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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Spintunes #5 Round 2 Review: Mark Meritt

There's a great recent post at Dr. Lindyke's blog on just what it means for a song to be about something, including different ways that might relate to a challenge. Like last round, this topic is specific but can be taken in different directions, with at least these different kinds of "about" I'd thought of before hearing the entries:
On the nose: Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger," Van Halen's "Right Now," Muse's "Butterflies and Hurricanes," or Spin's examples from the challenge announcement, like "Take This Job and Shove It" for Round 1.
Broadening the boundaries: The challenge didn't specify that the work-out or pumping-up had to be physical and athletic. A bit more broadly, the challenge could easily be thought of as motivating the listener to any positive goal. So: R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly," Corey Hart's "Never Surrender," even Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive."
Creatively outside the box: Motivating people to "work out" an interpersonal conflict (The Beatles' "We Can Work It Out") or an intellectual problem, to "pump up" an ego or something that's been physically deflated, etc.
Indirect: Europe's "The Final Countdown" and Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll Part 2" had other intentions, but listener preferences over vast swaths of time and space turned these into popular pump-ups. Phil Collins' "Sussudio" pumped up the main character in "American Psycho" in a way that was individually quirky. Neither of these vagaries of audience perception seems to me a good thing to rely on for a songwriting contest challenge, since they can stretch the challenge to the point of meaninglessness: "I know I wrote a song that has nothing obvious to do with the challenge, but I'm sure audiences would rally over many years and turn it into a popular pump-up," or, "I don't care if hardly anybody else on the planet would be pumped up by the song I wrote, it pumps me up, so there." Unless an indirect approach strikes me as somehow surprisingly effective, I'm not going to score it well on the challenge, though all the other categories would remain up for grabs.
Any one of these points on the challenge map could come off fantastically or terribly, depending on the execution. I'm looking at how it all balances, along with the rest of what I described about my judging approach at the top of my first round post. Onto the reviews.
Edric Haleen - One More Step
Qualified Rank: 1
Overall Rank: 1
Total Score: 49
  • Challenge: 9 (Good) – While not the archetypal 80's rock many might think of for this challenge, still, hit dead on both lyrically and musically, since both have such a strong sense of positive inspiration to pump someone up.
  • Lyric Content: 6 (Good) – Very simple but effective. Nice imagery, nice ambiguity about what types of goals/roads might be involved.
  • Composition: 8 (Excellent) – As solid as a lot of your wordier, busier work can be, it's also really great to hear you take on something with simpler, shorter melodic phrasing and have it come out strong and memorable. Nice modulations (especially as you end each verse), interesting development over time.
  • Songwriting Craft: 8 (Excellent) – Strong consistency and prosody in your melodic phrasing. Slowly coming in and then later fading out with percussion gives a sense that the journey never stops even though the lyrics do -- an excellent reason for a final fade. The repetition of the title mirrors the journey continuing. I like how lines 2 and 4 in each verse are thematically related (sky, distance, failure) and then followed by a contrast in line 6, suggesting that a journey can bring you more than what you set out for. I especially like that the failure theme is hinted at when the song musically breaks down before building up again. By the way, though, did you realize that you pulled a "Les Miserables"? One more day, one day more :)
  • Arrangement: 3 (Good) – Really nice textures, sounds and development. Your song bio says you don't usually work this way, but you got really good results. Could be a great area to continue to explore for artistic growth.
  • Performance: 4 (Excellent) – Great soaring vocals, nice instrumental performances in general, including the inventive solos.
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – Sounds good overall, but the vocals get a little lost in the mix toward the end as the instruments crescendo.
  • Judge’s Whim: 8 (Excellent) – The essence of this challenge always transcended 80's pop-rock. Annie's "Tomorrow" and the Mother Abbess' "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" are exemplary, too. Your song bio makes clear that you tried to please the judges, which you usually don't care about, but I think what you did was find a genuine win-win with your own artistic identity. Frankly, I think that's really what anyone bothering to enter a song for a contest challenge should always seek, and you nailed it.
Mariah Mercedes - Hurricane
Qualified Rank: 2
Overall Rank: 2
Total Score: 46
  • Challenge: 9 (Good) – Playing it straight with a simple but strong metaphor, the whole thing comes together as a really respectable cousin to the kinds of songs that inspired the challenge in the first place.
  • Lyric Content: 8 (Excellent) – You picked a really strong central image and explored it with good parallels to a personal challenge. Continually extending the metaphor and then breaking out for a moment with the "insane" reference all seems to risk camp, yet everything comes across with a seriousness and force that works well.
  • Composition: 6 (Good) – Strong motif out of the gate except that it's from Rush's "Tom Sawyer" :) Otherwise, a lot of nice things going on. The drive of the guitar underneath the verse vocals sounds like something menacing making its way, and vocal melody nearly doubles it at times but variations keep adding interest. Strong chorus. I would have liked a little more strength in the brief instrumental lift between verse and chorus, though maybe that's just the eye before the storm?
  • Songwriting Craft: 6 (Good) – The strong imagery of the lyrics through the metaphor extension goes a long way here, as does the powerfully simple chorus. There's some melodic looseness in the verses that might have been a bit tighter but nevertheless works well enough for the style.
  • Arrangement: 3 (Good) – Lots of nice details achieved with what sounds like, in the end, not as many instruments/tracks as it might have seemed. I especially like the subtle 16-note ostinato guitar bit which sounds like it's out of "Eye of the Tiger," though it almost gets lost in the mix.
  • Performance: 4 (Excellent) – Strong performances all around, especially vocals.
