As the Spin Tunes #5

SpinTunes 2 is underway and  the first round’s challenge was to write a song about your hometown. But the thing is there is always more to the challenges than just what meets the eye. Writing a song about your hometown, that’s not hard, and when it comes to judging it- it’s not like the judges are going to be doing wikipedia research on your hometown. You can say “I’m from Talladega where Jack Dempsey once fought a wolf in a wrestling match, 2 out of 3 falls” and they’ll probably let it slide without checking the validity. Writing a song about your hometown is the easy part.

The real challenge lies in the fact that it’s round #1 and there are 28 songs in the round. That’s alot of music to deal with. 31 songs if you include the shadows. You have to find a way to stand out from the crowd if you want to win the round. But even worse is that with 8 eliminations in the round, mediocrity may not land you in the middle in the pack, it may earn you your walking papers. This is not just a music competition, it’s a game too and I wonder if the bands are thinking strategy.

For instance, what about serial position effect- you remember things better based on their position on a list. SpinTunes posts all their songs in order of when SpinTown receives them. Serial position effect says things at the beginning of a list are remembered because the short term memory isn’t crowded (Primary Effect). So, if you get your songs in first, they are bound to stand out more than a later song simply because of that fact. I can see that to be true here. I can easily hum Ben Walker’s “Oxford” right now but I can’t for the life of me recall Charlie Wolf’s “I Love LA” or Swatshots’ “Level”.

The same goes for the last items on a list  (Regency effect). The funny thing is that with SpinTunes, the last spots always go to the shadows. They end up the last songs you hear and they can stand out the most. In this round, that was true for me. Hearing via Satellite’s “From Here” at the end really blew away a lot of the songs that were in the actual competition. It was able to standout alot and stays fresh in my memory. Shadow songs get that extra bit of notice. But if you have a great song at the end of the list and the shadows are strong too, regency effect says that you’ll all stand out together. Steve Durand decided to do something different and did a Hawaiian flavored song and it stands out in my memory. I actually had to think a little hard about which songs were before him in the list, despite their being some standouts like Zarni de Wet & Gweebol.

Okay, so part of the challenge is figuring out where your song will end up on the album. Now another aspect is getting your song to stand out from the crowd. How do you get your song to be remembered in a pack of 31 songs? Well, one thing you can do is look at the field and do something different. That’s the Von Restorff Effect, the isolation effect. If you stick out like a sore thumb, you get noticed. So, the field is full of a bunch of piano players and acoustic guitarists. While I’m not the biggest fan of Common Lisp’s “Leaving Ann Arbor”, it stands out because of its angry spoken word bit. Edric Haleen gets the isolation effect aspect of the game. He could’ve done a piano tune and landed in the middle of a pack of other piano based tunes. He went for Barbershop and stands out easily from the crowd.

So who won this round in my opinion? Here’s a brief rundown on the songs in this round, from worst song to the best (including the shadows)

While standing out is a big positive in my book, you have to make a really good song. Inverse T. Clown stood out for sure but I couldn’t stand his song. I like the idea of writing a fake history of Salem but the music was cheesy and the vocals were bland. It just wasn’t fun to listen to at all.

What happened to Charlie McCarron‘s vocals this round? Last SpinTunes he didn’t sound like this. He sounds almost muppet-esque and that’s awfully jarring.  And what’s with the little pips of a recorder or something?

The song had to be about the hometown but David Ritter wrote a song that told a story and then there’s a verse that says- it happened here. This song is about the office dynamics and the town is just the setting, not the subject.

Why is Swatshots‘ “Level” low? When I’ve got my earbud headphones on, I’m able to listen. Put this on with speakers and I am grabbing for the volume. Way too low. I dig the attempts at something a little goth or darkwave but it’s got weak vocals and I can’t really rate the music because the mix is poor.

Two a capella songs in one round is quite a shocker. Jo Ann Abbott wrote a good set of lyrics and handled the vocals well but this needed something more to get to the next level. The song begins to wear thin by the end without something else to change the dynamics.

Dead center of the list and a g^2 (that’s guy & guitar) tunes without anything to make it standout leaves “I Love L.A.” by Charlie Wolff way down in the pack. Plus, it was so very short that it left me with nothing to hook to. Very forgettable.

When I heard this song come on, I said to my girlfriend, “Emperor Gum is either going to hit or miss by a longshot”.  After listening to it, I had to take back that statement. He didn’t do either. It’s just mediocre, neither hate nor praise worthy.

Ominous Ride‘s “San Francisco” suffered much the same fate as Charlie Wolff’s song. It sat in the middle of the pack and didn’t do much to stand out. It’s got these heavily effected guitars and double tracked vocals but it still didn’t do much to differentiate itself from the pack.

