Making Demos

Featuring Paul Baloche Posted on February 1, 2010

• Some publishers say you don’t need to go to great expense to make a demo; a cassette will do, so long as it’s clear.

Tom Kraeuter adds to this:
“True. But as one who has sat and listened to hundreds of songs that people submitted for possible publication in Psalmist magazine, I would say emphatically that the better the quality of the record•ing, the more favorably the song will be considered. No matter how unbiased people endeavor to be, the quality of the recording will influence their final judgment on the song.”

• Try for the best quality possible in your recording. At the very least, use two inputs if you can, one for the voice and one for the instrument, or it may sound like one or the other is phoned in.

• If you aren’t a good singer, get someone to sing your demo for you,
preferably someone with a contemporary sound. Ask yourself: Is this
a guitar-driven song or a piano-driven song? Find someone who can
play it confidently and a singer who can communicate it well.

• Avoid excessive stylizing in the vocal performance. State the
melody clearly at least the first time through.

• Get the best feeling you can in the vocal. Emotion is more impor•tant than technical perfection.

Placing Your Songs

Is it better to try and go through an established publisher or to self-publish? There are pros and cons. More people are using Christian music than ever before, but more people are writing, so the standard has been raised very high. Publishers are likely to invest only in writers with outstanding potential, both in talent and visibility. Major publishers may be hard to get to, but there are lots of small independent Christian labels springing up everywhere, who need good songs to get started. You might submit your material to them. It could be a win/win for both of you. But be sure they have the ability to record, publish, market and distribute your songs.

If you’re an entrepreneur and have great faith in your talent, a platform for visibility and the wherewithal to do all that’s needed, you might pray about self-publishing. The main thing is to get your songs heard at whatever level you can, large or small. The cream will rise to the top. And by that we’re not implying that a major publisher/label is necessarily the top, at least from God’s viewpoint. If you make yourself the best songwriter/communicator you can be, the Lord will place you where you fit.

If you decide to submit your songs to publishers, do your homework first:

•  Find a publisher or artist who does your kind of music.

• Put one or two songs on your demo, with your strongest song first.

• Enclose lead sheets (lyrics, melody and chords.) If you can’t, send just lyrics.

• Enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope if you want your demo

• Put your name and info on the demo. Boxes and envelopes get lost.

• Never send anyone your only copy.

• Send a brief cover letter that tells the publisher who you are and what you want to do with your music. If he likes your work it can give him a feel for you as a person and establish a rapport between you.

Pay attention to the songs you’ve written that raise their heads above the others.  Do people seem affected by this song? Do they rise to their feet when that one is sung? Are some moved to tears at one of your songs? If you have a song that your congregation really, really loves, it might help if your pastor gives you a letter saying so. If you have a good  recording of your congregation singing your song, it might be better than a solo demo.

• Don’t expect a critique or even a reply unless your songs are accepted.

These songs will tell the publisher whether you have possibilities as a long-term songwriter. Publishers are looking not only for songs but for songwriters—people who can consistently write quality songs, people they can invest in. Make every song on a demo as strong as possible.

Some major Christian publishers no longer accept unsolicited material. That can be discouraging, but there are ways around that. Here are a few steps to take to increase your chances of getting your song heard by some major publishers:

If possible, attend worship conferences and concerts sponsored by well-known publishers. Come prepared with a few copies of your one- or two-song demo, with a cover letter, lead sheets, etc., as we mentioned above.

Politely pass on a copy to any representative or recording artist you can. Briefly tell them of your package which contains two songs maximum. Publishers and artists are much more willing to pop a CD in and listen to one or two songs than ten songs.

Tell them you don’t expect a critique or a response, but ask if they would be willing to listen to the song and, if they feel it has merit, pass it on to the appropriate person at the record company. In nine out of ten cases, when a song gets accepted, there has been some kind of relational thing that gets the attention of the publisher.

Even though some major publishers no longer accept unsolicited submissions, you can still try. Write on the outside, “Attention: Song reviewer. Package contains a one- (or two-) song submission.”

• When you find a publisher who is interested in your songs, don’t play hard-to-get; he may not be all that interested. Until you have a good track record, you’re really not in a position to make demands. Be satisfied with a standard contract, and glad to get it, at that. If you’re an artist/songwriter with a strong track, record or good potential visibility, a publisher/record label may be willing to negotiate something better for you.

• Never sell your songs outright. Normally you assign ownership of the song to the publisher. Their job is to see that your song is published and distributed, whether by print or recording or both. The publisher obtains international copyrights on the song and administrates it—that is, they issue licenses and collect the money from people who record or publish your material. After keeping their percentage, they see to it that you receive your share of these monies.

• Ask for a reversion clause in case the publisher fails to fulfill his obligation to get your song published (by either print or recording) within a reasonable length of time. Ownership of the copyright would then revert back to you.

• Your publishing company will belong to one or more of the performing rights societies, ASCAP, BMI or SESAC, and will help you decide which to join.

Briefly, this is the way the performing rights societies work: Music users, such as television and radio stations, obtain the right to play all the songs of the society’s members by buying a license from the society.The societies then sample the logs of these stations and other users and allocate to the writers and publishers their shares of these monies.

Tags: ,