  • Recording: 2 (Fair) – Vocals are a bit hot at times, some possible instrumental balance issues (though some of this may be intentional with the arrangement, hard to tell). I'd have liked backing vocals at end a little louder.
  • Judge’s Whim: 8 (Excellent) – Comes across like a "real" pump-up song.
Gorbzilla featuring The Gorbzookies - Superwoman
Qualified Rank: 3
Overall Rank: 3
Total Score: 44
  • Challenge: 9 (Good) – Clearly not intended to motivate just anyone, but a really unique angle (both lyrically and musically), one that could pump up lots of women with self-esteem -- and lots of those women's family members with appreciation.
  • Lyric Content: 6 (Good) – Simple, but the concept itself goes a long way for execution, and you've got some nice details.
  • Composition: 6 (Good) – Strong melody appropriate to the genre. Nice horn parts. One of the catchier, more musically memorable entries in the round.
  • Songwriting Craft: 6 (Good) – Strong choice to open with the chorus, given how strong the chorus is. Repetition of the title phrase is musically effective and really helps make an appreciative impression. Some inconsistent melodic phrasings are acceptable given the genre.
  • Arrangement: 3 (Good) – Great groove, great horns, nice tinkly electric piano in the background (a bit like the piano in James Brown's "Sex Machine"). Backing vocals from kids was thematically appropriate but musically a risky choice, since it could have given the song an amateurish and/or kids' music feel, but they come across just fine.
  • Performance: 3 (Good) – Solid performances all around, though it would sound even better with a huger, more booming R&B lead vocal.
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – Sounds good.
  • Judge’s Whim: 8 (Excellent) – The rest of the scores suggest Good, but I just really like this song a lot more than most of the other entries, so bully for you. Excellent.
Dr. Lindyke - Monastic Workout
Qualified Rank: n/a-Shadow
Overall Rank: 4
Total Score: 43
  • Challenge: 9 (Good) – It may be, like you said in your song bio, only directed to 15 monks, and they may be complaining a lot about their lives, but I'd say it's a pretty clever yet surprisingly square take on the challenge. The affinity between the kind of musical scale appropriate for a chant and the kinds we find in lots of rock/blues music makes this take nowhere near as oblique as it may seem. It genuinely works for the challenge, even musically.
  • Lyric Content: 6 (Good) – Seems like you got well enough into the perspective of a monk, telling the story in a way that expresses clearly the motivation to physical activity while seeming to be authentic to the monks' varied experiences.
  • Composition: 6 (Good) – The fact that I was one of the 6 million people to buy a copy of the "Chant" album by the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos isn't enough to give me any real confidence in evaluating a piece like this. So I'll just say that I like how the melody straddles sounding like both a chant and something a bit rock-based (which of course comes from blues, which of course comes from music that has at least some affinities with some kinds of chanting). The counterpoint is also effective.
  • Songwriting Craft: 6 (Good) – Ditto what I just said about composition. The imagery and details are simple but effective.
  • Arrangement: 3 (Good) – Ditto what I said about composition. The vocal arrangement seems satisfying for this piece.
  • Performance: 3 (Good) – Strong, just-rock-like-enough vocals seem right on for this particular piece in this particular challenge.
  • Recording: 2 (Fair) – Sounds like a demo.
  • Judge’s Whim: 8 (Excellent) – No more likely to sweep the world than your other entry, but in its own way, I think this song comes together really well for this challenge all the way from concept through execution.
The Boffo Yux Dudes / Chris Cogott - Big, Bigger, Best
Qualified Rank: 4
Overall Rank: 5
Total Score: 42.5
  • Challenge: 9 (Good) – Parody simultaneously pays homage while undermining, and how you do it determines the balance. You not only parodized the pump-up song genere, you parodized the act of working out itself, going the steroid route where now the athletes simply don't have as much work to do to get the same results, making for something of an anti-motivational, anti-pump-up. Yet the muscles keep getting bigger, and the narrator remains relentelssly swept up in his routine, and musically you're right there in an archetypal groove, so I think the balance tilts in your favor.
  • Lyric Content: 6 (Good) – The irony of the steroid user staying so into the whole scene despite the side effects, even staring those side effects straight on and twisting them into supposed positives instead of trying to ignore or downplay them, all makes for a great satire.
  • Composition: 4 (Fair) – While the song works musically really well for the challenge, I think that's got mostly to do with the arrangement and the fact that it's got a lot of traditional rock elements that, in themselves, aren't (and don't really have to be) compositionally strong and original in order to be effective.
  • Songwriting Craft: 6 (Good) – Lots of solid and funny imagery, some good rhymes especially for punch lines like "urine is clear," "if my brain doesn't first," and "wheeled out on a stretcher." Lots of inconsistent melodic phrasing, but it doesn't hurt too much given the genre.
  • Arrangement: 3 (Good) – Great 80's synth sounds along with the solid rock guitars give a really authentic vibe in referencing some musical archetypes for the challenge.
  • Performance: 3 (Good) – Strong performances all around. Generations of comedians have gotten great results from doing something that Mel Brooks talked about for comedy movie soundtrack music: play the underlying emotion, not the joke. You do this almost throughout, which is great, but there are a few vocal moments that seem overtly amusing and would actually have been funnier if swung over to the other side to be played more straight. When a song is already a big eye wink, any actual winking at the listener spoils the fun. If it wasn't for those moments, I think I would have given an Excellent here.
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – Sounds good overall. Sometimes not always clear, but I can't tell if it may be intentional for a certain effect.
  • Judge’s Whim: 8.5 (Excellent) – Satire isn't likely to really motivate, but any genre that's as familiar as pump-up songs is ripe for satire, and you pulled it off really, really well.
RC - Get Up
Qualified Rank: 5
Overall Rank: 6
Total Score: 42
  • Challenge: 9 (Good) – Clever dialogue between a tired would-be procrastinator and the inner voice that spurs action.
