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Business End

MPG Demo Judgement By Various
Published October 2003

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 Furillo Five

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Business EndHaydn Bendall (HB): "This is a weird combination of very polished and very rough at the same time, which I can imagine being attractive in certain situations, but they haven't quite managed to pull it off here. The arrangements are quite sophisticated, but I think the group want to be slicker than they are capable of being, because these songs aren't executed very well. For example, the drums and saxophone are good and some of the guitars are nice, but it could still be conveyed in a much more convincing manner with a different vocalist, because the vocals are the worst thing about this demo — they are out of tune.

"At first I thought the tuning might turn out to be interesting but I don't think it's intentional. And I don't think spending hours in front of Auto-Tune would make it any better.

"I also don't think the material is terribly strong. The first song sounds like a pastiche and the second track is pretty bad. The most interesting thing is the repeated sax phrase over the clashing chords in the third track.

"I'm surprised they've been together six years, because I would have thought that after that amount of time they would have evolved into something else. At the moment they sound like a local band capable of earning a living doing pubs and weddings, which is fine, but with this line-up I don't think they will get very far. Unfortunately, this isn't anything new."

Chris Thorne (CT): "This is going to sound pretentious, but emotionally these songs don't go on a journey. Normally you'd expect the chorus to be the song's emotional high point, but there isn't a high point, so I wondered what they were trying to do.

"There are some good ideas in there. For example, the piano playing and saxophone are nice. But they haven't taken enough care when recording the vocals. Up to a point, I don't mind out-of-tune vocals if they are passionate, but there is a fine line and this is on the wrong side of it.

"Perhaps they rushed into a project studio to do the recording in a day and the vocals were the last thing to get done, but some of the words are inaudible and even if it was the performance of the vocalist at fault, they should have gone back and sorted it out because vocals are a song's key element. They might have improved the vocals by writing in Finnish and then translating them.

"A lot of the ideas are referencing tracks from the early '80s, but these songs don't update that material in any way. The Sugababes' 'Freak Like Me' borrows a lot from Gary Numan's 'Are Friends Electric?', but it updates it by changing the drums and mix in a contemporary way."

Mark Irwin (MI): "Their vocalist has what sounds like a tinge of an American accent every now and then, which is probably his Finnish pronunciation trying to get through, but it doesn't sound natural. I would advise any band to work in their first language and then translate because the results will be a lot more meaningful. The tuning was awful.

"The music is like a soup made out of a lot of different things from the '70s and '80s. Their notes say they recorded in Steinberg Cubase VST using a Roland U220 sound module and Casio CZ101 synth amongst other things, so for that setup the engineering is actually quite good. I gather that the engineer has played some additional instruments on this album so I think he's probably the talent behind a lot of what I've heard. The problem is that if they were really good, the recording details wouldn't matter. And I kept waiting for choruses to happen, so the songs need to be better."

Andy East (AE): "What are they trying to achieve? One would have to assume that if they are sending a demo to Business End they must want to go forward in a commercial way and sell to a bigger audience, but it sounds so dated that I can't see how it can fit into today's market."

LanderMason

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Business EndMI: "Lander and Mason obviously listen to a lot of different material, because their demo hops across many genres within these three tracks, and I found some of that quite interesting. The classical piano at the beginning of the first track made me think it was going to have a really interesting singer/songwriter feel but later it went a bit R&B, which was a complete shock.

"The vocal harmonies are really well done and they have some fantastic ideas, but they need to rein themselves in a little bit, because the demo suffers from over-complicated arrangements. They would also be better off being a little less derivative with their ideas. For example, one section reminded me of 'Flashdance', and those sort of digressions take the seriousness out of it.

"Their production is good. They have a nice setup and have made some good microphone choices, with the Rode NTK and Neumann TLM103. They haven't been able to get a good piano sound at home, so they have gone on location to record a grand piano, which is a sensible approach."

AE: "Perhaps it would help them to have a producer, because that extra pair of ears can be all that it takes just to stop an artist indulging themselves too much. We were all looking at each other in disbelief at certain times because the songs skip through so many genres. It's like a trip through 20th century music in some places. So, although they have produced some competent playing and vocal performances, they need some restraint."

CT: "I don't think they've decided what they want to do with their music, because this is more or less a showcase of their skills. Great, you are very talented, but what are we supposed to do with that, and what are you going to do with that? How are you going to sell it? You can't sell it directly on the Internet because each song has a long intro and if you are using 30-second samples on the Internet, which 30-second sample are you going to use if there is no short section that summarises the song? As it stands, I don't think this is going to make it on the radio.

