Saturday, August 10, 2013

SpinTunes #7 Round 3 Review: Brian Gray

By now everyone should be familiar with my system. This challenge served the purpose of challenging me to apply it to good effect. In previous rounds I judged not only your song, but what your song was “about” and what it communicated. This time, we chose your basic approach for you to a greater extent than before. I made a concerted effort not to judge your choice of product in the same way as I’m not judging arrangement, performance, and production. That said, you’re still responsible for selling me something, whether or not it’s something I’m already predisposed to want. I reconciled these competing forces by attempting to gauge how much more I wanted or how much less I did not want the product. I’m not about to go on Amazon and buy a bag of poo no matter what your song says. But if you made me think, “Hmm, that trick with the fire does sound clever,” you could still get points for Big Picture.

In the end, Animal Crossing and Settlers of Catan were the only two products sung about that I actually use and like. I really wanted to get to the shadows this time, but I barely made the deadline as it is.

  1. Ominous Ride - Beano Jingle (7.4)
    1. The Big Picture (8): Ah yes, of course what to write a song about if not the original “musical fruit”? Unlike the Cialis song where comedy would have failed to sell the product, I believe the same thing in this case is perfectly in line with cultural opinions about flatulence. I know what Beano is, so I understood the song. I wonder if the message would have gotten through to someone who has need of the product but has never heard of it by name. Probably, with your choice of instrumentation and accompanied by a video that made things clear.
    2. Lyrics (8): I think these are great! It’s all allusion and metaphor, it’s sophisticated in both its triplet spondees and triple-rhymes, and the repeated refrain that spells out the product all work excellently. In my opinion these are the best constructed humorous lyrics thus far in the contest.
    3. Music (6): Very simple and accessible. Tried and true I-IV-V-I, and when it repeats (and sits on I), it doesn’t drag because you change up the melody by going to the 3rd instead of the 1st. Pretty classic, and whereas it’s not my favorite in the round (I think you had room for some chromatic movement), it’s up there.
    4. Performance/Production: The tuba is awesome. The vocals not so much. You sing well, but the doubling makes the lyrics less understandable. Plus, I think they’re too far back in the mix, so that adds to the need for the listener to put in more work to hear it.
  2. Edric Haleen - Summer (a jingle) (6.2)
    1. The Big Picture (5): Not a fan of lemonade at all, just wanted to get that out of the way. I’m not even the hugest fan of summer, what with the sweat and mosquitoes and all, but this song made me remember a time when I did love summer, and did all these things (and didn’t even have to work). You tapped into some excellent nostalgia and almost made me think I might want some lemonade.
    2. Lyrics (7): I don’t know if it was your intent, but I love the way the lyrical energy sinks from very active, to fun and refreshing, to relaxing. It sets up the ending nicely, as the activities listed get simpler and simpler. I think I’d have gone even simpler at the end and settled on one set of lyrics (skies/flies or sun/fun) to repeat. You’re already using the harmony to create variation there, so the lyrics could continue their path to simplicity.
    3. Music (7): The I-iii-IV-V progression still works. I think for the second stanza, since everything else is repeated but you’re leading into a new section, you could have altered the melody, maybe having “movies after dark” go B-A-G-F#-E or something (maybe switch what I just said with the first stanza?). Then in the third, the rhythm for “resting in the shade”, rather than repeating the syncopation, could go more even to make the melodic energy match the lyrics. Finally, taking the melody for the final repeated line up instead of down both ends on a sweet high, and avoids having the most memorable part of the song be too similar to the equally memorable “Every kiss begins with Kay”.
    4. Performance/Production: Very good production and vocals. Very clear, sells it well. The arrangement is just full enough to set the singing in a supportive context. I don’t know that the bass drum at the beginning is the best call. Maybe a swelling crash cymbal roll that cuts out as the lyrics enter?
  3. RC - Chillow (6.1)
    1. The Big Picture (7): Excellent choice of groove and flow. The name of the product just calls for this in retrospect. I wouldn’t have thought of doing this, but I’m glad you did. One small thing: it’s mostly in the name of the product, but you never actually say what it does. Does it keep you cool, or does it keep you calm?
    2. Lyrics (6): Nice and sparse. It’s tempting to try to get everything you can think about the product said in 30 seconds, but sometimes you just need to communicate a feeling. Not sure about the testimonials at the end, it kind of breaks the spell, but other than that I like it.
    3. Music (5): Very appropriate to the feeling, and I can’t think of another way to do it. The 9ths are straight out of the source music on which it based. Just swinging back and forth on two chords snuggled into the groove, head on a pillow pad.
    4. Performance/Production: Very dense arrangement. Great use of effects and layering, really sets the mood.
  4. Menage a Tune - Cialis (4.5)
    1. The Big Picture (6): Appropriately sincere approach. It would be very tempting to take a comedic approach to this song, but that’s not going to sell your product. Good end-run around blatantly stating the actual problem by focusing on the timing aspect. This is exactly what a real commercial would have done (and after some Google searches, I see the Cialis people do approach it similarly).
    2. Lyrics (5): Mostly solid. I think maybe you use too many words, where the exact same thing could be said with less clutter and a more relaxed feeling. Right off the bat you could strike the second “you” from line 2, the “and” from line 3, and “you’ve” from line 4. The sparser lines would fit the relaxed theme you’re trying to promote. “Right there and then” I discuss below, but I think I’d get rid of that too, leaving the entire song smooth and peaceful.
    3. Music (2): Something about the music under “love right there and then” is bothering me. That progression feels like there should be a joke that gets its punchline right at that point. Just ending at “love” and doing something more muted with the music until “When it’s...” would work better. Moving forward, I think the final three lines need less-adventurous music. This is the part where your audience needs to remember your message, and the music is too challenging. It distracts. The final line is good in this regard, but I’d maybe keep the previous one in the same scale. Overall, I’ve really enjoyed your music to a large extent because of the chances you take. In this case, I think you may have overreached for the purposes of writing a jingle.