  • Lyric Content: 6 (Good) – Simple but really well told. The voice appears, then the shift with the hammer from the clock to the voice makes a really nice parallel. The final admission of the need for that voice despite all the negativity is a great touch to resolve the story.
  • Composition: 6 (Good) – Solid rock feel. The chorus is catchy. Its cheeriness easily could have become out of place with the rest, but you make it work.
  • Songwriting Craft: 6 (Good) – Genre makes the song resilient to inconsinstet melodic phrasing, otherwise pretty fine. The parallel between the clock and the voice, though, would have made a stronger consistency in the phrasing of the first two verses really welcome. Could have pushed this to an Excellent score.
  • Arrangement: 3 (Good) – Nice sound, great background vocals.
  • Performance: 3 (Good) – Solid performances all around, especially with the lead and background vocals.
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – Sounds good.
  • Judge’s Whim: 6 (Good) – A solid submission overall.
Ross Durand - Win
Qualified Rank: 6
Overall Rank: 7
Total Score: 41
  • Challenge: 9 (Good) – A solid head-on take for the challenge. Not as grandiose/pretentious as some archetypcal pump-up songs, but the everyday-ness of "Don't be that guy" is nicely relatable.
  • Lyric Content: 6 (Good) – A lot of nice contrasts between life for those who don't put their chips in and those who do. The focus on starting, on getting in the game, as opposed to already being in and needing to excel, is a nice angle.
  • Composition: 6 (Good) – More melodic than is typical for the genre, yet fits the style well. Some interesting harmonic progressions. Strong and memorable chorus. I'd have preferred a stronger segue out of the bridge, which currently just seems to peter out.
  • Songwriting Craft: 6 (Good) – Strong overall craft given that the genre is more resilient to some inconsistent melodic phrasing. The outdoors imagery (ocean, snow, road, sky, ground) suggests the expansive future of the person who plays the game. The "sky / ground" line and "... you bring yourself to life, it doesn't come to you" are especially effective. I'd have liked a second verse rhyme to parallel the first verse's "snow / go."
  • Arrangement: 3 (Good) – While I'd have liked an even bigger sound in the chorus and the bridge, I like how you've overall done a lot with a little. The tambourine in the chorus is trite but in a way I like :)
  • Performance: 2 (Fair) – Good performances, though this style of song (which is totally appropriate for the challenge, and which you've otherwise pulled off well here) seems not to suit your voice as well as a lot of your other songs. I couldn't help but wonder about your somewhat more country-influenced wheelhouse, which might have produced really good results that could have been a bit more unique among the entrants specifically and for the "work-out" song genre in general. None of that wondering of mine was relevant to how I judged anything else about the song but how well you pulled off the vocal.
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – Sounds like a good demo, but this is mainly due to the arrangement and the vocal and not the engineering per se.
  • Judge’s Whim: 6 (Good) – A solid submission overall.
The Chocolate Chips - Nothing Can Stop You
Qualified Rank: 7
Overall Rank: 8
Total Score: 39.67
  • Challenge: 9 (Good) – A solid straightforward take on the challenge. Some weaknesses I'll mention in the other categories, but what was strong about parts of the music especially was strong enough for me to push this score to Good.
  • Lyric Content: 4 (Fair) – Simple but effective enough overall. Some nice details -- brown shoes, stars watching you fly. "You will taste fresh" sounds a little silly, though, and "Nothing is hard just unknown to you / Something you know is something you can do" seems to have a mixed message, first line saying you can do what you don't know, second suggesting you can't.
  • Composition: 6 (Good) – In itself the music is pretty nice throughout, though the happier tones of the verses and especially of the lift seem as if they may belong to a different song compared to the chorus. Musically, I'd have loved to hear the vocal go up an octave for the second and third choruses.
  • Songwriting Craft: 6 (Good) – Some conspicously inconsistent melodic phrasing and awkward prosody, and the very end is a little anticlimactic, but overall the rest of the song is put together fairly solidly.
  • Arrangement: 3 (Good) – Great sound, especially for the challenge. There's a nice subtle synth in the background doing some occasional high-ish notes that adds some nice texture and rhytmic interest.
  • Performance: 2 (Fair) – Solid enough but not much to really show off.
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – Sounds good.
  • Judge’s Whim: 6.67 (Good) – A solid submission overall.
Governing Dynamics - Forward
Qualified Rank: 8
Overall Rank: 9
Total Score: 39.33
  • Challenge: 6 (Fair) – A nice straightforward take on the challenge, but various things (which I'll talk about under the other categories) end up making the song feel like it's holding back from being really motivational.
  • Lyric Content: 6 (Good) – You've got an interesting take here, with the narrator seeming to try to convince someone whose conviction may be waxing and waning, and growing more successful as the song goes on. Looking backward and forward, not always knowing where we are, but always knowing it's important to keep going, gives the story an interesting sense of movement: forward.
  • Composition: 6 (Good) – Like a number of songs of yours I've heard, this one has a nice sense of color and texture. Melodically, it seems to wander a fair amount, but it keeps coming back to strong themes. It seems like this may be on purpose, with the music mirroring the ebb and flow of the journey forward? The mellow feel that appears at times, though, seems to slow down the journey, especially in the "No surrender" stanzas when forward motion would seem most warranted.
  • Songwriting Craft: 6 (Good) – Whatever inconsistencies there may be in melodic phrasing, the prosody is pretty solid. Whatever unusual qualities there may be to the sectional structure, it supports those ups and downs of the journey, giving a sense that each up or down is somewhat different from the ones before, just like in a real journey. But too much realistic attention to the downs along with the ups detracts from motivation. As a song, I think it's strong, even though I think it could have been stronger for this particular challenge.
  • Arrangement: 3 (Good) – You create a nice, full rock sound.
  • Performance: 3 (Good) – Strong performances, always appropriate to the changing moods (even if I would have wanted the moods stronger at the chorus climaxes).
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – Sounds good.
