For the singer, band or musician looking to have an illustrious career in the music industry, a record deal often seems like the best way to go. While there is no absolute guarantee of getting a record deal by following any set plan, there are things that you can do to increase your chances of landing one. The following is a checklist for aspiring musicians, singers, and songwriters looking to land record deals.
The Music Demo:
The first step towards landing a record deal is often the “music demo” or “demo tape”. The music demo is a representation of who you are and what you can do, what makes you special and why the record companies need to sign you to a record deal and invest millions of dollars. The music demo is your product. When approaching record companies, management companies, music producers and talent agencies, your music demo will be the first thing that they ask for. If it’s good enough, they will consider working with you in some capacity or will at least keep their door open for future consideration. If your music demo sounds like crap, you can bet that their door will close to you and remain closed to you.
Give them what they want:
So what do record companies look for when evaluating a music demo? While the details may vary from person to person, one thing that they all have in common is that the music needs to move them emotionally. They have to “feel it”. But with hundreds of music demos coming across their desk, they don’t have the time to wait until the second chorus to see if they like it or not. About 95% or more of the music demos received by management companies, music production companies, music producers and record companies, are of such poor quality that often the music demo will be rejected within the first 10 seconds simply on that basis. It’s often the job of the assistant to weed through the piles of music demos and separate the quality ones from the poorly produced, poorly recorded ones.
You have to be heard within the right context:
If the sonic quality of your music demo or demo tape is acceptable, then the person you’re trying to impress may now be willing to listen to at least a verse and chorus. But you must sound legit.
If you’re an R&B singer, but you’re singing against a music track that’s country, your singing won’t be heard against the proper backdrop and most likely will be rejected before they reach the chorus. Another example might be a female Pop/R&B singer trying to sing against a big, loud hard rock band, or a country artist trying to sing against a dance track. While the singers might be good in each case, they will sound “wrong” to whomever might be listening. The music MUST complement the vocals. The subtleties of each style of singing must be enhanced by the appropriate musical arrangement and production. That is often the job of the music producer or record producer.
What about the song?
The song is as important as ever in today’s modern music. A song can make or break an artist, as is demonstrated every day on the radio. How many times do you hear a hit song on the radio with an average singer? Every day many top recording stars may struggle with their careers trying in vain to find another hit song. As in the case of Michael Jackson’s last record, they spent about $50 million recording and promoting the record. But there were no hit songs and sales were way off their projected numbers. They lost big money on that one.
So what makes a hit song? No one can say with absolute certainty. But here’s what music mogul Clive Davis had to say about Diane Warren, one of the most successful songwriters in history: “Diane is able to combine tremendous feel for melody with lyrics that deal with genuine emotions, and she is able to do it time after time”. With over 50 Top 10 songs to her name, I’d say that’s a reasonable formula!
Hit songs are rare. Do your best to record a quality song that you feel has hit potential. Don’t record a bad song just because you happened to write it. Many singers may have exceptional voices but their songwriting skills haven’t caught up yet. If necessary , seek out songs from an established published songwriter or music producer.
Self Produced Demos:
Many music demos are self produced these days in home studios. With the technology more affordable, it’s possible for a talented, technically oriented musician to make an acceptable music demo in their home. But all too often the home technology exceeds the skills of the operator and the music demo sounds flat and homemade, with too much reverb on the vocals, no punch in the bass and no clarity in the hi end. The talent of the musician may not translate into talent as a music producer or recording engineer, and so the entire music demo suffers, even though the singer and the song may have been outstanding. That’s where the skills of a talented music producer first come into play. The music producers experience in the recording studio can save countless costly mistakes and deliver to you a product that sounds professional and polished, which will increase your chances of getting that record deal.
The Music Producer:
The role of the music producer varies, based on the style of music. For most styles, the music producer makes the technical decisions in the recording studio, helps choose songs and works to get the most out of the artist, showing off the strong points and burying the weak points. It’s the role of the music producer or record producer to help create the vision for the artist and to make it into a reality.
For live rock bands, a music producers role can sometimes be more one of guidance and direction. With a good recording studio and engineer, bands can often achieve decent results on their own and may not need a music producer in the earlier stages, such as recording the music demo. Though for the recording of an entire album, it’s recommended.
For Pop, R&B and dance however, the music producers role is essential. Often, the music producer will help write the music, play some or all of the instruments and be responsible for every aspect of the musical production, from the sonic quality of the recording to keeping things within budget. This allows the singer to focus and concentrate on giving their best vocal performance and doing what they do best-sing! A good music producer should make you and your music demo sound polished, explosive and exciting. It should be appropriate for the style of music you’re singing and should sound close to a finished record. If your music demo doesn’t sound professional, don’t send it out yet. You only get one chance to make a first impression, so you want it to be good.
