Saturday, August 12, 2017

SpinTunes 13 Round 4 Challenge

OK, it's Round 4, the Final Round. Time to pull out all the stops, and we have a genuine Masters' Challenge for you, due the day before the Total Solar Eclipse in the continental US:
BETTER TOGETHER: Write two songs that can stand on their own. Play them separately. Then play them simultaneously as a single harmonious piece. Also, include some mention of or allusion to an eclipse. This allusion does not have to be verbal.
EXAMPLE: "Lida Rose" / "Will I Ever Tell You" by Meredith Willson, from The Music Man. (provide your own eclipse)
strongly suggest you watch the example.





Submitting Entries:
  • Your entry must be received by August 20, 2017 @ 11:59 PM EDT. Otherwise it'll be posted as a shadow. Received means that it has to appear in my e-mail inbox (spintunescontest@gmail.com) by the given deadline. I will be going by the time stamp on the e-mail. One minute late is too late.
  • You are allowed and encouraged to submit a draft of your song early just in case something horrible happens and you miss the deadline. Then you can add polish to your song and send in a better version closer to the deadline. The last version received prior to the deadline is your official entry. 
  • Lyrics are mandatory. No instrumentals. Having no lyrics will get you disqualified.
  • Name your file the Band name & song's title.
  • Title of the e-mail should be your band's name & the title of the Challenge (e.g. "Dr Lindyke - Better Together")
  • Include information on anyone that needs credited if you collaborated with someone. Remember, collaborations are OK. You must write your song, but if you want to use another vocalist or musicians, do so. 
  • 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. THIS IS THE BEST FILE SHARING OPTION!
  • Other file sharing options if you need them: Sound Cloud (set to download a format BandCamp is ok with) & Drop Box. Please send an e-mail as I already stated, but with the download link if you need one of these services. 
  • If you're using something other than Bandcamp, It's best if you 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.
  • If you send me an MP3, I will attempt to convert it for you. But be warned... I will be strapped for time, and I will post whatever Audacity spits out of the conversion. So if you picked the wrong sample rate, your dulcet tones may wind up sounding like termites or chipmunks or random static. And that is what will be judged. So please... save and submit your files in the right format. 


Side Notes:
  • You are allowed to send in a little background about your song. We encourage and appreciate "song bios". You don't have to do it, but if you want to write a couple sentences about your song I'll post it on the BandCamp page for people to see. I'll even link to longer blog posts if you want to explain your song on your blog. Some judges will read this extra info, but they aren't required to.
  • If you didn't sign-up in time to compete in SpinTunes 13, you can still complete the challenge and send in a song. It will be uploaded with the other entries as a "Shadow Song" and it will be played at the listening party. Check the FAQ if you don't know what that means. You can even complete past challenges from previous contests.
  • 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.





ST13R3 Results!

Round Three is now complete.  

Again, plenty of respect goes out to all of the contestants. Knowing that they could be reinstated, I hope that those who are eliminated this round decide to shadow Round 4! Again, if you were eliminated, keep an eye on your inbox, as you will be asked to vote on the Round 4 entries to decide the contest!

Of the official entries, we had no disqualifications. The top 4 bands are going on to the Final Round. 

The Results

RankBandPaul RosenbluthBrian GrayDJ Ranger DenDaniel PrinceDave LeighTotal Points
1Sara Parsons1139115
2Jailhouse Payback6523319
3JoAnn Abbott & M.A.T.11361223
4Jerkatorium2644824
5Boy on the Wall31215425
6Little Bobby Tables78102532
7Kevin Savino-Riker41076633
8Governing Dynamics59511737
9Melissa Phillips87871141
10Glen Raphael1041281044
11Alex Valentine911910948
12Edric Haleen12211121249

Tie-breaker(s)
None
Eliminations
Boy on the Wall - Little Bobby Tables - Kevin Savino Riker - Governing Dynanics - Melissa Phillips - Glen Raphael - Alex Valentine - Edric Haleen

Disqualifications (0)
Respect!

Scoring
  • Judges ranked the songs from their favorite (1) to least favorite (12). 
  • For each band, the ranks were added together to get a score.
  • The bands were sorted by score, low to high. 
  • Ties were broken by Dave Leigh.

The top contenders move on to Round Four. Scores from this round do not carry over and will not be used.

ROUND 4 WILL BE RANKED BY ALL SPINTUNES 13 CONTESTANTS (FROM ALL ROUNDS) WHO ARE NOT AMONG THE FINAL FOUR.

Stay tuned for the next challenge!

ST13R3 Reviews: Dave Leigh

Today you're going to get reviews from me!

I work with a lyricist. For me, this challenge is merely my normal modus operandi when my goal is to retain the original lyrics without editing. But I was informed by the judges that this isn't really typical. Many of you don't work with a separate lyricist, or you write your melody first, or you write in a way that the words and the music are written iteratively. We wanted a technical musical challenge, and this one was to get you out of your ruts and phrase songs in completely different ways than you've done before. We couldn't very well just give you lyrics, so we very sneakily gave you two completely topical challenges so you could get comfortable in your zone. Then you were asked to change both the tune and the style of one of those prior entries while retaining the exact lyrics you used before. As such, we're not judging any deficiencies of the lyrics themselves... but phrasing, delivery, and flow all count. And since you have the choice of song, I may that into account, too.

