Happy To Sad In 4 Seconds - Write a sad song about birth, a moment that is normally a happy moment, and make it a real tear jerker. You can't use the words "Happy" or "Birthday". (2 minute minimum)In this review, as before, the entries are listed in the order of their appearance on Bandcamp. Since I'm not a judge I'm not posting my rankings, if any exist.
A few words about the challenge. You'll notice that it doesn't say "childbirth". Though it's pretty clear that any interpretation other than childbirth won't be particularly sad. You'll also notice that this isn't a challenge to write a sad song... it's a "tear jerker", which is a different thing altogether. A "sad song" can be written when you're sad, or about something that makes you sad, but "tear jerker" evokes sadness in other people. This may seem a subtle difference, but it's profound.
I thought it was pretty restrictive, and as a composer I didn't get much out of it. Here's why: when you're given a challenge to elicit a particular emotion, you are free to go where you will to do it. When you're given a particular situation, you are free to exploit it to whatever emotional ends you will. But to elicit "this" emotion from "this" situation really limits your options. The result would tend to be formulaic, because formulas do work. But there's nothing especially creative about writing formulaic material. To me as an artist, it feels less like an act of creation and more like a job. To me as a listener, I'm distracted by the marionette strings. Here are a few of the formulae I expected to see (and did):
- Child dies at birth
- Mother dies at birth (or, the father dies and the child is born fatherless).
- Both mother and child die at birth
- The child is given up for adoption.
- The child has a birth defect.
- Was it about birth?
- Instant disqualification for using the restricted words.
- How sad did it make me? Actually, I have an objective test for this one. I pulled my wife in here and had her listen with me. She's the mine canary I use for detecting emotional effectiveness. If you made her cry, you pass.
The Offhand Band - Will It
There is a biography of this song here (click on the story tab).I like it when people provide song bios so I don't have to explain what it's about. But Mark, I want to reach across the Internet, grab your shoulders, and shake you for this. HARD. The SONG itself is fine. But you went with "production" in the very challenge where it's decidedly detrimental! Here's the thing... if you were just to hear this song on the radio, as is, and weren't listening very carefully to the lyrics, you'd just think it were a bright and bouncy dance number. If you did listen very carefully to the lyrics, you'd shrug and say, "Boy, that's odd. Sad lyrics, bouncy tune," and go back to dancing. It's too busy, too rhythmic, and vocally, you're too on-rhythm. It sounds like you're more concerned with staying in sync with the click-track than trying to communicate an emotion. And that's a shame, because when I erase all of that from my mind, and read your lyrics, imagining a different, looser orchestration, it's really sad and could be a winner. It pains me that you hid it behind a bunch of 16th and 32nd notes.
P.S. It reminds me a bit of Barry Manilow's style. That's not a bad thing, I'm the guy who admits to liking Barry Manilow.
Caleb Hines - Will you Miss Me?
Sara Parsons - Had To Be You
This is another that I think is just a bit too rhythmic and too... pleasant. If I didn't know in advance it was about a dead baby, just casually listening, I might conclude that it was just a really pleasant love song; the sort of thing you'd sing on a picnic. As I said, it's pleasant. I like it. But it's not sad.
Edric Haleen - The Star
If Edric wrote a bio of this song it would be here. Hint, hint.When it comes to pulling emotional strings, Edric Haleen is Gepetto. In this song he has strings for religion, and love, and sacrifice, and the hopelessness of inevitable death, and hope for the future, and still manages to have it be about a birth. Completely acapella, he gives us Gregorian chanting behind a Jesuit story of the far-flung future. In so doing he maintains the tradition of the signature big reveal, and even throws in some space-geek fodder. It definitely meets the challenge. The story itself is basically Arthur C. Clarke's story, The Star, faithfully abridged and set to music. Best of all, Edric can in fact pull this off with his amazingly flawless vocals.
