GRAND PRIZE JUDGE, ROY ELKINS, COMMENTS ON 2016 SONG CONTEST WINNERS
As always, I am privileged to be part of this great songwriting competition. I have listened to all the tracks multiple times and along with my thoughts, the results are below. My process is simple. I put all the songs in this contest in my player and hit random, so I don’t have preferential treatment to a specific song. This year I was given 27 songs to listen to. This winner was number 26 in the queue and it was my favorite from the beginning and remained in the #1 spot all the way through my process.
Usually, after the first listen, I have a few favorites and they usually move up and down the list each time I listen through it. It is very difficult for an instrumental to win a song contest and I don’t think I have ever picked one as a winner, but Enchanted Kingdom clearly the best in this crop of songs. I was more impressed each time I heard it.
2nd through 7th could have been anyone of 6 different songs: Just Can’t Drown A Broken Heart, Cleansing Rain, It Could Be You, Hearts Wide Open, Small Town Masquerade and Still Enough. It was very difficult to pick the other places, but unfortunately I have to pick winners and losers. I am asked to judge each song in 6 different categories. Here are my favs by category: Hooks - Enchanted Kingdom, Just Can’t Drown A Broken Heart, Cleansing Rain and My Unsung Hero. Melody - Enchanted Kingdom, My Unsung Hero, It Could Be You, Still Enough, Sanctuary, The Warmth Of Your Love, Eenie Meenie and Roly Poly With You. Lyric - Just Can’t Drown A Broken Heart, Cleansing Rain, Hearts Wide Open, Small Town Masquerade and The Christmas Song No One Knows. Structure - Enchanted Kingdom, Just Can’t Drown A Broken Heart and My Unsung Hero. Originality – Enchanted Kingdom, Just Can’t Drown A Broken Heart, Cleansing Rain, It Could Be You, Pills, Insignificant Other, Sanctuary, Two Trains, Hearts Wide Open, Grow Up and Eenie Meenie. Truth – Just Can’t Drown A Broken Heart, Cleansing Rain, It Could Be You, Hearts Wide Open, Halleluyah Today and My Unsung Hero.
After re-reading through my critiques, I found myself saying similar things in different songs. One of the hardest things to do is write a song with a unique hook and lyrics that have never been said. And once you have a hook and lyrics, you have to marry it to a melody. I found many in the contest have done a brilliant job at this and some that need tweaking. While it is arguably the most important part of good songwriting, it could be the hardest thing to get right. It’s even harder to create that memorable experience for the listener when lyrics aren’t present. Enchanted Kingdom does just that.
I also include my suggestions for improvement and many times I state, “If this was my song.” I believe we all hear music differently and it doesn’t necessarily mean one is right and another is wrong. So take the constructive feedback for what is, one man’s opinion.
Congrats to the winners and everyone who made it to the finals.
Enchanted Kingdom – This is a brilliant piece of work. This is one of the most powerfully crafted instrumentals I have heard, not only in this contest, but EVER. Initially, it reminded of David Arkenstone or Howard Shore’s work in the Lord of the Rings. When one closes their eyes and listens to this, you can see a horse running through field, a ship sailing the seas and so on. The crafting of this music and melody is world class and I would love to pass this along with permission of the writers. The theme is carried by numerous instruments throughout the piece. It starts with a plucked string sound then is carried by orchestral strings, then a break and then a staccato version with the energy building. The peaks and valleys in the song are amazing. I listened, rewound, listened, rewound, etc. Masterful work.
Nice swell at the beginning into plucked strings, with a backing flute. At 40 seconds, the first phrase concludes, then at 53 the energy in the melody takes over and pulls the listener in. At 1:21, a forceful melody from the flute takes over for a second. Then an unexpected Zappa like break at 1:28 and it worked. This section from 1:31 on to 1:59 is as good as composition gets. It is the heart of the piece as this theme repeats throughout the song. Then back to the forceful flute. Then at 2:22, there is a slight change in the melody, but still reminiscent of the original. More unique and unexpected breaks at 2:36. I had to listen to these a couple of times as the sound selection is so different I thought there might be a technical problem with the recording. Then when I heard it again, I smiled…..brilliant. At 3:15, a nice piano bridge that is quite different from the rest of the tune, but has a similar rhythmic feel. The ending didn’t feel as if it resolved the piece and would probably be my only critical comment. Fantastic work and very easily my choice to win this competition. This could be the best composition I have ever heard in this competition. I would love to hear more from these writers.