To my mind, the essence of this challenge is that you really have to step up and out of the "box" of your own making. And that means making it as different as possible while still making it sound entirely as though it were written that way in the first place. Ideally, the lyrics should sound completely natural in their new musical setting.

Sara Parsons - DAY(by)DAY
Sara, my lovely, you have knocked this one completely... Out... Of... The... PARK. It is everything we hoped for from this challenge. No only did you change the tune and style, you changed the phrasing. You changed the feelz. And you improved on the original Round 2 challenge!  Using dubstep was an inspired choice. In this new entry, your letter to your younger self sounds as though it came from the future. It sounds like something I dare say your 15-year-old self would never have imagined herself doing. And that's perfect. Without changing a word, it shows growth, it shows change... and when you hit the drop, it doesn't just encourage, it empowers in a very badass way. That's something completely new.  You take the round, hands down.

JoAnn Abbott & M.A.T. - A Swinging Happy Birthday To We
I'm giving Menage-A-Tune the second place spot for many of the same reasons I gave Sara. Since they entered with JoAnn's name this time 'round, it's easy to forget that this is actually a collaboration between JoAnn and Ted Kiper; and they used that collaboration to great effect this round. Changing lead singers is a sure-fire way of changing the mood, but they went far beyond that. You can't get much different than the style they've chosen here: a well-researched Swing beat to replace the "Romper Room" sound of the original. Eight-to-the-bar replaces the 6/4 time signature, and the original tune is completely swept aside. If I have advice to give for this one, it's to get a nice set of SoundFonts and re-render the MIDI using them. Without changing a single note, it will give this number an authentic "Big Band" sound that would put a smile on Benny Goodman's face.

Jailhouse Payback - On Wax
Switching time signatures is great way of making sure of you've got a different style going on even when you retain that "Americana" feel that defines your group's sound. And you're getting a ton of performance points from me for your live instrumentation, which I think is the best of any of the groups here. The tricky part of switching signatures, of course, is getting the lyrics to fit tightly in the new rhythm. For the most part you do that with better delivery than in the original. You had a few "in microphone" edits that to me felt careless, not conscious, and they knocked you down a spot, but I'm still recommending you for the final round.

Boy on the Wall - Bail Me Out (Do Over)
This one's another big winner in my eyes. Completely different phrasing, instrumentation, and feel turns this from garage rock into a polished club dance number. The percussion on this is addictive. I feel like I'm listening to George Michael, and if I heard this over the air in my car I'd crank it up. VERY nice!

Little Bobby Tables - Star Man Redo
I really love this. The guitar ballad of the first round has transformed into a spacey techno number. I think you've really nailed the sweet spots of making it both transformative and improving on the original challenge. But we're operating under contest rules, and you took quite a few liberties with the lyrics. We specified (in italics) "exact same lyrics". And while we know that certain edits take place "in the microphone", and we're willing to make allowances, in your case they just added up.

--==//oOo\\==--

Kevin Savino-Riker - 22-Over
I really like your opening guitars, and you've got some great vocals throughout the song. Also, your tunes is, I think head and shoulders above your previous entry. Regarding the percussion, I think you've got way too much of a good thing in there. You've got triplets stepping all over your lyrics. I'd prefer to see it dialed back to little more than keeping time in the verses, and the good stuff saved for when you open up in the prechorus.

Governing Dynamics - To A Stubborn Young Man In The Year 1998 (red mix)
The tune different. And to be sure, I think it's a better implementation of the song than you did last round. I know we didn't ask for a change of genre, but one of style. I'm not giving you an awful lot of style change points, though; It's basically louder shoegaze. That's not a horrible thing, but it doesn't put you in the final round in my estimation.

Jerkatorium - Center Square Redux
Aw, man... I think you guys picked the wrong song to re-do. The original "Center Square" has a strong stylistic taste that's tough to wash away. I think "Steady On" might have been a better candidate for revision. Having said that, I like the callback in the leader, and I really love your opening groove. Actually, I love everything about the tune. I also love everything about the lyrics. The question here is, "does this music go with these lyrics?" I gotta say... not really, no. It's not like putting pickles on your peanut butter sandwich, but it ain't jelly, either.

Alex Valentine - Past Adolescence
When I'm listening to these songs, one of the exercises I do is to strip away all of the instrumentation in my mind and listen just to the pattern of the vocal rhythm and the melody. To me, those are better indications of style than which instruments you chose, or how fast/slow/loud/soft you chose to play them. And if you look at your vocal patterns here, you didn't change it much. You inverted the contour here and there, but your flow is the same. This meets the challenge, but I don't think it's the kind of dramatic change that would put you into the final round.

Glen Raphael - One More Thing
This is different, yes; but not terribly so. You're not exactly showing us a different side of yourself. So while there's nothing wrong with it, I don't think it could displace any of the songs higher on my list. You showed us a competently met challenge, but it's that something extra that gets a song to the top.

Melissa Phillips - For You - Do Over
I know that piano is not your forte (look! a pun!) but bravo for trying something new! It might have been a good idea in this round to combine the piano with the guitar, maybe as a single melody line or counterpoint. Setting that aside and looking at the tune alone, I think I'm going to have to recycle the comment I gave Glenn Raphael, just above.

