Demo Music/ EPK:
What to Include/ Leave Out



Demo Music/ EPK - What to Include / Leave out
by Sue Basko

Demo Music is the sampling of your music that you use to try to get a manager, agent, lawyer, recording contract, booking agency, etc. The music you place on this demo will make it or break it for you. You can be ruled out in under 10 seconds. You can be ruled out on the basis of the cover photo alone. If you make it past the photo and 10 seconds, you actually have a good chance of getting someone to listen seriously to the first 5 seconds of the first 4 songs. If they make it that far, they might be interested enough to listen and get in contact with you.

Some places still want a CD, so you will have to burn some demo CDs. You can get these from a dupe place or do them at home. The most important things are the quality of the music and the main photo.

MANY places deal only with lawyers or agents. If you send anything yourself, it gets tossed in the trash or deleted. There are legal and practical reasons for this.

Most places don't want a CD, but want you to create an EPK page with music player and have your lawyer or manager or agent send them a link. An EPK is an "electronic press kit," meaning it is online, and includes mp3 music, jpg photos, a bio, links to press, and videos. You can get a free page on Reverbnation or Bandcamp. Neither of these is ideal, but the music players are good, so they are okay. I suggest a Soundcloud page, because the sound quality is good and the player is excellent. But there is no place for photos and bio. SonicBids would be good, but it has no direct URL to the EPK. Myspace used to be a good choice, but it is too messed up now. Do not use it as your EPK.

In theory, you could link to your own music website. I only once saw a band website with a good enough music player and a cohesive enough design. That band is booked solid, mostly from the website. It's the Ivas John Band. Their site was designed by a small company is Carbondale, Illinois. Note how well the site works. If yours does not work as well as this, do not subject a potential dealmaker to it. Check out their Upcoming Events page. It's always full. It's because they market themselves well. When they show up, they look and sound as they do on the website. They are polished music professionals. They may not be famous, but they are consistently working making music. If you have a site that functions this well, include it as your link. If not, use Bandcamp, Reverbnation, or some such site. Just be sure that to listen, a person is not required to join, have an account, "like" it, join a mailing list, or any such thing. To test this, log yourself out of the site, come back, and see if the music player is fully functioning for all songs. Make sure it is set so each listener each time can hear each song in full without joining or doing anything. Otherwise, do not use that music player as your link.

I love this website for We Are Augustines. It creates such a vibe. It is somewhat hard to maneuver -- to get to the desired song, see the whole Story, find the right lyrics. But it brings you deep into the sound and vibe of the band right away. You see this website and hear the songs and you know they are about something important and genuine.

WHAT TO INCLUDE IN YOUR DEMO MUSIC:

1) Pick your 4 best songs. Of those 4, one should be a cover song.

2) Think of music as textures. Choose songs that have interesting texture in the first 10 seconds. You need to capture the listener immediately.

3) Pick songs that sound different from each other.

WHAT NOT TO INCLUDE IN YOUR DEMO MUSIC:

1) Do not have any dead space. I have been given demos where the song did not start until 12 seconds in. Do not let there be even one second of silence at the head or tail of any song.

2) Do not include any introductions, audience sound, shout outs, producer shout outs or announcements. And especially do not include any songs that include such things within them. This is the mark of an amateur. If you say "So and so Productions" in your song, it sounds dated, amateur, and ghetto.

3) Do not include any songs that start with a long musical intro or build-up. The interesting part of the song must begin right away. People who listen to samples of new music constantly do not spend 20 seconds getting into the right ambient mood to hear your song. They click it off.

4) Do not include any songs that start with sound effects such as waves, city sounds, crickets, coughing, dogs barking, crowd sounds, etc.

5) Do not include any songs that are extra long or extra short.

6) DO NOT include any song that is not in your current repertoire.

7) If you are looking for a record label or agent, or anyone that will represent you, include only music that has been recorded within the past two years. This simple thing always astounds me. I am looking for people making good music NOW, as is everyone else. Don't show me what you did in the past. Show me what you are doing now. If you are not doing anything now, do not waste my time.

CHOOSING YOUR MAIN PHOTO

You should have one main photo for your band or self as an artist. This photo should be on the demo CD cover and the main photo of the EPK. This photo should show what you are all about. You can be ruled in or out based on the photo. It should look like you and give the right vibe for the music you make. The photo you choose says so much about you.

Obviously, the best ways to look are: Physically fit, stylish for your genre, appropriate for your genre, like you put some effort into it. If your photo does not reflect your music genre, you need a new photo. Urban pop should not look ghetto thug. Alternative country is different from country rock, which is much different from country. Pop dance is different from electronica. Work with a photographer that understands this.

