You are here

Business End

Readers' Tracks Commercially Analysed
By Various

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

The Uterus Women

Audio icon uteruswomen.mp3 Track 1 - 2.3Mb

Business EndNikolaj Bloch (NB): "I thought this was going to be quite interesting to start with — the first track seemed quite promising, but I don't think they kept that momentum going. I think the first song could be made to be very interesting, it could be quite fun, but I don't think any of the other songs really grab me. The first song's not especially strong but it's quite fun in an irreverent kind of way. It does have a bit of a hook, which I don't think the other songs have. Some of the intros were quite exciting but then, afterwards, the tracks don't really live up to them. I think the production could be much more exciting but it's fine for a demo — it shows off what it could be and that's what a demo's supposed to do."

Magnus Fiennes (MF): "It's hard to be critical of something that's basically trying to be naive and oddball — the whole strength is that it's supposed to be lo-fi and home-made. They're wearing that well though, he's doing it with aplomb. I mean obviously this could benefit from some sort of sparkling, banging mix, but they're not doing badly as it is.

"It's very voguish, I like the combination of influences and his slightly whiny voice; I think the fact that it is slightly whiny and annoying probably helps the thing actually.

It's got that early '80s, new-wave delivery. I think they're maybe just slightly too postmodern though, they look like they're just slightly too old to be doing it and it's all a bit knowing, like they've read all the right magazines and that. It doesn't feel dangerous enough, it just feels a bit calculated, a bit too styled."

Haydn Bendall (HB): "I like the first track. I think they need to take a few more chances and make it a bit braver though. The concept is nice but it's quite safe and that's not very appealing. All the distortion on some of the tracks makes it sound less honest, like they're putting it on and trying too hard. They say in their letter that they only started doing this this year though, and, that considered, I think it's a promising start."

Sam Stubbings (SS): "I think this is all fairly formulaic punk — in the song structures and with what they're singing about. It's all been done so many times before and it's a bit tired. The way they're using synths in some of the later tracks was maybe starting to get somewhere interesting. The guitar is very distorted, I know it's supposed to be like that, but I like it when they take the distortion off and you're left with a more jangly sort of sound, I think the tracks start open up and groove a bit when they do that. I think it'd be interesting to see them live.

"I think the thing to remember is that if they're sending their CD in to be reviewed in this session, then they're probably looking for management and a record deal, I think if that is what they are looking for, then they're not going to get it with this as it stands. There's not enough that's different or new or edgy. It just seems a bit lost at the moment. I think if they get going and push it to the extremes of what they're doing then they could make it work."

Triviul

Audio icon triviul.mp3 Track 1 - 2.9Mb

HB: "I don't like the first or third tracks on this at all but I love the humour of the second one. It's got a very grandiose feel to it, and that really shows off his vocal style. It reminds me a little bit of the musical fireworks of something like Moulin Rouge — it has that theatrical element to it.

"From a production aspect I think it would have been nice if he'd gone more with the humour of it. I think you could have a huge amount of fun doing this sort of thing, and sometimes it feels like he's taking it a bit too seriously. I think there's a way of doing these things where you can enjoy the humour of it and still be very committed to it. I think you could have a fantastic time in the studio doing the second track. The quality of the production's very high as well, I can see from his letter that he's had experience in professional recording studios and I think that really shows."

SS: "I think the production is superb to be honest, I haven't heard anything this clean for ages. The second track is easily the best song of the three; it's got a nice hook and that makes it stand out from the others. I don't really find anything grabbing me with the other tracks but maybe a second or third listen would help that. I found it engaging just because of the quality of the production actually; I love the harmonies and the layered vocals. I like his voice a lot in the second song; he has got some Matt Bellamy in him, especially when he gets to the higher end. When he lets go it sounds very good, the rest of it sometimes feels a bit too controlled, and sometimes it sounds like a piece of production music because it's so clean."

NB: "I agree, it doesn't breathe, when he's singing loudly the music doesn't get louder with him. I don't like the first one very much, it doesn't do anything for me, the third one seems to be in a completely different style — more funk and American blues, and I don't think that's where his strength is.

"The packaging is very simple, just a standard CDR case and a simple typed letter, but I think that's great — it's got enough information, it's clear and easy to read. A photo might have been nice though. The only thing I would criticise about the letter is that it has a lot of references in it. Maybe that's just me, but when I'm listening to something for the first time I like to be able to make my own references. The other thing that bothers me about it is that I couldn't see any similarity between his music and some of the things he was referencing — Dido and Nelly Furtado for example."

SS: "I think the one problem with this, and it's indicative of a lot of people doing music on their own these days, is that there are no real dynamics to it. I get that with the things that I write by myself, and as soon as you get a band involved it's so different. It would be great to hear this stuff with live musicians playing it."

