Recipe for a Generic Pop Song

On the 8th of November this year, it will be 41 years since the release date of what is widely regarded as the greatest song ever written: Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin. Now personally, although I love the song, I don’t think it is the greatest of all time but for the purposes of this post, let’s just assume it is.

Now in that 41 years, can we still say that the music released is of the same standard, substance, and longevity as songs such as Stairway to Heaven and other masterpieces of it’s generation and those previous? Really, is it plausible to think that in another 40 years time, people might regard the music of today as highly and consider them masterpieces? With no due respect what-so-ever, I really don’t think the time, effort, work and genuine soul that ARTISTS put into their work 40 years ago is present in today’s music and pop culture. Because that is exactly what the work they produced could be considered as: Art.

Now I know there are some of you out there who are permanant residents of  ‘the fence’ and like to appear suprerior in a musical argument by playing the whole “music is subjective” card and “everyone has different tastes, so why bother arguing” song and dance. And I cannot refute those statements (irritating as they might be). What I can argue though, are the differences in the process to which songs today are written and produced and recieved by the public. As unlike trying to argue whether one song is better an other is a purely subjective, the aforementioned can be argued from an objective stance. So sit back fencers, you might actually have to form an OPINION!!!
Obviously, as a ‘trainee journalist’ and in no way a ranting man, I have done the necessary investigative work in order to further support my opinion. And I am so commited to this piece that I have been working non-stop to get it right. Every day for the last year infact; every time I turn on my car; every time I go out with friends; every time I turn on the TV…Infact, arguably I have been forming and moulding this opinion since my brain was competent enough to memorise sounds. Yes, since my childhood, my ears have been bombarded by music. All types of music. Some good, some bad. But at the time I had no real distinction between the two. My first recollection of music that I felt was my own, that meant something to me, was the day I got Green Day’s American Idiot album. Only then were my ears filled with sounds and words that I had a visceral connnection to. It wasn’t another catchy chorus; it wasn’t what was popular with friends; it was…real music!

That album, was the cornerstone of which my music taste was built on. I would certainly not pigeon-hole myself into a particular genre but that is the point: from that album, I have continually expanded and diversified the music I listen to to incorporate practically everything. And only when you can appreciate so many types of music can you really understand what goes into creating the sounds, the words and the stories that undeniably become a part of us.

That, was my intro, here is what I am really driving at…
For the purposes of comparison, I am going to take a model song that I hate in the charts at the moment: How We Do by Rita Ora. Firstly, this song doesn’t even have a gramatically correct title but let’s not be too pedantic to begin with. I will get onto lyrical content soon…
Recipe for a Generic Pop Song

Method

Step 1: Intro
The intro for your Pop Song first and foremost must be instantly recognisable and have the same affect on the listener as 200volts to the backside (in other words: makes them want to dance). As in How We Do by Rita Ora, they have opted for the ‘sing-along-vocals and guitar only’. A very widely used approach as seen in Good Feeling by Flo-Rida and You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful by One Direction. Alternatives can be diving straight into the main melody of the song more often than not played on the synth (see We Found Love by Calvin Harris feat. Rihanna) or the more complex option being a softer introduction, trying to decieve the audience before hitting them with ‘da beat’ (Chasing the Sun by The Wanted). To judge whether your introduction is successful, your audience should collectively shout “AWWWWWW!!!” upon hearing it. The intro basically is the rest of the song so if you get it right just press copy, paste and your done!

Step 2: Main Melody/Theme
Now, pop songs are aimed at the youth of today. And what do they love to do more than anything else? Partying! Or so pop songs keep telling me…So what you want for the melody of your pop song is more than anything just a really loud, bass and synth driven, repititve chord progression that must be in a major key (because hey, who wants to hear something depressing right?). The only exception of the key of the song (for those of you not musically literate, major=sounds happy; minor=sounds sad) is if the song is sexually suggestive. A master of this technique is Rihanna. However, for basic melodies good examples come from Nicki Minaj, Cheryl Cole etc…And yes, they really do always sound the same!

