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Saturday, June 25, 2011

SpinTunes #3 Round 1 Review: Blue

Hi, I’m Blue, from Hello, The Future! I’ve been putting up a new song every week for over a year (we’re at Week 61), so I know a thing or two about constraints and challenges and getting something put together under a time limit.

You can hear my stuff at Hello, The Future! or catch me on Twitter at @HelloTheFuture, but more importantly make sure you check out Mink Car Cover, which is a project I’m doing with a group of supertalented musicians (Mike Lombardo, MC Frontalot, Tom Milsom, Marian Call, Molly Lewis, etc.). We’re covering TMBG’s album Mink Car, in full, to benefit the FDNY Foundation.

Thanks supermuch to Team Spintunes for inviting me to guest judge. I have to say that I have learned so much from listening to these songs (what works well, what confuses the listener, etc.), and so I am very glad to have had the opportunity to judge what I have heard is the Largest Spintunes Challenge EVER. Congrats to everyone who turned in a song!

General Comments About The Reviews (because writing one long explanation is faster than writing 37 long explanations):

First: I am so glad that so many of you get to move on to the next round, because there were a lot of good songs in this group. Seriously. You rock.

For my judging, I ranked the complete song presentation rather than the song’s potential; that is, I considered vocal presentation, instrumentals, recording, etc. as equal to the song’s actual notes and words.

I am a bit biased because I like songs that tell a story much more than I like songs that set a mood or present an abstraction. There are a few songs that I ranked near the top even though they didn’t tell a story (you know who you are), but as you’ll notice my top top choices are all story songs.

Other notes, if only to explain my critiques:

What I mean by “the story is hard to follow:” I mean that at the end of the song I can’t exactly tell you what happened in it; I think it was about this dude who was sad… or… something.

What I mean by “the melody is hard to follow:” I don’t mean that you need to use AABA or anything like that, but I do mean that the melody you’ve written doesn’t effectively set up a collaboration with the listener. A melody has to give the listener enough anchors, either through hooks, repetition, progression, or other similar methods, for the listener to know what’s going on (and, in many subconscious ways, anticipate what’s coming).

To use a metaphor: a good melody is like a good episode of CSI. You start off being surprised and captivated by the twists and turns, by the second commercial break you know the major themes, and at the end you realize what’s coming right before the detectives do.

What I mean by “the vocals are weak:” this generally means a combination of both pitch issues and breath issues. They’re linked, of course. There’s not enough breath behind the voice to support the note, or to support the note at the desired pitch.

What I mean by “committing to the lyric/song:” this is actually primarily an intonation issue disguised as an acting issue. Emotion is carried through vocal intonation (and through breath) and when acting coaches or Spintunes judges get all “you’re not committing!” what we really mean is “you haven’t chosen the appropriate intonations to communicate your emotional meaning to your audience!” Intonation in this case means word emphasis, syllable emphasis within words, dynamic variation, subtle pausing for effect, etc. You don’t have to feel the emotion of the lyric yourself; but you do have to figure out how the lyric would be spoken by someone feeling that emotion, and then use those intonations when you sing.

What I mean by “I can’t understand the words:” I can’t understand the words.

On to the rankings! In order, from highest to lowest:

Edric Haleen: I Hope You Die - You hit all of my happy buttons: great voice, clever lyric, patter, memorable tune, clear story. Hooray!

Bryon Blocker And The Offbeats: She’s Dead - Awesome vocal choice, and great commitment to maintaining it. Guitar and drums are nicely balanced. Memorable song. Yay!

Ross Durand: No Taxes - Great setup and great payoff. Voice, guitar, and perc nicely balanced. A little hard to follow the story; took a few times through before I figured out who Brian was, for example.

Gold Lion: In The Afterlife - Ostensibly I couldn’t understand a word of this song except for “do you believe in the afterlife.” That aside—and this is important—of all the songs, this is the one I wanted to explore thoroughly. This was the one I wanted to listen to 100 times, to follow the guitar, to figure it out, to try to understand what was going on in that background barbeque or whatever it was. Very nicely done.

Pat And Gweebol: Baby Go To Sleep - Lovely. Beautiful harmonies. Charming in every way. I had difficulty understanding the words, but I really enjoyed being swung around by the melody.

Chris Cogott: Don’t Drag Me Down - Nice story and nice singing. Pitch is a little wavery in places, which pulls me out of the song. Good hook in the chorus and very nice use of instrumentals.

Young Stroke aka Young Muscle: My Name Is Death - Hooray for selling the song! Lyrics were completely wack, in the good way. A little hard to follow the story in the verse; loved the chorus.

Alex Carpenter: The Day I Died - DANG I LOVE GRUNGE ROCK SO MUCH did you grow up in the 90s too???? This song would definitely show up on my Pandora. A little hard to figure out what story you’re telling with the lyric.

Matt And Donna: The Lady On The Gray - Nice piano and harmonies. I have trouble understanding the lyric in many places. Trumpet is a nice touch and a little flat. You both get super points for a great melody, though. Yay!

Godz Poodlz: Wake At The Sunnyside - Cute and steady. I hate to say this, but I wanted more suicide humor. The story you were telling was weakened when you backed away from what you set up in the initial verse.

Jason Morris: Burning For You - This song also reminds me of the awesome 90s (BNL meets Blues Traveler?) It’s really really really solid and has a nice hook in the chorus.

Charlie McCarron: Grandma And Grandpa - Nice timbre. Very peaceful. I like the second vocalist too. The lyrics are difficult to understand, but the melody sticks with you.

