The Internet’s first on-line songwriting service proves to be a big hit
Imagine the scenario: Your girlfriend has dumped you. You want to compose a heartfelt love song in order to win her heart back, but your songwriting skills lack just one thing — musical ability.
But the lack of a songwriting gift has never harmed the likes of Britney Spears, and in the age of the Internet, it’s no longer such a drawback for the average Joe, either. Just send an email with your requirements to site creator Benj Edwards or his brother Jeremy at http://www.request-a-song.com/, and your feelings will be immortalized in song in no time at all.
That is, if your request takes the eye of Benj, a political science major at N.C. State University. After starting the site in October 2002 as an innovative vehicle to get his music and songwriting skills exposure to a wider audience, the idea has proved so popular (Edwards has even written a song at the behest of Billboard.com) that he receives an average of 50 song requests per week, so only the themes that spark his inspiration are considered.
“While reading through the requests, if something catches my eye, I focus on it for a second, and if a cool melody or rhythm pops into my head, I’ll either sing it into my portable cassette recorder for later development,” says Edwards of his songwriting process. “Or I’ll walk over to my studio room and start working on it right away on the piano or guitar.
“I like to get a feel of the song by test singing it, and if any words pop out at me, I’ll use them and develop the rest of the lyrics around them. Many times I just make up all the lead instrument melodies right before recording them, in a similar way as with the lyrics,” he says.
The results of the Edwards brothers’ efforts are all available for free download at the easy-to-navigate site, and the best of those compositions have recently been compiled on the independently-released cd Request-A-Song.com – Best of Request Vol.1. A cursory listen to the songs show The Beatles to be a distinct influence, but with such surreal and odd song titles as “Popcorn Papakand the Two-tongued Platypus” and “My Parents Found My Stash,” Edwards’ love of quirky pop is also apparent.
“If I had to classify myself, I’d say that compositionally, most of my music is like Paul McCartney’s obscure solo stuff, with a little bit of They Might Be Giants thrown in,” affirms Edwards.
One song which fits that bill perfectly is “My Dad Thinks I’m Gay,” a tune that is more sensitive and serious than it sounds, and one Edwards describes as a “landmark song” for him and the site.
“That song achieved what I feel is a near perfect balance between humor and seriousness, something which I had wanted to do for a long time,” he says. “It’s funny without being insulting, and it tries to have a voice without being preachy. I’ve since heard from a number of gays that really enjoy and appreciate it and some have found it as perplexingly intriguing as everyone else.”
Many of the songs featured on the CD and the website do have a humorous side to them, but although he successfully tackled the issue of homosexuality, there are some subjects which Edwards purposely avoids. Religion, anything derogatory and also anything that could worry parents’ delicate sensibilities are given a wide berth, which is why “Whack Me With Your Boobs” and “Grandma’s Burning Legs” still remain unpublished on the site.
However, as Benj explains, his songs do have more depth to them than just tongue-in-cheek humor. “‘(Nobody Owns) The Center of The Earth’ and ‘Kevlar Heart’ were written and released during the Iraq War,” he reveals. “They are about as close to anti-war songs that I’ll probably come for a long time. Most of my songs, even the funniest ones, have a serious undercurrent bubbling just beneath the surface.”
With Benj and Jeremy having written close on 90 songs there is, perhaps inevitably, more filler than killer among their output and although there are some catchy pop gems and snappy lyrics on Request-A-Song.com – Best of Request Vol.1, the rather primitive production sometimes undermines them. But the requests can be particularly inspired, such as the Thanksgiving-inspired “Too Much Turkey,” requested by a site visitor who moaned: “The bastards always last for weeks, and then you have to eat them cold and on sandwiches. Damn them.”
Indeed, the appeal of Request-A-Song lies not in the quality of the songs themselves, but in its unique interactivity, providing a positive example of how the Internet and music can intertwine in the light of the RIAA’s continuing tough stance on illegal downloading.
“The site is a direct product of the Internet’s existence,” Edwards says. “Because of the involvement of web site visitors in the creation of our music, I feel that Request-A-Song is as close to some sort of interactive music as anyone has really come. I think that if there’s anyway the power of music and the power of a global network can come together, Request-A-Song is it.”
Neil Finn is one musician who has previously flirted with the idea of writing songs based on other people’s requests for various radio competitions, and although the concept could provide interesting results for established artists in the future, the Edwards brothers are the only people who currently seem dedicated to the cause. http://www.request-a-song.com is impressively detailed, with each published song having its own pop-up window with lyrics, a download link and an explanation of how it was written.
Although Benj admits to having his eye on other musical interests outside of the confines of Request-A-Song in the future, for now he hopes to increase exposure and advertising opportunities for the site and avoid the common Internet scenario where something that becomes popular inevitably attracts a charge.
“I don’t see myself ever charging for writing Request-A-Songs per se, as it’s really a personal artistic endeavour,” he says. “I plan to do a complete site overhaul, changing around the structure and design of the site and we’re also going to be moving the site to a dedicated server soon, so we’ll have more bandwidth to burn, more hard drive space to fill, faster loading pages, and less restrictions in general.”
And you never know, http://www.request-a-song.com might just salvage a doomed relationship, unless of course, your girlfriend is tone deaf. Hang on, that sounds like a good idea for a song•.
Request-A-Song.com – Best of Request Vol.1 is available now via http://www.request-a-song.com/