Riker's Mailbox

Sunday, August 22, 2010

SpinTunes: An Epilogue

I won.



In what bizarre universe do I find myself, where I'm able to get involved with this great group of people, all of whom are imposing talents in their own right, and stand toe-to-toe with them? What is this ridiculous sense of validation and pride I'm feeling? What the hell, man?!

It's taken me a bit too long to sit down and start writing this; I've had an unexpectedly busy week and I also needed a little time to get used to the idea that SpinTunes has concluded, and that somehow I managed to come out on top...

I've already gone into great detail about the songs I wrote, most recently with a bookend post over at the Artifiction forums, so this is just going to be a bit of a"closing thoughts and heaps of thanksgiving" post.

First and foremost, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Sid Brown, my dear friend and collaborator on "My Daughter" and "Lovers, Fighters, Survivors". Without your contribution, my entries would have lacked their most important essences. Thanks, buddy.

I want to say something to all of you who were involved in one way or another. I toyed with the idea of making youtube videos for each of you, but not everybody has an account; I might still do it for those who do, but for now I'm just going to say everything to everyone here.

To my competitors:

I'm honored just to be among you. I know this contest doesn't have the exposure that Song Fu had, and that it's just in its fledgling stages, but in a way that makes this even more meaningful to me that we all had a part in it. This feels like the beginning of something that will continue to grow and inspire musicians and songwriters for a long time. I really hope it becomes something magnificent.

The following notes appear in the order our profiles are listed over at the Spintunes blog...

Edric Haleen: You, sir, are the Unstoppable Force and the Immovable Object. Dave Leigh once said that you never got the recognition you deserved in Song Fu because of the young trending age of the voters; people wanted nerdy pop songs and didn't recognize the raw talent you possess. I'm glad to see that this contest was able to acknowledge what a damn powerful songwriter you are. Not to mention your unrelenting positivism and ability to motivate and entertain everyone around you. Thanks for setting the bar so high.

Kevin Savino-Riker: um, hi!

Denise Hudson: Denise, Denise, Denise. You were my secret partner and, to borrow a term from Native American culture, my spirit guide. I was a little nervous about entering the contest, and might have only stuck around to do shadow entries had you not been there to be my training wheels and my sounding board. Thanks so much for helping get it through my thick skull that I could do this stuff too. Also, this paragraph would be naked without a mention of the absolutely delicious music you've penned. I'm proud to say I know a writer and performer as good as you.

Ross Durand: We've exchanged correspondence recently since making it to the final challenge together, but I don't think I ever quite told you that I was scared of having you as a final opponent. Your songwriting, playing, and vocal stylings are all things I envy and strive toward achieving in my own music. Thanks for writing great songs the whole way through, especially at the end. I hope to hear a lot more from you.

Sara Parsons: I think you might be the most established YouTuber out of everyone who took part in this contest. I'd heard of you and listened to your songs long before I even joined up at TMA. Because you were in here, I felt like I was up against a bonafide celebrity of the new independent music scene. I cannot get enough of your music, and it's still a novelty to me when I think about how we're now acquaintances... that I can just hit you up on Twitter and you write me back, knowing who I am. I still want to write that "I got killed by a werewolf" song with you.

Mick Bordet: I only recently discovered that you got a shadow in for round #1, so I'm sorry that I haven't had more time to get to know you and your music, but for what it's worth, I like what I heard and have to compliment you on managing a unique approach to the Superhero topic. I hope you'll be back for the next SpinTunes!

Gödz Pöödles: Russ, Rhod... you two are famous, infamous, notorious, and a handful of other -ouses, all of which are crucial to being the songwriting contest superstars you are. You guys are among the most conditioned and professional acts I've ever heard and you've always encouraged me. It means a lot to be a newcomer here, and be taken seriously by seasoned veterans such as yourselves. It's always a pleasure chatting with and listening to you!

Emperor Gum: Graham, you got a bit of the short end of the stick during this contest, but I've always been impressed by your ability to take a clarinet and turn it into a rock n' roll instrument. Nobody can touch the uniqueness of your songs, and while they're not always crowd-pleasers, I've taken special care to pay very close attention to your music - you're always up to something devious, it seems. That's a trait I enjoy quite a bit.

Bryce Jensen: Dude. Your shadow blew me away. You're another guy that I knew nothing about as this contest was beginning, but I'm looking forward to hearing your future works. You have a way of harnessing your voice that impresses and humbles me. You should submit covers for all the other challenges from this contest. I really wanna hear what you have to come up with.

Ryan Welton: You were a surprise to me; when I heard "Underdog Blues" I thought to myself, "wow, a lot of people here just met their match". Your song didn't get the reception it deserved, and I'm bummed that we didn't hear back from you after round #1. Regardless, the song you did share with us was entertaining, funny, and it sounded fantastic. Please come back for Spintunes #2.

Governing Dynamics: Travis, I'm glad we became friends between all the challenges and among all the tweets flurrying about; you're the songwriter I had the easiest time relating to, and as such it was especially hard for me to hear you absolutely nailing these challenges in ways that I couldn't manage. Please understand I mean that to say that you're the songwriter I strive to be when I'm putting my mind to full arrangements. I think I can learn a lot from you. I hope you won't mind when I start poking around asking for input...

Jenny Katz: Where do I begin? You are the most delightful surprise. You wrote my favorite songs in both the rounds in which you participated. You are still in heavy rotation in my ipod, and I find myself singing your songs all the time. You music is so good, I think I have a crush on you because of it. We were deprived of your work far too soon. Seriously, I love your music. I love your voice. The harmony in "Miss You" brings me to tears. I can't give a higher compliment.

JoAnn Abbot: JoAnn, it's the same compliment you've gotten everywhere, from everyone, but it's amazing that you walked into this with empty hands and produced the songs you did. You have a soft but powerful soul in your voice, and you found a way to make music out of scarcity. Unbelievable. Thanks also for being so fun in your interactions with everybody! You're a treasure to have here.

Bram Tant: Bram, you left a bigger mark on Spintunes than anyone else, and you did it with one absolutely hilarious and inventive song (and a couple butt-cheeks). You're fearless, and I can't wait to see what you apply that fearlessness to next. Don't ever stop.

Boffo Yux Dudes: Tom, I think people often get to distracted by the humor to ever pay attention to the fact that you and Allan are two of the most versatile songwriters I've encountered here. You consistently (all the way back to Song Fu's past that I've listened to) come up with songs that each have their own identity and uniqueness, while maintaining a certain quality that could only come from you. Every song of yours I listen to gives me the strange paradoxical feeling of "who the hell wrote this?/Boffo Yux Dudes totally wrote this..." Thanks also for getting my sense of humor when most others miss it.

