Do You Have Demoitis?
An Epidemic That Affects Recording Songwriters
by Frank Gryner (as published in Recording Magazine)
Matthew Good's definition of demoitis is "what happens when you listen to one version of something so much that when it's properly recorded it's difficult to accept." Most recording songwriters are afflicted by the epidemic of demoitis. If you're one of them, then an inexplicable attachment to the original "demo" version can have you running in circles trying to re-create "the magic", despite efforts to re·record the same song with better equipment, more experienced players, or a bigger-name producer.
This sentimental attachment to a particular way you've been used to hearing the song can be tough to shake, but why is that such a bad thing? Well, it can be destructive to the music-making process, alienating you with your affliction from other musicians and recording professionals. So if you're planning on taking your demo to "the next" level and record your song in a pro facility, beware! You're a prime candidate for contracting demoitis; in fact, you may already be a carrier of the virus and don't even know it! The good news is that with treatment, those with demoitis can live relatively normal lives and even have successful careers.
Ten Misconceptions of Demoitis
Misinformation on demoitis has spread almost as fast as the disease itself. Dispelling some common myths about the disease is the first step in getting your condition under control.
1. Demoitis is a songwriter's disease.
While the songwriter may be more likely to show symptoms of the disease, demoitis affects everyone. After all, almost everyone is a music critic passing judgment on substandard cover versions, remixes, and even karaoke performances all the time. As it turns out, humans are passionate about their music-especially songs with any sentimental attachment. So while songwriters are a high-risk group, you' re just as likely to get strangely possessive over the first version of that Lady Gaga song you've been force-fed, versus the lounge version you'll catch on a cruise ship
twenty years from now.
2. You only get one chance to make a first impression
This is not really true ... well, except maybe for blind dates and dandruff shampoo. A great rendition of a good song can make a person forget the lackluster version they originally heard. But on the o rner hand, while circulating a "balf-baked'" rendition of your song may not be the worst thing in the world, it may be much harder to let go of it when a segment your fan base contracts demoitis and constantly reminds you that they liked the original, inferior version better. Moral of the story: Don't be so eager to post your new song until it's thoroughly cooked!
3. People will get used to anything if they hear it enough.
It's like Stockholm syndrome for music, but do you want to base your music career on this principle? We should hold ourselves, to a higher standard rather than relying on the water-torture technique for engaging our listeners.
4. Contracting demoitis can be avoided by not making demos.
This would be a workable theory except for the fact that many of us need that step to flesh out the song, and in most cases the song benefits from lhe laidback, creative atmosphere of demo recording. Ironically, it's the lowered expectations of recording this way that usually yield the kinds of results that many find difficult to replicate in the record making environment. The trick is to be better prepared and equipped to capture record-quality performances in a demo-recording scenario.
5. It's not demoitis, it's my incompetent producer!
While it may make you feel better to be pointing your demoitis-infected finger at your producer, label, mixer or mastering guy, it doesn't make you immune from the disease. When your music is in the hands of an inexperienced producer ( even if that producer is you!), it can have you reverting back to the safety and familiarity of the demo version very quickly. Getting in over your head in the studio is one of me easiest ways to contract demoitis. Make no mistake about it: even though it may be someone else's fault, ultimately you're the one left with the sickness.
6. There are some things that can't be re-created with all the gear and know-how in the world
I hear a lot of songwriters insist that they captured some intangible ""magic'" that they could not duplicate on re-recordling attempts. I believe that the likelihood of there
actually being some mystical un-reproducible song to be very low. The more likely scenario points to a deficiency in studio skill rather than a shon supply of "magic".
7. My demo is good enough to be a master recording.
Poor tuning, timing and recording quality can prevent any part of your demo from graduating to be a master recording. Often times it's these imperfections to which you become attached and fixing them may appear to wreck them. You start to pull the
thread and watch what you once loved unravel into a big mess. Mixing inferior tracks with professional ones can draw attention to how bad those demo tracks really are.
8. My demo isn't good enough to be a master recording.
Not necessarily true. While just having your demo professionally mixed and mastered could do the trick, many times a few elements may be the starting point for what will
become the definitive version. Sound quality is becoming less of an issue, as many entry-level digital recording devices capture audio at record-quality sample rates. Digital editing and cleanup can improve your scratch tracks so they hold their own amongst other high quality elements.
9. Demoitis is not real. It was made up by insecure producers to externalize their musical shortcomings and ultimately undermine the artist's credibility.
These days there's a name for any so-called condition. Some parents will cling to the medical justification of ADD for their out·of-control kid rather than admit that they're just bad parents. Is this the case with demoitis? Is it possible that frustrated producers of yesteryear made up this distinction to draw attention away from their own inadequacies? Probably ... but that doesn't mean it's not real.
10. There is no cure for demoitis.
Despite countless attempts to cure this disease, demoitis is more prevalent than ever before. The number of home demos created has risen immensely, increasing the number of reported cases of the disease worldwide. While homeopathic treatment using mind-expanding exercises may help considerably, in most cases, instances of demoitis decrease with more recording education. Yes, with a better grip on the anatomy of a great recording comes a greater insight into how to recapture what you love about your demos while upgrading the parts that hold it back from being "record quality". It takes a truly open mind and a genuine desire to serve the song-not your ego-to eradicate the kind of behavior that holds on to details that would be irrationally relevant to only you.
Good to Go
While Matthew Good may lay claim to the definition of demoitis in the Urban Dictionary, I contend that the definition should be broader and extend to other instances of irrational close·mindedness, well beyond music. For example: "Margery's demoitis acted up again as she didn't care for Bertha's new pecan loaf recipe at the church bake sale." My hope is that when we've eradicated demoitis off the face of the planet this usage will be all that's left of this debilitating disease ... but I'm having a hard time believing that. I'm still pretty attached to its original meaning.