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"Good" is a subjective term. It can mean a couple of things when used in the context of making demos. "Good" can mean the song (with a slant toward "hit" potential), or it can mean the engineering or production values on the demo. If the ultimate use of your demo is to land a record deal, then shut your eyes and imagine this scenario:

The vice-president of A&R of a major record label is sitting in his comfy leather chair in his corner office listening to CDs (which by the way is how they typically spend less than 10% of their time at work). The first thing he pops into his CD player sounds great. 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 and the packaging is top-shelf. Four color artwork on the cover. Great liner notes. Very professional.

The next product is one of those clear-shell, cheapo cassettes with a hand written label. A little sloppy on the presentation. Most likely, the demo was made on a 4-track in somebody's bedroom studio. The drums sound distant and muffled. The guitars are raunchy. The bass is okay. The musicianship is sub par, but it has some feel and emotion to it. The song, however, is unlike anything this man has ever heard. It's truly unique, and very infectious. The lead vocal is captivating 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. The first demo had everything going right for it but the song. An "A minus" songs is good, but it isn't good enough. You need to have "A plus" songs, and nothing less.

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, great production and fancy packaging. 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.

What's the lesson here? Buy yourself a home studio system that you can afford, and learn to use it well. You might spend a few (maybe several) thousand dollars in the process, but you would have to spend that on one round of demos in a "real" studio anyway.

But remember, it's not important to become a gear junkie. Gear won't 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 not.

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.

Assuming you 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 it -- your way.


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Get a killer drum sound with these recording tips from Studio Buddy. By Michael Laskow.


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How Good Do Your Demos
Really Have To Be? (Part 2)
by Michael Laskow CEO, TAXI

The second rule of demo production for songwriters is to match the gender and basic style of the lead vocalist with the gender and style 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. The guitar part is not.

Artist or band demos 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. Record companies generally aren't looking for great guitar players or great drummers. Their looking for artists with a unique sound that makes you want to instantly rewind the tape for another listen.

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 or 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 yet -- proof 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. Mentioning that you were Mrs. McGillicutty's star pupil in your fourth grade music class won't help you snag anything but a few laughs. Leave it out.

How many songs should be on your tape? Just one if your pitching your material to another artist. If you have more than one song to pitch, put them on separate tapes. Nobody likes to search a tape for the song they want to hear. If they don't like song number one, they'll hate you every time they have to search the tape for song number two.

If you are pitching yourself as an artist or band, three songs is plenty. Many people are compelled to slip in a fourth or fifth song. Not a good idea. It makes you look like you don't know the rules the industry likes to see you play by. Ultimately, it makes you look unprofessional. Stick to three songs, and always put you best song first. The theory is, if they don't hear a hit when they listen to the first song, they won't be motivated to listen to the second and third songs. Good theory.

Some people believe that you should present your listener with your strongest song last. Last song, best impression. Yeah, right! What makes you think they'll make it to the last song? Best song first. No argument.

Remember, the single most important aspect of any demo package is the song or songs. All the bells and whistles won't do you any good if the music isn't great.

But, what good is a great demo and a great package if the companies you want to submit to don't accept unsolicited material?

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Article reprinted with permission from TAXI: The Independent A&R Vehicle that connects unsigned artists, bands and songwriters with major record labels, publishers, Film & TV music supervisors.

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