Probably one of the most critical elements in the life of any artist is the demo. Careers can be won or lost by the demo. Very few managers, agents or A&R; people will venture out to see any artist live unless they've first heard a demo that caught their attention. And it can be more difficult to get live shows without a demo of at least a couple of songs that a promoter or club owner can hear first.
Whether you want to record a demo or an album depends on a lot of factors, the primary ones being:
The overriding factor is money. If you have very limited financial resources, then you are most likely limited to making a lower-quality, demo-style recording. But this doesn't mean that you can't release it on your own label or a small independent. However, without spending a minimum of several thousand dollars, your tracks are probably not going to be professional enough to qualify as a serious album -- they're probably not going to get past the local show on your local radio station, and it is very unlikely that a serious label will want to release or re-release them.
- Your overall plan for your career
- How much money you have for recording
You should always try to make the best quality recordings your resources will allow. No matter what the purpose of the recording is, a better sounding demo represents your music better, giving both fans/consumers and the music industry a better idea of what you are about.
If you are approaching labels with demos, the closer those demos are to masters (i.e. album-quality recordings), the more likely you are to get a sympathetic hearing. In fact, if your demos are recorded well enough, a major label might pick up those demos and release them rather than re-record them. And since the label won't have to spend additional money on re-recording, you are in a better position to negotiate a financially favorable deal. Creed sold millions of albums (and made a lot of money) this way. Their label Wind-Up picked up their independent demo/album, which was recorded very cheaply, re-mixed it, and the rest is history. Phil Collins' album "Face Value," which launched his solo career and elevated Genesis to even greater heights, was also built around his original eight-track home demos.
So I would say that no matter how big or small your resources or intentions are, always strive to make the best possible demo you can -- think of your demo as an early career album and abandon the apologetic mentality, "it's just a demo."
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