The Eurovision Song Contest is, to some extent, inexplicable. Australia’s involvement doubly so. This is about writing a song for it. While I’m not as obsessive as some, I’ve quite enjoyed watching Eurovision over the years and unwittingly fell for its charms when enjoying the music of Buck’s Fizz as a child. Some Eurovision songs are beautiful. Some are completely nuts. All that monotonous intensity means a lot are pretty ordinary. Like all artistic competitions it’s very seriously silly, but I wanted to experiment with creating something that might survive in that environment. (Read on or scroll down to listen to what I came up with)
I don’t know how our nation’s previous tunes or artists were decided but this round, Australia’s song will be determined by a process of song submission in partnership between the broadcaster SBS and Blink TV. The selection process includes open submission via a website, as well as by invitation from the producers.
In looking at the fine print, I note that if selected, the songwriters “grant permission for no fee to the Producers to use the song for the purpose of promoting the Show, the ESC, the Producers, on any media, throughout the world in perpetuity.” The producers can also choose who performs the song.
I thought I’d give it a go as a songwriting exercise. I read an article which suggested a few do’s and don’ts, on the basis of some research into past winners. These included a likely key (Dm) tempo (not 128BPM); and lyrics to mention (stormy weather, arms). The tune should also be no longer than three minutes in duration. It was also due in early November. I had a week or so to do it in. I’d also been reading about contemporary pop music production houses and wanted to experiment with those processes.
I created five drafts of the lyric, which included some of the above constraints.
The idea of stormy skies pointed to environmental change, so I pursued an analogy of inclement weather, and the potential to turn it around which could service themes of both romantic/family turbulence and environmental change. These ideas gradually emerged as I over-wrote, then refined the lyric over five drafts, and tossed in a quote from T.S. Eliot.
Draft 1 was 250 words. These words were deleted edited, added to and gradually shifted to a section called ‘spares’ until I was ok to let them go.
D1 250 words >D2 219 wds>D3 172 wds > D4 129 wds>D5 116 wds (147 incl 2nd chorus)
I quite enjoyed the writing, which I did in snatched moments, only half-thinking. While the lyrics may seem a bit cheesy, it’s not dumb, and is sincerely felt. I love music too much to want to turn it into landfill.
I’d written a piece for Warmwaters for an EP we’re recording. I dutifully changed its key to D minor and altered it to emphasise a brooding verse and potentially anthemic chorus. I arranged the music around a beat and an acoustic guitar part, but added a number of synthetic instruments until it sounded full enough to sing over. The chords didn’t quite sit within the prescribed key ‘group’ that my basic version of Garage band automates, so it involved some manual playing as well.
I then scanned and reduced the lyric to the bare minimum that would fit in the allotted time: three verses and a chorus, the way the demo sat. I’d already written a melody for it, but wanted it to be different, so I explained the experiment to my collaborator Samuel Vincent, and once I sent some lyrics, he sent back an mp3 of a melody idea.
Given that I wanted this piece to be relatively mainstream I knew if I sang on the track, it would be terrible so I asked Tom Oliver, an experienced pop performer with a very accessible and skillful style if he would consider singing a part on a demo, and he agreed. I sent him the instrumental backing, Sam’s melody idea and the lyrics and within 48 hours he’d sent back 5 audio files of various sections, alongside reference tracks that showed where they sat in the arrangement. He said it was “Jason Mraz meets John Farnham with a sprinkle of James Brown”.
Tom’s initial comment that the song wasn’t really a ‘Eurovision Banga’ was succinct and correct, so I created another arrangement of the music that was more synthesized and percussive, employing tools I’d never usually put on a track (or that I’d bury deep) – readymade string parts, Chinese percussion, the kind of factory-made deep booms that pollute movie promos.
As a middle-aged man, it’s fair to say that I have an appreciation for mainstream pop, but that it’s not really made for or by people quite like me. I’ve spent most of my songwriting life working towards goals other than popularity. While I’m certain the revised backing I was still way off the mark, it was different enough to the initial arrangement and I still quite liked I, so I held onto it.
Because I’d carefully trimmed and scanned the lyrics on paper, Tom was able to sing them in such a way as they could be slotted over the existing arrangement without too much trouble. He put a lot of thought and feeling into the performance, and I could hear him experimenting with how to sing them as he went. Because this was always intended as a demo, there may be errors in there, or things he might like to do differently given time we didn’t have.
This is well out of my area of expertise. The aural candy of a lot of contemporary pop music has science and skill behind it that I can’t even imagine, let alone approximate with no training, bad ears and an iPad, so I just did my best. The tracks had been created in garage band, but I complied them in my ‘go-to’ program, Acid. There are primary school students who’d turn their nose up at this program, it’s so outdated and basic, but it works for me.
Like most of these programs, it turns sound into colourful blocks you can shift around and edit to some extent. My ‘producing’ involved raising or lowering certain parts of the vocal to make them audible (rather than compressing them) and adding a reverb. The ‘pop’ version seemed to be working well, and got more engaging the more elements I took out of it, so there was some stripping back and varnishing to do there as I built the song up. I cut the intro to fit it under the three minute mark. I did all this in-between the usual things a family man has to do on the weekend, so didn’t have too much time to dwell on musical minutiae or pernickety production. if it were to be selected it’d be re-recorded and sung by someone else anyway.
All of this discounts the vital element of design and performance, which as we all know (and love) so often usurps the song itself at Eurovision.
I ran off three mixes: an ‘acoustic’ mix (two guitars and vocal) an ‘easy listening’ mix (my original demo) and a ‘synth’ mix which is the front runner. The most Eurovision- sounding thing I was able to create within my personal, aesthetic and technical limitations. Some songwriters spend years on this craft, working every day to make something amazing and highly commercial. It’s a somewhat quixotic task but not too dissimilar to my own practice, it’s just that the drivers of the creative action are perceived as more or less extrinsic or intrinsic.
The song is done, the collaboration agreed and confirmed, the audio & lyrics entered, and if you’re reading this, has not been selected.
Change in the Weather (Demo) Lyrics David Megarrity Music David Megarrity, Samuel Vincent, Tom Oliver
V1 Some boats lie/On their side Others lift/With the tide Not a single raindrop/For me or for you As the oceans rise/We’re feeling blue CH 1 We made the world so warm We made the rising seas We made the wildest storms We’ll weather the weather As a new day dawns We can change it together V2 We break the ice/as the Mercury climbs We pay the price/for these tempestuous times So let us go then/You and I Arm in arm in arm/Under dangerous skies CH 2 We made the world so warm We made the rising seas We made the wildest storms We’ll weather the weather as our sun sets We will change it together V3 we’re not here forever/we can’t see that far lets change the weather/because our children are This world’s a gift/let’s not forget The future is a present /We haven’t opened yet