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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

SpinTunes #1 Round 1 Review: Julia Sherred

My final ranks changed quite often as some of you are aware from following my tweets or listening to me bemoan in Artifiction chat. I think there needs to be a bit of an explanation regarding some of my thought processes as I went through the task of ranking Round 1.

First, what is a superhero/villain? This is a debate nerdlings have constantly. HUGE, epic debates. Many of which I have been a part of doing what I do (entertaining nerds and geeks). Some will say one has to have superhuman powers. Others will say one just needs to do superheroic/villainous deeds. And this is where arguments about whether or not Batman, as an example, is a superhero or not. I fall into the camp that Batman is indeed a superhero. You do not have to have superhuman powers to be a superhero/villain. Extraordinary acts or other such qualities (sly cunning or a criminal mastermind such as Lex Luther) will get you awarded the fitting title.

Second, if the challenger decided to create their own superhero/villain, I judged on how well they were able to sell that idea to me based on which camp I belong to.

Third, I am afraid there will be a language barrier from time to time as English is not my first language and American English is quite different than the English I do speak. I think I need to explain a word that I will be using in this review. And this is: pathetic. When I was gathering my thoughts while working out the reviews in my head, I found myself saying "This is so truly pathetic", quite a bit. When I use the word pathetic, I don't mean it in the "piece of shit/crappy/horrible" sort of way, but in the Pathos/sad/pitiable sort of way. Or at least that is the best translation I have been able to come up with.

Forth, if a song needed a guide... well you will have to read about that. I will say here so it is not missed, I will not read any guides until after I have submitted my reviews. A song should not need a guide. It should stand completely on their own. Just think about it, does the person who is listening to your song for the first time on the radio get the benefit of a guide? I will give you a piece of professional advice. If you are not aware, I use to run a radio station (I was the Assistant General Manager/ Program Director/ Creative Consultant) and I had my own radio shows. I have spent many years working with and promoting independent artists and continue to do so. If you ever hope to get any type of airplay, your song needs to be easily accessible. Don't worry about it being "commercial". There are plenty of niche markets and radio stations that play all types of music. But if your music is not easily accessible either emotionally or mentally, there is a high probability that it will never get airplay.

A lot of the placements I agonized with. There were quite a few groups of people who's placement kept changing. This was because: a) I either pretty much equally adored them for different reasons; b) was equally okay with them; or c) was equally disappointed with them for what ever reason. And just because I may be disappointed with a song, doesn't necessarily mean I disliked the song. I cannot say there is a single song that I hate, but I can say there are a couple groups of songs that did fall flat with me and that I don't quite like.

Group #1

All 6 of you were in my top 6 from the very first draft. But within this group, there were subgroups who's placement I had a difficult time deciding. And within those subgroups, rankings kept flopping back and forth. I'm not quite sure if what I just said made any sense at all, but I hope it did to a certain extent. Each of you moved either up or down or both until I made my final decision. I hope by the time I finish reviewing the top 6, you will understand why I had these struggles and how I came to my final decision.

#20 Jon Eric - Superman Sneezed

Out of all the superheroes, I personally find Superman's existence to be the most pathetic and the most lonely. When I tell people how sad I get when I think about Superman's life, a lot of people think I am daft. They think it would be cool to be Superman. Personally, I think it would be quite sad. I wrote a story about some of the reasons once. Your song illustrates the pathetic part of Superman's life and not the parts most people think about when they think of Superman. It would have been much easier to write a song where Superman praises his existence just like the people he saves. I thank you for not taking the obvious route. Your song made me cry the first time I listened to it during the listening party. As tears were forming in my eyes, I was thinking, "I hope the audience doesn't notice", because I didn't want to give anything away. And just because I believe Superman's life is pathetic and you approached it from that angle is not why you are first. It was because, in my opinion you were able to really demonstrate this point of view. I got to know Superman in a real way. How he was feeling and what he was thinking. And I was able to truly empathize to the point of tears. If that is not a challenge accomplished, I do not know what is. Especially as I am not one who easily exhibits emotion.

