In The Studio console

Published on May 17th, 2011 | by Guest Post

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Making the most of your recording experience -The 6 elements of an effective publishing demo (Part 2)

This guest post was written by Joey Stuckey. Joey is a recording veteran with over 2 decades of experience in the music and recording industries. He owns and operates Shadow Sound Studios in Macon, Georgia. Joey has performed and recorded with Trisha Yearwood, James Brown, Ted Nugent, Smash Mouth, The B-52’s and more.

What works for a fully produced recording project ready for retail and distribution isn’t the same kind of recording needed for a booking demo for your band to get performance opportunities and that is again different from what is needed for a publishing demo.

In this post, we will explore what makes a good publishing demo from a sound recording standpoint, but, we will necessarily also have to explore just a bit about what publishing is and thus what you need to do to have a recording that fits that criteria.

If you were to ask me what aspect of the music industry has the most benefits and the fewest drawbacks in regard to money spent, or put another way, what part of the music biz will provide the best income for the least amount of work, I would say be a publisher or song writer.

The songwriter/publisher relationship

The job of the publisher is to understand the business side of the music biz and to get
the song the right opportunities to be recorded and distributed. The songwriter is
more concerned with the craft of songwriting, being creative and communicating to the target audience.

To make it possible to fully exploit the potential income of a musical composition, you need the collaborative effort of both individuals. Sometimes these are the same person. Many hit songwriters own their own publishing company to retain a larger percentage of the revenue generated through the composition, however each function should typically be handled exclusively, as they both take a lot of time and expertise to do well.

Just because you write it, doesn’t mean you should perform it!

Just because you can write a great song – something that is much harder than most people think – doesn’t mean you are the right artist to perform or record it. In addition, you also need someone to facilitate getting the musical composition to the right artist and to manage the business of collecting the money the song earns (believe it or not, this can be a daunting task). This is where the publisher steps in.

Did you know that many of the big stars like Carrie Underwood, Aerosmith and Rihanna don’t write all their songs? That’s right! They have songs pitched to them by music publishers. How many times have you said, “This song I just wrote would be a big hit for one of my favorite performers if I could just get it to them.” Well, besides collect money and administrate the copyright of the song, this is what a publisher does for you.

Now, that isn’t to say you can’t be a songwriter and the artist. For example, U2, Bon
Jovi, Alan Jackson and even Taylor Swift write or co-write their music and also are the primary artist to perform their music, but much of the time, that isn’t the case.

The 6 elements of an effective publishing demo

1. A simple recording where lyrics and melody stand out

The crucial thing about recording a good publishing demo is to have a very simple
recording where the lyrics and melody can be easily heard. Don’t overproduce, but rather make the recording something that leaves a lot to the listeners’ imagination.

The goal should be for the representative listening to the recording to say, “I can hear my artist performing this song.” This is where many publishing demos go wrong – the recording is produced as if it were an album for sale, when it should be very minimal in its approach. You want to leave room for potential artists to envision themselves performing the song.

2. The right instrumentation is used to enhance the song

You don’t need/want to show off your lead guitar prowess or how many back up vocals you can cram in to the chorus. Keep it straight ahead. For example, use a piano or guitar holding down the rhythm and chords. Then maybe a little lead guitar or violin or sax if needed keeps it from being too bland. Add bass and drums if needed to help the listener feel the groove of the song.

Remember that each genre will have different needs. For example, R&B will need bass and drums. So will techno. A country ballad however, might not. In this case, you might be fine with just piano and vocal.

Ask yourself what instruments are needed to get the point and mood of the song across and only record those instruments, nothing more.

If that means you just do guitar and vocal, fine. If you need to have a full rhythm section that is fine too, but, again, remember you aren’t trying to show off how well you can play – that would be more appropriate for a booking demo.

Remember, your job is to sell the song and keeping it simple is the way to get that job done. Don’t rule out a drum machine or even recording the drum tracks with a keyboard if you have a good feel for that. Loop libraries such as Toontrack are also great to use.

3. The best vocalist for the job (hint: it may not be you!)

Many songwriters can sing, but that doesn’t mean they can do it exceptionally well!  Don’t make the mistake of singing lead on your demo if it’s not the very best it can be. Also, when searching out a lead vocalist to sing on your demo, give consideration to the genre you are in. The last thing you need is someone who sounds like Julie Andrews (no offense, Julie!), singing a contemporary pop song in the tradition of Adele.

4. The vocals are hot in the mix

Make sure the lead vocals are up in the mix so the lyrics and musical phrasing and melody are easy to distinguish. Keep your objectives clear. The instrumentation is there to enhance the song, not overpower it.

5. The right equipment and production knowledge is utilized

The good news for home recording enthusiasts is that a good publishing demo can
be done from home as the requirements are much less than for booking demos or full
productions. If you have a few decent mics (I’ll cover the subject of mics in another post) a good computer and interface (probably around $2,000), you should be able to create a good publishing demo in your home studio. The main thing is to keep it clean with no extraneous noise like hum, clicks pops or hiss/white noise. If you can do that with your home setup, you are golden for a publishing demo.

6. The demo is professionally mastered

Get your publishing demo mastered by a good mastering engineer before submitting your demo. It serves to even out the dynamic variables of the sound and gives it that professional luster. It won’t cost you a second mortgage to do so, either!

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