SpinTunes #3 Round 1 Review

Prologue: Here are some comments on the first round of SpinTunes #3. The challenge (“write a happy song about death”) made it rather hard to write lyrics with some sort of progression / developing narrative. I guess that’s what led to so many songs being rather short. Anyhow, I wrote the comments over a long stretch of time; the oldest ones come first.

Godz Poodlz: Jingles, self-promotion – and now an ad song. Gödz Pöödlz deliver it. The vocals remind me a bit of George Harrison. I wish had a line like “we take Major Credit Cards and cash” in my own tune. I have a couple of complaints, but they focus mainly on the production: the chorus could have done with a bit more distinction from the verses; also, the drum pattern becomes a bit dull – a more Traveling Wilburys-like Jim-Keltner-Groove would have been more to my taste.

Tally Deushane: I’m glad Tally’s vocals aren’t as permantently high register-based as in most of her other songs. The approach is certainly entertaining, but I’m afraid that both the music and the lyrics could have done with some editing. (I know it had to be 2+ minute long)

Ethan Ivey: Where’s the happiness?

Matt And Donna: The most serious song so far. Still it’s happy enough to make me smile.

Ross Durand: Johnny Cash plays U2 after taking some antidepressiva? The lyrics are happy-go-lucky, perfectly fitting the challenge. Sadly, this diminishes the replay-value.

Gold Lion: The vocals sound like they come directly from the latest hip indie dreamy shiny newcomer release. Frankly, I prefer songs like Dream Theater’s “Afterlife” (read: heavy metal) to ‘modern’, ‘groovy’, ‘soulful’ music like this. The main song idea sounds like something that could appeal to a larger audience, though.

Dr. Lindyke: Delivering the straight and plain “Don’t cry when I’m dead and gone”, Dr. Lindyke barely makes his entry happy enough to meet the demands of the challenge. This is another song that has a somewhat serious atmosphere, which gives it more depth than most other entries have.

Alex Carpenter: Cool intro, finally some rock music! But wait, is this a Minor chord? Mmh, the chorus soares just above the depressive lyrics. It takes a bit too long for it to appear in the song. Nice choice with the gun sounds in the middle. This is one of the better songs, but walking a thin line challenge-wise.

Jason Morris: A subtle plot in the lyrics that takes a little while to manifest itself and its fatal consequence. The Oohlalala-backing vocals are a nice contrast. The song doesn’t go to deep, but the music and lyrics go hand in hand. I was hoping for Jason to write some more, well, passionate, or rather higher vocal lines for the chorus. Still, good tune. ETA: The intro/guitar/beat reminds me of It’s Alright by Dar Williams.

Caleb Hines: I’m surprised that this tune is in a similar style as Jason Morris’s song. Only the interspersed minor chords remind me of Caleb. The songs tries to balance geek rock (think TMBG) and a more mature orchestral pop ballad song atmosphere. I don’t think it’s an attractive combination. May I suggest Caleb stays with the geek rock next round?

Inverse T. Clown: Whoa, where does this 80s pop come from? Now this a happy song! The lyrical approach is not surprising, but the execution makes me giggle. I’m afraid I’m slightly happy about Caroline’s demise, too. There’s potential to shorten the song (or to include a synth solo).

Governing Dynamics: As I had feared, Travis became a victim of the challenge – I just prefer him singing sad songs. The music is surprisingly happy. The serial-killer story doesn’t appeal to me. With Dexter there was at least some sort of moral justification on the side of the protagonist. Here I have no sympathy with the narrator at all. This sort of destroys the song for me. Sorry.

Luke Brekke: I wasn’t too fond of the beginning, but the Cannibal-Annabelle-rhyme is really funny. Once again, the pun of the song comes early and is then repeated until the end. The music isn’t too memorably, but the lyrics have good rhymes. The happiness is there, but could have been more pronounced.

“Buckethat” Bobby Matheson: The songs starts out really tame. Sure, someone’s dying. But hey, don’t worry, be happy! Finally, the chorus comes around. The emotion in the song feels rather content than happy. Maybe it’s just me, though. In order to appeal to my taste better next time, please add ice-cream and balloons.

Charlie McCarron: Another of these neo-folk, artsy, no-I-still-cannot-describe-the-style-properly songs. The happiness in this one is subtle. The death reference is also rather subtle, which is a nice change after so many rather blatant songs. This might be the first song that provides continuing lyrical inspiration even in the last verse. Still, the music is not really matching my taste.

