Sunday, October 17, 2010

SpinTunes Round 1 Aftermath

So, I should be working on round 2, but I'm not really gonna be able to concentrate on that until I've "debriefed" a bit from the round 1 ratings and reviews.

After listening to the 28 submissions, my impression was largely that there were about 5 or 6 "ringers" who are either pros or semi-pros, whose tracks had a professional "sheen," and who would clearly be rated much more highly than I was. These included Mitchell Adam Johnson, Rebecca Brickley, Ryan "Ruff" Smith, Ben Walker, and Brian Gray.

I figured Edric would slot in right beneath these along with Steve Durand, Duality, and Chris Cogott.

Below that I expected we'd start to hear from the folks who either couldn't produce or couldn't perform their songs quite as professionally, but who still had something compelling to say with their words and music despite some flaws -- like Austin Criswell, Ominous Ride, Governing Dynamics, and me.

Below those, I expected to see the ones that were essentially promising demos: just guitar and voice, like Russ, but that these would likely still make the cut, until we got to some tracks that I just didn't think were that good for various reasons, like wait WHAT and Swatshots, which wouldn't make the cut.

I thought I had a sense for these things -- I know my track has its flaws, but thought I managed to get it to stand out in some ways. The instrumentation, I thought, came out very nicely. I felt that I met the challenge well. I was aware my verses didn't have the most compelling melody. I expected to be somewhere in that mid-pack.

Apparently, I was a little over-confident: I did make the cut, but I barely squeaked by! There were two ties, for fourteenth place and seventeenth place. The one entry that made eighteenth place was the last to make the cut. I am tied for seventeenth with Joe and Denise, which just baffled me.

I expected Joe and Denise to place far better. Their ranking is almost incomprehensible to me! It is a beautiful song, and I feel that something is rather wrong with this contest if a beautiful song just barely squeaks by. I just wish I could better understand what that something is.

I was quite startled by both how much I disagree with the judges about some tracks, and also how much they disagree with each other about some tracks. That is strange to me. I wasn't expecting everyone to agree, but I thought the bulk of the tracks would be pretty non-controversial, as far as scoring went.

Governing Dynamics was rated the highest by Dr. Lindyke, barely made the cut by Kevin Savino-Riker, was judged about mid-pack in those that made the cut by Glen Philips, was near the bottom (failing to make the cut) as rated by Jeff MacDougall, and was ranked third by Zack Scott. That seems a bit bizarre for what, to my ear, is a pretty and competently done track -- a decently structured and written song -- with a performance that dragged it down a bit.

Ominous Ride was third according to Dr. Lindyke, but ranked very low by the other judges, only making the cut (just) in one other case. This wasn't my favorite track -- but, really judges? A skillfully played, produced, and sung rock song that has a bouncy and fun feel to it rates so low?

Ben Walker failed to make the cut only in the opinion of one judge, Glen Philips, and that was on the technicality of using too much of the "Cheers" theme song. I would have thought that would bother more of the judges a lot more.

Edric, who I thought would obviously be in the top four or five, was all over the map, although did average out ranked reasonably well. I can't come up with any rational explanation for this.

I was surprised that four judges rated Wait WHAT mid-pack or better.

Gweebol did fairly well by all the judges, which also surprised me, because I feel like the song, while very nicely produced, did not (or barely) met the challenge.

Zach Scott's opinion of Steve Durand's track was a bit of an outlier.

I'm not enough of a statistician to be able to determine this, but it would be interesting to calculate exactly which songs were the most "controversial," which judge was the biggest outlier, and which opinions of particular songs by particular judges were outliers. It would be equally interesting, perhaps, to see which songs inspired the least controversy.

Anyway, what did they think of my track? Did they write anything I can learn from?

Zack Scott wrote "Clever lyrics, and the skill is apparent, but the sleepy song didn't do it for me."

He didn't mention the shift in the bridge. I agree that the verses and chorus feel a little sluggish. I'm at a bit of a loss how to avoid that, other than just increasing the BPM. (The rap section and the verses and chorus have the same BPM). Maybe just a faster rhythm, shorter notes, a little more staccato performance? There was some reason why the lyrics inspired me to sustain those notes; I guess I was trying to convey a sense of peacefulness in the verses. Ann Arbor is a tree city, after all, and I generally felt very peaceful there, whether walking downtown or biking out Huron River Drive.

Jeff MacDougall wrote extensive comments: "Challenge: A - Clearly about Ann Arbor. Lyrics: A - Some very clever rhymes and interesting phrasing. Structure: A - The basic structure isn't bad but a little odd. Took me out of the song a few times. Did enjoy the rap break though. Melody: B - Solid melody in the chorus but the verses left me wanting more. This song gets extra points for the rap break. If it had a better melody during the verses, I would have ranked it a bit higher. This stands out as the most original effort in this contest."

I'm not sure exactly what he meant about "took me out of the song." Distracting because of the long second verse? The rap section? The spoken words or sound of the car leaving at the end? I can only agree with him about the verses. It's nice to be called clever and definitely nice to be called most original. (I'm actually not sure I agree, though; I thought Charlie McCarron's song was much quirkier, with his looping falsetto vocals and intriguing instrumentation).

Kevin Savino-Riker also wrote very detailed comments: "Starting out as a stylish sing-songy guitar pop-folk piece, you have a nice lead guitar lick and great interplay between the guitar parts and bass line... but then the gear change into a fully-produced prog-rock rap track caught me off guard. It was sort of a “we now interrupt this song to bring you... THIS OTHER SONG” moment. The transition back to the pop-folk outro felt much more natural to me, though, so I’m not sure how to suggest a better way to lead into the rap segment. The lyrics throughout the song are great; this whole song is an awesome frustrated kiss-off; you got some great digs in there. The sound bites are a nice touch. Taken individually, I love each part of the song. The intro and outro lyrics are wistful and sweet, nicely matching the softness of the music, while the rap interlude completely rocks and the lyrics accordingly take on that great pissed-off edge. Taken as a whole, if the transition were a little less abrupt, I’d be less inclined to want this to be two separate songs."

That's a great critique -- I struggled with that transition. I did what I could to put a drum break in there and ramp up the volume. I'm not quite sure how I could have made it better. His comments about the interplay between guitar parts and bass is very gratifying, since I worked hard on that (although no one seemed to get that the main "guitar" part is a ukulele). And I'm also very gratified by his comments about the lyrics.

It's interesting to note that no one so far has criticized my singing, which I've felt is one of my main weak points. Maybe it's not as weak a weak point as I feared?

Glen Philips rated me quite low, barely making the cut, and wrote "Ouch. Painful rhymes. I get it, that’s the joke, but I’m not laughing. Ah a change up! BTW I’d kill for a $250K house, triple that for San Francisco Bay area prices. I like the lazy acoustic riff. I don’t care for the vocals. The overly cheeky affectation is not fun. You met the challenge very well, it’s just a tough song to get into or care about much. I should say good production! At least I’m not distracted by production issues and can focus on the song and performance. At least the bridge has some life, but I don’t care for it either."

Given that I've gotten so much support for my lyrics and rhyming, I'm going to basically have to see his comments as an outlier and chalk it up to "I can't please everyone." "Cheeky affectation?" If ever I could sing a personal song honestly, this would be it, so I really don't know how he could think it is "affected." Perhaps because of my very mixed feelings about the city I struggled to succeed and feel secure in for twenty years? How to make it more personal or easier to get into or care about? Maybe that's a matter, in part, of the vocal performance? "I don't care for the vocals" sounds like a pretty clear opinion about my singing.

Dr. Lindyke wrote "OK, do this... go back and listen the spoken portion of this song, and compare it to the rest. It's as if they were written by two completely different people. One is hip and solid and edgy, and the other is lost and looking. Now go back and listen to "Polly Loves the Rain" from Song Fu 6, round 1. DAY-um! Paul... spoken word is your forte. You're GREAT at it. Keep the rap, replace the song."

Erm. Not sure quite what to do with that. I wrote all the lyrics in the same day or two, and I'm the same person as myself. The bridge changes mood because I had some more angry and bitter feelings I wanted to get out. It's supposed to be kind of an emotional journey. I guess the transition is a problem.

Should I just pretty much try to give up on singing or writing melodies? I really admire musicians like MC Frontalot, but I'm not sure I'm ready to be entirely a nerdcore rapper. I don't really know and love rap enough to feel like I can do that. Replace the sung part for just this song?

I'll give round two a shot, although I'm not nearly as sanguine about this competition as I was for round one. I have much less free time available this round; Grace is going to be out of town next weekend, so I pretty much have to be done Friday night, since I likely won't get much time at all on the weekend.

This challenge seems like it is going to be quite difficult. There are some songs that I'd love to write and record sequels to, but I don't think most of them qualify because they didn't chart high enough. I can imagine needing to try at least one or two before I find one that clicks. I don't really have time for any false starts. And i don't feel like I'm quite musician enough to really carry off an homage to the instrumentation and style, especially singing style, of very many artists, with the possible exception of something like Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me With Science" or After the Fire's "Der Komissar." And -- those songs don't feel to me like there is any sensible sequel to be written! Hmmm... maybe something Beatles?

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