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Saturday, August 18, 2012

SpinTunes #5 Champion: Governing Dynamics

Runner Up: Edric Haleen
3rd: Ross Durand
4th: Mariah Mercedes



Congratulations Travis! You survived all 4 rounds, and you are now a SpinTunes Champion. I wish I had a big fancy prize to give you, but in SpinTunes it's the musicians who provide the prizes. You've done more than your share with your 4 entries. We've given out free t-shirts to past champions (OOOOOoooo fancy), but you'll be getting a little something different (if your heart is set on the t-shirt just let me know). I'll e-mail you the details.

ALSO, SpinTuner David Ritter has offered to provide you with 1 year of free premium web hosting!  He'll even transfer the site over from the old host if there is one.  I'll get you David's contact information if you need it.

You've been a constant in SpinTunes since we started, and I hope to see you in SpinTunes #6 as a judge or competitor. (expect an e-mail in a few months about judging)

ALL the finalists did a great job. You all earned your way into the finals, and I could have been happy with any of you being the SpinTunes #4 champion.

Totals & Reviews:
In the end 12 of 29 people sent in their votes/rankings, and the final count was:

Governing Dynamics - 4 - 3 - 1 - 4 - 2 - 2 - 4 - 4 - 1 - 3 - 4 - 3 (35)
Edric Haleen - 1 - 4 - 3 - 3 - 1 - 3 - 2 - 3 - 3 - 1 - 3 - 2 (29)
Ross Durand - 2 - 2 - 2 - 2 - 4 - 1 - 1 - 1 - 4 - 4 - 1 - 4 (28)
Mariah Mercedes - 3 - 1 - 4 - 1 - 3 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 2 - 2 - 2 - 1 (28)

Popular vote totals:
Governing Dynamics - 14
Ross Durand - 7
Edric Haleen - 6
Mariah Mercedes - 5
(32 total votes)

Mark Meritt - Mick Bordet - Charlie McCarron - Steve Durand

Guest Judge's Review: Jenny Katz
Alternate Judge's Review: Spin

Thank You
Not only to the finalists, but to everyone that signed up or participated in SpinTunes. Judges, shadows, Tom for running the LP, Jules handling my poll, fans who listened & voted...

I'll be updating the "SpinTunes Hall Of Fame & Records" page sometime in the near future. In case anyone is interested in knowing more about how the stats have changed from 1 contest to the next. 

The next contest will probably start around January. Make sure you follow the @SpinTunes feed for contest updates. Between Song FightNur Ein & various other projects, there should be plenty to keep you busy until SpinTunes #6. Keep an eye on my Spintown blog, because I normally post about those type of things there.

Spintunes #5 Round 4 Review: Charlie McCarron

Charlie sent me his Round 3 Reviews and I posted them on the same page I originally put his rankings.  You might want to read them before you read his latest reviews.
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This round has been a pleasure to judge. I wish I had time to review all the shadows. A special shout-out to the unique composition and melodies in Grey Havens' "Onward to the West." And congrats to the Boffo Yux Dudes for organizing their shadowing blitz. To the four finalists - congratulations on making it this far! These four songs are some of my favorites from the entire contest. As a sidenote, I think it's a cool coincidence that all of them feel like peaceful conclusions to this edition of SpinTunes. Looking forward to seeing which song the masses pick. They're all high-ranking in my book, so it's a tough call to put them in an order. But here are my picks, from highest to lowest ranking.

Edric Haleen - My Friend

Composition: A
Using the same melody over again gets slightly repetetive, but I actually really enjoyed the beautiful simplicity of this song. It doesn't have as elaborate of melodies as some of your other songs, but that helps make it more memorable. Nice transition at 0:45. Awesome chord progression starting at 2:49. I think your most ingenious writing is the way you phrased the "break from composing," "relax and just spintunes," and "fed up with Ohio" - nice unexpected delay compared to the the "spring," "dunes," and "go" lines preceding them.
Production/Arrangement: B
The piano arrangement is great by itself. I would have liked to hear some sonic variety with another instrument or two. Aside from a little overmodulation at the end, the vocals sound good and clean by themselves. But you kind of have the opposite issue as Mariah - I like the intimate-sounding vocals, but they seem a little too present compared to the distant-sounding piano.
Lyrics/Narrative: A
So maybe the rhymes are a little predictable, but hey, it's a simple, beautiful story about a true friend. These lyrics work very well with the composition. It all flows very naturally. Bonus points for the tounge-in-cheek "spin tunes" line.
Performance: A+
Emotive vocal performance, and great piano playing. Great dynamic contrast.
Originality/Memorability: A
Really, my only wish would be to hear more supporting instruments, especially to build up the ending. But the song itself is very well written and performed.

Ross Durand - When the Tide Comes InComposition: A
The whole song is very smooth-flowing. I like the fast tempo you chose. The highlight for me is the melody during the line "Hubris is the original sin." Your song has the most interesting vocal rhythms of the round.
Production/Arrangement: B+
There's an overall sharpness to the sound that's slightly off-putting, both in the guitar and vocals. Might be more enjoyable if it was mellowed out a bit with EQ. But other than that, the production sounds good. I like the addition of the second guitar at 0:50. The harmonies at 1:36 are more distracting than helpful to the song. Maybe if they weren't panned so extremely they'd feel more a part of the mix.
Lyrics/Narrative: A
Good phrasing in your lyrics. I especially like the second verse. You have a good message in this whole song.
Performance: A-
There are just a few rhythmic issues in the guitars, but I think just because it's such a breakneck pace. In this folky style, I think I'm more forgiving of that. You put yourself fully into the vocals, and that helps convey the message of the tune without seeming preachy.
Originality/Memorability:B+
It's not a very original sound, but it'll be enjoyable on multiple listens. Nice chord progressions and catchy melodies.
Mariah Mercedes - Footprints

Composition: B+

I'm not really digging the repetetive part around 1:53. I don't mind the stops, but coming in with the same melody multiple times seems to lose the awesome momentum you built up before that. I really like this "Okay…stability" section - catchy melody and great groove!
Production/Arrangement: B
The vocals seem distant compared to the rest of the instruments. I'd say add a real short reverb to the guitars/bass/percussion and shorten your vocal reverb a bit to blend everything together. Without reverb, the guitar just sounds too close in my left ear. The vocals themselves are nicely mixed. Bonus points for the selective vocal doubling in the first section - I like that effect. Nice arrangement at 1:04.
Lyrics/Narrative: A
Unfortunately the "step by step" made me think of another, more annoying song...but other than that I like your lyrics. It's an interesting contrast to go from detailed, specific story in the beginning to the more vague second section. I like the "Today, the test of my stability" line.
Performance: A-
The instruments sometimes feel a little off with each other, but not too bad. Your vocals sound great as usual. Harmonies are nicely blended.
Originality/Memorability: A-
The beginning of the song isn't super memorable, but I have a feeling the "okay" section will be stuck in my head for a while. It's such a beautiful, peaceful sound.

Governing Dynamics - Houses

Composition: A-
The chorus riff is catchy. I really like the key change at 0:29 ("Rearranged…"). My only critique is that it feels like you go back to the tonic a little too soon when you get to the chorus. It took some of the momentum out of it for me. Maybe if the chorus didn't start on the tonic chord of the song it would feel more like a journey.
Production/Arrangement: B+
I especially like the guitar arrangement in the first 40 seconds. And I like the breakdown. Overall I think more variety like this in the arrangement could help support the lyrics. Although the simplicity of the drums helps support the lyrics, they aren't doing much for me in this song. Production is good. The vocals sound a little thin - maybe a bit more bass frequencies would give your voice some more oomph.
Lyrics/Narrative: A
I'm not sure I fully understand the lyrics, which is actually a good thing in my book. I like a little mystery. I think these are your best lyrics I've heard. Nice rhyming scheme.
Performance: B
Guitars all sound great. Sometimes your held vocal notes at the end of phrases feel like they run out of gas ("up" at 1:27, "houses" at 3:11). I have this problem too, where I have trouble ending long held notes. So I usually just write shorter notes for myself! But I think with some breath support practice your voice could carry these notes out. Just think about pushing more air out for those notes than you think you need.
Originality/Memorability: B
In general, the backing track wasn't super memorable. I've heard that same drum and guitar sound many times before. It's good that you have the production skills to replicate a radio-worthy sound. But I'd like to see you push yourself to try new sounds in your work. You have some awesome melodies and chords in this song, and with a slightly more unique production I think this song would stand out even more.

Spintunes #5 Round 3 Review: Charlie McCarron


Charlie is on the road atm, and only has his smart phone available.  He sent me his rankings, and said that he'll send in the reviews when he gets home this weekend.  So until then...you have to wait for his reviews.

1. Felix Frost - "Moonshine Scoundrel"
2. The Chocolate Chips - "The True Way"
3. Edric Haleen - "(Vows)"
4. Ménage A Tune - "Poison, Or All Of Hamlet In 4:04
5. Governing Dynamics - "Dark Places"
6. Mariah Mercedes - "Dear Jeremy"
7. RC - "He's Dead, Jim"
8. Ross Durand - "Apart"

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Felix Frost - Lyman Boone and the Moonshine Scoundrel

Composition: A-
I really like the intro section, and it's very effective when it comes back at 2:42. Overall very creative, but it could have benefitted from a little tighter composition plan, with some motifs repeated.
Production/Arrangement: A
Very detailed and unique production.
Lyrics/Narrative: A
Cool story, lyrics support the story well.
Performance: A-
Nice mix of different voices.
Memorability/Originality: A
Very unique style, cool way to approach a mini-opera.

The Chocolate Chips - The True Way

Composition: A
The "You can be my" melody is my favorite of the round. Some melodies could use a little more rhythmic interest.
Production/Arrangement: A+
I really like the overall sound. Sweet synths, awesome rhythmic electric guitar. Reminds me of some of the best Flaming Lips stuff.
Lyrics/Narrative: B-
Lyrics fit mood of the song, but they're not very fleshed out.
Performance: A-
Nice robo-vocals. Sometimes they get a bit off rhythmically from the synths. Guitar sounds great
Originality/Memorability: A
Although I'm not super engaged in the story, it's very uniquely produced and has catchy riffs. I'll be listening again.

Edric Haleen - (Vows)

Composition: A
Beautiful chord changes and melodies. Nice piano part.
Production/Arrangement: A
The strings are a great addition. Mix sounds very nice.
Lyrics/Narrative: B
The lyrics flow well, but the fact that there's no conflict leads to kind of an unmemorable opera.
Performance: A
Glad to hear you didn't hold back at all during this song.
Originality/Memorability: B+
It's not super original style, and not one I would think to listen to, but it's very well written and performed.

Menage a Tune - Poison, Or, All Of Hamlet In 4:14

Composition: A-
I really like the "It's poison…poison" section.Very unique but smooth chord changes throughout the song. Rhythmically, the melodies could be more interesting.
Production/Arrangement: B+
More instruments would help create a dramatic environment, but the piano arrangement is nice. Chair squeak sound at 2:33 is distracting.
Lyrics/Narrative: B
Poetic lyrics, but the Shakespearean-style lyrics aren't as engaging to me as a listener.
Performance: A-
Vocals are emotive and fit the style.
Originality/Memorability: A-
The Rennaissance style sets this apart. Creative chord changes and melodies make it worth more listens.

Governing Dynamics - Dark Places

Composition: A-
Nice phrasing and melodies, especially in the very beginning. Like the syncopated notes in the vocals.
Production/Arrangement: A-
Nicely arranged guitars. Female vox could use EQ help to fit the rest of the song's sound.
Lyrics/Narrative: B+
Nice lyrics, but I didn't feel sympathetic toward the characters.
Performance: A-
Vox sometimes shaky pitch-wise, but overall good, and emotional.
Originality/Memorability: B
Didn't stand out on the first listen, but it grew on me. Cool sound, and nice rhythmic hooks.

