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A demo version or demo of a song (shortened from the word "demonstration") is one recorded for reference rather than for release. A demo is a way for musicians to approximate their ideas on tape or disc, and provide an example of those ideas to record labels, producers or other artists. Musicians often use demos as quick sketches to share with bandmates or arrangers; in other cases a songwriter might make a demo to send to artists in hopes of having the song professionally recorded, or a music publisher may need a simple recording for publishing or copyright purposes.

Many unsigned bands and artists record demos in order to obtain a recording contract. These demos are usually sent to record labels in hopes that the artist will be signed onto the label's roster and allowed to record a full-length album in a professional recording studio. However, large record labels usually ignore unsolicited demos that are sent to them by mail; artists generally must be more creative about getting the demos into the hands of the people who make decisions for the record company.

Songwriter's and publisher's demos are recorded with minimal instrumentation - usually just an acoustic guitar or piano, and the vocalist. Both Elton John and Donovan gained studio experience early in their careers by recording publisher's demos for other artists, since their managers also handled music publishing.

Many signed bands and artists record demos of new songs before recording an album. The demos may allow the artist to provide sketches for sharing ideas with bandmates, or to explore several alternate versions of a song, or to quickly record many proto-songs before deciding which ones merit further development.

Demos are typically recorded on relatively crude equipment such as "boom box" cassette recorders, or small four-track or eight-track machines, but sometimes they capture the feeling or intent of the artist better than the final version of the song, after the input of managers, producers and sound engineers. Lou Reed sought out a studio in the late 1980s to record his New York album, where the polished sound would satisfy him as much as that of the rough cassettes he'd been making at home. (The B-side to the album's single was actually a transferred home tape.)

Demo recordings are seldom heard by the public, although some artists do eventually release rough demos in rarities compilation albums or box sets. Other demo versions have been unofficially released as bootleg recordings, such as The Beatles' Kinfauns Demos. Several artists have eventually made official releases of demo versions of their songs as albums or companion pieces to albums.

Notable officially-released demo versions include:

Sarah MacLachlan, The Freedom Sessions
Pete Townshend, several collections titled Scoop
PJ Harvey, 4-Track Demos
Bruce Springsteen's demos for Nebraska were released as the final album after band arrangements proved unworkable
Jimi Hendrix's song "The Wind Cries Mary", on his Are You Experienced? album and various best-ofs
The Beatles' Anthology releases included many demo versions
John Lennon's Milk and Honey album with Yoko Ono contains two unfinished song demos; Lennon's "Grow Old With Me", unable to be finished due to Lennon's death (and the last recording he completed), and Ono's "Let Me Count The Ways", which was purposely left unfinished. (Both songs were inspired by poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, whom Lennon and Ono admired, and were special to the couple.)

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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

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