Ask Abbie: I Recorded A Song and No One Will Listen. What Do I Do?
I’ve recorded a song and have been sending it everywhere—radio stations, record companies and websites—but no one ever gets back to me. What does it take to get heard?
Getting your material heard is not easy. Just one minor miscalculation along the way can be the determination between success and failure. This question is so deep that I’m going to create an entire series of articles to assist others in your position. However, until then, here’s the short answer without knowing anything about your actual music or situation.
I’ve sent out and received many songs from artists and bands over the years. I usually know within seconds, not minutes, if I’m going to like it.
Here are some things to seriously consider before spending your valuable time and money on a recording or song.
First of all: Do not confuse a demo with a song made for radio. Never send a demo for an opinion!
A demo is a recording to be sent to those interested in hiring you to perform. Unless you are performing as a “Track Act” (singing to a recording or lip syncing), a club or concert promoter wants to know how you sound live. Your demo should involve few overdubs and should reflect the true sound of the band. I didn’t say the raw side of a band. You will want production! Don’t just stick a microphone in the center of a room and hit record. A demo reflects the sound, style, and potential of the band.
You will rarely get an opportunity to be heard by someone who can affect your career. In today’s industry, nobody really cares about potential. I often listen to songs and can hear the potential if it were better produced, written, played, or recorded. Like most in the industry, I might make the time to listen once, rarely twice. There are just too many bands with the entire package. Anything less than awesome gets discarded.
So what does it take to make radio ready music? Your music must be well-recorded, produced, and mastered! If you can get those three nailed, you have a chance that an industry professional will give your music a listen.
Many amateur artists lack production. There’s a great company in the Christian music industry called Rehearsal Mix and MultiTracks. I love this company for the products and services that they provide. This company provides single tracks extracted from a mastered recording. These recordings can be the single best learning tool available to any songwriter. Why? Because you will get to hear all the instrumentation and vocals that are buried in a song.
Production is more than making every instrument sound its best; it’s about balance of tone and volume. I can always tell a song that has been recorded with all the musicians in the same room without a producer. How? Because every instrument in the recording sounds like it was recorded to stand on its own. A great song should stand on its own, not the individual instruments. I will often write some of the best guitar and keyboard parts and then bury them in the recording’s mix. I bury them because not every note should be dominate.
Back to Rehearsal Mix and MultiTracks: I suggest that you visit their websites and listen to the example songs. I recently subscribed to their services for my church. I felt as though I was relearning songs I’ve played for years. You’ll hear parts that are virtually subliminal on the original recording, but it would dramatically change the song if they were absent. As a songwriter, put on headphones and listen to the original. Listen for all the parts buried in the mix. Listen for the tone of individual instruments. Some may sound like trash when singled out, but they blend and develop the overall tone of the song when included in the mix. Also listen for the placement and balance of instruments and vocals from left to right in the headphones.
Some bands try to perfect their “live” sound while in the studio. They want to be able to essentially recreate the sound of their CD when performing live. Some great bands playing in certain genres can get away with that; however, I personally favor a well-produced sound in a studio recording. I will often add whatever the song requires in the studio and then figure out later how I will perform it live.
You should never go into a recording studio with just enough budget to simply record your song. You should get your music down then add time for layering of tracks and to obtain a good mix. Depending on the song, I will often record five to seven guitar tracks, up to ten keyboard tracks, and as many as twenty or more vocal tracks.
And remember, the best produced song in the world is worthless if the vocals are anything less than spectacular. I’m not talking about having the world’s greatest vocalists; I’m talking about a quality of vocals which fit the song. Bob Dylan was never a great vocalist. His music was written and produced to accentuate his unique voice and style. My number one gripe with most recording studios is that they will charge big bucks to record a song, polish the tracks, master the song with skill—and never tune the vocals! Yes, you can tune pitchy vocals. I am a very good vocalist, and I always tune my vocal tracks. If you have one note—just one—which is questionable, you just lost the opportunity to ever get airplay.
I will never forget the first song I sent out to radio stations. I heard station after station tell me “Love the song; the production needs work.” It was too bad that I didn’t know that before I started. To get help with that problem, you should consider joining TAXI. I’ve written a series of articles on TAXI; you should read them if this suggestion entices you. I love this organization. I’ve been a member, and I recommend them to every serious songwriter. It’s a place to get critiqued by industry professionals. These guys don’t play games, they don’t pull punches, and they will tell it like it is. Much like the rest of the industry, I won’t email a band with a critique, but they will. Best of all, you can make some extra money and great connections. But the bottom line is that they will help make you a better songwriter, producer, arranger, etc. TAXI is a great place to hone your skills.
Please don’t misunderstand me. The purpose of Christian music is to spread the word of God. Unfortunately, simply having the desire to spread the gospel is not enough to succeed in the business. Big money is often invested into Christian artists, and the competition is extremely intense. So although it is Christian, it is still very much a business. Quality must accompany your music. To be heard you must motivate a long list of industry professionals. Many years ago I was told that if you offer a great performance, the audience will experience your performance; offer a bad performance, and they only see a bad performer. The only way to best present your music is to remove all obstacles which could possibly distract the listener from the song.
Every now and then I get surprised by someone with great music. I am one of the few who will showcase an unknown artist if the music is great. To have it be great, you must master your skills and don’t cut corners. Give your music a fighting chance.
Now go rock God’s house and keep me in the loop!