    4. Performance/Production: As in previous rounds, I’m still getting a lot of breathing and popping. Your production would benefit from some zooming in on the vocal tracks and cutting out the non-performance parts. Don’t bother being careful about making the sounds in the first place, as that will distract you from your performance. Just edit them out later.
  5. Blimp Exhaust - K. K. Jingle (4.3)
    1. The Big Picture (4): I actually have played Animal Crossing: City Folk, though by now I’m sure my character has some birds’ nests where his hair used to be. This song brought me back there and made me want to look into New Leaf. As a potential customer, you have me intrigued by the prospect of being the mayor. As a returning customer you remind me of the relaxing time fishing.
    2. Lyrics (1): Kind of hit or miss on the rhymes. Love the internal rhymes, they match the quick, lively music. I really want the 4th line of each stanza to rhyme with the lines 1 and 2 (limerick pattern), unless “round” is meant to do that? And in both stanzas I don’t like the rhyming with “leaf”. “Speed” as a near rhyme is not near enough, and “relief” is too close (feels like a word rhyming with itself). The first could replaced one-to-one with “grief”, I’d have to think about what to do for the second.
    3. Music (8): I really like the progressions. The I-V/ii-ii-V turns around really well. That plus the bass keep the song moving forward. There must be a good way to have something different under “no need for feeling cross, and” to keep the movement from stalling there. Maybe even switch to spoken word if you can pull that off convincingly.
    4. Performance/Production: Well done. The lyrics stand in front of the music properly, everything is clear. The choice of instruments is appropriate.
  6. TurboShandy - Haggis in a Can (3)
    1. The Big Picture (3): Mmm boy, just what I always wanted. I’ve never tried haggis, but I guess I wouldn’t mind giving it a go. I’d probably try the original stuff though.
    2. Lyrics (3): I like the end where you say “aye we can”, because, you know, “can”. Still, I think maybe the product name proper could have been repeated somehow, somewhere. Starting with “Forget about” instead of “You can forget” would clean up a weird bit of syllable stressing that draws attention just as you’re trying to focus your audience on the content. “Just as nice” by itself raises the question “as what?” You’ve already broken the news about the contents, may as well mention the traditional container. I also disagree with the overlapping contents repeated over the product name. That’s the part you want more clear than anything else.
    3. Music (3): I have to admit I don’t know much about Scottish music. The harmonic patterns you use are very similar to what I’ve heard from Irish folk music, and Scotland is near Ireland, so... sure, I’ll assume it’s authentic! And really, it needs to be, because you’re obviously selling to an audience that eats haggis enough that they need it in can form. That means Scots or expatriates. I think to get a fuller resolution on “haggis”, you really need a V before it, be it holding up the preceding melody over the V or just quickly going there on “It’s”. That should be the strongest part of the song in all respects, and musically I feel the strongest part is on “heart” for this exact reason.
    4. Performance/Production: Well mixed for a radio song, but for a commercial I’d have had the lyrics farther forward, or at least cut some presence out of the distorted guitar and bagpipes (both have overtones in the 3-4k range) to clear up the lyrics.
  7. Governing Dynamics - Kim’s Etsy Store (2.8)
    1. The Big Picture (1): Even on first listen I did manage to get that this is a store that sells craft dishes, but really felt like I had to listen hard and work to get it. Then you tell me that I missed a promo. Then you yell at me. Then you make me feel like I’m supposed to buy out of a sense of charity. I’m very uncomfortable right now.
    2. Lyrics (4): I like the lyrics. You get to “cranes” and nothing rhymed yet, but I feel like they’re going to. Then in the next stanza you get rhymes out of lines 1 and 4 and I feel validated. A lot of what the lyrics talk about is the stuff I said above in the Big Picture, so I won’t mark off twice for that. I will say that for some reason the non-parallel timing on the two mentions of the site name throws me. I usually like staggering repeated phrases in that manner, but maybe because it’s yelled I don’t feel it works and putting the second on at the beginning of the line would have worked better. Also, you don’t say how to get there. Just hearing the song (without seeing your Facebook post) I have no way of finding the product. Finally, the lyrics are somewhat crowded. I think you could have said the same thing in fewer syllables to allow room for melody.
    3. Music (4): Overall good. You even found room for some structure, with somewhat of a pre-chorus in the middle and good ramp up to the chorus (for lack of a better term). The secondary dominant in the second (Kim’s Etsy store) feels a little out of place, like you should have left it out or gone with more of it throughout the song (I do hear it a bit in “dishwasher”). I don’t think we need to be musically surprised right at the moment you’re shouting out the product name. The melody has potential, but like I said above the lyrics sometimes get in the way.
    4. Performance/Production: Pretty good. The attention to the stereo spectrum allows for separation of voices between stanzas. I still disagree with the yelling as a performance decision, but that’s just, like, my opinion man.
  8. Mariah Mercedes - Catan Jingle (1.7)
    1. The Big Picture (2): I’m sorry, but this song really isn’t selling me on the product. I mean I own the game and I enjoy playing it, but if I didn’t I wouldn’t buy it based on this song. It just doesn’t sound exciting as a game. You give up valuable exposition time at the beginning, so while that happens I envision a video zooming in on miners, farmers, adventurers in anticipation of the lyrics. Then the lyrics come in and sound like they’re talking about something really exciting, but it’s delivered as possessing resources and traveling around... I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just not getting me pumped about the product.
    2. Lyrics (2): Maybe what’s needed here is perspective. I’m only halfway immersed in the world of the game (raising cities, traveling to ports), and I’m half aware that I’m really just sitting at a table (my palm, the board). It shifts back and forth rather than delivering a believable point of view.
    3. Music (1): I think I understand where the low pitch is coming from. Going for a mining, chopping wood, Les Miserables “Look Down” kind of feel? That has potential, but maybe you went too low, or maybe you’d benefit from having another voice up on the fifth as a static harmony (kind of like how a bagpipe sits on the 5th). I think the end was delivered poorly, but composed well. Just needs a fuller vocal performance and better production.
    4. Performance/Production: I mentioned the end. Actually, all through the song you need much more presence in the vocals, much more strength.