"BucketHat" Bobby: Bobby. Mr. Matheson. Dude. You were someone I was thrilled to befriend back when I joined TMA. You have mastered a genre of your own; that's in many ways the greatest achievement a songwriter can strive toward. I have always held you in the highest respect, and am still caught off guard that you told me my opinion and praise meant a lot to you. Dude! It's the other way around! I'm the one who's supposed to be incredibly flattered to be complimented by you!

Heather Miller: You're another one whose songs work their way into my head. I cannot tell you how many times I've walked into a bar since round #2, and my head kicked off with, "...right on target, right on cue..." You've gotten under my skin in a good way. It's also been especially delightful reading your song bios; you're a great writer - prose and music. I think I need to start listening to your radio program; I suspect I'll enjoy it quite a lot :)

Gorbzilla: Another Song Fu veteran whose music I always liked. You've got a great rock n' roll voice and it's supported perfectly by your guitar work. I need to give you a special shout-out for "Superhero Song" - it was one that I was fascinated by, even before I knew anything about the character you chose to pay tribute to. I really appreciate it when a person can convey enough through a song that it piques my interest and inspires me to investigate it further. That song was a great achievement.

The Offhand Band: Mark, even before I started reading your song biographies, I could tell that you put more effort than anyone into the science of songwriting. Every single nuance, every note you compose is given meaning by the notes that surround it... I can't really articulate exactly what I'm trying to say, but I hope you get it from my fumbling around the point I'm trying to make. Your songs are chock-full of thought. Lots of people can 'design' songs, but the design tends to stick out more than the song itself once all is said and done. You're good enough at design that even though that design is doing its job the whole way through, the *song* is what stands out. I was especially impressed with your instrumental outro in "Another Universe", and I'll echo the sentiments of others when I say that "Ballroom Dance" was the best song of Round 4.

Steve Durand: Steve, I feel bad not having something more original to say here, but I'm going to have to reiterate something I think Travis already said about your music: I can't help but feel cool listening to it. You have a sound unlike anyone else and you do things with those horns that put most of us to shame. You've achieved a style that has so much vibe and substance - those undefinable qualities that can't be named themselves, but can only be hinted at. Your songs are just dripping with (good adjective).

Charlie McCarron: You're another composer I was very, very afraid of when this contest began. I knew about 'Grey Matters' before Spintunes came to be, and I was just awestruck by the sheer magnitude of your creative mind. And despite that, your entries in this contest had an unexpected tenderness and delicacy to them; the best way I can describe it is to say, it takes a lot of muscle to have such a gentle touch. Your music is brilliant and haunting. I need to hear more from you.

Caleb Hines: You're possibly the most creative musician and songwriter I've ever become acquainted with. You possess an unparalleled dynamic range in your songwriting, and can deftly weave incompatible influences into a coherent and above all, enjoyable art form. I sincerely believe that I'm addressing a pioneer in the next generation of the Jonathan Coultons and They Might Be Giantses of geek music stardom.

Jon Eric: Yet again, I'm saddened that we didn't hear back from you after round 1; "Superman Sneezed" earned my vote because amongst all the other competition, yours had a surprising emotional impact. Your chorus was deceptive in its simplicity, and it hit me hard. I think you'd have done something really noteworthy in round #3, and I'd love to convince you to give it a shot.

Danny Blackwell and Brian Gray: Sorry for lumping two together here, but I have the exact same thing to say to you both: you guys wrote from a pathologically twisted state of mind in your respective songs, and they were both guilty pleasures because of it! I'd really like to see you join the competition next time around - I think contests like this could benefit from your flavors of off-kilter creativity.

Dr. Lindyke: Dave (and William, who I secretly suspect is a repressed alternate personality trapped in Dave's mind... why else do you hide him from us?), my gratitude goes to you twofold. Not only were you more dedicated to this contest than anyone as far as I can tell despite not being officially entered into the competition, you were also a significant motivating influence to me. You kicked me in the pants when I was hemming and hawwing about joinging Song Fu 7 before it met its demise, and that momentum stayed with me as Spintunes came about. You have always 'gotten' me as a songwriter, and your consistently kind words were more supportive than you know. You and Denise both convinced me to write my own way, as opposed to falling into the trap of aiming for what I think others want. Your prolific songwriting is an inspiration. You write so often and so consistently well... I harbor an affectionate jealousy for the works you produce. Thanks again.

To Travis and the judges:

We wouldn't have Spintunes without your commitment and passion toward music. I'm sure I'm speaking for everybody when I say, thanks for giving us a place to push ourselves.

Travis Langworthy: You're the big boss. The man with the plan. Thanks for standing up and building something for TMA out of the rubble of Song Fu. You took on a task that was going to demand a lot of your energy and patience, and you did it remarkably well.
I owe you for presenting me with such an invigorating and infuriating way to occupy all my personal time these past two months.

Heather Zink: You made a great scapegoat :-p Your reviews best tapped into the perspective of the listening public - the people who come to enjoy what we're putting out there. Thanks for getting me in touch with that.

Julia Sherred: Jules, your reviews and rankings came as the product of so much consideration - you managed to nail the logistics of impartial review and you provided more constructive information than I could ever ask for. Thanks also for your making the listening parties something to look forward to!

Joe "Covenant" Lamb: You're the senior songwriter of this community (not an age joke, I swear), and your talent and experience brought a great value to the contest. I have to thank you especially for representing a viewpoint of songs as sound and feeling, not just poetry and theory.

Sammy KABLAM!: If there's one thing everybody loves about you, it's that you shoot from the hip and rarely miss the mark. Your input always went straight to the issue, and you were never afraid to tell us where we needed to expend a little effort. I can personally attest to this improving my songs as the rounds progressed.

Niveous: You were, and still are, a bit of a mystery to me, but your Nur Ein pedigree was evident in your judging. You had an acute sense of what worked and what didn't in everyone's entries to the extent that I cannot disagree with anything you had to say, positive or negative, in any of your reviews of anyone's songs. You have a keen ear; thanks for letting us borrow it.

In Conclusion:

That was a whole lot of words. But I felt that I owe those and more to you all, so I'll beg your pardon and get this thing over with.

