Musicians Oblige Peer's Request For Honest Critique

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Rocks Off likes to troll the musicians' section of Craigslist in an effort to catch interesting acts at their very inception. Usually we get the same old thing day in and day out:

Need FOC (Friend of Christ) bass player for worship band. Must have ride.

18 SERIOUS singer looking for band. Main influence is Evanescence.

Frustrated young man wants an honest appraisal of his music.

Wait. What?

Dustin Foreman (right) is a 20-year-old transplanted singer-songwriter from Austin. He's quit his job to pursue the rock and roll dream, practicing his craft four hours a day fueled only his love of music.

Thus far success has eluded our young friend, and he placed an ad on Craigslist asking that some fellow musicians of enhanced status tell him what he could to improve his work.

Rocks Off was in a twisted wish granting mood on that day, and decided we would oblige him. Foreman sent us along two acoustipop numbers called

"You Might Save Me"


"Drop of Rain."

To our ears, they're songs in the process of becoming their eventual selves, but fairly good starts.

Don't worry, our ego hasn't eclipsed our good sense so much that we're going to assume the "enhanced" status Foreman requested. Instead, we sent the samples to four of the Houston musicians we respect the most.

First up, our own award-winning musical partner, Bill Curtner:

Dear Dustin,

Yes, being a professional musician these days is not easy. Limited funds and resources can frustrate even the best of us. I would like to give you some free advice that may or may not help:

1. Clean up your promo material - When you send a journalist or fellow musician or anyone a sample of your music...please cut out awkward silences, pops, coughing, etc. There are plenty of free editors online that are easy to learn. You might also want to take a better promo picture. No matter what you hear...Image is important and so are first impressions.

2. Enunciation, diction, and range - If I could understand your lyrics, I would tell you how I felt about them. It is very important to sing clearly. Pronounce the words. On the second track, you attempt to sing in a lower register. Being a former vocal coach, I can tell that those lower notes are out of your range. With pitch practice you might be able to expand your range.

3. Don't quit your day job - Don't take that as an insult. If your family needs income, get a full time job. All of the artists I know have a day job. The reality of the modern music industry is grim. There are no more 7 record major label deals. Local and regional clubs do not pay well if anything at all. Also, working keeps you honest and hungry. Just my opinion.

4. Get a backing band - Throw a nickel and you will hit a singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar. Get a solid three piece band behind you and you will have a better chance of success. Start off finding a good melodic lead player; write four or five really strong songs then, build a simple but tight rhythm section. Remember, keep it simple.

I hear some raw talent. You kind of have a Lifehouse/Verve Pipe sound. I can respect someone that works four hours a day on his material. Dedication and hard work are traits you will need in order to succeed in any avenue of life but, if you need money GET A JOB!

Second, we hear from Kris Krunk (right), the head of Houston's No. 1 record label, Space City Records:

He does have some talent, but I have heard some amazing singer/acoustic guitar players just in Houston alone playing in small coffee shops, he's got to step his game up Those guys are nearly flawless.

The chorus in "You Might Save Me" is an example of not capturing the mood, that falsetto note he tries to hit kills the whole song for me. It builds up nice then he can't quite hit that note, kind of upsetting.

I love the guitar work in "Drop of Rain." I'm sure if I saw this kid live it would be a whole different experience, but if he's trying to sell himself with these recordings, I don't think it captures what he is trying to do. Even if you have cheap recordings that you do at home, no excuse home recordings shouldn't have perfect performances because you can retake as many times as you want.

I wish him the best, but he has a lot of room to grow before he can be seen over the huge talent pool of singer songwriters in town. My advice, perform in front of people who you are scared to play in front of, get critiques from assholes like me, and take some vocal lessons, if you aren't already, from a professional just to make your voice something people can't turn away from.

You want to change the world with your words, so make those words sound more beautiful than you thought you could, and then we will drop everything to listen. Peace.

Lee Alexander (right) is one of those nearly flawless singer-songwriters Krunk mentioned. He has so many HPMAs and other awards he could probably melt them down and build a studio. He said:

"You Might Save Me": Good voice, but shifts from sharp to flat at times when singing the up-front part of the verse an octave lower. Not bad for a rough take. I can tell from the intensity Foreman shows on the chorus that he hears a full band in his head playing behind him, so he should get one together and refine it beyond being an open-mike ballad - it has pop potential. I'm not sure what the songs is about though, presumably a relationship?

"Drop of Rain": Once I got past the phlegm episode at the start, I was rewarded with what seemed like a possibly good song. Halfway through the song though, the changes did get a little tiresome. A bridge or solo would help break that up a bit.

Lyrically speaking, I had the same problem with this song as I did the first: I was left to presume what I thought it might be about, which make it difficult to relate to. Lyrics like this are usually the result of a) stream-of-consciousness writing (which I detest... simply inane blather); or b) an experience so personal and exclusive to the artist that it is cryptic to listeners.

If the latter, that can also be kind of cool, like the way everyone read an entirely different story into "Hotel California" than what the Eagles intended, but for cryptic lyrics to be effective they need to give the listener some kind of thread to latch onto in order to imagine a situation or make it personal to themselves. There wasn't something to latch onto here, just random bits and pieces of thoughts and feelings I couldn't pin down.

My summary on both songs is that they do demonstrate a lot of potential. It isn't necessarily something I would be into, but Dustin does have a sound that could be marketable in the acoustic-pop arena if he could hone his craft a little and work with other musicians who can add to his sound.

Finally, we turned to Jeffery Armstreet (right), head of the Magnolia Red label. He's written Grammy-award winning tunes. Granted, they're Canadian Grammy Awards, otherwise known as Junos, but it's still pretty impressive.

I hear some talent here that could develop into something nice. I feel like he's still trying to find his voice and his range. I would encourage him to take some voice lessons and smooth the performance out. He should keep writing songs and find other musicians to push him melodically and creatively.

Well, Houston, what do you think of your latest act?

Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.

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