Mariah Mercedes - Dear Jeremy

Composition: B-
Feels like it starts and stops quite a bit, possibly because the vocal melodies seem like isolated phrases. There are nice moments in the melodies though.
Production/Arrangement: A-
The storm SFX are a cool addition. The mix is good, and I like the wind sound. Heard a slight glitch at 1:40 that took me out of the song momentarily.
Lyrics/Narrative: A
Nice, poetic story.
Performance: C+
Unfortunately the male vocals don't seem to fit. Maybe sung up an octave would have been better. Like the spoken word section, though. Female vocals sound great.
Originality/Memorability: A-
The mix and soundscape are nice, and it's a creative song.

RC - He's Dead, Jim

Composition: B+
Catchy, but it lingers around the same chords too much. I like the intro guitar line. Also like the tempo changes
Production/Arrangement: A-
It's well mixed, but not a super unique arrangment. I like the added sound at 3:15.
Lyrics/Narrative: B-
Okay lyrics, but it's not engaging and kind of strange when I don't know the story behind this song.
Performance: B
Instruments sound good, vocals seem slightly forced.
Originality/Memorability: B
Catchy, but not sure I actually want the lyric "He's Dead, Jim" repeating over and over in my head.

Ross Durand - Apart

Composition: B
Like the harmonies in the chorus. Catchy melody in that section. The chords and melodies in the rock section didn't really stand out to me.
Production/Arrangement: C
Vocals pretty dry, could use more reverb. The rock section arrangement wasn't very interesting.
Lyrics/Narrative: B-
There's a good story here, but the lyrics are a little generic.
Performance: B-
Female vocals shine. The second-chorus male harmonies are inconsistent with the first - liked the first chorus harmonies better.
Originality/Memorability: C-
The chorus hook is good, but the rock section would keep me from listening again.

Spintunes #5 Round 4 Review: Jenny Katz

Look what the cat dragged in, it's another guest judge!  This time I invited Jenny Katz back to SpinTunes.  She competed in the very first SpinTunes, and hasn't made an appearance since. #BlameHeather But thankfully she's back to give her thoughts on the current round of songs.

You can find out more about Jenny by visiting her BandCamp page.  She has a new album out, and one of the songs on it was written for SpinTunes!  I'll embed a couple of them below:



- Spin

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Mariah Mercedes - Footprints
"Anything you can tap your foot to is good music," said Louis Armstrong, and that's how I felt listening to Footprints. When the groove kicks in, I felt it in my whole body, which is my favorite thing to happen when listening to a song. Mariah, probably a million people have already compared your voice to Edie Brickell. Gorgeous. I liked the harmonic tension, the tonality of your voice with the instrumental, the percussion momentum. With some rewriting—to my ear, the intro needs a better rhythmic marriage of voice and guitar (right now, it sounds too random); the outro needs some lightness; and I'd urge you to diversify your melody so that the lick of 1-3-5 (hitting the high "sol") isn't the only figure you sing—this song could be on the radio. Loved it.

Ross Durand - When the Tide Comes In
This had a Bob Dylan-meets-Guy-Clark vibe for me. The picking is delicious, the delivery is straightforward and heartfelt, which saves the metaphor from cliché, and the energy of the whole thing is very coherent. I could easily imagine sitting in an intimate little concert hall listening to this. Loved when the harmony joins—perfect. My suggestions would be 1) after "but they won't stand," DON'T actually sing "when the tide comes in"; let the line hang. It's implied, anyway, and it would be nice to have 2) a little more space in the song. Every moment is filled right now, and I'd like a little breathing room. 3) Maybe a break—a short rubato section?—after the bridge and before the last verse?

Governing Dynamics - Houses
It was actually difficult to rank these in order. They were all so different, with such different virtues. This one had a terrific rock vibe, great instrumentals, appealing vocals, good message. I liked the mix quite a lot—nice reverb on the voice, very appropriate for the whole. Occasionally a little flat (this is one of my own problems, too), which is probably just a simple matter of greater breath control. Again, this was a song you could hear on the radio. The only reason it didn't rank higher was that the lyrics felt a little too "stuffed" to work for me. You've got great atmosphere in your voice, and the instruments are so solid—I'd like to hear you pare down your lyrics by 35%, so that you're never trying to fit more words in the line than you can really say comfortably. I also LOVED the first half of the refrain/chorus ("You won't find me an old man/staring out to sea") and then felt let down with the rest of the chorus—too many words, chiefly! With some winnowing and honing, it would be an even stronger song.

Edric Haleen - My Friend
It seems ridiculous to rank this last, as Edric is so obviously skilled at just about every part of songwriting and performing. As with everything else I've ever heard from you, Edric, the keys and the voice are polished, the song is tightly crafted, the lyrics all fit. If anything, it's a little TOO tidy for me. I'd like some more heart here. WHY is Bigfoot such a special secret for the narrator? If he doesn't even tell his wife, there has to be something deeper there than just playing hide-and-seek. What's really at stake when Bigfoot moves on? Also, there's not enough build-up in the song to earn the emotional break section—we need at least one more verse before you break the form. Edric, I'd love to hear you write some songs that are messier—maybe where everything DOESN'T rhyme so perfectly. I'd like to hear your heart, for real. You have all the technical chops to back it up.

***

Since my husband just had surgery, I didn't have time to review all the shadows—but I can say that I thought "Onward to the West" was pretty incredible, and that JoAnn Abbott's line in "The Mermaid's Waltz" ("the pain of leaving footprints in the sand") brought the challenge to life better than any other song I heard.

Thanks so much for this opportunity, Spin! So much talent out there!

Spintunes #5 Round 4 Review: Steve Durand

Governing Dynamics – Houses
Challenge: Met - a nice philosophical tack that I really enjoyed.
Lyrics & Melody: The lyrics are easily the best part of this song. The idea of staying in one place to leave a legacy vs. “making tracks” is a very strong idea. The melody is very strong and memorable. Nice chorus.
Performance & Production: You did a good job of having the music serve the song. With your tunes I often feel it is the other way around but you did a great job of balancing that this time. The singing is only so-so. It seems like you don't really know what note to sing at the end of the verses and chorus often, or at least you are singing it flat.
Rank: 1. I thought this was very close call between you and Ross but your lyrics pulled me in a little better.

Ross Durand – When The Tide Comes In
Challenge: Met – Very clearly can be tied to the photo. Pretty much the kind of approach that I would have expected.
Lyrics & Melody: I think that the lyrics are pretty much the expected take on the picture. The impermanence of the things that we do. I don't think that the verses really expand on the idea any however. Melody is good and fits your style well.
Performance & Production: Very nice guitar work as usual. Your vocal recording sounds a little harsh. Whatever set up you used brings out the treble a bit more than usual.
Rank: 2

Maria Mercedes – Footprints
Challenge: Met – The footprint is an integral part of the story.
Lyrics & Melody: Maybe these lyrics mean something to you personally but they didn't really have much of an impact on me. I didn't really get sucked in by the melody either. Especially after the first two verses the rest of the lyrical content and melody just seems to drag.
Performance & Production: Nice guitar accompaniment in the first verses. Although the volume is kind of too low. The doubled vocals in the first verses don't work well because they aren't tight enough. I like the changeup in the backing music after that. And the harmonies and multiple vocals in the rest of the song are nice.
Rank: 3

Edric Haleen – My Friend
Challenge: Met-I can clearly see how you got this idea from the photo.
Lyrics & Melody: OK, this is just dumb. I don't know if you were trying to go for funny but it just fell flat for me. As I was listening to it I thought that you could have had a great song if you had played it more as a coming-of-age type of song like “Puff the Magic Dragon”. But you actually played it pretty straight as if you really were meeting up with Bigfoot. The melody was very strong and enjoyable.
Performance & Production: Singing is strong as usual but after listening to many of your songs now repeatedly I get a little bit tired of the showtune style. The production sounds very good. Nice to listen to. Rank: 4

Brief comments on some shadow songs.

RC – Orange Beach Not much to say about this other than I thought it was very good.

Dr. Lindyke – Carbon Footprint There is just too much cognitive dissonance with these lyrics for me to enjoy this song. For example: You sing about gills but then you put in dolphin sounds, there is not possibly enough water in all of the world to reach the top of Mt. Everest.

JoAnn Abbott – The Mermaids Waltz A faithful retelling of the Little Mermaid story. But, as with your Poison entry, I would prefer it if the songwriter made up their own story. Your singing is all over the place so I can't really tell where the melody is supposed to be. The guitars are very nice.

The Boffo Yux Dudes feat. Osmium – Wash Away This is the first BYD song that I actually like. I looks like when you're not trying to be “Boffo Yux” you can actually write a really good song.

Gray Havens – Onward to the West I saw somewhere that this is about The Lord of the Rings, but it's been so long since I read that I really couldn't relate to it. The singing is very nice and the juxtaposition of the voices works very well. Really don't like a lot of the backing “instruments” but I guess you have to work with what you've got. I don't really feel a very strong tie with the challenge photo.

JoAnn Abbott – First On My List What a deplorable lack of judgment you have in submitting this song. Why would you want to do this and risk becoming a pariah among a group that has been, for the most part, very supportive of your efforts? If you intend to continue participating in any kind of songwriting contests you're going to need to grow a thicker skin. I think that, as a songwriter, you have grown tremendously over the last couple of years. But, as a person, I think you're last on my list.

Spintunes #5 Round 4 Review: Mick Bordet

3. Edric Haleen - My Friend
This song just put a great big smile on my face. For some reason I picture this song accompanying clips from the "Sound of Music" with Julie Andrews racing around the countryside hand-in-hand with Bigfoot. It's so happy, then sad, but happy again, just like every feel-good movie you've ever seen. Musically, it's just Edric and piano, which is really all it needs.
8/10

1. Governing Dynamics - Houses
The Dynamics left it until the last round to write a song that I would actively go out of my way to listen to. Their sound is still instantly recognisable, but this just seems to be stronger as a song in its own right rather than feeling like an album-filler. The lyrics focus on the dust-in-the-wind aspect of a footprint in sand; not particularly inventive perhaps, but it is done with class and avoiding the numerous possible cliches. I love the imagery and the musical flow of the chorus. In a couple of places there didn't seem to be quite enough time to fit all the words in, leaving some words a bit incomprehensible without the lyrics, but that's a pretty minor flaw.
8/10

4. Ross Durand - When The Tide Comes In
Another 'dust-in-the-wind' offering, this time in a folky style that is beautifully produced with some nice subtle accordion laying the ground for frantic fingerpicking and a strong, gritty vocal. I like the way the song doesn't just cover the philosophical aspect of footprints being washed away, but stands up well as a nostalgic view of childhood days spent on the beach.
8/10

2. Mariah Mercedes - Footprints
Oh dear, what happened here? We usually hear songwriting improve over the course of the four SpinTunes rounds, but after two great rounds at the start, Mariah really seems to have lost that initial strength. Leaving aside the muffled production (please can we have a re-mastered version?), the vocal layers feeling out of sync and the intrusive and even clumsy drumbeat, there still isn't much to recommend about this song. Lyrically, it doesn't really cover much after the first two verses which suggest more of a story. "The test of my stability" feels clumsy as a line, whilst the stop-go-stop-go bridge section seemed rather over-played. Disappointing.
6/10

Shadows:

6. Dr. Lindyke - Carbon Footprint (Shadow)
This feels like a musical version of Vonnegut's "Galapagos" and that's good enough for me. And it has a dolphin solo. Is that a first?
8/10

13. Boffo Yux Dudes featuring Dr. Lindyke - Foot In The Sand (Shadow)
Punk. Foot. Sand. Awesome.
7/10

5. RC - Orange Beach (Shadow)
This starts off on a positive note, but turns into a rather sad, though effective, break-up song. "what worked at the ocean, failed on the street" sums it up; a holiday romance turned sour. Plus points for the quirky percussive guitar backing, minus points for the repetitive 80's synth cymbal sound.
7/10

8. Gray Havens - Onward To The West (Shadow)
My first thought was that this was a mis-placed entry for round three, but there's the footprint! According to the song bio, this was an attempt to hit two challenges in one go and it is generally effective at doing just that. There are a couple of places where the upper notes are clearly a struggle for both vocals, so maybe try again in a different key? The synth brass is quite horrible, though, and would be better left out (or replaced with strings, perhaps).
7/10

10. Boffo Yux Dudes featuring Osmium - Wash Away (Shadow)
A catchy, upbeat rock song with a memorable chorus and rather nifty guitar solo.
7/10

7. JoAnn Abbott - The Mermaid's Waltz (Shadow)
A very effective re-telling of the classic (pre-Disney) mermaid tale, especially the first verse. There are a few places were the melody escapes reach, but this seems like the kind of song JoAnn's voice is perfect for. The guitar accompaniment is beautiful and very sympathetic.
7/10

12. Boffo Yux Dudes - Footprints (Shadow)
I've always wanted to know how to pronounce "Chtchth". A bass-heavy view of today from a future insect's perspective that is both funky and forgettable. I hope. Can't seem to get that chorus out of my head. Arrgh!
6/10

11. Boffo Yux Dudes featuring Denise Hudson & Mick Bordet - Sand In My Toes (Shadow)
Well, that's not quite what I expected.

