"Demos" got soul!
Have you ever recorded a "demo", a rough draft, or had a "practice recording" of a song, and you used it as a sort of base-line measurement for which all future "real" recordings would be measured up to? And for some reason, they almost never do? No matter how many times you re-record, you just can't get that thing back. The new recording may sound better in ways, but it just never quite has that certain feeling or intangible quality that the demo had. The term "demoitis" was even cleverly coined for this
phenomenon, but it really only addresses the point of " becoming so used to hearing things in a particular way,for so long, that any or most changes to the piece sound wrong." And while, in my opinion, demo-itis is a definite factor in this, it is really only partially to blame. And the Artist knows it.
After dealing with the frustration caused by this phenomenon for many years, I believe I have the missing perspective to this puzzle finally pegged. And it's nothing that we didn't already know deep down - Demos got soul! We were inspired when that original version was recorded. Think about it. The mood was right. You were in that particular room, during that particular time. With or without those particular people. Playing that particular instrument, that was tuned or (not tuned) that particular way. There was no fear, because there was nothing to lose. You were focused and immersed in one thing and one thing only - expressing yourself in the best way that you could in that particular moment. Fast forward to "The Recording Studio"... you are in a different room with at least 1 different person, maybe playing the same instrument, but maybe not. Most likely its tuned differently, even if by semi-tones. There's the pressure to execute. There's time & and there's money to lose. You are at least half sick that day. The list goes on. And you expected to not only re-create your beloved gem, but do it better? Here's the good news... there are ways of dealing with this challenge. The first (and by far the easiest) is to get over the fact that it "doesn't sound pro", and release the damn thing AS IS! Why? Simple. DEMOS GOT SOUL! And If the music has soul, the listeners, who are people by the way, don't give a rats ass about how it "sounds", and even if they did, who cares. It's your art, as you intended, and it's the best version you have on record to date, so release and move on.
But another way to deal with this issue, although not as simple, will most likely go a long way in helping your demo to reach those "greater heights" that you hear about in your head. The method involves simply referencing the demo. Have the demo ready for playback at any give moment. So that during the session you can check to see just how the subtle details differ between how you are performing now and how you performed on the day of the demo. Hearing the demo back, in context against a new performance allows you to pin point the nuances of what made it special in the first place. And if you really pay close attention, you will most likely surprise yourself at how fine the details and nuances get with tones and accents and articulation and note bends and meter sways and breathing and delivery and on and on! There is a lot to be learned about "why" things sound the way they do. It also happens to be a really great exercise for your auditory memory. So take into account how your surroundings and circumstances will affect your performance. Be ready, Be rehearsed. Make yourself comfortable. If something isn't right, change it. Another good point to consider, is that you can actually use parts of the demo in the finished product. Don't be so wrapped up in "it has to be all new and perfect" that you forget how easy it is these days to mix media. While the finished product will never BE the demo (which is a good thing), in the opportunities that I have had to work using this method, I can say with certainty that the new version in the end is everything it was intended to be and more. The more being - more good stuff coming from the right place!
The "soul" part, doesn't happen by accident. I think we have a tendency to do more, albeit subconsciously, to actually sabotage a situation that is conducive to a better performance, than we do to put ourselves in the best possible situation to execute. Why? Because of human nature and the fact that we are constantly telling ourselves that something exterior (like a "better mic") is going to make that magical difference that only we as people can make. And so we sacrifice the time we could be investing into nurturing our soul for chasing those things And let's face it. It's a lot of work to be detail oriented. And even then, you have to be sure that you don't get so detail oriented that you lose the forest for the trees. So don't forget the compass!