Just Can't Drown A Broken Heart – “You woke me up this morning, by not being there” is a great opening line. This is an example of saying the same thing uniquely and differently. Many times my critical commentary about overused phrases gets too carried away, but this is an example of how you say the same thing in a different way. An inexperienced writer would have written, “I woke up this morning and you weren’t there.” Another line, “The shower wasn’t running and the coffee wasn’t on” creates imagery that doesn’t really happen. Awesome stuff. Really good lyric writing. I bet this writer has more great stuff like this as he/she is a cut above…….The structure of the melody in the verses is very effective. This usually isn’t my cup of tea, but I think these “short” phrases are perfect for this song. I don’t think the second verse is nearly as strong as the first, but the chorus and the set-up to the chorus are excellent. If it was my song, I would re-write the second verse in the same manner as the first. I would also replace the line “hanging out with my friends” with “missing my best friend.” I love the last line of the last verse, “At the bottom of the bottle……amends.” Excellent imagery and writing. Like a couple of the other tunes in this collection, slight tweaks and this song is huge. Love to hear more from this writer as well. This is really well done!
Cleansing Rain – Simple melody, with a simple lyric. Loved this on the first pass and loved it more each time I heard it. Nice resolution at the hook, “Take a walk through Cleansing Rain.” This is really a great line and creates a memorable visual moment in this song. He sings it like he’s walking. The voice feels like it’s moving away from you when you listen to the hook. Much of that is performance, however with a different line it doesn’t work.
Verses are staccato lyrically, like to hear a little more melody in this type of song. Meaning – stretch the vowels at the end of the melodic phrase a little longer in each subsequent verse. I believe this will help the verses grow and develop the song for the listener. Great chorus, good melody, very strong hook, memorable and relatable for every listener. If I heard this song, I would buy this album.
It Could Be You – This a great song with a powerful lyric that fortunately for the song, but unfortunately for the world, it will always be current. This writer captured the sad state of human suffering with a very well done lyric. A very Beatlesque writing style, especially in the chorus. The verses remind me of Billy Joel with lots of simple rhymes within the lines and very easy to comprehend. At 1:08, “Do you think it’s really true when you say there’s nothing we could do….” is a good match of lyric and melody. The words flow here and are very memorable. It gives “truth” and believeability when lyrics and melody are in concert like this. Billy Joel is a master at this and this writer is not far behind. The bridge at 2:11 is extremely strong….nice break. My only bit of feedback is that the listener doesn’t really know that this is about refugees until the end of the song. It is vague until that point. With that said, I am assuming the writer experimented with putting the closing verse in different positions in the song. I picked up my guitar and played around with it and found that it might be a little too contrived with the closing lyric too close to the front. It does work how it is currently structured, but something tells me that there is a little better answer here. It doesn’t need much, just a little. Great work and I would like to hear more from this writer as well. Great work!
Hearts Wide Open – A real John Prine feel to the lyric writing in this song. “From the dogs at addiction that tug at our sleeves….” This is a great line along with so many others in this song. “…laying our pride at the foot of the cross” is another one. Very strong. Could be the best set of lyrics in this entire competition. This is thoughtful, unique and exceptional lyric writing. If this was my song, I would put this in 6/8 in a heartbeat and I believe it would take it to a whole new level. It feels as if the tempo is drifting and the time signature is moving between 3/4 & 4/4. Not sure if that was the intention, but this song has huge potential with a more solid rhythmic foundation. I struggled trying to determine if this was the production or how it was written. My advice would be listen to Prine, hone this structure and supporting chord progression, and this song will shine. Other than this one structural issue, I find very little to improve upon here. This is excellent.