  • Judge’s Whim: 6.33 (Good) – A solid submission overall.
Zoe Gray - Mine
Qualified Rank: n/a-Shadow
Overall Rank: 10
Total Score: 39
  • Challenge: 9 (Good) – Another unique angle among the entries for the round, not directed at just anybody for just any workout. World domination definitely requires a pump-up, both of ego and of practical preparation, and you've captured both well.
  • Lyric Content: 6 (Good) – A fun story from a unique perspective, told with lots of inventive details.
  • Composition: 6 (Good) – Fun and catchy, strong melodic motifs. Nice oblique reference to the James Bond theme in the main guitar-like accompaniment that opens the song.
  • Songwriting Craft: 6 (Good) – Lots of great imagery and rhyming. The bounciness of the song expresses the intensity of the narrator's drive, and the generally positive, pleasant feel of the feel music is a nice, unexpected touch, letting us in on how happy the narrator feels about everything, with just hints of musical darkness here and there to let us know that there's more to the story than that happiness. The song, though, is wordy in ways that lead to inconsistent melodic phrasing, awkward prosody, and a rushed vocal performance in which you seem to not know when to catch your breath easily. The wordiness is particularly noticeable when the chorus doesn't let up after the verse -- it would probably feel stronger if the chorus contrasted more with the verses by being a bit more majestic to match the narrator's feeling, instead of just being a further extension of the evil villain's relentless monologuing. It's possible that, even without a rewrite, a singer with more breathing technique might be able to pull this off and make a lot of these issues less noticeable. The issues are real, though, and I think the song would be far stronger with more attention to paid to tightening up the melody/phrasing. Still, enough good stuff here to make me just nudge above Fair.
  • Arrangement: 2 (Fair) – The Bond-like guitar is effective, the percussion goes well with the bouncy melody, but I'd like a bigger sound to go with the big intentions of the narrator. This feels like enough was done for a basic demo only.
  • Performance: 2 (Fair) – Fine, but there's not much to show off in the instruments, and the vocal performance is hampered by the breathing/wordiness issues.
  • Recording: 2 (Fair) – Sounds like a demo.
  • Judge’s Whim: 6 (Good) – Despite its difficulties, there's a lot to like about this song, both in general and also for this challenge in particular.
Dr. Lindyke - A Tune For You (The SpinTunes Montage)
Qualified Rank: n/a-Shadow
Overall Rank: 11
Total Score: 35.5
  • Challenge: 9 (Good) – Not likely to sweep the world, but for its intended audience, a great take on the challenge, especially with the title reference to this being a montage of the participation experience.
  • Lyric Content: 6 (Good) – Lots of nice details about the different stages of the entrant experience, with pump-up song references that are made to work in a way that's broad enough for the song to apply generally for SpinTunes and not only for this round.
  • Composition: 4 (Fair) – It's bright and pleasant, but the accompaniment is rather repetitive and the melody somewhat wandering. I know you mentioned repetition in your song bio, but I think you've overdone it here.
  • Songwriting Craft: 4 (Fair) – The things I just mentioned about composition make it difficult to know what section of the song we're in, and the absence of a full second verse compounds the sense of repetitiveness. Having the title lyric occur only at the end of a very long chorus (or a chorus that follows a very similar lift, depending on how you define the "I read the post" stanzas), and being harmonically unresolved over the II-V chords, feels like weak placement to me.
  • Arrangement: 2 (Fair) – As far as it goes, a piano solo with vocal can be okay for this song, though the piano part is pretty repetitive as I've said. Extra color in the piano and/or instrumentation would be welcome.
  • Performance: 3 (Good) – The piano part isn't showy, but it's fine, and I like the expression of the vocal enough to bump this past Fair.
  • Recording: 1 (Poor) – Sounds like a rough demo.
  • Judge’s Whim: 6.5 (Good) – There's enough for me to like about this song, for this challenge, to give a Good.
Ménage a Tune - Run!
Qualified Rank: 9
Overall Rank: 12
Total Score: 35
  • Challenge: 6 (Fair) – The fundamental motivation is to avoid a negative rather than pursue a positive. Would you retort that the lyrics say that the narrator wonders if the prize is really worth it? That may be true, but all the rest of the lyrics suggest that the narrator is essentially hopeless about a better lot in life and seems to think that the only really possible prize is simply avoiding getting in trouble for being late when showing up to a meaningless daily grind. Negative motivation (as you say in your bio about your other song) is motivation, yes, but motivation to do just anything isn't enough for this challenge, which was about working out or pumping up, both of which are positives. I was inclined to give a Poor, but the fact is that, at least, the song is very clearly about motivating the narrator to run, run, run, so I'll say that counts clearly enough for a Fair.
  • Lyric Content: 6 (Good) – Given the story you chose to tell, you told it well, painting well the picture of the grind, the rat race, the ambiguous feelings about staying involved.
  • Composition: 6 (Good) – The melody is often strong and catchy. Some harmonic progressions are interesting. The only really weak part for me is the lift, which seems musically arbitrary and fails to fulfill its function of building strongly toward the chorus.
  • Songwriting Craft: 6 (Good) – The overall feel and tempo of the music are appropriate for your lyrical content. The style of song leaves room for inconsistent melodic phrasing, but some tighter rhyme schemes would have gone a long way toward a stronger impact, on both the basic aural level and especially in describing the powerful prison-like rut in which the narrator lives.
  • Arrangement: 2 (Fair) – Fine for the genre, though a bigger departure in the chorus would have gone well since music and lyrics are already noticeably varied there.
  • Performance: 3 (Good) – Solid performances generally, though some of the background vocals sounded a little weak.
  • Recording: 2 (Fair) – Sounds good, but some elements sound a little thin, especially background vocals.
  • Judge’s Whim: 4 (Fair) – I do like the song in itself, but I'd need to like it more to counter the compromised challenge enough to give a better score here.
Jeffrey Powers - If I Finish This Workout, I Can Go Get A Beer
Qualified Rank: n/a-Shadow
Overall Rank: 13
Total Score: 34