"Some of the songwriting is interesting, but it does that thing where every line rhymes, and I think the vocals would be much more interesting if she had thrown away that rule.

"I would like to hear what they come up with next; I suggest they take just a few of those ideas and develop them into a song and use the remaining ideas for new songs."

HB: "I agree with what has been said so far. If this had been presented as a demo I would be much more enthusiastic but my view is somewhat coloured by what their letter says about it being available on their web site as an album. If they came to me wanting to do something with this I would think 'yes, I could work on this,' but as it stands this would not make a good, focused album.

"You could create something really beautiful with some of the elements from these songs. For instance, you could examine the jazz influences and get some jazz musicians involved in it. I also I like her voice a lot and their sense of harmony."

Army Of Id

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Business EndAE: "This is so retro that it sounds like something from one of the Blaxploitation films. For me it is a great three-track demo, and it's well presented. They really have made a good job of the production, and they have some good songs and some good musical ideas. The singer has an interesting voice and there is some good musicianship from the rest of the band. OK, the songs are derivative, but lots of people are doing that retro thing at the moment.

"In terms of production I think we were all a bit concerned about the distortion effect at the start of track one, which was a bit overdone."

CT: "I think this is a fantastic demo but they need to make sure they don't sound too similar to Zero 7, otherwise they are going to be seen as a pastiche. If I was producing them I would work harder to move their sound in a different direction. Track three starts to move away with its greater use of synthesizers. Where we've all got excited is in their sheer level of talent and promise. They have enough talent to achieve commercial success on some level. They can be a Zero 7 pastiche all their life but it is not going to get them on the world stage.

"There are a few hard edges in the mix, particularly on the vocals, and for me the vocal is too far in front of the other instruments. I would bring it down a bit more in the mix and try to EQ or compress it slightly differently to round off some of the syllable effects."

MI: "They have used a dramatic filter effect at the start of the first track which, for a demo, might actually be counter-productive. Rather than contributing to the song it made me wonder if one of the speakers had blown! It would be great to go mad with the effects on an album, but it is a bit dangerous putting this on the first track of a demo. Some people might just think the recording is distorted and cast it aside. If that happened it would be a shame, because the second and third tracks are the strongest, and they are brilliantly played. They look quite young, so to be playing at this level is impressive.

"The first two tracks contain a lot of retro sounds and are generally very derivative, and that's probably their weak point, but the third track has a modern-sounding synth part which actually makes it more funky. That was the first time I started to think that their music didn't sound like anybody else."

HB: "On their sleeve notes it says 'what is offered is a fresh perspective on retro sounds,' but this all sounds quite easy to me and I don't find it particularly interesting. They can certainly play well enough, but so can many other people too. The music sounds nice and their arrangements are OK but I feel they're capable of so much more. I just think they've taken the easy way out.

"Sometimes young bands are very conservative just when you expect them to be brave. Even the picture printed on the letter, showing them all standing by a dustbin and shopping trolley in an Industrial landscape, is a really boring, tired old idea. They are capable of doing something really beautiful, so why not celebrate the beauty with a nice image?"

This Month's MPG Panel

Mark Irwin has worked as a freelance sound engineer and producer for over 17 years. He cut his teeth as a live engineer on many worldwide concert tours, but later became MD of West London's Straylight Studios for seven years. In recent years, Mark has been involved with the development and delivery of the Music Technology BA, the Music/Multimedia Technology Foundation Degree and, most recently, the development of an MA in Audio Production at the London College of Music and Media.

A professional producer songwriter for eight years, Chris Thorne is part of Rinkydink, a UK-based songwriting, music production and remixing team working across all music genres. Current projects include producing exceptional unsigned bands, film soundtrack work and songwriting, and production for major-label pop, rock and urban acts in the UK and the US. Chris is a Director of the MPG.

After working as a piano tuner for Steinway & Sons, Haydn Bendall 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 a partner of the UK production company DAT Productions.

Andy East, a former engineer and session player, is Managing director of a London-based Artist Management/Consultancy company called Hip-Hop Cow. He regularly attends and chairs industry panels and seminars for a number of clients, including The British Academy of Composers & Songwriters (BACS). He is also a consultant for several labels in Europe and the UK. Andy is Chairman of The Music Producers Guild.

Many thanks to Phoenix Sound Studios who hosted the session. The MPG's web site is at www.mpg.org.uk

Published October 2003