Step 3: Da Bass
Now I know I briefly mentioned bass in the previous step but this one is important. Infact it is fundamental to modern music in general. The reason people dance, the reason people have a strong reaction to this music is essentially the beat. See that constant, unrelenting, pounding you feel on the dancefloor? That’s what is called a 4/4 bass drum beat. Nothing more. Basically, a computer has been programmed with this as the default to every song released. With this in your song, people cannot resist to move your song. It is in our blood as human beings; as animals. We have a reflex reaction to a drum beat, a setting that was installed when our ancestors were first experimenting with rhythm with their sheep skin bongos around a fire. So in order for your song to be played in clubs where your audience is, it needs this essential ingredient.

Step 4: Lyrics
“There’s a lady who’s sure, all that glitters is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven…”
Yuck! See those lyrics – pointless in a modern pop song.Why? Too ambiguous, too wordy, too much…meaning! Who wants to sing along to that after a few jagerbombs right! No, for your modern pop song all you really need are 5 words. 5 words. It really is that simple! All these words need to be is easy to remember and to reflect the setting in which they are being sung. For example, 5 words at random for your song could be “party”, “night”, “baby”, “good”, “time”. These are probably the 5 most used words in modern music because that is what people are doing these days! That’s all they want to hear! Why be reminded of inconvenient subjects such as the recession, poverty, war, corruption and the such when you can not challenge yourself at all and just think of how GREATyour night is!

Step 5: Musical Talent
You kidding? No, for modern music all that is required is a laptop and a face to attatch to the Apple Garage Band production. You may be sucked into the lie that those adorable little boy band members have real musical prowess when they’re doing an acoustic version of their already annoying song with a guitar but really, they have no more skill on a 6-string than a lepar. So really no genuine, raw talent need be found. Even for vocals, as today we have the beautiful invention of Auto-Tune, which to the untrained ear is practically undetectable, so don’t go to too much effort in this stage of making your pop song.

Step 6: The aforementioned ‘Face’
What you really want to strive for when completing your pop song is the cherry on top to make it all the sweeter. And that cherry has to be a real shiner, so no rotters. Think Rihanna; think One Direction; Nicki Minaj (so I hear); Cheryl Cole. Wonderfully crafted tools which don’t necessarily have any real ability but look good pretending to know. So to really give your song some ‘zing’ I suggest only the best.

And that should be about you! Once your pop song is packaged and ready to be displayed, always remember that this process can be recycled to produce similar results again and again until humanity collectively goes insane because of brain damage caused by excessive bass exposure. At which point, the only music we will be able to hear is the harmonising screams from the other patients in the psychiatric institution we all share!

I have been Ryan Stewart, thank you for reading my miserable blog post. I cannot be held responsible for any injuries or fatalities you cause to yourself or others following the reading of these words. But cheers all the same!

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Should great power equal great responsibility?

Over the past week it has been reported by several news outlets that musicians Rihanna and Chris Brown are apparently ‘weeks away’ from confirming that they have reconciled romantically. Ordinarily such news could quite easily be dismissed as trivial gossip but to anyone readily aware of the couple’s turbulent history this news in fact presents a complex moral dilemma.

As many will be aware in 2009 Brown was sentenced to five years’ probation and six months community labour for a brutal assault carried out on then-girlfriend Rihanna. The attack left Rihanna with visible facial injuries and Brown with what many at the time considered an unsalvageable reputation. Their relationship abruptly ended with Rihanna – in one of the few interviews she gave following the attack – citing one of the main reasons behind her decision to leave Brown as an inability to continue the relationship in the knowledge that young fans of hers suffering in violent relationships might see her decision to go back to her abusive lover as a sign that they should also be willing to do the same. She was applauded by many for this choice. However, in the three years that have passed since his sentencing not only has Brown’s career made a near-complete recovery with his amassing two US number one albums and a Grammy award (a controversial topic in itself) but it would also appear now that he could be on the brink of fully rekindling his romance with the woman he once savagely beat. These rumours alone have ignited a ferocious response with many branding Rihanna a terrible role model to the young people who look up to her. This story obviously sheds further light on the ever-divisive issue of whether or not it can ever be appropriate to forgive and forget in scenarios of domestic violence but what particularly interests me is that it raises the question of just how much do we/should we rely on celebrities to communicate sound moral messages to the youth of today?