BYD was disqualified, but as I had already written my review...

  • Boffo Yux Dudes - Krypton
    • The Big Picture: Ok, well first off... yes I totally want one of these! That said, maybe a bit of false advertising? Did I read the specs wrong, or at 1400mW is the Arctic actually more powerful (and brighter?) than the 500mW Krypton? Maybe the 532nm light is brighter at lower power? Also, given the range it’s not a real-life lightsaber. You might get some legal action over that claim too. I’m not overly bothered by the spoken commercial, but given the barkering style a faster pace with more words feels like a truer approach. You do a great job of highlighting the product name. Honestly I get annoyed by commercials like this, but there’s a reason they exist.
    • Lyrics: Strictly speaking, I’d be evaluating “Krypton - Krypton - Krypton!” in this section. If I’m doing that, I have nothing to complain about. It’s your product name, you get it out there, and the listener knows what your product is. Being a little more encompassing, the narrative progression is good. Vague but intriguing teaser up front, then a plain statement of what it is, then a more technical description, then how to get it.
    • Music: No melody at all, the way I see it. Even the sung part at the end is just an arpeggiation of the harmony. Beneath that a simple progression that stays out of the way of everything. It serves its purpose, but I don’t know what I can really do here, as this is still a songwriting contest. I could even see a song with minimal lyrics if the music were the focus (Koyaanisqatsi?), but this is not that. It’s not bad, it’s just almost not a song at all.
    • Performance/Production: A decent job of recreating a tried-and-true approach. Lyrics far forward and very distinguishable, as an advertisement is no place for ambiguity or mumbling. Given there are only three words, six syllables over three notes as actually sung content, you could have given yourself a few more takes to get those notes in tune.