Small Town Masquerade – Nice effective song about the social issues of a small town. I love the chord progression in this song and how the melody twists around it. A great line - “…………he is a Baptist Ayotollah.” Another great line - “the more things change around here, the more they stay the same” Nice setup - “when the liquor runs low….” Another unique line that I didn’t see coming - “The homecoming king is a homecoming queen.” My only suggestion is to work on a chorus around “Small Town Masquerade.” As is, the song is strong, but I believe it would help the song if there was an expanded hook around the title. As I was listening, I was trying to figure out if this song came from an actual experience or was this just crafted by a couple of brilliant lyric writers. If it was crafted, it’s believeable and kudos to the writers. Regardless of how it was created, it is an excellent song and very well done.
Still Enough – “Pray to God it’s Still Enough” is a great hook. “Sometimes I say the damndest things...” is a great opening line. Very well crafted lyric. My sense is that the writer(s) spent some time on this as the lyric and melody work well together. “Sometimes it seems that all of my dreams…” and “Mountains of gold and riches untold” are great examples of melody and lyric in sync with each other. The melody doesn’t really cover a lot of notes on the staff, but the way the writer uses this small range is really creative. There is one part that sounds a little awkward, “I don’t have much money….” This line feels a little forced. I think the writer could lose the word “much” in this phrase or replace it with “no” or leave the “I” off the front of the phrase. This is one of the best in this collection and very well written. Very simple lyric with a melody that is married to it.
I wish I had time to write detailed reviews on every finalist, but here are my thoughts on some of the other songs in alphabetical order.
The Christmas Song That Nobody Knows – I have heard this song before, possibly in this contest or in another in previous years. This is so imaginative and creative, the image of a drunken cousin wearing the sweater that the entire family discusses when they are not in the room, comes to mind. I imagine this is probably at least two writers, maybe more as the structure, verse, chorus, bridge is so well done. Generally, teams create this kind of a strength in a song. “B-b-b-butchering each syllable and note” is a great line that demonstrates the great songwriting on display here. Interesting and engaging. When listening, one is waiting for the next line. Excellent work!
Grow Up – Great opening, grabs you immediately. I can hear a metal band, broadway cast or like this production, a singer playing a ukelele singing this lyric and melody. Good basic lyric and melody and the song has strong cross over potential. It’s an unusual song and at one point it comes to a complete halt. Usually, I like the unexpected when listening to songs, but in this case the song itself is so different that I don’t think a tempo-less bridge is necessary. I am assuming the writer is the singer and I’m curious to hear their other work.
Halleluyah Today – This is a good song, a good arrangement, structure and very honest. When the singer hits it at 23 seconds, the melody and lyric clearly connect and the believability is evident. This melodic phrasing is repeated in each verse. Very well done. The first time I heard it, I wasn’t nearly as thrilled with this as I am now. I’ve heard this 10+ times and it seems to improve with every listen and has been slowly moving up the list. The chorus is memorable with a good hook. But maybe it’s too predictable and needs a rhyme with Halleluyah. But at the same time, it is a unique twist on Halleluyah and it works. Lyrically, I felt the song was good in the verses. I thought the line “God is my strength” sounded forced. Maybe change this to “God’s my strength” or “With God’s strength” as there is one too many syllables here. (Production note – Kudos to the producer. He/she brought this to life and really connected the production to the song.)
Insignificant Other – Good opening line - “……kill me makes me stronger…” “Comet……..sonnet” is also a very good rhyme. Very good melody in the verses. The first two lines of the chorus are a perfect marriage of lyric and melody. Unfortunately, the hook of the song is almost a spoken word melody. I listened to it many times and like it a little more, but also feel it needs a little more. It’s a good concept, but I am not sure the melody in the hook helps it. That may be where I would explore further if it was my song. I do think the concept and originality of this song is very strong.
Let My Heart Take It From Here – Nice love ballad with a very good melody. I love the line, “as my words dance around with your tears.” “I see heaven in your smile” is one of the best lines in this entire contest. This is saying what’s been said a million times with unique words. Great work. With that said, some of the lyrics seem a like they might have been pulled out of the oven too soon. Here is what I mean, “The fact is you blow my mind” is not nearly as strong as many of the other lines in the song and I think a little more time is needed on the words. If this were mine, I would probably swap the 2nd & 4th lines in the song or re-write the “blow my mind” line. There are a few others like this as well. Overall, the melody, structure, truth and hook are extremely strong. A little more time on just a couple of the lines and this moves into a different league. It is a favorite and with slight lyrical tweaking, it’s a hit. One could easily hear, Garth, Vince Gill, Randy Travis or more contemporary singers like Scotty McCreery cutting this.
