Thursday, January 31, 2013

SpinTunes 6 Round 1 Reviews


Wow! What a great first round for SpinTunes 6! As I'm competing this round, I'm a little nervous. I find myself hard-pressed to find enough songs that I'd rank under my own to avoid elimination. No matter... I'd feel privileged to have been bested by this group, and would happily jump the net to shake their hands. I've been practicing that very thing all day.

So the challenge was to write a song about an Internet meme... but from a very restricted list. I expected we'd get a lot of duplicates, and we did... but they each had a unique approach. Since I'm not judging this competition, I'm not going to bother ranking them. Instead, here they are in order of presentation at the listening party, with my (uncharacteristically brief) thoughts, such as they are.


BTW, reading this, you might think it's a bitch-fest, but really, I'm just trying to be constructive, which means pointing out the stuff you probably already know is rough.

1. RC - The Philosoraptor 03:36
This is RC, setting the bar! I love the "prehistoric" beat reminiscent of "Walk the Dinosaur", and I love the easy delivery.

2. Jerry Skids - Not A Good Guy 03:59
The meme: Bert is Evil. REALLY clever lyrics, but "not a good guy" waters down the meme quite a bit. I think I'd've liked to hear more evil in the arrangement.

3. Steven Wesley Guiles - Boom Goes The Dynamite 02:25
This is a great dance tune. I like lyrics, and this is a bit light on that. There's not much that would put it in the context of the meme, but so what? A lot of heads will be nodding to this.

4. TurboShandy - Piss Lightning (My Canine Friend) 03:00
The meme: Courage Wolf. Not my style, which generally means it will be hugely popular.

5. Andy Glover - Hey, Winnebago Man 02:16
It sounds like Andy managed to rope Keyboard Cat into guesting on the instrumental solos.

6. Foobar - Leeroy Jenkins 03:15
I'm usually not big on production. In this case, the audio clips overpower the song. I think it should be the other way around, but what do I know? LEEEEROOOYYYYY mJEENNNNKINS!!!!

7. Jailhouse Payback - Gem Sweater Lady 02:31
The song is better than the meme. I think the folks at knowyourmeme.com would think so, too... they don't even list it.

8. Ross Durand - First World Blues 02:32
A really simple little ditty. It's pretty straightforward, with no surprises except that awesome kazoo solo. I always like hearing Ross' delivery.

9. Q - Chuck Norris 02:35
I love Chuck Norris jokes, but for some reason I think this song misses. I like the verses better than the chorus. It could have a little "Wear Sunscreen" feel to it, but the chorus needs to be smoother.

10. The Middle Relievers - 2 Eyes 1 Regret 03:43
The meme: 2 Girls 1 Cup.  I think The Middle Relievers' take on this is about as tasteful as possible. If you're into potty humor, this is your song.

11. Army Defense - Miss Teen South Carolina 02:55
I'm not sure if this is in first or third person. It seems to switch. I like the groove.

12. Glen Raphael - Ask A Ninja! 02:18
A really nice novelty number from geek troubador Glen. I like it!

13. Dr. Lindyke - Famous Last Words 04:09
Our take on this was to present the message as close to "as is" as possible. It's not a funny meme (or a meme at all, really... more like a viral video, but it was on the list), so this is one of the handful of non-funny songs. It's meant to be inspiring, but next to songs that invoke humor, angst and deep thought it may fall a little flat. Oh, and my drums suck.

14. Jenny Katz - Boom Goes The Dynamite 03:34
OK, this is only sort of tangentially inspired by the meme, which is something I'll beat up on Wait What for later, but I like Jenny's rationale better. I also like her take on being tongue-tied. And I could listen to this voice all day.

15. Edric Haleen - For Zoe 04:44
One of my favorites of the round, sung by Zoe Gray about Zoe Roth, but the music and lyrics are all Edric. Edric's awesome and we all know it. Zoe is awesome, and I hope she never finds out and uses that knowledge as an excuse to stop growing and improving. Put them together and you get WOW.

16. Brian Gray - Descartes And I 04:18
I didn't think it would be possible to match RC's take on this meme, but Brian proves me wrong. What RC's song has in smooth production, Brian's has in clever lyrics. I like that Brian really illustrates the philosophy. He is, and continues to be, one of my very favorite artists. Oh, and "animemes"... heh!

17. Godz Poodlz - Miss Carolina 03:46
Ukelele! Russ seems to be channeling his inner Muppet. You can't help but smile. It might be a touch too long.

