Saturday, December 27, 2014

Four Days to Finish, and SongFight Votes Posted

Only four days to go, and there's still plenty to do.

I have a pretty good plan for song #4 - the next SongFight title was posted yesterday ("Three Stars"), and since I didn't have any other ideas I just started riffing on that.  I already have most of the instrumental tracks recorded, and I have a plan for the vocals.  I still need to do the vocals on demo #2, and I'll clean up the Grim Reality vocal tracks afterwards if I have time.

The polls are closed on the Grim Reality SongFight, the votes were tallied, and I got 3 votes.  That means that the regular SongFighters/voters didn't like the song, few if any of the readers of this blog (which boasts a readership in the mid-single-digits) voted for the song, and less than half of my immediate family (or maybe none of them) voted for the song.  Some important points:
1) the song didn't deserve votes because at best it was a rough recording with bad vocals,
2) there are no prizes and no accolades for SongFight winners so there was nothing at stake, and
3) I made submitting to SongFight a requirement of the Commuter Challenge for reasons unrelated to vote count (it was more about deadlines and participation), so the vote count should be irrelevant to me.

But since the count was so very very low, it sorta isn't irrelevant.  That SongFight vote count is my only empirical gauge of interest and encouragement.  I have always been acutely aware of the fact that my vocal skills are nil, but the poor showing also suggests that I am on the wrong track in terms of both content and execution.  My motivation for taking on this Commuter Challenge, and for making music at all, is ostensibly unrelated to the reception the music gets, but if that is actually true then why am I keeping this blog?  I need to re-think my motives and my goals.

As I'd suspected might happen, I'm going to have to "phone in" the CD cover art aspect of the challenge due to the time constraints.  My attempts to channel Wayne White will have to wait.  Better yet, maybe I should try to come up with an original idea instead of trying to borrow Mr. White's style.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

"Grim Reality" SongFight songs posted

They've posted the songs for the "Grim Reality" SongFight at .  I listened to my submission again and I think the assessment in my previous post is still accurate.  By the time of the deadline, it came down to the choice of submitting it to SongFight it as-is or not submitting it at all.  Even though I'm not perfectly happy with the recording I think that I made the right decision to submit what I had.  If nothing else, then at least the SongFight part of the Commuter Challenge has been completed.

As I'd mentioned before, if you want to vote you can visit, listen to the songs and click the ones you like.  Voting doesn't involve registering or sitting through ads or paying for anything.  The site moderators ('Fightmasters') urge people to vote for all of the songs they like instead of just one song.  I ended up voting for a bunch of them, and I think Inflatable Vegetables and The Worldly Self-Assurance have particularly strong entries this week.

As for the EP cover art:  I found what I believe will be the painting that I will try to Wayne White-ize, unless I run out of time and end up just phoning something in:

Got this number for $8 at a thrift store.  It appealed to me because it was cheap, it's big (image size around 23" x 17"), and it features a fair amount of water so I can play with the reflections of the letters. The drawbacks are that the original image is a watercolor (and I'll necessarily be altering it with oil paint, acrylic paint, or watercolor on either white acrylic paint or pasted-on paper additions), the image is a little sun-faded, and of course I might not have the painting skills to pull it off convincingly in the first place.

If for no other reason than to continue to provide pics for this blog, I will post in-progress photo updates of the cover art attempt.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

SongFight regrets and a photo just because

I don't do Twitter or Facebook yet (I'll probably start one and/or the other in 2015), so besides email I don't really have another platform to share weird pics.  Since I want to continue to try to make this blog less of a text-fest here's a photo of this year's Thanksgiving turkey, even though it has nothing to do with Jerkatorium:

We had Thanksgiving dinner at an aunt's house and they'd jammed this twelve-pound turkey into a little toaster oven.  I laughed so hard.  It was pressed up against all of the inside walls of the oven - we really hard to push and pull to get it out of there.  To be fair, it was a pre-cooked turkey from the store so they were just warming it up for an hour or so per the instructions on the package.  And it tasted great.

