Some years ago, I engaged in a lengthy interview/fanboy email correspondence with Pete Fijalkowski, singer of the enormously under-appreciated 90’s-era British band Adorable. This being before the days of social media ubiquity, it was a rarity to be able to engage so directly with a “famous” (to me) person, and having his email address was tremendously exciting.
Among much else, I asked him if he had any advice for musicians who were trying to get started. I’ve asked this question to many musicians over the years, and the answers are almost always disappointing. “Be good?” Glen Phillips of Toad The Wet Sprocket once said to me, with a hint of embarrassment that implied “I have no idea.”
Pete rattled off a few suggestions a bit offhandedly, but also said, “…you know, the band that sends out twenty demo tapes has a better chance than the one that only sends out two.”
I remember virtually none of our conversation now, but I remember this little fragment years later. The more I’ve meditated on this offhanded remark, the more I realize that it has wisdom that we all can learn from, whether or not we have musical ambitions.
The idea is simple: you set yourself on something you want to happen, and then you keep working at it, regardless of whether you see any return on that effort at first.
What’s on your demo tape?
Say you’re looking for a job (working for someone else, I mean). Do you send a resume in to an email address you found on the website, and just wait? Or do you seek out the name of the person who most needs to see your resume, and get to know them? Do you call to follow up? Do you learn everything you can about the company and how you can help them? Do you start doing the work that they would pay you to do so that you’re all ready to go when they hire you? Do they know you’re serious? Each one of these is a demo tape that you send out. The more you send out, the better chance you’ll have of getting that job.
Say you’re looking to date someone. Do you ask one person out and if they turn you down, do you let the rejection stop you from asking anyone else? Or do you go back out there and find someone who’s even more awesome and put yourself out there for them too?
Or say you’ve found a special someone; do you give them a signal that shows them how much they mean to you, and then stop giving more? Or do you keep expressing your feelings, regardless of the vulnerability that requires? Each time you put yourself out there is a demo tape that you’re sending out to the world. And if you stop at one or two, they may not get received.
Now, a musician today might note the rather anachronistic idea of “sending out demo tapes,” presumably in order to get “signed.” Why bother when you have SoundCloud? Well, true, but you still need to get the word out. You still need to let people what you’re up to, that what you’re doing is important and awesome, and that people will be better off from having listened to your tunes and from going to your shows. You may not be sending out actual “demo tapes” anymore, but the importance of putting yourself out there is still real.
Sadly, I’ve spent a lot of my life sending out one demo tape, and when I didn’t get the reaction I wanted, quietly closing up shop. But I now realize that that’s a disservice not only to myself, but for the people who I didn’t connect with. I’m trying to send out more demos these days.
But enough about me. What is your demo tape? Are you still sending it out?