9. JoAnn Abbott - First On My List (Shadow)
This song says much more about the writer than about the target of its ire.

Spintunes #5 Round 4 Review: Mark Meritt

Being a SpinTunes judge has been interesting, challenging and worthwhile. Not that I think it should be mandatory, but I think any SpinTunes regulars ought to judge at some point. The community benefits from judges with experience, and I think you can end up a better artist, too. Here's my judging wrap-up post with advice for future judges, recommendations and regrets.

For this round, it's nice for entrants to have such an open-ended inspiration to work from, and nice also as a judge to have the same kind of open-endedness in reviewing how people did with a challenge. I'll look at the challenge along with the rest of what I described about my judging approach at the top of my first round post. Onto the reviews.

Ross Durand - When The Tide Comes In
Qualified Rank: 1
Overall Rank: 1
Total Score: 45.67
  • Challenge: 9 (Good) – I'm a sucker for themes of hubris and impermanence. I like that you managed to deal with that without becoming morose. There's definitly a "let what-will-be be what-will be" sense about the whole song and a nice balance of perspectives, more on which in a second.
  • Lyric Content: 8 (Excellent) – You critique hubris but you don't get nasty about it. You talk about impermanence but you don't lament it. You express some optimism but you temper it by leaving ambiguous whether we'll be happy to still be around or whether we'll just repeat the same mistakes. You explore the basic ideas from enough angles to give richness without complexity or overindulgence. For a song about general notions and not specific stories, I think you've handled things exceptionally well.
  • Composition: 6 (Good) – Simple, not overtly inventive, but very solid and catchy.
  • Songwriting Craft: 6 (Good) – Everything comes together well. I especially like the rhyme scheme in the chorus with "sand / stand" in lines of different lengths and then returning to the title at the end. I also like how you use the title at the ends of the verses as well. It adds a sense of the inevitable which works well with everything you say.
  • Arrangement: 2 (Fair) – Not much to speak of but appropriate enough for your genre.
  • Performance: 3 (Good) – Solid performances all around. Even though they're not showy, it's all really appropriate to both the lyrical themes and the music.
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – Sounds good.
  • Judge’s Whim: 8.67 (Excellent) – While I wouldn't say I really love the song, from first listen onward, it struck me as one of my favorites for this challenge, and that's good enough for an Excellent here. Nothing in this round really knocked it out of the park for me, but this one from your wheelhouse still felt to me a bit stronger than the others I liked most here. After your consistently strong showings in the past, I feel like it's your turn to win. If you don't, hopefully this song means you'll be okay letting what will be be what will be :)
Gray Havens - Onward To The West
Qualified Rank: n/a-Shadow
Overall Rank: 2
Total Score: 45.33
  • Challenge: 6 (Fair) – There are footprints, shores, bodies of water and journeys, so clearly this is heavily inspired by the photo, and yet it seems oblique, like it wasn't "essentially" inspired by the photo. A lot of interesting stuff here as a song, but to me mostly not because of its relation to the challenge.
  • Lyric Content: 8 (Excellent) – The imagery, the majestic and inspirational tone and aura of the story, all really interesting. There's a strong sense of a particular artistic sensibility at work here.
  • Composition: 8 (Excellent) – Perhaps the most unique compositional identity expressed this round. It's not always plainly pleasant to hear, but, from melody to harmonic progression to the sense of structure and development, its always rich and interesting with a creepy yet alluring feel.
  • Songwriting Craft: 6 (Good) – The non-rhyming chorus is unusual in a song so strongly structured in other respects yet seems purposeful, as if suggesting the new ground being covered with each bit of westward of progress. I especially like the repetition of the ending words in the first two verses yet with different application each time. The "shone / shown" homonym could perhaps have been expanded on with good effect by using, for example, "climb / clime," the second word having just the sort of intelligence that would generally go with these lyrics while also perhaps describing the calm weather of the open sea that makes the rest of the journey seem easy ahead. Other such homonyms could have been done, too, but anything else likely would have come across as forced and in any case too many would have seemed gimmicky. Doing them only in the middle line of each tercet could have been a strong and balanced choice, underscoring the certainty the narrator feels as well as the progress of the journey.
  • Arrangement: 3 (Good) – Lots of really interesting sounds, and especially nice vocal arrangement for the final verse and chorus.
  • Performance: 3 (Good) – The vocals are at times subject to breath timing issues, and "counsel" is out of range in the second chorus, but otherwise there's such a strong and unique feel to it all. It's especially nice how the two voices sound distinct and yet share the same eerie yet lush quality (not surprising given the genetic connection).
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – Sounds good.
  • Judge’s Whim: 8.33 (Excellent) – A strong and truly unique entry. Really rare to get such a strong overall score from me with just a Fair for the challenge. Clearly some high quality songwriting talent going on.
Dr. Lindyke - Carbon Footprint
Qualified Rank: n/a-Shadow
Overall Rank: 3
Total Score: 45
  • Challenge: 9 (Good) – Nice oblique inspiration toward the carbon footprint while also keeping the more direct references to the sea, the shore, things temporarily in the sand.
  • Lyric Content: 8 (Excellent) – The connections among all the elements -- Darwin, evolution, extinction, impermanence, greenhouse gases and global warming, the sea as the primordial soup locus for new forms of life to arise, etc. -- all very strong. Great imagery of the specific story of the last person going into the water and doing so from an imagined Everest Island. By the way, have you read Kurt Vonnegut's "Galapagos"? A related storyline, including maybe a bit more evolutionary justification than your own song bio seems to imagine there is for such a story. But as you say, it works symbolically anyway. I dig.
  • Composition: 6 (Good) – The melancholy sounds work well out of the gate and throughout. Nice melody. I especially like the very unexpected mid-chorus chord change.
  • Songwriting Craft: 6 (Good) – Solid craft overall. I noticed the rhyme scheme inconsistency before I read about it in your song bio. I thought, all the other verses have a very long third line that doesn't rhyme with the other three. That would have been perfect for the space you wanted to give to "We're starting over" with its sustained note in the first verse, and it would have put "Evolutionarily" in an extremely strong, prominent position. There, it would have simultaneously summed up in a single word the basic concept of the song more so than it does mid-verse, while also providing a darkly comic punch line. Then I see in your bio how you wanted that "starting over" line to have space. How conscious you (naturally) were about including both humor and seriousness in the song in general. And even how you wanted "Evolutionarily" to take up a whole line -- just like the last line of every other verse scans identically with that word. For all those reasons, I'd argue in favor of switching it. Even so, I can also see it your way if you really like how the sustain ends the verse.
  • Arrangement: 3 (Good) – A bit thin, but the piano part and sound effects in particular are interesting and effective.
  • Performance: 3 (Good) – Solid performances, appropriate for the song.
  • Recording: 2 (Fair) – Sounds decent overall, but that effect on the chorus vocal makes it really hard to understand.
  • Judge’s Whim: 8 (Excellent) – A really solid entry. Maybe a tad too serious for the effect you'd hoped to achieve, but the topic works with the tone in any case.
RC - Orange Beach
Qualified Rank: n/a-Shadow
Overall Rank: 4
Total Score: 44.5
  • Challenge: 9 (Good) – You sing a story about people's meaningful and specific experience of the impermanence embodied in a beach footprint. Then there's another theme you've discovered, not absolutely inherent to the photo but that clearly could be implied and once seen becomes strong: "at the edge" between two things which can never be fully joined. You bring that out in the ocean and the street, where things cannot be the same and directly paralleling the implied ocean/beach divide, and also (through at least one obvious reading of the song but probably not the only one) in two people who've come to part ways. It's great when a song seems like it can simultaneously stand on its own apart from a challenge while also very obviously and solidly embodying that challenge.
  • Lyric Content: 6 (Good) – Separate from the challenge the content isn't as inherently strong, but it's still really nice, especially the specificity of the story, which is almost always the best lens through which to see thematic universals.
  • Composition: 6 (Good) – Nice sound, melody and harmonic progressions, all simple but effective and occasionally unexpected in good ways.
  • Songwriting Craft: 6 (Good) – Solid rhyme schemes. Music and lyric fit tonally together very well.
  • Arrangement: 3 (Good) – Really nice sounds. I especially like the pizzicato part in the background.
  • Performance: 3 (Good) – Solid performances, appropriate for the song.
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – Sounds good.
  • Judge’s Whim: 8.5 (Excellent) – One of the strongest submission for the round.
Wash Away - Boffo Yux Dudes w/ Osmium
Qualified Rank: n/a-Shadow
Overall Rank: 5
Total Score: 44
  • Challenge: 9 (Good) – Really nice indirect take that nevertheless captures the photo. The impermanence, the beach, yet without even needing to mention the footprint. A great balance that's on the nose without being on the nose.
  • Lyric Content: 6 (Good) – I like especially how the verses all hearken back to things past, the first two seeming to go all the way back to childhood. All of this strongly underscores the theme of impermanence and change. The specificity of the stories contrasts well with the general message conveyed by the chorus.
  • Composition: 6 (Good) – Great sound, strong melody and really great harmonic progressions with unexpected but cool turns. Lots of strong little background parts as well.
  • Songwriting Craft: 6 (Good) – The prosody often leaves something to be desired, and if not for that I might have given an Excellent here. The elements fit well with each other and there's an overall strong sense of craft.
  • Arrangement: 3 (Good) – Great sound overall, especially the vocal arrangements.
  • Performance: 3 (Good) – Strong all around except for the moments when the prosody gets in the way of the vocal.
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – Sounds good.
  • Judge’s Whim: 8 (Excellent) – A really strong entry all ways around.
Edric Haleen - My Friend
Qualified Rank: 2
Overall Rank: 6
Total Score: 42
  • Challenge: 9 (Good) – Though I think I personally might have enjoyed even more the original notion you mentioned in your song bio, this was still a charming angle on the footprint. Cute "spin tunes" reference, and all the better that it was natural and relevant for the song. Does the fact that Dr. Lindyke mentioned Bigfoot as one of the ideas they considered mean that it's not as original an idea as many of us have come to expect from you? Maybe.
  • Lyric Content: 6 (Good) – While the whole thing is cute and charming, I feel a little underwhelmed by the story. As you say, "It's hard to convey / How much fun it would be." We see the fun but don't get to see the relationship grow even though the narrator says it does. We're told about the mutuality, but it's hard to see what Bigfoot gets uniquely from the narrator, how meaningful it is that Bigfoot should keep the narrator's secret, why Bigfoot should be fed up enough to want to leave. In the end, then, I don't feel like the loss really pays off. I haven't really built a connection to the story or a sense of the connection being really mutual, despite how much the narrator professes it. "Puff, the Magic Dragon" had more narrative color as well as a strong theme, growing up and letting things go. This would have been a lot stronger with a more solid thematic reason for being. I felt like this was on the Fair/Good divide and should have gone low, but thinking that with a few added things this could have been Excellent, I gave the benefit of the doubt.
  • Composition: 6 (Good) – Strong melody, nice sense of development.
  • Songwriting Craft: 6 (Good) – Everything comes together well, especially the ebb and flow as the music conveys the story development. The ending works well in itself but feels unjustified to me given the narrative issues I brought up.
  • Arrangement: 2 (Fair) – Not much to speak of but appropriate enough for your genre.
  • Performance: 4 (Excellent) – Strong performances, both vocal and instrumental.
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – Sounds good.
  • Judge’s Whim: 6 (Good) – In Round 2, I thought, with mini-opera and freeform interpretation on the way, this could be your turn to take the (non-)prize. For me, this an enjoyable entry, but disappointing for my expectations and not one that should get you the win.
Footprints - Boffo Yux Dudes
Qualified Rank: n/a-Shadow
Overall Rank: 7
Total Score: 41
  • Challenge: 9 (Good) – As I say Mariah Mercedes: Inherently unoriginal to have a title so on-the-nose for the photo, and in such an interpretive challenge it's even more risky since it's like throwing the gauntlet down and claiming that you've got the archetypal entry. But this is one of the most original ideas this round, literally taking a unique and unexpected perspective on the photo, and played out really well.
  • Lyric Content: 6 (Good) – The basic concept is great, the tone is amusing, and there's lots of great detail in the various ideas the cockroaches have about what the hole in the ground could be.
  • Composition: 6 (Good) – Great sound off the bat and you go to lots of interesting places. The harmonic progression is often unexpected in good ways, though it can also tend to leave the melody feeling a bit at sea as if the key is changing and the melody doesn't know how to follow. But there's plenty enough good here for a Good.
  • Songwriting Craft: 6 (Good) – Prosody issues. I suppose part of that is the sheer volume of entries means there's not enough time to attend to all the details of each. But there's enough else strong here to generally make up for it.
  • Arrangement: 3 (Good) – Cool sounds, especially as background instruments develop over time.
