8 Ways That Your Demo Can Make or Break Your Music Career

Posted by Jamie Ludwig on Sep 3, 2014 09:30 AM
demo-1Image via maurergraphics.com

The days of merely mailing out your demo and patiently – or not so patiently – waiting for a response are long over. Even though methods of song-sharing have multiplied, some strategies and etiquette rules for how and when to present your music to industry members can be more effective than others. If you're in an unsigned band and have ever wondered how your demo can impact your ability to book shows and get press, check out our eight tips below.

1. Send it in an email

If there’s one thing most industry insiders will tell you when it comes to communication, it is that email trumps all other forms. “Don't post your band's demo on my Facebook wall because, chances are, I'm not even going to listen to it,says Shane Merrill, head of Chicago-based Empire Productions, who books everything from local bands playing their first shows to metal and hardcore legends. Not only do I not want to broaden the already-broad scope of ways to reach me for booking, but I also think it's tacky and not as concise as an email.” 

2. Use your manners

Your first round of emails may not turn into anything, but there’s no telling what the future may hold, so make sure to always be polite. Being pushy, aggressive, or whiny after hearing "no" will only tarnish your reputation and negatively impact your chances down the line. Plus, you may be able to turn a rejection into something positive. For example, if a promoter doesn't book you, he or she may be able to refer you to another venue in that city.

Newer bands trying to get a foot in the door may also find opportunities to get professional feedback about their work. “I answer every email I am sent about booking with honesty,” says Merrill. “If I can help a band, I will tell them that; if I can't, I will also tell them that. I don't offer unsolicited opinions, but if a band asks what, in my humble opinion, they need to do better, I will gladly share that with them.”

3. Utilize free internet platforms

In my opinion, free portfolio sites such as Bandcamp and Wix are some of the best things to ever happen to independent artists presenting their demos online. Even bands who run their own traditional websites and Sonicbids accounts should consider using these tools to round out their online presenceThese platforms are user-friendly, can be customized to any aesthetic, and make it easy and fast to get information without clicking around. 

4. Don’t post everything

For an unsigned band looking to build its music career, every song that lands on the internet is, in essence, a "demo." The key is to put your best foot forward and maintain some measure of quality control for how you are heard online (as much as you can in the days of YouTube concert videos, etc.). Any song you’ve outgrown as a band or have rotated out of your set should be taken down. It's great to have an online band archive, but keep it on a private page; the first few songs you wrote together may not be representative of your current skill level or sound.

5. Consider sound quality

Personally, I've fallen in love with and covered groups based on tracks recorded with a single mic on an analog four-track. I’ve also felt ambivalent, or even turned off, by bands that sound “overproduced,” especially in the early stages of their career. "A nicely-done demo is cool, although it can actually hurt if it feels like a band is trying too hard," agrees Merrill. Live video clips and light online research also come into play when Merrill considers whether or not to book a band.  

Similar concepts of quality apply for press, too. Great songs, great stories, and great future potential can all matter more than pristine audio. The type of music you play can factor in as well. Dan Ozzi, an editor at Noisey, says, “I judge bands on the quality of their demos when it's appropriate. Since I cover a lot of bands in the realm of punk, hardcore, and other genres where the musicians have no money, I'm not expecting a perfect recording. I'd like to think I have the ability to separate the quality of the band from the quality of the recording.”

6. Don’t impose

Along with not posting your tracks to an industry member's social media page, do not, under any circumstances, program your website to automatically play your music upon opening the page. Remember that many of us spend our days cycling through music, and we’re likely either listening to something already or giving our ears a little break. At best, it is mildly irritating to hear two tracks at once. At worst, it is as painful as nails on a chalkboard. Allow people to hear your music at their own pace. 

7. Provide access

A surefire way to get industry members to overlook your band is demanding that visitors "like" your Facebook page (or comparable settings on other platforms) before gaining access to your song samples. Not only is this method counterintuitive – most people have to actually hear a band before deciding whether they like the music or not  it is also considered a cheap way to get "fans," however temporary they may be. If you're not comfortable giving the world unbridled access to your music, see the “don’t post everything” rule above. You have control over which and how many songs you post at a time; use that power wisely.

8. Don’t rush

It's a cliched saying, but it's true  you only get one chance for a first impression. Early-stage bands, in particular, should remember that it's not a race to get your music out to the industry. Take your time and use your best judgment. “As far as how or when to present music to the press, do it after you've tested the material among friends. There's nothing more irritating than someone sending me a half-finished song recorded with an iPhone,” says Ozzi. On that same note, make sure to test your links and audio samples before you send them. You don’t want to lose a potential opportunity over technical difficulties!


Jamie Ludwig is a veteran music writer and editor who has worked in various facets of the music industry. She is currently the editorial director of ChicagoMusic.org, a not-for-profit website focused on regional and touring music of all genres; a contributor to Noisey (VICE) and Wondering Sound, among other titles; and has spoken on a number of industry panels.

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Topics: Musician Success Guide, Strategies for Success


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