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Demo music...

With Iowa coming up, I thought I would start a thread to discuss some of my criteria that goes into selecting a passage of music. I cover some of the essentials in my tutorial found on Midwest Audio Club:

However, more goes into it than that. Some of the things I personally listen for....

1. A slow pan - especially when it is part of the music that may go unnoticed right away. Maybe a rhythym guitar player walking across the stage, or a synthesizer laying down some atmosphere. Whatever it is, it is never as obvious as something like the intro to Queen's "Play The Game", for example.
2. Fundamentals below 45Hz. Not as common as we think - even on full orchestral music or live rock. It is rare to find demo tracks that are actually a challenge for most speakers. I find 45 Hz +/-5Hz or so to be a very common tuning - and real bass below those frequencies can really demonstrate what, if any steps a designer took to protect their woofers below tuning. This is why a dose of dubstep or EDM or trance or whatever is a good thing.
3. Low noise floor - sounds obvious at first blush, but a lot of older recordings are fairly quiet to begin with and by the time you apply corrections to create a level volume, older analog noise can actually be an issue. I find passages that are quiet - or even silence between tracks - and listen for excessive hiss. Hiss falls in a region our ears are sensitive to, and I suspect we end up filtering out critical detail inside our weird little brains.
4. Flaws in the recording that can be mistaken for a speaker deficiency. I was hesitant about posting this one because it is kind of a "secret" technique, or at least not commonly discussed. Essentially, we spend a lot of time listening for things speakers do wrong on music assumed to be recorded well. Well, I generally insert at least one track that contains information that can replicate that effect. It is a concept well worth exploring.
5. I like less obvious vocal processing. I have set in on a lot of live music, done a lot of sound guy duties, and spent enough time in the studios to know recorded/amplified vocals all sound better with some post-processing. However, reverb for the sake of reverb quickly becomes gross. So does excessive double tracking.

Anyways, I am always curious what other people look for in a demo track - I like to think I am good at picking the music, but I am always impressed by other people's selections and am always willing to explore further alternatives.

That being said, I believe this is pretty close to my final mixdown for IowaDIY this year:!AlHuPRQmBiX2niiP5GVSS1gaPBdY

Vic Damone - In The Still Of the Night
Limahl - Never Ending Story
Gordon Lightfoot - Bossman
Alexander Tharaud - Goldberg Variations, BWV 988-XIII. Variation 12 Canone alla quarta
Jamiroquai - Virtual Insanity
Helen O'Hra - The Mason's Apron
Lindsey Stirling - Crystallize
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  • Yes, #5 drove me nuts in a past demo you made. I thought I had defective mids, XO's, amp.......etc. :s
    ............. could you hum a few bars.
  • I like solo instruments that are not used often, or recorded with a special quality.
    ............. could you hum a few bars.
  • Damn, only got cans to try this on. Got to wait to get back from vacation to abuse some speakers. =)
    ............. could you hum a few bars.
  • I saw this guy on a youtube. Nice tunes and well played.
    Solo album has a well recorded bass and very very (let me not repeat myself but here. VERY) centered image.
    Debut album has a much less centered virtual image but has a wide sound stage and pleasure to listen to.
  • Good thread.

    I am probably not going to bring any speakers to Iowa (focused on the playback deck right now) but I will have a demo. Here is a teaser:

    28774032236_4c848ab8cb_c.jpgWP_20160806_12_29_31_Pro by Jason P, on Flickr

    Who you gonna call?
    = Howard Stark: "This is the key to the future. I'm limited by the technology of my time, but one day you'll figure this out."
  • Gotta get Schwithy! B)
    ............. could you hum a few bars.
  • I think the second track was used in the never ending story soundtrack. Brought back some memories.
  • edited August 2016
    Well thought out and explained @jr@mac. More folks should check out your Audacity tutorial - it's top notch. Personally though, I think part of the problem is that people know what they like, but they just don't have the time to chop it up into a presentable 5-min demo, no matter what sort of tutorial you throw at them. I still use SoundForge, so when one of our members asked me to go thru Audacity with them, I was shocked at how different the software is!! Another problem. Lots of different solutions out there with close to zero compatibility.

    Here are a few things I do in my demos and obviously several of these are going to align with you, JR. Some will not though.

    I volume normalize my selected tracks. IMO, this is crucial. I'm not saying to "compress" your tracks. I'm saying get them all normalized to your loudest track in your demo. There is a difference between normalization and compression. As much as you love that 70s or 80s track that was mastered at -6db, it's gong to sound like shit compared to your newer tracks. When I say shit, I mean it's going to be so low in amplitude, that you will lose your audience no matter how good your project is.

    Dynamics are awesome but save the really "loud" stuff for last. After I select my demo tracks, I line them up from the subtle stuff to the kick-ass stuff. So yeah, I will slip a dubstep track in for the last track to leave an impression that my project can take some abuse.

    I edit stuff like a maniac. Within my demo tracks, I have no problem cherry-picking the best passages of the track and making it sound like a cohesive mini version of the song. Why not? It's a demo after all. This takes a bit of practice however. JR has covered that sort of editing in his tutorial.

    Fades/segues are cool, I don't personally like the 2-second silent "gap" between songs. I like flowing demos that don't stop until the 5-min (or whenever) mark. However, DO NOT do the 30-second segue - you will confound your listeners. A 5-sec segue is fine - just don't do it in the middle of a vocal passage! Find a spot in the track where there could be a natural fade and make it happen.

    Hope this helps.

    Here's an example:

    Chicago DIY:

    Meniscus GTG (vocal emphsis):

    My signature goes here
  • Good stuff, Bryan. I think expanding on the concept of level matching in general is needed. Like you, I generally tend towards progressively louder within the demo, and like closing with a bang.

    I feel obligated to mention that covering a wide variety of genres, or covering a wide variety of music within a genre, is important - and not just for the burnout factor I mention in my tutorial. When I am extracting demo tracks, I have to stay vigilant that each successive selection is not simply a continuation of the previous - meaning, if I decide to pull a classical track consisting of a full orchestra I will often find myself listening to further orchestral tracks effectively limiting the demo to one particular challenge. Transitioning from a full orchestra to a string quartet, for example, would be (imho) a great way to keep the motif of classical while offering enough variety.

    I plan on doing a little work on the house demo tonight, but it should be noted that we (mac) generally try to collaborate on these so the "flavor", if you will, is unique.
    I have a signature.
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