#19 Governing Dynamics - Origin

From the very first bar of music, before the vocals, this song pulled at this emotion place in my gut that, as a general rule, only classical music gets at. It was sad and pathetic from the start. Despite this, when I first went through my rankings, you were lower. But this is due to me not actually listening to the song the first time through. At first, even so you were always in the top 6, other songs were higher because they caught my ear as a result of the song either being musically unique in different ways or because of what I find to be creative ways of creating a superhero/villain. But as I listened through the songs the second time (after I thought I had my first final order), and actually heard it, I couldn't stop listening to it. I had to listen to it over and over again before I could move. And even after I had moved on, I kept finding myself wanting to stop what I was listening to and go back. And just like the first song, it made me cry and not just pull at my gut. I felt the pain and anguish of the character. So in my books, you succeeded. As I said above, a song that causes me to really emote is a winner. Then came the awful task of who gets 20 and who gets 19. You find yourself at 19 because I could better relate to 20, even so it is only by a fraction. And that is what it came down to in the end.

#18 Heather Miller - I'm Not Wearing Tights

You were so close to being first. I cannot tell you how much I adore this song. Lyrically, it made me smile for so many different reasons. One reason is because I find the notion of Superheroes/villains being in tights utterly absurd. And I have often thought, "Why on Earth has there not been a massive strike by these heroes and villains because people want and expect them to dress in ridiculous costumes?!?" So for you to have your superhero echo some of the same thoughts was very pleasing. Also, musically I love it! When the song started to play during the listening party, it was all I could do to not stop the song and exclaim, "This is the type of music I've been waiting for! I love this!" And it isn't that I don't enjoy the other genres. My taste in music is quite vast. You will find pretty much every genre in my music library. However, you'd find the majority is: alternative/rock, various genres of dance music and classical. So for me, having this style of music was more than welcomed. One other note, before the listening party when I first read the title, I do have to say I was very worried that it would be gimmicky and campy. I was very pleasantly surprised when not only was it not but also because of the style. If I were to judge this song solely based on the music and not take into account the lyrics and the big picture of what I feel makes a song a good one, your song would have been first. I do not know what more I can say aside from I look forward to hearing more from you.

#17 Edric Haleen - A Letter To Humanity

In a way, it pains me to see this song ranked here. I love the orchestration. I love the overall sound of the song. I love the twist at the end. And I know others have criticized that it builds, you expect it to have this big "bang" only for it to build again and again and again and again etc., and then when finally it reaches this "bang" the song is over. But that was the point, wasn't it? That was the intent. I understand what you were trying to achieve. I understand the reasoning that went behind the entire structure of the music and lyrics and I didn't need a guide to come to this understanding. The music and lyrics were the guide. For me, you met the challenge and you achieved your goal, both musically and lyrically. I do not see what others see as a negative, as being negative. Especially because I believe that was your intent. Now if I didn't think that was your intent and that is what occurred, it would have lost points in my book. And this is where the pain comes in. Because from my point of view, you accomplished exactly what you were wanting to achieve. You met the challenge. The song overall was quite enjoyable. There is no fail beyond the fact that the top two songs made me truly emote and the third song, I preferred the music just a smidgen more. I shouldn't feel awful that it came down to just that, but it is what it is. I can't wait to hear what you come up with in the next rounds.

#16 Kevin Savino-Riker - Tough Jobs Vs Iron Gates

And this is where I think people may find my rankings and judgment questionable and take issue with them. So I will try my best to explain my thinking. Musically, I don't think much can be said that is negative. That is a preference thing. As for my personal preference, musically I like this song 2nd. But as I already said, this competition is more than just sounds. Topic wise, well that is where the debate is, isn't it? People are going to argue that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are not Superheroes. And this is where it is my job to say that they can be classified as such. Some would even classify each of them as Supervillains just like they try to do with each other in the song. I was hoping some people would write songs based off of what some may consider real life superheroes/villains. After all, the personal attribute of fictional superheroes/villains are based off of real life archetypes. The struggles depicted in the song between Jobs/Gates are the same struggles in many graphic novels. There isn't much difference beyond real life aside from a fictional universe and some of them have powers.

