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The Demo Days Are Over

In today’s climate you need to deliver the final product –says Wes Maebe

In the “good old golden days” of the music industry, you had an idea for a hook or a lick, you developed it and laid down a demo to tape or cassette.

Your demo could’ve been as simple as a piano or acoustic guitar and vocals – or you could’ve taken a little more time and layered instruments on your “porta-studio”.

The point of this exercise was that you’d be able to shop your songwriting, arrangement and playing skills to various A&R departments.

Someone at the label would hopefully listen to your work (and not throw it in the bin the moment it arrived on the desk), hear your potential and offer you and your band a deal.

Then, all going well, you would be go into the studio with a producer in order to further develop and record your tunes properly.

After all your hard work in the studio, the label would put a strong promotional vehicle behind the band, get the album in the shops, advertise in the various magazines, secure radio play and possibly hook you up with a tour, some TV appearances, etc.

The Labels Are Bean Counters

This scenario has vanished. Labels no longer seem to believe in artist development.

The majority of the people in charge are only concerned about their bottom line.

There’s no long term nurturing of artists, just short-term protection of their so-called investment.

That’s why we’re being told to “sound more like so and so”, “look more like this or that singer”… the list goes on.

The labels have fallen foul of fads and the bean counters at the top do not care about the talent and seem, quite frankly, scared to take any risks.

Just think of bands like Pink Floyd, The Sex Pistols, Simply Red, The Beastie Boys and U2.

Somebody had to take a risk on them and develop them; they all ended up with their own sound and identity.

If they tried to make it in today’s climate, they wouldn’t stand a chance.

Even if you do find an energetic and keen person within the label framework, chances are he/she will be gone within months and there won’t be anyone around looking after your best interests.

A New Possibility for You & Your Music

The Internet has opened the world up to a lot more music.

Remember: labels don’t offer the advances they used to and there are plenty of small operators out there who are getting away with offering the sort of deals that you wish had gone out of fashion in the 60s.

Artists are still hungry enough – and naive enough – to sign them.

Whichever route you decide to take, be it via a label or the self-promotion route, the demo days are over.

You need to deliver the finished product.

Nobody’s interested in listening to your demos and then having to sink capital into getting the demos up to scratch to release.

It’s down to you and your team to build the songs, have them recorded, mixed and mastered professionally.

And you have to have the artwork in place if you’re going to release hard copy.

The same goes for the video content everyone is expecting to see from you on the various social networks.

This Brings Me to Production.

It is so easy and relatively cheap to get set up for recording.

You buy a laptop, some software a microphone and voila, everyone is a producer.

However, capturing a band or a performance is like playing your instrument.

It takes years and years of experience to hone this skill set.

So, why not rely on the people who excel at this? Engineers and producers have cut their teeth on countless projects of varying styles.

They know where to point a microphone. They have the ability to get the performance of a lifetime out of you.

Let them focus on making you sound the best you’re going to sound, so you, as an artist, can concentrate on writing, playing and singing.

You don’t need any distractions when you’re supposed to be pouring your heart and soul into a piece of music, your music.

This can also steer you clear of the preset world. All these software packages come loaded with synths and plug-ins that have 100s of presets.

It’s easy: you dial up an EQ, select preset 3 and there you go, you have a sound.

Guess what: it’s a sound many others are using too. You’ll all end up sounding like each other and trust me, the world can tell.

The world is filled with wonderful sounding studios with amazing microphone collections, great sounding consoles, stunning acoustics and engineers who are passionate about their craft.

And just like your music, quality comes with a price tag.

You don’t go to the supermarket, stock up on a pile of food and then say: “Sorry, I’m not paying for this, it should be free”.

As in any other area of life, you get what you pay for.

-Wes Maebe

  • Rand Bliss

    It’s impossible to do everything on your own. A high-quality, persistently dedicated team all focused on the main goal is absolutely mandatory. This includes your fellow bandmates, trustworthy manager, music business lawyer, accountant, etc. primed and ready to wheel and deal with a record company that can offer the best overall package (hopefully) towards a ‘win-win’ relationship.

    If one is seriously intent on succeeding big time in this industry, in a DIY operation, how else can anyone hope to compete monetarily with the massive budgets allocated to major label’s promotion and exposure? How can anyone focus all their time and energy to their art/music when they simultaneously are working/worrying/gathering/collecting/begging for as much money as possible to fund it?

    Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? First you say ‘the demo days are over’ and it’s primarily a DIY operation now, then you say you should use an experienced producer, etc.

    You say most of the generic, cloned, no-risk ‘music’ is what the labels are looking for now, and then you advise avoiding presets so you don’t sound like everyone else.

    You can’t have it both ways amigo. If enough people stop buying the crap passing as music nowadays and instead promote and buy only quality-original music from truly talented artistic people that actually know how to play their own instruments through years of paying their dues, etc. maybe the giant bean counter corps. that have over-run the industry will finally see the light at the end of their own mediocre tunnel.