It used to be that every writer would write songs, do rudimentary, work tapes, with an acoustic guitar, or piano, and be able to wander around the vaunted halls of publishing offices, playing either live, or their “tapes” (that’s how long ago that was), and artists, producers, or labels would hear the song, take in the studio, and BINGO, magic happened. HIT SONGS!!! Well, yes and no. In some cases, in the very early days, that happened.

Then, came more and more songwriters and A LOT MORE SONGS!!! And more recording studios, higher technologies, etc. all expanded just like going from black and white, to color, to smaller, larger, High definition Internet, and mostly the PUBLIC’S EXPECTATIONS when they listen to music. Now, we have better listening ability on our cell phones than most of those huge speakers and high tech components of the home stereos of yesteryear.

Where this comes for songwriters is WHAT TYPES OF RECORDINGS do we now do? Can we still count on just a guitar vocal demo (for DEMONSTRATION) or do we have to go “all in” on our recordings? Well, the general rule is that now, we never know where a song will end up. That “home demo” can end up on some cable television show, or in the “back door” office of some publisher or producer, who is having to screen through hundreds or thousands of songs for a project. One chance to make a bad first impression. So, what to do?

Well, first of all, you have to look at it more than just a “demo.” Because of the loss of value in SONGS themselves, due to rampant downloading, all music paying less than ever before, getting a “cost ratio” is difficult. The reality is that unless you get a REALLY big hit, you may not make back the money you spent for the recording. So being careful and methodical are first order of the day.

#1. WRITE A LOT OF SONGS. Like anything, the more you do something, the better you are at it. One big problem people have is when they just write a few songs, go record them, then write BETTER SONGS. They’ve already spent their money. What next. Well, if you have a good supply of songs to choose from, you have more options.

#2. DETERMINE THE APPLICATION. Is this for yourself as an artist? A “record” of your writing level? A “time capsule” of where you were at this particular time in your musical journey? Is this just to “pitch” to other artists, film, television. If you have a good quality recording, with “backing tracks”, you have opportunities more than just the song itself. A lot of television, movies, commercials, are “track beds”, which are music only, without vocals. Can multiply your applications.

Today, there are many “stripped down” versions of songs and artists. Having a more acoustic approach with a few light instruments, can work wonderfully. In electronic or more sequenced music, much can be done on computers and keyboards. Or in rap, hip hop, and many “urban” types of music, can be very percussive oriented. With technology, it can be only limited by the imaginations of the writers and studio. As well as cost, effective

#3. DON’T JUST DO “DEMOS.” My personal method would be to WRITE SONGS WITH ARTISTS. Or if you are an artist, writing songs with more experienced writers. Teaming up with others allows others to share in the costs and to assist in promoting the song and the artist themselves. And it does not preclude “pitching” the song to other artists. But having a song that goes onto an artist’s web site, YOU TUBE, FACEBOOK, REVERB NATION, multiple social networking sites, often beats a song just being played on a computer or I-phone.

#4. TEST SONGS OUT. Another plus of working with performers, if they are out PERFORMING, you can gauge the impact of songs. Testing it in various applications around different audiences, small, medium or large. Does it stand up with cover songs or other songs that one does? Do people respond to it. Do they contact you on social networking sites asking to get a copy of the song? Is it requested at the shows?

#5. GET PROFESSIONAL FEEDBACK. It would be great if everyone had a “mentor” or some professional person to listen to and comment on songs. It would be great if everyone had a contact with a publisher. But that is not always possible, at least at first. So often you might want to go through a paid critique service, or a web site dedicated to songwriting and songs. Getting multiple independent opinions from trusted people across a spectrum, getting various opinions (and that is just what they are) help you make up your mind. Joining songwriting groups, having regular get togethers, just like a book club, will help give you different perspectives. If you get a lot of people saying the same thing independently, might ought to listen. Attending workshops or seminars, all help to find as much info as possible.

My favorites: NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association International), Music Starts Here, Indie Connect, Songtown, Song U.,, Just Plain Folks, Songwriter 101 (BMI site), are just a few. Private teachers like Jason Blume, Steven Seskin or with all due humility, YOUR’S TRULY, can help in that direction.

by Marc-Alan Barnette