Broadcast Quality Song Demos

I just got back from the TAXI Road Rally, a huge professional song writing and A&R convention in L.A.

It was amazingly educational.

One of the main things I learned is that while excellent song writing is priority #1 for success in the music biz (subjective, yes, but not unquantifiable), excellent high-quality song demo production is priority #2. If you are serious about making a living writing songs, you need both.

For people who cannot afford expensive studio time, home recording and production is now a viable means to produce great song demos yourself, if you know what you are doing. A lot of people who know what they are doing use the industry standard PRO TOOLS recording software.

However, if you aren’t completely sure what you are doing and you use a Macintosh computer for music recording (as I do), you should seriously consider Logic 9. It is the Apple version of PRO TOOLS and it is far more professional than Garage Band (which is OK for friends and family, but rarely for professional music end users).

Logic 9 is much more user friendly than PRO TOOLS for serious song writers who don’t happen to be recording engineers. It uses a “virtual mixing board” that simulates a real mixing board (with total functionality). But most importantly, it has thousands of loops, samples, and effect plugins to simplify producing a professional broadcast quality demo. I think of it like having a virtual mixing engineer living in your computer, and you are the producer who commands the engineer in simple layman’s terms (i.e., “I want the guitar to sound like Tony Iommi…”).

My favorite feature of Logic 9 is the guitar amp simulator. The processing sounds as authentic as playing through a real guitar amp. I know guitarists will curse me for saying anything but a real analog tube amp is sacrilegious, but I am a bass player…and the bass rig simulators on Logic 9 are equally impressive. I can play through any bass rig, without even having a bass rig. My point is just that you don’t need real expensive gear to sound like a pro musician and engineer anymore. Would it be nice to have thousands of dollars worth of the best gear? Absolutely. But most of us don’t. So that is why I am telling you all this.

Logic 9 preset plugins take a lot of the anxiety out of understanding EQ, compression, distortion, noise gates, and microphone placements, all stuff that a good engineer will have learned via education or experience (neither of which most of us have or can afford). The Logic 9 guitar amp simulators can emulate not only amplifier and cabinet types from around the world, but also type and placement of the virtual microphones used to record them. As a result, you can direct LINE IN a guitar and have it sound like you are recording acoustically in a real studio with professional high quality mics, even though it is your ratty basement. And Logic 9 can do this for ANY instrument: drums, keyboards, even vocals…

SInce the TAXI Road Rally, I have been zealously exploring and experimenting with the Logic 9 functionality, and it is incredible. You still have to be a great song writer and musician, but you can worry a lot less about equipment and expensive personnel like recording engineers and producers. Plus, time is no longer a factor. If you don’t like how something sounds, all the preset plugins are customizable, saveable, and transferable. And you can do as many takes as you like without ever frustrating the virtual recording engineer inside your computer. He loves you unconditionally and never charges you a cent. That’s true love.

A supplemental guide for people who need to understand the HOW AND WHY of recording is Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies. I own it and I endorse it. It is especially good for drums, which usually have to be miked up if you are using a real drummer and drum kit (vs. electronic kit). It has simple tips to get great sounds from your mediocre gear (stuff the recording engineers PRETEND you can only learn via experience).

For pro song writers, both excellent song writing and excellent demo production are necessary. Neither alone is sufficient if you are serious about scoring a music publishing deal (or a record deal, if you are a performing song writer). So make sure you have the tools and can use them, without going bankrupt.

You would be amazed to know how many performing artists (especially country and pop) DO NOT write their own songs, and there is a huge market for top song writers to make money freelancing with the right tools. Mike Laskow of TAXI said he thinks there will be a new MIDDLE CLASS of professional song writers because of the way the industry is outsourcing song writing talent these days. That’s awesome, and well worth investing some money in simple tools of the trade to achieve and be successful. But if you have lots of money, go ahead and hire studios to help you. That’s fine, assuming your songs are the best of the best, because you will never see a return on your investments if your songs are mediocre. Thus, while you can still produce a great song with mediocre equipment, you can’t produce a great song with a mediocre song (which is why Priority #1 is a great song to begin with).

I would highly recommend picking up Music Success in 9 Weeks by Ariel Hyatt. It covers the marketing side of music performance and production. Everyone hates this side of the art form, but it has to be done and she explains how to make it easy.

About Manwich B. Khakazzi

Joe is a songwriter, producer, performing musician, and free agent in Madison, WI.

Posted on November 10, 2009, in Essentials. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Joe,

    I just read your blog and was glad to see you took notes at the rally. I must also point out that you sounded fantastic on stage at the rally and while you might have a sound similar to Elvis Costello I think you actually blow him away.

    I also came away from the Rally realizing that the quality of the demo needs to be top notch no matter how good the song. I see a lot of talent here in NYC and I’ve seen many styles, but I was impressed with the caliber of some of the performances at that Rally. There are SO many creative people and great musicians out there and if you are going to make it in this business EVERYTHING needs to be perfect. It’s humbling but true… I wish you and your friends in Madison nothing but fun and success and probably in that order. When its not fun its not success…

    Mike Tee


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