AMA: “How do you tell when a demo like Burning House becomes a fully finished, ready to release production?”

How do you tell when a demo like Burning House becomes a fully finished, ready to release production?


Great question, Caleb.

When I turn in a song to my publisher, I get it as close to master/ready-to-release quality as I can without spending too much time on it. I always preface my email to them with, “If you need any tweaks, just let me know.” That way they have the option of coming back to me with any changes they might need to make their job of pitching it easier (e.g., Hey, let’s try this without harmony vocals.”).

With the song “Burning House,” it’s sonically very close. I labeled it a demo because I can hear mixing issues and mastering issues that make me — if I were to officially release it — want to have another go at it.

The truth is, in licensing for film/tv I can get away with slightly bad mixes because they are going to mix it to the picture anyway. They have a production team that’s going to make the song sound great within the scene or commercial. So, I have a bit of grace there. But if I were to release it as a track and did an A/B test with another released track, it might sound underwhelming.

The other thing is that so much of my writing and releasing these days is “cart before horse.” What I mean is, often the opportunity comes first rather than the song. I write and record a song based on an opportunity my publisher presents. If the song gets licensed and I like the track enough for my own “Aaron Espe” discography, I’ll usually release it.

I used to think music success was linear. I thought a band had an idea, they wrote the song, they made a recording, released it to the world, and then had some kind of opportunity or success, whether on radio or tv, etc. But one of the first lessons I learned in Nashville was opportunity and success aren’t always linear. More often than not the opportunity comes first.

Thanks for the question, Caleb!


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