There are tons of myths about how the music industry operates, and when you’re trying to break into the business, these misconceptions can send you down the wrong path in a big way. This is part one in a series looking at common music business myths so you can avoid falling prey to them. Be sure to check the bottom of the article for more information.
Music Industry Myth: Your Demo Has To Cost A Lot (And It Shouldn’t Be a Demo):
When I think of mythology, I think of Norse, Greek, Roman and demos. Really. And while most of us have come to the conclusion that Atlas probably isn’t holding the world on his shoulders, the myths about demos just won’t quit. Plenty of people will tell you that your demo needs to be professionally recorded and that it needs fancy artwork to get any label love. Not true. Here’s the reality:
- No label has ever said, “wow, I like the music – I would have signed them had the recording been more professional.”
- Likewise, no label has ever said, “wow, look at that packaging! I don’t even care if I like the music – draw up the contracts!”
Labels are a lot more savvy about demos than the people who tell you your demo should land on the A&R desk in release ready format give them credit for. What they’re looking for is music that they like (or music that they think they can sell). They expect demos to be rough, and they except that they may have to send musicians into the studio/work with them on artwork/generally have a role in developing the project when they sign them. They are, after all, record labels, and their function is to get your music into a release ready state and sell it. Many labels WANT to be involved in these processes, and even if they don’t care that much about being involved, they’re not going to reject your demo if they like the music simply because your release is going to need some work. When you’ve invested in a 16 page color booklet, a professional pressing and long hours in the studio for your demo, you actually make yourself look a bit naive to the label – it doesn’t do you any favors.
There is also a trend coming into play in which the word “demo” is being cast in a bad light – like demos are for amateurs, and that you should never tell a label your recording is a “demo.” In reality, you can call it whatever you like – you can send your demo with a note that says “here’s your pepperoni pizza”, if it makes you feel better. The truth is that the label is going to know exactly what it is, no matter what you call it. Labels don’t frown on demos – that’s how they find new music.
There’s are other dangers in pretending to a label that your recording has been promoted and been selling copies or that it’s a promo and not a demo:
- If you send a label a package and say, “here’s my promo,” a label will think that you’re sending them a promotional copy of an album you’re releasing for them to check out. After all, that’swhat a promo is. If you want the label to know you want them to consider your album for release on THEIR label, calling it a promo doesn’t get your message across.
- A label isn’t interested in releasing an album that has already been sold and promoted. Even if you haven’t really sold a single copy or earned a single review, trying to convince the label that you have only gives them the impression that they won’t be able to drum up any press for the release and that most of the sales have already happened. Sure, if your second album sells millions, they may reissue your first indie release, but otherwise, pretending the demo you’re sending to them has already sold a lot of copies doesn’t help.
The bottom line? Cheap demos that are really demos are perfectly acceptable – and often preferred. I’m a big believer that there is more than one way to get things done in the music industry, but when it comes to demos, it’s really hard to justify trying to gussy them up into something they’re not. Music is expensive enough – you won’t get a good return on investing too much in your demo.