My Unsung Hero – I love the sentiment of this song, concept and the heartfelt and meaningful words written here. This has a great melody, strong truth and well written structure to the song. (Production note – beautiful strong voice singing this.) My only criticism of the song is that many of the phrases, (“I wake up in the morning”, “it’ll be alright”, “lying here next to me”, “….all through out the night”, “….you’re my everything”, etc. ) have been used so many times in song. There is such a nice melody here and if this was my song, I would re-write with different words with the same meaning …. or I would maybe take the story to a different place. There is real truth to the song as it probably comes from an experience from the writer, but songs with commonly used phrases need an undeniable and unique connection between the lyric and melody to make it effective. A simple re-write of a few phrases could make all the difference in this song as this is one of my favorite melodies in this competition.
Pills – Fun song, good concept, good hook, good melody. “Baby there ain’t got no pill gonna get you off my mind”, “Baby there ain’t got no pill gonna get me over us” are great “bring it home” lines. This is good songwriting, very manufactured, but it works. Job well done!
Praise You – Nice mesmerizing melody. Very simple. Verses in the melody are engaging, as well as the first half of the chorus. The first half of the chorus is memorable and one can imagine the audience singing, “We will praise you.” I am not sure the words “Jesus My Lord” are needed as it is fairly evident. I think something a little more lyrically unique would have worked better. It’s so hard criticizing lyrics that are so meaningful, passionate and heartfelt to the writer. Overall, the melody in the chorus carries the tune. Good work on this!
Sanctuary – Interesting song. Love the triplet feel on “Need a place where you can hide.” Very Carole King like. It seems it might have been accidental in the performance. If I was the writer, I would write it in and drive it home as it could be a hook within the song. I could easily hear Adele or Lady Gaga performing this song. Very nice melody. I don’t believe it was as lyrically strong in the verse as the chorus. I do like the line, “you try to run but you can’t move your feet.” The break between the verses at 58 seconds needs to be re-cut as it just doesn’t work. If it was my song, I would cut it in half and lose the synth arpeggios. Key change at 2:50 is very good writing. This is definitely the most contemporary and current song in this whole collection. A few slight tweaks and this song goes from very good to great.
Sunrise – Great melody. Clearly a song someone like Katy Perry could cut and knock it out. When this song hits the chorus, “When the sun shines……”, it is big. This is fun to listen to at this point. With that said and as I write this, I remember the big voice, but don’t remember the hook. My recommendation is to create a melody in the chorus that the average listener can follow and let the singer jam around backups singing this part.…..If this was going on the singers’ record, this arrangement is good with the aforementioned suggestions. If it is being pitched to another singer, this voice may be too good for a demo.
The Warmth Of Your Love – Very good songwriting. Nice soft song. It’s good lyric and a good melody, but I’m struggling to provide good feedback on this song. At this point, I have listened to this list 10+ times and this is one of those songs I have to re-hear. Not sure why, I think the melody is excellent, the lyrics are good and the progression is fine. A pleasant key change at 2:40. Very tasteful and well-done. The hook, “The Warmth of Your Love” is performed as well as anything in this collection. With that said, I kept thinking I would like to hear this lyric on a completely different melody. And the melody with different lyric. Maybe the tempo is a little slow and could be about 10 beats faster, but I’m not sure. There is a good writer behind this, all the parts are there, but…..I am not sure what to recommend here, but maybe trying a different melody in the verse and continue experimenting. But my sense is, that this song is done and this writer probably has already written a dozen more. I would love to hear them.
GRAND PRIZE JUDGE, ROY ELKINS, COMMENTS ON 2013 SONG CONTEST WINNERS.
I am honored to be the Grand Prize Judge of the Dallas Songwriters annual song contest. The DSA is the premiere songwriting association in the country and I continue to admire the number of events and the educational opportunities that it provides for its members. I hope the members never take this for granted because it’s not like this anywhere else that I know of.