  • Performance: 2 (Fair) – The performances are fine but don't feel very strong, though I'm not sure the song demands much more.
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – Sounds good.
  • Judge’s Whim: 6 (Good) – I like this entry but would probably like it quite a lot more with tighter prosody and a bit more "centered" melody.
JoAnn Abbott - The Mermaid's Waltz
Qualified Rank: n/a-Shadow
Overall Rank: 8
Total Score: 39
  • Challenge: 9 (Good) – Funny that you've now got another SpinTunes Round 4 mermaid song, but the first step on shore of a transformed mermaid is an excellent connection for this challenge. While I wished for an original story flowing from there, a "Little Mermaid" adaptation does seem like an obviously appropriate way to make good on the connection.
  • Lyric Content: 6 (Good) – A solid adaptation of the story, including lots of detail from the original, though as with your Round 3 entry a fair amount of credit needs to be given to the source material.
  • Composition: 6 (Good) – While there's a strange looseness in the second half of the chorus that I don't feel works well, you've got a strong melody and enough else worthwhile here to work well overall.
  • Songwriting Craft: 6 (Good) – You make a story work well as a song. The "first steps / last steps" parallel is nice. The melody that works well purely musically is constructed around lots of large intervals that sound awkward to sing, as are some generally awkward phrasings. The chorus feels overly long, its lyric also suffering from the looseness of the underlying composition. But on the whole there's still a lot of good going on here.
  • Arrangement: 2 (Fair) – Not much to speak of but appropriate enough for the song.
  • Performance: 2 (Fair) – The vocal is at times pitchy, at other times has breath timing issues, and is hampered by the challenges of the melodic intervals and phrasing, but otherwise sounds nice and fits well with the tone of the song, as do the instruments.
  • Recording: 2 (Fair) – Vocal is a bit hot.
  • Judge’s Whim: 6 (Good) – There's a fair amount to like about this song despite its challenges.
Mariah Mercedes - Footprints
Qualified Rank: 3
Overall Rank: 9
Total Score: 36
  • Challenge: 6 (Fair) – As I say about Boffo Yux Dudes: Inherently unoriginal to have a title so on-the-nose for the photo, and in such an interpretive challenge it's even more risky since it's like throwing the gauntlet down and claiming that you've got the archetypal entry. Then footprints are somewhat less than central in your lyric. I do like, though, the overall inspiration to tell a story about someone breaking from the past to set out on a journey, a new chapter in life. Footprints as impermanence and change but also as steps toward something. More on that in a moment.
  • Lyric Content: 6 (Good) – The journey notion is nice, the steps of a journey. Nicer still that we have a hint of the footprints' inherent impermanace theme as well in that the narrator's life is changing from one thing into another through the journey. Some vaguness throughout diminishes it, though, and the chorus as a central idea doesn't have so much punch.
  • Composition: 4 (Fair) – There are a lot of nice sounds here, but the chorus feels way too spacious. It doesn't bring focus to the song. The somewhat freeform structure of the song does, though, feel somewhat like perhaps the narrator is on a journey.
  • Songwriting Craft: 6 (Good) – While I'd have liked some of the things I just mentioned about composition to have been handled, overall I think things come together well here, with the music, lyrics and song structure working together to hint at the unexpected turns and developments of a journey.
  • Arrangement: 2 (Fair) – Not much to speak of but appropriate enough for your genre.
  • Performance: 3 (Good) – Solid performances, especially the vocal.
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – Sounds good.
  • Judge’s Whim: 6 (Good) – A nice entry that grows on me with each listen.
Governing Dynamics - Houses
Qualified Rank: 4
Overall Rank: 10
Total Score: 31
  • Challenge: 6 (Fair) – Reversing the impermance of footprints with a theme about striving for immortality is interesting, but I have a hard time buying the building of houses as a way to do it. Even taken metaphorically it doesn't feel convincing, especially when the song itself ackowledges that "all that arrives will depart." Ever read or seen "The World Without Us" or "Life After People"? Even the third little pig's brick house wouldn't really last very long, much less those where "you put down your hammer / When your day is done." It doesn't help that I can't get the image out of my head of houses built on the shore where they're more vulnerable to weather damage than many other places. You didn't put that image there, but you risked it by juxtaposing houses with the ocean. I think the problem holds regardless. A song on the theme of leaving a legacy after one is gone clearly could have worked well for this challenge, but this song doesn't accomplish it for me.
  • Lyric Content: 6 (Good) – There's a lot of nice imagery and thematic material. In the end I think it's still countered by what I just mentioned regarding the challenge, but in itself as a whole without needing to focus on the photo as inspiration, there's material to appreciate here.
  • Composition: 4 (Fair) – There are some nice touches especially in the harmonic progression. Overall, though, the piece feels like it wanders and doesn't have a strong sense of contrast among the sections.
  • Songwriting Craft: 4 (Fair) – The incomplete first chorus was inherently an interesting choice, but since I couldn't make sense of it, I found it distracting and unsatisfying. Many of the inconsistent melodic phrasings feel awkward with you seeming to force too many words into spaces where they don't fit well. I also feel the "doused / houses" rhyme is too weak for such a central place in your song, especially after you create such anticipation about the title by leaving it out of that first chorus.
  • Arrangement: 2 (Fair) – Not much to speak of but appropriate enough for your genre.
  • Performance: 2 (Fair) – The performances are overall good, but the vocal is somewhat pitchy at times.
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – Sounds good.
  • Judge’s Whim: 4 (Fair) – A nice enough song but not enough when Round 4 is on the line.
Sand in My Toes - Boffo Yux Dudes w/Denise Hudson and Mick Bordet
Qualified Rank: n/a-Shadow
Overall Rank: 11
Total Score: 30
  • Challenge: 6 (Fair) – The basic concept is great. Such an incredibly specific and unexpected story flowing from the photo. The execution leaves a lot to be desired. If you'd actually made a more straight-up song out of this, it could have been really solid.
  • Lyric Content: 6 (Good) – Again, a really strong and very specific story, filled simultaneously with both drama and humor.
  • Composition: 4 (Fair) – The texture is nice but there's just not much here to work with.
  • Songwriting Craft: 4 (Fair) – There's a nice enough sense of the lyric as a lyric, but the naturalistic delivery makes it sound more speech-like, which works well enough performance-wise but isn't very song-like. It's very hard to follow whether the music has a sense of structure connected to the lyrical structure.
  • Arrangement: 2 (Fair) – Interesting sounds, but too loose to really judge this better than Fair.
  • Performance: 2 (Fair) – The vocal delivery has good enough performance but too silly a timbre and delivery. I think this would play better without the affectation.
  • Recording: 2 (Fair) – The spoken vocals don't sound great in the mix, standing too far apart from everything else.
  • Judge’s Whim: 4 (Fair) – I'd like to hear this taken farther as as "real" song.
Foot in the Sand - Boffo Yux Dudes w/ Dr. Lindyke
Qualified Rank: n/a-Shadow
Overall Rank: 12
Total Score: 26
  • Challenge: 6 (Fair) – While there's something a bit brilliant in the utter obviousness of the idea and the complete sincerity of the delivery, well, I'd also have a hard time scoring this any better.
  • Lyric Content: 2 (Poor) – The title line is, well, fine. Honestly, I couldn't make out most of the rest. It may be unfair to score you low here because of that, but so be it. It'd help if you'd provide the lyrics with all your songs, even ones like this.
  • Composition: 4 (Fair) – A decent straight-up punk tune, and not much more to say.
  • Songwriting Craft: 4 (Fair) – The title line is, well, memorable. A decent punk tune.
  • 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 good for the genre.
  • Recording: 2 (Fair) – Sounds okay, and my guess is that's all you wanted for this.
  • Judge’s Whim: 4 (Fair) – It's more enjoyable because it was one of multiple entries from you. If this had been your only one, it'd be a lot harder to really appreciate :)
JoAnn Abbott - First On My List
Qualified Rank: n/a-Shadow
Overall Rank: 13
Total Score: 24
  • Challenge: 3 (Poor) – Before I got to the punch line, I was nevertheless wondering what was up with this song. It felt confused, like there were multiple songs. A children's song talking abstractly about some moral, then to odd places that didn't seem connected. Then the footprints squeezed in as if this were some song you wanted to write anyway and you just threw the image in as a technicality. All of which was especially weird since you already had another shadow entry that clearly had a strong connection to the challenge. Finally the punch line arrives and all becomes clear, even solving what I'd thought was a separate mystery. How, before the challenge was even posted, could you be posting comments on SpinTunes and Facebook about having already started writing a shadow? Once arriving at the end of the song, it's clear I was right. You did want to write this song anyway, and you did force the reference in as a technicality. I'd say all that means this song doesn't do a good job of being inspired by the photo.
  • Lyric Content: 6 (Good) – As a depiction of the inner thoughts of someone deeply hurt above and beyond what's reasonable for a situation and wanting to act out with unjustified venom, taking solace in the defensive uber-cleverness of twisting a seemingly friendly idea into a condemnation with a final act plot twist meant to impress all who hear it with her razor-sharp wit but that really just leaves the audience realizing that the narrator has been operating in bad faith from the start, this is interesting.
  • Composition: 4 (Fair) – While there's a somewhat catchy jauntiness to the stated children's TV show feel, in its current a capella rendition, the melody seems confused, either as if constantly changing keys in ways that don't work or as if the performance is regularly off key. All of this makes the piece hard to judge compositionally. What can be judged in spite of all this is the odd structure, with three dissimilar sections followed by a repeat of the first. It doesn't seem to work very well.
  • Songwriting Craft: 4 (Fair) – This piece has your frequent strong sense of melody being betrayed by your equally strong inclination to compromise your strong melodies with some inconsistent and awkward phrasings. The rhyme scheme of the third stanza, though, is interesting.
  • Arrangement: 1 (Poor) – This song does not work well as an a capella piece.
  • Performance: 2 (Fair) – The vocals are a bit nonchalant even for the children's genre that was supposedly targeted. There are also some vocal control issues.
  • Recording: 2 (Fair) – Sounds like a demo.
  • Judge’s Whim: 2 (Poor) – I tried to review this song as objectively as possible in all the categories above. In response to an inappropriately unrelated tirade in a Trojan Horse of a songwriting challenge entry, though, I suppose it's only fair for you to expect that a review may respond in kind, and this is the category where I can do that. But I've already exchanged comments about your situation with you elsewhere, and others certainly have said plenty. I don't want to spend time lambasting you as a sore loser and poor sport and especially not covering ground already tread. So I'll just say that I feel really bad for you, but not for quite the same reasons you feel bad for yourself. Your behavior since being eliminated from Round 3 is so out of proportion to someone of your station in life (a mother, grandmother and publicly devout Christian) and songwriting experience (which, considering that some experts say you need to write 100 songs before you really know what you're doing and while reseaerch has shown that you need to spend 10,000 hours doing something in order to achieve greatness, is still fairly limited), so out of proportion to an amateur contest with no prizes that hardly anyone in the world even knows about, and run by someone who self-describes as an "out of work P.E. teacher, who is also a daycare worker during the summer [and] also happen[s] to blog about music & dance" while fully admitting that he's not even a musician, as opposed to the kind of people who might be in a real position where you'd have to get used to taking their rejection in stride if you wanted to achieve any kind of real success as a songwriter. To feel that much entitlement about moving on and that much hurt about failing to do so in such a fundamentally modest situation as SpinTunes, and to so venomously and publicly single out someone whose opinion you just shouldn't care that much about yet somehow do, clearly you're experiencing a level of hurt that's extreme to say the least and that probably few members of the SpinTunes community appreciate. I have tremendous empathy for you and can only hope that, through even small expressions of empathy like this as well as actions like Spin's going ahead and actually posting this song instead of keeping it from seeing the light of day, perhaps a part of you underneath the anger will somehow be able to help you take actions that could actually help you get some of the things you really want and need. Because so far your acting out has only been pushing those things ever farther from you, perhaps even leading to you lose some of your "best friends... in cyber space" and burn who knows how many other bridges that, in the end, you may very well come to wish were still standing. And all in the service of anger that you've probably had with you for a very long time and isn't really about Spin at all. Only the parts of you underneath and outside the anger will be able to help you move in the direction you really want instead of deeper into the hole of misery you keep sadly digging for yourself. In the meantime, I imagine that even the angry part of you may be able to live with me and whoever else feeling that this particular song was fairly unwelcome and unenjoyable as an entry for this challenge. If not, then this becomes just one more example of you failing to stop yourself from bringing further hurt upon yourself, and that would be just as sad as all the other examples you've given the world of that over the last couple of weeks. I hope you switch to a more satisfying and constructive path soon.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

