Resounding Music

Gabriel Hudelson

How To Put Together a Solid Demo Reel

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The San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival is rapidly approaching (you still have time to register, though!), so the time has come for yours truly to beat out another album- one for a very specific target audience: film festival attendees.

A few people have asked me about the whole demo-reel-creating process, and one of my responses turned out rather long, so I’m turning it into a blog post.  I hope some of the info is useful to you- and I hope to see you at the festival!

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You only get one first impression.  Usually.  But when it comes to a demo reel, you get three- the impression that you make when you meet the person you gave it to, the impression that the album cover/CD art makes, and the impression that the first moments of music make when they pop it into their player.  The first is not going to be covered in this post, but let’s look at the last two.

1: Presentation

I would recommend shelling out the extra cash to really make your CD look good. Set it apart. Make it pop. Get some good pictures of yourself taken (those will come in handy anyway), get the cover designed nicely, and get it jewel-cased.  You could just buy a stack of 50 Memorex CDs and scribble your info on them with permanent marker, but that will not show the same level of professionalism.  Even if your music is excellent, the other guy with not-quite-as-good music but highly professional presentation has given himself a much better chance, not only because he has shown himself as a worthy storytelling partner who takes his job seriously, but also simply because a good-looking CD is much more likely to be heard.  Spend a few hundred bucks and get yourself a quality set of demo CDs.

I like to list the tracks on the CD cover along with the genre that they represent- because a potential client who is making a romance might really, really like track 22, but have no idea for 21 tracks of my CD that, yes, a big ol’ love theme is coming!

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And remember: put your contact information both on the CD and the CD case.

2: Content

A. The pieces you choose should be pieces that you are happy with, not ones you regret, and they should be in your top 90% as far as quality is concerned.

From Richard Davis’ “Complete Guide to Film Scoring” (a book which I would highly recommend for aspiring composers):

“Remember that non-musicians might hear an out-of-tune trumpet but not know what is wrong and think it is something inherent in the music. Then it becomes your fault…”

So quality is key. One of your favorite pieces you wrote three years ago may have a lot of great musical ingenuity to it, but you may have learned a lot about sound design or purchased a great sample library since. In that case, I’d recommend either revamping the piece so it sounds good or just biting the bullet and cutting it from the album. In the independent Christian film industry, it’s highly unlikely that you will get the chance (or the budget) to record your score with a real orchestra, so your ability to write great music must be coupled with the ability to make it sound like great music, and a good demo reel must show that you can do both.

B. The pieces you choose should cover a broad range of emotions. You want your demo reel to show a potential client that that you can score their film- whether their film is the next Bourne film or a quirky comedy. So I try to keep my demo reels pretty broad, genre-wise.

Mr. Davis also recommends choosing film-esque pieces (even better if they’re actually from a film project!), not classical compositions or songs, because those aren’t usually used in film.

Since we’re using CDs, you don’t have to worry about boring the listener with long pieces or lots of the same film score- it’s easy to skip around. That said, I usually mix up the tracks so that they play nicely together (this one leaves off with a bang, the next one comes in very softly) and I don’t usually have all the tracks from one project all together.  While the listener can skip around, I don’t want them to- I hope that they enjoy the music so much that they don’t skip a thing, and when the CD ends, they push “play” again.  I try to arrange the pieces so that the CD will grab the listener’s attention from the moment it begins, and won’t let go until they’ve finished the whole CD. For the third time, hopefully!

As far as how many tracks to include: I had 16 tracks on last year’s reel, and I have 26 this year. Since the listener can skip around (and I have titles on the cover so they know where they’re going), I would rather err on the side of too much music than too little (so long as I’m using good music, not just throwing in bad pieces!). I like to hope that my reel is full of enough good music that it’s not just a good demo reel- it’s also just a great CD to pop in and listen to.

Now, if we were doing cassettes, it would be a different story.

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  • http://www.rebekahsquill.com/blog Rebekah

    And now that I HAVE read it… Good post! Very informative! :)

    To the KING be all the glory!
    Rebekah

  • Maellen

    Excellent article!!

  • http://www.rhapsodizemusic.com Daniel

    Nice! Thanks for this post.