I have been witness to and have been apart of many a geek/nerd SUPER charged argument regarding Jobs/Gates, Apple/PC, the personal merits or lack thereof of Jobs and Gates, etc. There are many who do see them as real life superheroes/villains. And both of them can be said to be megalomaniac. Now, another disclaimer. If you are going to create a Superhero/villain ESPECIALLY if you are going to base them on real life people, you better do a damn good job illustrating attributes that make them so: actions, deeds, etc. Doing this is very difficult task. You stretched yourself. You took a HUGE risk by not going the tradition route which may have led to campy, gimmicky and cliche. This is a much harder challenge than writing about a fictional character, especially one who has a large canon. And for me personally, you succeeded. Other songs are lower than yours that do fit what some would consider the classical definition of superhero/villain because: 1) at least you were original; 2) musically, I so enjoy it. 3) No where did it say when the challenge was revealed that it had to be the classical definition. And as I've already stated, you took a risk and least with me it paid off.

#15 Bram Tant - Kebab Shop

Debate re: Supervillain status, see above. In fact, you were able to sell me on the concept this guy is a Supervillain better than Kevin was able to sell me on the concept that Jobs/Gates are superheroes. Your character reminded me quite a lot of Mr Glass in "Unbreakable". I don't know how I can articulate just how much I appreciated the lengths your character went to in order to achieve his extremely wicked ends. Your spot and Kevin's spot swapped quite often.

In the end, it came down to the music. There is no doubt, Kevin's song is far superior in that area. And as others will criticize you that what you did was not a song on top of the criticizing that you didn't write a supervillain, I see their point of view re: music/song and I also disagree. There was a discussion about what makes Inverse T Clown's rant or William Shatner's rant a song but not yours. One argument was that they have music that builds and falls with the mood of what is being said. Your music stops. Well actually it doesn't. There is music constantly under the entire piece, but it does fade back quite a bit when you move from the first part into the speaking or rant part. I am thinking you wanted some type of musical change but didn't quite know what to do. It probably would have been better to keep the music more in the foreground than to cut it back like you did. If lyrically and conceptually I didn't find this song so bloody brilliant, you would have been much lower. But I give you points for originality and I don't hate what music you do have even so it could have been a lot better. Parts of the music, I really like. Your song did not bore me like others did. One piece of advice, if you ever think to do this again, don't. Well not like the way you did it this time. You really need to make it more musically. Do, however, keep stretching yourself like you did on this one.

Group #2

This second group was relatively easy. And this is where my reviews are about to become shorter and shorter. At least I think this next group made an honest effort. Once I get below 10, I can't always say that.

#14 "Buckethat" Bobby Matheson - Supervillain Blues

Musically, I love the style. I have a huge fondness for the Canadian/Acadian/Cajun thing that you do. There is something quite unique in your music that sometimes I think you have to be Canadian to truly appreciate. The biggest issue I had with your song is for me, you fell in the middle between a mix of getting to know this character and of the character being cliche and someone I am already quite familiar with. With the songs above you, I gained quite a bit of insight into who these people are and what they think and feel. And even so it isn't mandatory per se that you need to learn deep things about a character in a song when they are speaking from their point of view, it certainly does make the song stronger. I will always go for a song that is really meaningful over a song that is so very fun (such as yours) but lyrically soft. And even so Heather's song really wasn't all that deep, I didn't feel as if I've heard that character's point of view before. At least not in the way she told it. Whereas, I feel I've heard your character's point of view more times than not.