I know this contest isn't "big" in comparison to what else is out there, but it means more to me than I know how to convey. I have never had a better education in songwriting than what I received from running this gauntlet. You guys have all helped me reach the next level in my music, and for that, I'm indebted to you all. I'll be riding this high for a long time.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

SpinTunes #2 - Scoring Considerations

I know, I know, I'm supposed to be writing a grand epilogue to my SpinTunes #1 experience. It's coming, but I wanted to get this out beforehand, since it's a time-sensitive issue.

I want to speak out in favor of fresh-start scoring for each round of the contest. Given the other aspects of the contest that are likely staying the same, this makes sense and bears further presentation.

(Copied from comments over at the planning post at the SpinTunes blog)

Since the votes are going up for the SpinTunes #2 format in the newer post, I'll make another argument in support of my preference to keep the "start fresh" method for each round.

Edric already made a compelling case against cumulative scoring, considering that competitors can be logically eliminated from the finals an entire round early.

I just wanted to go further into depth on this for those who may have missed it the first time around. I think this contest has a superior format by not relying on a popular vote... I don't want to see the judges' panel get compromised. And it's precisely *because* we don't have a popular vote that Edric's argument holds water.

There is a fixed number of points available to be distributed amongst the competitors. Furthermore, those points are earned under different circumstances each round because the challenge is different every time. Cumulative scoring under a contest like this is effectively double-counting points earned elsewhere under circumstances that no longer apply to the challenge at hand.

I think people are trying to get a handle on the scoring system by comparing it to other contests/activities, but some of the other things it's being compared to aren't quite accurate. Remember, Travis is a sports guy.

Let's imagine a football game between the Bills and the Patriots. The Bills kick the Pats' asses, winning by 28 points. Meanwhile, the Dolphins play the Cowboys and win by 7 points.

Next week, the Bills play the Dolphins. Should the game start Bills 21, Dolphins 0? Of course not. It's a new game. You can't reward the Bills points for being better than the Patriots when they're competing against the Dolphins.

The analogy isn't exactly perfect, but it illustrates why it doesn't make sense to keep counting the points earned in previous rounds of the contest. The challenge is new every time, so the score needs to reset every time.

Since there's as much weight as there is being placed on the diversity of the tasks to be completed in each round, then a competitor's talent at one particular challenge should only help or hinder them within the scope of that challenge. Especially since it's possible that a challenge can favor one competitor's style. We shouldn't compound that across multiple rounds.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Biography of a Song - "Lovers, Fighters, Survivors"

Well this is it, kids.

I've made it all the way to the finals of SpinTunes #1. I'm not gonna lie, Marge: I feel like this is my weakest submission thus far. I don't think it's a bad song, but I feel like I owe the contest better than what I ended up with. Then again, according to what I hear from the others who decided to tackle the round #4 challenge, this task beat up on the lot of us.

I spent the vast majority of the songwriting period dwelling on how demanding and obtuse the "three distinct ethnic styles" challenge was. Don't get me wrong; I think the judges came up with a fantastic challenge - if this were the final boss of your typical videogame, it'd be a giant radioactive grizzly bear who shoots tornadoes out his nostrils and can only take damage under his left foot - but, there's seemingly no way to write a song that jumps genres while maintaining internal coherency, that would also stand alone as a decent song outside the scope of this challenge. I suspect nobody in their right mind would write a song like this without being told to.

But anyway, I came up with a solution, and I went back to my old habits from rounds #1 and #2 - I did something risky. Instead of trying to sing three verses in completely different potentially incompatible styles, I decided to treat each ethnic segment as a vignette featuring a spoken narrative. I spend most of this song not singing. On one hand, I'm worried people will consider this a cop-out, but on the other hand, I think I solved the problem of "why the hell would someone repeatedly change the song type so drastically?"

This is a song written entirely in my American acoustic pop music style, but it's a song about flipping through a photo album and looking at old pictures of my parents and grandparents. I take the time to tell a brief story about each of them, and in the background the proper style of music swells in to harken back to their lineages. After I finish telling my little anecdotes, I resume in my style to conclude the story. In effect, I've done everything I could to buy pardon for the fact that the song is so disjointed, and I think my particular solution did so in the least distracting way possible.

The only thing left to worry about is, after it's all said and done, is it still enjoyable and listenable? I think it is. It wouldn't get heavy play in my ipod, but I wouldn't skip past it either.

All that's left now is the excitement to hear how the other contenders attacked this same problem. While I'm sure I exhausted every potential idea and proceeded with the best one I could think of, I expect that the other entrants will have come up against these roadblocks differently, or may have come up against different roadblocks altogether. What may have been my biggest challenge may have been the easiest thing for Caleb or Dave to address, and vice versa. So, I'm eagerly awaiting tomorrow's listening party.

I find myself compelled to write something as a bit of an epilogue to my entire time in this contest, but it probably deserves its own post. I'm excited to say that I'm proud of myself for meeting each challenge with versatility; I had a personal goal that each of my submissions would sound distinct from one another, and I ended up exceeding my own expectations of my ability to do so. I surprised myself a handful of times, and it makes me curious to see what I do next with songwriting, because I honestly can't guess what'll happen. Being in this challenge has made me much better at what I do.

If you were on the fence about signing up this time, do not hesitate to sign up for the next one. It's one of those rare things in the world that is fun and good for you.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Thoughts Upon Reflections Reflecting Upon SpinTunes #1 and SpinTunes #2

Alright, here's my take on the topics at hand:

Possible Major Changes:

- Popular Vote:
I agree with Travis that popular vote is a tricky thing, and needs to be weighed as a minority judge at best (note: each judge in SpinTunes #1 was a minority judge, as no individual had enough sway to affect an outcome against the collective will of the other judges). Something that just occurred to me, though, is that the vote activity in SpinTunes is about an order of magnitude smaller than that of Song Fu; basically, everyone in the contest voted, and maybe a couple friends of people in the contest... but all in all there was a negligible amount of outside voting. What if the 7th judge were a "competitors' vote"? Each competitor gets their same three votes, and let's assume everyone votes for themselves... leaving two additional votes from which a crowd favorite can emerge. Then again, I think it's a special thing to have the competitors' vote come in for the final round. I don't have strong feelings one way or another here...

- Scoring: I was a little uncomfortable with the idea of resetting scoring, as it can lead to outcomes that some could argue are unfair. For example, I think everyone here would agree that Edric performed consistently better than I did across the span of the contest. He came in 1st place twice; I came in 1st place once... but by a stroke of luck, the challenge I won was the round that led to the finals. If the contest and submissions remained identical, except that the round #3 challenge happened first, and the 1st round challenge happened in round #3, then Edric would be in the finals, not me.

