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).
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Barry Sage (BS): "I like this. It seems very '60s and trashy, it makes me think of cheap horror movies and that sort of thing. I think if I was going to compare them to anyone else I might suggest the Cramps or the B52s, something like that.
"I really like tracks one and two, I thought they were great but I'm not so sure about the third track. It really surprised me when they suddenly started doing really good, polished vocals, I'm not sure that that fits in with the impression that I got from the rest of it. The strings on track eleven sound quite over produced and cinematic, and I don't think that fits with the trailer-trash sort of feel that they've got going on. They sound great in an off-the-wall, quirky sort of way but I think they could be in danger of losing that feel by going too far towards the cinematic string sound. In general I think this is fantastic, the first two sound great."
Sam Stubbings (SS): "I really liked it when they went into that chorus with the cinematic strings, I thought it lifted it and gave the whole thing an extra dimension. I think these are very well crafted songs. I especially like the chorus on the second track; I think that's my favourite passage on any of the songs. It's really unexpected and just seems to come out of nowhere. I think that it's quite an unusual thing to do but it works really well. They've got some really strong melodies but it at the same time it still feels quite punk. I think they could do really well, I could see them signing to Rough Trade or someone like that."
Karen Murphy (KM): "I don't think they have enough direction in their songs. I get the impression that when they start writing a song they don't know how it's going to end, and that lets it down. It seems like all the songs were trying to go somewhere but never quite arrived, and that makes it feel like the songs never resolve themselves.
"The other thing that bothers me about this is the incongruity between the two styles they seem to be going for. They come across as being quite an edgy and punky sort of band but at the same time they're going for this big, polished, cinematic sound, and I don't think the two go together very well. It seems a bit conflicting and forced."
SS: "I think a good producer could sort out a lot of those problems. I think it could work if it was done a bit more more subtly and the different elements were blended together a little better. A good producer could make these into some really great records."
Andy Rogers (AR): "This is really good, it's easily the best thing I've heard tonight. I like the idea of having very harsh, punk music with such cute female vocals; I think that really gets your attention. I've actually seen this band play live and they're very exciting to watch. They've got quite a distinctive image — the band all wear suits and then the singer wears some sort of rubber or latex dress.
"I agree that it's a bit stop-start in places and it needs a bit more direction, but they've got some really strong ideas. I think it would be worthwhile for any record company to stick this lot in a studio for a week with a decent producer and see what they come out with. I think the music has definitely got potential and, like I say, they're interesting to look at, which is always important for a band."
Nikolaj Bloch (NB): "I really like the first track, I can imagine them being very good live. I like the singer's voice, I think it would be good if she took more of a lead though. It seems like they've got a lot of good ideas and they want to take it further than the usual punk-pop band. I like the way they surprise you and do things that you wouldn't necessarily expect from this sort of act. If they had the chance to work with someone who could help them enhance the good bits and polish the overall production, then they could be a really great band."
Distribution Tips For Unsigned Acts
These days there are an endless amount of web sites offering exposure for unsigned bands and artists. A lot of these are based around the MP3.com format and simply provide web hosting for tracks, but there are alternatives. Music retailer Fopp are offering unsigned bands the chance to get their CDs distributed throughout their chain of shops via their Unsigned Network scheme. This scheme not only gives bands the chance to get their self-released CDs into actual record shops but also provides them with a larger cut of the retail price than normal, as there are no third-party distributors involved. Fopp are keen to promote the Unsigned Network and have recently teamed up with the PRS Foundation (www.prsf.co.uk), XFM (www.xfm.co.uk) and CD manufacturers Clear Sound And Vision (www.clearsound-vision.co.uk) to create the Unsigned Awards. This will take the form of an annual competition and is expected to run for the next four years. Winners will be given the chance to record at a professional studio, have their recordings mastered, manufactured, and then distributed throughout the UK in Fopp stores.
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AR: "I like this, it's interesting. I'm not sure I want to liken it to anything but I think you can really see the quirkiness of Royksopp's stuff in this, maybe a bit of a Daft Punk and an Air influence as well. It's good, it's very clever stuff, it's original enough to do well and grab people's attention. I can imagine these tracks being used on adverts or TV programmes.
"He sounds like he knows exactly what he wants to do — they're very well crafted songs. He's obviously got confidence in this and it's well-placed confidence because it's good. In his letter he says that his CD's available in Fopp record shops and mentions how he's been contacted about licensing his music through being featured on the Indie Connections web site. It seems like he's really getting himself out there and pushing his music — there's so much oppurtunity for this sort of promotion these days, and there's no reason not to take advantage.
"This is definitely interesting enough to make you want to investigate it further but at the same time a couple of potential singles couldn't do any harm. I'm also impressed by the packaging of this demo. It's obviously been pressed professionally but it seems like he's put a lot of thought into the design of the sleeve. The presentation suits the style and quality of the music as well; things like that can really help a demo stand out."
KM: "I really like the last song on this, I like the way the mood of it changes very gradually — it draws you in and holds your attention. The production is interesting in the way that it keeps moving and evolving. With some of the other songs it seems like he's got the basis of the melodies and a basic idea of what he wants to do, but I'm not sure that there are enough ideas in some of these tracks to make them work. Maybe he could try combining some of the basic ideas from a couple of these tracks into one. There aren't really enough surprises in the early songs. But this last one is really good, it's got all these little touches that drag you into it and involve you. I think maybe this guy should listen to some classical music. I think a lot of dance music is based on very basic classical tunes where it's moving melodically from one note to the other. I think he could really learn a lot from listening to Bach or Mozart or anything like that."
SS: "This is obviously someone who takes a lot of care over the production and that's really nice to hear. I like this, but at the same time I'm not sure where I'd play it; it's a bit too low-key for a club. Maybe I'd listen to some of the slower songs around the house or something. I'd really like to hear this guy do a really full-out disco dance track; I think he would do a great job with that sort of thing. I think he needs at least one track like that; something that DJs would play and that people would play at parties. I think we've all talked about how important it is to have songs that could work as singles tonight and this is no exception. He just needs that one track to lead you into the rest of the songs on the album.
"I think the trouble with mid-paced electronic songs like these is where to put them. They're not really laid-back enough to work as chill-out tracks and they're not big enough to work in clubs. I think if he had these songs on an album with a few more in-your-face tracks, then it would be a fantastic album."
BS: "This guy's obviously a good producer. You really can't fault the engineering on this. It's very well mixed and very clear. He's done some fairly creative and imaginative programming on these tracks. I think it would be really interesting to let him loose with some dance tracks just to see what he does with them. I think another thing he should maybe consider is doing production work for other bands and artists, because he's obviously very good at that side of it. I like these songs but I do think it would be interesting to hear him working with a songwriter; a situation where he's not doing all the writing and production himself might just give it the extra element it needs."
NB: "I agree with Barry when he says that this guy needs to work with someone else, I think that collaborating with a good songwriter would make this so much more interesting. The production and programming on this is very good but I think the songs themselves could be better. This is something we keep coming back to, but I think that it's so important to have some sort of hook. This is so well produced, it's easily good enough to release, but the difference between this and someone like Daft Punk is that Daft Punk have the catchy chorus that draws you into the song and makes you remember it afterwards."
This Month's MPG Panel
Barry Sage is a freelance producer and engineer. He specialises in Latin music and is well established in Spain and South America for his work with pop acts La Oreja de Van Gogh and Melon Diesel. As an engineer he has worked with a wide variety of artists, including New Order and the Rolling Stones.
Recently he has been involved in the creation of a sample library of Cuban percussion (Beats Working — In Cuba) for Zero-G and Native Instruments. A full list of Barry's work can be seen on his web site at www.barrysage.co.uk.
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.
Andy Rogers is a producer of production music for BMG/Zomba. After graduating with a degree in music from Kingston University he spent a year as an engineer in a Hammersmith studio. Following a six-month stint at Abbey Road he joined BMG as an office junior. A year later he was producing albums of production music for TV, film and radio. Having left BMG to join Zomba, he was reunited with his former colleagues two years later when the companies merged.
Karen Murphy began her musical career by training to become an opera singer. She later worked as a professional rock, pop and jazz singer in Australia, Japan and the UK, performing with original bands, cover bands, and in commercials. Since moving to the UK she has been employed as a Post Production Co-ordinator at Abbey Road Studios and currently works as a Project Co-ordinator for film and TV specialists Videosonics.
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.