18. Blimp Exhaust - S.A.P. (Socially Awkward Penguin) 03:30
I really like this.

19. Steve Durand - One Red Paperclip 02:44
Nobody does what Steve Durand does. He's a one-man variety show. Lyrically, he's just telling the story. The fun here is in the inspired arrangement, and the plethora of live instrument performances. Day-um.

20. "BucketHat" Bobby - Problems 02:41
First World Problems as described by "BucketHat" Bobby Dylan. What a spot on pastiche! Bobby manages to fit in some genuine social commentary, to the point where after hearing the last verse you feel like a heel for having laughed at the first verse. The only criticism I'll offer is that the accordion (standing in for a harmonica) is mixed a bit too hot.

21. Atom & E.V. - Welcome Wagon 02:05
I'm not a fan of this one, sorry. I know what they're trying to do here, but it just doesn't seem to work. Lyrically it's repetitive, and instead of being funny, the bleeps are kind of annoying. Musically, it's mostly "Skip To My Lou". Blame Heather.

22. The Orion Sound - Hashtag (Damien's Story) 02:53
The meme: First World Problems. Dude, I know racism is your "thing"... that's a shame. This would be one of my top picks of the round if it were simply re-mixed without the subliminal epithets and the parting shot. I'm not sure if you bothered to look at who the judges are. Careless cruelty <> humor. Listening to the ending of this song was like watching Lance Armstrong shoot up on-camera. Even with that you may score high enough to shout out "I told you so".

23. T.C. Elliott - One Red Paperclip 02:55
I like the music. The lyrics could use some polish. I think Steve spoiled me.

24. MC Ohm-I - Down In Plankistan 04:12
A rapper! A REAL one! I enjoyed this one a lot. This is a great example of how to keep somebody's attention in a novelty song. Usually with novelty I think that once the joke is told it's time to stop. If you don't, then a relatively short song sounds interminably long. The way to avoid that is with STORY. Kudos to MC Ohm for getting it right, and for managing to provide some of the most entertainingly risque lyrics we've ever had.

25. Brandon Lorrekovich - Hankey Plankey 05:44
What a great 70s vibe! Don't think it needed the record-scratch (it's a bit like putting a transistor radio in film noir). This song is really over at about the four-and-a-half minute mark, but continues to stretch out to 5:44 to an abrupt end. Sounds like there should have been a fade out long before then.

26. Vincent Black Shadow - Baby Panda Sneeze (Judges Mix) 02:55
I don't have to listen to no damned judges' mix.

27. Vincent Black Shadow - Baby Panda Sneeze 02:55
I didn't think anyone could get a decent song out of a 15-second clip of an animal's sneeze. I was wrong. I like the bamboo percussion; I like the vaguely Asian feel. At the end there's panda-monium in the zoo.

28. The Chocolate Chips - Forever Alone 02:26
I dig this sound. There's something slightly "off" about it... the processed vocal sounds ever so oddly fucked-up, which is PERFECT. Have you ever SEEN the Forever Alone guy?

29. Wait What (The Band) - We R Not Gay 02:56
Wait What enlists Kevin Savino-Riker to walk the Devo walk. Well, the meme is a rage comic, but it's not exactly Rage Guy. And I have to highlight my ignorance, because I'm obviously missing a link. The Freddie Mercury sub-meme has nothing to do with rage, and nothing to do with being gay... it's a pose of triumph. So there's Rage Guy, and there's a completely different rage comic that has a picture of Freddie Mercury, who was gay, therefore Rage Guy is raging over not being gay, which in this song he is. The logic's tortured enough that I don't feel bad about not thrilling over the gratuitous gay bashing that spoiled the nice groove.

30. Kevin Savino-Riker - The Ballad Of Andrew Meyer 02:25
"DON'T TASE ME, BRO!" Nice, smooth sounds from KS-R, as usual. I think this will sail into the next round, and we'll see Kevin bring his A-game to Round 2.

31. Josh Holober-Ward - Internet Cats 03:55
This hits a number of listed memes... Nyan Cat, Long Cat, and Keyboard Cat. It takes some special balls to sing meowmeow meow with sincerity! Nice use of illustrating the various cats in the arrangement.

32. Dex01 - I Hate A Meme (Shadow) 02:36
Lots of memes in this one! Nice performance in the accompaniment... the tune could use a little work.







Sunday, January 20, 2013

Famous Last Words

This was posted as a work-in-progress, updated throughout the week as the song was written.


As I may have mentioned here [link], only one of the SpinTunes challenges jumped out at me.  "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch.