Also, use a photo that was taken within the past 6 months. I have people send me photos taken 2, 5, or even 10 years ago. They tell me they still look the same. Well, no, you don't.

VIDEOS
The best videos are recent, live, unedited performances. These show that you can in fact play your instruments and sing in person. If you are doing this in front of a happy audience, so much the better.

Other good videos are one or two music videos, if you have any.

Videos that are not good to include are: Old performance videos that show people that are not in the band now; videos with bad audio; videos with bad picture/ lighting; videos that show anything questionable; heavily edited performance videos.

WRITING A BIO

I have read some of the most ridiculous bios. They're too long. They're misspelled. They include details no one cares about. No one cares where you went to high school or when you first started playing guitar. No one really cares who influences you. No one wants a list of all the bands you were in since 6th grade. No one wants to know about your struggles with addiction, prison stint, or the bad car crash. Keep it your little secret.

Keep your whole bio to 4 sentences maximum. Tell where you are from, what kind of music you make, a bit about your recordings and shows, and a nugget of interest. Shorter is better. Keep the audience wanting to know more, not laughing about the details you have included.

Think of a short description ( a few words) of who and what you are and include that. Examples: Electronic pop from London. Nashville Country singer. Rebellious Teen Girl Rock. Harmonizing Acoustic duo. Chicago Blues Legend. Dixieland Jazz Band. Electronic Dance DJ. Jazz Trombonist. Suburban Hip-hop Schemers. Scratchers and Synth.

PRESS

It is nice to include some links or quotes (depending on the format) to press or reviews. The more prestigious the source, the better, but any nice review will do, even if it is from Itunes or a blog. The quotes or snippets you choose should give the essence of you and your music.


