This is one of the most common questions Marty and I get in the SongTown Mailbox. It seems a common myth exists that says in order to have a record company or artist pick up your songs, you have to produce a song demo that sounds like a finished record. Fortunately for our wallets, this is NOT always the case. An over-produced song demo is often a big negative.
Here’s what’s absolutely essential to get your song demo picked up and recorded by a major recording artist:
1. A great song. This is a must. Remember, if your song is simply “as good” as the songs the artists can write themselves, then the artists will record their own song! Step 1 has to come first before you even consider demoing a song.
2. A cool vibey demo. Artist, producers, and A & R reps today care more about demos that are interesting and less about sounding like a polished expensive record. They hear hundreds of songs every month. Your demo needs to be different and stand apart from everything else they hear. You need cool sounds, cool arrangements, and feel good performances.
3. Less instruments. Just listen to the radio and the major records coming out each day. Things are more “stripped down” and “organic” sounding. Even in country this is happening more and more. Check out Keith Urban’s single “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16”. The 1st verse is drums and bass guitar with a vocal on top. The chorus kicks in with more guitars and a keyboard. This gives you a big dynamic chorus.
4. Great performances. Even if your song demo is a simple guitar/vocal demo, it needs to sound good and be performed with magic. It needs to turn people on when they hear it.
Here are things your song demo cannot have:
1. A song with holes in it. Poor songs will not get you closer to your goals- even with a great demo performance.
2. That over-produced song demo sound. I can’t say this enough. Stripped down, raw, organic, cool, vibey – these are terms that are going around music industry circles. Polished, perfect sounding, overproduced demos can sound dated.
3. Poor vocal or instrumental performances. Your song demo needs to excite the listener. Expecting them to listen through a bad vocal will kill your chances of getting your song recorded by a major artist.
So here are some of the foundation points I keep in mind when approaching my song demos today. I’ve included below a couple demo examples of recent radio hits so you can have a better understanding of the things I’m mentioning above. Good songs, good musicianship, and “simply” produced. Check out a couple of the stripped down demos on some big hits you may recognize.
Write on! ~CM