I spent the past couple of weeks reviewing this year’s crop of songs and found many songs that could have won. I commute two hours a day to and from work and can listen to the entire list several times in just a few days. Usually a song or two jumps out right away and others grow on me. Sometimes I like a song immediately and after a few listens, it falls off my radar or others jump ahead of it.
After the first listen through, the song that grabbed me was "Looking Glass." This is a modern instrumental jazz piece that has a simple melody that I was humming all day after listening. Another song, "Cook A Chicken," had lyrics that were extremely engaging. I still laugh every time I hear the line, “that’s the room (the kitchen) across the living room.” I think this may have been written about me.
As I listened more, a couple of techno pop songs jumped into the mental queue. "Like They Do In The Movies," "Do You Believe" and "3,2,1." Others that caught my ear were "Dig Into Reading," "The Christmas Song No One Knows" and "Point Me Home." As always, lots of good listening and like usual, there are a number of songs that could have easily won. It would make my job a lot easier if one song would just stand out. But this year, that was not the case.
Do You Believe - The winner is “Do You Believe.” Although the song starts a little slow, once it gets into the “don’t want to think about it” part and after, the hooks just start coming. Followed by “tell me, tell me,” “lost me, found me, wrap your arms around me” and we’re still not to the chorus yet. Because the melody is so engaging and the words work so well with it, you can pretty much sing this song after the first listen. And we are only 57 seconds into it at this point. On my judging form, there isn’t a category for the marriage of the lyric and the melody, but this song has nailed it by the end of the first verse. This song is typical ABAB structure and is perfect for the genre it’s in. Good strong second verse followed by a set-up to the chorus that is nearly the same lyrically as the first set-up with some subtle changes in the lyric. Very craftily done, but not so different that the listener is lost and doesn’t know the words. Then into the bridge. The first half of the bridge is not quite as strong as the rest of the song, but it is the bridge and you don’t really want it to trump the verse and the chorus. The second half of the bridge is near a capella and very tastefully structure. Although production is good at this point, I do believe this is the type of break that is effective regardless of production quality. Back into the chorus, then into ooh – yeas, then into the chorus again, then out. Although I rated the structure of the song high, I am not sure the production matches it. I don’t really consider production quality at all because this is a writing contest. With that said, I think the ooo – yeas and the ending remove the song from radio as it makes it too long. If it were my song, I would lose these and shorten it up a little. Great work by this writer and dead center in today’s pop market. With hip-hop grooves currently dominating the radio, it will be hard to get it heard with a techno electronic backbeat, but it’s extremely well written and I would love to hear more from this writer. I think there are numerous places this song could find a home.
Looking Glass – The runner-up. This instrumental is different as it is a step above all the songs in this competition when it comes to engaging the listener. There is something about this melodic hook (beginning around 10 seconds) that just conjures up all kinds of imagery. While listening, I am thinking of all kinds of moments in my life, my farm, George Benson, college music theory, peaceful serene settings, etc. As I write this, I could even rate the hook higher than I did originally. It’s original, tasteful and my guess is the guitar player wrote this. I would also guess this is not the first song he/she has ever written. I don’t think anything is perfect in this song, but I do believe this would be well received in the jazz marketplace as it has all of the songwriting elements that make a great jazz piece. Good structure, but structureless at times. Good melody and hooks, but at times they are missing from the song. Strong “truth” comes from this melody. You feel the pain or happiness of the melody. If you think happy, this melody fits. If you think sad, this melody fits. The writer probably just wrote from their heart and really wasn’t expecting this kind of analysis. But when an instrumental melody nails it, it means different things to different people. Like the first writer, I would love to hear more from this person. They have a unique feel for jazz songwriting.