Spencer Sokol: Mh, another song about not coming home. The ending reminds me of, tata, Governing Dynamics. I like that. The happiness is very subtle. I’m not sure if the percussive beats should resemble the beating heart, but it works. The song starts out a bit too soft. Maybe it could have been, well, happier – a bit more of a triumph.

Matt Walton: The first minute is entertaining, but again the lyrics become repetitive. The music is jolly enough to meet the challenge. I just don’t feel the spark that makes me want to smile. So I guess I just nod.

Brian Daniell: The lyrics try to postpone the death realization as long as possible. The chorus and the subsequent post-chorus part are a nice invention. The vocals are bit tame, but the happiness is tangible. I assume the title is a baseball reference. If I knew more about that I might get more out of this song, but it’s still a pleasant entry; I just wish Thursday to Sunday would have appeared, as well.

At this point it’s Sunday and the ratings and rankings have been published; so the remaining comments might be somewhat biased.

Edric Haleen: As expected, Edric manages to turn this somewhat plain lyrical idea into a massive assembly of rhymes and twists and turns. Since he can’t really take the story to a next level half-way through the song he resorts to making this long middle-eight rambling. Very effective. Not as catchy as I had hoped, but still a song for the higher ranks.

Chris Cogott: Certainly one of the best production so far, but frankly I miss a deadly hookline. The lyrical idea is, well, sweet? Still, I can’t hum along after two listens, which makes me a bit sad.

Glen Raphael: Someone once said something like: Using reverb is sort of cheating but sometimes necessary. So here the production makes it hard for the melodies to shine. Turning the volume of the percussions down could have helped. The chorus melody has potential. Unfortunately, the lyrics keep repeating the same notions after the first verse.

Wait What: Some of my favourite lyrics in this round. Sadly, the music flirts with cheap pop and remains otherwise unremarkable. I would love to hear Caleb Hines put some catchy music to this one. Given the present music, speeding up the whole thing is the only idea I have right now to improve the song as it is right now. The middle part is a nice change – only I don’t like rap.

Young Stroke aka Young Muscle: Did I just write I don’t like rap? Funny coincidence. For what this songs aims to be, it’s okay, I guess. Plenty of creative lyrical ideas, a solid beat. Maybe the chorus could have done with one or two more instrumental tracks, perhaps even just a low bass line.

Doom SKITTLE: Another Afterlife-song – the music is somewhat minimalistic. The voice strays from ordinary melodies, but there’s plenty of, mh, self-confidence. This tune sounds as if it is supposed to sound like this. So this entry is not mainstream at all, but it has more identity than most. Unfortunately, the lyrics fail to achieve the same rate of uniqueness. The story should have been way creepier, I think.

Steve Durand: I loved Steve’s Gamma Man with all its drama. This song remains on the beaten path, the drums sound good, the harmonies create a dense, pleasant atmosphere. After a while, the whole thing becomes a bit monotone. The middle part is more memorable than the actual ending line. The music isn’t overly happy, rather very content – but the lyrics convey a clear message of happiness. All in all I like this one quite a bit.

Menage’ A Tune: The death part in this one is subtle. The happiness is clearly there. AND IT’S ABOUT CHOCOLATE. So it’s virtually impossible to not like this one. The lyrics are possibly my favorite ones this round, especially with the happy undertones in the vocals. The music becomes a bit monotone, but yes, it’s a great, happy story about death.

The Boffo Yux Dudes: Did Monty Python just hit a bus carrying the New Model Army? It would have helped to have a clearly marked chorus. Or some whistling. The song would be much less interesting without the passionate performance.

Byron Blocker & The Offbeats: Starts off a bit like Tom Waits. Once the whole band sets in it sounds a bit to clean. Also, it’s a bit too repetitive when it comes to the lyrics. She’s dead. I get it. There could have been a more detailed story here. The music alone doesn’t appeal to me that much; also it’s rather gloomy. It’s not a bad song or anything; I just could envision this being more intense, more twisted.

Happi: The rapping sounds more angry than happy. The lyrics acknowledge this shortcoming by insisting that it’s a happy song. The chorus could have done with a slightly different instrumentation for the sake of contrast. Only in the middle-part do I sense some real passion – oh well, I’m just not the right person to say complimentary things about rap music, I guess. Sorry.

