You are here

Business End

Readers' Tracks Evaluated
By Various

Business End enables you to have your demo reviewed by a panel of MPG producers, songwriters, musicians and managers.

Escobar

Audio icon escobar.mp3 Track 1 - 3.2Mb

Pete Gordeno (PG): "You could compare this to the Air album, which isn't that far away from this stylistically, but the difference between the two is that the Air album is chock-full of hooks and each track has a really strong identity. This sort of music is so easy to make these days; it has to be really, really good to stand out.

"It leaves me a bit cold, really. They sound like they're going for some sort of latin fusion thing in places, but the way it's put together — the programming and the dynamics — just feel a little bit too much like someone at a computer. I think I can hear the computer working a bit too much here. I spend a lot of time in front of computers, and I know it can be easy to get lost in what you're doing and lose sight of the original idea. This sort of music needs to have much more of a live feel to it, even if it is being made on a computer — that's what it's all about.

Business End"It does have its moments — the first track starts off really well, but then doesn't really develop. The second two tracks were more like songs than the first, but at the same time, they still didn't really reach out to me."

Rennie Pilgrem (RP): "I think the trouble is that the first two tracks have quite a house feel to them, but there's no bottom end — which means you couldn't play them in a club, and they're probably not interesting enough to listen to at home. You wonder where it's supposed to fit in. The third track is alright; it's got slightly more interesting beats and you can hear a bit more emotion in there.

"I agree with Pete about the computers; you do get a sense of 'look at the plug-ins we've got'. The third one has got a bit of soul to it, but with the other two, there's no point where you could say 'I like it when it did so-and-so' because there's nothing there — there are no hooks. It's somewhere in between lots of different things, with no clear identity of its own. The third track is interesting, though — if they were all like that I could imagine putting it on and enjoying it.

"The other problem with this is that there are 12 tracks on the CD, which is just such a bad idea. A demo should be your two or possibly three best tunes, maximum."

Nel Johnson (NJ): "This is background music really. The only place you can imagine this existing is in a bar somewhere. There's just not enough to hold your attention.

"The one positive thing about these tracks is the percussion — some of it is really interesting. That's definitely something they should concentrate on and develop, that could really be their thing."

Deirdre Melvin (DM): "I really don't understand what they're doing with the vocal sample at the beginning of the first track — it doesn't seem to connect in any way with the rest of the song. I think the whole point of having an intro like that is that it leads into something else later in the song, and that never comes. Having said that, I think the first song on this is better than the other two.

"It's interesting what Nel said about it being bar music — I could really imagine this sort of thing playing in some slightly trendy bar for people in their late 20s and early 30s. I can imagine this going down really well in that kind of environment.

"It's a shame there's no letter or information with this; it makes it difficult to know where they're coming from. I mean if this a first demo, then it's a really good effort, but if it's by some band that's been going for 20 years, then it's a bit poor."

Len

Audio icon len.mp3 Track 1 - 2.7Mb

Jamie Vaide (JV): "The sound and the production of this is very nice, but the songs just aren't doing it for me. His voice is really weak, and that's always going to be a problem for anyone doing this singer-songwriter type of music. It needs to be more distinctive.

Business End"It's not bad, but it doesn't really have any hooks to it. You can see what he's trying to do, but he's just missing it really. The vocal doesn't move me, and the tune doesn't either. This is the sort of thing that we've all heard far too many times before. I think the first song's easily the best thing on this, but it does need that bit more to make it work, just some sort of hook."

RP: "I don't usually get to hear this sort of thing, and I think it's pretty good actually. The production sounds a bit bright — it would be interesting if it was done in a slightly more edgy, darker way. This is almost too polished. It might be good if he was put with a producer who could make it a bit edgier. I wouldn't have thought this was a demo if I'd just overheard it somewhere, I would have thought this was the real thing.

"I think it's good; I could imagine hearing it on a film or something. The voice isn't amazing or even very strong, but it works."

NJ: "The singer reminds me of the guy from the Kings Of Convenience. I think the songs are quite accomplished, but I agree with Rennie that sometimes they do seem quite sugary-sweet. I'm not a guitar player, but it seems quite predictable; the chord progressions seem uninspired."

PG: "I do think this kind of singer-songwriter music works a lot better when it's got a bit more of an edge to it. The first track, which is a bit of a Coldplay/U2 soundalike, is maybe a bit transparent, and maybe a bit late! In terms of saleability, Coldplay did it, and Snow Patrol ripped it off — very well — but now it's got to move on."

DM: "I think it sounds like this guy is hedging his bets. He's taken all of his influences, all of the bands everyone's mentioned and maybe thrown in a bit of country and folk as well, and hasn't committed to anything. It almost seems like he's thought, 'well I've got this demo, and I need to show that I can do a bit of everything'. I think the thing we're all picking up on is that there isn't enough of any one thing. He needs to concentrate on one style and perfect that."