I kinda like Russ Rogers‘ vocal stylings but it’s a boring song. Sure, it’s got a chorus and the chorus could maybe catch but there needs to be something a little dynamic to the song. It just putters along.

It was an interesting bit of strategy by Duality. They’ve got Covenant & Den. They opt to use Covenant’s vocals and Den’s piano work on “To The End of the World”. I’m not sure if it was a play to their strengths or not. My big question is why make this song without a chorus? Don’t be afraid of the chorus, it’s what hooks us to songs.

 Danny Blackwell started off the round with a very lumbering ballad about Woodsetts. Lyrically it’s a fine tune but it’s lacking in dynamics. It ends up very very sleepy.

One of two songs about Fairfield. Heather Miller‘s is the lesser of the two. Vocals are a little lazy, especially when the chorus is “It’s Fairfield all the way”. The chorus screams out cheerleader spirit. Instead of adding that pep, she chose to sing higher. The song needs to be full of energy and punch. It’s crying out for it! 

The unofficial home of this round

Familiarity breeds contempt. That’s what happens here with me and Ross Durand‘s song. I have heard over a hundred of his songs and I feel like I’ve heard this before. In fact, the beginning of this sounds a lot like a song we did together called “Near Death Experience”. But if I get past my own personal biases, it doesn’t stand out. It’s another guy and his guitar in a round full of them. The chorus isn’t very catchy and it’s just very middle of the road. I like the harmonica tough though.

Austin Criswell‘s song about Mount Holly got lost in the pack of middle of the road guitar tunes. The chorus was strong and well played but after 31 songs including a few other guitar tunes like this, it got lost in the pack.

Belgian waffle fight is a wonderful visual but it’s not enough to make the Boffo Yux Dudes song stand out. It suffers from a lot of things: placement in the pack, the existence of “LBC”, and it never really gets out of cruise control. It’s an okay song, nothing great.

“Leaving Ann Arbor” by Common Lisp almost got lost in the sea of guys playing the acoustic guitar but it turns into any angry rant and saves itself from becoming lost in the shuffle. It didn’t make the song great but at least it made it rememberable.

“Stars Over Avalon” by Governing Dynamics was the rock power ballad of the round, but it needed a real punchy chorus. Instead it just droned on and even when it picked up at the end, it failed to make much of an impact, except with a nice little guitar solo.

Duality‘s shadow song is kind of about Dundee. Sure, it’s a devil hunting down a virgin in the town but is it really about the town. I guess. It’s kind of just the setting but it’s integral to the story so I’ll give it a pass. The fake accents are weak as baby punches. It’s a cute tune especially with the kazoo but it’s a joke that wears thin.

Chris Cogott  brings the rock but it doesn’t catch fire. I’m very split on this song.  It’s got an okay chorus  which has some spunk and energy but doesn’t exactly catch. The lyrics tell stories but at times, it gets a little like a bad travelogue. I’m 50/50 on this one. Musicianship on the song is very strong though.

Steve Durand usually brings the horns but decided to go Hawaiian and created the perfect musical atmosphere for it. There’s no mistaking that this song is about the islands. The mix could use a little work though and maybe some background vocals that aren’t just a double track. This is a fine tune that could use a little fine tuning.

Brian Gray tried to make a “Voices That Care” / “We are the World” type tune but he really needed more voices to get that idea across. More tracks and a choral effect would’ve put this over the top. The sound of little kid voices singing “At least we’re not St. Louis” would’ve put this song into the stratosphere. There’s potential. It almost got there at the end.

Rebecca Brickley continues her mission to steal the soul of Sara Bareilles. Her performance is top notch. She’s got a great sustain on her vocals and plays the piano very well. It’s all put together very well but in the end, it left me feeling kind of empty. Lyrically “Here” was just there. The way Beka sang and played far outshined her songwriting.

Last SpinTunes I hated Bram Tant‘s song like it was made out of cancer and someone told me (I think it was Sammy Kablam) that it was the kind of song you expect from Bram. Now this song comes and he produces a nice little tune here (with some sharp commentary hidden under the charm). Stay like this, Bram. Don’t look back.

If  I take the Beka review and place it here,  it would almost suit Zarni de Wet‘s song as well. Her performance was very strong and her piano playing was tremendous. Lyrically, the song is weak. But the big difference is the catchiness of Zarni’s song. Don’t underestimate the power of a good Oh-whoah. 

The surprise of the round for me was Gweebol. I didn’t know what to expect and got a good singer, some nice piano work and a song about Princeton which I live/used to live a few train stops from. It’s a charming little song- well put together and doesn’t drag. Not a lot of cons, which is a little odd from me (I can be a wee bit negative). 

