Representative examples of unsolicited demo tapes received in the mail by Mutant Pop Records in the late 1990s; the tape in the middle with the photocopied j-card was probably also sold at shows by the band
A demo (shortened from "demonstration") is a song or group of songs recorded for limited circulation or reference use rather than for general public release. A demo is a way for a musician to approximate their ideas in a fixed format, such as cassette tape, compact disc, or digital audio files, and to thereby pass along those ideas to record labels, producers, or other artists.
Musicians often use demos as quick sketches to share with bandmates 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.
Demos are typically recorded on relatively crude equipment such as "boom box" cassette recorders, small four- or eight-track machines, or on personal computers with audio recording software. Songwriters' and publishers' demos are recorded with minimal instrumentation, usually just an acoustic guitar or piano and the vocals. Both Elton John and Donovan gained studio experience early in their careers by recording publishers' demos for other artists since their managers also handled music publishing, as did Garth Brooks, who was so impressed when recording the demo of "Friends in Low Places" that he asked to release the song himself.