Parody 102: Your First TrackBlackhuey
Part 1 – Pre-ProductionSo you’ve read Sindel Pellion’s Parody 101 and she’s got you all hot and bothered about putting your talent out in the world for people to see. Your head is swimming with ideas, you’re equal measures of excited and terrified, and you’ve spent hours listening to Jonathan Coulton, Weird Al, Axis of Awesome and Curzon Dax songs to jazz you up. Great start. Now let’s get a track in the can. And I mean now. Well, after reading this post. But right after that. You see, the biggest obstacle to your parody career is that first track. You can spend months preparing, prevaricating and procrastinating and never put a mic near your face hole. It’s tempting, because we’re all used to min-maxing ship fits and winning the intel war before we undock. But just as so many Eve pilots never leave hisec because they’re forever “saving ISK for nullsec”, ultimately it’s all about fear of the unknown. Suck it up buttercup; everyone has a few terrible, awful tracks in them that need to come out before the good stuff flows, so let’s get them over with. I know this because I lived it prior to 2011 when I released my first (public) track, a League of Legends parody of R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” called “Everyone Gets Nerfed”. Since then I’ve podcasted (with a similar mental barrier) and released two Eve tracks “Jita’s On Fire” and “The Carebear Type”, with an album worth of Eve material currently in various stages of production. I guarantee it gets easier every time. I also curate the largest collection of Eve music on Soundcloud, so I’ve heard almost everything that’s out there. Yours will definitely not be the worst song in the world, and has every chance of being great even if you can’t sing or play an instrument. Your common or garden parody boils down to this: Find a song, change the words into something interesting and/or funny and/or Revenant, record yourself performing those words, mix that with some music, and put it out in the world. As MC Hammer was fond of saying, let’s break it down. In this article we’ll cover pre-production, and in Part 2 we’ll wrap it all up with production and post. Allons-y!
The SongSpotify and other such free music streaming apps are a godsend for parody writers. Pick a genre you like, put it on random and shoot that tower or those rats until inspiration strikes. It might be a particularly catchy hook, or a lyric, or even the title that grabs you. I mean really – who can listen to Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good” without thinking of Nulli? Right? Some examples: For “Jita’s on Fire” I was consciously trying to think of a song that could serve as an anthem for Burn Jita 2012, listed all of the songs in my collection that evoked themes of burning, and The Boss’s “I’m On Fire” jumped at me. For “Hisec Miner’s Blues” it was the word “Metropolis” in the Spin Doctors’ “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues” that caught my attention. For “The Holeboy Song” I went looking for country music to fit the wormhole track I wanted to write and I found Garth Brooks’s “The Cowboy Song”. For “Song for PL”… well let’s just say it and the original have C bombs in them. My own rules for writing parodies are a little looser than Sindel’s. As far as doing a track as well as the original artist, most catalogues prior to the rise of so-called modern RnB would be off limits for me if I stuck to that one. I’m not a proud man. It is helpful though to choose tracks that you can manage as a musician and singer. I’m sure it would be hilarious if I (a baritone) tried to cover St. Vincent in her range, or tried to rap in any way, but they would be hilarious musical crimes against humanity. Do your neighbours and potential fans a favour and pick something you can pull off.
Flavor Flav: the opposite of what happens when I rapI definitely do listen to my sources over and over as Sin suggests. The original, the live performances, the remixes. Even the YouTube covers. This can help you find a version that works for you, little vocal riffs that add interest, or even inspire new songs. Sing along in falsetto at 2am every night for a week to learn it. Your wife will love you for it. Promise. Sindel’s also right about sticking closely to the original song. Which brings us neatly to…
Sindel’s WIPFor parodies, a lot of the hard work here is done for you by the original artist. That said, it’s a trick to change the lyrics in clever ways that remain true to the original structure and timing. Simply changing “baby you’re no good” to “Nulli you’re no good” is OK (and factually correct) but it’s a one trick pony that will need more if you’re going to make a full track of it rather than just chucking cheap (but factually correct) shots on the CCP certified #1 Eve media site. The best resource I’ve found for the craft of songwriting is Pat Pattison’s “Writing Better Lyrics” which is also the textbook for the free Songwriting MOOC from Berklee College of Music on Coursera. Even for parody, it opens your mind to different ways to arrive at and polish your lyrics to make them sparkle. Pat’s tip to get a rhyming dictionary changed my life. I didn’t even know they existed. The lyrics are where you can add a lot of flair to the track and develop your style. It’s my favourite part of the process as I can flex my vocabulary and play around with alliteration, different rhymes and bringing Eve thematics into lockstep with the feel of the song. While on that topic, I find that keeping the original theme (and this goes to Sindel’s point again) helps a great deal with the end result. The Lemonheads’ “The Outdoor Type” is essentially about coming clean about yourself to someone you’re deceived, and I stuck very closely to that theme for “The Carebear Type”. Turning that track into a song about how a particular N-based coalition is dumb* would be harder to write and harder to sell to the listener, even if they weren’t familiar with the original, because the whole structure and tone of the song would change. * factually correct It’s worthwhile being aware of the legalities of parody writing at this point (noting that I am not a lawyer of either RL or space). Technically a legitimate parody makes a point about or satirises the original work, such as in The Axis of Awesome’s “Four Chords”. However when writing an Eve parody, you’re using the original work to make a point about or satirise Eve, which is a grey area. Weird Al has made a successful career in that grey area, and if you don’t commercialise the track you run little risk of RIAA goons arriving on your doorstep, but keep it in mind. One final tip: keep your lyrics in the cloud so you can access them from anywhere on any device. Inspiration strikes at the weirdest times.