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'Masters' vs. 'Demos' (Page 1 of 2)
(c) 2002 Myles Wakeham

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In the past, I have been honored to judge various songwriting competitions where writers can enter their material in various categories. Each year I do this task, and in the back of my mind I am hoping that there is a gem in the collection of submissions that would really be able to bring some fantastic respect to the entrants for putting together their own productions with a view to marketing the product either directly to the public, or possibly submitting it to A&R people at record labels.

Well outside of the decision on the winner, there are number of consistent mistakes in there. Its not the point of this article to single out submissions, so I'm not going to do that. But what I hope would be beneficial for anyone looking to make a master recording, is to understand the expectations with a view to keeping some points in mind for the future.

Firstly let's define a "master tape". This differs from place to place, but typically is a product that can stand on its own two feet as a "radio worthy", purchase-able piece of music. Like what you would find on most major label albums. Think about what the average listener, who isn't a musician, would expect in terms of production, fidelity, etc. if they bought a CD from a store.

Now I know that we all don't have a million-dollar budget for our recordings. Fair enough. But let's also remember that the purchaser doesn't care how you get to the end result, but they sure do care about the end product they buy.

I think that we should all remember that there is a big difference between a "demo" recording and a "master" recording. The demo is designed to get an idea across to an informed listener. Typically it is an understood factor that there is a minimal budget with a demo. But depending upon whether you are pitching your music to a huge record label or something less flamboyant, your demo should reflect the listener's expectations. And you use whatever facility or resource that is appropriate for your demo. Its about providing a sneak preview to the song before you get that huge budget and are able to do the song the way you really would want it heard. I mean, people who hear demos are willing to forgive audio quality or the lack of human players because after all, its a demo.

But this is not the case with master tapes. There's no forgiveness in a master tape. If you buy something at a store and you don't like it, the manufacturer runs the risk of losing their shirt as the customers start returning the products threatening to never buy from that manufacturer again. If you produce a "master tape", you are the manufacturer. There's a certain quality level that must be maintained to meet the listener's expectations. Record labels can't produce inferior products and their idea of a master recording is pretty clearly defined. Manufacturers of master tapes have to compete in these circles.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to scare anyone off from submitting to next years competition. But I am trying to give you a couple of tips and tricks that made a huge difference to me when I heard the submissions. And I would hope that if you could take some of these ideas to heart, then I hope that it helps everyone. After all that's the reason why I'm typing madly at a keyboard writing this article. These tips and tricks aren't really about money. And they are well within the reach of anyone looking at producing a master recording. And I will say that they are my personal opinions. However after spending almost 10 years in the music industry, much of which was working with major Hollywood record labels, I am hoping that this experience is going to help our state's "manufacturers" in producing high quality master tapes.

Here's my number one point. We live in an age where technology prices are rapidly falling and everyone will soon be able to afford their own home studio (I know that's a stretch, but its certainly something the equipment manufacturers would like you to believe). And yes, with time you can learn how to use your new digital whizbang recorder and make recordings sound just like the pros. Or your keyboard will soon be able to fly to the moon and take you and your music with it. So hey, let's spend the money that we were going to spend in a studio, on our own equipment and why not. We can use it anytime we want and that's a good thing.

Well yes, but there's one problem. You used to just have to worry about being a good songwriter. Or being a good instrumentalist. Or being a good singer. Or being a good lyricist. Or if you were really able to stretch yourself, you might be able to worry about being good at more than one of these disciplines. Or maybe all. But are you really able to do all of this and also be a good engineer for your own music? As well as being a good computer expert for your sequencer? And being a good mix engineer at the end of the day?

There are very few people in the world who have been able to be brilliant at all disciplines and still make fantastic music. Without letting one thing suffer over the rest. A common mistake is that the equipment and engineering gets more attention as the musician is more worried about the fidelity of how something sounds than the music itself. And then music suffers. Well here's the reality of it.

Think back to the consumer who isn't a musician. The one who walks into a record store and wants that latest CD he or she heard on the radio. Well they will hear the song, then the singer and then the rest of the production. Its the music that is first and foremost on their mind. If you can capture emotions in music, then how you do it doesn't matter.

Its because of one simple fact : great music is felt - good music is heard. Equipment can't really help you in the "feeling" department.


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