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Full-Production Demos Vs. Work Tapes or Guitar / Vocal...

I'd love to hear the thoughts of songwriters, publishers, or anyone who cares to comment.  Is a decent guitar or piano and vocal appropriate to pitch, or is it necessary to go with a fully produced demo.

I've heard tales of both being successful, but would love to hear some real-life experiences and results.

Thanks

Tags: demo, production, publishing, songwriting

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Bob,

It is one of the most debated issues among writers. You can ask yourself, how big was your last hit? If you had a big major hit single in the past three years, and can personally sit down with producers or the artists themselves, you might get away with it, particularly if it is a ballad. However, if you are not well known with established reputation, not a chance. And even the hit writers, Jeffery Steel, Craig Wiesman, and the biggest writers in the business, all have radio ready demos.
The problem that you run into is that there are multiple filters that screen songs out. And an artist, producer, record executives, etc. listen to hundreds of songs and those that don't have the huge impact, are jettisoned long before they are passed down the line.
I got a Shelby Lynne cut my first night in town. That was 21 years ago. And we had a full demo. WE would not have gotten the cut without it. And the people I got to know back then who were hot, had been doing full demos for years. Technology is what has changed everything. Would you now go back to one of those Black and White Motorola television sets from the 50's, after the technology of today?
So I hear a lot of people talk about cutting songs by just a work tape. I have not known of any personally, especially in the past 15 years. Basically, the higher the level your pitch goes, the better your demo is going to have to be. And in this day and age, everything is a potential My Space, You Tube and Face Book pitch. You never know where the next artist who might hear your song is coming from.
I would suggest you do one thing. Go to some web sites where they post a lot of songs. Not hit songs, unknown writers. Give yourself 30 minutes. Click on song after song after song listening to a verse and chorus of each. Then tell me which demos get and keep your attention. I am willing to bet you that after doing that, you will answer this question yourself. Then try it for one hour, two hours, three hours, straight. Because that is what industry people do on a daily basis. Then tell me how many of those songs you would take over your own if you only had a few to pitch. Because everyone in the industry have their own songs, their own artists, their own relationships involved. Your song has to be better than there's.
Start putting yourself on the other side of the desk, and it gets a lot clearer.

MAB
Marc-Alan,
Thanks for the great reply. It's good to hear the thoughts of someone with so much experience. I've been writing songs for many years, but have spent the majority of those, playing my songs in bands, bars, etc... This year will really be my first making a solid run at pitching my songs.

Today, I had my first Nashville demo session, and am anxiously awaiting the mix. I had it done mainly because, of the feedback I get from NSAI, BMI, etc... The critiques seem to always focus on the production values (luckily I've had good feedback on lyrics, structure, etc...)

But I realize that the expense will make it tricky to get as much music out there as I'd like to.

Best,
bw
Bob,

You just have to keep everything in perspective. Today, we have more sophisticated technology in our phones, I-pods, computers, than most of us had growing up. Home recording, the availibility for affordable recording, explosion in studios, accessabilities to musicians, was one side of it. The public being able to find music at the touch of a mouse, or button, create it in tons of forms, from karaoke to Guitar Hero, brought music to everyone on both sides. So the demand for more sophisticated sounds, quality, etc. all rose as well.

What this should do is push you to write stronger and stronger songs, have a larger catalogue to choose from and be more discriminating in your choices of what to record. A current publishing company will have some staff writers, some potential artists, some outside songs and writers, friends of friends, etc. They are all competing with each other. So part of that entire technilogical revolution, also brought the overall talent level down. If you can record stuff on your computer with Grarage band, and it sounds radio ready, you also can write a bunch of total crap that sounds decent. So the quality has diminished as so many people have gotten into the game, making everyone have to be better to cut through the lame competition. Two things rise to the top. Cream and crap. You have to be part of the cream to get past the crap.

So from the writing, to the presentation, the networking, to the business aspect, it is all important to have options, well thought out decisions, as much information from every direction. Some hit writers will do work tapes, perform live, work songs over and over, over a period of weeks, months, years, before they have it "just right." The filters we all go through have gotten higher and higher, more people having to "sign off" on a project. Factor in the "inside cut" in which the artist, their inner circles, friends, major writers and publishers, are all in the hunt for the same few slots.
So you have to make everything work up and down the spectrum. Getting great sounding demos on great written songs, getting them into the hands of people who can take them places you can't yourself, are all incredibly important before you can hopfully get the commece or business aspect working out.

Everything revolves around four aspects:

#1 Creation of the song.
#2 Presentation of the song, live and Demo.
#3 Networking
#4 Business.

Follow those and you will be fine.

MAB

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