Sunday, October 17, 2010

SpinTunes 2, Round 1 wind-up

I can't believe I didn't post a single thing about the current SpinTunes competition! Now I have to apologize and play catch-up!

SpinTunes 2 is well under way. Round 1 is finished, and a terrific crop of competitors submitted some really excellent work.
That's right, I'm JUDGING this one! That makes my failure to post even MORE egregious! But forgive me, and do yourself a favor and download this album, it's full of some great entries!

I've already written on my reviews, and I've also commented on my judging technique at length elsewhere, but having read some of the other reviewers' comments (reviews from both judges and non-judges), I find I can expand on it a little bit with regard to both my technique and specific songs. I'll try to bring something new to the conversation.

First, some reviewers heavily weigh the production values of the song. I don't weigh it as highly, and there's a reason beyond just giving "the little guy" a break (and there are enough people who heavily weigh production that I feel fully justified in my approach). Do a little experiment... perform a few bars of "Yankee Doodle". Finished? OK. How many of you ran off to find a fife and drum? NONE, that's how many. You hummed it, or played it with the instrument at hand. Now, how many of you even bothered with chords, as opposed to picking out the melody, or just singing or humming it? DAMNED FEW, IF ANY.  Now, with your "Yankee Doodle" experience in hand, say this until you believe it:
After all, a song doesn't cease being the same song if another artist performs it. If you really and truly think that it does, then the RIAA might like to have a word or two with you, and set you back on the straight and narrow. Both Prince and Art of Noise perform "Kiss": the song is by Prince, and remains so even though all of the above changes. All of those are things that enhance a song, but they're not integral to it being a song, deserving of being judged on its own merits. So if you were to hand me a song like JoAnn Abbot's "Not In Copiague" (which is entirely a capella) and I think that it would sound better IF... then I would take it as a given that I should judge it in the better light. In general that's a rule of thumb for me... "how would this sound in the best possible light?"

That doesn't mean that production doesn't matter entirely. People who can produce tend to write better songs, and if there's a close call between songs, I'll mark it up. Hell, if somebody delivers a song where the production is really integral to the song itself (and it happens), then I do judge the effectiveness of the production and factor it in. But I also try to minimize the disparity, and sometimes an extremely poorly produced song still manages to gain legs.

For example, while on a long drive yesterday, I found myself humming "Not in Copiague", which tells me that it's really not a bad little song. The arrangement in my head had rhythm, lots of strings, and "surf" and "seagulls" (brushed snare and violin). Perhaps JoAnn didn't imagine it that way, and if she did it wouldn't really matter. When I want to play "Yankee Doodle" I don't go channel the original author for his input, either. To this specific point, one reviewer says of "Not In Copiague" that, "It's not even to the point where a musician collaborator could honestly play her an accompaniment part and still call it her work," a sentiment I disagree with 100%. You want to accompany it? Fine: the song is hers, the arrangement is yours, and that's been commonplace in music credits since the dawn of collaborations. Still it wouldn't get her through to the later rounds, because SpinTunes is looking for a "total package"... and the song alone won't carry you to the final round.

When looking at the rankings after every round, there's a false sense of distance, and I expect it to get worse as we pare the entries down to the best of the best in later rounds. Had we scored this as they do in Olympic gymnastics, many would be separated by fractional points. Some would tie. And the relative ranking doesn't exactly reflect my opinion of the song on its own. For instance, I think that Duality gave us an excellent song in "To The End Of The World", but I thought other songs met the challenge more decisively. Contestants were tasked to provide the best song they could that met a specific challenge. That challenge is NOT just a formality to get you into a free-for-all judging like other contests. A song can be superb and still not win this round. If you try to skirt the challenge like that, I'll mark you down if no one else does.

If I had to give a piece of advice to anyone, I'd say this:
  • There are FIVE judges.
  • For one of them, the challenge is merely a technicality that gets you past disqualification. Once you're in, then the challenge doesn't matter a bit. You will be judged on the specific performance you deliver on the mp3. 
  • For me, you need to hit the challenge as squarely as you can... I'm all about you delivering on the spirit of that challenge. Make me believe that you wrote the best song you could that meets the challenge before you as best as you possibly can.
  • Other judges weigh a mixture of challenge + production to varying degrees. And if Spintown is judging, (and that could happen on any round) make sure you've paid attention to your lyrics.

It seems to me, then, that this arrangement provides something for everyone, those that are looking to improve their production skills as well as those who who need to improve their songwriting skills.

But if your goal is to WIN this contest, you need to cover every base. Deliver a well-produced,  well-structured, smart song that's clearly understandable and unambiguously meets the challenge; and which does so better than anyone else's entry. Then you'll truly be worthy of that top spot.  Otherwise you'll get knocked down by one or another of us.

It seems to me that's nothing less than how it ought to work.


Anonymous said...

lol thanks for pointing out the lyrics bit. :p


JoAnn said...

Thanks Dave ((hugs))

Brian Gray said...

Ahh, gotcha. Just in case Spin has to take over judging, I'll try to write good lyrics this time around.

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