ST15 Artist Retrospective

SpinTunes online songwriting contest subforum
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Jocko Homomorphism
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ST15 Artist Retrospective

Post by Jocko Homomorphism » Tue Jan 01, 2019 6:34 pm

Here's a thread for the ST15 artists to reflect on their work.

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This was my first SpinTunes, and I was here because Micah tagged me on Facebook. For the past couple years, I've been in a cover band, and I've written some simple pieces that were never really meant for performance, and almost never had words, except for some mutated clips in sound collage. My band broke up when I moved to Australia in early 2018.

I work alone, with the exception of PigFarmer, Jr.'s contribution in Round 3, and I don't feel like I have the music or organizational skills to put out a finished track in just a week, at least not yet. I got a little better at it in December, but wow, those first two rounds were NOT fun. In the end, it was good for me to attempt some deeper songwriting, and I got, in order, a stinker, two kinda decent tracks, and one of my best songs of the year out of being here.

The judging was fair; I didn't expect to unseat anyone who's been doing this a while. The feedback was all over the place, from recognition of effort and good advice to insults and vague pronouncements. Despite the name, Jerkatorium was the best at feedback that's useful to the artist. It's a pretty simple formula: (1) have at least one positive thing to say, (2) explain why you didn't like something, and (3) give actionable advice. Micah was great at this, too, but that's partially because he has more a history with me.

Now that I've written this whole piece, I think I would be up for another SpinTunes. It depends on what my work and music schedules look like when we get there.

=== I Won't Displace ===
Working title: Omnes Stellae

To me, alien stories where the aliens don't notice humans, ignore them, or are just interested in some material resource are just retelling the worst parts of colonialism under the guise of realism. Instead, I wanted to tell a story about an alien who didn't know about humans going in, but who grows a conscience and tries to be a good guest.

I had a lot of cool ideas going into this song, as well as a lot of feelings about moving to a new country and starting my professional life. The lack of focus undermines it pretty badly. The song got locked into a classical style because of a euthanasia/funeral scene I didn't end up using. I haven't written classical in years, and the judges weren't prepped for it anyway.

Fun fact: I came up with the melody by trying to sing "All Star" in minor key while showering. The rhythm is changed up a bit, but you kind of can hear it in "There are people who will fight for living, // For fairness, and to be themselves," that is, "Years start coming and they don't stop coming, // Fed to the rules and I hit the ground running."

=== A New Ideal ===
Working title: Dr No

Coming off Round 1, I knew I wanted to do pop music -- something closer my simple jams, but a little deeper and more structured. Writing lyrics was hell, until I came up with a verse scheme that was interesting to me, with alternating rhyming and non-rhyming sections and prescribed mutation of the lyrics.

I was wise to water down the technical details from my earlier idea, where I was going to teach ideal theory from the ground up across the verses. I do think I went a little too vague, though.

Fun fact: I conceived this as a disco song, which is a little more obvious in the demo. Due to time constraints, I wasn't able to flesh out the arrangement and it jumped a few years forward -- from Boney M to The Human League.

=== We Were So Grand ===
Working title: Johnny Smorgasbord

I listened to a lot of Jimmy Buffett growing up, but never tried to perform like him, and that seemed like a good enough fit for the challenge. I spent some time analyzing some of my favorite songs and tried to write accordingly -- lots of VI-I with lines that are actually two smaller phrases. Topically, focus on travel, beaches, alcohol, and don't let anything actually happen. (Might have cheated that last one.) Since "A New Ideal" was received as being dry, I based this song on emotional events which are important to me. It succeeds in a lot of the ways that "I Won't Displace" failed.

Round 3 coincided with my prep work for a conference, so this is my song with the least amount of time put into it. PigFarmer, Jr. was gracious enough to supply guitar for me. Am I wrong, or was this the only collaborative piece in ST15?

I ended up bringing a microphone to my hotel room to record the vocals. I didn't make time to make the sound of the Coral Reefer Band, though. This is the SpinTunes song I'm most interested in touching up in the future.

Fun fact: I have a love/hate relationship with Buffett's song "Math Suks," and would have poked fun at it in this song, except that didn't fit with the emotional core and I figured no one here ever listened to Beach House on the Moon.

=== On the Beach ===
Working title: Crank That Noise

After Round 2, it was clear that I wasn't going to be reinstated a third time, with more of the top bands being eliminated. I wasn't thinking of ever doing SpinTunes again, but I had given myself the rule that I would submit something to every round of ST15. I was feeling boxed in by the conventions of SpinTunes, so I thought I would have some fun with my noise music, capitalization of the word "songwriting" be damned. The only problem was that the Round 3 challenge was to play outside of your usual style.

I softened my position somewhat after reading the feedback on "Boy and His Kumquat Tree," and decided to give the judges something to hold on to, like melody, and a meter. The only thing I would change is the weird enunciation of the line "They're dead here, John." It was an accidental compromise that came out of the recording session between "well, they're dead here" and the classic Star Trek line. (John is a character in Shute's book.)

Fun fact: The song cheats at its verse accumulation to keep from going too long. All four lines about the sub enter on the same verse, while all the other lyrics come in by pairs. It helps that they're more related to each other than the pairs before or after, and the way the break material hints at upcoming verses.
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Re: ST15 Artist Retrospective

Post by Pigfarmer Jr » Tue Jan 01, 2019 9:02 pm

What the hell, I'll do a quick review as well.