Edric Haleen - Beating the Challenge
At a first listen, the listener might think this entry was a cop-out. It wasn't. There's a full story here for the careful listener. Your favorite super-spy (I'm imagining DangerMouse) arrives at the super-secret enemy facility, takes a deep breath, and uses his supreme computer hacking skillz and gadgetry to gain entry through an encrypted door lock. A stream of encoded letters and spaces is fed into the lock... mostly garbage, but some of them unlocking part of the code. As each letter of the encoded door key message is discovered, you hear an electronic beep from the lock. Having successfully identified all of the letters of the encrypted message, the door unlocks (you can hear the sound of it sliding open), and our intrepid hero triumphantly moves forward, having beaten the challenge. The listener with time on his hands can decode the message.

This might not be Broadway, but it's certainly Hollywood. And technically, there are lyrics (each letter is sung to an individual note) and the "tune" of the code (as distinct from the entry/exit music) is deterministically fated by the Round 1 lyrics. So why doesn't all this work rank higher? Well... because you're sliding this through on a technicality, I'm going to return the favor: your lyrics are not linguistically or semantically the same as first round challenge. E.g., your lyrics are now "Em Oh Arr Kay..." etc., where they were "Mork". And you acknowledge this in your re-formatting of the lyrics sheet.

In devising a hyperintelligent response to the challenge, you've ironically managed to lose the 'intelligence' (i.e. content) of the original song. Whereas the lyrics did evoke images of Robin Williams, they're now meaningless camouflage for a handful of cherry-picked letters. I really can't say that it's a re-imagining of the original song. Really, any letters would have done here, and no one would have noticed. I can't even take the hidden message into account, as that would constitute the introduction of new lyrics.

When I'm judging, first I rank, and then I write the reviews and adjust. And frankly, I had this song ranked further up until I wrote the review. Then I realized I couldn't in good conscience put it higher. That said, you used the same letters in the same order as your Round 1 challenge, and that saves you from a DQ and makes your Round 4 shadow a candidate for reinstatement. And I do hope you shadow this next round. The rule changes means shadowers are bona fide contestants, and I really want to see what you can do next round.



--==//oOo\\==--

SHADOWS
(qualifying shadows, unranked)

Megalodon - The Quiet One 2 (Shadow)
Nice! This would have done well in competition, I think. You did a great job changing up the style and tune, and the words sound comfortable in the new setting. And that's exactly what we asked for!

Micah Sommersmith - Sisters (Shadow)
It doesn't get any different than this. And this is another where the lyrics sound at home. You really took me by surprise with the amount of production here. Techno seems to have been a popular choice among acoustic artists this round!

Rob From Amersfoort - My Platinum Blonde (Shadow)
I'll be honest, I think this sounds really, really creepy and stalker-like. I hope that's what you're going for. And sometimes that's what a listener wants! I'd say it solidly meets the challenge.

Rob From Amersfoort - Letter to Self (Shadow)
Are you a fan of Tim Burton movies? For some reason this seems the sort of thing that would work well in Burton's quirky brand of animated films. I'm not sure I'm fond of the 2/4 time signature as a regular thing, but sometimes it works.

\αlpha​.​ßeta\ - Stop! Redux (Shadow)
Had this been in this round, I'd have voted for it to go into the final round. This is smooth, silky, and sexy. DAY-UM! No objections at all.

(non-qualifying shadows, unranked)

Pigfarmer Jr. - Shrooms (Shadow)
I'm not about to eat those damned 'shrooms! This is a great take on the challenge, and a better





ST13R3 Reviews: DJ Ranger Den

This was the worst round of all to judge, for me, and the one I am most unsure about. The songs were great—I feel like everyone’s songs were just fine. If the challenge had not been a factor, my rankings would have been entirely different. If you think this means that I was unhappy with the challenge I gave you … _yep.

Sometimes I contradict myself from review to review, or from person to person. Some people didn’t fulfill the challenge very well. Some people did it TOO well, like this was all they really cared about and they might as well have just done their old song or something.

Comparatively—some songs I preferred over others quite a lot were simply outclassed by people who just followed directions better. Or broke the rules but in ways that didn’t make my eyeballs yawn. The challenge requested something that I felt like needed to be a song change… but also a *style* change at the CORE of a tune. Something that was the same, but a different song, a different ethic. The way I thought of it was ‘what if lyrics I wrote were handed to two different people who lived in the same body-brain?’

Then, there were a couple of people who wrote songs that made me remember how much better their other songs were—or how much they just were carrying out an activity or not really trying to do something different at all because they would have preferred to be playing their other song. It made me realize that I would have rather not been judging this round and that I liked their old song better as well. I don’t like rankings, and I have mentioned this before. You are all winners, unless you did not win—and then this sentence is also a loser. 

These rankings really went up and down, and at this point—I don’t have a lot to say to anyone except at this stage in the game on the list people are all ranked pretty well even if you’re down at the bottom. Plus, you’re showing up.

Thank you for your music, as always. :)

your friend
Denise H

ps. I am sorry for my lateness. I know there is no excuse for this, and that there are people having babies and building bridges and tall buildings, and that long ago others better than me used to judge songwriting contests uphill in the snow. 

pps. This is riddled with spelling and grammar errors, I am sure of it. Again, apologies. 


