Riker's Mailbox

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.