Whilst I take the view that the responsibility for shaping the moral values of a child should always lie ultimately with the parental figure(s) in their life it would be naïve of me to ignore the fact that influence from the media on a child’s overall world view is completely unavoidable. Every day children are bombarded, certainly not unwillingly, with images and messages that constantly mold their attitudes regarding how they should perceive specific people (themselves included) and specific issues. Many would argue that individuals in the music industry have one of, if not the most, powerful platforms for widespread influence in the world. Taking Rihanna herself as an example: here we have a woman who is currently followed by over 26 million people on Twitter, liked by over 60 million on Facebook and was this year named as one of the most influential people in the world by Times Magazine. Social networking plays an increasingly prominent role in the lives of young people with each passing day and her position within that world allows her to communicate literally any fleeting thought that pops into her head to what would in 2006 have equated to more than the entire population of the United Kingdom. Has this hugely influential position at all affected the content of the material she posts? Not at all. This year alone Rihanna has been criticised on several occasions for sharing photographs and messages that contain everything from profane language to drug use to what many would consider soft-core pornography i.e. hardly the kind of thing any parent would want their children exposed to. Though I agree that such content is completely inappropriate for children and that it has become perhaps far too easy for them to access it I would also argue that realistically celebrities such as Rihanna should not be expected to act as beacons of morality to our children purely because they are celebrities.

Celebrities are to my mind made up simplistically of two types of people: People who pursue a craft in which a by-product of success is public recognition and people who crave fame and will do more or less anything to get it. The point I’m making here is that you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in either group who walked up to the career advisor and said ‘when I grow up I want to be a role model’.  There appears to be an unspoken clause in the hypothetical contract of celebrity that anyone in the public eye should be willing to conduct themselves in a manner befitting with the moral standards of society. I stress that this unofficial rule is exactly that – unofficial. Once again using Rihanna as an example; it seems illogical that people would expect a young, childless woman whose profession thrives on controversy and uninhibited self expression to tone it down for fear of upsetting people she doesn’t know. The same goes for her various social networking exploits. Twitter and Facebook are designed for sharing details of your personal life so if her personal life happens to involve things that society vilifies but she deems appropriate to display then why should she hold back? After all is it her fault that millions of people care at all about what she says or does? Returning to the original news story, perhaps people are right to criticise the decision to reunite with an abusive ex but at the end of the day our decisions, and indeed our mistakes, are ultimately our own to make – so why should this courtesy not be extended to those under the spotlight?

Though the actions of celebrities that fall on the darker side of morally grey undoubtedly pose a threat to the moral integrity of today’s youth it’s arguable that so too, perhaps more so, does the naivety of parents who expect that people in the public eye are automatically going to behave in a saintly manner.

Audio, Video, Disco – Song by Song

Finally, the hype-train has arrived at the station. The doors hiss open, and as you step out you are greeted by two peculiar looking French fellows. One sports a rather fetching handlebar moustache, whilst his partner looks more like a Brazilian Cillian Murphy. It’s Justice, wearing questionable black-leather biker jackets and tight jeans. Without a word, they hand you a copy of their new album – “Audio, Video, Disco” and a pair of large headphones, just before disappearing in a poof of smoke for another few years. Tentatively, you slide on the headphones and press play; the dulcet horns of Genesis echoing in your memory, as you briefly reminisce back to when the original album swept you away to a nocturnal land where the earthrumbling bass of ‘Waters of Nazareth’, otherwordly synths of ‘Let There Be Light’ and the infectious child-vocals of ‘D.A.N.C.E’ led you on one of the most memorable electronic adventures of your life.  You await a similar experience to that of ‘Cross’ of course; why fix what isn’t broken? You glance down at the new cover art-work, and notice (as you are particularly attentive) that it is identical to ‘Cross’, yet it is lit up and bright rather than dark and grungy. Does that perhaps indicate a change of sound and style, whilst still staying true to the core of what made the original album great? (Yes, yes it does.) Continue reading

