Do Music Publishers ONLY Want To Hear Fully-Produced Demos?

When trying to get a music publisher’s attention for cowrites or a publishing deal, how produced should my songs be?

Can I play a worktape (imperfections and all), a clean guitar/vocal or piano/vocal, or does it need to have a full band?


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Well, like most things in the music biz, there’s no one right answer.  Think about your goal for the meeting.  If it’s just to get feedback to make your song better, a work tape is preferable.  The publisher will feel more free to make suggestions.  If you have a full demo, it’s more uncomfortable to suggest changes that might mean dropping another $800 on a new demo.

But if your goal is to be seen as a pro and treated as a pro, you want everything about you to be professional.  And that includes your song’s production.  So you want to play the most pro-sounding recordings you have, whether that’s a guitar/vocal, or just your best “one-take” iPhone worktape.

Even though I’m already seen as a pro in the biz, I only play demos or high-quality guitar/vocals for publishers when I’m first getting to know them.  Over time, I may feel more comfortable playing work tapes- but not at first.  At first I always want to put my best foot forward.

That being said, it’s important to start playing work tapes for a publisher as your relationship deepens and you’re talking about signing a deal.  I don’t want to write for a publisher who has to hear a full demo before he knows if the song is any good or not.  I want to be able to run into his office and play that day’s work tape and have him do backflips and yell, “we gotta demo that!”

Now, I’m not saying that you should stop trying to make publisher relationships until you’ve dropped a few grand on demos.  I’m not saying that.  Get feedback through other sources first (Songwriter Pro Coaching, NSAI, etc.).  That way you can figure out if your song is worth demoing.

Playing the demo of a bad song just tells the publisher that you don’t have the judgement to know NOT to demo a bad song – so you probably don’t know it’s even a bad song.  So save your money (and your reputation) till it’s ready.

So to break down playing a full demo for a publisher:

**If the song is amazing, the publisher can run right out the door and pitch it immediately.

**If the song is good, you look like that much more of a professional.

**If the song needs work, the publisher is less likely to suggest many changes.

**If the song is bad, you look like that much more of an amateur.

If your song- work tape or demo- is ready for a publisher… if you’re ready to get some honest, helpful feedback… or if you’re ready to knock a publisher’s socks off, I have a great opportunity coming up for you.

I’m hosting the next round of Songwriting Pro’s “Play For A Publisher” soon!  We have these awesome events- with legit hit music publishers- every quarter, and the deadline to submit your song is coming up quickly!  CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS GREAT OPPORTUNITY.

God Bless and Enjoy the Journey,


Brent Baxter is a hit songwriter with cuts by Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Lady Antebellum, Joe Nichols, Gord Bamford, Ruthie Collins, Ray Stevens, and more. He’s written a top 5 hit in the US and a #1 in Canada… so far.

7 thoughts on “Do Music Publishers ONLY Want To Hear Fully-Produced Demos?”

    1. No offense intended but yes that is kind of like giving them a skeleton and saying this is really a super model. Having said that, I also have a lot of skeletons in my song writers closet.

  1. Brent,

    I really understand and agree with the concept of having a very high quality Demo. But most struggling songwriter’s reality is this: How can we afford to throw down $750 to $1200 on every song we think might have a chance of getting cut? It seems like this is a great situation for all the demo cutting business’ out there, but not so much for someone trying to get a break as a songwriter. Is there really no middle ground left out there for our voices to be heard?

    1. I think there is a middle ground. A good publisher should be able to hear a clean, well-performed guitar/vocal or piano/vocal. As you get to know each other, they should be able to work off of a worktape. If they love it and want to sign the song (or you), they’ll probably pay for the demo.

      At the beginning, you just shouldn’t demo every song you “think has a chance of getting cut.” Only invest in what you think are your top few songs. (And by investment, I mean both time investment and production investment.) Put the investment in writing the best songs possible (education, coaching, workshops, etc.). That will help you learn which songs to demo and which songs NOT to demo. Then, as you get better and better feedback and encouragement, you can decide to invest more. You just want to invest wisely.

      Hope that helps!

      1. Loved this article, this was an answer to a question I have thought a lot about. Thanks for this article! Also, reading through the comments and answers to those comments, now I know what I need to do to be memorable at first, and Than build a relationship.

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