#13 Godz Poodlz - Human Bomb

I am a little torn with this one. On one hand, I feel so bad for this character. Such a pathetic existence he has as well. There are a couple of lines that made me laugh because the idea is just so ridiculous yet made me feel so sad at the same time for the same reasons. And they made me feel like a horrible human being for laughing at such a pitiable thing but that is good. One example of this are the lines "I held your face in my hands/ And I watched your skin melt and explode." The way it was delivered was fantastic. I snorted and then thought "OMG I'm going to hell because that isn't actually funny." And I believe it was those types of reactions you were wanting to achieve. I loved the morbid humour of it all. I laughed at this character but found him so pathetic at the same time. The only issue I had with this song is at times it feels as if you are trying to hard or are forcing it. I wish I had better words to describe this feeling that I get, but that is the best I can do. The words fail me at a moment which is a shame because I would like my critique to help you grow and I think I have failed.

#12 Caleb Hines - The Memoirs of the Clockwork Man

There are so many good things about this song. I find this character quite pathetic as well. Unfortunately, it really didn't make me emote anything. I didn't laugh nor did I cry even so the existence of the Clockwork Man is really pathetic. Musically, wow. So much going on. I loved the wrench. I loved the orchestration. I think the song may have gone a bit too long. And here is where I am having the difficult time. Even so I enjoy the music, at about the 3:30 mark, my brain says "Okay, enough of this. Let's move on." And it isn't that I don't like long songs. I don't consider 4:08 to be anywhere close to the ballpark of long. Could be the overly repetitive nature of the song that tires my brain even though it is enjoying what it is hearing. Musically, I enjoyed your song more than Godz Poodlz. Story, I think they did just a tad bit better than you did. I had a hard time deciding who should be in what spot out of the two of you. At first you were where they are because you have a lot of things that are better going on. But you ended up here on the second listen through because my brain got tired at 3:30. Again, it came down to such a little thing.

#11 Denise Hudson - Invisible Girl

I don't know what to say about this. And I'm afraid my critique is going to come off harsh. I've tried to think of nicer ways to say what I have to say and just can't think of any. You are the only person who stayed where they were after my first listen through. You are the only person that really didn't make me think about their placement one way or the other. And I don't know if that is necessarily a good thing. You fall exactly in the middle between good and bad. After you is where I have less good things to say to people. I am not quite sure about your song. I can see it as a superhero song and how she feels in her role as a hero and I also see it as just a song about an ordinary girl who feels invisible in a relationship. It isn't a good type of ambiguous. Also, the normal listener is going to have to really work to get any real meaning from the song. While being all metaphorical and stuff isn't necessarily a bad thing, a song will do better if it is easier to access, both mentally and emotionally. Songs that are easier to "get" will do better. As a result, the only thing saving you is that at least your song was not the cliche things you hear regarding superheroes/villains. You did indeed try to do something different. I can tell real thought went into it. Also, your mix is one of the few I am going to critique but only because I want you to grow. I liked the "transparent" sound of your vocals (best way I can describe it). At times though, the sound is too transparent and disappears far too much into the music. And considering what the song is about, it would not surprise me if that is what you were trying to accomplish (this transparent/invisible sound). But if one is having to really strain to hear what is being said and have to refer to the lyrics, once again the song that will do better is the one that is easier to hear.

Group #3

The next three songs, I give all the same critique. So I will give it in 1 paragraph instead of typing it out the same thing 3 times. The final ranking for the next three is based on what sound I liked the most as I found the next three songs to be equally cliche. I learned nothing about the character. I gained no real insight. The songs felt more to me like a theme song rather than a song from the point of view of a superhero/villain even so it is from their POV. I could have been sitting in front of the TV listening to the Spider-Man theme song. The songs were not bad. It isn't that I disliked them but I didn't like them either. I am neutral towards them. I don't feel as if any real effort went into the lyrics. Even so there were some really good things happening in the music, for me the songs fell flat lyrically. This is a song writing contest and not just a music writing contest and it is not a performance contest. Lyrics are very important. If I were okay with bubblegum lyrics (not that there is anything wrong with bubblegum) then they are not bad songs. But I prefer songs with meaning over bubblegum even so there is a lot of bubblegum I will listen to. This all being said, every once in awhile, a bubblegum song will rank higher than one with substance. But there better be something pretty huge going on in the music for that to happen.

