December 16, 2010

Guidelines for Submitting Demos

This is in a sense part of our series on becoming a music producer, but it actually applies to several career options including bands, songwriters, producers, and anyone else who needs a demo to advance their career. I've reviewed more awful and ill-prepared demos than I could count and there are certain key mistakes that will probably get yours thrown in the trash pile really quickly regardless of talent.

So, here's what you should keep in mind when preparing to send a demo

Do NOT send it unsolicited
When you send an unsolicited demo you are not just trying to be persistent and determined, you are wasting your time and your money. It's a legal thing and no matter how cool your name sounds or how lucky you think you are, it won't be listened to at all. There are a few exceptions to this, but there really aren't enough to make it worth it. It isn't a personal thing, it's a legal thing and it's not going to change any time soon. Fortunately, in most cases, getting the ok to send a demo can be as easy as calling and having a nice and respectful conversation with the person you talk to. Don't be too pushy, don't start singing to them (I've had this happen and I promise you will come across as crazy, not talented or persistent) or trying to play them music (speakers on phones aren't suited for that), and don't act like you're the next big thing. Just tell them about your music and ask if it'd be ok if you send a demo. If they no, that's where you can be persistent and determined, by calling back every few months or so to check back. You can also use your network to try to find a contact at the places you are sending demos and get in that way.

Put Your Contact Info on EVERYTHING

By the time demos get filtered through the mail room and given to the person who is actually going to screen them, they may not be as intact as you hoped. The one sheet or bio may be gone and the CD might not be in the case anymore. I will never forget one time I reviewed a great demo only to find the contact info was missing. The songwriting was wonderful and the singer had a great voice, but by the time I got the CD it was just a CD in a case. The performer had taken the time to include track titles and his name on the CD and case, but not an email, website, or phone number. In most cases, that would be the end of the line for that demo, but I actually liked it enough to go out of my way and take the time to look up the singer online. I did some googling and searched common music sites like Myspace to try to find the person. Unfortunately, I didn't have any success with finding him and the demo sadly had to go into the trash pile anyway. If that person had just put their contact info on the CD and CD case too, he might have gotten a record or publishing deal.

Make a GOOD Recording
No, you don't need to rent time in an expensive studio or hire a top notch engineer to make a good recording. These days, you can make a clear and quality recording with any laptop, a $100 SM58 Mic, and a student version of Protools or Logic. Both are the programs the pros use in a recording studio and allow you to create samples or record audio in your bedroom with professional sound, audio effects, and mixing. Pick up a book on the program and learn a bit about making a good mix and you'll likely have a quality demo. Just to be clear, by a good, quality recording, I mean that your recording should be clear with no fuzz or background noise, it should be a decent volume, the instruments should be balanced fairly well, and the vocals should be easy to hear. It should not sound like you recorded it on a old tape player or with the mic on your computer. Still, it does not need to be perfect or great quality, just good enough to keep the focus on your music and not on the bad recording.
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