I spoke with hit songwriter and swell pal Walt Aldridge ("I Loved Her First," "No Getting Over Me") about song demos.
TH: Let’s talk about the way you approach demos. Do you, because you have the expertise in so many areas…I assume that you try to make your demos as much like what you hear the master recording sounding like as possible.
WA: I do. And I think most people do. But the difference is that I’m able to converse with the engineers on a one-to-one level, and with the musicians on a one-to-one level. Usually I play on my demos, so I’m on the musician’s side of the glass while it’s being tracked. But I’ve found over the years that it really helps if you can speak with an engineer in terminology that he understands. If you say to him, you know, “I’m looking for more of a transparent sound.” Well, they don’t know what that means. But if you’re able to say to them, “I’m looking for a sound that’s more like an API mic pre with maybe a little real ultra-high frequency added to it”…or something like that, then you’re speaking in their terms. The same thing with musicians – to be able to speak to them in terms of music theory, or sounds, or whatever, and have it be something other than some kind of vague thing that a lot of people speak to them, like, “I’m looking for something with a little more punch to it.” Well, that can be interpreted in a lot of different ways. I have found that it’s helpful to me to sort of participate with everybody, in that I can speak both the languages – technical and musical.
TH: Are there any more instances these days of basic vocal/acoustic guitar demos actually getting pitched to an artist, or more often is that pitched to somebody that’s going to make that into a high-quality demo, then pitch it to the artist?
WA: I think it depends. I think there are writers that do that. I have never been one of them. I’ve never been one of those guys that really sold the song with just his acoustic guitar. And part of it is the kind of songs that you write. I have to tell you, a big part of songwriting to me is also writing the production of what I envision. I write the intro lick…. I wrote that guitar lick for “No Getting Over Me” on the beginning, and I wrote the guitar lick on the beginning of “The Fear of Being Alone” - and those licks were just as important to me as…those guitar licks had to be there, just as importantly as any of the lyrics or the melody. So, it depends on what kind of writer you are. But I’ve always been a sort of production-oriented writer, who usually had a sort of end record in mind when I wrote the song.
Here's Walt on I Loved Her First.
Next time, we'll talk with songwriter Anthony L. Smith ("What About Now," "Tomorrow") about licensing songs for advertising.