  • Challenge: 9 (Good) – Funny, simple, original. I love that there's really a double motivation here -- for what comes after the work-out, and, because of that, for the work-out itself. If the basic songwriting work was stronger, I might have even bumped this challenge score to Excellent. Which may seem ridiculous for this song, especially given that I didn't give Excellent to anyone else, but it's true, I might have.
  • Lyric Content: 6 (Good) – Funny, simple, effective. The concept itself takes care of most of what you need here. A post-workout run to get to the bar in time for happy hour adds a nice twist on the motivation to being physically active.
  • Composition: 4 (Fair) – Catchy, simple. Not substantial enough for me to give more than Fair here, but this song doesn't really need more than what it has musically.
  • Songwriting Craft: 4 (Fair) – With so little here needed to do well by the concept, I wish you'd taken the time to make things tighter. You can say the narrator's lazy so that justifies lazy craft, but I'd say the narrator knows his routine cold, is as regimented about his thoughts about what happens after the workout as he is about the workout that makes him feel okay going drinking afterward. Inconsistent melodic phrasing could even have been withstood fine with a song in this style. If you'd only have stuck with the limerick-like rhyme scheme of the first verse -- line three having a perfect inner rhyme that contrasts with the triply-repeated word of lines 1, 2 and 4 -- this song would have made a quantum leap in quality, especially since joke lines in songs are always funnier with perfect rhymes.
  • Arrangement: 2 (Fair) – Not much to speak of but appropriate enough for the song.
  • Performance: 2 (Fair) – Fine for the song.
  • Recording: 1 (Poor) – Sounds like a rough demo.
  • Judge’s Whim: 6 (Good) – What can I tell you, the good things you have go far enough for a Good here. A time-limited challenge-based songwriting contest has a lot in common with improv theater, and one of the tenets there is to dare to be simple and obvious, because it's all too easy to overdo attempts at being clever and original. This song proves that simple and obvious is a way to get good results in SpinTunes, too.
Godz Poodlz - In The Zone
Qualified Rank: 10
Overall Rank: 14
Total Score: 32
  • Challenge: 9 (Good) – Great choice with the psychological phenomenon of flow as a topic for this challenge, and you honor that by crafting the whole song around it and not just relegating it to the title and one or two lines in the chorus.
  • Lyric Content: 4 (Fair) – Simple but effective description of the experience of being in the zone, contrasted nicely with both the training that gets you there and the game situation in which it's needed. There is, though, so much more that could be said about the experience, which itself may focus so much on moments and relatively short amounts of time but involves so much happening in those times. I think this is a case where less might not be more.
  • Composition: 4 (Fair) – Musically memorable. The tails of the choruses, though, while they suggest the timeless feeling of the zone, feel to me like they go on a little long without enough interest as the title line is repeated.
  • Songwriting Craft: 4 (Fair) – I especially like the "slow-mo / let go" rhyme which compactly captures two important aspects of flow. From a pure craft standpoint, and given what I said about lyric content, I'd prefer an actual second verse instead of just a partial repeat of the first. The overall feel of the music is really nice, but it feels somewhat disconnected from the topic. Flow's paradoxical combination of elation with a kind of calm that allows for hyperalertness and excellent performance seems to me like it would have gone better with something more extreme in one direction or other rather than the more middle-of-the-road pop-rock feel you've got here.
  • Arrangement: 2 (Fair) – Simple, but works fine for the song.
  • Performance: 2 (Fair) – Good, but the writing doesn't demand too much in sheer performance.
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – Sounds good.
  • Judge’s Whim: 4 (Fair) – There were definitely some things to like here, but I think there was a lot of untapped potential, probably more for this song than any other submitted for this round.
Caravan Ray - Pump It Up
Qualified Rank: 11
Overall Rank: 15
Total Score: 30.5
  • Challenge: 6 (Fair) – See what I said about the Boffo Yux Dudes' entry, except that there's not as much intense positivity here, and what is there shows up so late in the song that it feels like too little too late.
  • Lyric Content: 4 (Fair) – You've got some good details, but the song is written almost as if to mirror the process -- from the idea, to the taking of the drugs, to the time it takes before you see the meaningful results, to finally where you get to describe the results. It's like adapting a true story into a movie -- just because an event is true and even interesting doesn't mean it'll find a place in good drama. I think the content you have here is basically good, it would just benefit from some rearrangement so that the "You're lookin' good" stuff would become more of the meat of the song rather than just a bridge. A shorter bridge could have been made to fulfill the function you were after here, capping everything off by summing up somehow the great results that has the drug-taker looking good.
  • Composition: 4 (Fair) – You've got some interesting sounds, but I sometimes feel tonally lost, like it's not clear what key the song is in.
  • Songwriting Craft: 4 (Fair) – The really long "Pump it up" sections, and leaving so much content for the bridge, make the song feel imbalanced. But there are a lot of nice things throughout: the triple rhyme and echos in the first stanza, the rhymes with the drug names, the punch line rhymes throughout the bridge. "Acne," though, is poor prosody, especially for such a prominent lyric, one that acts as a punch line in itself while also setting up a rhyme for a bigger one.
  • Arrangement: 3 (Good) – Nice groove, interesting sounds, cool backgroud vocal arrangements.
  • Performance: 2 (Fair) – Good, but the writing doesn't demand too much in sheer performance.
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – Sounds good.
  • Judge’s Whim: 4.5 (Fair) – There are things to like here, but not enough for this challenge for me to go higher than Fair here.
Ménage a Tune - Rat Race
Qualified Rank: n/a-Shadow
Overall Rank: 16
Total Score: 30
  • Challenge: 6 (Fair) – See my comments about your other song. You note in your song bio that this was the first version, and the other the second. I'm not sure it's really worth submitting two such similar songs as separate entries (imagine if all SpinTunes entrants submitted multiple recordings of their various rewrites, tracking their creative process; it would get real old, real fast), but it'd be interesting to know, especially given the similarities, just how you all chose which would be official and which shadow.
