Kevin Savigar on the Art of Demoing Your Song

Kevin Savigar is an old friend, world class session player, producer and songwriter. In addition to being Rod Stewart’s longtime keyboardist, he was a co-writer on many of Rod’s biggest hits including “Forever Young” and ” Tonight I’m Yours”. Kevin has worked with Bob Dylan, George Harrison and John Mellencamp to name just a few. I’ve been recommending his new service The Traxmasters to songwriters and thought the topic, and the man, would be perfect for my first guest blog. Thanks Kevin!

Kevin Savigar

Kevin Savigar

I’m often asked by songwriters, both experienced professionals and newbie hobbyists, questions about doing demos of their songs.

Can we get by with just a guitar or piano/vocal version?

How do i decide what genre this song really is so i can get a demo made that i can pitch to labels, artists and managers to maximize by chances of getting my song noticed?

How do we work up an arrangement that sounds contemporary enough to compete in today’s extremely competitive marketplace?

If I am not an artist myself, how do i find the right singer to sell my song?

What makes a great demo?

Who should I get to demo my song?

I may be able to shed some light on these often confusing points. The first thing to do after you are sure you have the song the best it can possibly be, – i.e. no holes in the lyric where you could have possibly gone back and improved it, a melody that is captivating and emotional, a harmonic structure that provides tension and release in all the right places, – is to decide if you should do a demo of it. It is very tempting for a writer to want to demo every song he or she composes. We all truly believe our latest work is the greatest thing we’ve ever done as the excitement factor is still running high. It’s really important to focus on your best songs and be selective to get those ones recorded the best way you can.

Technology has unlocked the door for many of us to be able to produce something decent at home on a laptop with an affordable microphone and some software, but if you are planning on presenting your material to industry professionals you really need to have a high quality, seamlessly arranged and performed recording that will represent your song to it’s maximum potential. In the grand old days of analog technology and record stores, you could get by with a simple piano or guitar/version of your song.

Today you are competing with other writers’ demos that sound like they were recorded and produced in a pro studio with great microphones and a good budget, with much attention to detail, a killer-sounding track and a flawless vocal performance. That being said, depending on your song, a more stripped-down version might be just the ticket. I also think you should get various mixes of your song when you are done with your full demo version so you have options later on. Maybe muting the drums and bass and making a version with just guitars and vocals would be a good option to be able to pitch to music supervisors for film and TV uses (a great income stream for today’s writers and a good way to get your music heard). I like to do different edited versions after I’m finished – lengthening the intro before the vocal comes in and shortening the intro to get straight to the vocal; different stripped down combinations of instruments and vocals – these are all useful to have for future pitches. I also do a mix with the vocal louder as invariably you’ll get asked for that later. It’s important the lyrics are easy to hear and understand.

Are you pitching your song to the country market? Or is it a pop song, americana, urban or electro, dance or dubstep? Are you an artist with your own sound and direction? Do you want a great singer-songwriter version to pitch to film and TV? Defining what genre your song best suits itself to is a must. Is the lyric coming from a male perspective or a female one? Or could it be sung by either, with the lyric working well for either a male or female singer? Perhaps you want to have two versions to open up more possibilities? These are some good boxes to tick while you are deciding which way to go.

Most demo companies can work up a good arrangement if you provide a worktape of the song with a rough vocal and guitar or keyboard. I like to have a conversation with the writers at the outset to find out what direction they want to go, choosing the instrumentation, and defining the genre and gender, along with any production ideas they may have and I might suggest – perhaps giving a couple of comparisons to contemporary hits that would be similar in direction sonically, groove-wise etc.

Choice of singer is the next hurdle. If you are not a performing songwriter you will want to hire a singer who will bring the right tone and emotion to your song, who makes the right stylistic choices to present the song in the best possible way. You want the song to be able to work for a wide range of artists to increase your pitching possibilities. In other words, a good, emotional reading that sticks to the writers melody without too many distracting licks!

I work with a pool of great studio singers, male and female, some specializing in country, others in pop, and I hire who I think will be best suited to the song I’m working on. The client gets to hear clips of the different singers and can choose which one they want on their song.

Well, I hope you found some of this helpful. Checkout my demo service site and good luck with your songs!

Kevin Savigar
Los Angeles, California