Demo Tapes

Posted on August 11, 2011

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These days they’ll be MP3s, links to web content or CDs but whatever the medium, these are examples of your best work designed to convince a radio station to give you a shot.

People always ask “how long should my demo be?”

The fact is 20 seconds is too long if you’re just plain rotten and it’s unlikely anyone will ever listen beyond the first 2 minutes.

Just like when you meet someone new, radio station bosses make their mind up about on air talent pretty quickly.

The aim of a demo is to persuade a Programme Director that you’re good enough to be invited to meet them, and to record a pilot show in their own studio. The demo is about giving them a taster, convincing them you’re worth more of their time.

So I’d aim for 3 minutes max, enough to demonstrate you’re able to handle a variety of content.

Sitting down and forcing yourself to “make a demo” is a false situation and I often end up making mistakes and going over things again and again getting frustrated with it all.

A better approach is to give yourself plenty of time, start recording and relax into doing your show. This is easy if you’re already on air at hospital radio or an internet station. Record everything you do and after each show choose the absolute best bits and that’s what you use. If you don’t have enough great material from this week’s show, add in some bits from next week until you’ve got some tough decisions to make about what to leave out.

If you DON’T currently have a show, try to get some studio time or set something up at home. (See the Home Studio post for more information).

Start recording and give yourself at least an hour. The idea is to give yourself a genuine “on air” experience, so if you screw up, keep going. Eventually you’ll relax and forget you’re “making a demo”. Listen back to your recording and keep the best bits.

Think long and hard about what material to include. You want to show variety and a mix of “stuff everyone HAS to do” and “stuff that only YOU could do”. And make sure the content fits with the type of radio station you’re sending it to.

There’s no point doing a show that’s all about unsigned bands and sending it to a station that only plays current chart hits. Do some research first and think about where you’d fit in.

Always put your best work at the beginning – it might be the only piece that gets listened to, and make it something about yourself, give the listener a feel for who you are.

Then include perhaps a link that’s related to the music you’re playing, or some other useful information, then maybe something about your local community, then something designed to get some interaction from the audience, then a link promoting another programme on the station, and finally something else unique about yourself.

The aim is to show that you’ll fit in with the overall sound of the station, but also that you are an individual and special and they absolutely need to hire you!

Never start a demo with the weather, or a “welcome to the show” type link. If that’s your BEST content you’re in trouble!

On paper, a good demo might look something like this…

(personal/human) STORY ABOUT AN AMAZING STREET PERFORMER I SAW ON HOLIDAY

(Music – after an Oasis song) TICKETS FOR NOEL GALLAGHER’S GIG IN EDINBURGH GO ON SALE THIS FRIDAY

(interaction/local) HAS ANYONE FROM ROUND HERE GOT TICKETS FOR THE OLYMPICS? WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO SEE?

(station) YOU CAN WIN £1000 ON THE BREAKFAST SHOW TOMORROW MORNING!

(interaction/local) GIVE SOME RESPONSES TO THE INTERACTION LINK – TEXTS, CALLS ETC.

(personal) STORY ABOUT HOW MY WIFE HATES FACEBOOK, MOANS ABOUT IT CONSTANTLY, BUT REFUSES TO COME OFF IT!

This is just a very rough guide and every demo is different. The trick is to get yourself heard.

I’ve seen piles of mail go unopened and demo CDs sitting in boxes in the corner of offices, never getting listened to.

If you’ve already got some relationship with the Programme Director that certainly helps and my tip would be to host your audio on-line and e-mail them a link to it. YouTube or AudioBoo are worth considering. It means the PD can click the link in the e-mail and listen to your work while they get on with something else. That’s quicker than opening a package, and putting a CD in a machine and less hassle for you in terms of postage and packaging.

By all means follow it up with something physical if you don’t hear back. But be careful not to nag. Radio station bosses are extremely busy and often don’t have as much time as they’d like to listen to the presenter they have on air ALREADY let alone potential new talent!

So send a link and give it at least a week, then try a polite follow up asking if they’d prefer it on CD or some other method.

If you don’t hear anything back try and figure out why.

Be brutally honest with yourself – are you good enough to work at the station you sent your demo to? Maybe it’s too early in your career and you’d be better aiming for a college, internet or community station.

Send the URL link or MP3 to some friends you can rely on for constructive criticism. Maybe their feedback will help you improve.

Give it a couple of months then try again.

Doing your homework in advance helps maximise your chances of getting heard. Who’s the best person to send your demo to? Is it the Programme Director? Maybe he or she has a deputy or a “Head of Presentation” who deals with demos? A chat on the phone with the receptionist or even an e-mail to your favourite presenter can give you all sorts of valuable information.

If you’re going to send something through the post, why not hand deliver it to the station instead – you never know who you might bump into while you’re there and what you might find out.

By all means include your CV or a brief cover note explaining what prior experience you’ve got and where you think you’d fit in.

Since it’s highly unlikely a vacancy exists at the exact moment you send your demo, it might be smarter to ask for tips to improve rather than a job. Once the boss has decided they like you, they’ll keep you in mind for anything suitable that comes up.

Above all, be willing to go the extra mile, be polite and friendly, and be yourself.

PS: Top tip…if you’re able to include a clip of you interacting with a caller in your demo it goes a long way to making you stand out!

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