#10 Charlie McCarron - Faster Than Superman

I just want to say one extra thing about your song. Even so I found the lyrics to be a tad cliche, the music was not bubblegum. There is a bit of a disconnect there. And I think that posed a bigger issue with me than cliche lyrics, the music and lyrics just don't seem to match.

#9 Ryan Welton - Underdog Blues

#8 Steven Durand - Gamma Man

Group #4

The Next 6 songs is another group that I struggled with. Most of you were originally lower than you find yourself now. Only one was higher at one point. Only one of you stayed at the same rank and that is Ross. And despite how biting my criticism may sound, the songs are not bad. If you were to listen to the songs on their own and not take into account the challenge on hand, I can see why many would find them quite enjoyable. But they did not meet the challenge as successfully as others, plain and simple.

#7 JoAnn Abbott - Why

I feel you cheated a bit in this song. Originally, you were much lower on my list because of this. But once I listened through the second time and figured out how I was going to judge this, you moved up slightly. Here is how I think you didn't quite do the challenge and therefor cheated to a certain extent. You didn't write about a superhero or supervillain. You wrote about both simultaneously. I don't find that clever. I had no idea who was singing the song. I have no idea as to what flavour of hero/villain this person is. It is quite generic and ambiguous. And then I found out your song has a guide explanation this was your aim. If a song needs a guide to be understood, it fails. A song should stand on its own. I didn't read the guide, nor will I read any guides until after my reviews are handed in. The reason for this is if this song were to play on the radio, that listener does not get a guide. Part of my criteria for judging these songs is how the general audience is going to receive the song. And this is really quite a shame because musically, you pleasantly surprised me. Even so I don't think you really fulfilled the challenge because you didn't pick a hero or a villain, at least you wrote from the first person and I didn't have to guess as to what they were thinking or feeling. At least that part was clear even though I can't name who this hero or villain is to any degree of certainty.

I do want to make one suggestion. I think you need to start thinking of creative ways to do your songs. You got lucky this round and someone was able to do the piano for you. I have no problems with collaborating. If you can find someone to do that for you, great. I just want you to be prepared in the event you don't find anyone. Do multiple harmonies, barbershop it, something. Have another plan in the event of. And even if you do find someone to do the instruments, I still suggest to add layers to your vocals. You had a lot of good things going on. As I said, you pleasantly surprised me with what you came up with musically. I just think you really fell short on the challenge.

#6 Ross Durand - Don’t Turn The Page

This was difficult. Musically, there was a lot I liked. The only problem I had with this song, and it turns out to be a big one, is that it took me forever to understand the bloody thing. I listened to it like 6 times trying to figure out what the song was about. And then I had to look at the lyrics. As I've already stated above a couple of times now, if the listener has to work that hard at understanding the song, then there is a failure there even if musically it is quite enjoyable. I had you higher than JoAnn at one point but she ended up moving up because it was easier to understand.

#5 Gorbzilla - Superhero Song

And another song where I had to work too hard to understand it. I almost completely failed you. If it were not for me listening to what someone else had to say about your song and me going back to revisit it, I would have told you even so there is a lot going on in it lyrically and it is quite good in that sense, it was not from the point of view of the Superhero. It was just like the title says, a song about Superheroes and not from the point of view of a Superhero. And then I was told, it is a Superhero telling the tale of what he sees from the moon and how lonely he feels. I completely missed that. I had to comb through the lyrics to find this point because it got missed despite me listening to it multiple times. I really enjoyed the lyrics. I thought them be some of the best as far as substance. But there is that thing about almost completely missing that you did indeed tell it from 1st person and not 3rd as it sounds.