“Oxford” from Ben Walker used strong production, quirky lyrics, a catchy chorus and a dash of familiarity to make one of the best songs of the round.

Damn you via Sattelite, you had to miss the deadline. I enjoy this song. It’s got these subtle speed ups and slow downs throughout that are definitely purposeful and are unlike anything I’ve heard recently. At the same time, it’s got this darkwave vibe in the music underneath great female vocals. A well done tune and it’s a shame it’s only a shadow.

Edric Haleen had his tongue firmly planted in his cheek in his barbershop tune and scored big by bringing the humor while doing a great job with the a capella.

wait What?‘s song stood out by having a catchy chorus, a bit of a different style, some funny lyrics that made me laugh and it’s got something a lot of the other songs lack which is replay value. I can see myself listening to this after the round is over. Haleen’s song is a joke that’s going to die down. Now, some of wait What? jokes are crude but overall, it’s got charm. Plus, the “it’s hard being wait  W-H-A-T? wait What” line is already stuck in my head.

I am stunned by the vocals coming out of someone named Ruff. Ryan Smith brought some slick jazziness to his song. This is all so smooth and relaxing, it creates a lot of atmosphere. The we-ooh-we-ooh is a nice touch. This is quite the love letter to a hometown.

I found myself saying “He got a ringer!” when I heard Mitchell Adam Johnson‘s “London”. The vocals are incredibly strong and the production is very well done. It’s not an overly complex tune. It’s a straightforward ditty with just some accents to punch it up into a Ronson-like production. It’s well done and a winner in my book.

So, MAJ takes the win in my book but there are so many factors to judging such as all the stuff I talked about in the beginning that it’s still a wide open race. And for those wondering whatever happened to me doing a shadow song. I find myself a little busy these days as I’m about to change hometowns and returning to my beloved New York.

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19 Responses to “As the Spin Tunes #5”

  1. Russ Rogers Says:

    Brilliant review! I really like how you’ve thought out strategies for when to submit to leave the biggest impressions on the judges. And strategies for standing out from the crowd. Your honest and candid reviews are really appreciated too. Frankly, I couldn’t agree more with your assessment of my song. I’m not ashamed of it. It’s competent. There’s just not much to get excited about either. I wrote it too late to rewrite it. And I recorded it too late to polish and fully produce it. But, I got it in on time. So there may be a chance to give a better showing in Round 2.

  2. Appreciate the review! Minor correction, though. I only have one “f” in my name!

  3. Thanks for the review Niveous, I’m sure everyone in the contest appreciates getting another point of view.

  4. Quality review, Niveous. It’s refreshing to hear such a level-headed opinion. And thanks for the tactical tips – it looks like this might get serious…

  5. Hey niv, thanks for posting up some reviews a a lot of songs to ge through.. But “contempt?” really? Bummer.

    Hope to see what you think next round.

  6. Paul R. Potts Says:

    Nice comments about the ordering of the songs and the problems reviewing such a large batch.

    Just FYI, there is no acoustic guitar in “Leaving Ann Arbor” : )

  7. Here’s the problem…
    Tips for trying to *place* your song in an advantages place?
    Pointless;
    1-because you have NO idea how many songs will be sent in.
    2-there is an album with all the songs on it anyway.
    3-ANY judge worth his place AS a judge will not have placement as a concern. I doubt *very* much that the judges judge after one listen and all in one sitting and without knowing that extended listening sessions mean fatigue is likely to set in.
    4-It’s a song contest. The best *song* should win. Concentrate on writing the best song you can, not worry about when you’re sending it in. (Rushing to be first)

    Ultimately, all these things ever show is how different any two people’s opinions are – so placement does not matter a jot. I’d like to think the judges are above such things to allow placement to affect their standings.
    We ALL march to different beats…
    As an example, some of the reviews above I totally agree with.
    Some have left me scratching my head in confusion wondering if we’re listening to the same song.
    But also I wonder about consistency in these things.
    As an example… lets use MY song cos it wont offend anyone ….

    It doesn’t have a chorus? And that is used as a *negative*comment?
    Why?
    I use the phrase “the end of the world” three times.
    Edric uses the phrase “In Lansing Michigan” three times is it a chorus?
    I don’t think so, but there is no negativity put to that… Inconsistent.