On the other hand, Edric made a compelling argument for resetting the scoring; it's the better option just for the fact that nobody is discouraged from continuing as soon as it's mathematically impossible for them to win (this wasn't a problem in Song Fu when there was not a fixed "point pool"; someone could always scare up 400 popular votes and make up a big deficit).

So then, in my mind the way to reconcile my doubts about the fairness of resetting scoring is this: the challenges themselves have to occur in order of increasing difficulty. I don't think it was ever stated explicitly, but I believe that each challenge thus far has been more difficult than the previous one. Since this is the case, I can begrudgingly accept the idea that my winning in round #3 carries more weight than the scores of people who placed higher than me in both previous rounds.

- TRAVIS HAS THE POWER: Challenges are one of the few things that *are* better when designed by committee. I like it the way it is.

Possible Minor Changes:

- Molly Lewis Rule: I feel like a little bit of a moron, but I don't know what this is. Did Molly win uncontested? I thought she beat Paul & Storm? Whatever the Molly Lewis Rule is, I can't comment on it until I have enough info to form an opinion.

- Judges Term Length: I have no preference one way or another. If a judge likes being a judge, I don't see the value of ousting them, other than to keep the competitors on their toes. None of us knew what the respective judges' biases and preferences would be until after the first challenge was done. That one little bit of uncertainty for the next round of competitors seems to be the only reason to swap judges out every time. Is that little difference worth the trouble? I can't say it is...

- Schedule: A lot of you out there couldn't believe that people were still having trouble getting their entries in on time despite having upwards of two weeks to complete a task. I suspect that those of you who said so are retired, are students, are homemakers, or are otherwise not busy during the week. I work full time Monday to Friday; I have a second part time job, and a weekly gig and band practices that fill my weeknights. Whether I had 9 days or twelve days to think about these challenges, in actuality I've had two days to complete them: Saturday and Sunday. I think on the round 2 challenge I had a leading weekend... so you could argue that one time I had four days at a maximum to work on a song. My point is, for me to be able to do these in the future, the 'working period' HAS to be over a weekend, preferably in the latter half of said period. In fact, you could shorten the allotted time to three days, as long as the last two days were on a weekend, but to be fair to everyone who may not have the same kind of regular schedule that I have, the only fair option is for the working window to be at least 8 days, thereby guaranteeing at least two 'weekend' days (whatever days upon which they happen to fall) for those of us who work full time.

- E-Mail Reminders: No need for this, really. It would be cool to have received an email from you that we could just reply to with our submissions (since your email address was a pain in the butt typing it in the first time), but once we've added you to our contact lists, that point becomes... pointless.

- Widget: Lose it. Maybe replace it with a more prominent link to the bandcamp page.

- Shadow CD: Just call shadows shadows. Since you're not guaranteed to receive an album's worth of them, keeping them with the regular submissions makes more sense.

- Judging Guidelines: Maybe. Or maybe a statement just needs to be published for the competitors' benefit. Mark from Offhand Band made a high priority of stating that he wanted his songs to be judged on his writing only; Joe Covenant made a high priority of judging entries based upon how they sounded to him. Clearly there was a disconnect between what each of them thought a "Songwriter's Competition" was. In my mind, one of them viewed this as a Composition contest, and the other viewed it like a Battle of the Bands. In my mind, a Songwriter's Competition requires both of these to be complementary sides of the same coin. It's not just poetry. It's not just music. Both need to add measurable value to the submission, and therefore both need to be judgable criteria.

The only restriction to this is the one that was already in place; production value shouldn't work against a competitor in any but the most extreme scenarios. I'd like to think that if my songs were delivered lo-fi, I'd still have scored similarly. Thing is, if I recorded lo-fi, the judges might likely have missed some of what I put into the song.

Call this unfair if you want, but I have to add this little bit of food for thought: I have no problem with good production helping a competitor. I spend as much time, if not more time, working on mixing and EQ and other postproduction than I do on recording the tracks themselves. I'm still learning how to do it well, but the point is, the sounds that go into my computer are not the same as the sounds that come out. To that end, I consider my mixing and mastering to be just one more instrument I play... one more layer to the work I'm putting into a song. If I can extract value out of it, I believe it's earned value. Keep in mind also, the production quality exemption is there to keep people from playing on an uneven financial field. If I always sound better than someone else because I have a $5,000 recording setup (not actually the case, by the way) that no one else can afford, I shouldn't get more points. But if I spend ten more hours tweaking a song to get it to sound better... ten hours another competitor could've spent, but didn't, then I have no problem earning a few more points for that.

- SUGGESTIONS: Maybe change the way peoples' entries are displayed on their profile pages... it's just a formatting suggestion. People are listed as voted out, but their subsequent entries are not consistently listed as shadows. There's a way to make it more clear how far people made it into the competition, and how much they continued to do after being eliminated. Other than that, I can't think of anything better than all the topics presented above. Cheers!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Biography of a Song - "My Daughter"

Okay. If you're here you most likely know me, and at least have some vague idea, thanks to a relentless barrage of twitter and facebook messages, that: 1. I'm in a songwriting contest, and 2. I use twitter and facebook messages way too much for your taste.

Oh, holy poop. This one was a doozie. Another round of SpinTunes is behind me, so it's time for another song bio. The song, if you haven't heard it, is available for listening here: http://spintown.bandcamp.com/track/my-daughter

Also, people should go to http://spintunes.blogspot.com and vote for their three favorite songs. The votes are incredibly important this round; only 2 people are left competing as this round closes, but alternates may need to be chosen for the final battle, and who is selected depends on popular vote.

The Round #3 Challenge

"Happy to Sad in 4 Seconds". They fucking meant it. We were to write a song about birth, normally a joyous occasion... but we were to make it a real tear-jerker. Now, I'm a generally positive guy. I'm pretty damn upbeat. I don't write sad songs. When I try to write sad songs, they end up being paradoxically happy-sounding. But... once I got over the initial "Hrrg. How am I gonna write a sad sad song?"...I realized my incredible good fortune and got right to work.

First off, I loved the specificity of this topic; the fastest route to writer's block is a wide-open road. Being tightly focused meant I could design the song from the get-go and not waste any time thinking about what the hell I was gonna write. In fact, quite the opposite to the last song, my hook and melody were in my head as I was driving home from the wine bar, again,* and music would be applied later. The song was formed and the story laid out and I rested easy for the week.

Second, I mentioned incredible good fortune earlier. Lemme e'splain...

