Maybe I've been hiding under a rock for too long, or maybe it's because I'm a keyboard player who's never had a strong desire to play Beatles covers. Either way, I had never heard of what I now realise is often described as the most mysterious chord in music - the opening chord in the Beatles' "Hard Days Night".
The first chord of this song is renowned for its difficulty to be replicated. Earlier this week though it has been claimed that a British mathematician has solved the mystery
and figured out the notes actually being played at the start of the track.
Though a little further digging on YouTube indicates that he may not have been the first... check out the video below. What do you think?
This song I wrote in around 1996 - it has evolved very little since then. I composed this back then on a 61-key Ensoniq SQ-1+ synth
There have been a few iterations of this track over the years, with the somewhat undecided track title originating from my high school nickname of Wombler (long story) and the fact that I played in a metal band with some friends in which we wrote lyrics to this song and fully "orchestrated" it, titling it "The Sweetest Lullaby" in that incarnation.
I love that this is a very "linear" song, there are no repeating sections, but an adventure from start to finish through various tempos and time signatures. Enjoy...
The Music Machine
Around a month ago I wrote an article titled "The Unknowns of the Top 40 Charts - Producers and Front-Liners
The post contained a summary of some less-commonly-known realities of pop music composition.
After some discussion, I ended the article with the comment "When the power to the machines is switched off, all the samples and pre-programmed loops are lost and all you have is your talent, what do you bring to the table?".
The response to this question was fast-received and overwhelming, including the rather comical to-and-fro which appears in the comments directly beneath my blog.
However some of the most interesting feedback I received was through other forums, namely various LinkedIn groups which are not publicly accessible. I wanted to share these as a follow-on to my original article. I hope you enjoy as I did...
- "Here in Nashville, it's all about the words almost to the point of negating the musical content." - Randy Gabbard
- "I'd rather see more musicians who are taking the risk of NOT using the template get in front of the same demographics of those who do. One of my fondest memories, in response to your last comment, Paul, was a time when the power went out at a Chicago venue I was playing. I stepped off the stage, walked into the middle of the crowd, and performed there instead. When the power came back on, the stage manager turned the lights back off. The machine, literally or figuratively, can bring out the best and the worst...and sometimes make you write too much." - Kevin Mileski
- "Had a great night once at a rock club in central Illinois. The power went out so the lead singer and I (on acoustic guitar) sat on the front edge of the stage and played to the crowd that gathered and sat down on the dance floor. Our soundman used a flashlight to "spotlight" us." - Bud Summers
- "In spite of all that is going on in Top 40 today, I believe that this phase shall pass and we will enter a period in the music business where talent and the ability to connect with an audience will be the defining characteristics of popular and successful artists. Adele certainly demonstrated this." - Tom Netzel
- "I think the pop charts have always been this way - a light sprinkling of genuinely creative artists with their own material interspersed amongst the plethora of manufactured pop stars. The latter often have their music carefully crafted for them by a relatively small group of talented composers and songwriters. Thee factory-line approach can produce music that is a little too similar at times, but that is sort of the point - creating or maybe sometimes just following current trends and cashing in. It can still create some seriously classic, memorable pop songs though and shouldn't necessarily be dismissed as less worthy than the more independent acts...
- Motown and Atlantic in the 1960s produced some great stuff with a seriously conveyor belt approach at times. Stock Aitken and Waterman had a few classics amongst their instant throwaway pop as well...
- Speaking from personal experience - working to guidelines / a tight structure / a formula can often be quite motivating and an actual aid to creativity - gives the mind a specific focus. " - Mark Taylor
The Music Machine
I recently read this fantastic post from The New Yorker - "The Song Machine: The Hitmakers Behind Rihanna
It was an excellent read, albeit lengthy, so I want to share some of the main points I took away from it:
- Perhaps showing some ignorance for the hit machine approach to pop music, I had never heard of Tor Hermansen and Mikkel Eriksen, the team of Norwegian writer-producers known as Stargate. These guys have written the music behind some of the biggest tracks in recent pop / RnB including "Rude Boy" ("Come on, rude boy, boy, can you get it up / Come on, rude boy, boy, is you big enough?") and “S&M” (“Na-na-na-na-na come on”) from Rihanna, "Irreplaceable" from Beyoncé, and Katy Perry’s "Firework".
- Stargate are one of a relatively small number of highly successful hit maker producers, who write the backing tracks to many of today's Top 40 songs. However the vocal lines are generally composed by an almost exclusively female group of "top-liners".
- The top-liners listen to the music created by the producer and within a short amount of time come up with the main melody, lyrics and the general "catchiness" of the songs we end up hearing. The outcome of this is a demo track which is then shopped out to keen stars such as Beyoncé, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga.
- Importantly this helps explain why so much Top 40 and commercial radio music is so same-y, familiar, and to many (including me) - mundane. The music is not drawn from a planet full of inspiration but from a very small pool of highly efficient producers and top liners, a small pool of professionals who survive by churning hits out quickly.
- Because of this, sometimes the musical output on the charts can be too similar. In 2009, both Beyoncé and Kelly Clarkson had hits (Beyoncé’s "Halo" and Clarkson’s "Already Gone"). Both were created from the same track from producer Ryan Tedder. Clarkson wrote her own top line, and Beyoncé co-created hers with Evan Bogart. Tedder didn't mention to either artist that the other was working with his track, so both went to market and both were hits. Crazy.
- Successful top-liners include Makeba Riddick, Bonnie McKee, and Skylar Grey - none of whom are household names like the performers who make their work famous. However it is pointed out that creating the hit melody does not mean the top-liner wants (or deserves) the fame of the stars we know - after all, the Rihannas of the world are the ones everyone looks at when they walk into the room, dealing with manic publicity and touring, and needing to produce live what people come to expect from a highly polished studio album.
I enjoyed reading at the end of the article the reality check felt by these hit-making producers, especially in the wake of the monstrous success of Adele and her huge single "Someone Like You". The emotional lyrics and raw acoustic accompaniment in this track are nothing like the digital, arpeggiator-created, effect-laden music typical of the charts and these producers.
With an arsenal of studio equipment and production hours, it is still not possible to formulate a timeless "classic" that will really connect with people.
When the power to the machines is switched off, all the samples and pre-programmed loops are lost and all you have is your talent, what do you bring to the table?
Last weekend I recorded a performance of my composition "Before April". In a strange coincidence, a few days later I read this post about the "Out Back Project"
, a 15-minute audio piece to be composed from the memories contributors have of their backyard. I immediately contacted the talent behind the project and am pleased to contribute my track as the score. The title "Before April" refers to the time shortly before the arrival of my first child.
At the time I was living in Sydney, in a unit, with a tiny grassed area flanked by a very tall graffitied concrete wall, the only thing separating us from the Gore Hill Freeway into Sydney.
I composed this track thinking of the complete unknown that lay ahead for us with the pending arrival, as I looked out to our very limited living space outdoors. That April we moved to Newcastle, returning to our roots, closer to family, in our first home with a large and varied outdoor environment for our little guy to explore. We have not looked back since, and the concrete wall I once saw from the window of my studio has been replaced with the top of citrus trees, rooves and an expanse of sky.With that, please enjoy the track via the YouTube clip above. If it connects with you, you can download the track in the format of your choice from here. Enjoy.