NB: "I think a live band could work really well with this. It's already got a theatrical element to it and a band could really bring that to life. He mentions in his letter that he's got a classical background, and some string parts or other live instrumentation could really lift this."

HB: "If a record company phoned me up, played me the second track and said 'would you like to go into the studio to do this?' I'd say yes immediately. Personally I think he's got enough there to take it further and he doesn't need a band. He does need more than just one good track to get a record deal though, and I just wonder if he's got more stuff like that."

Slaughterhouse

Audio icon slaughterhouse.mp3 Track 1 - 2.2Mb

MF: "The first problem with this is a sonic one — it's just not fat in any way, it just sounds like soft synths. The beats aren't tough enough, the flow of his rapping is really a bit pedestrian and his diction's not great. I quite like the way that they're embracing a more electro sound with some of the tracks though; the third track is actually quite innovative in some ways. The second track's dreadful, sort of second-rate R&B with a guitar, you've just got to move away from that, it's embarrassing.

Business End"I think it's so difficult to find anyone who's doing anything interesting in UK hip-hop. This doesn't sound like somebody doing their own thing, sometimes original ideas come through but mostly they're just copying American hip-hop. I don't think they understand what the beats need to be doing at all, it's very dissipated across the stereo field and it's very thin. There's just a kind of reediness with this that I associate with soft synths, you really need something like an MPC or an SP12 to get that tight low end. A lot of the time there's too much going on; too many delays going off. That distracts from the main thing, which is the beats. They need to stick at this and hone it down, make it simpler and more direct."

HB: "The delayed double-tracking thing is a real mistake. It seems to me that there's a real lack of commitment with this — the instrumentation, the sounds, the vocal, the treatment. It all sounds like they don't really mean it.

"On a technical level, I think these guys could really do with getting some decent monitors. There's a bass line on the second track which is really out of control and just swamping everything else. You really do need an accurate view of the bass end when you're doing this kind of music.

"The UK does seem to have a real problem with hip-hop, it's really weird because there's some really good French hip-hop out there, there's even good Russian hip-hop. The British seem to find it very difficult though."

NB: " In their letter they use the phrase 'tried and tested formula' and they're comparing themselves to American artists. To me the UK music industry seems so fashion-led, one thing happens and everybody else runs after it. I think that's a big problem with UK hip-hop — that it's just aping the Americans. One of the things I really like about hip-hop is that it's one of the only forms of pop music where people can talk about contemporary subjects in their lyrics and actually express something original — obviously that's not going to happen if you're just copying someone else's style and ideas. I think they really need to try harder not to follow formulas, just doing what they want would give them a much better chance of creating something new and interesting.

SS: "I think the first track on this is really good. I haven't heard any good UK hip-hop that's based on American hip-hop, it only gets interesting when you get people like Dizzee Rascal and The Streets who are doing their own thing and not trying to emulate the Americans. I think the first track really has potential though, I know people who would absolutely love that.

"I think the production is very amateur, it doesn't groove and it isn't hard enough. The vocal mix on the first track is much better than on the others, it seems to sit much better within the rest of the mix. I think if they were to carry on in the same vein as the first track then they could do alright, they just need to keep trying to develop their own ideas and be original."

This Month's MPG Panel

Haydn Bendall: After working as a piano tuner for Steinway & Sons, Haydn was employed at Abbey Road studios for over 17 years, including 10 as senior engineer. in addition to working with artists such as Fleetwood Mac, George Martin, Elton John, Damon Albarn and Hans Zimmer, Haydn has collaborated on several musicals with Eric Woolfson and has made extensive recordings with all the major London orchestras. Today, Haydn is involved with Schtum Ltd and The Firebird Suite.

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.

Nikolaj Bloch is a freelance engineer, writer and programmer with almost 20 years' experience in the music business. As the guitarist in the band Subcircus, he played all over the world until their split in 2000. Since then he has worked as a programmer and soloist on several major Hollywood films. He has also written for a range of artists varied enough to include American country singers and Jimmy Somerville. He enjoys spending time writing and collaborating in Nashville throughout the year.

Magnus Fiennes is a composer, producer and songwriter. His production career has taken in a diverse range of artists and bands, from the Spice Girls and All Saints to Pulp and Tom Jones. Recent co-writing credits include Massive Attack, Kylie Minogue, Sugababes and Liberty X. He has also composed several film scores and written for numerous TV shows and commercials.

Many thanks to The Firebird Suite who hosted the session. Their web site is at www.thefirebirdsuite.com. The MPG's web site is at www.mpg.org.uk.

Published July 2004