“Songwriting ability is far and away the most important aspect to the demo. I think that bands should steer clear of sending unsolicited demos to A&R reps until they have genuinely honed in on their songs, live performance and overall presentation as a ‘unit’. Bands should work harder at reaching the apex of their local band scene before pursuing aggressively a record deal. This might mean headlining the local dive once a month, but that might be enough experience and profile to warrant A&R attention. In addition, it’s also worthwhile raising some cash to print up your own CDs and distributing them to local stores on a consignment basis. A label will be far more impressed to know you sold out of your first self-financed and distributed CD.”
Jon Satterley, Roadrunner Records
It’s not always easy to get people to come and see you playing live, so sometimes you have to go to them with something they can hear at their leisure.
A demo is used as an example of what your band sounds like at a very raw level, a cross-section of the style and variety of your music. This can be a collection of studio recorded songs or tracks, a live recording or a mix CD for a DJ. A demo can be given to booking agents, venues, promoters, music publishers and record companies. Your demo should be designed for a specific purpose, if it’s to get gigs, maybe use a live recording. If it’s to attract record labels or major promoters, a studio recording would be more appropriate.
It’s important that your demo makes a strong impression from the start, so your best material should be first. It’s also important to realise that few people you submit your demo to will actually listen to the whole recording. Limit it to only a few songs and make them representative of your diversity.
If you’re a DJ your demo should showcase around an hour of your set. It should show off your mixing skills and feature a well thought out track selection. It’s always good to have things people haven’t heard before: if a promoter puts on your demo and the first thing he or she hears is a six month old track that’s been flogged to death, you’re not going to get anywhere. Make sure you write your name and phone number on the disc itself as well as the case as the best demo in the world is absolutely useless if a promoter doesn’t know who’s made it.
Give your demo to some media outlets for reviews as well as some radio stations. Remember, you can also sell your demos at gigs or on your website if the quality is good enough. Demos are not expected to be of high quality though. The people listening to them to are aware they are demos and not big budget productions. A great result can be achieved from a live desk tape or small home studio. An expensive studio isn’t needed, it all depends on your budget.
Once your demo’s finished, it is important that it’s presented professionally. This doesn’t have to mean a glossy cover or full colour CD art. If you’ve recorded a demo but can’t afford a production run of CDs, you may wish to burn off one CD at a time. You can photocopy inserts for the CD case with the song titles, contact details, etc. You may just prefer to write on the insert and CD itself, but this should be done neatly. The CD should be presented with your bio and press kit (see Promotion & Publicity) as a package. There are hundreds of other acts like yours submitting demos to all the same people you are, so it is essential that yours stands out from the rest and is easily identifiable.
One other thing to remember is to keep a record of who you have given your demo to and to list any comments these people make. Whether good or bad, these comments can help improve your material or presentation. A demo not only gets your music out to others but also helps you look at how you can improve on what you’re doing.
No matter what you play you need to practice.
If you’re a DJ or a solo artist you can probably rehearse at home, but if you’re in a band you may need a larger, more soundproof space to rehearse. There are plenty of rehearsal rooms in the CBD, suburbs and and regional areas. These are a great place to practice your live set or work on songs before spending money on recording. Most rehearsal rooms offer the ability to record your rehearsals and some are even set up to do a recording good enough to use as your demo. This can be much cheaper than recording in an expensive studio.
DEMOS & REHEARSALS – A Summary
- Recording your demo / putting your best material first
- Clearly labelling your demo / including the disc itself
- Including your bio and press kit
- Keeping a record of comments
- Finding a suitable rehearsal space