Emperor Gum: This song has a bit of a cinematic feel to it. I can imagine the figures, the deed – but, mh, it’s more a drama than a comedy. So it is a gripping song. But it sorts a clear hookline. All I’m left with is the story. And a dead body.

Jon Eric: A rather visual account of death – not that original per se, but compared with similar entries, Jon comes up with a coherent narrative that’s topped with a joyful chorus. The performance sounds a bit flat to my ears. Maybe Travis is right, demanding more banjo. Personally, I’d wish for (more) memorable melodies in the vocals. (Which is the most difficult thing to achieve, apart from getting the guitar player to lower the volume of his instrument.)

Alexa Polasky: It just occurs to me that no one used spectacular dying sounds. No Wilhelm scream (so far). This song here comes close to it at first, but then uses repetitiveness as a style element. This gives the song an 80s vibe, which is anything but a bad thing. The killer hook is absent, but the production makes the most of the song idea. The lyrics leave a lot of ways to imagine their context. Sadly, I’ve already heard too many songs about death by now. This is a solid entry. Still, I get the feeling that you could have made more of the “only gets better”-part, making it broader, more intense, better.

Pat And Gweebol: I get weak whenever I hear Uhlalala backing vocals. I’m glad someone used the Romeo & Juliet theme. The music struggles with the happiness, but it’s bright enough to satisfy the stickler in me. The female vocals are very strong. I wish there could be more fantasy, epicness, vastness in the production. But this is still a good, little tune.

The Offhand Band: This one just sounds too much like the Rutles.

Ethan Ivey: The atmosphere is nice, but then the lyrics destroy everything. I think this is a vampire story. Or it’s similar to the Governing Dynamics lyrics. Anyway, the harmonies are slightly too soothing, yet too basic to make the brutal plot a contrast big enough to justify thrashing my emotions.

Bryce Jensen: Music, lyrics, performance – they’re all not spectacular enough. Made more simple this tune could have been cheerful and pop ice-cream. Or with a few minor chords, there could have been deeper emotions to contrast with the relief of the singer in the chorus. The ending is somewhat too sudden.

Mick Bordet: Excellent lyrics! The chorus is enjoyable, too, but the performance is a bit too shaky. Some big guitars on the 1 and 2 of each bar could turn this into a stadium anthem. The “lick you” part and the flute are nice touches. Oh, and I’m a vegetarian, yet I enjoy this song.

SpinTunes Feedback, Metal Influences, and Statistics

The first round of the SpinTunes #3 song writing competition is over. Lo and behold, I made it to the next round! So needless to say I’m happy with the results. But equally important, the reviewers provided a lot of feedback. One is often inclined to retort when faced with criticism. Musicians even tend to reject praise if they feel misunderstood. I’m no exception. But this time around I actually agree with everything the judges wrote about my entry. (I Love the Dead – remember?) There wasn’t even the initial urge to provide my point of view, shed light on my original intentions. I will now go into the details, before I turn to a quick statistical analysis of the ratings in the last section of this post.