Round one: Alien BBQ - I thought it'd be funny to have a song about an alien that only comes back to Earth for the Texas BBQ. But apparently the judges didn't agree. I actually agree to an extent. Most of the songs had something to say whereas this song was purely just a bit of fluff. And it probably grows old on repeated listens. But the idea is fun enough, I think. I'm not likely to listen to this again as it's not one of my favorite songs. But when it comes up I'll be smiling.

Round two: So Long and Thanks For All The Fish - I like the idea, but the pace is a bit plodding and the melody not as interesting as it could be. Some of the judges didn't like the lack of clarity in the lyric. Looking back I agree, but I'm also one of those who doesn't mind having some vague, unclear lines in the song as it gives the song a chance to reveal more as you listen multiple times. I thought the judges were pretty fair and listening back I don't dislike this song, but it definitely could be improved.

Round three: Who Are You? - Great idea poorly implemented as mentioned by most of the judges. I honestly think that Ryan convinced Micah and Chumpy that this song couldn't possibly be better than last as the other three judges (including Dave) had it ranked higher. Not that they are wrong, but... That being said, he's not far off. The implementation was poor. I did the drumming live, but then had to cut out most of it and comp the rest as I'm not very proficient and I'm out of practice. I disagree that this song doesn't sound like a vanilla ice song, but I agree it doesn't sound like a late 80's early 90's vanilla ice song. And yes, it's too slow. And it needs more lyric work to focus on the other judges. But it's not nearly as bad as it could have been.

Round Four - I recorded a rough draft of the music with some a partial place holder lyric with the melody but didn't make the time or have the motivation to actually record the song as a shadow. I've got the idea somewhere and I think it'll make a good song. It likely would have been my best from the challenge. But it's relegated to the idea pile for now, at least.

Collab with Jocko - I struggled getting a clean sounding take on the acoustic, but it's not terrible. I was happy to help as no-one else was stepping up. This isn't my first collaboration in Spintunes... but I think it might be my second on an official entry.

Overall: I'm actually pretty happy with my results considering I definitely didn't do my best work. But I will say it was still a far cry from my worst work. And I am thankful to the judges who had detailed and focused criticism. Even if I disagree, it's good to hear particulars. That being said, it's perfectly valid to say "I just didn't like it." But having an idea of why is hugely helpful. Thanks to all the participants for making it fun, all the judges for all their time and hard work, Tommy G for the reveal shows and, of course, Dave for doing the heavy lifting. It was a good challenge.
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Ad astra per alia porci - Steinbeck
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Re: ST15 Artist Retrospective

Post by vowlvom » Wed Jan 02, 2019 2:43 am

Good idea, I'm always up for a bit of post-event analysis!

Watching the Skies - sometimes when writing a song everything just seems to flow naturally out of me, and that tends to result in the ones I like the most. This was the opposite, it felt really forced, and I wasn't particularly happy with the end result. I think the concept is solid but (as at least one of the judges pointed out, I think it was Micah) the lyrics are pretty much just a "list of stuff" and I don't think there's anything too clever in there. I threw a lot of different musical elements in there which I think keeps it interesting enough but I was still really surprised that this one did so well with the judges. There were a bunch of other songs in this round I would have ranked above my own.

Thank You Rafa & Agnes - now this one DID flow nicely. I love writing songs about cats, although I seem to recall they were actually kind of acting like arseholes on the day that I actually sat down to write this so I had to clear that from my mind before I could embrace the gratitude, hehe. The approach here is well within my comfort zone but the challenge pushed me to use more vocal harmonies than I usually would and I think that element is what pushes this up into the realms of the best songs I wrote last year.

Silver Streak - I struggled a little with ideas for this challenge, because I've dabbled in a lot of genres in the past and wanted to try something that would feel like a genuine stretch for me. But I also wanted to end up with a song that I actually liked, and work in a genre that I actually had some familiarity with, so stoner-rock ended up being the sort of default choice - I have basically never done ANYTHING even remotely heavy in the past. I was surprised how easy it was to come up with some solid riffs as soon as I'd tuned to drop-D and kicked in some chunky distortion. As I mentioned in the thread for this round I wasn't really happy with my vocal, I don't really know how to approach this kind of music vocally and after a couple of takes I'd hurt my throat a bit trying to introduce some sort of "gravelliness". But apart from that it was fun to record and I think it meets the challenge well. I didn't really expect to advance from this round but I was gutted that one of the judges deducted points for it not being enough of a departure from my normal sound because that's the one area in which I think I aced this round. The end result is the same though so no hard feelings!

One Turkey Sandwich - with the pressure off, I just had fun with this one and I think it turned out really well. It's been a few years since I last wrote a Christmas song and I think I did a good job with the cumulative challenge - it was a good feeling that one of the judges listed me as the pick of the round even though I wasn't in competition - thanks Dave! One thing that none of the reviews seemed to notice is that this song constantly speeds up - it's about 25bpm faster by the end than it was at the start. It's quite subtle but I think it works well with the lyrical progression / descent into madness. I thought the reviews and judging were particularly interesting for this round, since most people seemed to dislike cumulative songwriting in general (Micah excepted, obviously, since he suggested the challenge) - I love excessively wordy, twisty writing so I thought this challenge was great.

I really enjoyed the competition as a whole and thought the standard of people's entries was very high! I loved listening to the podcast each time and I agree that it offers some great constructive criticism - especially when Micah guests, which always seems to prompt an even deeper level of analysis. I like that the contest has a bunch of different judges, too - the varied feedback is welcome, even if I find at least part of it utterly baffling (I'm a big fan of weird rhymes!). I'm pretty sure I'll join in again for SpinTunes 16.
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