BOY ON THE WALL
This is a  massive upgrade on an already great song with accents, builds, and punch in all the right places. 
It made me think ‘I have never heard this song before,’ and I had to go back to double-check. I looked and I had described this as a ‘middle of the pack track’ before. When a new style makes the old words shine like they never had before—you have a real win. Not much else to say. You’ve been first in my book before. I’m a fan.

JAILHOUSE PAYBACK
With this, you took some aspects of the original that I thought were distracting and now there is nothing but flawless execution in a new style that is charming and fits your vocal and band style irresistibly. This is a sonic caramel apple. Old School. Your production values and intellectual prowess in the studio shine here, as well as your words like you just designed a perfect outfit for them. Swish.

SARA PARSONS
You have certainly outdone yourself. There were certain electronica things you did that I thought were a little jarring—but you were being robotic. The vocal distortion. The jittering. The wub. But it fits the plot. It’s stylistic. It was well executed. Simple, smooth, and with some sweet content and evocative lyric depth too that the new style sets off in a way the old didn’t. Kind of what we are looking for—in this exercise. Plus, it was cute; and may I say—I now have no complaints about the bridge when you stick some adorabear tinyvoices on it that sound like adora-squirrels. I am easily amused.

JERKATORIUM
This was a very well done recording, but something about the way you referred to the original recording—and kept hearkening back to it…and something about the melody, it makes me like the old one better. It made me like the original one SO much better than this one, it made me regret scoring it lower than I had in the original round. It’s weird that the rewrite would do this, when the rewrite is a perfectly fine song—because the way that this happened is not a bad thing. It’s like when you date a nice guy and end up marrying his brother I guess. This review is inappropriate, and tells you nothing about THIS song. But so are many of my Jerkatorium reviews. I’ll keep trying guys. :/

GOVERNING DYNAMICS
I am really missing the hook that this was originally here. I really resent the challenge for this. That being said—what you lack in an actual ‘enough of a style change' and almost ruin yourself with, you make up for in ambiance and changing your vocal delivery so much because you are exposed out there like in a swishy ballad style. Not your typical sort of ballad either. It’s very retro (I just said this). You seemed to rely on your vocal performance here, rather than your guitar playing so much. It’s very slow-dance, and sometimes weirdly bluesy almost. Like junior prom.

MENAGE-A-TUNE
What a strangely delightful, Rocky Horror-esque surprise. I don’t really even know what to make of this. Sometimes, you are tripping over your own busy-ness again and there’s too much lyricism and style and it’s like you’re trying to eat a banana split while tap dancing and juggling. You are, because you have an infant and you did … THIS! We’re left watching a talented, beautiful almost musical motorcyclist … will he crash? I don’t know. You didn’t, but you could have. An epic endeavor and some fun vocal calisthenics. I salute this.

KEVIN SAVINO-RIKER
You did a good job here going full tilt for a style change but I wish your vocal were grittier and nastier the whole time like you do two minutes in. REALLY let off into full nasty halfway in after doing it the whole time. The song is too long—but you were constrained by the challenge, a drawback of writing lyric-laden songs. A bit stuck into a style with the other songs where you had to sing and sing and sing. Good hook though-and that note at the end was fantastic, and didn’t require any artificial stretching (although this was a cool move). With a shorter song, you could really show off more rock vocal gymnastics, and SHOULD (for future reference). 

MELISSA PHILLIPS
This was a creative and open-aired way to solve your style challenge. I liked it. You have a lot of extra noise in your recordings, this might be something that you can address in the future. Your melody in this one was much improved and suited your vocals to a T, especially the shape of the melody. I knew where you were going with the chords—but your accompaniment got chopstick-y. This could be a fault of the judges for not having enough imagination … or yours for not soliciting an instrumentalist who would give you a track you wanted as though you were hiring a session player. But you needed more here. This was the right idea. Develop this.

ALEX VALENTINE
I feel like you have written this song before, which is fine—because it is a good song, a great song in fact. This was not the challenge however, so this affects you here because I wanted you to really depart from the YOU-style. I dislike telling anyone they do a particular style very, very well as though this is a negative. But you do. You mastered the style you were not supposed to do even better on this round all while trying to deviate from it. It could be another track on a fine EP—maybe giving this one different lyrics (perhaps with the same subject matter??) then combining it with the other two.

LITTLE BOBBY TABLES
This was a successful style change with a charming repeating instrumental synth hook and some wonderful subtle and swishy drum machine application. But it kind of let me down a little bit because I really missed your original Star Man. In some places, you are struggling with the vocal line—in this melancholic Depeche Mode melodic style. Your other attempt was sweeping, a bit more brave and epic. This is certainly different. But it sounds like a depressing song for robots and I miss the old you. I am not supposed to want the old you right now. This is anti-challenge, and I should really be rewarding you for this. It offends my sensibilities to reward a song for being less that its predecessor. A couple other people almost suffered the same fate as you—and they were only saved by some excellent production choices they made almost accidentally. I don't like penalizing in this way for just doing what you were told. Had you not been derivative in this fashion, you might have succeeded. I feel that perhaps you should blame the challenge here, and go back to the original Star Man with gusto as you revisit the things you wrote this contest, perhaps trying this electronic style again with a different set of lyrics. 