Making Your Music Demo:
The first thing that needs to be established before heading off to do your music demo, is why you are doing it. Bands often need a recording to give to a club before being able to play there. What’s required in that situation is much different than what’s required for a Pop or R&B singer looking to get a record deal.
Many artists first thought is to call a recording studio. While this may yield results, most recording studios make their money from selling time. The recording studio provides the space with all the equipment and an assistant and/or engineer to run it all. They charge a set fee by the hour and you’re free to do whatever you like during that time. If you’re a band, this may be precisely what you need. But if you’re a singer and don’t have any music production skills, this kind of setup will be useless to you. You first need the music before you can record your vocals. Again, this is where the services of a experienced music producer are desired.
Making A Master Recording:
So what exactly is the difference between a Master recording and a demo? A master is made for commercial release. You hear masters on the radio and buy them in stores or download them from iTunes. A Master is a finished, full production. The quality is superior to a music “demo”. The “demo” (which is short for “demonstration”) is intended to interest the Record label or publisher in investing the money to record a music master. Traditionally, the music demo was something as simple as a vocal and piano. But with the advances in technology it no longer pays to record a simple “music demo”. A Master quality music production is now affordable for those serious about their careers. Record labels are used to hearing finished music productions and that’s what they expect. With internet distribution, a music master can be sold, placed in radio, licensed, etc. Though “music demo” is still a buzz word, any music productions worth doing should be of Master quality and radio ready.
Choosing a Music Producer:
Like anything, you need to shop around to find the right music producer to produce your music demo. Ask a lot of questions. Precisely what qualifies this individual to call themselves a record producer? Ask about their experience. Do they have any album credits, have they worked with any famous recording artists, won any awards, worked on hit records, etc.? Are they known in the industry and do they have a good reputation? Is this a part time job for them? Are they involved with the style of music you wish to pursue? Some other considerations would be location. What studio will you work at and with what engineer? Meet with them and hear their work. Are you impressed with the quality of their music production? Do you like them and vibe with them? Ask how they would treat your project.
How Much is it?
Finally, ask about cost. A music demo can run anywhere from a few hundred dollars, to record company budgets of tens of thousands of dollars per song. Some producers may charge by the hour. While occasionally this might be appropriate, it has the potential of costing you many times more than you originally planned. Ask about additional costs, such as musicians, studio costs , engineering fees, etc. A set fee for the music production demo is usually the best way to go and the way that most record companies work with music producers. While you don’t want to mortgage your house for your music demo, you must realize that you get what you pay for. The cheapest demo around will sound like the cheapest demo around. This isn’t how you want to portray yourself if you’re serious about pursuing a record deal. You want to go with the highest quality music demo from the best music producer that you can afford.
Choosing a Studio:
Unless you’re technically proficient in the area of recording studio equipment, seeing an equipment list won’t help you much. But you should be interested in the clientele that the recording studio attracts.
If they regularly work with signed recording artists, record companies and publishing companies, chances are they have the necessary equipment and technical skill to give you a professional product. Check out a list of their clients. The music producer will most likely have a recording studio that they’re comfortable working in and that has the necessary equipment to produce your demo. But while home studios may have come a long way in recent years, they still don’t match the environment, acoustics, sound, equipment and personnel of a commercial recording studio.
Alternatives to a Record Deal
So much has been said here about getting a record deal. But that is no longer the only option these days for aspiring artists to get their music to the people and be heard by the masses. No record deal does not mean no career in music. The internet has changed everything, and many artists who have had record deals in the past are now looking towards the internet as a preferred method of selling their music. While an artist may sell 300,000 units, (CD’s) the amount of money spent on their behalf by the record company may exceed the amount brought in by sales. The artist may only receive a small percentage of CD sales and end up owing the record company millions of dollars, which have to be “recouped” before the artist can begin to see any real dough. In contrast, an artist who sells only 15,000 of their own CD’s on the internet and at live shows, can likely clear over $100,000 after expenses. Record companies are usually very interested in them after they hear about that. The major expense for the artist however is hiring a music producer and funding their own recording. But this supports the idea of finding an experienced music producer and doing a great sounding music demo that has the quality of a record. It becomes a viable product that can be sold. The music demo can be released on a per song basis on the internet and more songs can be added as they’re recorded.
A poor sounding music demo is likely to damage your reputation, so keep it in the closet. Better yet, avoid getting stuck with a bad music demo in the first place.
One final note:
It’s important to get a great sounding music demo to help open up some doors and to eventually get a record deal. But be cautious. After searching around the internet for music producers and recording studios to recommend, we came across many sites that appeared to be…less than honest about their intentions. For example, song contests that resulted in the winner having to spend money to get their song recorded by the company having the contest. Home studios where the singer was forced to sing in a closet. Claims by so called producers with no music industry credits to back them up. Producers with no solid music industry contacts offering to shop your music demo. And a few more. Just make sure they’re legit and that you’re comfortable talking and working with them.