Do It Yourself Music Publishing Part IIby Mary Dawson
The Internet Writing Journal, May 1999
In my previous article, "Do-It-Yourself Music Publishing," I mentioned that the job of the music publisher is basically two-fold. One of the roles or "hats" the publisher wears is that of a coach or mentor to the songwriter. Several suggestions were given as to how you can begin to "mentor yourself" if you don't have a publisher and how you can grow as a songwriter so that your material becomes excellent and worthy of notice. But if you must do the job of publisher for yourself, you will also have to be willing to sometimes wear the second "hat" of the publisher -- that of the music promoter. In that role the publisher seeks to maximize the circulation, the impact and the financial profitability of songs in the catalog. As your own publisher you will need to become as creative in promoting your songs as you are in creating the songs in the first place.
One of the first hurdles that must be crossed is that of creating demos of your songs. The demo is the first step for a songwriter in even catching the interest of a major publisher or producer. And if you do not have a publisher who is funding your demos, you will have to find ways to create high quality recordings that will compete with the many that are being submitted by the "major players."
So....there you are in Boondocks, Montana....trying to do a demo. Where do you start? What is "good enough?" How much money do you have to spend to have an acceptable or presentable representation of your song?
Here are some tips which can save you money and still provide you with a demo that will be professional and up to industry standard:
Make Sure Your Song is Done Before You Demo It
In the excitement of finishing your latest creation, it is natural to want to get it demoed ASAP! Here, however, is where many writers make their first and costliest mistake. As a music publisher, I receive many very expensive sounding demos of songs that desperately need to be re-written and tweaked up. My first piece of advice, therefore, is to consider and weigh every word and every note to be sure that it is the absolute best it can be -- before you do the demo. When I write, I usually do a very rough recording of my song (just me and a box recorder will do) so that I can listen to it again and again and again. As I become overly familiar with it, I may hear places that the song needs to be improved....rhymes that could be tighter.....chords and harmonies that could be more effective. It is at this point that some objective critiques can be very helpful (probably someone other than your mom or grandma who will love anything you do). You may even want to put the song away for a couple of weeks and come back to it later, just to have a fresh perspective. Whatever you do, make sure your song is really finished before you begin the demo process!
Determine What Kind of Demo You Need
The next consideration is to identify the kind of song you have written. Some songs will require more demo production than others. For example, a simple ballad can usually be very appropriately presented with a clean, clear piano/vocal or guitar/vocal recording. Blues and folk music can also be adequately demoed with a simple guitar or piano accompaniment. If, however, the song you have written is an up-tempo or dance tune, it may require percussion, and fuller production in order to adequately communicate its potential. Whatever kind of demo you do, make sure it is clear and easy to listen to. Noisy or fuzzy recordings obscure your song and let the listener know that you are probably not a professional.
Consider Your Options
Once you have determined the kind of demo your song requires, you will be able to decide where to record it. Up until the last 10-15 years, it was almost mandatory to book a commercial studio in order to do a professional sounding demo. However, due to the increase in home studio systems and music software, there are now many more options available. You may eventually decide to invest in some recording equipment and software yourself. There are music programs available now that even a novice songwriter can learn to use effectively. Look through some music equipment catalogs or visit your local recording equipment retailer. You will be amazed at how "user friendly" this technology is becoming.
Next, research your "Music Community." Learn to know what resources are available by attending your local songwriter's association meetings as well as church, civic and college music groups. Network to find musicians who have the skills you lack. Ask lots of questions. You will discover people and resources that will allow you to do quality demos at very reasonable rates, and you will also be enlarging your circle of friends and colleagues at the same time. The more you learn about the process, the more fun your songwriting will become.
If you are in a very very small town and have exhausted all your local resources, you may want to consider subscribing to a songwriting periodical such as American Songwriter magazine. The classified section will list many demo recording studios that can take even an a cappella, "box-recorder" version of a song and turn it into a very professional sounding production.
Be Prepared Before You Record
If you decide to use either a professional or home studio, remember that the studio rates are by the hour. The more preparation you can do before your session, the less time you will require when the meter starts to run! Insist that you and the singer and/or musicians have a practice session prior to the studio date. If adjustments in key and presentation need to be made, it is much better to do it when you are not on "studio time." After your recording session, the engineer will "mix" the song. Be there for the mix. Be sure that the vocals are "upfront" in the mix so that the listener doesn't have to strain to hear the words.
You Are Too Poor to be Cheap
While you want to be as creative as possible and to economize wherever you can, there are certain areas in which you do not want to take the cheapest possible route when creating demos. One of those areas is in the quality of the tape. Be sure to use music quality tape -- chrome if possible. Nothing is more frustrating than a great song -- poorly presented because the tape is noisy or muffled. If you contact a professional cassette manufacturer or duplicator, you will be able to purchase shorter length blank cassette tapes in bulk for a very reasonable rate. I usually purchase 15-minute cassettes which have 7 1/2 minutes of recording time per side. This allows for 1-2 songs per side....just about the right number of songs for any one submission.
Another area where you do not want to economize is in trying to sing or play your song yourself if you are not a gifted musician.....or if your voice is not appropriate for the kind of song you have written. For example if you are a classically trained tenor who is proficient on the fluegelhorn, you may not be able to adequately demo a blues number yourself. It is much better to pay (or barter) a gifted blues singer and/or a gifted blues musician and end up with a great demo that showcases your song, than to save a few dollars and find that no one can hear the song's genius! Remember, you never have a second chance to make a first impression. Take it slowly....do your research....and invest your money wisely. When your song becomes the next mega-hit, you will be glad you didn't cut too many corners on the demo.
Grow As You Go
The only way to learn to do great demos is to do not-so-great demos. Do the best you can with the resources you have at the present. The more knowledgeable you become....the more experience you acquire.....the better your future demos will be. Any demo is better than no demo! Don't become obsessive or perfectionistic. Unless the finished demo simply "sucks," just learn from your effort and go on to the next song. Remember, THE SONG IS EVERYTHING! If you have written a "killer song," it will be hard to ruin it with even a beginner-level demo.
Above all -- have fun doing your demo! Remember, this gig is about progress -- not perfection!
**From her earliest childhood years writing simple songs and poems with her father, through her twelve years as an overseas missionary, to her present, multi-faceted career as an author, lyricist/songwriter and conference speaker, Mary has always been adept at using words to communicate her heart to others. She is the President of CQK Records & Music of Dallas, Texas, a company which creates and produces songs in a panorama of musical styles for a variety of audiences, She is also the host of "I Write the Songs," a nationally syndicated radio talk show, especially created to inspire and instruct the more than 25 million aspiring songwriters in the U.S. "I Write the Songs" is broadcast over the Internet. Mary is a frequent public speaker and seminar lecturer on songwriting. She is a regular columnist for Independent Songwriter Web Magazine. Mary's commitment to discovering and mentoring talented new songwriters has given her extensive experience in song analysis through adjudicating songwriting competitions and conducting songwriting workshops across the country and around the world. Because of her role as president of an independent music company, she is also well qualified to instruct aspiring songwriters on the various business aspects of the music industry. She is married and a mother of four. She resides in the Dallas area.