3, 2, 1 – The opening line of this grabs you and screams current “Electronic - Dance” marketplace at you. You are pulled in immediately and want to hear what’s coming after this. In fact, the first line of the verse at 51 seconds says, “If you come my way, I’ll be pulling you in.” It seems the writer sub-consciously wrote a line that does exactly that. Followed by some “Ah-Ah-Ah, Ah yeahs” that make no sense, but are really effective and set up the next phrase perfectly. Then the rhythm of the melody and rhyming of the lyric changes within the verse, “Follow me on the floor, pick it up, wants some more.” Great dynamic change in the writing at this point. Like the winning song, lots of good lyrical and simple melodic hooks to engage the listener. The melody of the instrumental parts, especially the synth, is extremely annoying, but right on for this piece. This is so captivating and after you hear it the first time in the song, you can predict when it’s coming back and will find yourself formulating an opinion about it. I am on the edge of including production here, but I do believe this melody is extremely important to the song and if it was reproduced, it would have to be included. Although I didn’t think the melody of the vocal was quite as good, I think the lyrical hooks are all there. “3,2,1,” “Wait ‘til the lights drop,” “If you want it…..I’m ready to go.” Excellent bridge in this song, starts at 3:16. This is an excellent Techno piece of music and since the lyric refers to dancing, I am sure DJs around the world would love to have this in their playlists.
Dig Into Reading – How can anyone not like this song? This is one of the best children’s songs that I have ever heard. And this is clearly not the first song these writers have ever written. I assume this was co-written as it is so polished and effective. It sounds as if there were multiple ideas filtered and included in this. From the opening instrumental melody, it appeals to your happy senses. At 43 seconds, the song is already through the verse and the chorus which nails the attention span needs of its audience, kids. It talks about ice cream, pie and cake which certainly makes kids listen (and this adult as well.) Then it briefly mentions a book at the end of the first verse. The chorus nails it with “Dig Into Reading.” Not only is it a great message, but the delivery and “singability” of it is as good as it gets. Although I love this, I am not sure the lyrics in the verse are as married to the melody as they are in the chorus. I think both are good, they just may not be right for each other. One other note that I didn’t take into consideration, but could be a barrier for this song: although the chorus is effective, it is on the edge of sounding like an advertisement. With that said, please take of advantage of this and pitch it to groups who support reading initiatives, it would fit their missions perfectly. Great work and kudos to these writers.
The Christmas Song That No One Knows – The brilliant irony of this song is that it is one of the most cleverly written “annoying” songs I’ve ever heard. As the lyric is talking about the most irritating person at every Christmas gathering, the imagery that it creates is quite vivid. I say “annoying” with a smile as I can see a relative walking around a Christmas party with a Santa hat on singing this and driving everyone nuts. This is written giftedly by the writers and could easily make its way into a musical. You can see a cast on a stage in New York knocking this out of the park. The chord progression walks through the verse supporting a beautiful melody, especially at around 1 minute. Juxtaposing this melody against this progression is not easy to make work. Harder still is making the lyric work as well. And then there are parts where the true mainstream songwriting talent seeps through, such as the line “It’s just like Rudolph’s nose… etc.” and the lines that follow at 2:41. This part is very melodic and easy to sing along, which is exactly what a Christmas song is about. I am sure this was created through numerous revisions and clearly done by experienced writers. I love this tune and really congratulate them on this.
Smoke and Ashes – Opening line is very good, “Waiting for the Southbound train.” Why? Is somebody coming or is she leaving? Immediately thought-provoking and is the clear beginning of a story. A very good song by an excellent writer.
Like They Do It In The Movies – Very descriptive hook, “Like They Do In The Movie.” Very creatively written and I love the concept. Based on the title, this song could go in a dozen places and it seems to have hit them all. Well done.
Down To Earth – Everything about this song is good. I didn’t find anything technically exceptional about the song, but I just enjoyed listening to it. I found myself coming back to this several times. Nice work.
Point Me Home - An incredibly meaningful song that is written with strong passion. Songs like this inspire me. Great work.
Cook A Chicken - I will always remember this song. Very memorable. The only song in the contest where I gave the lyric a perfect score. The lyric and structure of it was near perfect. I am not sure who the writer is, but I am sure that I have heard his/her stuff before because the style is very familiar.
First Church of the Last Chance - Good song whose lyrics are extremely significant to some. Loved the lyric and the hook. Good work.
Smallest Acts of Kindness -An awesome song with important lyrics. The truth in this song carries it. This is the type of song that the listener wants to listen to it again and again as it is simply a nice song. I think with some tweaks to the hook, that this song has great potential.
