Q: I’m challenged by my lack of demo material. I figured I would accumulate some good clips along the way and build up a portfolio. However, my networking skills have outpaced my gigging experience (I’m picky). I’ve recently been asked by some high B-list caliber artists for samples. Gulp… I don’t have any so the conversation ends there. I don’t want to share demos from my C-list cover bands and am going back and forth on the tackiness of just recording over some cover tunes to show what I can do. I guess the question is: How do you record demo material to get to the next level if you don’t have any presentable work from the previous level? The ol’ chicken and egg situation.
A: That is a tough one, and one I think most musicians know well.
My first CD, Trios happened thanks to that very quandary. I was starting to play with “the guys” in town and develop a name for myself locally and was even beginning to generate a slight buzz nationally, but whenever I was asked to provide a demo or links to music online, I was forced to assemble crappy recordings of live gigs and found myself agonizing over the handful of “average at best” recordings I had done with other bands at that point. What I did was to suss out the cheapest way to record a demo album and assembled some great players in town. Thankfully, they were people I had developed friendships with, so I got some free sessions out of them but you may have to save a little coin to hire the guys you want to play with. I always encourage you to pay musicians what you can, even if they’re your friends. We all work hard to develop our abilities and I don’t like to take advantage of that when I hire my friends. Maybe make it up on the back end somehow, if you can, choose a handful of tunes they all know already to minimize the work load on their end, and play one or two take recordings of a variety of music.
For me, it wound up turning out so well that I was encouraged to release it as an album.
Basically, when you are at that place where you are climbing the rung from C to B level, you have to get creative in order to start reaching that A level rung. None of us have a tone of dough, so we have to try and find ways to get the recordings, videos, and so on, necessary to appear “already there” and just get it done. Once you appear like you’re the guy, then it’s easier to get hired as the guy.
Just make sure that you’re up to it because if you get the gig and blow it? That’s a hard thing to recover from.
For me, that meant saving my pennies, racking up a little credit card debt and creating my own situations until people saw that I could play and started hiring me based on my newly created “past works” and word of mouth.
Eventually, once you start to get that next level work, the recordings, videos, online press and magazine press adds up quickly and you become a strong presence online.
Initially, I started trying to review CDs online and write articles because I thought that it would be a good way to develop a presence online. Now, I continue to do it because I love it and have developed a lot of meaningful relationships with people online. I love being connected to the bass community. I know longer “need” it but actually work to make time for it because I enjoy it.
I’m not encouraging you to be artificial in any way, just creative. Assess a need and get creative with regard to finding a means to that end. Save some dough, hire guys for a half-day recording session and spend a few hundred to a thousand bucks and half a day to get a few really well-recorded tunes where you are playing the way you want to be represented. Then, you have a better shot at getting “that gig” that will lead to you getting hired to play on other peoples CDs that you can then use in your portfolio, resume or whatever.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Just get creative and make it happen any way you can!