Sunday, November 4, 2012

music: what makes a song?

I've never really written a song, passed from half-assed efforts I wouldn't show in public. For a lot of artists, songs develop a life of their own, as they're bound up in the writer's experience and carry a lot of emotions. I'm fascinated by what makes the essence of a song, and so I love hearing different versions of the same song. This got really started with Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes". Unless you're my wife, that's a really pretty song, and I was always caught by the rich instrumental layers.

But think for a minute: Peter Gabriel didn't write the first version of that song using a dozen different synthesizer tracks. The overwhelming majority of lyrical songs are worked out on solo piano or guitar. So we get Jeffrey Gaines's solo-guitar version.

One of my favorite songs of the past few years has been "Fireflies" by Owl City. It has a really, really recognizable opening riff.

This is a ton of electronic stuff, right? It's very much descended from The Postal Service and some other lyric-electronic bands of the mid-oughts. Guys like this often perform what you could call a "laptop show", where they're onstage with a bunch of boxes, twiddling knobs. And this song pretty much telegraphs its presence immediately. So, how cool is this?

SO MANY INSTRUMENTS! It's so tempting to think the orchestration defines the song, because that's the idea of the song that I've built up in my head. But the songwriter knows the song in a way that I can't.

Music is awesome.

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