If you're completely unfamiliar with it, the gist is this: Randy Pausch was a professor at Carnegie-Mellon university... a researcher in the field of virtual reality. He was asked to give a talk in a series that was once entitled "The Last Lecture", the premise of which is, if you had one last thing to say, what would it be? As chance would have it, Randy Pausch had pancreatic cancer, and this was to be his last lecture. And it was one of the most inspirational, uplifting talks ever presented.

The tricky part of  meeting any challenge, though, is finding that "hook" for your song. For this song it turned out to be the fact that Randy Pausch not only was a virtual reality researcher, and not only that he taught a course called "Building Virtual Worlds"; but that he actually worked as a Disney Imagineer on the Aladdin ride. Disney's Aladdin is famous for the song "A Whole New World". So there's the hook, and a deliberate homage in both the lyrics and the echoed "(A Whole New World)".

There are a number of things present in the song that you'll only pick up on if you've seen The Last Lecture. To my mind, the meme isn't that some dying guy made a speech, but the message contained within that speech. So this IS NOT going to be "The Ballad of Randy Pausch".  Rather, it is a decidedly show-tuney, uplifting, pulling-your-strings-and-you-know-it kind of "message" song.

Of course, we have the better part of a week to play with these lyrics, so they may change. My goal is to have them as close in meaning as possible to Randy's speech, and there are some things I'd like to add or refine. But if I had only one day to write the song, this would be it.

Famous Last Words
inspired by "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch

If you had the chance to pass on 
A message to the world
What would you want to say?
If you saw a light and you knew
The end was drawing near
Tell me what would you say?

Famous Last Words...
Famous Last Words...

We can't change the cards that we're dealt
But we can decide how to play them
We're stuck with the feelings we've felt
But we can decide how to say them

You've the power to create a brand new world 
(A Whole New World)
Why not make it something grand?
(A new fantastic point of view)
The good that you do will bring good right back to you
So why not lend a helping hand?

If I had just three words to shout
I think I'd just say, "Tell the truth"
The brick walls aren't there to keep us out
They're there so that we can show proof
That we want it
And I want it!
Don't you want it?

You've the power to create a brand new world 
(A Whole New World)
Why not make it something grand?
(A new fantastic point of view)
The good that you do will bring good right back to you
So why not lend a helping hand?

If you had the chance to forgive
Letting by-gones pass you by
Why not do it today?
The only thing we have is Time
And not so much as you'd think
As you'll find out someday

Famous Last Words...
Famous Last Words...
Famous Last Words...
Famous Last Words...



Updates

Update 1: The two big things I wanted to add were a mention of the "brick walls" (obstacles) not as barriers, but proof of our determination, and that Randy Pausch had said that if he was limited to three words of advice, they'd be "tell the truth". (If he had three more words he'd add, "all the time"). This morning that verse came to me, so I've added it. I didn't want the song to walk out the door without those features. I think I can record a safety track this evening.

Update 2: Added another line from "A Whole New World". Not only do I want people to realize that this is deliberate, but I just happen to keep hearing it in my head anyway, so I might as well make it official. Also some minor edits to fix some things that don't scan so well when actually sung.

My family is my barometer of confusing points, so I might as well answer their questions here, too. So why don't I mention "virtual" worlds if that was his job? Simple... that's not what the talk was about. The talk was entitled "Achieving Your Childhood Dreams", but Randy reveals at the end that this is a head fake... the talk is actually about how to live your life. And the same goes for Randy's classes. He may have taught a course called "Building Virtual Worlds", but it was really about working with others, engaging your creativity, seeing how far you can reach without set expectations or goals, and having fun while doing it. These are lessons that apply to any endeavor whatsoever, which makes this a course about Life. What Randy Pausch describes isn't about virtual reality, but about lowering the barriers between you and others and making the world around you better. You could drop "Virtual" from the title entirely, and it would be as useful.

This is why his participation in the Aladdin ride is my "hook". The ride is virtual, but the song and the message associated with that ride are about opening horizons in the real world, and seeing things with "a new fantastic point of view". Which is exactly what Randy Pausch brought to and expected from his students. This is an allegorical jackpot. And while Randy had an hour and 16 minutes to make his point, I've only got about 3.5 minutes to make the same point in a song, so I have to take the shorter road. Sometimes that means going straight to the underlying meaning and leaving out a few layers of metaphor. Sometimes that means leaving the metaphor unexplained. Sometimes you sacrifice historical accuracy for the sake of the more important truth. I hope that what I do include is enough to get you to watch the lecture yourself and get the whole story.

I also hope that the judges do the same. This is a very short and specific list of memes. In the past we've had judges tell us that if they can't get the full meaning in the song that it's ranked lower in their estimation. I hope these guys do a bit better than that. You simply don't drop a specific list in someone's lap without knowing it inside and out yourself. We'll see.