    But it is also suggested that neither Den nor I don’t KNOW that a chorus can be a hook?
    Trust me, the writers of Tom Furby, Ghoul Tide, Doing what makes you feel happy, Invisible girl, Why? and Stranded (Even “Just cant find a virgin” in this SAME round) are WELL aware of the hookiness of choruses… But some songs don’t need one.
    We weren’t writing a catchy pop song. We were writing a love song.
    It didn’t have a chorus cos it didn’t need one.
    Some people may get that, some people may not.
    But *I* feel the criteria for a song contest is… Is the song *good*.
    Not does it tick boxes.
    And *I* think it’s the most beautiful song I’ve ever written.
    But, yes, I’m glad to say those who have listened to it tend to agree.
    And that’s why I revert back to what I said during MY time as a judge for ST…
    MY advice?
    FORGET what anyone else thinks.
    Write the best song YOU can.
    Because you will NEVER please everyone. (Never)

    Excelsior.

  8. glen nesbitt Says:

    Good review. While I agree with Joe (above) that judges should not use placement as an influence, the psychology is undeniable. This is why I volunteer first in classroom presentations- you get graded higher with less comparisons.

    If the judges really do feel that the placement matters, or subsequently the contestants after readng this article, one should start at #1, another at #8, another at #15, and another at #21 to make contestants feel it is more even. Just a thought.

    By the way, I loved a lot of the songs. If anyone cares what I think, my top three, the ones I can imagine hearing on KCRW (LA’s hipster eclectic station) considering both craftsmanship and production value are Ben Walker, Ryan Ruff Smith, and my iTunes entry Mitchell Adam Johnson.

  9. Wow. I had no idea SpinTunes was going to go PRISON RULES so quickly. Before this descends into a bloodbath can I at least point out that this whole experience is FUN and BEAUTIFUL? I love having a context to get to know other musicians (and judges).

    Anyway. Enough hippiness. I’m going to submit my next song before the challenge is even published. Straight to number one, baby…

    We all know reviews are entirely subjective and that, when you get down to it, NO ONE KNOWS WHAT MUSIC EVEN IS. That’s why there are loads of judges. I know I have no legs to stand on (because I came out of the review quite well – but that’s not to say that the quite good review didn’t hurt like a dagger thrust deep into my sensitive muso-hipster heart), but I really appreciate Niveous’s honesty. There’s nothing worse than a mild-mannered critic.

    Sorry. Just wanted to jump in and derail the negative train. I’m really enjoying getting to know you guys!

    • Thanks Ben. Quite true. Music is in the eye of the beholder. And I love meeting all these new musicians. This is a positive experience for me, even with the occasional bloodshed.

  10. Patrick Boerner Says:

    I think I agree with most of these reviews. But seriously, I thought this was a SONGWRITING COMPETITION, not a “who has the best voice competition”? You seem extremely biased towards the voices you appreciate more. Hard for me to think of these reviews as being credible but I do agree with some for sure. Amateur review at best. Don’t waste your time if you don’t know how to write a review. Just a thought.

    • Glad you agreed with most of the amateurish reviews. I took a few minutes out of my day to make a “brief” review of the songs. I’m not a judge this time around. I didn’t have to write much. I just basically did some bullet points. If you don’t like that fact, you don’t have to read my reviews. Wanna show me how to write a better review? I’ll be here, waiting to be dazzled.

      As for my vocal bias… songs with voices I like better got ranked higher than songs with voices that I didn’t like as much. Doesn’t seem that unusual to do.

      But let’s get down to brass tacks. This is about the Charlie McCarron review. The vocals stuck out like a sore thumb with me, so in my “brief” review, I talked about the thing that stood out the most. I just don’t think he had a great performance and that detracted from the rest of the song. Sorry for leaving out the other aspects but sometimes one bad part can ruin the whole.

      If you think SpinTunes is all about the songwriting and not about the performance, you’re mistaken. Just a thought.

      • Meghan Handke Says:

        Hi there,

        I appreciate that you took the time to review all the songs (there were a ton). I think you have a quality viewpoint and obviously know about music.

        Regardless of whether performance should or should not matter in a songwriting competition, the fact that you rated CMC second-to-last astounds me. His song is amazing! Definitely better than a song with no chords at all, or a song you basically DQ’d… and with vocals fully in-tune, how can you fault a guy that heavily for the natural tone of his voice? I think it’s awesome, and lends a daydreamy feel to his musically inventive, daydreamy song.

        I, for one, am glad he made it through the cuts. Can’t wait to hear more.

        In general, I do appreciate your effort, opinions, and excellent punctuation. Looking forward to your next review as well.

  11. Patrick Boerner Says:

    You nailed it with the brass tacks which I think goes to show you knew it was inconsistent with the rest of these reviews. I truly think “Stillwater MN air” is a brilliant song and your review surprised me. You are entitled to your opinions and I do appreciate your efforts. I apologize for being rude– I was just a bit taken aback.

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