Writing a great song, while a success in and of itself, is only the beginning when it comes to getting your music out in the world. A subsequent, and essential, step is making a professionally performed and recorded demo of your song. However, where a lot of songwriters find themselves at a loss is knowing what to do with their finished demos. Here are seven things to keep in mind when you’re trying to figure out what comes next.
First and foremost, you should have a system in place to catalog your mixes so that you know where they are at all times. There’s nothing more discouraging that having an opportunity for a song and not being to locate the recording. I’d recommend keeping three different folders on your computer (which you always keep backed up, right?). Create folders for your hi-res mixes (.wav is the file format), your mp3 mixes and your track mixes (these are the instrumental tracks without vocals). This makes it easy to find what you need when you need it. Don’t take yourself out of the running for a potential placement just because you’re not organized.
Many songwriters are unaware that the performing rights organizations (BMI, ASCAP and SESAC) have representatives who are available – generally through appointments – to meet with songwriters and provide some guidance. If you’re fortunate enough to live in one of the major music cities (NYC, LA and Nashville) as well as a few others like Miami or Atlanta, the PROs have offices there. Once you’ve got a couple of songs/demos you’re proud of, it would be worth trying to schedule a meeting with a rep at your PRO. If you haven’t affiliated with a PRO yet, this would be an excellent time to schedule meeting with as many of the PROs as you can. If you don’t live in one of the above cities, it would be well worth your while to schedule a meeting and plan a trip around it. Two words of advice… Be patient. These representatives are generally very busy people and it can often take months to schedule a short, in person meeting. I’d still consider it well worth your while.
Showing your finished demos to publishers is the first step to possibly getting signed as a staff songwriter or getting a deal for an individual song. There are several differences between showing a publisher your rough, homemade recording and a polished demo. First of all, you’ll be showing them that you’re serious about your craft and your recordings. Secondly, if they do like the song, they won’t have to consider spending any additional money to demo it. All that to say, anything you can do to make the process easier for a publisher, the more favorably they’ll look upon you and your songs.
I know it sounds obvious that this is what songwriters should be doing but many of us stop short of actually getting our music out there either from lack of information, fear or downright laziness. Even though it’s appealing to imagine there are people out there who will take care of all of this for you, I personally believe that songwriters should be pitching their own songs. With the help of pitch listing services like www.SongQuarters.com and www.RowFax.com, any songwriter willing to subscribe to – otherwise known as pay for – one of these lists can be made aware of current artists looking for new material.
If the quality of your recording is good enough – which any truly professional demo will be – there’s no reason you can’t pitch these recordings for placement in film or TV. The caveat here is that you’ll need to remember to have the musicians and the demo singers sign proper releases so that you’ve got written permission to use these recordings as more than demos (short, of course for “demonstrations”).
If you’re fortunate enough to get an artist interested in one of your songs, sometimes hearing their voice on it can help seal the deal. It’s a really helpful thing to be able to provide a finished track for them to record their vocal to. More often than not, these recordings aren’t the ones that end up on the album but they can go a long way towards convincing an artist to cut your song.
If you’re a singer as well as a songwriter, you’ve got the additional luxury of a professionally recorded track to put your own vocal on for an artist project. It’s often the case that the songwriter’s version – while not necessarily right for pitching – works beautifully for an independent release. If you’re investing good money in a strong recording, it’s in your best interest to find as many uses for it as possible.
This article should serve as a reminder that your job as a songwriter isn’t done when you’ve finished your song and recorded your demo. In fact, the “job” is just beginning. The more you can do with your demoed songs, the greater the likelihood you’ll find a home for them and generate a little income in the process.