Back to the music:

The "Grim Reality" SongFight songs are not posted at yet.  I'll post another update as soon as they are.  Since submitting my Grim Reality song to SongFight, I've listened to the recording a few more times and I think it sounds really rough.  The guitar is fine enough, but a lot of the vocals are very noticeably out of tune. I'd been pretty pleased with myself for re-recording (and thus slightly improving) the vocals for the first verse just prior to submission the morning of the deadline, but after listening to the song a couple more times I'm realizing that I should have re-recorded almost all of the vocals.

I am irrationally reluctant to use sound effects in these songs, so there is no auto-tuning in the recording.  I played around with it a bit, but my only attempt sounded awful.  I think that my acoustic guitar was slightly out of tune (i.e. in tune with itself in terms of pitch relation among the strings, but not in tune with a 261.6 Hz C4 note standard) so when I tried to apply GarageBand's pitch correction to my vocal track it pushed my voice into proper tuning, which was out of tune with the guitar.  So I switched back to my unaltered vocals and that was what I submitted.  Maybe I can apply pitch correction to the entire song (guitar and vocals) after the fact.  I probably should have learned more about GarageBand before starting this thing.

I'm also thinking that I shouldn't be shy about adding effects to the songs, especially since my singing is nowhere near the quality I'd prefer.  Heck, people consider Adam Levine to be an accomplished vocalist, and he is the personification of auto-tuning; every note he has ever recorded sounds more robot than human.

The SongFight submission out of my hands at this point.  My first-ever SongFight entry is nowhere near as good as I'd hoped, but it has the virtue of being done (such as it is) and submitted, which is much better than the many, many times over the past dozen years that I considered submitting something to SongFight and then didn't.

As for this Commuter Challenge EP project, I am definitely going to try to improve the quality of Grim Reality before the end of the month, but (as noted earlier), I need to make the other songs presentable first.  That means I need to re-record the vocals for Butterfly, I need to write and record vocals for demo #2, and I need to compose song #4 before re-visiting Grim Reality.  Maybe I'll wait for the next SongFight title before starting on song #4 so I can make that one another SongFight submission...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

SongFight Song Submitted

So here we are, 77% of the way through our through our three-month challenge and I am 25% done with my project (which seems better than average for me).  That's right, I completed one whole song and submitted it to SongFight.  The SongFight title for this week was "Grim Reality".  

My timeline for submitting to SongFight before November 30 was really all about avoiding having to scramble to write an original song for SongFight at the last minute, so even though I checked that requirement off the list a little later than I'd wanted to, I'm still considering it a victory. is a great idea and a great site.  They announce a song title and participants write, record and submit an original song with that title before the deadline, which is usually within about ten days.  It's been going strong for almost 15 years, and in that time participants have submitted over 10,600 songs.  I have been listening and voting on and off since 2001, and some of my favorite songs in the world were SongFight submissions - I have around 500 songs on my phone and probably 15% of those songs came from SongFight.  Some SongFighters have gone on to slightly bigger/better things: at least six of the songs on MC Frontalot's first two albums were originally SongFight songs, Jim of Seattle got some viral fame with his "Welcome to Windows" SongFight submission, and Spinto Band's "Needlepoint" was originally submitted to the "Jimmy Hat" SongFight under the pseudonym Carol Cleveland Sings (okay so it's not like the Quarrymen turning into the Beatles or anything, but it's still good music).

The submission deadline for the "Grim Reality" title was just this morning, so of course they haven't posted the new fight submissions yet.  The songs are still up on the website for last week's "No Takebacks" fight, and there are some great entries spanning a variety of styles; 80s disco, country rock, hard rock, power ballad, rap, and an a cappella submission from Tyler Zahnke (who, as far as I know, is still participating in the Long-Form Commuter Challenge too).  Go to, listen and vote - you don't register or pay for anything, you just listen to music and then click to vote on the songs you like.

I'll post another update when the Grim Reality songs (including my submission) are posted.