EDRIC HALEEN
I once got mad at someone who gave a challenge I didn’t like. I ended up making synth lyrics out of the Hungarian voices patch in my choir VST, and writing a little story about a little girl and some aliens. The march (which was the challenge) was contained in the people who were tromping through the gerbil cage trying to interact with the other “aliens” who were prettier. The song was full of sonic conflict. I was annoyed because I was finished with charming conservatory-styled antics being played out in our little songwriting contests. I thought I’d be the quirky one. Does this have any meaning for you in this time and place, and does this have anything to do with your low placement in my ranking? Probably not. Should I have placed you higher? Most likely. You actually wrote a fine piece of electronica and I am most likely missing the point and driving the bicycle over the garden. Did I listen enough and figure out your code and all of that? No, and you can blame Dave Leigh—who said that I didn’t have to because it was a PITA. I had to look that up because I’m not cool, but that’s a problem for another judge.

GLEN RAPHAEL
I am sorry you are here at the bottom. It’s a bit like a mild to moderate disqualification because I listened to these lyrics a lot and except for the weirdness of the markedly pointed opening intervals in the verses in your slow version; they are incredibly similar so much so that you could really mix the two tunes together quite usefully into some kind of medley for the kind of work that you do or weave slow and fast verses/choruses back and forth with each other. In fact, it might be a really neat thing to do, to mix up the verses in this way. The fact is, what you have done here is EXCEEDINGLY useful for what you do. You can FULLY use this song to do it—and I actually prefer the song played at this tempo with this instrument and with these slight melodic variations with the stronger hook to the original one you did. If you did do something in this vein, perhaps you could start in the slow way—and then go fast. Without the challenge factoring, this would have scored in my top seven at least. I love this hook and this sounds like a more developed demo of your first try at what you did in the first place. This is going to be a great song and should be on a recording in the future. :) But it was just too close, I think, to the original. 


SHADOW /alphaBeta/
This was the way this song is supposed to be. Fantastic and groovy/gorgeous. I don’t understand why this tune wasn’t just written FOR these words originally. It fits SO well! I can’t imagine anything else for it now. I’d love to hear this with a really dirty/gritty blues band and an angry dirty blues guitar. What a vocal! 

SHADOW: MEGALODON
This words so well as a punk song that I feel a little lame liking it so much. It was an intricate tribute number, and you made it smashy and raucous and swish and I liked this better. I guess I just like fun. I like all the shouting and the way your lyrics hit against the back beat was truly satisfying.

SHADOW: MICAH SOMERSMITH
Beginning with having to say that the original is MUCH better and cooler and I love it beyond belief, you certainly departed from it in a delicious and skillful way and your arrangement, production, and craftsmanship was spot-on. If you don’t get back in here…it’ll be a crime. You certainly know what you’re doing … and Sisters of Mercy is a great tune with some excellent cadences and a tune I have stuck in my head now.

SHADOW: ROB from AMERSFOORT
While nothing can ever outdo ‘The Blonde Bombshell,’ this is definitely great. It’s the chorus really. It’s so ploddingly mosh and that swirly ostinato is deliciously artistic. These mellotron-y sounds combined with your vocal presentation and your lyrics have such a cinematic feel to them in these arrangements. Because all you have to do to change ‘style’ is drastically warp tempo or change instrumentation—you have a lot of freedom in a challenge like this.

Letter to self has almost a punk feeling about it. It’s shorter. I don’t like it as much as the other—its a bit jarring. But it’s good at this short length as an endcap particularly considering your extremely strong beginning with original Blonde Bombshell. It’s a respectable short collection. :)

SHADOW: PIGFARMER
Oh, bless you good sir.

ST13R3 Reviews: Daniel Prince


JoAnn Abbott & M.A.T. - A Swinging Happy Birthday to We
I thought it was a wise choice to give M.A.T. the lead. It effected not only a change in style but in voice. I think the swing style lends itself well to the whimsical nature of the lyric. You ended it well, also. My throat started to hurt listening to it, though. Maybe it was easier to sing than it sounded, but it came across like you were pushing it just a bit...it needed a bit more relaxed sound.

Little Bobby Tables - Star Man Redo
The track grabbed me from the beginning. The style was a departure from the acoustic feel of the original. The music evokes the stars, which I think adds to the track.

Jailhouse Payback - On Wax
Catchy melody, and I like the country-ish setting for the song. I think you improved on an already strong song. I didn't catch anything off in the production or singing this time, which is good.

Jerkatorium - Center Square Redux
I like the radio tuning effect at the beginning (obviously). Great job on the vocals--hard to stay on pitch with that much falsetto going on, but you pretty much nailed it. I like the understated background vocals, as well. On first blush, the melody wasn't as catchy as the original, but I think it grew on me by the end. The ending seemed a little abrupt, but other than that, great job.

Boy on the Wall - Bail Me Out (Do Over)
I like the percussion and '70s-'80s feel to the track. Your original was pretty percussion-driven, as well, especially in the first verse, but the departure in style is apparent. I like some of the more complex rhythms you throw in there from time to time--keeps me on my toes.  I think this is the more memorable version for me, so you get points for the improvement.

Kevin Savino-Riker - 22-Over
Loved the passion I heard at the end…could've used a little more "oomph" in some of the verses. I like the rock treatment of the song, and I definitely think you improved it this time around.

