This Article Originally Published March 1998


by Andy Cahan

For the past ten years, I've recorded thousands of demos for various publishers, singers and songwriters. I've been in the music industry since 1963 and have acquired tons of valuable information I can pass on to you. If you are on the internet, please check out my website at: http://www.allentertainment.net/demodoctor.html. That will provide you with all the information about my career in the music industry. Because of my reputation with production, arrangement and vocal coaching abilities at these sessions, I have acquired the name "The Demo Doctor".

In addition to recording and producing the artists just getting started, I've also recorded and produced such luminaries as Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, Flo & Eddie (The Turtles), Eric Carmen, Jimmy Webb and John Wesley Harding in my studio.

In my "question and answer" column coming up in the next issue, I will tackle some of the basic misconceptions and myths that cloud the demo business. I will share with you some tips about making better demos, provide basic down-to-earth advice, will answer all questions and guide you along the right path to preparing, recording and presenting your demo. There's a Doctor in the house and I'm ready (24/7) to help.

I will cover some of the fallacies of making demos—such as how much money you should spend. You don't have to spend a million bucks in an expensive studio to achieve your goal. It can be accomplished in your home studio. Less is more, and by using the basic information covered in this article, I strongly believe that if you prepare efficiently, and use these simple techniques, you will come out ahead.

The accepted industry standard for submission of songs is a three song demo (demonstration). You should start out with your best song. Don't think that the delusion of saving the best for last will be more dynamic. Not true! Usually, that A & R person listening to your tape has several hundred envelopes of song submissions on the floor next to his desk waiting to be heard. If your material doesn't knock his socks off in the first thirty seconds to a minute, he will eject your tape and move on to the next.

Plan out your session so you don't waste time and money. Know exactly how the song goes before you record. Use a step by step procedure beginning with a typewritten or neatly written lyric sheet. This will be helpful during the recording, programming and editing processes with respect to marking locations of verses, choruses and the bridge of your song.

Rehearse all of the instrumental and vocal parts before you go in to record. This way you save studio time and should be totally confident and comfortable with your performance.

Keep the duration of your song to about three and a half minutes. Make sure the key of the song fits the vocal range of whoever is singing. Nothing is worse than having a squeaky voice, straining to hit those high notes, or running out of breath and hardly hitting those low notes . Avoid long intros and solos, you're selling the "SONG" not the solo. Try and get your "HOOK" / "CHORUS" (memorable musical or instrumental phrase) heard as soon as possible, preferably within the first thirty seconds to one minute. This procedure will turn out to be extremely effective in your presentation.

Try to "animate" the song exactly the way you want it. There are several requirements that help speed up the process and allow it to flow smoothly: I suggest that you listen to and study samples from your favorite CDs and records. Make notes on their arrangements, instrumentation, rhythms and grooves in their style of music and apply those to your arrangement in your own original style.

Start out with the basic chords on a rhythm instrument such as keyboards or guitar. This will lay a solid foundation for your vocals, bass, drums and other overdubs. Avoid over-producing your track. Keep it simple. Your final mix should be clear and uncluttered allowing your vocals to be heard.

What ever medium you decide to record on, weather it be ADAT, DA-88, hard drive, analog reel to reel or multi-track cassette, the key is to record your song as clearly and simply as possible. Be conscious of too much bass or treble on the overall tracks. And defiantly avoid any distortion in your recording. Try to keep away from a lot of effects early on. Make sure you cut everything "FLAT" (all your settings are in the default position). Save all of your effects and "EQ" (equalization) for the final mix down, inasmuch as you eventually will run into problems with frequency levels that can not be corrected, subsequently leaving no room for adjustment.

When you are finished with your demo, there are some very simple rules you should know in presentation. Make sure all of the song titles are listed in the correct sequence on the tape and the tape box. You must have your name, address and phone number on all your lyric sheets, tapes and tape boxes. Nothing is more frustrating to the A & R guy than a tape with no name! Make your presentation letter concise and to the point. There is no need to go into your life's history. Just simply explain your intentions with your songs. Make it clear that you are selling the song and / or yourself as an artist.

These are just some of the things I look forward to discussing with you in the next issue. In this day and age of cutting edge technology, the competition is overwhelming. But if you stick to your guns and constantly strive for something original in your music, your chances for success will be that much greater. Good luck and have fun!

If you have a question about recording or producing demos, send them in to the Demo Doctor. If you're on the internet, you can e-mail me at:

andycahan@verizon.net.

My website address is:

http://allentertainment.net.

Or, snail mail me at:

Andy Cahan
PO Box 261969
Encino, CA 91426-1969
Phone: 818/489-4490
Fax: 818/728-9059

Andy Cahan is a 35-year veteran of the music industry. As a recording engineer and record producer, Cahan has worked with such artists as Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, Flo & Eddie and Eric Carman.


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