Producing demos


Alot of folks have been asking us questions like “How do I produce a demo of my song?” and “How do I choose a demo production company?” Fortunately, STJ Forum member Jeff Severson has offered this timely advice. The following piece jam packed with good stuff for the independent songwriter.

The Sex Pistols sweat the rhymes & the importance of being properly demoed.

In the movie the Filth and the Fury, members of the Sex Pistols are quoted as saying they felt uncomfortable getting on stage and singing “I am the Antichrist, I am an anarchist…” as the rhyme scheme was awkward. How quaint that these punk revolutionaries, between all their drunken brawling, heroin shooting, equipment smashing, party wrecking, self-mutilating and general world upheaving, were worried about proper rhymes.

On another subject, Garth Fundis, platinum producer for Trisha Yearwood, Alabama and other Nashville royalty, confesses that when it comes time to making records, they “chase” the demos. In other words, they learn the guitar parts and otherwise rob the arrangements and production from the demos as they don’t have the time to really come up with something new in the average two week span it takes to cut a Nashville CD.

So do we all, as rhymin’ Simons, burdened not only by having to come up with the perfect, never before heard rhymes, have to make our demos sound like finished 48 track world class productions? In a word, “yep.” Or, we can leave it to the pros…

Who amongst us has the technical proficiency to arrange, record and mix a song so that it sounds like it came off the radio? We’ve got enough to handle just making sure the melody and lyrics are better than the average song publisher staff writer or we don’t stand a hoot of a chance of getting heard by THOSE WHO MATTER. So we are left to gamble on an outside song production company which is a lot like throwing yourself on the mercy of a car mechanic who happens to live in another city.

How do you choose a song production company you can trust to give you a marketable product? Well, certainly there are fly by night production companies to avoid; all those that say they are going to put your song on a CD and circulate it to every important radio station in the country, for one example.

And there are multiple crumb sniffing Nashville demo houses, MIDI studios and cut rate careless cookie cutter mini factories that will slam bam thank you ma’am, put your song together cheap. The only result being the songwriters mournful wan: “look what they’ve done to my song!” “My songs are like my children, only now my child has been unmercifully butchered and forced to wear funny clothes.” And “he didn’t smell like this when he left home…”

To avoid all this when choosing a demo production company, ask for references you can check out for yourself. Ask for actual demos they have done in the price range they are offering you. If it sounds cheap, it will sound cheap.

Good musicians and good singers should not be paid on the same basis as your paperboy. Unfortunately it’s up to you to make the first financial investment in your song long before a record company spends a quarter mil. producing and promoting it. So choose your children well; make sure the song is actually marketable. If you haven’t a clue, see if the production house will review 5 of your songs and pick the best one.

Once you’ve enlisted the help of a quality production facility, send in your songs on good quality tape or CDs so that the melody is intelligible. Give them an idea of how you want it to be produced, what style, similar to what song on the radio, etc. — but don’t be afraid to take their input on how the song could be better arranged to fit a current market style. Some places will feed your song right back to you just as you gave it to them, but look for those production companies that will make you rewrite a melody or lyric line so that it is your best effort, rearrange or edit the song so that it’s more to the point. In other words, add a third ear to your writing.

So lads and lassies, good luck and God save the Queen…

— submitted by Jeff Severson
Jeff Severson Productions, a full service production company exclusively for songwriters.


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