This blog previously appeared in iO Pages, the magazine for progressive rock music
It sounds like the name of an ancient Greek philosopher or a nasty infectious disease. However, most musicians among us immediately know what I am talking about when I say 'demoitis': it is the frustrating phenomenon that occurs when a musician finds that he actually thinks his quick and cheap demos, ie the test recordings of songs, are more successful than the final, official studio recordings that cost a lot of time and money.
Better in this context may be an unusable qualification. The final result may well be better than the original in a number of ways. Everything is presumably played or sung without mistakes or sloppiness. The arrangement is more careful. The recording quality is undoubtedly superior to the home manufactured demo under less ideal conditions. In the mix, the final balance, everything is more audible. No accidental distortion, or annoying peaks in the sound image. Mostly box sounds or computer sounds are then replaced by real instruments. Yet. Yet.
The official studio recording often lacks something, which is almost indescribable. Is it tension? Spontaneity? The promise of a fresh and new song, where things are tried for the first time, and that things can only get better when everything is supposed to sound nicer? I think a little bit about everything. Moreover, it is a subjective phenomenon. For most people, the official version will be the first introduction to the song, and they won't be bothered by the emotional bias the creator is struggling with. For them, the creaky original will usually sound fun or curious at most, but certainly not 'better'.
Although, I must immediately contradict myself somewhat.
In 1977 we recorded the song Want You To Be Mine with Kayak. But despite the fact that it was recorded in a real studio, it remained a demo in our ears, where everything could be criticized. So we then re-recorded the song for 'the real thing' and released that version. The trial version remained on the shelf at Phonogram to collect dust.
That is, until Alan Mason - the label manager of Janus Records, our American record company - heard that demo. He promptly decided to prefer the first recording over the second, and was so stubborn to put that song on the American album Starlight Dancer in that form. That album was in any case a very different album from the Dutch Starlight Dancer, but to make the story not too complicated, this only aside.
Mason even decided to put that demo version on single. And yes, the song actually reached the US top 50. Of course, it can never be proven whether that would have been successful with the new version, but that is not the point. Mason heard something in the original that had later disappeared, while it sounded "better" to our ears.
With the advancing technique, where home recordings are almost indistinguishable from studio recordings, the differences between demos and end result have eroded somewhat in recent years. But it remains something special, that first version of a song.
As is the case with everything you can never do again.
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Met Pim Koopman in Ton's home studio, 2001