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Songs time limit for demo?

Hey Guys,

As the title says, im in the process of doing a demo CD, and was just wondering how long can songs go for? I heard that they should go for more than 3.5 minutes, but is it ok to have songs going for abt 2 minutes?


JoeH Mon, 08/07/2006 - 09:30
Using different keys is an old but effective way to keep it interesting.

Who wants to hear things drone away in the same key for 15 minutes? (About the time it takes to play three demos; fast/slow/fast all in the key of "Open-E-power Chord" is borrrrrrrring.)

You'd be surprised what a little variety can do to spice up your presentation. (Do you want your potential listeners to think you're a one-trick pony, or do you want to sound diverse, deep, interesting and got a lot to offer?)

I recently saw Shawn Colvin doing a live gig outdoors (Just her and her guitar). She didn't do a sound check, and hit the stage live. The sound company (name not mentioned to protect the GUILTY) had terrible feedback going on for the first tune, among other things. She actually had to stop the song at one point, it was so bad, and the feedback was ridiculous.

Just to put it in a fresh perspective and start anew, she said she'd try the song in another key, and then dropped the key of the song by a whole step (which was about the ODDEST thing I've ever seen a performer do LIVE, in the middle of a show), but it worked! Suddenly, the thing she'd been struggling with (in front of the audience!) took on a new life, a new sound, and the show went on. I know singer-songwriters experiment with keys all the time to see how a song fits with their voices, but I had NEVER seen it happen live during the opening tune. (She was Fantastic, surprise there)

Barry Manilow was/is notorious for the old trick of a key change WITHIN a song, before the last chorus/verse ("Even Now" is a perfect example of it). You can laugh at him now, but he laughed all the way to the bank, and he set the standard for that kind of thing. (Hell, it works - it adds a little OOOMPH! to the song when it's dragging along, with nowhere to go.)

All I'm saying is that a little variety - just with different keys for each song once in a while - goes a long way, even subconsciously. (If you don't believe me, take a few moments and check out the key signatures of any handful of Beatles songs.....)

Member Tue, 08/08/2006 - 17:30
a lot has been covered but this might be worthwhile.

labels and a&r listen to (about) the first 20 seconds of a song, if you don't have their attention by then they're (hopefully) off the next one. max 4 songs on the demo. suggestion of different keys is correct as well as different song forms... verse/chorus/verse, verse/verse/bridge, etc. the main thing is the songs are professionally recorded because most of the people at the labels can't hear a song unless it's just about "radio ready".
labels are run by business people, not artists.

remember that first 20 seconds....

there are circumstances where a song can make a miraculous recovery. unfortunately, this won’t happen every day.

are you familiar with the song by Lori Morgan, ‘Something In Red’? the song writer, Angela Kasset, had the opportunity to get a studio demo of that song to Ms. Morgan’s manager. he liked it and passed it on to Lori… who couldn’t get past the first verse because she, “couldn’t see where the song was going”. after several attempts to get her to listen she finally ‘got it’ and recorded it. Some #1 hits take time.

JoeH Tue, 08/08/2006 - 19:51
Amen to that, Motz!

I do indeed remember hearing that Lori Morgan song for the first time, and I had the same reaction: Where the HECK is this thing going?!?! But it's a powerful tune, with a great story (as was most good country music at that time) and to the listening public's credit, they "Got it" after hearing a few times through. (And of course Lori's delivery was great, too). No doubt about it, that song is the exception to the rule.

That's what I liked about country music of that time - the 90's. (I don't get to listen to too much of it lately). They were good STORIES, about real people, with a little mileage and wear & tear on them, not just songs about sex, booze and dancing.

Member Sat, 12/23/2006 - 11:26
Most of the replies here are right on the mark. If you're a song writer, don't send a demo in with a lengthy instrumental intro before you start "telling" your story. Record Execs have access to the best musicians in the world, so get your words and story started within the first couple of bars. Song writing, as opposed to being just a vocalist is actually where the big money is. Just look at the number of songs in all genres that have been re-released by different artists. So, get the "meat and potatoes" of your demo up front quickly before the Execs have a chance to shut your demo off and turn your demo CD into another "drink coaster"

Cheers and good luck!!!


pr0gr4m Sat, 07/29/2006 - 03:17

It depends on the music I guess. If you are playing Ramones tunes, 2 minutes would be perfect. If you are playing Yes, you'll need like 26 minutes per song. But I would think that those are somewhat extreme.

If you are doing standard pop tunes, 3-4 minutes is ok. most people don't even listen to the whole song so make sure to have the good parts early.

Thomas W. Bethel Sat, 07/29/2006 - 05:32
Most people listening to CDs will listen to about 30 seconds of the song maybe a minute tops. If the song doesn't grab them in that time period they probably will not listen much more.

The 3.5 minute rule is usually what was considered to be the MAXIMUM playing time for radio and has since fallen by the wayside.

Make sure what ever you send off has been listened to by more than yourself to make sure the order of the songs (usually three tops) is a good one. Also most A&R reps (the people who are going to listen to your music) will not accept unsolicited materials so make sure you are in contact with them before sending off your stuff.

The problem with getting CDs that someone sent in was that there were too many law suites where people said (insert name of famous recording artist) had ripped off the song from their unsolicited submissions.

35 years ago I worked in an AM radio station in the back country of Kentucky and we use to get about 250 unsolicited records a week I can't imagine how many CDs a record company or large market radio station might get today. No one back then or now has the time to listen to them and who would pay for someone to sit all day listening to the material and for what purpose. We had more than enough material to play on air as it was.

Get your A&R contacts arranged ahead of time.