The downside: according to Lisa it's too intellectual, and the "big reveal" works against it on first listen. The gut-wrencher is the very last word, and the song is over by the time you realize what it's about. Prior to that the audience is simply confused as to what's going on. So the music doesn't have the right emotion to amplify. This is, in part, an artifact of the competition. We know it's supposed to be about birth. Someone listening to this without preconceptions won't have that problem, though they're still stuck with "why all the fuss" on a first listen. On subsequent listens, though, this is really, really effective.
Steve Durand - Her Mother's Eyes
Sorry, Steve. this is another one where the rhythm just kill the sadness for me. The drums just don't need to be there, and the horn bridge, while very well done, sounds like it belongs wrapped up in a different song. The subject is sad -- hell, it's the exact same subject I used myself --- but it's just too bouncy and too quick. It just doesn't make me sad. It also reminds me of something, though I can't for the life of me remember what.
Kevin Savino-Riker - My Daughter
Kevin's written a bio of this song. Read it here.An Irish ballad? From KSR? Yes, and 'tis sad, indeed. Lisa bawled like a baby. I teared up watching her cry. Like Steve and myself, Kevin has the mother die in childbirth. Unlike us, he had the father make that decision, and live, not only with single parenthood, but with the guilt. Gut-wrenching, and top marks. hint, hint.
Governing Dynamics - Revolving Door
Ross Durand - You'll Be Gone
Ross made my wife cry. Her lower lip was trembling on the second verse, then the line, "I gave you away" hit her like a logging truck and she broke down completely. It didn't hurt that you delivered it in that Bob Dylan style (she loves Dylan). And really, that's all this song needed to deliver. No production, no orchestration, just emotion. Good job.
Charlie McCarron - A Song For Sam Bell
A very odd song, this. Lisa didn't get it. I thought it was a bit surreal, and melancholy, but not tearfully sad. The problem may be that it's just a little difficult to relate to clones, especially when you haven't seen the movie. Too intellectual to be emotionally effective.
JoAnn Abbot - Lullabye
Emperor Gum - 1983
Graham, you need to back off from the microphone, and this is a little below your range. Transposing it up one step would help greatly, and I have to imagine it with different orchestration. That said...
This song doesn't work for me, but it could with very little work. Normally I would say that being born into a world of woe wouldn't be personal enough to make a tear-jerker, but Emperor Gum has fixed that by relaying this as a man's address to his father. He doesn't really say, but I imagine it as him talking to his father's grave. In doing so, he gives us the very effective reminder that not all tears are sad. Sometimes they're happy, but sometimes they're a bit more complicated. Here, the fulcrum for the emotional lever really doesn't rest on the child, but on the budding respect and understanding that the singer has for his own father on the occasion of his own child's birth. It's a unique perspective among the entries. It still didn't make me cry, but that has more to do with the presentation. I think it needs a little bit more work on the last two verses, and a less tentative performance, and it could be very good.
Heather Miller - Promise To My Son
Brian Gray - Not Even Close
Dr. Lindyke - A Special Day
Now, if you're keeping track of Lisa's tears, you'll find that Kevin, Edric, Ross, and Caleb managed to deliver. (I did too, but she may be humoring me.)
Who stuck to the formulae?
- The Offhand Band (5)
- Sara Parsons (1)
- Steve Durand (2)
- Kevin Savino-Riker (2)
- Governing Dynamics (2)
- Ross Durand (4)
- JoAnn Abbot (1)
- Heather Miller (4) (though with a decidedly Old Testament perspective)
- Me (2)
- Caleb. Although the child dies at birth, Caleb rescues it from the formula by taking the p.o.v. of the unborn child, and casts you as the parent.
- Edric. He had an entire civilization die to herald your salvation.
- Charlie McCarron. The "birth" here is the decanting of clones.
- Emperor Gum. Nobody dies, but the potential is there. It's a harsh world.
- Brian Gray. Nobody dies, and I wouldn't call inheriting his father's alien complexion a birth defect.