  • Lyric Content: 6 (Good) – See my comments about your other song.
  • Composition: 4 (Fair) – There are a lot of good elements here, but it strikes me like when a movie studio reads a too-long screenplay and says it's got to be tightened up. The lift doesn't really lift, and it's very long, and it feels even longer when you repeat it again immediately after the first chorus without giving us a second verse (and with a bit of extra lyric near the end to boot), and then it feels awkward to then go not to another chorus but to a bridge, and then when we finally do get another chorus, it's got different music from the first time. It's difficult to know where I am as a listener through this kind of wandering. It seems like maybe these are the kinds of things that could have led to the other version and its being submitted as your official entry?
  • Songwriting Craft: 4 (Fair) – Ditto all I said about composition, which all comes across even more strongly when tied to lyrics. There's also some melodic awkardness here and there.
  • Arrangement: 2 (Fair) – The arrangement is okay as far as it goes, but it does sound a bit cheesy. It's made a bit more so by what I'm about to say in Performance.
  • Performance: 2 (Fair) – Instruments are fine as far as they go, but the vocal style is not connected well to the rock/pop feel of the music, coming across as cheesy. That would be a problem even if the musical arrangement itself were solid but is a bigger problem since the arrangement is itself somewhat cheesy. Even if this wanted to be something like a musical theater piece, the cheese conern works both ways, since it's that much harder to make rock/pop come across as real rock/pop in a musical theater context, and this piece wouldn't succeed in that way as is in a musical. The vocals are also a bit pitchy at times.
  • Recording: 2 (Fair) – Sounds like a demo.
  • Judge’s Whim: 4 (Fair) – There's a fair amount to like, but too much here (the challenge compromise, the very loose structure, the cheesy musical identity) working against.
Glen Raphael - Pump Down The Volume
Qualified Rank: 12
Overall Rank: 17
Total Score: 29.67
  • Challenge: 3 (Poor) – Despite the word "pump" being prominent, this just feels way too indirect to me. The narrator wants to get to the mental work-out of studying, but that fact is relegated to a spoken-word breakdown that wasn't even typed up with the lyrics. The song is fundamentally about wanting to eliminate the obstacle, not actually wanting to study or do anything else like working out or pumping up. The challenge wasn't to write a song in which someone wants to have or to avoid something. This song seems to me to generalize the challenge to the point where it disappears.
  • Lyric Content: 4 (Fair) – The story is amusing, and the twist in the title works well. There's a lot more opportunity for detail, more plays on the loud music scene. Note that a dance song about how loud dance songs are has been done at least once before: see They Might Be Giants' "Man, It's So Loud In Here."
  • Composition: 4 (Fair) – Catchy and fun, simple in a good way.
  • Songwriting Craft: 6 (Good) – The song as a whole is more than the sum of its parts, especially because of what music itself has to do with what the song is about. The breakdown moment/joke is especially nice for reasons that are obvious but couldn't be known from looking separately at lyrical content and music. I'd have been really psyched if you did another triple rhyme to parallel "told / old / bold."
  • Arrangement: 3 (Good) – Nice foundational groove and lots of good dance music touches throughout.
  • Performance: 3 (Good) – Solid all around, though some of the spoken word parts sound a little blah.
  • Recording: 2 (Fair) – Decent, but the vocals are sometimes hot and sometimes not well balanced with the music.
  • Judge’s Whim: 4.67 (Fair) – I like the song, but both the originality issue and especially the challenge issue dampen things for me overall here.
Felix Frost - The Frost Mine
Qualified Rank: 13
Overall Rank: 18
Total Score: 29.33
  • Challenge: 3 (Poor) – I can see that the narrator wants to keep doing something to survive and even explicitly states a desire to be the best and not give up. For me, striving merely to survive is not a topic for a motivational pump-up -- it's another case of avoiding a negative vs. pursuing a positive which I think is what's connotated by both working out and pumping up. It makes a big difference. The few mentions in there to the positive seem to be minor and not entirely logical nods to the challenge squeezed into a song you wanted to write to serve a totally different agenda. There's also a difference between a song about someone who is being motivated to something and a song that actually motivates, just like describing serenity is different from experiencing it. Your arcane compositional style has an inherent detachment that's a tough sell for a challenge meant to create motivation. I'm not sure there's a point in considering any of this to be criticism, because you have a unique voice and want to honor it. Consider this merely observation about why I don't score you better specifically regarding the challenge.
  • Lyric Content: 6 (Good) – Like last time: I'm not sure that I really care about the story (and I don't think it serves well as a motivational pump-up), but it's original and colorful from start to finish.
  • Composition: 4 (Fair) – Like last time: It's all over the place, but that's apparently what you like, and within each place there are lots of elements with interest and integrity. The opening sound effects and percussion are interesting and dramatic.
  • Songwriting Craft: 4 (Fair) – I think I could start this like last time, too. You clearly have a thing you do, and it clearly has very little to do with traditional songwriting craft -- melodic phrasings, harmonic progressions, sectional structure, etc., all unusual to the point of personal quirkiness, and seemingly for the sake of quirkiness possibly beyond other considerations (see what I said about obviousness vs. originality under Judges' Whim for Jeffrey Powers). And maybe any uniqueness there might seem to be is superceded by the fact that you may do the same kinds of things from project to project so that, no matter how unique they may sound compared to most other songs, and even no matter how technically unique they may even be compared to each other, there may be a heard-one-heard-them-all quality to your work. I think maybe it's just as well that you not try too hard to fit into the kind of mold that could score better for a songwriting contest, though, because you clearly have your own sense of artistry, and you may as well pursue it without regard for contest scores. Imagery, poetics and musical and lyrical color in general are enough to warrant better than a Poor.
