This post is for musicians who want to book concerts independently (without a manager). Many concert series will accept a demo when asked.
I can vouch for this: my piano trio performed 12 concerts in one year resulting from one demo.
As there are no firm guidelines for doing this, it is helpful to construct a few of your own.
These are the guidelines we decided on:
1. Choose the music
To interest as many presenters as possible, plan to cover all the bases. You will need excerpts from various musical periods, different tempi, at least one solo per player, and several contrasting types of compositions (waltz, arioso, scherzo, sonata exposition, etc.).
Our excerpts were each several minutes long, including an entire scherzo, an exposition or two, and a slow movement. When several excerpts are included, the demo is long enough for a listener to gain a comprehensive idea of your playing. Most likely, no one will have time to listen to entire pieces.
Should a presenter want to hear more, they can let you know. You could offer to provide more when you send your materials.
We were never asked to send a second recording.
A word to second-guessers: don’t do it! Once you’ve put your list together, stick to it. You will be happier in the end. Changing things time after time will drive you nuts, and your demo will never get done. You can always record another one, put everything on your computer, and play around with what to use for specific situations.
2. Find a space to record
If your living room works, fine. But you may want to find a space without too much fabric, such as carpet, curtains, and seat cushions.
We recorded in a classroom at NYU with good recording equipment and a good piano.
You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on professional equipment. Several years ago, I used a Sony Professional Walkman. Every presenter I contacted was enthusiastic about the quality of the recordings done with that equipment. Now I have a ZOOM H2 digital recorder that would be quite acceptable for this purpose.
3. Have the piano tuned!
If you will be using a piano, this is crucial. Try to have the tuner come the day of your recording session.
4. Turn on the recorder!
Even when you are “warming up” or doing a “run through” just to get used to the space, you may very well do the best take of the day! Don’t risk missing it.
When recording an excerpt, decide in advance on a stopping point, and then play past that point for at least 2 measures. You’ll want to fade the recording out so you don’t have an abrupt stop.
The way this is done matters. So if you have substantial editing experience, go ahead. But if you don’t, hire a professional recording engineer. The relatively low expenditure will pay for itself.
First you need to decide on the best order for the excerpts. If you decide before your editing session, you will save substantial time, money, and frustration. And if you are clear about what you want, the recording engineer will give you his/her best.
Always put your best piece at the beginning! Don’t assume that the listener will get to the one piece you want them to hear later in the recording.
The lead time from the beginning of the CD to the point where the first excerpt begins should be short, i.e. 3 seconds. When a busy presenter hears nothing, s/he may assume there’s nothing there. And then you’re out of luck. S/he will not spend the time to look around on your CD. Make it easy for them to listen to you.
The time between excerpts should also be brief and consistent.
Make sure to order the excerpts so tempi and keys are varied from one to the next.
There is no need to order the excerpts chronologically.
The comments above apply to general auditions. School, grant, and competition auditions (as well as opera companies, orchestra auditions, etc.) have their own requirements, and will be addressed in a separate post.
Do you have other experience with demo recording? Questions? Comments? Please comment on the form below.