Melissa Phillips - For You--Do Over
As always, I enjoy the vocals very much. The melody was very nice. However, I wanted more than just two-note chords on the piano. I do appreciate simplicity and the change of instrument, and what you did with it was beautiful, but I was left wanting more.

Glen Raphael - One More Thing
I think I've become a Glen Raphael fan through this competition. I wasn't sure if I would go for the acoustic presentation, but adding the chords worked. It gave it a '60s-'70s folk feel that contrasted nicely with the lyrics about modern technology, I thought. Production seemed pretty raw--whether by necessity or by choice, I wasn't sure.

Sara Parsons - DAY (by) DAY
A definite departure in style from the last one. It wanders into the realm of "overproduced", but given your acoustic approach the first time, I can understand wanting to throw the kitchen sink at this version and make it completely different. Good dance track, but you lose the message in everything else that's going on.

Alex Valentine - Past Adolescence
I liked the original better as far as the melody, but you performed well within the stylistic change you chose. I thought the verses dragged somewhat. Maybe it's just the familiarity, but I could actually understand the words better in this version, which surprised me a little.

Governing Dynamics - To a Stubborn Young Man in the Year 1998 (red mix)
Pretty solid effort overall. A couple of notes made me cock my head, but there weren't too many moments like that. The intro needed a little something more, I felt--either a bigger moment when introducing the percussion, a new note on the guitar when the drums came in, or something. Not entirely sure how best to fix it. Nice instrumentation throughout. Can't quite decide which is my favorite version of the song.

Edric Haleen - Beating the Challenge
Very thankful for your song bio, because I had absolutely no idea what this was. Your bio was right--can't really play it on the radio, though if I did, it would remind me of the time I accidentally put a scratched CD in and went out to my car to get something. Came back in the studio and the track was stuck at 0:34 and had been for the past two minutes. With this one, they would just think the player was stuck on fast forward. I think we all were wanting to see what you could do with last week's entry (honestly, you were the reason we added in the chance to choose either song--originally, it was going to be only the song from week 2). High points from me on the creativity and production--low marks everywhere else that matters. I will definitely remember your entries, though.

ST13R3 Reviews: Dave Cheetham

No rankings from Dave this time 'round as something came up.
I'll publish his reviews when I get them.

ST13R3 Reviews: Brian Gray

This was obviously a unique round, both for writing and judging. We didn’t ask you to write any lyrics; in fact we proscribed it! But we did ask you to change the song style in addition to writing new music. So I’m going to break from my usual practice of “if they meet the challenge, that’s all I have to know”, and substitute judging the nature of your style change in place of lyrics. Whatever I thought of your original lyrics is now immaterial, but how you changed the feel of the song matters.

Another unique thing about this round… after many listens I usually start the rankings with three buckets: top, middle, and bottom, generally getting something like a 25%-50%-25% distribution and refine my rankings within the buckets. This time, I actually ended up with NO BOTTOM BUCKET at all. There was not a single song I deemed disappointing enough to place categorically lower than the pack. Also, the top bucket was not 25%, but 5 out of the 12 entries! So basically half-and-half top and middle. This was a very good round. It also might leave you wondering “if he liked my song so much, why is it ranked in the middle?” or “he obviously didn’t dislike my song, how could it be so low?” It pained me to see where some songs ended up and I had to go back over everything to figure out how it happened.


Sara Parsons: DAY(by)DAY
Style:
WAAAY different! That’s all I have to say about that.
Production:
Sounds like you’re clipping the vocals, especially at the beginning. In a song like this I could definitely go for some distortion to create warmth in the lead line, but I’m not convinced that’s what we have here. I think you’re running out of headroom before sending the vocal to the main mix. Other than that though, I love the production. You leverage the full dynamic range and stereo spectrum, and just flat out load it up with off-the-wall sounds and effects. It’s crazy! I think a remix with a little more attention to gain staging might really help you smooth out the rough edges.
Music:
You either have amazing instincts, or you really thought through your battle plan here. The downbeat establishment of the “home” minor contrasts well with the immediate jump to relative major, and it’s a couple measures before we settle into the feeling that we’re actually in a major key. Just returning to a minor part of it from time to time. This is reinforced by the almost purely pentatonic melody that manages to range just a bit up to the fifth, but connect back to the root in a nice scale. Finally, the regular insertion of triplets in those connecting scales plays very nicely off the style you’ve chosen. This piece more than most took in the whole picture and built up a composition that ties itself together in times both comforting and challenging.

Edric Haleen: Beating the Challenge
Style:
Dude. The hell? I bet this one gets you quite a range of scores.
Production:
Really amazing sound on the instruments. Are those Native Instruments Session Horns? Some of the articulations remind me of them. First listen through it’s a bit strange with the background sounds before you go in on the letters, but the second time it’s more evidently like you’re taking a big breath and setting up equipment to prepare for the task ahead. I get it now.
Music:
The beginning is very reminiscent of the theme to “Get Smart”, but still original music, and of course the whole things sets up the coded message to follow. Not sure how many kudos I should give you for the melody per se, but it was astoundingly creative of you to devise the method by which it composed itself! And all the music surrounding that “melody” is inventive and fits the overall feel to a T.