  • Arrangement: 3 (Good) – Interesting colors and textures from the windy opening onward.
  • Performance: 2 (Fair) – From a sheer performance standpoint, everything is fine, some good instrumental moments, but not much opportunity for more in the vocal given your laid back style.
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – Sounds good.
  • Judge’s Whim: 4.33 (Fair) – Despite the challenge, and despite my general preferences, there's enough here that's interesting for me to give better than a Poor and for me to hope you make it to the next round so we could see what you'd do with it.
Jailhouse Payback - Kick Your Routine
Qualified Rank: 14
Overall Rank: 19
Total Score: 29
  • Challenge: 6 (Fair) – I'm not scoring Poor because there's enough clear thought here about the whole work-out scene, coupled with a sort of charming positivity. But fundamentally, I think this doesn't work as a motivational pump-up. Listing exercises, describing their benefits, suggesting tracking tools like report cards, it's all so dry. By the first time you say the title, you haven't done anything to convince anyone to follow its advice. And the music, while cheery and interesting and maybe good for some song or other, is too middle-of-the-road pop-rock to be inspirational. The changes of tempo are also really distracting -- they may mimic a work-out routine, but mimic doesn't equal motivate.
  • Lyric Content: 4 (Fair) – This more or less amounts to a list of exercises, which begs the question, did you really pick all the most exemplary ones? Somehow I don't think so, especially in the first verse where you rely on one fairly boring sounding exercise to set up the first chorus. The central concept of the chorus is also weak, where you attach the title and main inspirational statement ("Kick your routine into gear!") to a report card. It's the most passive thing you mention in the song, you don't justify how the report card will actually help, and in fact grades are about as likely to demoralize someone as to motivate them.
  • Composition: 6 (Good) – In and of itself, the music has a lot going for it. Some nice melodic lines, some somewhat colorful and unexpected harmonic changes, the tempo changes (which from a purely compositional standpoint can be interesting), etc.
  • Songwriting Craft: 4 (Fair) – The strange order of the sections, the shifting tempos, inconsistent phrasings, and some awkward prosody all make a song with a pleasant sound strangely difficult to listen to.
  • Arrangement: 2 (Fair) – Not much to speak of but appropriate enough for your genre.
  • Performance: 2 (Fair) – Not much opportunity to show off, but everything sounds fine.
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – Sounds good.
  • Judge’s Whim: 2 (Poor) – Any good elements here aren't remotely enough to counter what's wrong with this song, especially in light of the challenge.
Rats Of The Sky - Dance To The Groove Libido
Qualified Rank: 15
Overall Rank: 20
Total Score: 28
  • Challenge: 3 (Poor) – Except for the narrator clearly having a positive self-image like in typically braggy raps, I see little direct connection to the challenge here. Maybe it would pump up some people to go out to a bar to hook up, but that kind of indirect/personal take is risky for this challenge, and even more so given that you ameliorated the bragginess a lot. That amelioration is interesting (as I'm about to mention), but it's weak for this challenge.
  • Lyric Content: 4 (Fair) – I like how braggy rap is countered by the narrator being nerdy, wanting not to be hurt, wanting to treat ladies well, getting attention through his talent and then wondering why the girls don't stick around, and yet the narrator never gets too down, remains optimistic. Somehow a lot of those details may be too easy to overlook since the story is told more like the narrator is a typical macho rapper. The underplaying of the chorus (he's just asking to go grab a beer or become Facebook friends) is charmingly in tune with the rest of the story but is still a bit weak as the central and recurring chorus idea.
  • Composition: 4 (Fair) – The groove throughout and the flow of the chorus are catchy, some nice instrumental parts underneath the words.
  • Songwriting Craft: 4 (Fair) – Some good things going on throughout with rhyme, enjambment, phrasing, but also a number of awkward phrasings. And in rap, where inconsistent/varied phrasing are more acceptable than some other genres, there's that much less excuse for any phrasing awkwardness.
  • Arrangement: 3 (Good) – I like the interplay of the different synth parts at various places and the ebb and flow of the fullness of the arrangement toward the end. I especially like the airy sine-like synth that's there in the background at times, nice contrast with the rest.
  • Performance: 3 (Good) – Strong vocals, solid instrumentals. There were some times that I had trouble understanding words through the accents, but I don't feel like that's something to be held against.
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – Sounds good overall. The use of autotune near end was thematically appropriate for the song but would have sounded better to me if the underlying singing didn't slide the melody so much.
  • Judge’s Whim: 4 (Fair) – If the concept had a stronger connection to the challenge, the rest would have made for a stronger showing.
Jeremy Lambright - Shut Up And Dance
Qualified Rank: n/a-Disqualified
Overall Rank: 21
Total Score: 21
  • Challenge: 3 (Poor) – Without lyrics, it's impossible to know what you really had in mind for the challenge. The title suggests motivation to a dance work out, but the music in itself doesn't especially communicate inspiration. Knowing you'd be disqualified for missing lyrics, I think you'd have been better off just waiting until you finished the song. It'd be a shadow anyway, and then you'd have skipped everyone's first impression being hugely jaded by the DQ. I'm not sure what benefit you felt there was in submitting it like this at this time.
  • Lyric Content: 2 (Poor) – Not applicable, but I'll just count it as Poor rather than giving a zero.
  • Composition: 4 (Fair) – In itself it's nice enough, but without much melody, there's not much really to go on here.
  • Songwriting Craft: 2 (Poor) – Without lyrics, there's no way to judge songwriting craft above and beyond composition, already covered.
  • Arrangement: 3 (Good) – Nice palette of sounds.
  • Performance: 2 (Fair) – Solid enough but not much to really show off.
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – Sounds good.
  • Judge’s Whim: 2 (Poor) – Simply by virtue of the no-lyrics DQ.

