Making the demo (part one)

To get jobs, a band has to record a demo and give it to bars and clubs. In theory, they’ll love the demo and pay the band money to play music. Putting aside that many venues no longer pay musicians… yeah, that’s the general idea.

In my latest musical project, I’m playing guitar for guy named Matt DeBlass. I’m not the singer or the songwriter or anything stressful like that, I just get to stand there and play guitar. Matt’s encouraged me to look sullen and angry if I like.

All the demos I’ve made so far were recorded in somebody’s living room. Matt and I have had two gigs based on the strength of his solo playing, but it’s now time to make a demo of our own. Since we had a concert planned at Mannion’s Irish Pub, it seemed a natural to simply record the concert and then put the best songs on a disc. Bingo! Instant demo.

Setting up

I arrived at the bar about an hour and a half early, Matt had been there even earlier. (His commute from the day job having been unexpectedly short.) The setup was simple. Matt and I both play instruments, and we both sing. We plugged both instruments and both microphones into a small mixing board, then plugged the board into Matt’s little PA. (Mine has somewhat better sound, but it’s the kind of PA you use when playing to a small auditorium, not a small bar.)

We’ve been using a small digital recorder to capture our public rehearsals in Highland Park. It made sense to just plug that into the mixing board and let it run. The good news is that it worked beautifully. The bad news is that I made the mistake of recording in mono. What I should have done—to make mixing the demo later less of an ordeal—was to pan the instruments to one channel and the vocals to the other. Lesson learned, I’ll know better for next time.

The gig was fun. I had a blast playing guitar, chipping in with backing vocals from time to time—and nothing else. Even the heckler we had was funny. A little bit funny. We played our last songs after midnight, packed up our stuff, the bar paid us, and we went home.

The audio

I listened to the raw recordings over the weekend, and did some quickie mixes with headphones. Where I was, I didn’t have studio speakers—or any speakers. (To those of you who think that “headphones” means “audiophile”, you should never, ever mix with headphones if you care how the final mix will sound. But they’re good to get a rough approximation.)

Out of the fifty-eight songs we played that evening, most sounded quite good. Here are some of the best songs, pre-mixdown: Matt DeBlass and Neil Fein Mannion’s demo, pre-mixdown. You can hear how the instruments aren’t quite balanced; that’s because you’re hearing the “live” mix, the mix of sound that went out over the PA system. In a small room, the PA mix is particularly not going to sound great when recorded. When you’re in a bar or a club, you’re hearing the amplified signal, but also the sound of the instruments themselves. (My guitar in particular is quite loud and bassy, so it sounds tinny on the recording—those frequencies are the ones that needed to be amplified.)

What’s Next?

As serviceable as these track are, I can do better. For >next Wednesday’s music article, I’ll tell you how I’ll take these tracks and slice, dice, and puree them into a solid, good-sounding, honest demo.


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