It's so important to have a demo that shows who you are. People want to hear something they haven't heard before. If you are going to do a demo as a band, get a producer who understands who you are. Don't try and sound like any other band that is in the chart, because by the time your record is released, that sound is not modern any more. You have to "be beyond" what's already out there…
I emailed Jaimie Carter, owner of Summer Records for advice on how to get the best demo.
Jamie, you have worked with major artists whilst A&R at Ronder Publishing in Sydney. You now work with many acts in London and produce from the legendary Battery Studios in North London, used by Robbie Williams, Kylie Minogue, Radiohead and many more. Can you give some insight on how to record the RIGHT demo?
It's important for me to "feel" the bands and artists I work with. I work with a lot of unsigned bands, and it's my job to get the best out of them. When an A&R guy hears a demo, he/she needs to be able to know where to promote the act, whether in magazines, TV shows, Venues, etc. You must have a strong 'sound' that will be easily marketable and accessible, yet unique at the same time.
Artists should be aware of the pressures on A&R today. With the huge money involved in breaking an act, A&R can't afford to make a single mistake. You must think of yourself as a product as well as an artist!
I can't stress enough the importance of "the right demo" when trying to get a deal. I mainly work with bands, but the same rules apply for solo singers. If a band hasn't got ambition and drive I don't want to work with them. I want to work with people that are not scared of doing what they want to do. In the end, it's their music and my job as a producer is not to change the band… my job is to help get the best out of them!
Do you have advice for singers needing a show reel?
Choosing the right material for your vocal demo is almost as important as the performance itself. If you can't sing as high as Mariah Carey, then don't try to! It's probably going to sound terrible, and no one will know what you actually can do. If you are great at doing rock, then record some rock-tunes, as simple as that. Let's hear YOU.
What about recording cover songs?
You shouldn't choose songs that are too famous, example: Singing a song like "Ain't Nobody" could be a good idea, if you change it enough to surprise the A&R, but if you try to sound like Chaka Khan it doesn't help you.
If you perform a less "typical" song for your demo and you can make it shine then you have the attention of the listener, because they don't know what's coming next. If you do cover a famous song, please, please don't sing like the original artist! No one wants to hear another Robbie Williams, we already have a perfectly good one!
Keep the songs in the same style. Remember that you have to have confidence in what you do, so recording songs in completely different styles to show how much you can do is not a good idea. You don't want to be a "jack of all styles", you must be the best at what YOU do!
If you want a career as a singer/songwriter you should obviously record your own material. If you want a career as a session singer you should record stuff in different styles to show how versatile you are as a singer.
Is it expensive?
Investing some money in getting a great demo is not a big price to pay if that demo gets you signed to a label. You have to remember that producers are professionals that know how to make the best of a song and get the best possible performance from an artist.
It is tempting to try and do your own demo at home on your computer, but chances are that they won't ever be in the same league as a demo done in a pro studio. If you are serious about being an artist, then you have to do everything properly… from the beginning. A lot of people think that if they can just hang in there until they get discovered they will be greatly rewarded, but you can forget about that!
Budding singers should use the advice and skills of seasoned producers and writers and get a head start in the industry….paying for a demo is really not that expensive for what you can get out of it, if you choose the right studio and producer for you. Do some research, ask for examples and try and pay a fixed fee so you can concentrate on getting the best results, instead of rushing to get everything finished!
What should singers and bands send to A&R?
You will need to get a great package ready when contacting labels and managers. You NEED to include:
- Biography (1 page is enough)
- Pictures (If you don't they will think you are either ugly or old)
- CD (With contact address, telephone number and e-mail printed on it - very important)
Thank you Jamie