I recently released a new video:
This came about last week. As the news hit of the billionaires taking their space flights, I played with the phrase “Billionaires are going to space”. It had to be a Bowie song.
There are two categories of musical parody song:
- Change the lyrics to something people already know
- Write a sibling to an existing song that’s fundamentally an original song
The first of these is usually considered a lesser form of musical comedy. When done well, it’s pretty good. The Amateur Transplants, and Adam Kay solo, have made a pretty good fist of creating great jokes out of existing songs.
Despite my own intentions not to create too much of this style of musical comedy, I’ve done quite a bit of it myself, especially in my own videos. It’s a thing.
One viewpoint on it that another musical comic suggested to me is that the audience starts a reworded-existing tune song with more context/musical information. Their recognition of the original allows them to focus on the comedy elements more.
While I think that’s fair, there are strong reasons not to put new words to someone else’s stuff. You don’t own the copyright to half of it!
The other artform that I’ve enjoyed playing with, is where you try to write an original song, heavily inspired by an existing one. This ends up with something that’s both an homage to something recognisable, but a thing in its own right.
There is a downside to this form. It can lead to:
- An uncanny valley as the song is clearly similar, but clearly different
- Some musical awkwardnesses, as you have to steer away from musical progressions and structure that fit more nicely, as that would take you close to plagiarism
Many comics do this rather well. I don’t know their techniques. I know how I approach it.
- Dissect the original song and find the signatures inside it
- If it’s more of a genre, dissect several examples from the genre
- Find orchestrations or moments that stand out
- Look for certain rhythms that fit the style
Then lay out the pieces and take one of them. Try to make some different decisions using that piece than the original song. Where they turn left, turn right. Add in some more ingredients, trying to make the whole make sense in itself.
Then, play with it until it takes on a life of its own. By the time the tune, chords and lyrics have had time to ferment together, there’s something original.
So, I found myself trying to create a David Bowie tune, and ending up with something that had way too much Oasis in it. And probably some Lightning Seeds.
It took three intensive evenings to record, mix and finalise the track using GarageBand. I played a few instruments “live”:
- Acoustic Guitar
- Electric Guitar – playing harmonics and a lead solo – double tracked
I also sang, and added some midi instruments, originally played live on the keyboard. This included a few patches of the mellotron to give it a really vintage feel.
The drummer was from the loops library.
I originally constructed a hasty ghost guitar track to hold the arrangement together before layering the real instruments on it. By the time the rest of the layers were ready and I was laying down a properly mic’ed guitar, the resulting track was getting pretty big. It felt quite amazing playing with this virtual band, a weird brew of badly-played instruments, and loops… it started to feel like someone else’s band that I was guesting on.
The out of body experience was only to continue when I got to the final track. The video I considered making was never to be finished. I just didn’t have the time. I shot a bunch of head shots of me singing along with the track, thinking I’d just quickly green screen something together:
And maybe that would have worked… the video might have been like this:
But there wasn’t time.
So I went onto fiverr.com and looked for someone to make me some sort of animation. I struck a connection with a nice chap in Pakistan, who made the video you see above.
So, rather than making my Bowie tribute, I ended up making an Oasis cover video with some stranger on the other end of a slow internet connection. I made a couple of mistakes in the stuff I sent him, and he followed my instructions quite literally, which got frustrating towards the end, as I had to work out a way to let him call the thing done, because there literally wasn’t any reasonable way I could get him to fine tune what he was doing.
Poor fellow, his computer takes 2 hours to render a 4 minute video!
But nobody asked me to do this project. It is what it is, and part of the process is surrendering to what happens and embracing that. It’s the sum of its parts and it was interesting handing control for a large part of it to someone who did something I would have thought of myself.
So, the egg-shaped moon face video was replaced by dancing words, and the video is out.
I had the idea 6 days ago. I spent the whole weekend not working on it (bar sending revisions to the chap with the slow computer) and now it’s released.
There are many lessons to be learned from this. I’ve no idea what they are, but I hope someone reading this may hit upon something useful to be learned.