The Best Demo Tracks

When choosing the best songs to include in your demo, here are few characteristics to consider:

  • Strong beginnings. Does the music not really kick in until 1:20? Skip it.
  • Catchy beat/refrain/etc. You may not be as in love with your catchier, lighter fare as you are with your deeper, more complex work, but the song that your listener won't be able to get out of their head will work best for you here.
  • Signature songs. No, don't write a theme song. But if you have a song that is a bit different that everyone associates with your band, go for it.

The Song That Shouldn't Make the Cut

Some songs are best left off the demos, hard as that might be to admit. Here's what to save for the full-length album:

  • The growers: Sure, song X might be everyone's favorite of yours, but if it took everyone 128 listens before they fell in love with it, it doesn't belong on your demo.
  • Your attempt at (insert genre here). Showing a breadth of musical ability and innovation is a good thing, but your one-off, half-hearted, comedy fueled attempt at rap/metal/country/dancehall/etc isn't demo material. Yes, even if all your friends all assure you it's hilarious. If you don't plan to go there again, don't go there on your demo.
  • The epics. Is there a 15-minute song in your repertoire? Don't even bother. Definitely save it for the album.

Solicit Opinions

Get a few trusted friends who are willing to offer you constructive criticism and let them listen to your demo. Get their honest feedback and make changes as needed. This works best if you can rustle up a few friends who haven't heard all the songs. This will allow you to to get an idea of how first time listeners at labels may respond. Even if your friends all know all of your songs, it's still important to run the whole thing by some fresh ears.

Leave It Alone

Once you've chosen the tracks and taken the feedback into account, draw a line under your finished demo. You can second guess yourself and then triple and quadruple guess when it comes to making a demo, but in reality, it's kind of like a test. Your first guess (or try) is usually the right one.