SpinTunes #5: Round 4 Songs

The songs are now available for FREE download, and you can vote for your favorite entries as well. Many of you will be asking friends and family to support you in the popular vote. That's great, but when you do, please ask them to listen to all the songs. You can only vote for 1 person this time around.

Until the new champion is announced I will only allow people to download the round 4 album as a whole. BandCamp limits how many free downloads I can give away, and 1 album download counts the same as 1 song download.

Nobody was cut by the deadline, YOU (the competitors of SpinTunes 4) have to eliminate 3 people this round. Good luck everyone.

People Who Have Voted Thus Far: (12 of 29 voters)
Governing Dynamics - Edric Haleen - Wait What - Menage a Tune - The Chocolate Chips - Trader Jack - Emperor Gum - Godz Poodlz - RC - Ross Durand - Felix Frost - The Boffo Yux Dudes / Chris Cogott

You can find the album on BandCamp by clicking the image below:


- You can vote for your favorite songs with the poll in the right sidebar. -->

- If you signed up for the contest, and have turned in at least 1 song, you may e-mail your vote to me. Make sure you rank all 4 songs from favorite to least favorite.

- Popular vote stays open until noon on August 18th.

- Judges & guest judges have until noon on August 18th to hand in their reviews.

- Reviews & the new SpinTunes champion will be posted 8PM on August 18th.

Videos:
If anyone wants to make a video for their song, I'll include it here:

Reviews & Links Of Interest For This Round:
(If anyone writes any reviews or song bios please send me the links & I'll link to them here.)

- Edric posted a Song Bio for his entry.
- Gray Havens posted a Song Bio for their shadow.
- Dave Leigh wrote some Reviews for this round.

Monday, August 13, 2012

LP & Deadline News (Quick Post)



Every deadline update seems to get a rush job...so why change now.

For now you should know:
- There were NO deadline victims.
- There will be shadows...not saying how many yet.
- The judges will not have to eliminate anyone this time.  YOU get to decide who wins.
- I won't be able to answer your questions until about 6:30PM. (sorry...gotta pay the bills)
- The listening party will be hosted on U-stream & YouTube on TUESDAY by Tom.  The YouTube stream will have video & graphics, but no chat.  The U-Stream feed has a chat room available.

U-Stream Link:
http://www.ustream.tv/channel/spintunes

YouTube Link:
https://www.youtube.com/user/BoffoYuxDudes/featured

Sorry this is rushed, but I gotta run.

Spin.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

SpinTunes #5: Round 4 Challenge

Photo Finish - Write a song inspired by the photo below:


(2 minute minimum) (your submission is due August 12th 11:59PM)

Submitting Entries:
- Entries must be received by the given deadline. Otherwise it'll be posted as a shadow. Received means that it has to appear in my e-mail inbox by the given deadline. I will be going by the time stamp on the e-mail in my inbox. PLEASE do not wait until the last hour to send me something. If there is a blackout in your area, your computer crashes, or your dog actually eats your thumb drive...I will not care. You are allowed to send in a draft of your song early just in case something horrible happens & you miss the deadline. Then you can add polish to your song & send in a better version closer to the deadline. 1 minute late is still late people.


- Send your file in a format that Bandcamp accepts. (.aiff, .wav or .flac) (at least 16-bit/44.1kHz) You can find the specific requirements for Bandcamp files HERE.

- Name your file the song's title, but without spaces & punctuation.

- Title of the e-mail should be the title of the Challenge & your band's name.

- Include the song lyrics in the body of the e-mail. (If your song doesn't have lyrics...consider yourself eliminated. Instrumentals can be pretty, but SpinTunes does require lyrics.)

- Include information on anyone that needs credited if you collabed with someone.

- If you have a BandCamp account, you can just send me a link to your song on BandCamp if you include all the info I mentioned above. Make sure you have it set as a free download, and have it set so that I don't have to put in an e-mail to download it if you pick this option. THIS IS THE BEST FILE SHARING OPTION!

- Other file sharing options if you need them: YouSendIt, Sound Cloud & Drop Box. Please send an e-mail as I already stated, but with the download link if you need one of these services. Please follow directions so your file doesn't wind up in my spam or trash folder accidentally.

Side Notes:
- Good luck everyone. I don't care who wins, but I hope you all have fun & maybe even learn a little something along the way.

- Remember that Max, Dave & Tom have access to my e-mail now. If I'm not available, it's possible that one of them will respond to you.

- Remember that you are allowed to send in a little background about your song. Some people don't like to do that, and you don't have to, but if you want to write a couple sentences about your song I'll post it on the BandCamp page for people to see. Some judges will look at the lyrics & this extra info, but they aren't required to.

- If you didn't sign-up in time to compete in SpinTunes #5, you can still complete the challenge & send in a song. It'll be uploaded with the other entries as a "Shadow Song". Check the FAQ if you don't know what that means. You can even complete past challenges from previous contests.

- If you didn't sign-up you can also do a song for "Single Rainbow Across The Internet". You're song would be played during the LP as well.

- The only other way to get your music played at the LP is to cover "Today's The Day" by Inverse T. Clown.

- Feel free to leave any questions in the comments.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

SpinTunes #5 Round 3 Totals

The judges only had to eliminate 4 people because of deadline victims.  1 of the judges was unable to get his reviews done, and there were no guest judges this round.  Which means that we are forced to use the reviews from the alternate judge...that's me.

Official Judges:
Guest Judges:  None this round.
Alternate Judge's Review:  Spin
NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT: (Coming Soon)

Feel free to check my math, but the people in bold have been eliminated.  I hope you all continue to follow the contest & shadow.  Thank you ALL for your hard work.

Total Scores: (Mick) (Mark) (Steve) (Charlie) (Spin)
Edric Haleen - 6 - 7 - 7 - 6 - 6 (32)
Ross Durand - 8 - 4 - 8 - 1 - 8 (29)
Governing Dynamics - 4 - 6 - 6 - 4 - 5 (25)
Mariah Mercedes - 5 - 8 - 5 - 3 - 4 (25)
Menage a Tune - 7 - 5 - 4 - 5 - 1 (22)
Felix Frost - 2 - 3 - 2 - 8 - 2 (17)
The Chocolate Chips - 1 - 2 - 3 - 7 - 3 (16)
RC - 3 - 1 - 1 - 2 - 7 (14)

Popular Vote:
Menage a Tune - 17
Governing Dynamics - 16
Ross Durand - 15
Edric Haleen - 11
RC - 6
Mariah Mercedes - 6
The Chocolate Chips - 3
Felix Frost - 3
(77 Total Votes)

Mick Rankings:
Ross Durand - 8
Menage a Tune - 7
Edric Haleen - 6
Mariah Mercedes - 5
Governing Dynamics - 4
RC - 3
Felix Frost - 2
The Chocolate Chips - 1

Mark Rankings:
Mariah Mercedes - 8
Edric Haleen - 7
Governing Dynamics - 6
Menage a Tune - 5
Ross Durand - 4
Felix Frost - 3
The Chocolate Chips - 2
RC - 1

Steve Rankings:
Ross Durand - 8
Edric Haleen - 7
Governing Dynamics - 6
Mariah Mercedes - 5
Menage a Tune - 4
The Chocolate Chips - 3
Felix Frost - 2
RC - 1

Charlie Rankings:
Felix Frost - 8
The Chocolate Chips - 7
Edric Haleen - 6
Menage a Tune - 5
Governing Dynamics - 4
Mariah Mercedes - 3
RC - 2
Ross Durand - 1

Spin Rankings:
Ross Durand - 8
RC - 7
Edric Haleen - 6
Governing Dynamics - 5
Mariah Mercedes - 4
The Chocolate Chips - 3
Felix Frost - 2
Menage a Tune - 1

Spintunes #5 Round 3 Review: Steve Durand

Ross Durand feat. Bryanna Acosta – Apart
Challenge: Met-Nice little melodrama gong on here
Lyrics & Melody: The lyrics do a good job of putting you into the mind and heart of the characters. I love it when the bad guy shows up. I 'm picturing a big handlebar mustache. The melody fits right in with the style.
Performance & Production: Nice sweet guitar backing for the lovers. Good job ramping up the nastiness when the bad guy shows up. Good singing all around.
Rank: 1

Edric Haleen feat. Kevin Savino-Riker – Vows
Challenge: Met – This is a great wedding duet song. I don't think that I would have considered it to be a “mini-opera” without the fact of the examples that you were given. But it's clearly in that space as the challenge was persented.
Lyrics & Melody: I think that the lyrics are basically perfect for this song. And it's very melodic. A very enjoyable listen.
Performance & Production: Very nice arrangement. The singing performance was excellent. I can really find no fault with this.
Rank: 2

Governing Dynamics feat. Rebecca Brickley – Dark Places
Challenge: Met – Not really much of a story here but it falls in the realm of the kind of examples that were given.
Lyrics & Melody: I think you did a good job with the lyrics of telling the story but not just being a plain narrative of what happened. They do a decent job of getting into the mind of the characters. Solid melody. I enjoyed listening to it.
Performance & Production: Rebecca's voice just doesn't blend in with the rest of the music. I know that's a hard thing to do when you have to record things remotely and can't use the same set-up, but I find it kind of distracting. Otherwise, the productions sounds good to me.
Rank: 3

