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How to make a great demo tape

Some top tips from people who've been there and done that, on how to make a compelling audition to find work as a radio presenter

Wayne Marshall
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What is a demo tape for?

Paul Easton says: "Programme Controllers rarely, if ever, hire purely on the strength of a demo. The purpose of the demo is to get invited in for "a chat" - so treat it as an audio version of an application form. If you do get that call, it’s highly likely the PC will want to hear more of you before finally deciding whether to take you on. He might request a longer, unedited recording of a show, or getting you to do an audition in the studio.

"There’s a good chance the PC might have been listening to your existing show online to see what you really sound like live. Sometimes, they may do that before deciding to invite you to come in."

Make sure the start is the best bit

Paul Easton says... "It’s a harsh fact of radio life that few demos get heard for more than the first 30 seconds. That’s not always because the demo itself is bad, but because that person might not be right for the radio station, or the slot the PC is trying to fill."

"So, if your best bit is about a minute into the demo, there’s a very good chance it won’t get heard. Make sure you start strong, and give the PC a reason to want to keep listening. Make a good first impression. If you haven’t got their attention by the end of the first link, then you’re unlikely to do so at all."

...and make sure it's compelling and good.

One programme controller says... "Out of the demo-tapes I got sent, most contained weather, music marathons, star birthdays, etc - but nothing that a person listening to my station could relate to! I tend to look for broadcasters I can relate to as people but don’t get in the way of the music. But one thing’s for sure - they need to be clear, bright and compelling."

What else to put in

Your CV. Don't lie on it: almost every radio DJ of a certain age seems to claim that they've worked on Radio Caroline, or amplify one swing shift into "drivetime". Programme Controllers do talk to each other!

Include all your social media contacts on your CV: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, the lot. Go and review these - remove from public view any slightly drunken shots or unemployable political views. A programme controller worth her salt will be checking these to get an idea of what you're like.

Your production tape. If you've a strong voice, you could get quite different work from the station you're sending your tape to.

A letter. Letters full of spelling mistakes and bad grammar do not impress anyone.

Good packaging. If you're re-using a jiffy bag or you've scribbled on a CDR, then your attention to detail probably isn't good enough. In all probability, the only person who'll open your package is your future boss; not a secretary or PA.

What to put it on

Paul Easton says: "Put it on an audio CD (with a web link as a backup). Anything else puts an obstacle in the way of it getting heard. Never e-mail a demo without first checking first that it’s OK. Don’t just send a letter and CV, with no demo, and tell a PC that if they want to listen to it, they will need to go to your website etc. Take it from me, they won’t bother. Remember, you need to make it easy for the PC to hear you, not put obstacles in their path.

"Make sure your name and contact details are clearly-written on the CD: covering letters, CVs and demos can, and do, sometimes get separated."

Neal Bowden says: "If you are going to ignore Paul's advice and MP3 your demo, to include your contact details as the file name. That way, if the MP3 is on the PD’s desktop, she has your details at hand rather than go looking through emails and CV’s for your phone number."

Addressing it

Make sure you're using the correct name - and the correct address. Don't send it to the previous programme controller. Don't send it to the previous name for the radio station. Both of these will mean your demo tape may not even be listened to. media.info has data about who the best people are to send your demo to: but ring and check first. (And then, please, edit the station's entry here to make it easier for others).

Paul Easton says: "Consider carefully where you send your demo - and be brutally honest with yourself. If your natural style is as a young, hot, CHR jock, then it’s a bit pointless sending a demo to a station like Classic FM. Similarly, if you’re older - or older-sounding - then you’re going to stick out like a sore thumb on a younger service.

"As with applying to any company - whether in radio or not - it’s always a good idea to find out more about them. Listen to the station(s) concerned to get an idea of their overall sound, and the sort of thing they seem to be looking for. Over the space of an hour - longer if possible - log everything that happens in that period. Write down the records played, where the jock speaks (and whether it’s a speedlink or something a bit longer), idents, commercials, promos, news, weather, travel etc. If you can manage that for a few consecutive hours, you’ll build up a good snapshot of the way the station is formatted."

Are you sure you want to send it?

Olly Benson says: "One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard was to stick a £20 note in with your demo. No, not as a bribe, but with the message “if this demo is worth your time, I’m sure you’ll repay the money at some point in the future; if it isn’t worth your time then please keep the cash.” Why? The problem is that demo tapes are a free commodity for the people who make them. Ok, there is the CD to burn and the postage and packing, but actually you don’t put a value on the product you are sending out.

"If you work for a company that sends out sample products in the hope to gain business, you have to make a judgement call as to whether the benefit of the future business is worth the cost of the sample. So you make sure your sample is the absolute best you can get it; you research like crazy and ensure that your product stands out from the rest. And you understand your client; are they the type of people who are going to use the sample you are sending them?

"Next time you prepare a demo to send it out, ask yourself whether you reckon it is good enough that you are prepared to risk £20 on it. If you are not, then perhaps you are just wasting the PDs time?"

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