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Recording New Musicals

Getting Your Musical Recorded: Demo and Cast Albums

Producing a demo recording of your new musical (or at least some of the songs) is essential for sharing your work. But because demos can be expensive to make, it's helpful to know some of the pros, cons, and technical details before launching into making one. This page includes several articles about recordings, and also lists some musicians whose services can be hired.

Tips for Demo Recordings of New Musicals

Recording A New Musical - Suggestions for Demos

By Matt Gurren

Deciding When to Record A Demo

There are several reasons to hold off on recording your new musical. Demos are expensive. They can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars, especially if you want orchestrations and need to pay an orchestrator. Also, demos can become outdated very quickly. If the show is still growing and songs could be cut, changed, or vastly altered over time as the show develops, you're wasting money and time to record them.

On the other hand, you need to have a recording ready for submissions for festivals, workshops, theaters, producers, and agents. You also need them to help build enthusiasm for your show by uploading them to a website or a Facebook page.

One practical consideration is that it's easier to teach actors for readings, showcases, etc., if they can listen to a track beforehand. This saves the musical director lots of time when teaching the music.

Here's a checklist to help you decide when to record the score:

1) Is the show's score complete?
2) Are you ready for submissions?
3) Do you have a website and/or Facebook that needs clips?
4) Have you received feedback on your music? (It's always good to play it for some people, make some changes/adjustments before you finalize your music with a demo)
5.) Do you have the money? (Prepare to spend a couple thousand dollars on performers, studio space, and sound engineer time.)

Ways To Save on your Demo

Can you make a cheap demo? Here are some suggestions to help reduce costs:
1.) Ask friends or people you know to sing on the demo as favors or for little money. It's also a good way for performers to have material to include on their resume.
2.) Use piano-only demos. Most of the time we only need to hear a voice and a piano accompaniment for us to tell if the song works. Contest and festival judges also only require/expect a piano and voice demo.
3.) Create only a partial demo. You don't need to include EVERY song in your show on a demo. Most festivals/contests only require about 50-60% of the songs anyway and the more songs you record for a demo, the more music needs to be mixed/recorded, which means great cost.

Note, if you're creating a partial score demo, just make sure you include your best songs and give the CD variety (don't make it a CD of all the show's ballads). The point is to give your listener a taste of the range of the score and you want to entice them to see it or hear more.

4.) Only create a demo when you feel the show is really ready. If you've only written half your score, or you're cutting lyrics left and right, your demo will be pointless if it does not accurately reflect the show you are ready to send off to people.

A Demo is Not a Cast Album
Do NOT mistake a "demo" for a "cast album." Cast albums are only for professional/finished productions. It can be satisfying to have your full score CD sound like a Broadway show, yes, but they also cost a fortune and unless you're looking to put this album on I-tunes or Amazon, I would not advise it. Most professional Cast Albums cost tens of thousands of dollars to produce (and I'm talking off-Broadway shows). The Yank Cast Album from the York cost about $60,000 or so.

Demos and Performance Tracks

In the following article, the author suggests that for some musicals, a demo can serve as background tracks for performances. He provides contact information for a company that can create such a demo.

Demos and Performance Tracks: Two Birds With One Stone

by Kevin Frei

When I write a new musical, I make it a priority to cut an exceptional demo of the music. Having a demo that sounds like a fifty-thousand dollar cast album is like driving a Ferrari: it doesn't mean you're good at your job, but it definitely gives the impression that you must be doing something right. Stephen Sondheim doesn't need a flashy demo any more than he needs a flashy car, because at the end of the day he is Stephen Sondheim. The rest of us have to take every advantage we can get.

It goes without saying that a good demo should convey your vision and your talent. But if you do things right, those fancy demo tracks can also serve as fancy performance tracks. That can give you a big advantage when marketing to school and amateur theaters where canned tracks are often a way to control costs while boosting production value.
The difference between a demo track and a canned (or karaoke) track is that one has vocals and the other doesn't. But producing great canned music isn't as simple as removing the vocals from the mix. If you want those canned tracks to actually be useful for a stage production, here are some considerations that you have to keep in mind when cutting your demo:

1. A live orchestra can vamp for dialog, but canned music has to be timed just right. The actors will be counting measures, so give them cues to know where they are, and always be sure to lead them in. You can never have the vocals start with the music; always give them a lead-in bar.

2. A production using canned music may not have the budget for quality mics, and you don't want the track to overpower the singers. If for instance you have an actress singing low in her range, don't blast her out with horns. On the other hand if she is belting you can support that with bigger orchestration.

3. A recorded album is not constrained by the size of your pit, but you should nonetheless have a clear idea of the instrumentation you want for your show. Keeping the instrumentation consistent helps make your show feel coherent, and it will help you down the road when you want to translate your music into a score for a live pit. Sure you can beef up the string section on the album, but you probably won't hire a violinist to play on only one song in the whole show, so keep that in mind.

4. Have a professional master your tracks. Any producer can make a track sound good on their studio monitors, but music mastering is the art of making all the tracks sound consistent across a wide range of speakers. Tracks that sound amazing on your Beats headphones could sound like absolute garbage when played through a theater's old speakers. Moreover you can't just send someone your mp3 and say "fix this" – it has to be fixed in the mix, so make sure you can get your project files to someone who knows what they're doing.

5. Get the midi, stems, and project files for the whole album. Even if you don't have the software to open them, they may come in handy later if you need to make changes and you end up working with a different producer. Keep everything, just in case.

In the beginning I likened a slick demo to a Ferrari. Now I must confess that I am a Ferrari dealer. Or rather, after years of working with my partners Samuel Tornqvist and Rodrigo Sierra to make killer demos, canned tracks, and sheet music for my own musicals, we started a company called Avocado to do the same for other musical writers.

We do orchestration and production at $40 / hour and sheet music services at $20 / hour, and we do everything online from our home studios in Phoenix, Barcelona, and Buenos Aires, so all the money goes to labor and not to paying rent on a New York recording studio. You're not going to find a better value anywhere on the planet. I know, because I searched for years to build this team and nobody else comes close! You can hear our work at BigPitSound.com, and if you want to talk about how we can help with your musical you can reach out to us at bigpitsound@gmail.com.

Orchestrators, Arrangers, Music Directors...

Musical Support for New Musicals

Do you need someone to expand the music you've composed for a recording? Do you need a music director for your recording? There are many in the New York City metro area (and elsewhere).

Here are a few of my friends who might help you.

www.kennethgartman.com/- Kenneth Gartman

Kenneth Gartman has music directed numerous musical theatre productions, recordings, showcases, concerts, cabaret acts, fundraisers and benefit concerts in NYC and in theatres throughout the country. He has also conducted church, school & community choruses. (See website for more.)

www.michaelholland.com - Michael Holland

Michael Holland wrote orchestrations and vocal arrangements for the 2011-2012 Broadway revival of Godspell. He is a singer/songwriter with several CDs, and has written music and lyrics for his own musicals. (See website for more details.)

www.adamspiegelmusic.com - Adam Spiegel

Adam Spiegel is an actor, singer, composer, arranger, music director, pianist, and accompanist)

BigPitSound.com - as mentioned in the article above.

Nicholas Connors Nick Connors Music Services include song transcribing, arrangements, and sheet music work. His work has been featured in college theatrical productions and concert halls.

More info

See Home demo article

http://www.cdbaby.com/ - sell your CD independently

Harry Fox - for "mechanicals" licensing

PLEASE VISIT OUR OTHER PAGES for more help with your new musical. Musicalwriters.com

To send suggestions, comments, or questions write to carol@musicalschwartz.com

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