Update 3: Moved around some of the "Famous Last Words" lines. I HAVE A DRAFT RECORDING! Still working on drums... for now it's just my click-track. Also, while I did record the lyrics for "A Whole New World" that I use, I cut them from the draft and replaced them with strings performing the couple of bars of melody line. I really don't want to have some Disney lawyer issue a take-down notice on an homage. It may stay strings, but if I can swing it I'll have something else there.

Answering more questions... no, there isn't an instrumental bridge. Yes, that's on purpose. The speaker is dying, and the song's already 4 and a half minutes long without it.

Update 4: I HAVE A SAFETY TRACK! It's sent in, so even if I die on the highway, My famous last words will be enshrined.

Another answer: Yes, the lyrics are mostly gleaned from the talk. They're modified for meter and rhyme, but I tried my best to keep the meaning untouched. And why don't I mention the second "head fake"? Because that's Randy's personal space, that's why. Here's the deconstruction, if you care:

If you had the chance to pass on 
A message to the world
What would you want to say?
If you saw a light and you knew
The end was drawing near
Tell me what would you say?

[The above is simply me, introducing the song by setting up the premise of The Last Lecture series]

Famous Last Words...
Famous Last Words...

[I had to struggle with using this, since somebody was sure to think it was going to be a gag. However, they are his last words, and they're famous... and the gag is that this title isn't a joke.]

We can't change the cards that we're dealt
But we can decide how to play them

[This is nearly verbatim from the lecture]

We're stuck with the feelings we've felt
But we can decide how to say them

[This isn't verbatim, but it's a pretty concise summary. Randy describes two different deans saying "no" to his sabbatical at Disney. They both said the same thing: there was a profound difference in the way they said it.]

You've the power to create a brand new world 
(A Whole New World)
Why not make it something grand?
(A new fantastic point of view)

[The parenthetical lyrics were intended to be backing vocals. They're from "A Whole New World" from Disney's Aladdin. I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and I replaced the vocals with orchestral instrumentals. It's clearly an homage, and the epitome of Fair Use, but I don't really want to have to explain that to a Disney lawyer in this age of DMCA copyright take-downs.]

[The non-parenthetical lyrics are the more interesting to me. They allude to a course Randy taught, "Building Virtual Worlds", and the fact that he didn't know how to motivate the students to improve on something that had already blown him away. His mentor, Andy van Dam, advised him to tell them, "That was pretty good, but I know you can do better". The example Randy presented in The Last Lecture was apocalyptic in scope.]

The good that you do will bring good right back to you
(That's Karma!)
So why not lend a helping hand?

[Randy makes the point repeatedly that helping others to achieve their childhood dreams can be more satisfying than achieving your own. He summarizes the benefit of doing good for others in the lecture: "believe in karma"]

If I had just three words to shout
I think I'd just say, "Tell the truth"

[I absolutely had to have this in the song. Randy says if he had to limit himself to three words of advice they would be "tell the truth". If he were allowed three more words they would be "all the time".]

The brick walls aren't there to keep us out
They're there so that we can show proof
That we want it
And I want it!
Don't you want it?

[You'll run into the brick wall analogy many times in The Last Lecture. That's because it's true. So I'm very glad I needed another verse for the "tell the truth" line, because it allowed me room for this, and allowed me the near-rhyme of "truth" and "proof". This allowed me to put "truth" on a little pedestal at the end of the line]

You've the power... etc. [We've already discussed this]

If you had the chance to forgive
Letting by-gones pass you by
Why not do it today?

[This isn't exactly covered in The Last Lecture, so you'll have to forgive my editorializing. However, the general gist of what was said is that if you give people enough time they will astonish you. And if they haven't astonished you, you just haven't given them enough time. Closely related to forgiveness is the quote, "Apologize when you screw up". This phrasing above allowed a tidier segue into the following important quote...]

The only thing we have is Time
And not so much as you'd think
As you'll find out someday

[This is very close to the actual wording in The Last Lecture, adjusted for meter]

And there's your breakdown, and I fully expect that this is all I have to say on the subject until the listening party, except for this one thing... as I finished writing this on my mother's birthday, I'm dedicating the song to her memory.


Update 5: Ok, so I'm wrong. It turns out the drums I'd programmed were terrible. The drums I tried to program to replace them are horrible. So I've picked up a pair of sticks and just played the stupid drums. Sadly, it seems to be an improvement. Thanks to Denise Hudson for giving me the constructive feedback. Also, the one change I'd hoped for, French Horns to replace the strings, won't happen. My son is going to have a wisdom tooth extracted, so no horn playing for a couple of weeks. As a result, I've re-mixed and equalized the strings, and put the backing vocals back in on top of them.