Dancing On Dandelions - Obviously crafted by good songwriters. Good structure and polished. The hook is memorable with great imagery.
A New Love Song - I love the marriage of the lyric and the melody in the hook on this song. With a little more development of the lyric in the verses, I believe this song probably has more commercial potential than any others in this contest.
Congrats to all of the songwriters who participated and made it this far in the competition. And many more thanks for letting me be part of this great event.
GRAND PRIZE JUDGE COMMENTS ON 2012 WINNERS
It was an interesting year to judge. After several listens, many songs moved up the list. Songs like Adenine and The Voice seemed to get better the more I listened to them. The instrumental Half Past Dawn had a melody I found myself humming over and over again but it just missed the Top 10. The uniqueness of Memories was hard to ignore and good rock songs like You're Everything and It Should Be Me made the list. My Samlor and One Foot On Your Doorsteps are songs with strong hooks and deserved to be in the final consideration as well. All of these songs moved up as I listened more. I had the same experience for the winners. The more I listened, the more I realized that No Hard Feelings, River Dance and Oliver Otter are so well-crafted they deserve to finish 1-2-3, respectively.
One other note: I usually don't suggest changes to songs in this process, but I felt compelled as I do believe there are a several songs with bigger opportunities beyond this competition. By the way, it's much easier for me to tell others what to do with their songs. Now if I could only apply my input to my own stuff. Thanks for including me in this great contest.
Here are my thoughts on the winners.
This song is one of those where it's just nice to listen to without the analysis that we writer/musicians typically impart. Certainly every song has strengths and weakness, but just about every word and syllable in this song is right where it should be. My sense is that this song was written by someone who has composed a lot of songs. This is so well crafted that one has to dig to find a problem with it.
The lyrics in the first verse set the stage for the song nicely. The melody in the verse is very skillfully understated, then at 40 seconds the setup for chorus brings some melodic intensity and you feel that something great is imminent. The melody and lyric in the chorus, especially the first two lines are perfectly married and unforgettable. The syllables work perfectly with the melody. Also, at 1:29, I love the line "I drowned in the bottle for weeks…".
Although I think the opening verse is good, the opening line is not as strong as it could be, I might have changed the opening line around where it starts with "Laughing like she had no scar while hanging out at the corner bar". I think it would have made the intro a little more unique and visual. But that is my suggestion for this song.
From a commercial perspective, this is a song that any artist could sing and has strong crossover potential as well. This could be sung with an acoustic guitar, sitting at a piano or it could be a good instrumental as well. I can close my eyes and hear numerous productions of this melody. That's what makes it great. I would love to hear more from this writer as my assumption is he/she has some other good stuff in the can. Great job and congrats!
This a very simple lyric with a complex melody that work well together. Interesting opening melody and lyric, then at 30 seconds it almost sounds like a different song. The melody and rhythm of it seem to carry the song at this point. Then again at 45 seconds, another part is added and it seems it could be a different song again. The chorus is brilliantly crafted and especially at 45 seconds where the melody hits a high note while singing the words "high as a mountain". Then again at 54 seconds when the words are "low, oh, oh" and the melody is moving down the staff. Very Bach-like. One seems to only remember the words "high" and "low" during the chorus because of this. Another interesting chorus note is that words "mountain" and "valley" feel like an intended rhyme although they are in two different phrases in the chorus.
I mentioned that it sounds like the parts of the song could be different songs. I say that with admiration and not criticism as I believe the writer probably doesn't hear it that way. These parts are woven together in the unique style of the writer, but a feel part of the bigger picture. This song was not in the running after the first listen, but I found myself humming the unique melodies of it over and over. It grew on me and "low, oh, oh" kept dancing through my head when I wasn't listening to it. This was probably the stickiest melodic phrase of this collection.
It would be interesting to hear other songs from this writer as I believe his/her style is a little non-mainstream, but not too far out there to be ignored. Great work!
This is a kids classic and you can see the video while listening. The description of Oliver and the easy to sing-a-long melody is as close to perfect as one can get in this genre. Like many other memorable nursery rhymes, this writer has skillfully created a song that children will remember their whole lives. The melody is easy to sing and very visual, which makes it even easier to remember. Some great lines, "come up with a coin on your nose" and "holding your paws like saying a prayer" are examples of the descriptive nature of the lyric. The song is full of vivid scenes and I would bet this writer works with kids or has a brood of their own.
