Want to be heard-or tossed? Follow these simple showcase rules.
Whatever stage you’re at in recording your demo, it’s never too soon to start preparing your demo package. With these basic guidelines, you can put together a strong presentation that will give record companies, managers, publishing companies, and other potential contacts what they require in order to make an informed decision about whether or not they want to get involved with you.
Although there are exceptions, there is a basic standard in the industry as to how demos are generally presented and what goes into a press kit. Deviate too much from these accepted practices and there is a good chance that your demo will end up in the garbage bin instead of the CD player.
What goes into a press kit or demo package?
- Generally speaking, a brief cover letter explaining who you are, who referred you (if applicable), why you sent them a demo, and what you want (i.e., you’re looking for a record deal, a management deal, or an agent to book gigs for you in L.A. on the weekends during the summer because Bobby Keys referred you). Be clear.
- Your CD, with clear, concise labeling.
- A brief bio explaining who you are, what you’ve done, any good press you’ve had, the style of your music, the other musicians involved, and your plans for the future.
- A picture showing the image you want to project. A good shot can go a long way in getting the listener to share your vision.
- Lyric Sheets.
- A video (optional). If you’re a band and you have very good video of a live performance, where you rocked the house, include it. But don’t send in instead of the CD.
How many songs should you put on your demo?
Three to four songs is generally a good number. With only one or two songs, you’re not showing the recipient that you can sustain yourself as an artist over the long run. The exception to this is Dance/Club market, where one hot song can get you a “one-off” record deal. This is where the record company pays you a fee for your song and possibly has a DJ or another producer remix in order to reach a specific niche of the market. With a one-off, you are not signed to an exclusive deal, and the record company has no obligation to release any of your future recording.
Putting five songs or more on your demo can often confuse the intended listener and make them scan through your material too quickly looking for something they like. It’s better to start off with three of your strongest songs, because if the recipient is interested at all, he or she will ask to hear more material to judge whether you possess genuine talent or just got lucky with the songs on your demo.
Choosing the songs
You absolutely have to show a strong musical direction that is consistent with the image that you’re projecting. If you are influenced by a number of different styles and sounds, you are not alone, but you need to pick one and commit to it. Don’t put the country song you did on the same demo CD as the hip-hop cut and the dance track. When choosing material, remember that everyone wants to hear a hit because hits make money-period. Remember, this is a business.
It’s imperative that all your printed materials look neat and legible. This means using a printer for your lyric sheets, cover letter, bio, etc. Don’t send hand-scribbled notes telling the A&R director at a major label that this is their lucky break because your music is so much better than everyone else’s! For those of you out there who think that since the music business is so informal, you could come off that way in your presentation, you’re wrong. View your presentation the same way you would if you were approaching a major corporation with a new exciting product and asking them to risk hundreds of thousands of dollars, because that is precisely what you’re doing.
– Cds are the accepted standard these days, so don’t even bother putting your demo on cassette. You can get a CD burner for a few hundred dollars and make the copies in your computer as you nee them. Or you can go to a CD burning company and get 100 or 1,000 made up for as little as $1 per CD (sometimes less).
-Take the shrink-wrap off the CD before sending it out. The easier you make it, the better chance you have of being heard.
-Listen to the actual CD you are sending out. Scan through each song for a few seconds to make sure you’re not sending out a bad CD. Every once in a while you’ll spot one, and be glad you did.