So, first there’s the song. Generally speaking when we sit down to write a song it has more to do with the groove, melody and the lyric than it does with which categories and/or boxes into which your new song will eventually fit. It has also been my experience that most songs don’t necessarily announce their genre while you’re writing them. However, when it comes time to make a professional demo, you will have to make some decisions about which genre – or genres – your song will represent. To that end, I’ve put together list of things to consider when it’s time to think about your song’s genre.
Not to be overly obvious here but if your lyric talks about trucks and honky tonks, there’s a decent chance the song is going to be a country one. That being said there are more subtle signs in your lyric or melody that help determine your song’s genre. Lyrically speaking, if your song is more about the sound of the words than a literal story, then it will most likely lean pop as country music tends to be a more story-centric genre. Melodically, there are certain approaches to range and phrasing that will shade a song towards one genre or another. All this to say, pay attention to what your basic melody and lyric are telling you and, often, the genre will announce itself.
Another important element to consider when you’re choosing a genre for your song demo is whether you have a particular artist in mind. If the pitch is for a pop artist (or artists), then adding a pedal steel or fiddle (even if they sound really cool) might not be the right choice. Making sure your demo sits comfortably in the genre of the artist you’ll be pitching to is always a good policy.
The most critical determinant of genre will be the sound of your demo singer’s voice. The voice in a demo is the focal point and goes a long way towards determining your song’s genre. No matter how great your studio vocalist is, the demo simply won’t ring true if they’re not singing in the genre that’s natural for them. In other words, even a gifted pop singer faking a country accent never really works. There’s a bigger point here about songwriters singing their own demos. You may be a superb singer but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should be singing your own demos if your voice isn’t right for the genre.
There are certain songs – particularly ballads in my experience – that can work across multiple genres. While a song that “crosses over” is rare, it can be a beautiful thing for the songwriters and their bank accounts. If you have a song that you feel will work across multiple genres, then there are few ways to improve your chances of putting together a demo that can be pitched to multiple artists across different genres. First, I’d highly recommend a scaled-down demo approach meaning a single instrument and a vocalist. It’s too easy when doing a full band demo to add the personality of a particular genre whereas a simple piano and a vocalist who sings with a more neutral accent and approach will give you a demo that works in a variety of settings.
There will always be times when you set out to write a song in a particular genre and there’s no question as to how your song’s demo should be treated. However, in those instances where you’re unsure, asking yourself the above questions might just make your pre-production decisions a little bit easier and your final demo that much more effective.