Guide to getting and playing better gigs


Demo Tips

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Remember the adage, "A good song speaks for itself"? That same philosophy can be applied to the making of your demo. You've got a new tune, and maybe you can even hear the band parts in your head. And over there in the corner sit's your lonely little multi-tracker, urging you to flush out every facet of this brilliant new nugget. Especially if you're the visionary, multi-instrumentalist type who can quickly conquer guitars, bass, drums, and all the bells and whistles on your own, a simplistic rendering with an acoustic guitar and a boombox recorder just isn't going to do the trick.

But unless you're planning on releasing your slaved-over "rough take" (and most likely you're not), you're then faced with the arduous task of recreating those pearls of inspiration once you get into the real studio, only this time, you'll have to hope that your lead guitarist can cop the exact feel you pulled out of your hat on your demo, or that your engineer can get that same cool vocal sound through a different stomp box. And so on.

Don't demo to death. This is not such a radical idea, some would prefer you not to demo at all. But, you say, I've got this brand new Roland 1680 that lets me cut 256 virtual tracks with signal processing and tons of hard-disk space! That's nice. But did the Beatles need 256 V-tracks to record "Revolution"? Actually, they made do with about 248 less, and that was the final take. But maybe the next time you've got a new tune you could try popping a cassette into a boombox and playing the song on acoustic. Lay it down on one run-through, warts and all, and then hit stop and rewind the tape. That's it. If the song is worth its weight, it'll hold itself together.

When your band comes over, get out that cassette. Let your bass player figure out an original part, ditto for the drummer. Hold your tongue. Give your band members the opportunity work out their own parts. Let them help create the bed your tune will lie in.

The result? By tapping into the creative energy of your band instead of blueprinting the entire song in advance, you might actually wind up with the same kind of song detours and cool musical accidents that you're used to getting on your one-man, full-fledged demo. Your song will have a flow and a feel that's natural to the players and healthier for the tune. And this time you won't have to explain the parts to everybody, because they've already been created for you. After all, that's what having a "band" is all about, isn't it?

Nowadays, almost everyone who records an album must record a demo first. David Bowie is a notable exception because in his case it doesn't matter, the record companies still don't know what to make of his music...

When a new, unknown band want to record an album, they must first make a demo of it, turn it over to the rec company execs who'll listen to it and decide to finance it or not. If they don't like a song, they'll ask the band to replace it. If they refuse to do so, they'll have to find themselves a new contract. It's that simple, the rec companies run the show, not the artists. Of course, the band won't spend a lot of money on the demo, they'll just jam the songs together. Once in the studio, it'll be the producer's job to record this in a suitable manner.

You want a record company to sign you. As a solo artist and not a band, your recordings must reflect your songwriting style. The people listening to your demo don't care whether you can sing well or not, they know what can be done to a voice in the studio. And they can force you to take singing lessons if it pleases them. They also don't care whether you're a good musician. They have long lists of session musicians. There's too much reverb, the balance is off, the mixing could be improved? You won't produce your first album. Record companies won't trust you with that.

What they want to hear are the songs. They want to find out if they can make money off your writing style. Some people submit demos that are nothing but an accoustic guitar and voice in front of a tape recorder. Others spend thousands on a recording that will have to be redone anyway if they get signed. What you should look at is producing something that will be halfway. If you have friends who play other instruments and you can convince to help you out for free, do so.

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