I’ve never really recorded proper demos, but I do like to get down ideas and songs-in-progress in rough form before I take them into the “studio”. My weapon of choice over the past handful of years has been whatever video camera is around at the time.
First it was a MiniDV camcorder. When that one went wonky on me, I started using a Flip camera small enough to fit in a shirt pocket. When that one filled up and I got too lazy to empty its contents onto a hard drive on a regular basis, I started using a Pentax still camera, which was the most lo-fi of them all but afforded the most recording time.
One night I had an idea for a song and nothing to record it on. Both Flip cameras (there were two by now) were full. The Pentax was full and its battery was dead. And it was four in the morning, so recording the thing downstairs wasn’t an option.
I remembered my new-ish laptop came with GarageBand already installed. I’ve never worked much with recording software unless I want to drastically alter the pitch of an entire song after the fact (which has only happened a few times), but I needed to make an exception here to preserve the idea before it grew murky in my mind.
So I used GarageBand for the first time ever. I was surprised by the quality of the laptop’s invisible built-in microphone. It didn’t sound nearly as awful as I thought it would. I recorded acoustic guitar and a lead vocal on one live track, added midi upright bass and fake Wurlitzer (playing the notes on the computer’s keyboard instead of lugging an instrument with midi capabilities up the stairs, which was about as weird as it sounds…I think J or K operates as the D key), threw in some additional vocals with a pitch-shifting effect to make myself sound like a lady (because why not?), and found myself with something crawling toward a song.
In the five or six weeks since, GarageBand has become the main tool I use for idea-capturing and, for lack of a better word, demoing. There have been about forty demos recorded in that time. It’s a little ridiculous. But it’s been fun, and useful, and in some cases the ability to overdub sketchy arrangement ideas in the wee hours has led to some interesting moments. Once or twice I even broke down and brought the laptop downstairs to record the real piano, sitting it down on the bench and messing with the angle and microphone sensitivity until it sounded about right.
Here’s that very first demo recorded on the laptop.
It’s a properly-recorded song now, but I kept as much of the feeling of the initial 4:00 a.m. improvisation as I could, right down to the half-garbled singing. The fidelity is better in the final recording, there’s no midi anything, and there’s a bit more going on sonically, but I kept the pitch-shifting effect (because, again, why not?) and the words are still mostly gibberish. They felt like the right words and not-words to sing.