#4 The Offhand Band - Step Back Swooperman

Again, if it were not for someone pointing out one line in this song, I would have thought it failed the challenge completely because it was a song about a Superhero instead of told from the point of view as of a Superhero. And even then, the kid isn't really a superhero, he just has the potential to be one but his father won't let him make any attempts at it. I kind of liked the John Williams theme stuff. But it was too much and became gimmicky and cliche and by the end of the song, I wanted the musical references to end even though at first I enjoyed them.

#3 Sara Parsons - Starlite (Ballad For A Nobel Steed)

You failed to sell me on the fact that Starlite is a Superhero in anyway shape or form. You got some points for being from the point of view of Starlite. But as I said above, if you are going to make up a Superhero, you better do a good job selling it. There was nothing in this song that demonstrated to me why Starlite should be a hero. At least Kevin and Bram demonstrated archetypes in their characters that are used in graphic novels. I don't expect people to accept what I view to fall into the category of superhero/villain but at least I can make an argument as to why. I can point to specifics in the songs. I can't do that with yours. I tried to find some lyric in your song that would support the argument that Starlite is a superhero and could not. With your song, it is just a horse that has been forgotten. There were no mentions of heroic deeds. No archetypes. He/She (I don't even know the sex), is just a forgotten horse. Musically, the song was okay. This song would have failed even more but I have to believe that you believe Starlite is a Superhero otherwise you wouldn't have chosen it as the subject.

#2 Jenny Katz - Blofeld's Beginnings

The music was not bad. But this song confused me the most. When I first started to listen, I thought, "This is someone telling the story of. It isn't from the point of view of Blofeld. All that is needed in this song was to change the "he" to "I" and "him" to "me" and the song would not be bad at all." But then it would get to the chorus, and the POV changed. I found it rather confusing. Your ranking has jumped around the most in between positions 7 to where it is now. I don't like that it is where it is because I really enjoy the song overall. I just cannot figure out if you actually did the challenge or not. And even after silently listening to other people's views on this song, I still don't know. It really is a shame.

And then:

#1 Emperor Gum - Costume (Squirrel Girl)

This song is the only song where the engineering had the biggest effect on ranking. It would have been ranked so much higher, in the top 10, if I could hear the vocals. I quite enjoyed the music. Reading the lyrics, they seem spot on. I like this strange disconnect/disjointed thing you do with your music. But when you have to turn down the volume or just turn off the song when the vocals start because the sound is just so terrible, well none of the positive things you had going for you matter. And I am pretty sure you know what the issue is. I am assuming it has to do with headphones when you are mixing your music. Here's the thing. I would much rather hear the vocals completely untouched and with a lot of white noise and have them be poor quality than listen to a song where it is poorly produced especially when it could have been avoided. Not everyone has anywhere close to good mixing or recording equipment. This competition is about the writing process not production value. Sometimes it will come down to production value if two songs are so very close and that has to be the deciding factor. But if you can't listen to what otherwise would have been a fab song, it is such a shame.

I am going to keep this short and sweet.

Buffo Yux Dudes – As you know, you didn't write from the point of view of but rather about. I liked the song but it did fail to meet the challenge.

Dr Lindyke – I enjoyed your song. Had it been in the challenge, you probably would have fallen somewhere in the top 10. The top 6 still would be where they are. The only real issue I had with your song was that I found it ambiguous to a certain degree. But at least it was meaningful and I did understand that it was from the POV of a superhero even if I was not sure which superhero.

Danny Blackwell РI am really surprised more people did not take the slash fiction route. And as clich̩ as it may be to do so, the way you delivered it, I did not find clich̩ but rather quite cheeky. I hope you understand what I mean when I say that. I enjoyed the cheek. Only issue, your song did not meet the time requirement. Had it been in the challenge, it would have failed for not meeting that criteria.

Bryce Jensen – I love the music. I'm confused by the lyric. You are singing to someone and about someone from someone's point of view but is that point of view a song from a Superhero/villain to another Superhero/villain or is from someone normal? As already stated, it needed to be from the point of view of the superhero/villain not about them sung by another person.

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