JoAnn Abbott & M.A.T: A Swinging Happy Birthday To We
Style:
Style is the word for it!
Production:
Featuring the drums was a good decision; it gives the song a nice rolling momentum. If there’s any way you can give some of that brass a dirty, growling mute you could tap into a sweet Brian Setzer or Cherry Poppin’ Daddies vibe. Also might be nice to add some harmony to the chorus to make it pop. Otherwise, really nice sound.
Music:
You dug into your chosen style very well here. The choices to change keys where you did, and the occasional chromatic movement and baseline that dares to wander off the root are all idiomatic to the old school swing you’re emulating. Parts of that extended pre-chorus sound a bit more… I don’t know, cinematic(?), straying a bit far afield and making me wonder how you’d get back on track to bring in the chorus. But it does all come together. Nice job.

Glen Raphael: One More Thing
Style:
At the listening party I was like “Hey, he didn’t change his style at all! This sounds just like the last one!” Then I realized I was thinking of “Dear Me”, and that the original “One More Thing” was fingerpicked uke. So quite a classic Glen Raphael sound, in contrast to how you did it originally. You got me.
Production:
Pretty much the same comments as last time, which you explained. The vocals are back a bit, more so in quality than level, with the timbre avoiding some of the lower frequencies that might fullify your voice (some of the same qualities I hear in Melissa Phillips’ recording this round), and more room reverb than I feel the song is probably asking to have. But as it sounds similar, you likely recorded it the same way, and so we can look forward to it being recorded later “for realsies”.
Music:
One of the more inventive compositions of the round, with the repeated use of the I-IV/IV-IV leading and pervasive suspensions. A lot of places you have “wrong” notes creating tension, and I like that thing where you start with a A7 shape and move your fingers up strings 2 & 4 to make a rising line that causes dissonance with the rest of the chord. Not sure if that pattern has a name, but it both sounds good and builds the anticipation of whatever comes next.

Jailhouse Payback: On Wax
Style:
Creative, taking a common time rock song and rewriting as a slow 6/8 country piece! The harmonies coming right at the first word really set the tone and drive home how different this one’s going to be from the first. It’s funny how the change in style implies a difference in the outlook of the narrator. Were it not for explicit references to specific bands I’d have imagined him listening to old Johnny Cash and Waylan Jennings records.
Production:
No notes! I hear nowhere in this production that I can intelligently add value, unless it’s the note below in “Music” to put some emphasis where the chorus begins. I especially dig the understated harmonies throughout. You keep the melody front and center, but flesh out the entire feel with softer backups.
Music:
Pretty straightforward, but appropriate to the style. Nothing feels forced or rushed, it’s all just easy swaying back and forth. You might have done something to add a bit of punch to the chorus downbeat (could be production as easily as composition), but though it’s delayed you do make it fresh with that bVI on “on wax”, which is excellent design as that’s the word we really want highlighted.

Jerkatorium: Center Square Redux
Style:
Interesting how you got me thinking “bouncy” for both songs, but still somehow different. I like the syncopated beats in the chorus as well as the new lengthening of lines 3 and 6.
Production:
Really nice. I love the handoff from electric guitar filling in the harmonic space with a pseudo-pad in the intro, to the vibrato organ in the verses, to the vocals serving that role in the chorus. I guess it’s obvious by now that in a verse-chorus structure I like to hear the two sections sound markedly different from each other, and your production does a good job of making this happen.
Music:
Classic pseudo-minor with the vi-V-IV-V7/vi descending line, I’m pretty sure I did that in one of my songs though I can’t recall it now. But it’s the rhythm that makes the piece. That bossa-nova-sounding stuff in the chorus is the soul of the song. Guess you could have gone all in with the accompanying 6th chords and all, but for what it is I like this.

Melissa Phillips: For You - Do Over
Style:
I went back and forth regarding the style of this one. Yes, it’s a different instrument, but it’s still an intimate ballad with just you and one or two instruments. But it’s slower, even eigth notes rather than swung, and basically makes me feel different from the first. So I’ll call it a different style.
Production:
This one isn’t really about production, is it? Did you set up a mic by the piano, or go in 2 passes? If you did a 2-pass record, you could have sung closer to the mic, get out some of that unnatural treble. But then you’re trying to blend separate piano and voice and maybe you’re spending more time than you have trying to get it all together by the deadline.
Music:
From what I can mentally piece together, it all makes sense, from the AABA verse pattern starting on I-ii-IV-I to the secondary dominant on “so be brave”, which was a great place for such an accent. It does take some work to do this with only 2 notes per chord, but I can try to file this as a production issue. Some areas where you take the weak option from minor subdominant to a resolution where the lyrics call for something stronger. Strong melody with a range that complements the emotion in a pleasing way.

