First of all, let’s dispense with the word “demo”. Stop using it. What you have made is a promo. These days, the word ‘demo’ has acquired connotations of “not as good as it would be if we had a decent budget and could play our instruments properly”.
Having sorted that one out – the format on which you should present your promo recordings is ‘both’ – and it’s entirely context dependent.
If you’re trying to get interest from a print publication, venue, record label or a radio station, then generally speaking, they’re still working very much in the realm of physical CDs. If you want attention from an mp3 blogger, potential manager, promoter (particularly one in another city), then you should certainly have ready some mp3s for them to access and download.
But as someone who gets sent an awful lot of promos, I have a few tips that might help you see it from the recipient’s perspective.
CD as calling card
If you’re going to a music industry conference or convention, then your best bet is to take CDs. These are your business/calling card. Shake hands, and pass over a CD.
Generally speaking, I’d avoid jewel cases in that instance, because people have travelled and will not want to stuff their bags full of brittle plastic boxes for the journey home. Clear plastic sleeves are the way forward.
Having said that, packaging, design and artwork are crucial. Nothing says unprofessional like a hand-scrawled CD-R with no cover art. If nothing else, then a picture of the band, the name of the band, a track listing and some contact details. But you can do better than that.
If you’re not meeting the person face to face (for which I would always use CDs), then you’re dealing with the etiquette of the mp3.
First things first – do NOT email people an mp3 in your first introduction to them. Even though inbox sizes have increased dramatically in the past ten years, you are still providing digital clutter, slow email download times and potential annoyance. Best thing to do is have the mp3s in a place online where people can download them at their convenience.
Ideally, this would be your own server, but if you do not have that facility, you can use free (and ‘freemium’) file upload and transfer services such as YouSendIt, Rapidshare, Sendspace and MegaUpload.
But you may want to check if people even want that. There’s a huge difference between building a relationship with someone (which, yes, takes time, energy and effort) and doing an email blast saying ‘Hey blogger! Download my music and talk about it on your website!’.
Why are you sending these to me?
Like I said, I get an awful lot of promos. Don’t quite know why, or what I’m expected to do with them. I don’t review music here, I won’t give feedback about a recording, I hardly ever talk about specific musicians on the internet (and almost never from an unsolicited demo). And yet – every day – I get CDs in the post and mp3s in my email.
It’s appreciated, of course – but I feel like I’m not holding up my end of the bargain (whatever that might be) and so each one feels like an unfulfilled obligation. Of course, a lot of it is awful – but some of it is amazing. Part of me wants to hear everything in the world ever – and another part of me just feels guilty about the massive ‘to be listened to pile’ that I share in common with pretty much everyone on the planet in a similar position.
In radio, they call it ‘CD clutter’. The music programmer’s desk is always just a formality. It holds up the pile of music that comes in.
So my message would be that you may be better off carefully targetting specific individuals who show a genuine interest in your work than carpet bombing anyone and everyone who looks like they may in some way be connected with the wider music industry.
Particularly when it comes to ‘promo’ recordings.