4 comments:

  1. It's very interesting to read these unbiased reviews - In fact I mostly hope I make it to another round just so I can get the pleasure of reading another series of these reviews.

    I mostly agree with the things you said about my track (especially the verse and the chorus sounding like two different songs)

    There are a couple of songs that you have high up that I thought were pretty terrible (I won't mention which...) so that's always interesting... different tastes for different strokes? (no, that's not how it goes)

    If I was a judge I think I'd have the Mariah Mercedes track at #1 - that one really impressed me - great song and singing

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  2. Thanks for your feedback.

    Of course, these reviews aren't unbiased. I'm just attempting to be as objective, informed, specific and clear as possible. But it's all subject to my knowledge and my experience and my preferences. And so even then it's all subjective. There are definitely different strokes for different folks. It's inevitable.

    I agree with Dave Leigh that specific comments by judges have to be taken with a grain of salt. If there's a big consensus among the judges, good or bad, it probably means something and is worth listening to. If not, it's much tougher to tell how meaningful a given opinion from a judge may be. Anyone's opinion can be valid, but I mean how meaningful it is in the sense of something other people should pay attention to and act on instead of just disregarding as different strokes for different folks.

    I was half-surprised Mercedes' song didn't come out number one for me. It's just how my scoring system worked out. It wouldn't have taken much difference at all to have her and Edric swap places.

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  3. Ok. Mark Meritt. I don't care that you called me a racist. I don't care that you called my wonderfully amazing song a piece of crap. I'm not one to hold grudges. However, I cannot justify seeing you judge to such a poor standard without voicing my opinion. (I use the term "judge" lightly, as i would hardly consider the garbage you spout worthy of that name) It would feel like a disregard for my role in life; that being protecting the innocent. The innocent in this case being Rats of the Sky.
    Their song was the magnum opus of their career in spintunes; a tour de force of modern music. And you shunned it like a beautiful woman shuns a fat man. Yet, you are not a beautiful woman, are you! (I assume not. Mark Meritt may be pseudonym and you may infact BE a beautiful woman. In that case; i take back everything i've ever said about you and replace it with charming banter. You sexy devil, you).
    Either way; what gives you the right to treat their creation this way. I have heard many terrible, terrible things in spintunes. I have heard monstrosities beyond compare. This is not one of them. The music fits the challenge; and the lyrics are perfect. When you're chasing the bitches, what would you rather listen to? Actually, i doubt you still chase the bitches; is there any point when I have a feeling you'd do that to the same standard you review.
    I challenge you, good sir- in round 4, shadow. I would like to see you come up with something to match the prowess of this incredible artist. If you like, I'll do the same; one final battle for domination of spintunes. Me and you, Mr Meritt. I hope you arent the waste of the air that i think you may be.
    Rats of the Sky; Never forget- i love you, Ignore this anus munching butt monkey! Be excellent and party on!

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  4. You know, after your Round 1 comment, so unimaginably over the top as it was, I actually wondered, maybe you're not a horrendous person after all and maybe it's all just a sort of performance art thing you're doing. This post, coming so out of left field, and being such a long time after my Round 2 reviews went up, makes me wonder that, too. I hope it's true. I can't really imagine why you'd want to act like this even just for art's sake or even simply as a joke, but imagining one of those things is a lot nicer than thinking that this is really who you are as a person.

    If you hadn't laid down a challenge, I probably wouldn't have bothered responding here at all. But since you did, I'll play along, the part of the judge you don't have any respect for but stands his ground anyway. After all, if I gave into everything you say in whatever way you'd like, then you couldn't keep your performance going. And what fun would that be. So:

    What gives me the right is that I'm a judge, and judges' reviews are subjective, so we all get to say what we want. Just like you do. But like Dave Leigh said about that, and I agree, judges' comments tend to be more meaningful if there's more agreement among judges about something. And Rats of the Sky placed 13th out of 15 qualifying entries in Round 2. So on the whole the other judges also scored them low. One ranked them exactly as I did, another only one rank behind, and nobody else high enough to keep them from being eliminated. Why single me out for a comment like this? Just like you singled me out with your Round 1 song, even though two other judges ranked you as low as I did, another only one behind, and all of them also saying explicitly that they disliked your stereotyping.

    If you want to stay in the minority on these opinions, fine. If you want to voice your minority opinion, fine. If you want to do so self-righteously and insultingly instead of in friendly conversation, fine. But I can't understand why you don't go lambasting all the other judges about these same two topics when they've offended you in exactly the same ways I have. Lucky me, only I get your venom. Good thing I think that you (or at least this performance art character you're playing) and your opinions aren't worth my worrying about. I sure wish you'd take the same attitude about my opinions, not worry about them, and leave me alone if you're not willing to be friendly in communicating with me.

    As for your challenge, the SpinTunes rules say: "There will be 5 judges who are not participating in the contest & who will not shadow rounds until the contest is over." Whether that were true or not, and whether you were willing to wait for me to be eligible to shadow or not, your challenge is meaningless. If I shadowed Round 4, it couldn't be compared effectively to Rats of the Sky's Round 2. And no matter whose song from what round you might compare it, it can't in any way lead anyone to think that the comparison could somehow determine anything about domination of SpinTunes.

    I think that's about all I have in me to play along with your performance art for now, and I hope you won't give us another sequel. If you do, I hope the world will forgive me if I don't feel like playing along.

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