The incubation period for this song was rather long. At first, I was considering writing about the death metal band Death. It would have meant stretching the challenge and alienating anyone unfamiliar with the history of death metal (read: pretty much everyone). The only reminiscence of heavy metal in my actual entry is the adaptation of Megadeth’s “Killing Is My Business and Business Is Good”. I toyed with the idea of celebrating the death of a person who has lived fully and left nothing but happy marks on the lives others. Translating this idea into an actual song was a complete failure, though. I also considered writing about mortality statistics. There’s people who estimate the space needed for future graveyards and health insurances and so on. I’m somewhat familiar with the statistics behind that. But it would have taken weeks to turn this into a cohesive songs. So I returned to the notion of the happy grave digger. (Yes, Grave Digger is the name of a German metal band.) The working title was “Grave Digger’s Delight”. The music started with the chorus while I was playing an older idea I hadn’t used so far. Basically, I threw away the old idea except for the initial G-chord and the final change to D. I did add the intro melody, more on that soon. The verses are the good, old vi-IV-I-V, but with a ii thrown in for good measure. That’s not too original, but I was already running out of time. The lyrics started out with a word cloud of related terms. Plots With a View was a big inspiration when it came to the sincerity behind the mortician’s word. Here’s a person who’s dedicated to his job! I had wanted to include a couple of fancy funeral descriptions. But the music called for more concise lyrics. All that’s left from that idea is the line “I can give you silence – I can give you thunder”, which I kept to rhyme with “six feet under”. That one is indeed very plain, but I felt that the huge number of competitors called for a straight song that brings its message across during the first listen, preferably during the first 20 seconds. I think I succeeded in this respect. (This also a major reason why I changed the title to “I Love the Dead” – keeping it straight and plain.) The 2 minute minimum length gave me headaches. This made me keep, even repeat, the intro melody. I was tempted to use a fade out. But I always see this as a lack of ideas. So I used the working title for the ending. Given a few more days I might have come up with a more adequate closure. Even as I was filming the video, I felt the need to shorten the ending. I tried to spice up the arrangement with a bridge (post-chorus?) of varying length. I wasn’t completely sure about it during the recording process, but now I’m glad that the deadline forced me to keep it as it is. At one point I had a (programmed) drum track and some piano throughout the songs. To me it sounded as if they were littering the song rather than filling in lower frequencies. So I dropped them and just used a couple of nylon-stringed guitars (one hard right, one hard left), a steel-stringed guitar (center), a couple of shakers, lead vocals plus double-tracked vocals and harmony vocals in the chorus (slightly panned) and, of course, the last tambourine.

TL;DR – I appreciate the feedback and I resolve to start working on my next entry sooner.

Russ requests statistics. I happily obliged and performed a quick factor analysis using the ratings. What this method basically does is to create a multi-dimensional space in which the ratings are represented. There is one dimension for each judge, yielding a 9-dimensional space in the present case. If everybody judged the songs in a similar way, you would expect “good” songs to have rather high ratings on all dimensions the “bad” songs to receive low ratings. A line is fitted into this space to model this relationship. If all data point (i.e., songs) are close to that line in that space, the ratings are supposed to be uni-dimensionally.  In other words, there appears to be one underlying scale of song quality that is reflected in the ratings. This would be at odds with the common assertion that judgments are purely subjective and differ from rater to rater. (It would also suggest that computing the sum score is somewhat justified and not just creating numeric artifacts void of meaning.)

Using Stata 10 to perform a factor analysis with a principal-component solution, I get the following factors:

. factor blue-popvote, pcf

Factor analysis/correlation                    Number of obs    =       37
Method: principal-component factors            Retained factors =        2
Rotation: (unrotated)                          Number of params =       17

Factor   |   Eigenvalue   Difference        Proportion   Cumulative
Factor1  |      4.44494      3.29466            0.4939       0.4939
Factor2  |      1.15028      0.33597            0.1278       0.6217
Factor3  |      0.81431      0.08112            0.0905       0.7122
Factor4  |      0.73319      0.19850            0.0815       0.7936
Factor5  |      0.53468      0.05959            0.0594       0.8530
Factor6  |      0.47510      0.11760            0.0528       0.9058
Factor7  |      0.35750      0.05932            0.0397       0.9456
Factor8  |      0.29818      0.10635            0.0331       0.9787
Factor9  |      0.19183            .            0.0213       1.0000
LR test: independent vs. saturated:  chi2(36) =  137.45 Prob>chi2 = 0.0000

Wait, what? Let’s just focus on one criteria for exploring the factor solution: Eigenvalues larger than 1. Here are two such factors, which suggests that the rating data represents two (independent) dimensions. (For those familiar with the method: I tried a few rotated solutions, but they yield similar results.) Now the first factor explains almost half of the variance at hand whereas the second factor has a much smaller Eigenvalue and subsequently explains only 1/8 of the variance in the data.

