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YouTube Review - The Pulse: You won't find me there

Take a trio of rhythm guitar, bass and drums. Add a vocal, add some overdubs. Oh, and someone find a lead guitarist for the solo...


Every now and then someone sends me a link and asks, "What do you think of this?"

Responses to this kind of question tend to fall into three classes...

  • "It's lovely. You're a wonderful musician" - Friends and family
  • "Thank you for sending us your song, but we're not looking for material like this at the moment" - The Music Industry
  • "I don't know. What does everyone else think?" - Music reviewers

I'd like to be a little more forthcoming. Bear in mind though that I'm not a music reviewer and I have no idea what the public might like. And I always pick the wrong contestant in X Factor and The Voice. I do have opinions on technical and production issues though.

Here's the track...

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0:00 The opening is OK, but it could be more arresting. It seems as though it's meant to capture the listener's attention, but it could do so a little more in terms of sonic texture. There's a click at the start of the second note. This should have been retaken or edited out. Later in the song it wouldn't really matter, but this is the opening second (I was going to say "the first second" but I changed my mind. You might see why...)

0:01 The drums are interesting. This isn't the natural sound of a drum kit, heard from a typical listening distance. The drums are very much louder than the cymbals. No problem with that, creativity is good. The toms are panned very wide, which can sometimes be a distraction, but I don't mind in this case. I would say though that the drums (in this case other than the cymbals and hihat) could be tightened up into a more punchy and powerful unit. That would definitely be worth a try. Compression, EQ and careful blending with faders and pans will be necessary.

0:10 The vocal has a crack right at the start. A retake should have been made, or the crack edited out. The vocal has a distortion effect that seems to suit the character of the song. It's always worth thinking about why you want to use a distortion effect. Do you want a vintage sound? Should it sound like a cranked-up, worn-out PA in a rat-infested club? Is there any other reason why you don't want a clean vocal? The image of the vocal in the stereo sound field is a little blurry. This could be reverb, or YouTube's audio mangler. It wouldn't be a problem for a typical listener, I feel.

0:31 The nature of the arrangement makes itself known here - it's a guitar, bass drums trio. You can hear that from the start if you listen, but when the power level drops slightly at this point, it's an 'a-ha' moment. I'm all for 'reality recordings'. Overdubs are cheap and easy. Getting a good recording that sounds like a real band playing together is much more difficult to achieve. In a trio such as this, the bass player often has to work hard to fill any holes in the sound. A diligent study of the playing of Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce of Cream should be mandatory.

0:44 At this point, there are a number of vocal overdubs. Whereas everything could have been a live recording up until now, the overdubs do sound 'overdubby'. One could take live performance as a point of reference and make the overdubs sound like the other members of the band are singing. That would work. Or you can take the frame of reference completely into the studio, adding more effects and/or processing. There's something about the sound of the vocal overdubs that irritates me here. It's hard to decide exactly what it is but it might be that the lead vocal is sung in full voice, where the overdubs are more breathy. I think some work either in the studio, or in the mix, could help this section gel together more.

0:44 I noticed a 'synthy' sound entering at this point. It's subtle and disappears quickly. I like it, but what is the point?

1:16 The second verse has been pretty much a carbon copy of the first, production-wise. No problem as long as people are liking it. At this point however a crackling sound pops up. I've had guitar leads like that. It's interesting, but I think it could take over more, and it would have been better without the reverb. Actually, it might be even better if it were not there at all.

1:20 Some spoken vocals, with what seems to be a slightly different processing. I think a more different processing would have worked better, although you have to consider that one processed spoken section per album really is enough.

1:29 The character of the vocal changes considerably through doubling. I don't see the need for this. It's back to normal at 1:38. The syncing of the vocal lines isn't precise, but I don't mind that in the context of the overall sound of the song.

1:52 At this point another guitarist steps in to play the solo! Well, it's an overdub obviously. Musically it's OK and the listening public wouldn't notice or care. However in live performance if there is only a guitarist and a bassist, clearly the guitarist has to switch from rhythm to play the solo. At this point, the bass player has to work harder and probably play more notes; the drummer can fill out the texture with the ride cymbal. I remember being the bass player in this context years ago - it was bloody hard work! I would have liked the sound of the lead to be fuller, but it sounds reasonably authentic. On the subject of the spoken interjection, I have no opinion. I don't really 'dig it' though.

2:53 From this point the contrast between the doubled vocals and solo vocal is annoying me. The doubled vocal is louder and the solo sections really need to be louder to match up. The song fades from this point. Fading is almost always a 'cop-out solution' to ending a song. You have to think in the context of an album though... One song with a bog-standard close is OK, ten such songs would be too much. One song with a fade is OK, ten fades are too many. Over the course of an album, songs need to end in a variety of ways so that the listener doesn't become accustomed to cliché endings. The very end of this track is rather abrupt.

Overall, I find the playing and singing very well up to standard. Performed live in a blues club, this would be excellent entertainment, and the takings from the bar will probably drop while the band is on stage. The arrangement for the recording could have been better judged in the vocals. The trio concept could have been worked on more to keep the power level up all the way through.

Conceptually this track is in a rather odd place. It could have sounded as though it was coming direct from the 1960s, but it doesn't quite do that. It could have been a modern reworking of the classic blues sound, but it doesn't go far enough. I think the band needs to make a decision on what they want to sound like - classic, or a new twist on a vintage sound.

So that's what I think. It doesn't matter what I think though because I probably wouldn't be a buyer of this music. I have enough similar music in my collection already. If the band comes to play locally though, I might just go and see them.

But hey... there's a section for comments just down the page. What do you think?

By David Mellor Monday March 25, 2013