Mariah Mercedes – Dear Jeremy
Challenge: Met – Story narrative and interaction of characters
Lyrics & Melody: The lyrics have a decent back and forth of what each character is thinking. I'm not getting a lot of emotion out of it though. I don't think the jump in time in the last verse is particularly effective. It took me out of the story. I don't find the melody to be compelling the notes go up and down a little bit but thats it. (Honestly I find this to be true of a lot of legit opera.)
Performance & Production: Clearly the female vocal is much stronger than the male vocal. I don't think that the spoken word part works. It should have been sung. The music works OK.
Rank: 4

Menage a Tune – Poison, or, All of Hamlet in 4:04
Challenge: Met-Clearly the most classically operatic of the bunch.
Lyrics & Melody: Cliff's Notes opera. The lyrics tell the narrative in a fine fashion. I guess that I was expecting the entires to come up with a story of there own so I'm a little disappointed in the story for that reason. Stylistically the melody suits the work well with it's kind of medieval sound.
Performance & Production: It would have really been nice to have some orchestration other than the piano. The voices all sound like they were recorded with different set-ups. Clearly an amateur theater presentation.
Rank: 5

The Chocolate Chips – The True Way
Challenge: Met – This tells a story and the characters interact
Lyrics & Melody: I find the lyrics just kind of basic. They tell the story but there's no passion or poetry in them. So they're functional but not moving. Similarly the melody just seems kind of simple as opposed to elegant.
Performance & Production: Why the vocoder? I would not have been able understand the words if I didn't have them written in front of me. And the vocoder takes any inflection or emotion out of the singing. I guess that's OK if the characters are supposed to be robots, but, if that's the case it doesn't come across in the lyrics. I think that you have some interesting sounds in here that create a unique ambiance.
Rank: 6


Felix Frost – Lyman Boone and the Moonshine Scoundrel
Challenge: Met-You have a pretty thorough story and a fair number of characters interacting.
Lyrics & Melody: The lyrics certainly get the story across. At times I find them just pretty plain when I think that you could have gotten things across in a more artistic way. As in your other songs there isn't really much of a melody to hold onto. The notes just seem to me to go up and down in random fashion.
Performance & Production: I really suffer in your tunes of feeling a real disconnect between the lyrics and the style of music. You seems to want to tell narratives about the old west but the music and singing style does not fit at all. You do put together some interesting sounds.
Rank: 7

RC – He's Dead, Jim
Challenge: Hmm – not really. This plays to me like the final scene but not a complete story. Really only representing the view of Kirk.
Lyrics & Melody: The lyrics are certainly consistent with the theme of the song. But the way they're written they seem to be more of a recap of prior events rather than relating the events in progress. I think the melody is catchy, and , after hearing the chorus so many times, it sticks in your head.
Performance & Production: I do like the Star Trek theme interspersed here and there. The style works well. I like your voice and singing. Why did you represent McCoy with a chorus of voices? I think it took me out of relating to him as a character and more just a voice in Kirk's head. I think I would have considered it more of an opera if you had actually had the McCoy character interact in the story.
Rank: 8

Dr. Lindyke – Mr. Nobody
Challenge: Met- Enough of a story line and nice interaction between the characters.
Lyrics & Melody: The writer's lament. I think a lot of us can relate.
Performance & Production: I know that you don't really go for production values. I think that adding the drums really helps vs. just the piano. Nice, appropriate shifts in style through out the piece. The singing was well done.