...no, will take too long; lemme sum up**:

A lot of you involved in the contest are hearing my music for the first time, and so far, you've only been exposed to schizophrenic prog-rock. This is a style of music that only started coming out of me recently. I have a much longer history with other very different styles. I used to play in a bar band. We used to play in an Irish Pub, owned by real actual Irish people. I'm a good part Irish. Irish folk music is in my blood, man. Some of my favorite music to play. I've secretly wanted to do an Irish folk song since the beginning of SpinTunes, but the challenges as I envisioned them just didn't lend themselves to the genre.


Whose music is incredibly well suited to long-form storytelling? Whose music has the capacity for soul-rending heartache? Whose music is not laced with twang and pickup trucks***?

The fucking Irish, that's who.

Round 3 was a gift. I finally got to change gears, and you'll notice I did *everything* differently this time.

The Song Bio

In Rounds #1 and #2, I took chances topically and musically in an effort to be seen as a creative, out-of-the-box thinker. I thought that would give me a leg up against so many competitors that were more experienced than me. It seemed to work on half the judges, and work poorly on the other half, thereby leaving me comfortably, but not impressively, in the middle of the pack. So I knew that if I wanted a chance to get anywhere near the upper half, I would have to hit this topic head-on; besides, if you're going for full-frontal saddity, you don't want to distract from the sadness with cleverness. it would... you know, distract from the sadness...

One thing that adds to sadness, I've learned, is doubt. Negatives have an ironic tendency to feed back positively upon each other, so I knew this song would need a good bit of ambiguity in its lyrics. Since my hook gave away the fact that the daughter was indeed born, I needed to introduce doubt as to whether the sadness was going to come from a tragic loss of another, or from his own failure to be a father or to want to assume the task of fatherhood at all.

The lines she was far more ready than I and would she read blame in my eye were there to force the listener to be a little unsure of who he really cared about. I think he wanted his wife that he already knew and loved, just a little more than he wanted to have a child. Especially regarding the 'blame' lyric.

I struggled with this in particular, because I knew it needed to be included, but I didn't want to detach the listener from the father. This song thrives on empathy, and any concept that breaks your feelings for the character would take you right out of it. But in itself, the idea of blame is a very strong one. We know it's possible that the daughter could apply blame to herself once she understands the circumstances of her birth. So with a positive spin, that lyric about her reading blame in her father's eye could be seen as him worrying that she'll read too much into his eyes, and he can't bear to think of the pain it would cause her to blame herself for her mother's death.

The negative spin, of course, is that human minds are nasty things, and I promise that everyone who goes through something like this will be shocked and disgusted to have at least one thought that they would hate themselves for having. A brain cannot simply shut down its recognition engines when approaching a sensitive subject, and therefore it's inevitable that at some point, a father in the circumstances of the song will recognize that his child's birth was responsible for the loss of his wife. As distasteful as it is to say, and I think this adds to the sadness of the situation, is that the father can obviously love his daughter with all his heart, but on some level recognize that a small part of him does blame her for his loss. He hopes he will be able to hide it, so she doesn't read it in his eyes when the talk finally happens.

My closing lines were included out of necessity in my mind; in the song, I made a choice that some people might find odd: I skipped over the actual death of the mother. You'd think this would be the best place to draw out the tears, and I had indeed written lyrics that covered this part of the story... but my song was already approaching seven minutes in length and I knew I couldn't cut any other parts without seriously reducing the integrity and coherency of the song. So I included the last part as a little epilogue, to allow the listener to go back and fill-in the details: the mother survived the birth itself, and got to meet her daughter before the complications took her life. They had, for a heart-breakingly temporary moment, been a family.

Way to twist the fucking knife, Kev.

The Music

There's not nearly as much to say in this section, as the song is very uncomplicated. I love layering sounds and I love harmonies, but none of that seemed appropriate for a song that's designed to convey the loneliness of loss, so I made an early decision not to harmonize at all, and use a bare minimum of instruments. I actually had a cheap bodhran in my bedroom, a leftover from the bar band days; the skin was coming loose from one side and it was a little floppy, but it was close enough to functional to do the job I needed. But, despite being a far simpler song than my previous efforts, this was the first one that required me to place a call for outside help. There was one instrument I really needed to seal the deal.

Sidney Robert Brown is one of my best friends****, and is a former bandmate from the bar band days I spoke of above. He played darts at the bar when I was just playing music there with a couple friends, but our band started expanding as we focused our intentions a little more. He was introduced to me just as 'Rob'. It came up that he was a bit of a fiddle player. With that, we incorporated him into the band.

Before we all really got to know him personally, we always just referred to him as "fiddlin' Rob", and... true story - To this day, even though we've been great pals for years and his name is Sid Brown, he's still listed in my phone as "Rob Fidlin".

Anyway, as soon as I got the challenge I called Sid up and told him I was going to use him in my song. He was excited, I was excited, and we banged out the entire thing on the Saturday before the deadline. It was really fun to collaborate on a project, and that was the one thing that kept me going through the process, because, if I didn't mention it before... this song really fucked me up. It was hard to write, it was hard to record... not logistically, but emotionally. I cursed myself for coming up with distasteful ideas. I cried thinking about what I was writing. I still cry when I hear the song. But working with Sid was fun and immensely enjoyable. It allowed me to finish.

If I manage to make the cut and get into the finals here, I owe a lot to Sid. Thanks, buddy. May the Force be with you.*****

* - Just because I'm at the wine bar EVERY TIME a challenge is revealed does not mean I'm a lush.
** - HALLO!!! (yadda yadda yadda) Prepare to die.
*** - Damn, Country... you were thiiiiiiis close...
**** - and in another recent matter of convergence, he's also a co-founder of www.starwarsvsstartrek.com
***** - see previous footnote.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Biography of a Song - "Here At The Door"

Okay. If you're here you most likely know me, and at least have some vague idea, thanks to a relentless barrage of twitter and facebook messages, that: 1. I'm in a songwriting contest, and 2. I use twitter and facebook messages way too much for your taste.

That aside, the SpinTunes #1 Round #2 listening party took place last night, which means it's time for a little blurb on my song. But before I get into my own song's nuts and bolts, I have to tell a short story, not of what my song is about, but why it exists in the first place and for whom it's written. To skip to the bio, look for the red text below that says something to the effect of, "This is the bio".

The Back Story

The Round #2 challenge was titled, "John Hancock Time", which is a delightfully punny way of telling us that we'd be playing with time signatures. As soon as I heard this I knew I was going to write my overdue gratitude / tribute song to Katy Perry.

Let me repeat that, because it's not what you were expecting and you might've missed it.

