Random Thoughts From A Songwriter: Song Demos
Song Demos: I am sure that all of your life you have heard people say “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket” and most of the time this is good advice but then we come to “songwriting”. In my opinion you need to throw away that advice and “Bet the farm” as they say, on a few songs you have written that you can afford to really demo well and that you have the most confidence in. If you think all of your songs are great and you can’t decide which ones are the best then you need to admit to yourself that you are still learning. A few years from now you will look back and be able to tell which ones were good and which ones were just OK. Sometimes you have a great idea and just have not yet learned the craft well enough to sell it but most of the time it will turn out that it just wasn’t that original an idea to begin with.Demo well, does not always mean you have to have a full blown 6 instrument demo. Some of the best demos I have are Piano/Vocal or Guitar Vocals. I may have over $200 in that Piano or Guitar Vocal because I hired professionals and not a singer who is the co-writer who would sing it for free. Try to be “Real” about what you are trying to accomplish. It is a demo not a “Master” so remember you are just trying to get the idea of the song across not show them how to make a record. If you are pitching your song to anyone who is going to make you any money, in theory, their Producer is going to know more about making records than you do anyway. If a song is a hard core Texas Shuffle do you really NEED to put the twin fiddles and Steel Guitar on the demo. Trust me anyone who records Texas Shuffles don’t need the songwriter to tell them to be sure to put fiddle and steel on the record. There is nothing wrong with putting them on the demo if you can afford it but honestly they are not necessary. I want to believe that I DO NOT HAVE ONE SINGLE SUBSCRIBER to this NEWSLETTER who, if they like this style of song, don’t know exactly how to record it. People who like these shuffles are not gonna cut this song using penny whistle and trombone, trust me. If I actually have to show them where the fiddle and steel goes on this song that ain’t who I am looking for to record it. One of the best tools for learning about writing songs and making demos is to invest your own money in a song you believe in and then not be able to find even one artist that will cut it. Once that happens a few times you will start to get a handle on what will work. Later on if you are lucky you will figure out why they work or don’t work. I believe you are better off to cut one or two great demos a year that can compete with Warner Chappel, EMI, and the songwriters that are pitching “Masters” from Independent Artists that cut the song a few years back or even album cuts from Major Artists who lost their deal. Remember sometimes you can get by with a simple guitar or piano vocal but you better have a great demo singer on that demo who can sell the song.
The reason I believe in a songwriter taking their best one or two songs and just doing them up to almost “Master” quality is that in the beginning of your songwriting career the artists you have access to are probably not Nashville top sellers and those artists may not have developed an ear yet for hearing a simple demo. Being on the production side I know what kind of demos are being pitched and what kind of songs the artists are choosing. Remember just because a singer can sing don’t mean they can hear a “Hit” unless you show them with your demo. It is pretty common knowledge that one of the top selling artist in Nashville can’t hear a song unless it is demoed exactly the way they record and the demo singer even sounds like them. He has people around him who can and they will just instruct you to make the demo exactly like he would do it. In the last year I have only had cuts on 2 songs where the artist was a male but the demo was sung by a female demo singer or vice versa. You also run across artists that cannot hear past the demo. An example being if the demo has electric guitars and piano they cannot imagine what it would sound like with twin fiddles and steel guitar instead. This is not to blame anyone but just to let you know what you are up against as a songwriter trying to get a “cut”. I know it sounds like I am all over the map with what I am saying but the artists you pitch to are gonna be all over the map so don’t get locked into thinking there is only one way to do things. I have a few $500 demos that have made me $3 in royalties so be careful of that happening to you.
I believe you are better off by cutting one or two great demos a year that can compete with Warner Chappel, EMI, and the songwriters that are pitching “Masters” from Independent Artists that cut the song a few years back or even album cuts from Major Artists who lost their deal. Sometimes like I said above, you can get by with a simple guitar or piano vocal but you better have a great demo singer on that demo who can sell the song.
Used with kind permission from Lonnie Ratliff firstname.lastname@example.org