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Business End

Music Producers Guild Assess Your Demos
By Various

Business End enables you to have your demo reviewed by a panel of producers, songwriters, musicians and managers drawn from the MPG (Music Producer's Guild).

The Audio Journal

Matt Ward (MW): "These songs have a nice groove and the band definitely have an idea about song structure in terms of how they are varying the tempos and sounds, although I'm not sure if they are quite pulling it off because at times it's all over the place. Sometimes it goes a little bit country, other places it's a little darker, all of which could develop into their own sound, but they need to work on that.

"The vocal ideas are there but they are a bit limp in relation to the backing so I think the vocals need more power. The packaging is good and looks it professional already."

Business End

Jon-Paul Harper (JP): "The second track didn't do much for me, it was as if it had been thrown in there to have something obviously different from the first. The third was more in keeping with the first."

Dave Fowler (DF): "It's difficult to know where they are coming from when they list their influences as being everything from Nine Inch Nails to Mike Oldfield, which are at completely different ends of the spectrum. The problem is that there are too few clear harmonies, and no distinctive melody to make it catchy. I haven't come away singing any of the riffs or the vocal tunes.

The demo starts off with a very Beatlesque 'Come Together'-type sound but it doesn't have anything like the sing-along melodies of the Beatles. Even though it is well done and they have well-crafted songs, every song needs something catchy.

"The vocalist uses a low range on one track and a very different high range on another and I thought it was two different vocalists until I read the letter, so if he wants to work on the vocal melodies, he has the skills to do it."

Sam Shemtob (SS): "I was interested by the cover straight away, it is artistically done and it made me want to listen a bit harder. Songs two and three caught my ear because they have some interesting emotion that wasn't completely obvious and simple. Having said that I wasn't bowled over by either of them."

JP: "I don't like spiders and so out of all the CDs it was their cover that drew my attention immediately. You have to give them credit for that because getting noticed is the name of the game."

DF: "I must say that I am still of the opinion that for demos, the more plain and factual the cover the better. I like to see just a band name, a list of songs, the names and roles of the people in the group and a contact number. Artwork just makes me expect to hear something that is not there or stops me wanting to listen to the CD."

JP: "I disagree with that, purely because a demo arrived here the other day with marker pen scribbled on the cover saying 'sorry about the cover but my printer is bust', and that is remarkably bad. I do think that the first bite is with the eye."

DF: "When I say simple I don't mean badly presented, I imagine just a very clean piece of white card with all the information printed in a nice black typeface."

Izernega

JP: "Keeping it simple is good if you have a strong idea, but I found this very repetitive and monotonous, because there isn't much going on and not much of a riff to latch onto. Using a simple rhythm when the main focus of the track is the words is understandable, but I found it hard to make out the words, so it's a bit of a no-score draw for me. As the words are quite important in this case, I would like to have had the words written out with the letter.

Business End

"The one thing that was interesting and unusual in this context was the Eastern instrument sample — I think it was a balalaika — they were using in places."

MW: "By its very nature, hip-hop is stripped-back, has a very repetitive beat and a certain aggression to its vocals, so to call it down for being simple would be unfair, but when something is stripped-back it has to be extremely good to stand out.

"It was quite a nice idea to try to blend the world music elements with hip-hop, and it is definitely something they should explore, but they haven't managed to do it successfully yet — it is still a bit like hip-hop by numbers. This demo isn't really keeping up with the developments that have happened recently in terms of hip-hop production, groove and style. For example, this kind of simple riff-over-a-beat production is like something the Wu-Tang Clan would have done, whereas new producers like Timbaland have messed around with the beat structures so that they are not just a plodding 4/4.

"The cover is very nice and they have some strong ideas, but they need to lift the vocal performances and put something more in there because at the moment it doesn't draw you in, and there are any number of hip-hop MCs who rap in that slow drawling style."

SS: "It would have been interesting to read a few lines of their story — maybe just a paragraph — and there is space on the letter for it. The CD-R broke down at one point in the second song, and some cheap CD-Rs are prone to this, but if I was making a demo I would make sure I had tested it thoroughly before sending it out. I also thought that the third track sounded really tinny and trebly.

"In terms of sound the balalaika is intriguing, and I agree that there are some nice ideas there, but for the genre the arrangements still need more depth. Having said that, for me that's more of a polish thing and basically I think they are quite interesting.

"I got the feeling that some of the songs don't work that well on CD but they might be quite interesting live. I'd like to know if these guys can get a crowd behind them because I think the live element could be important."

DF: "There is a lack of dynamics in the music. It doesn't build up to a point and then break down to another point; even lyrically it is sung with the same rhythm and tempo over and over again. Regardless of the style of music a song needs dynamics, otherwise there is nowhere to go, and all three songs are very much the same all the way through.

"The presentation is nice and plain but the covering letter has very few details so I am left with no idea about these guys. Curiously it did have a line saying 'featuring Killabeat', but there is no mention of who this guy is or what he does."