The Fruit Tree Foundation – ‘First Edition’ review

In recent years there has been an increase in the number of super groups in the music world, such as Them Crooked Vultures and Chicken Foot, but that world has always been missing one thing – a super group with kilts, beards and a particular taste for Irn Bru. That’s right, we have our first ever Scottish super group.

The Fruit Tree Foundation is a project to raise awareness of The Mental Health Foundation which contains members of Idlewild, Frightened Rabbit, The Twilight Sad, Sparrow and the Workshop and more. With such a talented bunch of songwriters from some of my favourite bands collaborating on the one album I was desperately excited to get a listen, and it did not disappoint.

So many different musicians working together guarantees one thing – diversity, and this diversity is demonstrated immediately in ‘First Edition’. The opening track, an acoustic guitar number featuring delicate piano and the vocal talents of The Twilight Sad’s James Graham, is followed by a fast paced, ridiculously catchy tune entitled ‘Forgotten Anniversary’ which would make even the best of us want to dance.

The third track on the album, ‘Favourite Son,’ is a particular highlight in my humble opinion. A simple rhythm guitar section combined with a heavy handed drum beat gives the song a strong basis to build on, and it is built upon superbly with guitar parts, which would not be out of place on an Arctic Monkeys’ record, and the powerful vocal back up of both Emma Pollock and Jill O’Sullivan.

The sheer variety of ‘First Edition’ is perhaps demonstrated in its finest form in‘ Beware Beware,’ which would be best listened to around a campfire by a group of people dressed in kilts, truly a wonderful piece of Scottish music.

There is never a point in the album where the listener becomes bored or wants to skip a particular song. The more upbeat songs, such as ‘Singing For Strangers’ and ‘All Gone But One’ have me tapping my foot and singing along without fail. Whereas the slightly more delicate numbers, ‘Fall Arch’ and ‘After Hours’, in particular, contain beautiful vocal harmonies that grasp the listener’s attention to the point where one is staring in awe at the computer screen wondering if the people creating the music are quite as gorgeous as the music itself.

‘First Edition’ finishes as it started, with a quiet acoustic number based around simple acoustic guitar work and delicate piano, with the vocals supplied in brilliant fashion this time by James Yorkston and Jill O’Sullivan. ‘Just As Scared’ proves the perfect finale to a simply brilliant album which, although it has literal highs and lows in terms of volume, instrumentation and pace, stays constant in the superb quality.

The Fruit Tree Foundation have created a truly fantastic album which I would recommend to anyone who likes good music and cutesy Scottish accents. (Maybe not for fans of Them Crooked Vultures)

-Calum Wilson (@_calumMDSN)

We Have A Ghost music review

We Have A Ghost are an instrumentalist based band, mixing between slow and fiery paced songs and verge on reminding me of a ‘chilled out’ Crystal Castles. The use of synthesizer gives the band an electric feel, but they use it in an unconventional manner as their songs ooze ambience and offer an elevating feel as a pose to an upbeat vibrant one, most electrical based bands and artists tend to delve towards.

The first song of the album – The Secret – has a well-constructed blend of drums, electrics, guitars and piano that give you an initial idea of what the band is about and acts as a befitting introduction for a decent ten song album.

 Computerrox – the second song of the album, is a vibrant electronic sound that could be easily featured in the background of an action movie car chase. The drums compliment the song justly as they build up all the way into the crescendo of the song and aid it in being dexterously entertaining.

