Let’s all beat up a demo!!!

The title of this blog takes a small liberty. I am going to commit all of the beatdown. You, the reader just get to play along and, perhaps, add a pithy comment after you have absorbed my mystical wisdom.  I have been threatening for over a month now to take one or two of the submitted demos and critique them publically. Now I will make good on that threat. Tonight’s blog will be about a demo from the band Spiral Jetty Club. The next blog will cover a demo from Oliver of Melbourne Australia. I belive that is on the other side of the earth from New york. Since I haven’t visited Melbourne there is a good chance, as far as I am concerned, that it is mythical, like nirvana. Oliver may be some kind of Unicorn/hobbit creature for all I know.  Well, in the world of how to succeed at rock even hobbit/troll/fairy bands need to make great demos so OLiver is gonna get his nosebleed next week. This week, as I have just said, the honors go to Spiral Jetty Club.

Queen of Coincidence

Here’s their submission “Queen of Coincidence”. Give it a listen, not once but twice.

Here’s a link to a page with the song’s lyrics.  Are lyrics important? Hell yes, they are important.  Can you have a hit without lyrical talent? Yes, Huey Lewis and the News proved that point in the most mundane fashion possible. Led Zeppelin also wrote some monumentally crappy lyrics as well. At least they, unlike Huey Lewis, dressed cool. 

So here is my first take. I’ll throw in all the good stuff. Decent tune. The woman singing lead (perhaps it’s a ladyboy but I’ll go with woman for simplicity) can sing. She has a classic post nirvana cute girl persona. It works well with the material. The demo is simple acoustic and keyboards. It has a simple, straightforward arrangement Verse — 1/2 Chorus,Verse !/2Chorus, Full Chorus x 2, Bridge, 1/2 chorus, Full Chorus…..Cute ending. The keyboard textures fit and fill out the song. The lyrics based on the romantic notion of chance and meeting the right guy are cleverly built and conclude, as expected, with a note of hope.  As a song it is pop, has a decent hook and an interesting sound……….

If I was listening to this recording from the standpoint of production I would say that it works well as a production demo, something to build on and a good starting point. As a demo to send to a label I doubt if it will seriously interest an A & R person much less land the band a deal.  First it has a catchy hook but doesn’t sound like a hands down hit. Labels want every song to be a hit. This, of course, is impossible but they want it anyway.  The performance and writing fails to set the band out from the background of thousands of competent writers with decent singing voices. It takes no chances. It sounds like many other things that every label has heard. Labels want unique, compelling, hits.

To start with the song could modulate up a whole tone half way through the song to build tension. Her vocal performance could go from calm and studied to frantic and desperate or weird and disturbed.  At no point does the song offer any surprises or hooks that shake your soul.  Hard to do in a simple demo? Sorry but that is just not true. Listen to Beatles rough demos. Listen to Pete Townsend demos. Listen to the demos of almost any hit and you can hear some magic. It’s in there from the beginning. This song has a long way to go but a serious rewrite, taking the basic ideas and developing them to throw in some surprises and a few hints of great performance and the song will be closer to a real, pro demo.  The singer, Caylin Sanders has talent. She obviously knows how to write. Does she know how to rewrite? Does she know how to arrange a song in a way that isn’t tied to the first arrangement that the band stumbles onto? Can she recut the vocal so that it really comes across as  person looking for something and wondering if they found it? Music must have emotional content to communicate with the listener. This track ends up being pleasant.  Do you think pleasant lands a band a deal?

The song tries to pull you in in the beginning. It comes close but the arrangement offers up no tricks to ensure that the listener stays tuned. This is key to hooking an A & R person. By the time you reach the chorus the A & R person should be praying that the chorus is as great or greater than the verse was. Does this song reach that goal. No.

I encourage all of you to post comments with additional criticism. If all you can come up with is that it does rock like your favorite headbangers then skip adding your voice to the blog. I’ll just delete you anyway. Instead your comments should be designed to help the band make the track better. The best way to learn is to teach others…when you can do that then you will be on your way to succeeding at rock.

©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010

Queen of Coincidence © Spiral Jetty Club


3 thoughts on “Let’s all beat up a demo!!!

  1. So I know that you ask for comments and criticism of the posted demo, but I actually wanted to comment on one of your statments in this post.

    Above you say: “Labels want UNIQUE, compelling, hits”

    If that is true, then why does EVERY song on mainstream radio sound the EXACT SAME!?!?!?

    pardon my consumate pessimism, but I’m just wondering?

  2. i appreciate the linearity of the story in the song. the second line about the produce aisle is too hard to decipher without the lyrics at hand. also i dont know too many guys who go to yoga classes, just sayin. the song is really overly desperate and anti-climactic lyrically, melodically, everything really. the bridge seems like it should be building to a much stronger chorus.

    brad- it took you so long to get this post up and it was pretty weak dude. i hope for more next time and quicker.

    • Dear IC,
      You caught me. Touche. I took a long time, and it certainly wasn’t my best post. Sorry about that. Perhaps you could read some of the other hundred thousand words I posted in the first three months of the blog and be satisfied with those postings.
      Thanks for reading

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