Pho Aureel 3.2

MW: "The first thing to say is that he's written that he wants to collaborate and work in films and he doesn't want to release CDs at all, so we have to consider this from a slightly different perspective to a standard demo. The presentation, in general, is very nice, smart and clean, but for film music he should include some idea of the mood. Generally speaking, directors expect some sort of reference to the situation it should be used in because they don't want to sit through an eight-minute track to pick out one particular snippet. He could include some kind of sync'ed movie on the CD so we can see how it works in comparison with the visuals.

Business End

"The music is very clever and atmospheric. He shows occasional flashes of real talent, particularly in the third track where it has the feel of Lemon Jelly, but without any visuals I am unsure of how it is supposed to work.

"The first track takes ages to come in and then it doesn't do very much, and that is a bad move; he should swap it. I appreciate that this is for a visual medium but the tracks should still be cut down."

DF: "Given a little more work I would probably buy this, I can imagine playing it at home while I'm busy. There are some very catchy bits in the first and third tracks: the guitar line on the third piece is instantly catchy, as is the two-note keyboard idea on the first. He's used two notes where others would use hundreds.

"This demo has dynamics, ideas, and most interesting of all, for a bloke who writes 'I am not a trained musician, probably not really a musician at all,' he has shown more musicianship than either of the previous two submissions. He is using his lack of training to throw sounds in to see what happens. As a producer I am swayed by his interesting use of effects but setting the technical stuff aside, this is the only demo of this three I would have happily listened to all the way through without skipping, although I suggest that the tracks could be divided into sections on the CD, like movements.

"He says that he has had one piece on TV, so he is close to achieving his goals, but if he did decide to change approach, then he could bear in mind that William Orbit did well with his Pieces In A Modern Style, which isn't dissimilar in its feel. Also Aqualung have done similar spacey mellow music but with added vocals, so I can imagine he could go that way too, with a decent singer."

SS: "I also really liked track one and I noticed that we all sat up when the guitar in the third track began. I like the fact that all the tunes have lots of live instruments even if they are, perhaps, off a CD or put through a processor. In the first tune I was thinking of DJ Shadow, which has to be a compliment, but I was also wondering if it was going anywhere."

JP: "I remember seeing an interview with Mick Jones when he had just started Big Audio Dynamite, and he was explaining that he had a keyboardist who wasn't really a musician so he had coloured dots on all his keys to help him play. Mick thought that there was a certain quality gained by having somebody in a band who didn't know how to hit something properly, and that has come out in aces on this demo. It has an atmosphere, and it's doing interesting things even without words.

"It has a great contrast between the use of contemporary plug-ins and real instruments. He has a vibe and a feel and not many people seem to approach music that way these days. For example, classical composers were painting a picture with sound or creating a mood, whereas a lot contemporary tracks just grab a riff and strangle it for five minutes! This did sound like a backing track to something on TV and it was almost like painting a picture with music, in that respect. I feel that I have heard something different, which is very refreshing, and that's what music should be about.

"If there was any criticism then I would say he should keep the track lengths down and make sure there is a little more contrast. In places it builds up and then drops away. Sometimes an anti-climax can be just as effective but I think he could try bringing in some vocals or samples so there are some sort of landmarks."

This Month's MPG Panel

Dave Fowler is the Studio Manager and owner of Rogue Studios in South East London. At Rogue, Dave acts as producer and engineer for bands and artists using the venue. He is also the singer and guitarist of the band Juice who have recently been touring Europe playing at festivals alongside Feeder and Coldplay. Dave currently runs the small band promotion company called Bandnet, which organises gigs in some of London's most respected venues.

Matt Ward worked for the MCPS as a music licensing consultant before moving to Kickin Music in London, where he heads their publishing arm, Haripa Music Publishing, and works with their five labels. Kickin/Haripa's catalogue and writers include Chiller Twist, Solid Groove, Kings of Tomorrow, Deep Dish, Decoder, Blaze, Future Disciple and Black Grass.

Sam Shemtob is press officer for the Association of Independent Music (AIM), the trade body for UK independent record labels. He does other press work, under the Name moniker, for Musicindie, Recordstore and Musictank, and has recently begun a venture to license music for new media uses. He'd like to be in a position to send in a demo of his own one day.

Jon-Paul Harper was the owner and principle engineer of Rogue Studios for five years. Jon-Paul now runs Rogue's rehearsal studios but continues working as a engineer. His other experience includes working as a roadie, seven years engineering front-of-house and 10 years playing guitar in a touring band around Europe. Jon-Paul has been both a record label owner and an artist signed to an independent label. He has a home studio running Emagic Logic Audio Platinum.

Many thanks to Rogue Studios (www.roguestudios.co.uk) who hosted the session.

The MPG's web site is at www.mpg.org.uk

Published July 2003