How to Create a Demo in Eight Steps | Berklee Valencia Campus

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How to Create a Demo in Eight Steps

Paula Piñero M.M.’17 working on her composition.

As well as developing their skills as performers, the students in the Master of Music in Contemporary Performance (Production Concentration) program learn how to produce their music. Their journey takes them through not only the recording and mixing processes, but also getting a song ready for the studio, choosing the right musicians, running rehearsals effectively, and picking the right reference track. “By the end of the academic year, they acquire an understanding of what tools can be utilized in order to get the end result they’re looking for,” says Liz Teutsch, associate professor at the Valencia campus.

There are two main components to the program. Students have to write and produce their own music with the help of students in the Master of Music in Music Production, Technology, and Innovation program and either learn the tools so they can record and mix on their own, or develop their understanding of the tasks that technical, mixing, recording, and mastering engineers perform so they interact better with them.

Below, Paula Pinero M.M.’17 recalls her experience developing her artist identity as Lola Rennt with her first single “Enough Time,” a piece she developed during the academic year in eight stages.

  1. Composition

During her first semester on campus, Pinero joined the Original Composition Ensemble, directed by faculty Víctor Mendoza, which allowed her to test several performance styles and learn jazz ensemble comping. “I took my time to reflect about what I wanted to compose, and I came out with a proposal, which was something alternative influenced by rock, jazz, classic and avantgarde. I wrote it thinking of an open concept, which favored improvisation, so other musicians could also test their ideas,” she says. Once the structure was defined, it was put to the test in a workshop about lead sheets organized by Casey Driessen, the program’s director. That’s when her piece “Enough Time” was born. “The result was surprising for its originality, but it was also chaotic. I realized how I had to write each part of the score for it to work,” Pinero says.

  1. Rehearsals

Pinero set up a specific ensemble for this project in which she played the piano and individually tested all the parts of her song with the rest of the musicians in a very collaborative process. “Pablo Lalama was in percussion with a very particular groove, which was fundamental for the piece. I wanted to incorporate glissandi, so I included cellist Roser Talens. Darro Chea was on the guitar and Kevin Reierson on the bass. They had a lot of work as the section was syncopated and performed in unison. Finally, Khairul Musa, aka Analog K, added a rhythmic motif with modular synthesizers,” she explains. For the voice, she wanted both sung and recited sections, so she decided to involve Peter Amato to develop the text with him. “I wanted to use the voice rhythmically but without sticking to the connotations of hip-hop. I had to develop this idea, so I recorded every rehearsal to keep track of the whole process,” she adds.

  1. Performance

At the Performance Forum, students presented their proposals and received feedback from faculty and colleagues. “This is one of the parts of the entire program where I learned the most,” Pinero says. The audience received “Enough Time” in silence. “I think the audience was not too sure how to react, but they concurred that this was a genuine creation. Composer and producer Stephen Webern also attended, and he said it would be a very interesting piece in terms of production,” she recalls.

  1. Production Plan

Teutsch says, “In class we talk about production in general, what goes into the recording from start to finish, and we go back and forth to match what they are doing in other classes.” These elements include the preproduction phase, writing, arranging, the recording studios, the basic tracks, overdubs, editing, mixing, and demo recording.

By the time her music reached this point, Pinero had thought about the concept, written it, rehearsed it, and played it live. “Now I needed an external vision to guide me through the next phase. I chose viola player and composer Rachel Lansky as a producer, [and worked with her] revising the arrangement and planning the recording session,” she says. They thought about the music in general terms and for each of the instruments in particular, and, finally, discussed with sound engineer Yu Lu how they would use the microphones. “We concluded that [it would be best]to record a trio session and the rest of instruments as overdubs,” she says.

  1. Recording

Lu set up the microphones for all of the sessions and was in charge of controlling the console as well as solving any technical problems they encountered along the way. “We started with the drums as this part required a final improvisation. Lansky was an excellent coach in terms of support and motivation,” Pinero says. Later on, Musa recorded the bass with a Moog Sub 37 synthesizer and a modular Doepfer. Then Pinero recorded the piano, the cello with Scott Peterson, and the guitar with Chea in the same studio, but with each member isolated by sound panels. Lastly, Amato recorded the voice of the A section and Pinero sang the B section to create a contrast.

  1. Editing

Pinero also received help from Lu during editing as they had recorded several takes and it was hard for her to pick one. “Composer Dimitri Carabas advised me to use samplers for the voice, so I picked some phrases from the philosopher Alan Watts’s ‘Time and the More It Changes’ video, and I incorporated it as a track,” she says. This material was recorded, edited, and mixed as part of Teutsch’s production class. “It was a provisional version as we knew that there was still a lot of work to do,” she says.

  1. Mixing

Teutsch explains, “The production and technical elements take time to develop and understand. Knowing how to achieve a particular sound using effects in the mix also comes with experience. It takes hours of practice, like learning an instrument.”

For Pinero, this part of the process carried on after she obtained her degree in 2017 and when she moved to Los Angeles and undertook the mixing process with the audio engineer Sergio del Castillo. “I realized that the singing voice and the guitar didn’t have the sound I was looking for, so we did a second attempt. This time we used the studio from A Place Called Home, where I was doing an internship, with my work colleague and production teacher Joaquín Pacheco. We had to make some adjustments involving more precise rhythms for the drums, tuning the voices further, and equalizing to improve the quality of the sounds,” she says.

Paula Pinero poses to promote her single Enough Time, released under her artist name Lola Rennt.

  1. Mastering

Along this way, Lola Rennt had born and “Enough time” was mixed, mastered and ready. “Assimilating all the concepts in one year is challenging because it takes longer than that to become an expert,” says Teutsch. Paula knows it and wanted to improve it further, which involved transforming a whole year’s work in a demo. “Starting again from the beginning is hard but I need coherence in the sound and concept of the whole album and after my time in Berklee I am much better prepared. Now it’s the moment,” she says.

Pinero has moved to New York where she is recording with a 19th-century Steinway piano as well as with guitars, voice, and bass with her MicroKorg synthesizer. The drums will be recorded remotely with Johann Audiffren M. M. ‘17 in Paris, and the initial cello will be replaced by a woodwind instrument, which will be recorded at the Discordian Community Ensemble in Barcelona, Spain.

The alumna says that “Enough Time” captures one of her biggest concerns, as she believes that the quantity of music generated today is comparable to the manufacturing processes used in production chains. “The creation of something genuine demands patience, work, revision and more work. I keep working a lot every day but the difference is that now I try to be more patient and understand that everything in life has its timings,” she says.