NJ: "The whole point of a singer-songwriter is that they've got this thing inside them, and they've just got to do it, and this doesn't feel like that."

DM: "Initially, I found it quite annoying, but as it went on, I actually found it more endearing that this guy is trying to be everything to everyone. He does definitely have talent as a musician.

"Some of the lyrics are a bit cringeworthy though — you really shouldn't be trying to rhyme 'crucible' with 'beautiful'."

Marsbleu

Audio icon marsbleu.mp3 Track 1 - 1.7Mb

Business EndJV: "This sounds like the only thing he's ever listened to is the first Prodigy album, but that said, I like it more than the latest Prodigy single! At least this isn't slavishly following fashion. You get the impression that this guy's doing this because it's what he wants to do. It's very honest, and that makes it stand out."

RP: "The first track starts really well and looks like it's going to be really good. It's very interesting, but I think he's trying to cram too many ideas into each song. Usually people have the opposite problem, where they're trying to stretch one idea out into a whole track.

"The beats are very staccato and not doing a lot — well, they are doing a lot but they're all over the place. He needs to work more on that and try to make them more focused and direct."

PG: " A lot of this sounds very amateurish, but I really feel that I like the guy from listening to the music. It's all over the place, the music over the top of the beats is completely stream-of-consciousness — there's no regard for what's right or what's wrong, or whether it's in the right key. However, there's something about it that's really appealing.

"It sounds like it was done on pretty cheap gear, no pun intended, and I think it sounds like he hasn't quite got his head around the equipment yet. You can make pretty good-sounding tracks with cheap gear these days. He just needs to learn to take some of the ideas out of his tracks and concentrate on developing the good bits."

NJ: "There are places in Hoxton that'd go absolutely bananas for this. It's got quite a kitsch feel to it; I hope that's intentional because it'd be a shame if that's not how he means it to be.

"It does need some weight behind the beats. When you're using a lot of poor-quality samples you can get a sort of brittle sheen across everything, and I get the feeling a lot of his stuff is just coming straight off a CD and onto a mixing desk. It's a really raw sound he's got, and I like that. I think he just needs to beef up what he's doing. It sounds like he's mixed this on really quiet speakers and he hasn't got much idea what it sounds like loud. It sounds really natural, like he really means it, but I think it's going to take another person to see the beauty in it, to edit it down and develop it."

DM: "I think this is painful. I can imagine this as the backing music to some really naff soap opera or Challenge Aneka-type TV program. I think it sounds like it was just knocked together in about five minutes. At least it has some personality, though."

NJ: "I think there have been things like this all the way through dance music. Every so often someone comes up with a really nutty tune, and everyone adopts it and loves it, and has a good time when it comes on."

This Month's MPG Panel

Nel Johnson is a hybrid graphic designer, musician and DJ. As the latter, he has been involved in dance music since the mid-'80s, when he was an Electro DJ. Nel was a regular at the Hacienda, and later became involved in the Manchester music scene in various collaborations before starting a music-production company and recording studio with 808 State's Martin Price. Currently Nel is Creative Director at London's Metropolis Studios.

Deirdre Melvin is Deputy Head of Music at the Student Broadcast Network, a service which provides student radio with specialist music programmes. Deirdre compiles the UK Student Radio Chart, which is keenly watched by the industry to see which acts are having an effect on the crucial youth market. Before joining SBN, Deirdre was a music promoter, and obtained a Masters in Radio Production from Bournemouth Media School.

Rennie Pilgrem began his musical career by playing saxophone and keyboards in funk bands. Strongly influenced by Detroit house in the late '80s, Rennie went on to be a key part of the early-'90s hardcore scene as a member of Rhythm Section. In 1993, Rennie founded Thursday Club Recordings (TCR) which, more than 10 years later, is still going strong. His new album, Pilgremage, is out in September.

Jamie Vaide has worked for the Atlantic Music Group for the last seven years. His role as Creative Production Manager has seen him working with acts like the Darkness, Jet, Ash and Muse. Before moving to Atlantic, Jamie worked as a press officer for Epitaph, Nuclear Assault and other independent labels. He has wanted to be on a review panel since he saw Sigue Sigue Sputnik doing one in the late Smash Hits magazine in the '80s.

Pete Gordeno is a keyboard player and vocalist. As a session musician, he's worked with Depeche Mode extensively (playing JP8000 on several of their world tours), as well as other household names such as George Michael and U2. He's now diversifying into production work, having recently produced a million-selling album for a French artist.

Many thanks to Sam Stubbings and Metropolis Studios (www.metropolis-group.co.uk) for organising and hosting the session.

Published September 2004