Write The Record

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It's obvious there's more to a song demo than just words and melody- there's the tempo (how fast or slow the song is), the key (you'd be surprised how raising or lowering the key by just a half-step can affect the dynamic energy of a piece), the overall "feel" of the song; is it straight-ahead country, shuffle, cowboy cha-cha, four-on-the-floor? What's the Intro like? Four measures? Eight? And do you have a particular melody in mind? Played by what? The fiddle? Piano? Both? Is there a solo section? Have you determined which instrument(s) will play it?

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In the process of writing a song, these technical and stylistic elements will present themselves. Make note of them in the margin of your notebook or computer screen. When you're writing your charts (or having someone else write them for you) be sure to include them. Knowing more of what you want before you go into record will save time, money, anxiety, and even earn the respect of the musicians and engineers on the session. You don't want to over-prepare to the point where there's no room for spontaneity- for the best stuff can happen this way, but work from a solid base of preparation, this will allow you to adjust to any split-second creative decisions that will inevitably come up. In the process, you may discover there's a budding record producer just waiting to explode onto the scene!

Below is a partial check-list you can refer to in preparation for your next demo session. If you're unclear about certain things, just ask. We've all been there. Good luck!

Pre-Demo Check-list:

Off The Chart

  1. Are you sure the song is ready? Is there something still bugging you? The session's not the place to fix your second verse.
  2. All the players lined up and ready to go?
  3. Do you have all the right keys for your singers?
  4. Are your charts complete with enough copies run off?
  5. Do you have an idea the order of the songs you'd like to demo? (I like starting with a mid to up-tempo, especially during a morning session- get's the blood going.)
  6. Are your tunes in the proper order on the CD (or on your phone) for listening down? Saving a few seconds here and there can mean the difference between four or five, or even six songs on a three-hour (union) session. Will you be playing these for the musicians live? Do you have a capo? Tuner? Picks? 

On The Chart

  • Are you pretty clear about the tempo?
  • What style are you going for? An island feel? An Eagles-kinda-thing?
  • Production elements to consider:
    • Who plays the Intro? Broken down or full on?
    • Do you have a particular "hook" melody in mind?
    • Is the Turn-Around too long? Same as the Intro., or different?
    • Who's "filling" verse two? Maybe keep it open?
    • Does the Chorus stay in half-time or go to four (in 4/4 time)
    • Who plays the solo? Can you split it up? Is it too long to begin with?
    • Instead of an improvised solo, is there a specific melody you want to be played?
    • Is the last Chorus "broken-down"?
    • Are all the band accents (rhythmic figures played in unison) clearly marked?
    • How does the song end?
    • Are any changes in the Tempo clearly marked?
    • Are Modulations correct?
    • Have you thought about Background Vocals- male and/or female? Where in the song they would be most effective?

Keep in mind: this is a demo not a master recording. You won't have time to get too specific ("Hey, could you try that again using a medium-gauge pick?"), but you can control aspects of your demo that show it in the best light. Also, be creative when charting your songs, think "outside the box" a little: nylon-string guitar instead of acoustic, hand-drum and percussion instead of snare and toms, fiddle doubling a keyboard string patch, timpani, penny-whistle, what about using a drum “loop" or no drums at all? Anything that can make your demo "pop" is a good thing, as long as it doesn't sound like you're trying too hard! The competition is tougher than ever. Give yourself the best chance you can. Prepare!