Let’s take a look at the so called factor loading to see how the two factor relate to the raters. Stata says:

Factor loadings (pattern matrix) and unique variances

Variable |  Factor1   Factor2 |   Uniqueness
blue     |   0.6128   -0.0039 |      0.6244
mike     |   0.7690   -0.1880 |      0.3733
mitchell |   0.7188    0.1032 |      0.4727
glenn    |   0.7428   -0.0309 |      0.4474
randy    |   0.8830    0.0089 |      0.2202
kevin    |   0.7768    0.1219 |      0.3817
david    |   0.6764    0.3650 |      0.4092
ben      |  -0.0672    0.9439 |      0.1045
popvote  |   0.7512   -0.2534 |      0.3714

Without going into statistical details, let’s say that the loading indicate who strongly each rater is related with each factor. For example, Blue’s ratings have less to do with the overall factor than Mike’s ratings. Both rater’s show rather high loadings, though. Given the high loading of all raters (except one) indicate a high level of general agreement. The only exception is Ben, whose ratings have little to do with the first factor. (You could argue that he even gave reverse ratings, but the loading is quite small.) Instead, his ratings play a big role in the second factor (which is by definition statistically independent from the first one). There is some agreement with the remaining variance of David’s ratings and a negative relationship with the popular vote (if you use the somewhat common notion to interpret loadings that are larger than 0.2). So there appears to be some dissent regarding the ranking. But on the other hand, the “dominant” first factor suggests that the ratings reflect the same construct to a large degree. Whether that’s song writing skills, mastering of the challenge, or simply sympathy, is different question.

PS: I must admit that I haven’t listened to all entries, yet. It’s a lot of music and I’m struggling with a few technical connection glitches. Anyway, I liked what Jason Morris and Alex Carpenter did, although their music wasn’t that happy. Another entry that necessarily caught my attention was Wake at the Sunnyside by the one and only Gödz Pöödlz. Not only did they choose the same topic I used, they also came up with a beautiful pop song and plenty of original lyrical ideas. Good work!

Manitcess – 423. Red (Song Fu #5, Round 1)

Russ Rogers (of Gödz Pöödlz) said it much better than I ever could. Please read on:

The first challenge for Masters of Song Fu #5 was posted last week. The challenge was to write a song based on one Mole-man from a list of 700 Mole-men created by John Hodgman. (Hodgman is the “I’m a PC”-guy from the Mac ads. You’ve seen him on the Daily Show. He’s got two books out. The Mole-men are from his second book, “More Information Than You Require”.)

The first round songs are now posted and ready for your votes. The songs are phenomenally creative and diverse. Seriously, a good crop.


You can vote ONLY once, but you can vote for up to FIVE different songs.

So take some time to listen to at least part of every song. There are 33, so it will take a little time. Listen closely to ALL of the songs you like. Then, choose your TOP FIVE SONGS and vote for them.

You can even download ALL the songs for FREE!

You will receive Special Silver Bonus Points in Heaven if you comment at the bottom of the Song Fu page. This can be as brief or as in depth as you like. But speaking from experience, one person taking the time to comment on my song with either praise or constructive criticism was worth more than 50 votes to me! You’re comment could be as simple as listing the five songs you voted for. If you want to be more complex, give your reasons and mention the songs that almost got your vote (the ones you wish you had more votes to give). Try to stay positive or constructive.

Extra Special Heavenly GOLDEN Points are awarded to folks who encourage other folks to check out the songs and vote. Post it to your facebook status. Twitter about it. Blog about it. Make sure you link to the Song Fu site. Talk about Song Fu. This is a concept that deserves viral attention from the Hive-Mind.

Masters of Song Fu is a special contest. There is NO prize money involved. The songwriters are doing this out of love for their craft and in the hopes that SOMEONE will notice, enjoy and appreciate their efforts.

So take some time, VOTE, COMMENT and POST about the contest.

This is the first of 3 preliminary rounds of voting. The Challenger with the most cumulative votes after 3 rounds will meet a Super-secret Champion, “The Master of Song Fu” in a final head-to-head challenge for the title and trophy of Master of Song Fu!

Voting will end this Saturday, November 21 at 11:59 PM EST.

The website’s system is designed to lock out IP Addresses that have already voted. So, when I say you can only vote once, technically it means that each computer only gets one chance to vote. Sometimes the voting system gets locked up, allowing NOBODY to vote for a while. Don’t let this frustrate you. Just come back another time and vote. You can always leave a comment, even when the voting system is SNAFU.

Thanks for Supporting Song Fu. Now, got Vote, Comment and Post.

This being quoted, and yes, I second every word Russ wrote, here’s a list of my six favourite entries, followed by the video Susanne and I shot last Sunday to go with our own entry, “423. Red” by Manticess.

  • Caleb Hines
  • Joe “Covenant” Lamb
  • Lex Vader
  • Gorbzilla
  • Spencer Sokol
  • Sara Parsons