Disregarding lyrical content for the moment, my song is one big 'thank you' hug to the oft-maligned pop oddity of 'I Kissed a Girl' fame. Without her, and without that song in particular, The Lightbulb Mouth Radio Hour would not have a house band, or at least, the Write Bloody House Party 2 Band would not exist in any form. In the spirit of the Superhero-themed SpinTunes challenge not far behind us, I give you our origin story:

In November 2009, the Write Bloody House Party 2 Band began like all great bands do: out of a lie told to a hot chick at a party. My friend Alex met a gorgeous woman who told him her own fascinating story about how her kids and all her friends' kids formed bands recently; she and those intrepid friends of hers saw how much fun their children were having and decided to form their own 'mom band'. They all chose instruments, learned to play them together, and now gig regularly in the OC. This is what the real real housewives of Orange County do.

So naturally, Alex, wanting to keep the conversation going, told her, "Oh, yeah? That's awesome," and then the bastard looked at me with eyes pleading for a Hail Mary wingman pass and continued, "...we're in a band too!" Obliging my friend's innocent ploy I gave a rather unconfident, "...why... YES. Yes we are! In... a band... yeah. We are that."

Best mistake of my life.

Raundi, that darling little OC housewife minx I described above, immediately said, "Oh really? We have a big show coming up in January. You guys are gonna open up for us!". By this point I was getting quite accustomed to the taste of 'foot', so before Alex and I really had a chance to think about what we were doing, we said, "Absolutely."

Second best mistake of my life.

We excused ourselves and found Shelby to discuss what just happened. We weren't a band, but we were all musicians. No reason not to make good on the promise, after all. Shelby loved the sheer ridiculousness of having a gig booked before the three of us ever sat in a room to play together, and was happy to round out the power trio. We exchanged contact info with Raundi, told her that we were a relatively new band, and offered in lieu of an entire opening set to instead play one song as a 'special guest band'. She accepted and we went to work.

We decided immediately that we'd what talent and coherency we lacked we'd make up for in humor, so the idea sprung almost out of itself that we'd play one cover song, preferably as ironic a choice as possible, and beat the life out of the damn thing. Having a 20-something dude singing 'I Kissed a Girl' to a bar full of homemakers and preteens seemed an obvious choice.

We wanted to give it our own special touch, of course... change the style up completely, and groove on it in a way that came more naturally to us. We were shocked to discover that Katy had beaten us to that particular punch:

We loved this version of the song, and decided we'd perform this cover exactly as she did in Unplugged. This song starts with a delicious jazzy 5/8 intro, then transitions into a sultry 6/8 for the first verse and chorus, then snaps out to 4/4 for a rockin' finish.

The day came that we showed up to the gig, walked onstage, and blew the damn roof off the place. Everyone fell in love with the song; they laughed, they sang along with us... we all reveled in every minute of it. The jam morphed into a rock epic; I popped off the ragingest guitar solo of my career, and the universe smiled on us.

From that point forward, our band snowballed through one accidental good fortune to another until we got hooked up with the people behind Lightbulb Mouth. Katy Perry, in the time since, has grown from original inspiration to a veritable component of our band's identity. She became a verb at rehersal: "Ooh, we need to come up with a new piece for the 'Radio commercial 2' skit; let's take this riff and Katy Perry it." She will always be synonymous in my mind with "taking something and making it dirty-sexy and reeking of awesomeness." Thanks, Katy. This one's for you.

This is the bio

'Here At The Door' began with its time signatures. Thanks to 'I Kissed a Girl', I love the way 5/8 and 6/8 interact with each other. 4/4 is rock n' roll bread and butter; 'nuff said. I follow an un-rule from Tool's playbook, which basically states, "There is no goddamn reason why a song has to sound at the end like it did at the beginning".

I really like composing songs in movements, where there's a tone set in the beginning that gets dashed against the rocks by the ending. I like them to feel like a progression from one place to another, rather than a closed loop that finishes right back where it started. That's not to say that songs that end that way are at all inferior; it's just one stylistic trait versus another; I write plenty of songs that go both ways. So, following my Katy Perry roadmap, part 1 was going to alternate between 5/8 and 6/8, and I'd bring it all home with some 4/4 in part 2.

The guitar came next. Much like comic artists (or anyone who produces serialized content, really) who build a 'buffer' of advance material, I keep a collection of 'prototype' riffs in a dusty corner of my mind. With the exception of the chorus (which contains a pretty direct homage / ripoff of the tasty 'I Kissed a Girl' "ba-dum-DUM--dum, bada-dum-DUM--dum" bass intro), the entire song was fleshed out from little guitar riffs I've come up with over the years that I never managed to make complete songs out of. And, as often happens, I find that two bits of song that I've written years apart from each other, with no intentional association, fit quite nicely.

I decided not to record this song with a click-track. By which, I mean "I'm not a good enough timekeeper with any instrument to be able to manage this many changes without a little trouble." A song as convoluted as I decided this one was gonna be, I was fine with it breathing a little. I set the pace and length of the song by recording guitar first. A few fingering mistakes into it, I accidentally wrote a nice bridge. This happens to me all the time and I am grateful for my luck. The clean electric guitar was recorded on one track, and the distorted electric on another; I wanted a slight overlap between the two as part of my part 1/ part 2 transition.

A note on the part 2 guitar: I wanted to play a little trick here. The guitar riff consists of five 16th note triplets, but with one leading 16th note in order to fill out the measure. So, it's a 4/4 riff, but it 's disguised as a fast 3/4 and really sounds like one if you're not counting notes.

Drums were up next, and were an absolute pain to record, not because of the time changes, but because of the sound of them. I have to record the entire kit with a single mic, and I couldn't manage to get them reproduced in a way that didn't clash terribly when played back. Eventually I settled on disengaging my snare drum and playing it like as a tom tom. This really warmed up the tone and salvaged what felt like a complete disaster up to that point. The polyrhythms that show up in the song are all played on the crown of my favorite ride cymbal, and I have to admit - I cheated here. I can play polyrhythms, but to do so I need to write them down and practice them over and over before they're ready to record. I saved a lot of time by recording the ride on a second track; this also allowed me to fade it out independently from the rest of the drums at the close of the song.

Bass guitar parts tend to write themselves for me. I like intervals to exist as often as possible between guitar and bass, as this fills the sound out quite a lot. In fact, with the exception of the ride cymbal polyrhythm I mentioned above, the entire instrumental component of this song consists of one guitar, one bass, and one drum track; no overdubs anywhere. So, the bass kinda walks around the same notes the guitar is playing, but rarely at the same time the guitar is at that note. It ends up making a nice meandering "wave-interference" kind of sound, except during part 2 where I have guitar and bass playing largely in unison to really drive the ending home.