Update 6: Last night was the deadline, and of course we had no worries there. I was happy that the French Horns did happen, and since I wanted that to sound clean, the lyrics came back out again. I'll be happy again after the listening party, when I can share.


Looking for Truth

It's been a couple of months since I've sat down at a piano; so I started preparing for SpinTunes 6 with a little practice. Not just practice playing, but practice songwriting. So I pulled some lyrics out of the vault and set them to music. Here's the second of the batch.


I honestly have no idea what this song is actually "about". It could be a break-up song. The lyrics are completely unaltered words that were written around 1980, and I'm treating it as a "mood" piece. My wife seems to like it a lot, so there's evidently some meaning that can be gleaned from it if you're in a pareidolic frame of mind (your new word for the day... look it up).

Looking for Truth In the Rain
- wmh


Looking for truth in the rain
I can't see your face any more
Is this life for me? Who does it ignore me?
Is seeing believing not like before?

You must open up sometimes
Caring's a curse others don't like
Love is so broken when words are not spoken
It seemed so good while maybe not right.

Funny how both of us need
Don't kiss me and then say good-bye
I'd like to explain through efforts in vain
While reaching for depths of your mind.

It changes so suddenly
And yes I fail to understand
Let me down easy and try to make me see
That is if you think you can. 

Funny how both of us need
Don't kiss me and then say good-bye
I'd like to explain through efforts in vain
While reaching for depths of your mind.


White Water

It's been a couple of months since I've sat down at a piano; so I started preparing for SpinTunes 6 with a little practice.  

Not just practice playing, but practice songwriting. So I pulled some lyrics out of the vault and set them to music. Here's the first of the batch.

[I'll add the bandcamp link when I've got some time] 

This was inspired by a situation where some of the gang got caught out on the rocks at the "rapids", and had to be rescued when the dam was opened and the water started to rise. The rapids is the old mill on the Broad River, now part of Riverbanks Botanical Gardens and Zoological park. Now it s all managed and has fences and you can t go down on the water anymore. Trust people to screw things up in the name of improving them.

White Water
-wmh

The white water gave me up
And still I wonder why.
Don't those white rocks know
I'd been better left to die?
There must have been a reason
For them wanting me to live,
Or maybe just a second chance
Which white water seldom gives.

I'm going down again
To feel those icy teeth
Oh how long has it been
Since you felt your last defeat?
The waves have taken over.
The rocks have hit me hard.
I only wished I'd told her
How rough they really are.

Rushing in a frenzy
White water never feeds
And it gives another life
Only when it feels the need
It's a little too much power
This force behind the waves,
For if you go down here
You may not breathe for days.

White water's what you fear
And respect is what you pay
White water let me live
So white water you're o.k.
Oh, white water let me live
So white water you're o.k.

Note: I can't say I'm 100% happy with the ending, but I didn't want to change anything.

SpinTunes 6 Challenge: Ceiling Cat is Watching You Songwrite

Well, it's time for another SpinTunes, and this time Dr Lindyke is a competitor. Unfortunately for us, here's the first challenge:
Ceiling Cat Is Watching You Songwrite - Write a song about a meme.  (2 minute minimum) (your submission is due January 27th 11:59PM (Sun)
There follows a rather lengthy list of dusty, long-in-the-tooth memes to which we are restricted. We must choose from those. The list is here [link]


I say "unfortunately", because the lyrical half of our team, William, is about as Internet-savvy as my cat, and does not follow any of this sort of thing. However, I do (sort of), and I'm not terribly impressed with the list. Not only are they old... they're not terribly interesting to me.

However, there's ONE item on the list that does pique my interest, and that's Randy Pausch's Last Lecture. If you haven't seen this, you absolutely, definitely should. You'll find it here on YouTube: [link] It's worth every second of the hour and 16 minutes you'll spend watching it.

William hasn't seen it, though. So I've sent him the link, and he's watching it. We'll see what comes of that. And if he runs dry, I might have something in reserve. I have to warn you, though, that this will be one of the most saccharin-laden, show-tuney songs ever. Our working title is "Famous Last Words".

My concerns are simple... with limited topics, there's sure to be duplication, and it's almost certain that any duplicates will be far better than ours. So our goal for Round 1 is to get through Round 1.

Maybe there will be enough drop-outs to prevent any out-right eliminations.

(I'm posting my work-in-progress here: http://music.cratchit.org/2013/01/st6-wip-famous-last-words.html)