Another strength of this song is that each verse and chorus starts with the words Oliver Otter. This is the straightforward brilliance of it. Kids will get this right away and then have the confidence to learn the lines that follow. Definitely a top 10 song from the beginning of this evaluation process. Excellent songwriting and kudos to this writer.
"Toothbrush on the sink", "lighter in my pocket", "arm on my shoulder" and just about every line in the song…all great. And it seems that many of the unique phrases in the verses have the same number of syllables which fastens the song together. "My heart still jumps when the telephone rings" is a great line that every listener will connect to. There are so many lines in this song that could be titles in another one. Very good lyric writing.
The more I listened the more I liked this. Inventive, well built, a very strong lyric and a quirky melody. Although this grew on me, it did not fare quite as well until I started scoring it. During the scoring process, I realized that this is a lot stronger than I had thought, but only lacks that needed melodic hook to win. Sometimes songs don't need an unforgettable chorus to be memorable and that is the case here. With that said, I would re-title this "You Stick Around" as that is the most memorable lyric in the song, but I still don't feel like the chorus was as memorable as the verses are unique. Overall, it's a sticky song and this writer should be very proud of this work. (One last note: I don't take the production into consideration at all when judging songwriting contests. However, this production is one of the best I have heard in a long time. Hats off to the producer and writer).
The opening line, "Some people say a man should never keep his feelings bottled up inside" is the perfect set-up for the song. Best opening line in this collection of songs. Another great line, "With the siren song she blinded me to dangers greater than I could've known". "I have scrambled up the mountainside but slid into the brambles down below", another clear image. This is an incredible lyric all the way through. You can remove the music from this and you have a great piece of poetry.
Although the melody is not the most aggressive I have ever heard, there is something mesmerizing about it. Like the song above, Memories, this song doesn't have a distinct hook and melody. In this case, it's hard to distinguish the chorus from the verse after one listen. The melody in the chorus is almost identical to the verse. It becomes clearer the more you listen, but I think this might be Achilles heal of the song. Hits grab the listener immediately and I don't think I would have gotten there with this song had I not listened to it a number of times.
With all that said, this has grown to become one of my favorites in the collection. I am going to recommend this and Adenine to a sizeable folk radio show that I am connected to. The lyric completely carries this song and the folk listener really doesn't care about any of the critical input mentioned here. Very nice work!
Another song that grew on me. One of the best hooks in the competition. The chorus on this song is extremely strong. The melody in the chorus is "folk", kinda "rock", but finishes the phrase "country". A well crafted song by a writing team that works well together. If this is not a team, then it's a pretty good songwriter who did this.
"Confession is no place for an honest man, to rationalize….." This is a fantastic line and I believe the best one in the song. If it was my song, I would move this entire verse to the front of the song. I realize that there might be some tweaking to do afterward, but I do believe this is the strongest verse in the song.
I thought the opening line, "Last night I left the bed where we lay sleeping" seemed a little forced. I might experiment rearranging the phrasing in the first verse to make the opening lyrics more effective. If that didn't work, I might bring the aforementioned verse to the forefront.
I would love to hear more of their stuff. Very well done.
Great theme and very believeable. Very strong hook, well constructed. Simple lyric with lots of feel written into it. The melody of the hook whines with the lyric. Perfect. Very nice setup to the chorus as well. Great truth in this song. Love the line, "I could have been your prize". Well done.
Very good hook, easy to sing-a-long with. Strong and memorable melody in the hook. A good marriage between the hook and melody. Good educational kids (and adult) song. I now know what a samlor is.
Verse lyrics are very uncomplicated, but delivered particularly well. By far, the best bridge in this contest. Good melodic hook, but the lyric in the hook may be overused in song. Very well done.
This grew on me as I listened more. I didn't connect with it at first, but as I listened further I realized this is a pretty skilled and seasoned writer. Lots of subtleties that aren't heard the first time through the song. As I mentioned above, I am going to recommend this song.