HOW TO STAND OUT IN A SEA OF DEMOS

(A HELP-A-COMPOSER WEEK POST-MORTEM)

When I offered to listen to 5 demos from composers and say which I liked best, I received a sea of demos to listen to.

It took some time, but I listened all the way through and sent everyone notes. It felt like a glimpse of what it’s like for directors and producers to be inundated with composer reels.

In a sea of demos, who stands out? Here is what I learned:

QUALITY. More is better, and no bar exists that is “good enough”. There is the top of the stack, and there is the rest.

Quality mattered on every level – melody, harmony, rhythm, sound design, orchestration, performance, recording, editing, mix, etc. Anywhere a cue didn’t deliver set it back into the pack.

Examples were over-long intros, sudden endings, lazy repeats, fake-sounding virtual instruments, wolfy recordings, too-loud drum hits, busy or flat melodies…

Flawless is hard, but it stands out! Anything you know in your heart can be better, make it better! That will separate you from the pack.

ORIGINALITY – Most cues stayed safely within 3 conventional styles of film music. I heard lots of great music that made me say “you’re ready to break out and be yourself!”

In a sea of demos, when something breaks the mold – bam! – you notice it.

One example was a rhythm cue, based on original samples, with nothing harmonic or melodic about it. The sounds were mangled like you wouldn’t believe, and fresh ideas kept rolling in every 4 bars.

Not only did it sound good, but I can describe it to others without referencing something else well-known. Can you say the same about your reel?

So when you demo, I recommend: Be bold about it.

PERSONALITY – People aren’t just hiring your music – they are hiring you! I sought out every submitter online, and found very little. Usually a photo, a home city, a university, a few credits and some additional demos.

What I wanted to learn was who you are. Your personality, favorite books and shows and games, interesting places you’ve been, what your studio setup is like…

Heck, even just knowing whether you are PC or Mac would tell me something!

I found a few videos of composers conducting or playing instruments, but no one dared speak out loud. Just hearing your voice gives people a lot of information about you.

We are all cautious about what we put online. Putting your true self out there will make it easier for people to reach out to you.

OTHER BITS AND PIECES

– All the submitters were “undiscovered” talent. The best credits were modestly-budgeted indie and YouTube projects.

– All submitters clearly demonstrated passion for film music and potential for a high level of success. Every demo, to the last, had musical ideas I admired.

– Shorter was better for first impressions. I recommend the first 3 or so cues of your reel stay within 60-75 seconds.

– Musical diversity in your playlist tells more about you. Similar cues within the playlist tells less about you.

– In 2017, the mockups are scary good. Strings, brass, percussion and choirs better sound great. Woodwinds and solo instruments remain elusive.

– Bigger does not equal better. Standing out had nothing to do with the size of the ensembles.

– Synths were underused.

– Popular music genres (EDM, alt-rock, hip-hop, folk etc.) were non-existent.

– I enjoyed hearing back from people once I sent notes, and I found I preferred it when people responded right away.

– 10% of submitters were female, 90% were male.

– Less than half of submitters hailed from Los Angeles.

– Everyone I interacted with was absolutely cool. We’ve got a good group here, with lots in common, don’t be afraid to reach out to each other!