Little Bobby Tables: Star Man Redo
Style:
I can’t decide which I like better. Your first version sounds heartfelt because of the intimate interplay between guitar and voice that we’ve all been conditioned to accept, so you get a lot for free. But with this version, you tap into a different feel that by means of science fiction we’ve learned to associate with space and advanced technology. Perhaps there’s no need to choose, and I can just enjoy each for what it is. I am going to dock you just a bit for leaving out so many words. I wouldn’t normally, but it’s becoming really difficult to put any of these songs above another, and we did have a pretty specific challenge.
Production:
Top notch production. You were ambitious with all the software instruments, but found a way to make space (lol) for everything in the mix and blend it well. Some extra harmony or shimmer up top could be called for in the chorus, since the lyrics slow down there and we need something interesting in the empty parts.
Music:
If this one ends up ranked lower than others, it’s going to be because of the melody. I like your progressions, but the melody doesn’t carry me through and keep me interested until we get to the chorus. In this composition, you really need not to repeat the verse section (which is a rule violation) and get to the chorus more quickly, or increase your melodic range and probably the tempo to keep the energy up.

Governing Dynamics: To A Stubborn Young Man In The Year 1998 (red mix)
Style:
I’ll allow it ;-) You took a multi-electric-guitar ballad and transformed it into a rock sound with drums and bass. Not the differentest of this round, but you fulfilled the challenge. In part I’m forcing myself to overcome the tendency to feel that it sounds similar just because your voice has a distinctive quality that I know pretty well now after all the years of listening to it. That wouldn’t be fair.
Production:
The bass is both too far forward and has too much in the low mids, muddying up the overall sound. I think scooping out some of that 200-400Hz stuff with eq could help separate the instruments and make your details punch through better. In fact, do that first and maybe with that bit of energy removed it won’t be as far forward anymore.
Music:
You’re melody is not really riding the chords like I’d want it to. I get the occasional note – even a strong downbeat or held note – on a 2nd or major 7th or something; that can give some nice flavors, whether resolved or not. But your melody feels like it ranges with less purpose. Maybe it’s your intonation implying things, like that root on “should still try”. It’s a I over IV, which is right in the chord as the 5th. But to me it sounds like you’re meaning to resolve to the tonic I, not the 5th of IV. It’s been too long since I studied just intonation to describe with any authority what I’m actually hearing in terms of frequencies, it’s more the impression it gives me with respect to what was intended melodically in contrast to how it feels.

Kevin Savino-Riker: 22-Over
Style:
From clean guitar, shaker, and harmony to distorted guitar and drum set, you kick up the energy and generate a new feel that works well with the content. First thing I thought was I could hear Rob Thomas doing something that sounds kind of like this.
Production:
There’s a garage bandy feel to it that I dig. It’s not polished like some others of these, but I think you could easily put too much polish on this and ruin it. Erring on the side of the sound of a real live band jamming was the right decision.
Music:
This was a hard one. Because of the challenge you were stuck with a whole lot of words. In turn, because of that the way you composed the song made it take way too long to get to the payoff. I love your melody in the verse, but the composition is suited better to a more concise song. If this were me, I’d keep the first song with its sweet folksy 4s and reuse this melody for a new song. I’ve actually done that before and ended up with something more suited to the music (a slow ballad about the depression when Pi Day is over became “Off the Grid”).

Alex Valentine: Past Adolescence
Style:
You’re really riding the line here. The verse sounds very much like your first incarnation, only with the chords going from vi down to V rather than vi to I. Add to that the rhythm of your lyrics essentially being the same and you don’t get many points from me on the whole “completely new […] style” part of the challenge.
Production:
As dirty as the instruments are, the mix is extremely clean. The doubling an octave down is used to good effect, and I love the attention to all those extra little guitar noises in both ears. The chorus can have some words a bit unclear in a couple places, but that’s really not a problem. Most of the professionally produced songs on the radio sacrifice intelligibility in places in favor of a fuller mix.
Music:
There’s so much good here in the music. The clean demarcation between verse and chorus, that overlapping transition where you bring the 2nd verse in, the overall energy level. By itself it would have scored higher, but the patterns of composition you have here is so similar to the original, that even aside from the “style” being close to the former version, the music itself didn’t range very far.

Boy on the Wall: Bail Me Out (Do Over)
Style:
Above average in this category. You went electric-guitar-based rock to synth pop and it sounds convincing.
Production:
Love the feel of this. The syncopated rhythms are great. I think I’d have taken all of it out at the bridge rather than leaving in that basic beat. Maybe highlight the lack of beat with some kind of whooshing or phasing pad or something before bringing everything back in. The similarity between the verses and choruses leave only the bridge where you have the opportunity to break up the pattern and do something to grab back the listener’s attention. You’d have gotten a substantially higher score from me if I were counting production value in my rankings.
Music:
That melody in the verses doesn’t do it for me at all. You’ve got a basic I-IV pattern harmonically which I doubt is the problem, unless perhaps establishing a little more solidly if we’re in major or minor could help. I really think it’s the melody, perhaps ending the phrase on the I over the IV chord, but throughout it sounds weak and unsatisfying. Then we get to the chorus and there is a tiny bit of difference, but basically still I-IV (with a leading chord in the middle) with the melody on almost the same notes as the verse. There’s just not the kind of contrast I’d hope to hear, and any energy you do have left is sucked right out by the odd, abrupt “But you were still in pain”.
Extra Notes:
I’m in a strange position here, for the first time writing reviews after the rankings have been submitted and finalized. And so I know as I write this that I have you ranked lower than any other judge (by far), and further that you missed the cut for the finals by 1 point. So it’s my fault, and I hope you don’t hate me. All I can say is that I too have plenty of experience writing songs that get both first- and last-place rankings from different judges, and yeah it sucks.