Child Singer Scams



Child Singer Scams
by Sue Basko
Today, there are many ambitious children (and/or their ambitious parents) wanting to be famous singers and/or songwriters. They've seen the TV character Hannah Montana and her real life counterpart, Miley Cyrus, or Taylor Swift, or the Jonas Brothers -- and they imagine themselves with that kind of fame. For every dream, there is a scam just looking for suckers.
EMAIL (the names of the people and websites have been removed)
Hi,
Today I was contacted by someone from --- (a website using “casting” in its name) claiming that she saw my daughter's video on --- (a website / Facebook selling Skype acting “lessons” to children) and YouTube and that she works with --- (a website claiming to be of a supposedly famous music producer), someone by the name of R------ who is interested in producing and writing original songs for my daughter, who is unsigned. She talked to me at length today about his interests and told me there is an upfront fee of $5000 (deposit 1k included in that price) for the investment on our part. She claims it is to pay the song writers, recording studios, personnel, etc and that he would cover all other out of pocket expenses if we paid the 5k. Sounds really fishy. Have you heard of them and are they legit or a scam?
LET'S LOOK AT THIS:
There are a gezillion studios that will record you singing a song for $5000. Of course, most will do this for far less than $5,000. The twist here is that this producer is supposedly famous and supposedly has great hit-making credentials and supposedly has listened to this child sing online and wants to record her so she can be famous, if the parents fork over $5,000.
REALITY CHECK #1: The websites give no addresses or phone numbers. They don't even list a last name for R---, the supposed producer. There is no way to check them out, check out their company, check him out, etc. How do you know this is not just a con artist waiting for you to pay your downpayment of $1,000, never to heard from again?
A base level thing I look at in websites, to judge the professionalism of those involved, is to simply READ the website. These two websites were loaded with misspellings, poor grammar, and misuse of words. They seem to be written by someone that flunked out of 4th grade. Okay, so R--- is so famous, but cannot do basic writing and cannot pay a public relations person to write for him? Use your sense. If it looks stupid, it IS stupid. One of the hallmarks of scam emails and scam websites is that they are so often written this way.
REALITY CHECK #2: One of the websites says it is of a talent agency. It does not give its location or phone number. Talent agencies are licensed and are usually only allowed to operate within the state of licensure. When we check the state registry where this family lives, there is no license for this talent agency. It is just a fake.
REALITY CHECK #3: Although R--- claims by implication (photos, songs playing, video montages that juxtapose a photo of him with a photo of a famous singer) that he has important credentials, none of this pans out when you check it out against other sources. He's the only one that knows he's famous. He's the only one that knows he has recorded with famous people. He's the only one that knows he has won awards.
REALITY CHECK #4: All of his credits are very vague. If he said "I was the Chief Engineer on (name of album or song) recorded by (name of singer) in (year) -- you could check that out.
REALITY CHECK #5: It is very easy to make any level of singer sound kind of okay for a pop song sound. You just add a lot of reverb, overdubs, autotune, put in a lot of backing vocals. I personally can do this using ProTools or Garage Band. It does not take a recording genius and it does not cost $5,000.
REALITY CHECK #6: A recorded song is a beginning. What are you going to do with it? How are you going to market it? Ark Entertainment, a company that sells such recording services to parents for their tweens, recorded Rebecca Black singing "Friday." She and the song became famous because it was touted as "the worst song in the world." A lot of money was made by people checking it out to see just how bad it was. Rebecca Black now has a starring role in a (very terrible) Katy Perry music video. So much money was made that Rebecca Black's mother is now fighting over it with Ark.
What shall the next young girl singer do? Claim that her song is even worse than "Friday"?
What I am getting at is that any level of singer can record a pop song, but the song cannot make money without marketing.
And a child cannot be a star unless they:
a) live in or near Los Angeles to be a pop singer, or Nashville to be a country music singer;
b) have natural charisma;
c) can perform in person to put on shows;
d) have a repertoire of songs;
e) have at least one parent willing and able to spend full-time on making the child a star;
f) have plenty of cash to spend on this goal.
REALITY CHECK #7: In the situation above, the girl had pretty looks with average presence and skills and the voice of a 12 year old beginning to play guitar and sing. In other words, she was average, a beginner, a typical 12 year old with a budding interest in playing music. If she works on her skills and develops over time, she might one day be ready to perform for an audience. My advice was for her to take singing lessons and guitar lessons and practice really hard for a few years, then try playing some local open mics that allow kids, and in a few years, see if she is ready to record. Then, the family can find a recording studio and producer that match the kind of music the girl likes to make, at a price they can afford.
Young fame that is earned is for those truly talented beyond the ordinary. The story is that Justin Timberlake sang in perfect harmony and danced to the radio at 2 and a half years old. Taylor Swift began writing songs at age 12 and developed a huge Youtube following. Miley Cyrus began her professional career at age 9 and began heavily auditioning at age 11, to win the Disney role of "Hannah Montana" at age twelve. Her career is full-time hard work. Part of the reason she was picked by Disney is because her father agreed to play her father on the show, and thus, be present to oversee her on a regular basis.
IS your child really star material? If you appear to have money to spend, many people will tell you that your child is star material. Flattery is an easy way to your checkbook. The idea behind every scam or con is that you are being offered something a little too good to be true.
These "child star" scams have been going around for decades - for modeling, acting, and singing. They start when you get an email or letter stating that your baby has been referred for being beautiful and could be a model. Today with the internet, it is easier than ever to find and contact scam prey. You have been chosen, you are so lucky, you have such talent, you must agree and pay us quickly before we give this chance to someone else.
WHAT TYPE OF SCAM? The scenario above could be simply a flatter-fame scam, where the parents are being sold a fantasy, and where the recording studio exists, the parents pay their money, and the child records a song.
OR -- it could be a situation where it is a total a scam, the parents pay their money and the studio and producer do not even exist and "someone" runs off with $5,000, or at least with the $1000 deposit. That's how this one sounded like it would go down. The producer did not have a last name, there were no addresses or phone numbers. Only a sucker would send off $1000 to something like this.
SINGER-PRODUCER SCAMS FOR ADULTS: Maybe these are scams. Or maybe it is just marketing. But this is how it goes: A singer or rock band has some music up online. They are contacted by a person saying that a famous producer wants to work with them, record their music: It is the chance of a lifetime. You will go on to fame if he records you. You will be signed with whatever record label you want if he produces your music. It won't be cheap, but it will be worth it.
My advice on picking a studio:
1) Have a music lawyer check out any such deal and any contract.
2) Work with a producer/ studio whose work you know and love. If you are not familiar with any producers and do not have sounds you like and sounds you do not like, you are really not ready to record.
3) To get ready to record, listen to a lot of music. When you hear sounds you like, try to look up the credits to find out where it was recorded and who worked as the engineer, producer, and mixer. Go to the websites of different recording studios and listen to their music samples. What do you like or not like?
4) Look into local studios, wherever you live. There may be a wonderful place close to home.
5) Record at home. You can do this with a computer or basic equipment. Or make singing videos with a little video camera. Practice, practice, practice. This will get you ready for a studio.