Any musician worth his/her salt has created a brief collection of tunes
that best demonstrates (hence, "demo") their technical and stylistic prowess.
"Demos" are also utilized by voice over actors who narrate all of your
favorite commercials, read books for the blind, and provide the voices you hear
when you talk to a telephone robot, e.g., 'your call is very important to
us, so please hold...'. The equivalent for a film or television actor is their
Demos are a musician's business card. The intrepid self-promoting musician
will eat grilled cheese sandwiches for a month to pay for plenty of demos to
have on hand. They should be handed to anyone remotely involved in deciding
whether or not to hire you for a live performance, or better, hire you to work
on, or lead, a CD. They are indispensable when contacting the media in a
public relations campaign.
The ideal demo features many, or all, of the following:
A businesslike mailing package that's not extravagant but
that's sharp-looking and above all contains the correct spelling of the
intended recipient's name and title. The correct address is a must.
Labels work really well to convey the importance of what's inside.
Accompanying documents: business card with complete
information, musician's biography (one letter-sized page), no more than three
letter-sized photocopies of your most significant press coverage, and a
cover letter introducing oneself and addressing any requirements made of the
musician by the intended recipient.
A real jewel-box (CD Case) with a colorfully
printed two-sided label inside the cover (and preferably on the rear/spine,
too). Sure, it's expensive if you use a graphic artist. And it's a
pain in the neck pulling apart the jewel-boxes, cutting the labels and
assembling the whole thing. But unless your sound is really awful, the
look of success breeds success itself in this business. The information
contained on the labels is the same as on any recording, but for the absence
of liner notes. Avoid the mission statement of the artist so you can use
the demo across genres and applications.
A CD with a printed label, whether silk-screened by your CD
reproducer, or a computer label. The label should contain the song list
and timings for each, at the very least. The more detail (backup
musicians, composer/lyricist credits) the better.
Finally, what's on the CD. The
best-engineered, most polished four to six tunes you've ever recorded.
Cacaphonous backgrounds in live recordings are a no-no (live recordings should
be used sparingly and should be professionally engineered). The sound
levels on the disc should be high but never, ever clip. Avoid
too much bass-boost; leave it to the listener.
You wouldn't want someone to ring your cell phone while you're on stage,
would you? Don't call restaurants during lunch or dinner hours.
Don't call a nightclub while you're gigging at another night club and you're
on a break. But by all means, call them, or stop by, in order to get the
information correct for your demo package labeling.
The good news is that with the dip in price of good-quality computer-driven
sound recording software and hardware, the musician needn't spend hundreds of
dollars an hour for studio time, if they or a friend can engineer the
recording for them.
Just as every great film star once "had to take a screen test," every
musician is called upon to audition in one way or another. Often their
only audition is their demo disc.
So to rob shamelessly from the popular Master Card Card commercials:
Recording time: A twelve-pack of Heineken, and
Packaging and production costs: five hundred
Getting signed by a major record label: priceless!