The Nashville Feed has a great entry today about the “science” of cutting a killer demo, but the write-up goes on to demonstrate that it’s really anything but science. Several anecdotes from hit songwriters and producers nail the dilemma: music professionals often claim to prefer a work tape, because they say they want to hear their own interpretations, but a good many of the so-called “golden ears” on Music Row don’t seem to be as objective as they might claim. From what we’ve observed (and I’m not just talking about our own pitching, but what we’ve been witness to in various pitch sessions), a slightly less commercial song wrapped up in a well-polished demo has a better chance of being noticed than a slightly more commercial song recorded at home with just a guitar and some less-than-stellar vocals.
Perhaps the best of both worlds might be to make a home recording, but use a great singer. That’s an approach we’ve thought about taking, but in the end, we always feel our songs are better represented by studio demos anyway.
Anyway, the entry goes on to include a bulleted list of “how to make your demos real contenders,” and based on Karsten’s and my experience, there’s some good wisdom there. For example:
Trust Your Musicians: “In Nashville the session musicians are the best in the world at getting demos done,” said Hambridge. “Songwriters are not usually producers, but good musicians spend so much time in the studio playing on all kinds of songs that they often know exactly what you’re going for. Listen to their ideas.”
That’s one thing I haven’t written about often enough here: how impressive the talent is in Nashville. The first time we took a demo into the studio, we were completely knocked out by how quickly the musicians picked up the melody and laid it down for the recording. The guys were milling around, chatting with each other while the scratch demo was playing on the studio speakers, apparently not paying any attention. Yet when they all sat down to play it through, they had it sounding nearly radio-ready on the first take.
Part of that, of course, is song structure. We intentionally write pop songs, and pop songs by definition have straightforward chord progressions, so it’s not like we typically give studio musicians much of a challenge. But the quality of musicianship is so high that they even replicate the turnarounds and licks without appearing to try.
There are more tips, and some good anecdotes at the Nashville Feed. Click on over there to read the rest.
And as a bonus, here’s some video from the “By Surprise” demo session we did back in ’05: