So into the studio walks this woman, like a ray of sunshine into a Taliban cave. It’s always interesting when an attractive woman walks into a studio— especially when it’s 2 a.m., and everyone’s exhausted. Suddenly every guy perks up, puts on their best “I’m important” expression, and tries to look busy. The assistant engineer, who’s been dozing off in the lounge, is suddenly wide awake and taking recalls of the patch bay, while the produce [me] and the artist engage in philosophical discussions over the merits of the shaker part. The engineer, meanwhile, is playing with buttons on a nonactivated channel. Yes, busy bees we become.:)
I had met this particular woman at a club the previous week, and she seemed to have her act together. She wanted my advice, so I invited her down to the studio where I could hear her songs and check out her voice.
The first CD she plays is a hard rock song with a live band. She sounds all right, but her voice seems too small for the big hard rock sound. Next, she plays an introspective piece, but she didn’t write it, and she doesn’t play guitar or keys.
Then she plays a country tune she recorded. I’m not sure what to think, because here in New York, we don’t hear too much country music. I tell her as much, and she whips out another CD; this time she was rapping— not badly, but not really very well, either. This was followed by teeny-bopped pop and dance music. Just when I think it’s over, she starts on the R&B songs. Phew! I’m done. But I know she probably still has Latin, polka., and techno music ready in that briefcase.
In a situation like this, you have two choices, each of which depends on how much you like the person. You can tell them their stuff is great and to keep up the good work, encouraging them nicely to continue. (So don’t always believe it when someone tells you this) I’ll only go this route if I think the person is a jerk. It’s a lot easier and quicker than being honest, which is the second choice, and the one I chose in this case.)
I explained to her that one of the biggest mistakes aspiring artists make is to think that because they can perform a few different styles of music, they should include them on their music demo to show their versatility. Nothing could be further from the truth. Record companies, managers, and agents want to hear a cohesive style– something that they can define, so they know what “department” it belongs in. In other words, so they can sell it.
Don’t get me wrong: If you have your own style, and it happens to be a blend of other styles, don’t change it just to conform. But if, like my studio visitor, you work in two widely differing styles, like rap and country, make a choice. This is why you don’t hear a song like “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child on a Creed album. Try to determine this before you start recording. If not, it can only confuse your audience and reveal your weaknesses. You want to avoid projecting a cloudy image when communicating who you are as an artist.
When you approach a record company, have your musical style defined and a clear idea of the image you want to project— one you’re comfortable with, because you could be exposing it to millions of people and living with it for quite a while.
The exception to this rule is appropriate when you’ re making a demo for scoring or advertising work (an option my friend might want to consider while she develops a more distinctive style as an artist). For this kind of work, it’s good to show versatility and contrast as long as the level of what you’re presenting is top shelf.
But if you’re the artist, define your style, focus your energy, and go make that deal!
Arty Skye is a multi-platinum, Grammy nominated producer/engineer as well as the founder of SkyeLab Music Group. He has worked with thousands of musicians and renowned artists such as Will Smith, Madonna, Santana, Alicia Keys, Wu-Tang, Kelly Price, and more.
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