I love to harmonize. But there's nothing I can say about how I do it; I'm kind of an idiot-savant when it comes to singing them. As long as I know the melody, I just sing something over it and the notes that come out, fit. I don't know what they're gonna be 'til they come out. This song features a few 3-part harmonies, though there's one section that has four vocal tracks, with a low octave mirroring the high harmony.

As I was approaching the weekend I was devoting to this project, I knew that the ideas I had planned were going to make for a song that shifted gears a lot. It was going to be hopeless trying to write lyrics to something that I didn't know exactly how it was going to sound, so I had to wait until the music was fully in place before I could even think about words or a melody. I had a couple phrases in my head (the 'please please please' that shows up in parts 1 and 2, for example), but no topic, no story, nothing.

Saturday was for writing and recording the song's tracks, and Sunday was for writing the vocals and melody, and adding them to the song. I panicked a bit at around 2pm and started visiting random wikipedia pages, in hope that an article would pop up that I knew something about or was interested enough in to write about... but that yielded poor results. Later, my friend Caitlin, who had offered up her apartment as a quiet place to get to work, had mentioned an incident while driving back from her errands for the day, about a person a large SUV who was encroaching on her lane. For whatever reason, that idea stuck with me and I got right to work.

As Dave Leigh pointed out in his flattering review over at Dr. Lindyke's music blog, the lyrics I wrote were ambiguous, and that was by design. Cait's story just got me thinking about things I've gone through in life, and stories I've heard about enthusiastic and interested people that were members of a disregarded minority, but desperately wanted to join whatever public discourse was relevant to their interests.

I wrote a single metaphor of someone wanting to come inside and sit at the grown-ups' table where all the action is... because it's a template for many social scenarios. Examples that came to mind were, "young people interested in politics", "3rd world communities trying to emerge in global commerce", "individuals overcoming racism /sexism /gender-identity prejudice", etc. Dave's suggestion that it could be about illegal immigration never even occurred to me... but that illustrates the idea that I wrote the part to fit whatever issue the listener was aware of, even if I wasn't aware of it myself. It's a common sentiment, even if the particulars are disparate.

In my particular case, it's more closely tied to my personal belief structure. I'm a rational skeptic, which is a nontheistic, anti-supernatural stance by default. In the United States today, being an atheist is largely seen as worse than being a member of the wrong religion... it's an erroneous belief, but it's widely held. But, that's only what it means to me...

And it's really not "my" song in that regard... not at all.

...It's Katy Perry's. Whatever she says, goes.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Biography of a song - "ToughJobs vs. IronGates"

What follows is not so much a song bio, but instead something like a DVD special-features bonus material for the song; it’s a list of all the computer or comic references I included in the song’s lyrics. There’s a clue to the presence of each of them in the official lyric sheet; any time I incorporate conspicuous mid-sentence capitalization, etc., it’s a hint that I’m trying to be clever. Some of them are easy to notice, some are pretty hard. Let me know if you got all of them!

For those of you who want the torturously long song bio, it appears below the easter egg list. I highly suggest you do not read it.


  1. Not so much an easter egg, but an explanation. The opening voiceover is from a video Steve Jobs recorded in the 80s describing a study that compared how humans fared against all other animals in terms of energy efficiency while traveling a distance of 1 kilometer. The condor was the most efficient, while a human walking was rather unremarkable. But, Steve explains, one of the people doing the study had the insight to recalculate the human’s performance after putting him on a bicycle. The human was still traveling under his own power, but it accounted for our ingenuity and ability to invent tools that scale our capabilities. Of course, the human on the bicycle calculated way off the charts, easily surpassing the condor’s score. So, in the voiceover, we hear Steve explain how he equates computers to being ‘bicycles for our minds’. Very cool.
  2. Bill refers to a ‘basic passion’ in his opening stanza; BASIC was the computer language he first learned, which inspired him to pursue software and form Microsoft.
  3. Bill refers to ‘opening windows’; Windows is the name of Microsoft’s operating system.
  4. Steve’s second stanza includes the constructed words, ‘iDo’, ‘iWant’, and ‘iKnow’, all references to Apple’s popular product naming convention: iMac, iPod, iPhone, etc.
  5. Bill says “I’m trying to get our world in sync”; SYNC is the name of the Microsoft-engineered computer interface featured in new Ford vehicles.
  6. This one was hidden across two stanzas: Steve says “I’m trying to change the way we all think”. The next lyric in the song starts with “Different means...” When sung together, you hear, “Think Different”, which was a marketing slogan for Apple for several years.
  7. Steve sings about Bill’s ‘Blue Screen of Death’; this is the popular nickname for a screen that is displayed when Windows suffers a fatal system crash.
  8. The first comic book reference: Bill has more money than “a dozen Bruce Waynes”, referencing Batman.
  9. Steve “shines a green lantern on manufacturing process”, thereby referencing the superhero Green Lantern by name.
  10. Bill mentions “not waiting for Superman”, Waiting for Superman was the name of a documentary about inadequacy in childrens’ education; Bill Gates made a prominent appearance in the film. In real life, he runs the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which focuses on addressing health and education inadequacies in the 3rd world.
  11. Bill refers to his “Uncanny X-Box”. This one was a dual reference to the Microsoft gaming console, and also to the ‘Uncanny X-Men”, as the X-Men franchise was named for several issues.
  12. Just a neat factoid: The deep boom that comes in during the outro is actually a five-gallon Arrowhead water cooler jug. I always wanted to record that sound after first hearing it; I was just expecting to use it as a low percussion sound. but as I was recording it I delightedly discovered that the jug resonated at a perfect D; it was a complete coincidence that it matched the key of the song!


This is going to be a bit of a schizophrenic post. I hope to achieve two loosely-related goals in the space of one essay, and I'm going to try my best to thread them into each other. The first major topic is a deconstruction of the most recent song I wrote, and the second is an investigation of my songwriting style and how SpinTunes has affected it.


SpinTunes #1 began with 31 contestants, and the Round #1 challenge was titled, "'I'm a Marvel, and I'm a DC' - Write a song from the perspective of a superhero or supervillain." However, this past Valentine's Day my band played a gig at a benefit show that took place in a comic book store. Since we always like to write at least one song specifically for each gig we play, and given the event's date and location, I decided to write a 'superhero love song'. I was quite proud of it, and so I couldn't help but feel some frustration upon receiving this first SpinTunes challenge. I had already written a song perfectly compatible with this round, but I couldn't use it. Furthermore, I've only read one comic in my life (Watchmen, upon which my song 'Crimefighter' was based), so I'd already felt like I'd exhausted my comic-song fodder. Add the fact that SpinTunes required me to write another song in relatively no time at all (I developed the guitar part for 'Crimefighter' over a period of years), I was a tad bit flustered.