As for the song itself, I guess I'm happy enough with what I recorded.  It's just me and my Silvertone acoustic guitar (plus a cameo riff or two on my cheapo resonator guitar in the background of the chorus) If I have time before the end of the month I'd still like to dink around with the track, re-record a bunch of the vocals and maybe add a bridge, but since that song is in a more-or-less presentable state I'll need to prioritize the other 3 songs first.

As promised, here's a photo:

It's my cheap, impossible-to-tune, E-string-eating resonator guitar next to Buko.  Buko is the only truly talented vocalist in this household.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

November's sub-par entries done

Almost every post in this blog says the same thing:  I haven't posted an update for a while due to work travel.  This post is no different, since I spent most of the past week and a half in Vancouver, BC for work.

Before leaving for Canada, I'd submitted my November updates to Brian.  As of the time I'm typing this they haven't been posted at the Commuter Challenge website yet, and I'm thankful for that because they're pretty meager.  I'm happy enough with one of the songs (the one I'm calling song #3 for now) even though it only has two vocal verses (out of three planned) written and recorded but no chorus or bridge.  On the other hand, song #4 is barely even a skeleton.  I'd decided to try something with accordion and distorted electric guitar and it sounded horrible, so I completely scrapped it and emailed Brian some Garageband bass loops I'd hastily pasted together.  Song #4 is hardly a demo version of anything, but I'm still going to claim that it's officially a demo in order to avoid the harsh penalty of our mutual extortion pact.

Another disappointment is that I have not yet submitted anything to SongFight, but I'm thinking that song #3 will become an entry for this week's SongFight (if I can get my act together and complete it).  The title has to be "Grim Reality" and it is due Wednesday morning (10DEC2014).  I have no work travel between now and then, and I intend to spend most of this weekend working on the songs, so I should be able to finish something.

So let's take stock:

Song #1 is my cover version of "Butterfly" by CandyShoppe.  At the bare minimum, I need to insert Andy's vocals (or re-do the vocals entirely) and tweak the levels on everything.

Song #2 is mostly done as far as the backing music is concerned, but I still have no lyrics or vocal melody worked out.  I know that will take some time and effort.

Song #3 has a solid base to build upon, and I'm going to try to get it essentially finished this weekend so that I can submit it to SongFight as "Grim Reality".  I need to write another verse and the chorus.

Song #4 barely even exists, but I'm going to take the approach I described in my last post and try to come up with a simple and catchy tune.  I'm thinking distorted guitar, uncomplicated bassline, straightforward drumbeat, and a lot of vocal harmonies if I can manage.  I am even thinking of making the words more or less random in order to illustrate the point that I'd brought up in my previous post.

CD cover art:  I haven't even started this, but I'm thinking of ripping off Wayne White's style to the best of my limited abilities.  In the late 90s or maybe the early 00s I saw a painting by him entitled "Spooky Western 2000" on display at a diner called Fred 62 in Los Angeles, and I thought it was brilliant.  While looking for an online image of that painting to link to for this blog, I found out that it is currently in the collection of film and music video director Charles Stone III.  Neither of them will ever find or read this blog, but on the off chance they do:  Mr. White, please forgive me if I attempt an inept and derivative imitation of your style for my fake CD cover art for my fake EP CD.  And Mr. Stone:  I admire your work, and I love that painting, please post a pic of "Spooky Western 2000" online somewhere, even if only in the background of one of your selfies.

Anyway, there is a lot for me to do in the next 25 days.  This weekend I intend to finish song #3 (probably "Grim Reality" for SongFight).  I will try to work the recordings of Andy's voice into the "Butterfly" cover and/or re-record the vocals this weekend, too.  After that I can work on and off (depending on work travel and etc) weeknights and weekends until Xmas.  From Xmas until New Year's Eve I'll be able to devote a lot more time to this project because I'll be off work that entire time.

I apologize for the continuing lack of photos in this blog.  I highly recommend clicking on that Wayne White link to check out his work, or even just do a Google image search to see great examples.