How Many Tracks Should be on a Demo?
By Clare Knight
Making music demos is probably the number one way that bands seek to get themselves a record contract. Unfortunately, as is the case with unsolicited manuscripts sent to publishers by aspiring writers, most of these demos will go unnoticed.
The fact is that record company A&R people have a ton of material thrown their way every day and there simply isn’t enough time in the day for them to listen to all of it. When they do listen to demo CD’s sent in by artists, however, there are definite limits to how much time they can be expected to invest.
Demos should essentially give a broad overview of a band, their style and their flexibility in writing and performing music. Each of the CD tracks should be well-produced and have a professional feel. While there is certainly some charm in material that isn’t overly-produced, A&R people need to hear the band unencumbered by poor recording techniques to make a decision as to whether to call the artist or simply toss the CD into the rubbish bin where, sadly, a great many demo CD’s do end up.
Depending on the range of the band, a demo CD should include at least 3 but no more than 5 selections. The three strongest songs a band has should be included on the CD, of course, and should be varied enough to show range and skill on the part of the musicians. Making music demos is as much of an art as is making music in general.
Like a good song, the CD tracks, as a whole, should engage the listener, stick in their mind and complement one another. It’s generally better to have three songs which are somewhat similar in composition, but good, than to have three which are vastly different and show no continuity of sound.
The CD’s tracks should also be selected for length. Having a three song demo where every track is a 10 minute jam band excursion into improvisation defeats the purpose altogether. Generally, A&R people function from the idea that, if something is good, they can tell right away.
Even if they truly like your demo CD, there’s a good chance that they may only listen to one track before deciding to follow through. On demo’s, that first track is of the utmost importance. Make it your strongest one overall.
Where longer demos are concerned, don’t assume that sending five tracks means that the A&R department is going to listen to the entire CD. Making demo CD’s is, essentially, making an advertisement.
Longer advertisements may appeal to people who are already interested in a product but, for those who haven’t been sold yet, they want the advertisement to instantly appeal to their desire to satisfy a need. For record labels, that need is for talented artists who have the potential to sell a lot of product.
If particularly long songs are the norm for you or your band, consider making edited versions for use on demo CD’s. While it may not accommodate the entirety of your artistic vision, there is something to be said for leaving the A&R person wanting more. In fact, when making demo CD’s, that’s the entire point.
Three to five songs of 3 to 4 minutes length is generally ideal. It’s enough to establish that a band is talented and potentially beneficial to a record company and short enough that it doesn’t impose great demands of time upon the A&R person to whom the CD is sent.
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