Business End enables you to have your demo reviewed by a panel of producers, songwriters, musicians and managers.
Howard New (HN): "This is quite a record, mega production — he's obviously a very skilled tech-head. Bored the shit out of me though. Even for this type of electronic music this is far too long for a demo; you really need to be aware of that when you're sending stuff to people."
Sam Stubbings (SS): "By the time the lead comes in you're just bored with it. You can't let people wait for five minutes before you even start to think about bringing in some kind of hook — attention spans just aren't that long when it comes to demos.
"It's very well produced but there are no bass lines and a lot of the sounds are very generic. He doesn't even have a decent hi-hat, it sounds like some sort of weak, basic VST drum machine. If you're not even going to go to the effort of finding a good hi-hat sound you should just give it up really."
HN: "If you took 30 seconds of this it could sound like the demo of a sample CD. It sounds like he's still waiting for the girl who does the top line and the lyric to arrive."
SS: "Yeah, and the guy who writes the bass line. There's a really nice bass drum, but with a nice kick drum you need a really thumping bass line — I mean this is designed to be played on a club system! And all the sounds that break up the tracks, the slowed-down speech, the waterfall sounds and the dolphin-type sounds, are just so generic — that sort of thing has been done thousands of times before."
Lauren Bloxham (HN): "I was interested in what this was going to sound like from the sleeve and the names of their tracks. I think I wanted them to be doing something really, really weird but it doesn't sound like that at all and it's a bit disappointing."
Neil Tucker (NT): "The production is very good, it's got a really good bottom end to it but you can still hear everything else as well. He must have mixed this on some pretty good speakers because you've got the full range there.
"From a programming point of view it's a bit disappointing; he says in his letter that he uses Reason — I use Reason and I know that you can get some really good sounds out of it — his sounds are just really weak. It's like the sort of thing you'd vibe out quickly as a rough idea and then go back to later and substitute the sounds for better ones. It's as though he's just knocked this out but then hasn't gone back and refined it. The sounds are very weak when you consider the tools he's got. I think he could have taken it a lot further.
"The rhythm programming's very plodding and there are no real changes. It's not really picking up any pace and it's not getting me excited — it's just in the background. Just dropping things in and out every now and again would make it more interesting."
SS: "It sounds like he's very technically proficient but he could definitely do with working on his individual sounds a bit more, especially the hi-hats. I think they're really important with this style of music — they sound really soft at the moment and they need to cut through more. The other thing is hooks — he really needs more of them."
HN: "If what you do is make sounds — if you're a sound perv, then you're automatically competing with all the other sound pervs. If you're writing a song and you've got a good song it can be recorded really badly but the song will still be recognisable as a good song. You can't do that when you're a sound perv because when you're a sound perv the sound is everything."
HN: "Yeah, he's a songwriter who's using this girl to front his music. He wants to be Andy McCluskey or someone like that."
LB: "He's after a publishing deal basically isn't he?
"I think you've just got to have a really catchy chorus with this sort of thing — something that everyone's going to latch on to and remember, and this doesn't have that. I think if he's thinking of writing for girl bands he could do much more in the way of harmony and counterpoint."
HN: "There's a note she sings in the second track that's just painful to listen to. It's just like a shriek or something — a bit like a discordant Kate Bush."
NT: "The whole tone of her voice is quite unpleasant, it could have been a lot warmer — it sounds like he's just gone to town on Logic plug-ins or something."
SS: "I wonder if she's a trained show-singer or something, she's really belting it out a lot of the time and there's no need to do that on a pop track. When she sings quietly her voice is a lot nicer. It sounds like he's playing a synth bass but you can't hear it very well so all you've really got left is the drums and this grating vocal. The third song is a bit better in that respect — at least there are more keyboards and things to fill it out.
"Some of this is almost there as pop; the second track has quite a good pop groove. He does seem to have a grasp of what a pop song is. I think today's pop artists have got a bit more attitude than the pop artists of the '80s. You've got these bratty pop stars like Christina and Britney and they've all got quite a sassy, contemporary attitude. Also, musically you've got to be really up to date. Kylies music, if you listen to it, is generally kind of catching the mood of the moment, like if garage is popular then she'll bring out a track that sounds a bit garage — I think that's what a good pop writer needs to be doing."
NT: "It does sound a bit dated, like early All Saints or something. It's got a really late '90s feel to it. It sounds like he's listened to some tracks and tried to copy them rather than trying to write something different."
