In this series on song demos, we’ve discussed the options for doing demos here in Los Angeles and in Nashville and how to prepare for and conduct the demo session itself in the studio. In this article, we’ll discuss one other option for making demos - mail order.
If you regularly work with a studio in Nashville or in another distant city, doing demos though the mail can be a reasonable way of doing business without traveling there. Of course, you need to trust the studio enough to give them a free hand on recording your song, since you won’t be there to guide the session.
If you don’t have a studio you use regularly, or if you’re looking for a good demo on a budget, you may consider one of the many demo services that advertise in songwriter-oriented publications. It’s possible to find bargains this way, but like any mail order transaction, extra care is needed to make sure you get what you’re paying for.
Always listen to a sample of their work before deciding on a demo service. Many studios are now charging amounts from $2-5 on sample tapes to pay for the tape and postage, which they will deduct from the cost of your demo if you elect to use them. This practice may be gaining popularity, but I personally don’t feel comfortable paying for samples. Sample tapes are the studio’s marketing expense, and if you’re dealing with a professional studio and you conduct yourself professionally, you should be able to get a sample tape at no charge.
Before making a deal, be sure to get specific prices. Make sure you know whether you’re getting live musicians, or MIDI and drum machine. Be as specific as to what you want for instrumentation, feel and tempo, male or female vocal, if you want background vocals, and if you want your master mix on DAT, or chrome or metal cassette. Don’t assume you’ll be getting a track mix unless it’s specified.
I recently tried a demo service that advertised a full band demo with 100% live musicians, including steel guitar for only $70. They were professional in their conduct, and they delivered exactly what they said they would, but in my absence, some of their creative choices resulted in a demo I couldn’t use. When you’re not there to give direction, you have to take what you get, and it can be a gamble.
Unless otherwise noted, workshops are held from 5-8 p.m. at Musician's Institute, 1655 McCadden Place, just off Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood. Admission is free for NSAI members and NAS members, $10 for non-members. For more information, call Bev Nelson at (714)733-2717, or Craig Lackey at (310)439-4069.
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