Electric Blanket – has all the connotations of comfort and relaxation the title implies with a perpetual drum beat and rhythm that makes one reposed. The song offers a new way of enjoying an instrumentalist and an electronic based song as you find it, to use the colloquial term, trippy! The introduction of vocals also contributes to the space-y aspect of the song.

The Incident – is more conventional in terms of the style it proposes. With a slow build up and only a slightly expeditious chorus the song lacks in substance and leaves you feeling like it isn’t really going anywhere. Perhaps it is the repetitive format of the song or maybe it is the perpetual sounding rhythms across the album that makes this particular song irksome and tiring to listen to.

Half way through the album now and song 5 – It Is What It Is – brings me back to enjoying the album. With carefully acquainted drums the song seems to make a little more sense. Although the song still strikes you as perpetual you can appreciate and relish it in the same way as Electric Blanket as the unconventionality is both intriguing and titillating.

Walk Away – has a slightly darker sound to it than Electric Blanket but the reintroduction of vocals aid the album in remaining enticing and not falling into the danger of each song becoming same-y. The song again adapts the format of a slow building start leading into an elevating crescendo.

Song 7 – Meadow – for the most part is technically on point. However the real life sounding objects like smashing and pots banging in the background alienates me as a listener as it distracts me from fully engaging with the song and instead forces me to clasp my ears to prevent a visceral effect (okay it’s not that bad but I had to say something funny)! The song has a lot going for it but in the duration of four and a half minutes not much additions or adaptations occur leaving it feeling like a looped song and again becomes a little hard to fully engage in.

Song 8 – To Begin Again – starts subtly in its intro but if catchy where to be used to describe any song on the album this would be the one! If vocals where used in the breaks and bridges of this song it would make it by far the best song on the album. Despite the absence of vocals the song does offer more than the Meadow with my only real criticism being that the outro is way too stretched out.

 Marymoor Park – to reiterate, begins to become again like a looped song. The consistency of the rhythm would become dull if it were not for the usage of real life sounds, in this case dogs barking in the background. Unlike my friend song 7 The Meadow the noises work appropriately and entice as a pose to distract.

The concluding song of the album is by far the most interesting song out of the ten. The song opens like a ballet dance piece with a soft sounding piano based melody as the dominant feature of the song, which I should add, I liked.

After being gripped by the first fifty seconds of the song it suddenly takes a drastic change into a much darker sounding song that is nonsensical to the opening and in my opinion doesn’t really work; especially as the two sets of melodies don’t integrate as you can clearly hear the pause between the two. At two minutes forty the song again changes into a grunge sounding fuelled crescendo which, despite being radical is better than the middle section of the song. The integration of the opening to the song with an appropriate sounding rhythm and melody would have potentially been an epic sounding song.

We Have A Ghost demonstrate a lot of promise in this ten song album through their unconventionality and unique stamp on the instrumentalist and electronic genre. However I felt that the band needed to be more varied in their songs to keep the audience engaged. I also felt like something was missing through the album and strongly think the band would be much more appealing with the frequent use of vocals, however all in all it is a decent album that for the most part I enjoyed.

(http://independentmusicnews.co.uk/wehaveaghost/)

– Joseph Gawne

If you enjoy listening to and reading about alternative and independent music then visit www.independentmusicnews.co.uk and follow me on twitter @JoeGawne.

Angus Council’s Survey Suggests More Cuts to Music Could Be on the Way

By Amy Louise Grant

More cuts to music education could be expected throughout Angus it has been announced. A recent survey published by the council asks the public whether they should cut the number of specialist visiting teachers to primary schools.

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Live Fast; Die Pretty?

The loss of Amy Winehouse shocked the nation this summer, but last week it was reported that the levels of alcohol in her system were beyond lethal. Over the years many wonderful musicians have passed away prematurely, is there a reason for this? Katie McKinnon has her own ideas with this Podcast: