Because I write in a wide variety of styles, I get a lot of “you should do a [$GENRE] song!” Sometimes these are intriguing challenges, and sometimes I have to politely say, “hey, yeah, maybe,” while internally knowing that it will never happen either because I don’t have any clue how to do it, or because I know that the end result probably isn’t going to be as satisfying as the person thinks it will be.
This isn’t limited to my friends, though. The Song-A-Day folks will occasionally throw out a song prompt or challenge: Disco Monday; Write in Locrian mode; Write a song with a specific title or subject. Sometimes these work out, and sometimes they don’t, but I’ve normally welcomed the removal of that “what should I do” blank page that normally comes with any given day.
- Theme from a Sitcom You Never Saw Ray Toler 1:00
Early this month, during a night of debauchery with our neighbors, I was told that I had to write a TV theme song. I don’t remember the conversation or lead up to the challenge. When I finalized yesterday’s track and uploaded it. I went downstairs to get a glass of water and Mary reminded me that I still needed to write a TV theme. I’d forgotten about it, but decided that might be a fun, quick project.
Back in the studio a few minutes later, I started doing some research. Shows from the 90s and beyond either don’t really use a theme song, going just for the little stingers like Two and a Half Men, or use a pop song (Friends). When the challenge was issued, though, everyone was thinking about those classic 70s shows like The Love Boat, Three’s Company, The Jeffersons…
I decided to split the difference and envisioned an 80s style sitcom like Family Ties, Charles in Charge, or Fresh Prince of Bel Air. The kind where the opening credits feature clips from the show, along with that cheesy, “look at the camera and smile” moment for the major players.
As for subject matter, well, since comedy is now pretty much dead in our enlightened age, where the only acceptable targets are… You know what? I’m not going to bother with any more explanation, because you already know where I’m going, and it would add about 800 words that nobody cares about to this post. Instead, I’ll just let the lyrics of the song do the talking.
What’s the Sound?
It’s the 27th and, as I’ve mentioned in recent posts, I’m pretty tired. I didn’t want to go full-on with the production, so decided that this would have to be one of those small combo themes: piano, bass, drums. At a couple of points, I thought about adding an electric piano and guitar, but things sounded pretty full already, so I acquiesced to my laziness in the name of restraint.
Piano came first, and the bass was easy, but I couldn’t find any pre-played drum parts that fit, so I had to play them in myself. This is the first time I’ve used Superior Drummer in this way, so there was a lot of hunting and pecking to find the right notes. If this month has taught me anything, it’s that I need to spend a lot of time learning this software – it’s incredibly deep and should keep me happy for a very long time, but it’s going to require some effort.
The other challenge that showed up came in the form of my lack of formal theory education. I’m an adequate keyboardist, but my timing isn’t super great. I often use the quantization function, though I normally don’t have it at full strength – that leads to everything sounding robotic.1For some styles, that’s actually desirable. You don’t want your house music kick drum wandering around. The problem is that this piece has a bit of a swing to it. No problem, my quantizer has a swing value. But I couldn’t ever find the right value. It sounded like the drummer and bassist had both had some coke and heroin in the green room before the show.
As it turned out, I had mistaken swing for triplets. As soon as I switched to a non-swung triplet value, the drums locked in. I then went back and fixed a couple of minor timing problems in the bass and piano, then made sure that the cymbals, kick, and bass were hitting properly during the ritard at the end.
The final final problem is that I wrote this in C, and either the first two verses were ok, but the third to high for me, or the third was ok, but the others too low. I finally found one that was sort of in the middle. The opening verses are still on the low side, and I’m confident I could fix it all with a better arrangement and possibly a key change, but this one’s passable. I hedged by doubling the vocals, which gives it a little more presence. The last little touch I decided to add was the harmonic stinger on “cancelled.” This is the stinger you’d hear right before or after the commercial break. I tried a couple of larger chords, but ultimately decided to pull it back. I also like that it sounds a bit like a taunt if you sing any of the harmonic parts in isolation. Nyeaaaah nyeaaaaaaah.
I mentioned earlier that song prompts don’t always work out, but I’m glad this one did. It’s a fun little trifle, let me get a tiny bit of political snark in without doing it in a way that would be screechy. 2While I don’t avoid my politics entirely, and while I recognize that my ideology still largely reflects what most Americans actually think (but are afraid to say), I’m also aware that it’s just screaming into the void. If it helps me, I do it. If it’s just me bitching, I try to find a different approach. Now to make a video for it. I already have some ideas.
A guy told a joke that he heard on TV But he told it at work at a quarter to three What happened next, well it’s no mystery Fired, sued, and shunned by society A gal who was having a really bad day Had a meltdown at Starbucks and called someone gay When the video hit Twitter, well you know what they say "Up yours Karen, now we send you away" If they’d kept their mouths shut, they’d have been just fine Any topic will be crossing somebody’s line In fact, the network got nervous and let all of us go And so we changed the name of this show to Cancelled Copyright © Ray E. Toler, Jr. All rights reserved.
Instruments & Samples
Keyscape, Trilian, Superior Drummer 3
Mixing & Mastering
Valhalla Room, Gullfoss, Pro-Q 3, Pro-C 2, Pro-L 2
- 1For some styles, that’s actually desirable. You don’t want your house music kick drum wandering around.
- 2While I don’t avoid my politics entirely, and while I recognize that my ideology still largely reflects what most Americans actually think (but are afraid to say), I’m also aware that it’s just screaming into the void. If it helps me, I do it. If it’s just me bitching, I try to find a different approach.