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Demos Versus Masters

When you have to “demo” something, meaning it’s as a preparation for a master, or something to work out ideas, it’s always a good idea to know where you really stand with its quality and approach. By this I mean that some demos are much better off being simply “raw” and free-spirited approaches to a given song, as an attempt to be more like a “master” in the first place.

For example, today I had to give 2 demos of 2 songs for a couple of projects I’m recording on, and I realized that the “freer” I approached the pieces, the more the listeners would appreciate the spirit in which I see these songs. Now, these are solo acoustic pieces, which can only get “so” wild anyway, but they each had totally different approaches. One was quiet and romantic in nature, while the other one had to be raucous and quite uninhibited, to say the least! After many takes, and many different keys, I found what were the most natural ways in which I could approach them. Sure enough, the recipient loved the recordings, and now I know that I was justified in feeling that these approaches were the truly “natural” way for me to go.

It’s always a great feeling of accomplishment when the music reaches full cycle. I have always loved “interpreting” songs, but in a way that they really flow through me, and come out as almost my translation of them. In this way, it’s really the most “honest” approach, and that almost always speaks very clearly and directly to the eventual listener. And just as happened today with these pieces of music, my true feeling of validation was only felt once the process was completed, and the songs were approved. As good as any of us may be as players, we sometimes have a hard time being able to “step back” and really hear ourselves as others hear us. Lord knows I can sometimes have that problem myself, and the best way to handle it today was to simply record fast, send it fast and get their immediate response, which was so reassuring and positive!

This “natural” approach also works for me when it comes to “masters”, and in the case of these songs, the final “keepers” which I will cut in a studio will probably not be too unlike what I recorded today. Sometimes we may want to be quite a bit more “under the microscope” when it comes to taking apart and dissecting just what it is we want to present as a performance, but we must always be careful. We can many times, over-analyze things until we get to what we call the “point of diminishing returns.” This happens when musicians simply cannot “step back” and hear themselves objectively, and end up “nit-picking” way beyond anything that is normal. This can turn into a nightmare, and believe me, I’ve actually worked with producers who couldn’t make a solid decision, rendering the entire process impossible, and meaning that we, the players, had to cover all the angles for him, even though we knew it was “overkill” to do what he wanted.

So in the end, you have to really learn to trust your own decisions, and let that process become what really helps you to properly develop a good sense of what is a “demo” and what is a “master” recording. Sometimes, in fact, many times, the demo sure enough, is what will end up being your master after all, and it’ll illustrate that you were right the first time! Good luck in your recording endeavors! Arlen Roth

Posted: 1/21/2011 10:52:32 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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