How'd That Get in There?

I've never gotten the hang of absentmindedly listening to music.

We had a barbecue last weekend over at the house and the first suggestion (a good one) was that we put on some music.

I was confused.

I never put on music.

Cause if I put on music, I'm spiritually obligated to listen to it.

I could spend all morning on a single note.

And not to do anything else.

I can drive and listen to music. My radio has six channels and of the six, three are Pop stations, One is classic rock (by which I mean 80's and 90's), one is Indie, and the last one is National Public Radio.

So my scanning basically goes like this: Pop, Pop, Pop, Nirvana, Bootleg Nirvana, Terri Gross.

I have an FM2 setting, but I don't go there very often. That setting I leave for one Classical Music Station for when I 'm in the mood.

You gotta be in the mood.

There's also an AM set of settings. Thanks to my brother, I am now interested in sports talk. Good god how the world changes.

But getting back to the listening of music, what happens, for me anyway, is overtime a song comes one, I have to listen to it.

Have to.

And because it's more an intellectual pursuit than an emotional one, I get just as must pleasure from a shitty song as I do out of a well crafted one.

(Not really, but you know, sorta)

And since getting air play is sort of the pinnacle of a songwriters career (and me being a songwriter) I have a certain amount of stock invested on what gets played and why.

Now I know it doesn't work like this, but I always invasion this perfect ladder of steps before a song gets played on the radio.

First the band's gotta know how to play.

Then they've gotta know how to write.

Then they gotta know how to record. The track has to have polish, sizzle, that 'certain something'

Then someone who knows what to do with that sort of track gets it on a major label, then the marketing department (who love the song BTW) gets rolling and ships the song out to hundreds of radio station whose DJ's they been intimate with, and then the DJ's put the song on heavy rotation and stars are born.

Doesn't that make perfect sense?

None of that is true though. You could skip through it all if your brother is a DJ. You could claw your way up each rung of that ladder and find you're nowhere but where you started.

Except now you're broke.

Anyway, because of the very unstable relationship between what I would like the world to look like, and what it actually does look like, whenever I hear a song on the radio that is just terrible, to cheer myself up I play a little game.

A little game called "How'd That Get In There?"

I heard one such song this morning. I won't name names . . . because I didn't bother to get any . . . and though the song was terrible (and mildly insulting on an artistic level) . . . who knows . . . it could be the next big thing.

I hate looking stupid in retrospect.

The song failed the first two of my criteria. The band didn't know how to play (and the singer probably shouldn't be let near a microphone) and they certainly didn't know how to write.

Short, non-dynamic, melodic phrases, and the kind of lyrics written by boys who have only yet begun dreaming about sex.

Not pointing any fingers.

I too was such a boy.


But, the song, albeit lame, was recorded seriously. There's a major sonic difference between a recording that is made for $25,000 and one that is made for $250. This song was recorded in the upper regions, produced, balanced, compressed, sizzled, radio ready.

How'd that happen?

No idea. The song had to have been performed in front of people with money. Like real money, not like daddy or mommy money . . . big time producer money. Someone had to really love this song.

Or maybe they loved this band. But to play the game . . . I've got to answer this question.

How'd that get in there?

And by 'in there' I mean on the radio.

And the answer I think, is that this band is killer live. You don't have to really know your instrument to deliver an exciting experience and maybe these guy just light up the house. They probably have lots of Likes on Facebook and have proven reliable on tour. They get picked up by a major label because of that energy and are sent straight to the studio to capture some of that magic.

Only trouble is is you can't hide from a tape recorder.

What sizzles in a 2,000 seat house is really tough to catch and time is uh ticking.

Marketing has already gone full swing and the group needs a song for the airwaves.

They decide that their regular act is too edgy for Pop Stations and try out the ballad written by the bass player back when he was fourteen or so because it doesn't have any Eff-Words.

Worked for the Goo-Goo Dolls. Why not us?

They've got the money, they've go the producer, they've got the studio, they've got the song, now all they got to do is make it playable.

And they tried really really hard.

Good for them.

Nobody listens to the lyrics anyway. Why would they? You don't have to sing it . . . you only have to sell it. There's a good lad. Now finish your diet Dr. Pepper and get back into the booth.

The producer gets all he can from the band and then sends them out to pick up some KFC.

Any trip to KFC will take about three hours.

Why they always run out of chicken is the third greatest mystery known to man.

But three hours is enough time to apply some studio magic (sizzle) to an otherwise unremarkable track.

Cut. Print. Package. Ship.

Did you get extra crispy? No? Well go back. Let the adults get some work done.


Okay . . . so first question answered.

But then the song takes one of those metal punk ballad turns . . . where the vocalist pushes it up an octave and really gives the song some raspy meat.

He really should not have done that.

He doesn't have those notes.

He especially should not have done that four times.

The question here, is why would anyone let him do that? There had to be four or five guys in the band, anyone of them could've said something.

Did he not hear himself?

Possible, but I find that odd because when I track my own voice, every quivering quasar is amplified.

I know when I don't have a note. Mostly.

So the only explanation is that the vocalist either didn't know, or he just didn't care. I think he didn't know.

But the producer should've known . . . right? I mean this is a guy who makes several thousands of dollars an hour. People bank on this dude.

Or gal.

Could be a gal.

And there are three reasons she/he might have for letting it slide.

I'm not gonna do the whole he/she thing anymore. It's silly.

Okay, reasons for letting it slide:

One: She didn't hear it. Which sounds crazy, but it happens. Happens all the time. I once got into an argument with this producer (who had literally won a grammy the night before) and was trying to point out a popping noise where they had tried to punch in a vocal line.

It was really sloppy work and it took me ten minutes of playing the passage over and over before either the producer, the engineer, or even the vocalist heard it. None of them heard it, yet to me it was like listening to a leaf blower fire up on a Sunday morning.

It got fixed, but badly, and I can still hear it on the recording to this day.

Two: The producer didn't care.
Check was already cashed.

Three: (Most likely) Maybe they assumed an epically failed note displayed passion.
That happens sometimes too. Sometimes a particular take is just so immediate and present that the few mistakes within it are left in.

Can't argue with that logic.

But, well, with the rest of the vocal track inebriated on compression and auto-tune, they gotta know that whatever nuance they were challenging themselves with wasn't happening.

Or not.

I think that's what they think they did though. They left the terrible sour notes hang because it said "Edgy" or whatever.

Now I don't think the song is going to be a hit. And not because it's not good, which it isn't, but because it doesn't have a memorable hook. I've been writing about it for over an hour now, and I can't remember a single thing about it.

I will probably never hear it again.

And now you know why I can't listen to music blithely.

I could spend all of Monday morning on a single note.

And now I have.

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