How a record producer assesses a demo recording
Suppose you specialise in producing bands. Your first point of contact with the band will be either a live performance or a demo tape.
This would apply whether you were initiating the project yourself or if you had been engaged by a record company. A live performance many not tell you much apart from whether the band has the ability to generate excitement and interest in the audience, but it may tell you where the balance lies between the appeal of the band's members as musicians or personalities and the appeal of the music itself.
As far as selling product goes, it has to be said that sometimes the music is simply a means to an end. If the band do have the ability to excite the audience, and excite you as a producer of course, then a demo tape will allow more critical assessment of the material. It will be your job to supervise the transformation of these rough and ready home recordings into a professional product, and this transformation is definitely not going to happen all by itself.
People in the music industry generally fall into three types: those who don't know if they like something unless they can see that someone else likes it, those who can see talent when it is shoved in their face, and finally those very few people who can see potential.
A producer must be able to recognise the presence or absence of potential in a band or a song from a very rough recording.
Although high quality recording equipment is available at a low enough cost for almost everyone to afford, it doesn't turn people into producers overnight, and the demo tape of what may turn out to be a totally brilliant song may disguise the worth of that song almost to the point of invisibility.
Conversely, many demos have been sent out that are very well recorded from a technical point of view, but the spark of excitement and originality is sadly lacking. Once the producer has spotted the potential in a song, then his or her next job would be to think of ways in which this potential could be brought out to best advantage.
A musically orientated producer (as opposed to engineering orientated) may start thinking about the arrangement and structure of the song and may virtually rearrange the whole thing before even going through the studio door. Or he may just allow ideas to develop at their own pace, knowing that the band will probably be able to take on these ideas and develop them still further.
Also at this stage, the producer will be thinking of what the potential problem areas might be. Is the drummer any good, for example, and can the singer sing in tune?
If the drummer is at the 'good for an amateur' stage, then options might include lots of rehearsal, a few lessons with a pro, acceptance that the band is what it is, or directing the person in question politely to the 'Musicians Available' columns in the music weeklies. No-one said that being a producer was going to be easy and whatever it takes to get a good recording, that's what the producer has to do.
Still at the demo stage, the producer may also play a part in selecting which songs go on the album (the record company will decide which songs are released as singles).
With a band, the producer may simply hint very strongly that a certain song is not really up to it, and that they should write a few more that are similar to one he prefers.
With a solo artist who is not a songwriter, the producer may have such a degree of control that he is choosing all of the songs and merely acknowledging the singer's preferences.
The role of song selection might be extended and the producer may say that he likes a song, but it needs certain changes. For example, if a song has the potential to be single, then whatever it has that gives it that potential must happen very early on or it won't stand a cat in hell's chance of getting radio plays.
If the producer is a songwriter himself, then he may add ideas to the song, or even partially rewrite the song. In extreme cases the producer may end up getting a co-writer credit and a share of the ensuing royalties.