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A music demo, or simply a demo, is a sample recording of an artist’s music. Usually, demos are rough recordings of songs and often do not include an entire album’s worth of material. Demos are frequently sent by bands to record labels to try and land a deal.
Are demo records worth anything? Some rare demo records can be worth a good amount of money but normally demo and promo records are worth the same or less than a normal record. This is because a demo or promo record will normally not come with artwork or sleeves which is where a good part of the value lies for most collectors.
If you happen to come across a demo/promo at a thrift store or yard sale, more than likely it won’t be worth much of anything. There are exceptions to this however which will be mentioned below.
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Which demo/promo records might be valuable?
If you are browsing through the records at a yard sale or in a friend’s or family member’s basement and come across a demo or promo record you might immediately see dollar signs. Just because an item was a demo or promo doesn’t automatically make it valuable however.
Most promo records are exactly the same as the normal version of the record just without the artwork of the traditional record. Since they have the same content but don’t have the artwork then this style of record is worth the same or less than the normal record.
Demos are a bit different however because they might be valuable. It really comes down to who’s demo it is. If the demo is from a popular artist from many years ago and has a previously unreleased song on it then it could be worth a small fortune to a collector of that artist.
If it is from a well known band and was the first release of a hit special it could also be worth some money, although probably not as much as you would hope.
Ultimately the value of any record (including demos) comes down to the rarity of the record and the following that the band and artist has.
I could record a demo and there could only be one of them in the world but since I’m not a well known artist then that rarity wouldn’t matter. However, if you find a demo from Michael Jackson with a previously unheard song on it then it is a safe bet that record would be worth a lot.
If you spend a lot of time browsing the records at second hand stores or yard sales be sure and watch the video below. It gives some information on the rarest records out there so you will want to be sure and keep an eye out for them.
What are demo records?
Most musicians record demos as quick sketches to share with band members or arrangers, or simply for personal reference during the songwriting process; in other cases, a songwriter might make a demo to send to artists in hopes of having the song professionally recorded, or a publisher may need a simple recording for publishing or copyright purposes.
Most artists send their demos to large record labels who usually ignore unsolicited demos that are sent to them by mail. Artists generally must be more creative about getting the demos into the hands of the people who make decisions for the record company.
Many signed bands and artists record demos of new songs before recording an album. The demos may allow the artist to explore several alternate versions of a song, or to quickly record many proto-songs before deciding which ones merit further development.
Demos may include as few as one or two songs or as many as would be contained on a full-length album. It is rare to find record labels buying demos, or seeking to pay the recording artist of the demo except in a case where they want to publish the demo into a full song or own the intellectual property right for the demo.
Demos are seldom heard by the public, although some artists do eventually release rough demos in compilation albums or box sets, such as the album Demolitions by Green Day. Other demo versions have been unofficially released as bootleg recordings, such as The Beatles’ Bootleg Demos and the Beach Boys’ Sea of Tunes series.
Several artists have eventually made official releases of demo versions of their songs as albums or companion pieces to albums, such as Florence and the Machine (“What the Water Gave Me”, among others) and Cults on the EP Sunday Jams.
In the past demo tapes have appeared on eBay with the recordings being leaked onto the internet.
In rare instances, a demo may end up as the final released recording of a song, as was the case with Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks”. The version of “Pumped up Kicks” that was released as a single and subsequently became a hit was a demo recorded by front man Mark Foster alone, before he had formed the group.
In 1982, Bruce Springsteen recorded ten demo songs in his bedroom that he intended to later record with his E Street Band, but he subsequently decided that he preferred the acoustic demos and released them as the 1982 album Nebraska.
In more underground forms of music, such as noise music, black metal, or punk, demos are often distributed by bands to fans as self-releases or sold at a very low price. Amateur (and some professional) musicians may choose to make demos available to interested listeners through websites such as Sound Cloud or Band camp in order to share new ideas, receive feedback and/or provide fans with “behind the scenes” access to the songwriting process.
Is a demo the finished product?
One of the most important things to remember about a demo, especially when you are getting started, is that it is not intended to be a finished product. There is no need to spend a lot of money in a recording studio to make a demo.
Labels expect your demo to be rough, and no one is going to give you a record deal (or turn you down) based on the recording quality of your demo. Also, remember that a demo should be short. It should contain your best songs; three or four is ideal. Demos offer a taste of your music, not your whole catalog. What’s more, when a label receives a demo with studio-recorded songs, it may indicate the artist is naive about the way the music industry works.
Despite your best intentions, this communicates to a label that you believe your music is production-ready, and you may not be humble enough for them to work with. You may not feel this way, but this approach causes labels to question whether you’re ready to undertake the process of trying to get a music career off the ground.
A label has to be interested in your kind of music to have any interest in releasing your record, so make sure you investigate the labels that you approach with your music. If your band has a sound like Metallica, for instance, don’t send your demo to recording labels that work exclusively with hip-hop groups.
Also, there are many web-based platforms that allow you to demonstrate your music without the need to shop around for a label. The odds are, if you use these platforms, a label will find you. Soundcloud, Bandcamp, and Youtube are three popular platforms you could use to let many people hear and share your music.
It is always good to have your song done on a demo version because inspiration comes and goes, it is vital you get ahold of it while it is with you. If you are a songwriter these demos can be worth some money later if you have to compose music for someone else. Without, someone asking for your demo project or you pushing your demo project on record labels and other artists like a songwriter, demos are not really worth anything. Like mentioned earlier, collecting old demos and making full albums of songs or classics of them could be worth some money but other than demos are not really marketable materials.