Fortunately, what I lack in geeky comic knowledge I make up for in geeky computer knowledge. I couldn't help but notice the challenge title was an allusion to the Apple TV commercial series, "I'm a Mac, and I'm a PC". As soon as I became aware of this intersection, I knew exactly how I was going to tackle the challenge and there was only one direction I could take it. The entire roadmap was laid out before me; it was time to just shade in the detail.

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates (the current and former CEOs of Apple Computer and Microsoft, respectively) are both pioneers and living legends in their industry, and have actually been referred to as members of a class of 'superhero CEOs' in newspaper and magazine articles over the last few decades. It's not so much a stretch to envision these two seeing themselves as literal superheroes. Both of them are responsible for shaping the entire computer industry, and by extension and in more than one way, the quality of life in today's world.

So I have two main characters based on people in the real world, but exaggerated. They are of equal stature and they both believe in bringing positive change within their respective fields of expertise. They should be, and have been (albeit in the past and tenuously at best), partners. But as business competitors, they're antagonists to each other... and each has been responsible for enough failures and faults to justify being vilified in the mind of the other. The public at large is equally polarized in their opinions on the true nature of these men as well.

Bill and Steve have very defined personalities, and so do the companies they created. Since each hero's philosophy is revealed explicitly in the song's lyrics, I decided to use the music behind each of them as 'virtual characters' to implicitly identify their respective companies... which in turn represent the heroes’ respective superpowers.

Bill and Microsoft are a classic monopoly: large, powerful, traditional, very structured, but both borne of a rebellious attitude. This lends itself well to my typical percussive folky acoustic guitar style. In this role, it's intricate yet predictable, a little peppy but generally pleasant to listen to, and composed entirely of major chord voicings. The acoustic bass plays a pretty and simple melodic line underneath. Single bass notes only. Traditional.

Steve and Apple, on the other hand, are the insistent, arrogant young punks... despite having been around just as long. He's a know-it-all, he’s edgy, blunt and brilliant, and his company is hip and popular yet counterculture at the same time. They're dynamic and nimble. Wild cards. Steve is straight up dirty rock and roll. I telephone Steve’s voice, pull out the stratocaster, and to give it the dirtiest sound I can... I plug it into an overdrive pedal with an almost-dead battery, and play through a bass amp. Steve's entire accompaniment consists of a raunchy, unstructured, minor pentatonic guitar solo. At points it even strays from those bounds, breaking scale regularly and throwing in nonsense notes and slides/bends. The bass guitar shifts to a driving 16th-note D chord; it's a persistent rumbling noise below the guitar lead.

The song begins as a back-and-forth between Bill and Steve in the theatrical spirit of "Anything you can do, I can do better", but modernized a bit to avoid sounding too ‘Broadwayish’; there are others much better equipped to pull that sound off.

When we get to what most would probably call the 'bridge' of the song (Side Note: I'd call it a preemptive interlude; I rarely follow the rules of 'verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus' song progressions very tightly. I've written a song where each verse is identical and repeated throughout the song, while the chorus changes its lyrics each time. At that point, are those parts actually what I'm calling them? That's a question for a music theorist, not me), however, both characters are finally singing together, and the tone of the song changes the same way the ambiance would change if you put them in a crowded room together. Things get tense, a little dark, and almost-but-not-quite dissonant.

While everything is progressing more or less cohesively, there's no consistent interval between either vocal progression or between the guitar and bass lines. Since the guitar and bass are playing single note progressions, complex ‘virtual chords’ emerge between bass note, guitar note, melody vocal note, and harmony vocal note. I’d love to tell you what they are, but I have no idea. Maybe I can get someone to transcribe them for me.

What I do know is that the entire song hangs out around the D chord; I wish I had a particular reason to explain this, but the fact is, I have practically no knowledge of music theory, and my songs will always start with an experiment on a guitar fretboard. When I started writing the song, I just grabbed the guitar and aimed for a random fret, then searched for a second note after that. When I heard something I didn't mind, I just rambled away at it. It turned out to be in the key of D.

When we hit the actual chorus, I wanted to give each character’s tone equal presence, so the melody progression is major part of the time, and minor the other part. That they both end up singing in D major and D minor together suggests that they’re more similar than they think, despite the upcoming distinctions they’re about to attempt to make in the second verse.
The first verse served as an introduction to each character; they didn’t speak to each other at all. In the second verse, they finally address each other and get into the argument. This verse runs longer since I needed to bring the argument in and resolve it without requiring a third verse (the song doesn’t feel long in my opinion, but it was flirting with the 5:00 mark so I figured I’d condense a little). One more extended chorus and we arrive at the outro, which is a slight modification from the guitar progression in the chorus, tweaked to give the same tense ‘weighty’ feel of the prechorus. The music swells behind voiceovers from Steve and Bill; they’re paying each other compliments, but the tension in the music reminds the listener that while they’re cordial, they’re not exactly comfortable pretending to get along.


Because of the time constraints and near constant perspective shifting, recording this song would have been incredibly difficult for me without changing the way I go about it. Rather than recording each instrument’s part for the whole song, I recorded the song piece by piece arranged according to character parts. Rather than trying to change beats over and over without screwing up, I recorded all of Bill’s drums on one track, going silent for the duration of Steve’s parts. Then I’d go back and fill in the gaps, recording Steve’s drums on another track. The acoustic guitar I just played as much as I could ‘till I screwed up, then stopped. I’d set up a new track and punch in after the last fully successful measure and go again as long as I could. The result is that the continuous acoustic guitar part is actually distributed over about six tracks in the song. Electric guitar was done in two tracks, and the bass was done in one. By patchworking the song together the way I did, it saved a ton of time. If I didn’t have the deadline, I don’t think I’d choose to record this way, but it was a hell of an exercise and it’s certainly making me step up my game. I couldn’t be happier with the way the song turned out, and I couldn’t possibly enjoy participating in the contest any more than I do. This is magic.

Friday, April 09, 2010


A link to a great great article. Written by a great great Christian. Shocker that I'm posting this, I know:


No original content from me right now. I still love you and miss you, Prose Justice, but I have been devoting my creative efforts elsewhere and will continue to do so for awhile. Still here, still don't believe in God.