"Good" is a very subjective term. It can mean a couple of things when used in the context of making demo tapes. "Good" can mean the song (with a slant toward "hit" potential), or it can mean the engineering or production values on the tape. Which is more important? Read on!
scenario: The Vice President of A&R at a major record label is sitting
in his office listening to tapes. The first tape he pops into his deck
sounds great. The cymbals are crisp. The lead vocal cuts right through
the mix. The guitars are warm, but edgy. The bass is round, fat and
punchy. The kick drum gives you a heart attack with each beat. The snare
pierces like a hollow point bullet. The mix is perfect. The musicianship
is superb. The song is very good, although just a little bit dated.
All in all, a very good demo.
The next tape
goes in to the deck. The drums sound distant and a little muffled. The
guitars are raunchy. The bass is okay. The musicianship is sloppy, but
it has some feel and emotion to it. The song however, is unlike anything
this man has ever heard. It's unusual, and very infectious. It's raw,
but it has something about it that won't let go. The lead vocal is "in
your face," and the singer is sweating emotion from every pore.
Which of these
demos will the A&R person sign? The latter. Why? Because it's a hit
song, not a close call. The first demo had everything going right for
it but the song. Record companies are in business to make money. They
bet a portion of the farm on every release. You can bet dollars to donuts
that they would much rather bet on a hit song than a demo with great
engineering or great production. You can also bet that they would rather
put their money on an artist who has "star quality" than one who obviously
spent a small fortune on their demo.
lesson here? Buy yourself a home studio system that you can afford (unless
you already own one), and learn to use it well. You'll spend a few (maybe
several) thousand dollars in the process, but you would have to spend
that on one round of demos anyway. Read everything you can get your
hands on to get yourself up to speed with your gear. Become obsessive.
Listen to every record that you love. Study how each instrument sounds.
Notice their relative placement in the mix. Play with your equalizers
until you understand the nature of an eq curve. Experiment with reverb
and delays. The more you play around, the more you'll learn. It's not
rocket science. It just looks like it from a distance.
The most important
thing to remember is not to become a gear junkie. Gear will not get
you signed to a record deal. Great songwriting will. A unique artistic
vision will. Star quality will. A zillion dollars worth of gear will
For your purpose,
the use of your home studio requires that you get as familiar with it
as you are with your car. Feel comfortable with it. Have a good command
of it, but don't plan on driving it in the Indy 500. You only need the
gear to make a good clean demo of your music.
master your studio, there are some other things you'll need to know.
First and foremost; songwriter demos don't need much production. A solid
rhythm track with a great lead vocal is often all you'll need. A full
production can often hurt a song pitch more than it can help. Leave
some room for the listener's imagination to do it's thing. If a song
demo is fully produced, it leaves the listener with only one way to
hear ityour way.
rule of demo production is to match the gender of the lead vocalist
with the gender of the artist you want to pitch to. For song pitches,
the lead vocal is crucial. No flat notes. No lackluster performances.
Sell the song. Sing with your entire being, but don't go overboard and
over sell. And please don't be shy about mixing the lead vocal nice
and hot in the mix. The lyrics are very important, not the guitar part!
should be a little more produced, but again, don't feel compelled to
include the kitchen sink unless the kitchen sink is absolutely necessary
to make the song's point.
What else should
go in to a demo package? If it's a song pitch, all you need to include
is a lyric sheet. Make sure the lyric sheet and the tape display the
copyright symbol, the name the song is copyrighted under and the year
the copyright was registered.
For an artist
demo, it's always a good idea to include a photo and a bio. The reason
the record company will want to see a photo is so they can see if you
have that elusive "star quality." An 8 x 10 glossy has always been the
standard for photo presentation, but it's much cheaper to scan your
photo and print it on your bio page.
What does a
record company want to see in a bio? Anything that will show them that
you are successful in your own back yard. News clippings from successful
shows. Proof of radio airplay. Better yetproof that you've sold a
few thousand tapes or CD's in your hometown or surrounding area is the
best ammo you can have to snag a record deal.
the single most important aspect of any demo package is always the song
or songs. All the bells and whistles won't help if the song isn't great.
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