BoffoYuxDudes: Marked For Death - Yes, very Monty Python. Would have been nice to have a chorus somewhere, so I could sing along; but you totally sold the vocals as they were.

Tally Deushane: My Dead Goldfish - Adorable. Can’t understand the lyrics, but I like the sound of the voice and what I’m guessing is a ukulele. I think a different set of filters or a different recording environment would have helped the song.

Buckethat Bobby Matheson: No Worries - Good voice, solid song. Pitch is a little wavery in the chorus; could have used another take or two to clean it up.

Matt Walton: We’re All Going To Die - Very nice. Vaguely British Invasion. I like the ukulele. Voice is not always on pitch, but neither were the Beatles.

Inverse T. Clown: Caroline Is Dead - You set me up for a rhyme scheme and you failed me, my friend. That opening section has to rhyme or you’ll lose us before you’ve even started. Otherwise solid.

Emperor Gum: Frequency - Pretty. Nice use of percussion and clarinet. Very nice mixture of sounds and timbres throughout. There are a lot of melodic ideas going on but there’s not enough repetition or linking to bring them together; it makes the song difficult to follow.

Wait What: Death: Everybody’s Doing It - Almost perfect. You need to commit to what you’re saying, though. The song is funny, but the vocal line sounds unsure. This is where it would be okay to go over the top.

Glen Raphael: When You’re Dead - Nice harmonies! The melody line doesn’t always stay in key, which makes it hard for me to follow. The bass vocal is a lot of fun, though.

Caleb Hines: Haven’t You Ever - Very good story and nice lyric. I could understand the words! Voice is not on pitch in all cases; not sure if it’s a range issue.

The Offhand Band: All Over - Strong voice, fun backings, nice chorus. Could put a little more breath behind the voice. I like the melody and the hook.

Jon Eric: Birthday - Story and lyric hard to follow. Background instrumentals are solid. I always like a shaker!

Bryce Jensen: Thank You - Nice. Voice and harmonies are weak, but the setup and the punchline are cute.

Steve Durand: Die Happy - Nice trombone! The lyric needs to be sold a bit more; don’t back away from it.

Happi: The Next Part Of Life - Strong voice, but needs a melody somewhere; either in the voice (backing vocals?) or in the instrumental.

Spencer Sokol: Keeping Calm - Nice guitar. Melody is hard to follow, as is the story. Really nice guitar.

Jutze: I Love The Dead - Cute! The lyric is fun too. There are some pitch issues that make the melody difficult to follow, and a few word issues (“bodies” sounds like “baddies,” which would make it a very different song).

Governing Dynamics: Alive Again - The tune is very catchy. A little more breath would help in areas where the pitch is flat (“alive again”). The key changes are in the right place but they’re very flat. I really really really like the bridge.

Dr. Lindyke: Wake Me When It’s Over - Strong piano, voice a little soft in the mix so it’s hard to hear, understand lyrics, etc. I pictured Elton John throughout and now am determined that you must look like Sir Elton IRL.

Alexa Polasky: You Will Never Die - Nice rhythm. The breath percussion is an interesting choice (which means I liked it). The voice is a little weak and mixed too softly to hear.

Ethan Ivey: The Four-Year Itch - Nice piano work. This is one of the “commit more to the lyric” cases; I know you’re telling a clear story here, but I don’t know what the narrator is feeling about the story.

Luke Brekke, Esquire: Cannibal - The melody is all over the place, but it’s a really fun idea. The whole “because he’s a cannibal” is hilarious and perfectly intonated.

Menagé a Tune: Isn’t It Nice - The story here is VERY CLEAR. Thank you. A different filter on the voice would make your sound warmer; and I was distracted by wondering whether you were using a keyboard preset. There were a few rhyme issues where I expected a rhyme and didn’t get one.

Brian Daniell: Cubbies Will Win - Fun tambourine! The mix makes it very difficult to hear the voice. Not sure what’s going on in the song because I can’t hear the voice; something about the Cubs? And death?

Hudson And Day: Silly Baby - Melody is hard to follow, and the mix is unbalanced. The two vocalists are interesting in their contrast, but the difficulty of following the melody and the lyric undermines their power.

Doom Skittle: A Better Place - Dang it, Doom Skittle. I don’t want anyone to be last! Melody and story were hard to follow; mix was unbalanced and there were pitch issues. Don’t come after me! You’re still cool!


  1. LOL. "Dr. Lindyke" is a two-headed creature composed of Dave and William, but I can assure you that I (Dave) don't look anything like Sir Elton. (Well... we are both carbon-based bipedal primates, but other than that...). Nevertheless, I'll accept being compared to Sir Elton any day, even if it's just to say that I remind one of his vastly superior talent.

  2. Hello, Blue here... just wanted to say that LOL that huge picture of me... um... didn't realize it would be so large and prominent! I submitted it to Spin along with my bio, but then it doesn't look like any of the other judges submitted pictures, so... um... yeah. :)

  3. I just got a used synthesizer keyboard, an Optimus MD-1200, and the chords were preset- I never used one of these before, but I like how easy it is to use. This was my first try at using a keyboard this way; Caleb showed me how it worked so I was (almost) flying solo and doing my own accomp. I am also trying to figure out how to use Audacity better to avoid the hollow vocal sound- can you tell I am NOT a trained musician? Just a doodling grandma really, but having fun learning! :o)

  4. Graham (Emperor Gum + DonutWorthy)July 4, 2011 at 3:58 PM

    Thanks for the review, Blue! Glad you liked the instrumentation! Not repeating is something I do deliberately, I shall have to work on keeping the songs conjoined. Conjoined? Let's go with conjoined.