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 limited (read: VERY limited) amount of time to make an impact with your demo, so picking the right songs is key. Follow these steps to choose songs for demos that will make your listener want to hear more. Although these steps are designed to specifically address picking out your demo songs, check the end of the article for more info about demos in general.
Make a List:
Right off the bat, you probably have a 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, and stick to it. This list may be pretty short if you don't have many songs in your arsenal 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 yourself. The songs on the list are in play for a place on your demo and the others are out. It will make life easier.
I know, I know, they're all masterpieces. But your demo needs to be short, so you're going to have to make some cuts. Try to think like a listener - keeping in mind that the person listening to your demo listens to LOTS of demos and that you probably only have 20 seconds or so to stop them moving to the next track (or the next demo). First, make a pass through your list to see if there is anything else you can cross off right away. If not, read on to find out what to look for in the perfect demo track.
Choose the Tracks:
Here's what to look for:
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 are as you 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. (Yes, they may initially curse you for having your song on repeat in their skull, but eventually, they will just HAVE to hear it again.)
Signature songs: No, don't write a theme song. But if you have a song that is a bit different that everyone associates with you, go for it.
Lose The Tracks:
Some songs are best left off the demos, including:
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: 15 minute song? Save it for the album.
Get a few trusted friends - the 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 the songs. That way, you can tell them to listen to the tracks until they've heard enough, and then move on to the next one. 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.
Learn More About Demos:
Need more info about demos? These articles should help: