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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

SpinTunes 12 Finale (and an inside look at songwriting)

The final round of SpinTunes 12 is complete. The competitors were charged with this task:

Peter & The Wolf - Tell a story in song involving at least 3 people & have each person represented by a different instrument.  (2 minute minimum length) 

Here are their responses:


They did a great job, no?  Three of these songs were written by people who were on Jonathan Coulton's cruise and only had Sunday to produce their entries. I won't tell you which. You try to guess. I'm also not reviewing quite yet.

I didn't write a shadow entry this round... I didn't go on a cruise, but I did have a bunch of legit real-world impediments. But have thought about it, and here's the song I would have written for this round. Rather than wait to write and record it, I'm going to write it here on-line as I have time. So you're going to see a little of our process, which begins with the story...

The song would be called "Old MacDonald's Band". The town is holding an epic battle of the bands, so Farmer McDonald puts together an ensemble using his animals as musicians. The verses would be him recruiting the animals, each one represented by a different instrument. There would be only one chorus, at the end, and it would be their performance.

Simple, right? So we flesh it in a little:

The lyrics would describe it as an "a cappella band" even though the actual song would not be (since the instruments are their voices). The animals don't have lyrics... they respond to MacDonald's verbal requests with musical motifs. MacDonald himself doesn't sing until the performance, so the verses would be rhythmic spoken-word (not quite rap).

Now, to nail the challenge we're going to have to use some very distinct instruments, so brainstorming a few...
  • A lowing cow (a tuba)
  • A quacking duck (a harmonica)
  • Clucking chickens (a banjo)
  • A whinnying horse (electric guitar or trumpet)
That'll do for a start. So that's enough story to hang lyrics on, and enough framework to start thinking about music.


And just like that, the idea is scrapped, as a quick Google search reveals that it's been done before. See how that works?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

On My Way

This is for SpinTunes 12 round 2. The challenge was “Write a quintessential road trip song”. Well, that could mean just about anything. It’s entirely dependent on what the listener thinks is a classic road trip song. One of the contestants has already opined that the perfect road trip song has already been written, and it's Weird Al's "The Biggest Ball Of Twine In Minnesota". Personally, I don't know about that. A lot of it depends on whether you think a "road trip song" is a song ABOUT a road trip, or it's a song to be PLAYED ON a road trip.

It's a huge difference. A song played on a road trip can be played over and over and over again. For us in our youth it would be something like Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty”, which was literally stuck in the cassette deck of Mike Hoover’s car. Seriously. We either listened to Jackson Browne in that car or nothing at all.

And while Weird Al's song is fine novelty song about a road trip, as far as road trip songs go it's also the auditory equivalent of a porcupine pillow. You'd go insane. That goes for just about any novelty song, even the Muppet's "Moving Right Along" (though it has far more replay value).

So what do we think is a fine road trip song? "Running on Empty", for one, and Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again". Also, Eddie Rabbitt's "Drivin' My Life Away" hits pretty close to perfect for me. It's got a really great two-step beat and clever story and lyrics, and it could be played on a continuous loop. Just about any Country driving song would do the trick.

So we're not doing novelty this round. And we're pulling it down to grass roots. This song isn't a story song. It’s simply a long-haul trucker keeping time and pining on his way home. I'm not going to explain anything after the song, because that's all there is to it. When I pondered over the lyrics and told William it would be Bluegrass, he told me, "Yeah, that's what I had in mind, but I wasn't going to say."

On My Way
William Hoover 

There's a grassy knoll I've been dreaming to
And a fountain not too far away
I dream I’m lyin’ there with you
Cause I'm leaving today
I'm on my way.

There's a cool water summer on my mind
And a breeze blowing over the bay
I’ve always got you on my mind
Now I’m rollin’ your way
I'm on my way.

[Pre-chorus]
There's a moon in the river staring at me
From the eye in the glare of a wave
And I don't even know where that river is going
And I don't really care anyway
I'm on my way.

There's a shady tree I've been thinking of
And a sunset to follow that day
I’ll always think of you, my love
I'm leaving today
I'm on my way.

[Instrumental pre-chorus]

[Reprise Chorus]
On my way
And soon I'll be home to stay
Ain't gonna stray
Forever on my way.



Sunday, January 29, 2017

Doom's Day

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For SpinTunes 12, round one, the challenge is:
Party Mix - Write a song from the point of view of someone who just won or lost an election.  It could be a recent election, one from the past, or even a fictional one.  It doesn't even have to be political.  (2 minute minimum length) (your submission is due by Sunday, January 29th 11:59PM)
Well. Who didn't see that coming?

And finally, after two shadows [one] [two] and a completely unrelated song [here] we finished an official entry. As I mentioned before, we weren't going to touch the recent Presidential election. So we went the fictional route. In this case, the conceit is that the tiny Balkan country of Latveria is having an election, and the only name on the ballot is Doctor Doom.

As usual, notes appear after the song.


Doom's Day

I am Latveria’s protector 
I can soothe or correct her 
And the UN inspectors 
Are so many fools 

All the armchair debators 
And the Internet haters 
Try to call me dictator 
And label me cruel 

But it's plain to see 
All the people love me 
And they call me a charmer 
As they polish my armor 

[musical break] 

Fatigued of useless opining 
All my enemies whining 
I began redefining 
A political tool 

I appointed electors 
To discredit defectors 
And all the objectors 
Who question my rule 

And on election day 
I've declared it a holiday 
Unlike the U.S. in disarray 
They all vote or there's hell to pay 
And by Royal decree... 
Every vote is for me! 
So the whole world can see 
My legitimacy 

Lob zu Latveria (Praise to Latveria!) 
Lob zu Latveria (Praise to Latveria!) 
Und unser K├Ânig (and our king) 
Victor von Doom (Victor von Doom)


Lyrical Notes

As I said, we decided to go the fictional route and write of a Balkan election where the only name on the ballot is that of Doctor Doom (nemesis of the Fantastic Four). The neat bit about this is that there IS a "Doom's Day" holiday in the FF comics, and it's whenever Doom decides.

There was discussion on the Spintunes FaceBook group as to what constitutes an "election". While it's up to the judges, Spin's view was that it's a choice between two candidates. However, as there are "elections" just like this in the Real World, we feel it's safe.

I subscribe to the principle that all the best villains believe themselves to be heroes. That's certainly the case for Doom. So he rules with an iron fist because he has to. And his deceptions are due to the fact that everyone else is an idiot who must be fed lies because they cannot process the truth. This "election" is the lie he tells to convey the deeper truth that he (and he alone) is Latveria's "legitimate" government.

I was originally going to have more German in here. I was told it was confusing, so I scaled it back to the last verse here... the anthem. The result is a lot more narrative than I originally expected.

I don't think writing those verses was wasted effort, though. One thing that struck me was that, when surrounded by German words, "Doktor Doom" sounds a lot like "Doctor Stupid" to me. I had to ask some friends if the character's name was translated in Germanic countries. It is not. Apparently they're just really good at compartmentalizing German vs. foreign sounds and meaning.

Speaking of which, Doom himself speaks with an odd accent here. According to Marvel Wikia, the official languages of Latveria are German, Hungarian, Latverian (a local dialect that is a derivative of Hungarian) and Romany. So it's a mixed bag. However, Doom himself studied abroad, so I threw in a touch of American and Russian attitude as well. I think it unlikely that he sounds like any of his subjects any more than Queen Elizabeth II sounds like your average Brit.


Musical Notes

It's a tango. My son asked why I set it to a Spanish dance, and I replied that it's not... I'm using a European tango (but the dance itself is from Argentina). Basically, if you want something quirky and... off... the tango is the go-to musical form. It's what you'll find Gomez and Morticia Addams dancing. It's what I used in an earlier number, "We Haven't Got a Clue". It's delicious. The style I'm using here is much more fluid than in 'Clue';

William Hoover seemed disappointed that I hadn't used much piano lately, so piano it is. And again, it's a little bit off. The feeling I'm going for here isn't really the comic books; and it certainly isn't from the recent movies. It's from the 1994 Fantastic Four film directed by Roger Corman. Watch it [it's on DailyMotion] to see if I nailed that.

I added a bit of reverb to the vocal because Doctor Doom wears a mask. It's not much, but if you're averse to echo, know that it's there for a purpose. ;)

We end with a piece of my version of the Latverian National Anthem.  Praise to Latveria, and our King, Victor von Doom. That's all an anthem has to say, right?  It's intended to remind us of a Russian heroic song. I was going to shift away from the tango here and bring in the "big instruments" since the anthem has a much more regimented tempo, but then I thought, no... I'm just going to have them stomp all over that tango. I also used it, toned down and without vocals, for the intro and musical bridge.


It Happens to Everyone

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For SpinTunes 12, round one, the challenge is:
Party Mix - Write a song from the point of view of someone who just won or lost an election.  It could be a recent election, one from the past, or even a fictional one.  It doesn't even have to be political.  (2 minute minimum length) (your submission is due by Sunday, January 29th 11:59PM)
Well. Who didn't see that coming?

This is our second shadow for Spintunes 12, round 1. As it's a shadow, we don't care too much about the rules, so the conceit is that we "mis-heard" the challenge.


It Happens To Everyone

One night I settled my aim upon a fine dame 
One look at her frame would light a hot flame 
I told her Dr. Lindyke was my stage name 
She heard of my fame. 
She liked my A-game. 

She invited me into her door... on the second floor 
and I was sure... that I was gonna score, like the corps 
On the shore in the war... and our rapport 
It would be the stuff of lore 
I turned my face to the fore, to the woman I adore 
To pour out my amour, 

but nothing more... 

[trumpet fail...] 

This never happened before... no recollection 
Hopin' to have some time... for introspection 
Tryin' to get in the mood.... for reconnection 
Rekindle my affection... for her complexion 
The sweet confection of - our love connection 
Imagine my dejection at - her interjection 

"Cain't... Cain't get it up!"
"Cain't... Cain't get it up!"
"Cain't... Cain't get it up!"
"Cain't... Cain't get it up!" 

[record scratch (not the good kind). The music stops] 

Spin: "Lindyke, what the hell are you doing?" 
Dr. Lindyke: "I'm doin' the challenge. I'm singing about a lost erection." 
Spin: (laughter) "That's not the challenge. You're supposed to sing about an ELECTION. AN E-LLLECTION." 
Dr. Lindyke: "Oh. Well, that's very different. Nevermind."
Dr. LIndyke: "(It's still about a dick, though)"


Musical Notes

This is rap, but it's a particular sort of story rap. The purpose of the music in this sort of song is to support the lyrics and provide a framework for the cadence. It gives the story a cadence, speed, and flow. But it can't be too complicated, lest it take attention away from the story.

But what we're most looking to do here is to provide a mood. And we have to do it without getting in front of the narrative. So the musical hook (the whistling) is reserved for the parts with no story. In this case the mood is lighthearted, because that signals the audience that this song is an extended joke. And repetition is the order of the day. It is fundamentally inconsequential. There are only two chords, and the music is mostly just twiddling between them on an organ... and that sounds complete wrong; forget I wrote it.

The only thing to alleviate the monotony is the little counter-melody played on the electric piano... and of course, the lyrics.

Oh, yes... the whistling. That's an in-joke. Two, actually.


Lyrical Notes 

Well, we knew what the joke was going to be, right? From that point on, it was simply back-tracking through the narrative to find a story. He has to find the girl, take her home, and heroically display his furled flag, as it were.

There's a tradition of boastfulness in rap, and that helps a lot here. "She heard of my fame", plays that up. They move up to the second floor, and all the -ore rhymes are chosen for military imagery. Folks at attention, guns firing, etc. Y'know... innuendo.

Of course when the time comes, he doesn't. And what follows is all the usual excuses. At this point, a loving partner would simply say comforting words, but not this gal. Her response is to point and jeer.

He chose poorly.

At this point the joke is over, so we exit to the second joke, which is that the challenge was mis-heard. This is an homage to Gilda Radner's character Emily Litella [here's a sample].

And, of course, on the way out there's the third joke. Know your audience.


Guests

SpinTown, aka Travis Langworthy, who runs the Spintunes competition, stepped in to play himself. I was happy for that... it makes the joke that much better.

This is his first appearance as a performer in Spintunes.

"Cherry Pi" provided the female vocals, as she has done so often.



A True Democracy

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For SpinTunes 12, round one, the challenge is:
Party Mix - Write a song from the point of view of someone who just won or lost an election.  It could be a recent election, one from the past, or even a fictional one.  It doesn't even have to be political.  (2 minute minimum length) (your submission is due by Sunday, January 29th 11:59PM)
Well. Who didn't see that coming?

I'm vetoing anything to do with the current US Presidential election because it's over and I'm sick of hearing about it. I'm not above sliding a joke in sideways here and there, though. So while William is off pondering other topics, I'm tossing off a couple of quick shadows just to make sure we're covered and won't get a disqualification for a late entry or lack of entry.

This is the first shadow, and I've already submitted it, so if nothing else we're alive for this round unless we're eliminated.

More notes follow the song itself.



A TRUE DEMOCRACY

Now, 2016 was a crappy year
I think that we are in agreement here
And though many bit the dust
At least it wasn't us
And we're still putting music in your ear!

I've been elected the new mayor of Spintunes
The votes are counted and there's only one
But it's a vote for me
So I'm probably home-free
And I'll work to make this contest great again!

Hail, hail to Spintunes
All hail to thee
Hail, hail to Spintunes
A true Democracy!

When I take office I will make my mark
But you won't find the changes very stark
'cept you won't have to pander
If you're a Michigander
Like you have to with Spintown as your monarch

I'd like to keep our standards very high
That's why I will appoint Miss Cherry Pi
To ride heard on Orion Sound
And help him hold the cursing down
And keep him occupied if he should try

Hail, hail to Spintunes
All hail to thee
Hail, hail to Spintunes
A true Democracy!

This verse is here to flatter those who judge
I know their reputations have no smudge
But Zarni, Nick, and Joe,
And Teddy oughtta know
The check is in the mail if they should budge.

Hail, hail to Spintunes
All hail to thee
Hail, hail to Spintunes
A true Democracy!



Lyrical Notes

This is just intended to be a light-hearted ditty. There is a germ of truth in it, though. I will be taking over the reigns after this competition, and it was a matter of one "vote"... that of the current showrunner, Travis Langworthy.

The "make this contest great again" line is the sideways joke about the Presidential election. It means precisely nothing beyond that. Oh, and the chorus...? SpinTunes isn't a democracy at all. That's also a joke. I was elected with one vote.

The bit about Michigan likewise has a germ of truth. A few SpinTuners (like Edric Haleen and Heather Zink (the Heather-who-is-blamed) are from there, so this verse is for them.  Apparently Buckeyes (of which Travis is one) and Michiganders have some rivalry going on. I don't get it, but then again, I'm in South Carolina.

The next verse is a bit of blatant name-dropping. I would have done more of that, but the song is just a tad over the minimum 2 minute requirement, and I think that's long enough to drag out a joke. There are well over 40 bands entered in round 1, so I wanted to keep the listening time down to the minimum. The judges will have enough to listen to as it is. So I kept just this one verse.

And, of course, there's absolutely shameless judge-pandering. I expect that such stuff won't win any points, but my purpose in writing something that I expect will be a shadow isn't to win, really. It's to have fun. As I often say, there's a reason it's called "playing" music". And really, this and the other naming of names is another homage... this time of Jenny Katz-Brandoli, when she did the same (only much better) in "Liars, Cheats, and Weasels". Yes, I'm stealing all y'all's schtick. It's what weasels do.

Oh, and at least one person will notice that the rhyme scheme in the second verse doesn't match the others. That's for two reasons... I wrote that verse first, brainstorming, and didn't impose the rhyme scheme until later; and because I don't care that it doesn't match. But that doesn't mean I don't know about it or notice it. In my songs they're my rules and I can break them how I please. But mostly, I'm doing it to mess with Edric's sense of propriety. ;)


Musical Notes

It's a pretty standard bluegrass chord progression using pretty boring chords.

However...

I made this bluegrass instead of country so I could include a banjo  throughout... I'm totally jealous of bands with banjos... though I had to accomplish it with a "robo-banjo", since I can't play the thing at all.

And that's that.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Let's Thank Spin! In TECHNICOLOR!

Travis Langworthy, aka "SpinTown79", "SpinTown", or just "Spin", has been moderating the SpinTunes competition for many years now. SpinTunes #12 is starting soon (sign up!), and this will be his final year as the head cook and bottle-washer. After this one he'll be turning over the reigns to someone else.

Just so you know, here are some of the things that he has done as coordinator:

  • Gather challenges
  • Recruit Judges (both "permanent" and "guest" judges)
  • Set the rules
  • Moderate disputes
  • Score the rounds
  • Publish the challenges
  • Arrange for cover art
  • Publish the Bandcamp albums
  • Pinch-hit as a judge in the event an official judge can't deliver.

What he doesn't do is write music or play an instrument (though if it were a Minecraft instrument he might, I suppose).

Several of us have put our heads together and come up with what we think is a fitting "thank you" for all the years of hard work and effort. Travis is famously color-blind. In fact, the SpinTunes logo is blue and yellow because those are the colors he can see. So we thought it might be nice to add a little color into the life of someone who added so much color to ours.

There's a company called Enchroma that creates special lenses that can actually reveal real-world colors to people with Travis' condition (which is called deuteranomaly). Here's what happens when people use them for the first time:



The lenses aren't cheap, but there are a lot of us and one of him. I plan to purchase the Hawk style lenses for Travis' moderate deuteranomaly. These will run about about $429. I've seen designer frames go for that much, and they didn't do squat. And I've seen Travis drop more than that on a Kickstarter for a new artist, and he's backed a lot of those. I think this is worth it.

So contribute if you can, and if you can't then please join us in giving Travis a thank you for all of his effort. I've set up a PitchInBox. You should see it below, but if you don't, then feel free to send me a contribution via PayPal and I'll update the box manually. You don't need a PayPal account... just [click this link].




PS: Naturally, Travis knows about this, as I had to ask him to take a vision test to determine the type and extent of his vision. But he's agreed to act suitably surprised and to record his first wearing of the lenses for posterity.