Spintunes #5 Round 3 Review: Mark Meritt

This round's challenge was structural instead of topical, form instead of content. But just like we can ask what the "last day of work" means or what constitutes a "motivational pump-up song," we could have different ideas about what a mini-opera might be.
I gave some thoughts to try to help out entrants as they were starting work on this round, and though it caused some controversy, I believe I was in line with the way the challenge was stated. I only really said anything at all because I felt that the examples given with the challenge description could have thrown people way off from what the rest of the description asked for, and if not for the examples I probably would have said nothing at all. As it turns out, I feel like none of the entries were particularly influenced by those examples, and for the record I didn't vote to disqualify anyone.
I'm looking at the kinds of things I mentioned in my post and some other challenge-specific details that I'll mention occasionally in my reviews, along with the rest of what I described about my judging approach at the top of my first round post. Onto the reviews.
Mariah Mercedes - Dear Jeremy
Qualified Rank: 1
Overall Rank: 1
Total Score: 47.5
  • Challenge: 9 (Good) – Taking a page from Gurney's epistolary play "Love Letters," you hit just the right beats to give a sense of a large story very economically. The ending -- beginning with the man's last letter, suggesting he'd received a fake letter from the deceiving mother, then the woman discovering the truth years later -- is paced just right to feel simultaneously like a surprising revelation and yet not at all abrupt or rushed. I'd have seriously preferred no spoken word segments, but there's enough else strong here that I don't feel like it detracts much from the whole.
  • Lyric Content: 8 (Excellent) – The story is colorful with detail, poignant with emotion, longing, conflict, betrayal. There's scope and yet economy. Thinking about it now, in hindsight, realizing how much is there and yet how naturally it flowed while listening, without feeling over-filled, I'm really impressed.
  • Composition: 6 (Good) – The wandering melody isn't immediately catchy but it is appealing, and there's a lot of color to the music, especially in the differences between the sounds used for each of the characters. It would work less well as a plain old song but feels apt for a mini-opera. There's a very strong sense of development over time that's enhanced by the arrangement, as I'll mention.
  • Songwriting Craft: 8 (Excellent) – The looseness of the music is all the more apt given the scope of story it has been fit to. This is one of the pieces where opera-like recitative makes inconsistent, free-flowing melody work well. There's a lot of nice imagery and poetry in the lyrics to color the story, the best perhaps being the very last word. The mother keeps the lover at bay, away, yet there's a double-meaning suggesting that he is kept out on the water. Yeah, the sea is beyond the bay, but I still think the double meaning works well enough to put a bow on the whole sad story. With all that was juggled here, I think this has been put together really well overall.
  • Arrangement: 4 (Excellent) – The sound effects and percussion to paint the sailor's harried life on the sea. The wind(-like) instruments for the girl's life at home, sweetly longing like a breathy sigh. The spare acoustic guitar and the intriguing bass lines tying them together. The guitar harmonics, the sounds hiding inside the spectra of the guitar's waveforms, coming in at the point in the story when the mother's hidden deceit subverts the relationship. Colorful and appropriately varied from beginning to end, and even though there aren't many layers it never feels like anything is missing. This gets my first and only Excellent score for Arrangement for all three rounds so far.
  • Performance: 3 (Good) – The male vocal isn't nearly as strong as the female. It sounds like a stodgy old boat captain, like the gal's grandfather spinning yarns about his voyages instead of her sailor lover longing for her the way she longs for him. If the male had been as strong as the female, this would have gotten Excellent. With enough good stuff going on in the female vocal and the instruments, I'm fine giving a Good here.
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – A few plosive pops in the vocals, but overall sounds good, especially with the ebb and flow in the mixing of instruments/effects.
  • Judge’s Whim: 6.5 (Good) – Not an archetypal opera, but an exceptionally nice entry.
Edric Haleen featuring Kevin Savino-Riker - (Vows)
Qualified Rank: 2
Overall Rank: 2
Total Score: 47
  • Challenge: 9 (Good) – The ritualistic nature of exchanging vows isn't the most organic basis for a piece drama per se, since within that reality the characters themselves have scripted everything they'll say. Everything is by its formal nature designed to disallow the possibility of dramatic conflict or character development. Still, it's also a somewhat elegant choice to use an event in which dialogue actually is action (promising, marrying), so in that sense the characters do change. It was especially helpful that you interpolated elements of the couple's individual and joint backstories to give a larger sense of story to the moment. That makes seem more like a whole in itself what would otherwise seem like just a scene from some larger story, especially a scene with the contrivance of prepared speeches. It's particularly nice how they at first sing wholly separate stanzas, then interweave, then sing as one, yet even then they subsequently have some time singing separately. Mirrors the story of a relationship growing closer and yet with both people retaining an individual identity as well. A propos for dramatizing the marriage event.
  • Lyric Content: 6 (Good) – What I just said about the challenge I'd want to say here as well. Beyond that, it's both nice and appropriate that the words could work universally for any marrying couple, highlighting both the specialness for this same-sex couple having the opportunity to marry and the notion that theirs is an experience relatable to all married couples. And yes, I read the song bio, and I know you said the song wasn't necessarily designed for two men, but that choice clearly plants the idea in the listener, so I think it appropriate to think of the song on that level -- and also to see its universality.
  • Composition: 8 (Excellent) – Strong melody, nice progressions and development, including coming back for a quiet ending. Bringing everything full circle, giving a sense of wholeness that mirrors the married completeness, the symbolism of round wedding rings, etc.
  • Songwriting Craft: 8 (Excellent) – Reserving the bridge for the weaving vocals, with individual verses preceding and the joint one afterward, musically highlights the relationship arc, with a transformation process from separate to together. Nice how the melody takes its time with "Today, I marry you," suggesting the long married life the couple hopes to have. That last word's relatively closed vowel, though, along with the same in the final "I do" lines, felt to me, every time through multiple listens, like a failure to pay off. (Kevin's delivery of that last line felt particularly closed, almost like a French pronunciation of "adieu.")
  • Arrangement: 3 (Good) – Good overall, though I found it distracting when at "Who's been there at my side" everything thinned out so suddenly.
  • Performance: 4 (Excellent) – Strong all around, especially the convincing but not cloying emotionality of the vocals.
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – Sounds good.
  • Judge’s Whim: 6 (Good) – A strong submission, definitely, though when you're known for both a musical theater bent and oblique takes on challenges, I (and I suspect others) can't help but wonder what you'd have done here with a more direct angle on a challenge that seemed to speak directly to your wheelhouse.
Dr. Lindyke - Mr. Nobody (Shadow)
Qualified Rank: n/a-Shadow
Overall Rank: 3
Total Score: 42
  • Challenge: 9 (Good) – You know what "meta" actually means, right? It means something about itself or its category. Songwriting about songwriting is meta-songwriting, so that's what this is -- in addition to, not instead of, being autobiographical. Quite a meta set of back to back rounds, and there's nothing at all wrong with that. This entry is good not because it's meta, it's good because it's good. Some of the lyrics are more typically song-like and not so obviously dramatic dialogue. And it's overly long, or at least the drama is very disproportionately paced, feeling at 3:30 like we're heading toward resolution, and yet we've actually got nearly half the track left to listen to with not much more new story content. But on the whole, even though I really appreciate a lot of the other entries and how they stretch, usually in good ways, what the challenge can mean, this is definitely one the most true-to-form in terms of what at least I was hoping to hear from this challenge. Drama, story, self-containment, (essentially) all singing, even the bonuses I was looking for in multiple movements, a combination of solo and not-just-trading-off-lines ensemble vocals, plus another bonus I secretly hoped for but didn't really imagine anyone would do (except maybe Edric, and he didn't do it): stage directions, at least in your off-Bandcamp PDF script. And all with a topic and execution that's meaningful, personal and generally pretty solid.
  • Lyric Content: 6 (Good) – The ebb and flow of "monologue" and more interactive dialogue is nice, mirroring the different levels of confidence and conflict throughout. The action actually dramatizing the writing of a song as opposed to being simply a conversation about the creative process is strong. The Lon Chaney and Claude Rains parallels are nice. The last half of the story does feel really long, though. Now, you'd think on that score that I wouldn't like the second "there'd be no" chorus, but I do, for a few reasons. With new song examples and the need to assuage William's confidence after Dave messes with his words, it brings us back to dramatically meaningful content without making us feel like story is compromised. Also, William's response lines add depth. But the piece's length is only amplified by William's last solo line. At a time that feels like we're really, after a fair bit of waiting, finally arriving at climax and resolution, we get merely a repeat of his earlier "That's ok" sentiment from nearly half the song ago. The storytelling can't withstand that and could definitely be tightened to great benefit.
  • Composition: 6 (Good) – Good use of multiple movements, each being memorable and unique with a nice sense of development overall. Nice ensemble vocal melodies.
  • Songwriting Craft: 6 (Good) – Except for the length/pacing issues, everything feels pretty solid. Many nice images and other details in the lyric. I especially like (was it on purpose?) how Dave actually has more dialogue than William, and how William's portion of the Rains/Chaney parallel is hidden inside a dialogue exchange while Dave's stands out in the final solo section of the song. All of this form mirroring content (the overlooked invisible nobody William) adds integrity to the whole.
  • Arrangement: 3 (Good) – I usually wish for more arrangement from you, and on some level this is no exception, except that what you've done works well given the topic.
  • Performance: 3 (Good) – Nice work all around, though, despite the form-and-content integrity you point out about "they only hear my voice," I really would have liked to hear the two separate vocalists as you initially intended.
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – Sounds good, though there are times when the "two vocalists" simply sound like a chorus effect on a solo.
  • Judge’s Whim: 6 (Good) – If it weren't for the length and redundancy that hurt the pacing of the story, this very possibly could have been my favorite entry of the round.
Governing Dynamics featuring Rebecca Brickley - Dark Places
Qualified Rank: 3
Overall Rank: 4
Total Score: 41
  • Challenge: 9 (Good) – This is pretty nice as portrait of a specific couple falling out for particular reasons. There are some lines and some aspects of the vocal performance that tend more toward "typical song" and away from the challenge, and at first they inclined me to score Fair here. But as I thought about the entry more, more often than not, I could imagine even those lines enacted. More likely cinematic than theatrical, but dramatized either way, and that's what counts here. And I especially liked the thematic underpinning which I'll talk more about in the next category.
  • Lyric Content: 8 (Excellent) – Again, the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. A solid metaphor of dark places as going out or calling at night but also being the difficult places the male needs to go, behind the charade, where he wishes he didn't have to go to find truth. The woman being nostalgic for a time when they feared nothing yet also being unwilling to accompany him to those dangerous areas is a palpable irony. I imagine she fails to understand the difference between, for example, exciting recreational activities and confronting emotional scars so that she can't see that he's facing things more fearful than they ever did together. Keeping that title phrase for the end, followed only by the reiteration that the male will stay in the dark alone and not bother to try to bring the woman there anymore, puts a great button on the emotional depth of the whole piece.
  • Composition: 4 (Fair) – There's a nice overall sound here, I like it when I hear it, but somehow it escapes me afterward and I can't remember how most of it goes. When I then listen again, I feel the same and notice that it's the frequent looseness of the composition that makes it hard to latch onto. Formally, that's acceptable for a mini-opera structure, but on a sheer musical level I think the composition would gain some strength from being a little tighter. There are number of strong moments already, though.
  • Songwriting Craft: 6 (Good) – Whatever weakness there may be compositionally is mostly made up for when everything comes together. The lyrical/narrative content helps orient the listener and, though loose and recitative-like at times, it works pretty well both as song and as mini-opera. The spare rhyming in many places, limited often to the last lines of stanzas, seems to echo the relationship having been somewhat lost for a while and now realizing it must come to an end.
  • Arrangement: 2 (Fair) – Not much to speak of but appropriate enough for the song.
  • Performance: 3 (Good) – Strong performances.
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – I caught some hiss at the beginning and some balance issues between the two vocalists, but it still sounds good overall.
  • Judge’s Whim: 6 (Good) – After consistently solid work time and again and a strong submission with a difficult challenge, I really hope this one gets you to your first Round 4.
Menage a Tune - Poison, Or, All Of Hamlet In 4:04
Qualified Rank: 4
Overall Rank: 5
Total Score: 35
  • Challenge: 9 (Good) – I appreciate that you tried to do something ambitious. I expected several entries to try to pack big-scope stories into small packages. I appreciate the heightened language and the vaguely "Old European" music to go with it. But there are some real issues here. "All Of Hamlet In 4:04" is betrayed. In a minor way: right there on the Bandcamp page, next to 4:04, it shows the length of your track as 4:08. That may not be hugely important in the grand scheme, but it certainly dampens the joke -- a joke which also doesn't pay off in that the piece itself is serious in tone throughout. In a major way: you don't tell all. Not by a long shot. You tell the last part of the last scene of the last act. If the challenge were to write a number from a musical or opera, this could be fine, but the challenge was for a mini-opera. A small opera. Not an excerpt from an opera. Even if I felt like not being picky about that, you open yourself up to criticism when you state your own intention to tell "All Of Hamlet" then make no effort to do so. We don't even get a word of context for the portion you give us -- what enmity exists between Hamlet and Laertes, why the king plans to kill Hamlet, much less that the whole story is actually about why Hamlet wants to kill the king, which doesn't come up at all in your piece. If "Hamlet" is about one thing, it's the bloodbath the pursuit of revenge can cause. Imagine how entertaining four minutes of that would have been, outlining every death that occurs as a simple but effective hook for summarizing, indeed, "All Of Hamlet." If "Hamlet" is about anything else, it's likely madness and corruption, both of which could easily have been included in that same four minutes -- corruption by simply stating why Hamlet wants to kill Claudius, madness in Hamlet's desire for revenge and suicide, both as subtext to the unintended consequences of the pursuit of revenge, and madness amplified by the frenzied pace at which the whole thing would take place in mini-opera form. That would have been a tour de force. I believe only a few entrants would have had the wherewithal to pull that off. You're on that short list. It was within your reach. Instead, you've got an excerpt, which basically becomes the king's story instead of Hamlet's, and it's told through enjoyable but mostly languid music. The biggest missed opportunity of this round by far. And yet there was much good here, and probably the best attempt at a piece that actually could play as a piece of drama. But was that you, or does your source (you know, one of the greatest plays ever written) get the credit? My gut tells me that I should score you Fair here. My head says that there's enough worthwhile, and no point being too picky about the excerpt vs. whole story issue especially in light of the overall controversy about the initial challenge description, and not enough reason to hold your title too much against the work itself, and therefore Good. But I can't help but think about how truly vastly much better a "Hamlet" mini-opera could have been.
  • Lyric Content: 4 (Fair) – Poison as an overarching theme, as both mechanism for death and metaphor for the twisted emotions that lead to homicidal tendencies and can bring ruin to kingdoms, is effective. Taken in itself, this part of the Hamlet story is well enough told. The weaknesses I just mentioned about the challenge still apply here. The most important, for pure content separate from the challenge, is not knowing Claudius' murderous motivation. There's also very little attention paid to the dramatic climax when Gertrude dies. I fear that most of what's good about this, from a pure content standpoint, is the source material rather than the adaptation.
  • Composition: 6 (Good) – The feel right off the bat is evocative. Nice melodies, some really nice unexpected turns of harmonic progression. Very good use of multiple movements.
  • Songwriting Craft: 6 (Good) – Overall pretty solid. Nice turns of phrase and rhyming. The climax, when Claudius discovers his plan has been unmade, would have benefitted from a much stronger musical underpinning, instead of just continuing to trot along at the moderate tempo that characterizes so much of the rest of the piece. There's also some poor prosody/phrasing here, e.g., "By my hand I wish not…" These things in your entries aren't happy accidents where you unwittingly stumble upon something better than what you'd had in mind. They're just moments of poor craft that are hard to both sing and listen to, yanking us out of the natural flow of music and story. You generally do so well, too, and have such generally well crafted melodic foundations that would help everything come across with such strength if you'd pay more attention to prosody and consistency in melodic phrasing (along the lines of my critiques of your first round entry). In a way, because of what you're otherwise strong with in these areas, it's more disappointing when you let these things slide than when many other entrants do this.