HN: "His songwriting's not really up to scratch. He's got his three moving parts, at times he's changed his rhyming scheme as he's moved into another part and he's changed the chord when he's changed the thought — he's kind of adhering to the basics but his vocabulary is very mundane and it's all a bit textbook. There's nothing that makes me think 'Fuck, I wish I'd written that.' With 30 out of the top 40 records there's generally a line or two that stands out, or some chord change or a lyric, just some twist that makes it interesting — and that's why it's in the charts."
LB: "The way he's presenting it as if it's an act is really unnecessary, and even a bit confusing when you first see it. If it's a publishing deal he's after then he doesn't need to have the girl on the cover. This girl really shouldn't be there, she does absolutely nothing for it. She needs to be ditched or at least not shown."
HN: "He's hedging his bets isn't he, and no-one ever gets anywhere by hedging their bets. He needs to nail his colours to the mast and say 'This is who I am and this is what I'm doing.' And if he is after a publishing deal, he needs to use other vocalists on some of the songs so it seems more like a body of work, rather than just some girl he's got to come along and bash out some of his songs."
HN: "This guy is trying to write music for films but it's quite odd listening to it without the visuals. He says that a couple of these pieces have been used in indie films and it would be good if he could send them on DVD so we could see what the music is actually for."
SS: "I think his orchestral stuff is great. His drum programming leaves a lot to be desired — his loops are sometimes out of time, and, they are just loops, two of which me and Neil both know we've got.
"You do hear in a lot of particularly good drum programming in modern film production. I always listen to film soundtracks quite closely — especially end credit sequences and stuff like that and the drum programming is always awesome and often very contemporary as well. A lot of recent film soundtracks have that sort of glitchy, Warp Records-style drum programming for example. Soundtrack production is often on the cutting edge of music. The orchestral stuff is really good; I'm really impressed with that, he's got some very high-quality samples. His composition is good as well."
HN: "Sonically it's all very well balanced and mixed, he just needs to get into his Squarepusher a bit more.
"In his letter he says that he's in two minds about whether he should carry on with his music and trying to get work from it, and I have to say that he really, really shouldn't be doing that. You've got to appear to be confident about your music because you can't expect anyone else to be if you're not. I'm sure he doesn't send this letter to everybody, but just in case — the last thing you want to do is start telling people how crap you are because they'll start believing you."
NT: "You've got to be confident about your music and come across as being confident. Ninety percent of gigs are given to people so that the people giving the gigs don't have to worry about it — they just want a safe pair of hands."
LB: "I think everybody has that sort of self-doubt —it's not unusual to feel like you're blagging your way through life. He seems to be trying very hard with all this but he says he's at his wits' end with the music industry and I think, unfortunately, he's always going to be at his wits' end in this business. He's just going to have to keep pushing if he wants to get anywhere. He just needs to be more confident about it and really go for it."
Sam Stubbings is the Senior Producer for the DVD division of Metropolis. He began his career five years ago at Abbey Road and has since worked with artists ranging from Paul McCartney to Muse. More recently he has produced both the first DVD single (Bjork's 'All Is Full Of Love') and the first commercial DVD-Audio disc (Holst's The Planets).
He also has his own act, Redstar, who are currently recording an album and gigging in London.
Howard New has experienced both sides of the music business. Signed to Parlophone from '93 to '97 he has seen what it takes to make, tour and promote a record. He opened for Tina Turner on her European stadium tour, playing Wembley six times. More recently he has been writing and producing for the likes of Gareth Gates, Louise, BBMak, Beverley Knight and Boyzone. He still performs on his own and also lectures and runs courses on songwriting.
Neil Tucker's recording career began at a small studio in north London which he helped to wire and set up while attending SAE. After successfully completing his diploma course he began work at Metropolis Studios as an in-house engineer and programmer specialising in Pro Tools and Logic. He has since worked with a range of artists including Black Eyed Peas, Missy Elliott, Lauryn Hill, Elton John, Tom Jones, Mis-Teeq and Liberty X.
Lauren Bloxham works in sales promotions for EMI and is closely involved with the EMI field team, indie retailers, and regional clubs and venues in promoting acts across the EMI, Virgin and Parlophone labels. Lauren's interest in music began at an early age and she later went on to study Music and Music Business at university. After graduating, Lauren worked for MTV Networks Europe in Talent & Music before going on to EMI.
Many thanks to Sam Stubbings and Metropolis Studios (www.metropolis-group.co.uk) for organising and hosting the session.