  • Arrangement: 2 (Fair) – The somewhat old-fashioned piano sound is evocative. Sufficient for demo purposes, the rest definitely warrants fuller orchestration, especially to give more unique character to each movement.
  • Performance: 2 (Fair) – The piano work is really nice, but the vocals are about as mellow as the composition. If we didn't pay attention to the words, we could never know that deaths and suffering and tragedy were taking place. I mean, Claudius' "Gertrude, don't drink!" doesn't express much more concern than Willy Wonka's deadpan due diligence when he tells kids to stop doing things that can get them in deep trouble. His next line acknowledging Gertrude's death isn't any better, coming across as if he's snapping his fingers and pursing his lips, as if to say, "Oh, rats," with mild frustration.
  • Recording: 2 (Fair) – Sounds like a demo.
  • Judge’s Whim: 4 (Fair) – As good as however much good is here, this could have been so unbelievably much more. It could have been not only something that would have unquestionably and maybe even unanimously trounced every other entry in this round. It could have been something for theater fans everywhere to enjoy, something that every student on the planet who studies the play could be assigned to listen to. Alas, your plan's un-made.
Ross Durand featuring Bryanna Acosta - Apart
Qualified Rank: 5
Overall Rank: 6
Total Score: 34.5
  • Challenge: 6 (Fair) – I imagine an old story, sometime between the Civil War and maybe World War I. "Cold Mountain." A back-country version of the dastardly, mustache-twirling "you must pay the rent" sort of villain. The musical styles you chose work well for telling the different parts of your story. It sometimes feels more typically song-like, though, and I would have liked to hear the longing, despair and resignation of the lovers expressed with the same kind of strength the "bad guy" has in his part.
  • Lyric Content: 4 (Fair) – Listening to this after "Dear Jeremy" I can't help but compare it -- lovers separated by war, doomed to remain apart. The reasons are different, the villains are different. Dave Leigh's opinions about these two entries are opposite my own. This story is fine as far as it goes. Divorced from the music, the pure text can take on a bit stronger emotional reading. Even so, I think the reader has to bring that. It doesn't flow so directly out of the text itself. The ending, though sad, is told matter-of-factly, and it's unclear why suicide is the woman's only option, so the climax doesn't hit with a lot of force. In addition to possibly some more emotion at the climax, I think it also would have helped put a bow on the song if there'd been some connection made between the forces they'll "never understand" that lead to war and those that lead people like the "bad guy" to do what they do. It would have tied the events of the story together more strongly, giving an opportunity for a stanza reprise with added depth of meaning, putting the lovers on more of an equal footing in their seemingly separate sad ends and giving more purpose to why this story went where it did. As it stands, the story is more or less about how much of a bummer it is that bad things happen to good people. That's sad, but it's not tragic.
  • Composition: 6 (Good) – Nice use of multiple movements. The bad guy's part could seem somewhat abrupt and out of place, but even on just a compositional level you make it work, segueing well. Each part has a lot of musical appeal.
  • Songwriting Craft: 6 (Good) – Though the music may not provide as dramatic an ending as the story might warrant, everything feels like it comes together pretty well. There's a sweetness to the music that, when put together with the words/story, makes even the ending play pretty well. Not as well as I'd want for a mini-opera, but well enough just in terms of general craft.
  • Arrangement: 2 (Fair) – Not much to speak of but appropriate enough for the song.
  • Performance: 3 (Good) – The performances work well in light of how the whole comes together, meaning especially that since the music's sweetness was made to work for the ending, the vocals don't need to be plaintively emotional to fit. Separate from the challenge, the vocal performances fit as is, on your piece's terms.
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – Sounds good.
  • Judge’s Whim: 4.5 (Fair) – A solid submission overall.
Felix Frost - Lyman Boone And The Moonshine Scoundrel
Qualified Rank: 6
Overall Rank: 7
Total Score: 34
  • Challenge: 6 (Fair) – You got to do your sequel to your first round song, and instead of squeezing it into a challenge where it didn't fit, it fit just fine for this one. But I find the story less than compelling, the disjointed music not clear enough in communicating the dramatic arc of the story, the tale's ending abrupt and incomplete, and the narrated sections (where Lyman is talking to, well, who knows who) distracting. Also, for someone with such a strong artistic vision, I'm surprised you'd not be more protective of your saga, letting yourself do the next episode in a form (opera) distinct from the previous one (story song) just because a contest challenge happened to allow you to do a story.
  • Lyric Content: 6 (Good) – There's a fair amount of color, but I find it ironic that in this challenge, one that specifically asks for a story, you give us a story that's less interesting and colorful and meaningfully eventful than the ones you gave in the last two rounds. Still, just for the vision you have for your stories and the aptness for the challenge, I'm game for a Good here.
  • Composition: 6 (Good) – Though it ends as abruptly as the story (and in a way I don't like), there's plenty of musical inventiveness here. For this particular challenge, being more potentially open in form, it's easier to enjoy the flowing variety for its own sake, though it still feels somewhat too varied to make real sense as a single unit. Worth noting, though, that when the music shifts after the first stanza, it sounds an awful lot like the surf rock song "Pipeline."
  • Songwriting Craft: 4 (Fair) – You have some nice poetic lyrics, including some inventive (if imperfect) rhyming ("bust you out / dusty route," "blunderbuss, see? / trust me"). As with other entries this round, this challenge is resilient to being loose and freeform, so I won't critique on that basis. But once again, however the music and lyrics work on their own, you just do not bring them together effectively into a whole. I'm going to say what (and how much) I say here because it's clear that you do have talent, both musical and lyrical, and I think you could go so much farther with it, improving your work tenfold, if you'd just stop shooting yourself in the foot by paying such little attention to prosody. Your quirky and fluid melodies, progressions and sectional structures are a tough enough sell on their own, bringing (I believe) many listeners to the edge of their ability to appreciate your music. It's never likely to hit the top 40, and I'm sure you're okay with that. However, all that music could stay in tact just as you like it -- weird, bizarre, spontaneous, unpredictable and interesting, as you self-described your work in a recent comment at Dr. Lindyke's blog -- and yet listeners could stay on the appreciative side of that edge. You just won't allow it. Your lyrics are square pegs in the complex polygonal holes of your music, and it sends your work over that edge, beyond the pale. Prosody is one of a songwriter's truly greatest and most important friends, and all the more important if you want your music to dance on the edge accessibility. I'm not saying simplify your music. I'm saying fit your words to it. You far too often don't, treating prosody like an enemy, thumbing your nose, dropping far too many of your lyrics messily on your melodies as if out of spite. Some of the worst offending lines: The lightning fast gloss over the word "pitted" in "Alcohol pitted against the law," especially in a stanza that already includes a rhyme on the sound "-it." "Your distilling skills" with the stress on "dis-." The zip over "half the" in "half the West," especially in a stanza where just the line before you gave lots more stress to the very words "half the." Then "it'll take the West by storm" and "with the taste of sugar cane and corn" with respective strong stresses on "take" and "taste" whose imperfect aural link doesn't remotely make up for the loss of focus on the far more colorful and meaningful words that follow each. Perhaps the single most egregious example: "and sell it as the juice of jewels," with "as" by far the most prominent word in the whole phrase. Seriously? You come up with such an evocative and original image with "juice of jewels" and then you make it take a back seat to the word "as"? My heart sinks thinking about it. For real. You do this sort of thing throughout, with even lesser examples being noticeable and distracting. Now, maybe you don't care at all about whether anyone else appreciates your work. Maybe you really like all of these things being difficult to sing and to hear because for you maybe it's all about throwing down the gauntlet. Or at least maybe you don't care if they're like that because you have other artistic priorities, because your music must be just so, and your lyrics must be just so, and you feel you must keep them just as you set them down, even if it means accepting utterly untenable weaknesses when they come together, and you're happy to have whatever niche audience is willing to appreciate you on the basis of what you see as artistic integrity on your terms, with your priorities. If so, more power to you and your audience, don't change a thing, and obviously it won't bother you a bit if you don't get great feedback when you put your work in front of people beyond that audience. Otherwise, if you have a strong need to keep your words and music just so no matter how poorly they play together but you also want more people to appreciate them, well, you might consider keeping them separate. Stop writing songs. Become a composer of instrumentals and a writer of poetry instead, putting out your music and words as separate and unrelated works, each of which would then almost certainly find wider appreciation separately than when you shove them together, because you do, in fact, do interesting things with each. Your other choice is to consciously develop your songwriting craft, especially prosody. My hope is that you would come to see that it wouldn't be an artistic compromise to avoid all these crazily awkward phrasings and make the things you work so hard on much easier -- physically, physiologically, neurologically easier -- to both sing and listen to. I think you could keep everything about your words and music as quirky and unique and true to yourself as you want while making your challenging work just accessible enough for more people to want to come meet the challenges you set down for them, giving them more reason to appreciate what you do. With the countless different ways any thought can be verbally phrased, and with you clearly having a way with words, you could without any doubt find ways to say the things you want so that they'll fit nicely with even the most arbitrarily quirky music you compose. That's not compromise. That's just craft. That's just art. And I'm pretty sure it would lead lots of people (myself included) to enjoy your work a lot more.
  • Arrangement: 3 (Good) – Lots of interesting sounds along with interesting and story-appropriate use of sound effects.
  • Performance: 2 (Fair) – Just as your music and lyrics don't fit each other, I think your vocal performances seldom fit what you write, more often than not having little regard for what's going on in the story, how the characters feel and act, etc. It's almost as if someone handed you a song in a foreign language and didn't tell you anything about it other than that you had to sing it. So you just sing without regard for content. Not always, but very often. You've said how central storytelling is to your work. Your work will improve greatly when you find a way to make good on the fact that varied and situation-appropriate vocal expression is central to storytelling itself. Make your words fit your music, and make your vocals fit the meaning of your words.
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – Sounds good.
  • Judge’s Whim: 4 (Fair) – About this piece, I think I've said all I'd want to say above. About what I've said, I really hope you can see that I'm not just simplistically expressing dislike but that I'm trying to provide constructive criticism. Because I think you could really use it, and because I think you have enough ability that you could really take some positive leaps if you act on what I'm saying.
The Chocolate Chips - The True Way
Qualified Rank: 7
Overall Rank: 8
Total Score: 33.5
  • Challenge: 6 (Fair) – While there are a number of issues I'll get to elsewhere, I found this the most interesting entry of the round. The soundscape creates a unique storyworld. On lyric alone the story would seem somewhat obvious, but the aural world led me to believe the story began with some kind of sci-fi visit, so the development of the story took me a bit off guard. I actually felt some poignancy with a cult dying from drinking the Kool-Aid. That twist seems more effective in audio than it would have been on stage or screen (like the central twist in William Goldman's novel "Control," so ideal and shocking in a novel that it may be why there's never been a screen adaptation), so you get added benefit from using your medium especially well for a challenge that otherwise would have tended to "want" to bust beyond audio-only. I also like that "Chorus" can work as both an indicator of song structure and as a reference to who may be singing that part (and of course the two are historically related). The entry is supremely odd, and not always in ways that I like, but I think you were bold without quite going over the edge. I actually almost gave you a Good here.
  • Lyric Content: 4 (Fair) – An interesting story for the reasons I just mentioned. Could have benefitted from a more detailed telling where we see the conflict prior to anyone being convinced to go along with the Pathfinder's plans. Could have stretched beyond "mini," yes, but also could have been written more densely to communicate more in the same amount of time. But the trancelike feel, the calmness of the whole thing, as if the Pathfinder's success is a foregone conclusion and he's just that good at brainwashing people, may justify the sparseness of the dialogue/drama. It also contributes to any surprise the ending may hold upon first exposure. Still, in the end, there's just not a lot here.
  • Composition: 4 (Fair) – I find the melody's fragmentary nature and inconsistent phrasing a bit challenging to listen to. But even divorced from the words, treating each vocalist as a separate instrument, it's interesting to hear each "instrument" repeat its own uniquely assigned melodic phrase, yet in structures from verse to verse that make things seem less repetitive. The choruses have their own development from one to another with the addition of a musical line each time, heightening the sense of development. It's all more chance-taking on your part, not always with brilliant results, but still interesting. For the music overall, I think in itself it's not something I'd want to listen to as an instrumental, but there's enough here of interest, at least from an analytical standpoint, even without regard for how the lyrics would come into play.
  • Songwriting Craft: 6 (Good) – Tied to the lyrics and the story, what was interesting enough in how you structured the melody becomes more so. It's like the characters each have their own Wagernian lietmotif. Even the inconsistent phrasing ends up forgivable since it comes across as being like operatic recitative. The chorus development is also amplified by the movement of the story. There's a bit of awkward prosody, but I feel like, taken on its own terms, you've done enough interesting things here (again, from an analytical standpoint if nothing else) in terms of how lyrics and music associate, and in terms of song structure, to warrant a Good.
  • Arrangement: 3 (Good) – Lots of interesting sounds that contribute to the otherworldy aspects of the story, even if they may all just be the Pathfinder's lies.
  • Performance: 2 (Fair) – Even if there may be a kind of thematic appropriateness for the relaxed vocal, it still reads as somewhat unimpressive in terms of sheer performance, as do the instrumentals.
  • Recording: 2 (Fair) – Sounds good in terms of audio quality, but the vocal effects, though they contribute to the otherwordliness, combine with the prosody issues to make the lyrics hard to understand.
  • Judge’s Whim: 6.5 (Good) – I don't think I actually really like this enough to want to listen to it again, but I appreciate the unique things you did enough to give a Good here.
RC - He's Dead, Jim
Qualified Rank: 8
Overall Rank: 9
Total Score: 32
  • Challenge: 3 (Poor) – There's a story, with an unexpected ending to liven up otherwise familiar material. Everything is expressed in what could be considered dialogue. But I can't shake the feeling throughout that this is weak for the challenge. Except for the few "you've lost your mind" interjections, the title line is the only one not in Kirk's voice, and its monotony prevents it from seeming at all like actual dialogue. Except for some things clearly directed to Bones and the judge, the song mostly comes across as internal monologue, with lots of general Trek-based commentaries (alien affairs, doomed Red Shirts) that pull us out of the intended story to make everything seem like a more typical song and not a work of drama. To paraphrase something said in one of the movies that inspired last round's challenge, "Either you story do 'yes' or story do 'no.' You story do 'guess so,' [makes squish gesture] -- just like grape."
  • Lyric Content: 4 (Fair) – An amusing riff on Kirk tropes that simultaneously plays to and bucks both his cocksureness and his intensity. I'm not sure the desperation is so believable coming from him, but it plays well. Like I said about the challenge, the story could have benefitted from being more specific, more like a genuine episode, instead of veering so often into generalities. Applied to pure content separate from the challenge, that criticism on my part is lighter in weight, but I think it still holds.
  • Composition: 6 (Good) – Clever and judicious referencing of the theme song, interpolated into a song that's got a nice mysterious feel in the verses and a strong chorus. Catchy.
  • Songwriting Craft: 6 (Good) – After you set up the triple rhyme in the first verse, I was disappointed to see it lost in the later verses, and especially to see how close you might have been if only "screw" had been placed differently in verse two. Similarly with the last chorus line's internal rhyme, left out in the second chorus in favor a line that's amusing but would have been even funnier with a rhyme to sweeten the punch. The title, though, makes a good hook to keep coming back to even as the chorus lyrics change, and overall the craft is pretty strong like your other entries.
  • Arrangement: 3 (Good) – Nice guitar sounds and background vocals.
  • Performance: 3 (Good) – Strong performances.
  • Recording: 3 (Good) – Sounds good.
  • Judge’s Whim: 4 (Fair) – As a song, this is pretty good. As a mini-opera, it’s only marginally better than the teleporter can do in bringing a glob of Lou back from the final frontier.