and, listening to commercial music…along with understanding the producer’s intentions…
(Note to reader: If you haven’t listened to the tracks, or aren’t familiar with the basis for this discussion and the purpose for which this music was produced, go back to the introductory page.)
It is a challenge to write successful commercial music. For something like a radio program theme – a short piece of music that will be used to introduce a topic and set the tone for its audience – it must be simultaneously distinctive, yet “catchy.” It should make a dramatic, recognizable statement; drive the mood forward; then get out of the way in order to accommodate a voice-over or other discussion.
Over sixty-second intervals, the original “WJR Internet Advisor” theme music worked extremely well. With a signature “hook” at the beginning – a driving buildup – a pulsating, rhythmic bed – and arrival at a thematic conclusion – this music propelled this show for fourteen years of broadcasting, and counting.
The original piece employed what is referred to as a “compound meter” – in this case, 12/8. This metric basis helps to create what musicians sometimes call a “shuffle feel.” The 3-within-4 groove has a natural drive to it. Combined with the harmonic structure (or, “changes”), the piece develops into a “vamp” that provides the bed for some ongoing little inventions on the hook. Even though it’s a relatively short track, it still has shape, dramatic line, and interesting orchestration.
As the composer, I have to say that I still like this piece of music. I’m kinda proud of it…and feel that it continues to work well. However, both I and the weekly audience for the “Internet Advisor” (not to mention the program’s HOSTS !) have heard this now for, well, fourteen years…that’s a long time.
The “WJR Internet Advisor” radio program itself now heads into syndication and hopefully, some new horizons. Eminating out of Detroit, always about what’s *new* on the Internet–can we reflect that in our theme ?!? How to retain the audal signature – the sense of direction and purpose – and yet create a whole new “mood” as well as a sense of the future ??
* Well, here’s what we did. Though, if you’re still reading this–it’s only a total of a couple of minutes of music we’re talkin’ about!! Nonetheless, these two “shorties,” along with some other jams provided below, allow for a conversation about some fun elements in the musical language.
It’s always great to have a soloist who can deliver the goods in a commercial sense. Mattie DeDoes, like other great musicians I’ve had the chance to work with over the years, has great instincts when asked to reflect mood in his sound and melodic ideas.
To give this artist a canvas, I decided to “square up” the beat. Hip-hop and electronic music rarely use anything like a compound meter. They like to present a transparency in their beat to create a sense of accessibility. With rhythm subdivisions in powers of two (4, 8, 16,…), these kind of textures seem more “standard” to many listeners.
Part of the challenge remains, however, to make music that still has a creative evolution – that while serving its purposes, is still fundamentally interesting. Even in a :60 track, we want to take our listener somewhere intriguing. For me, this is the part I get into – making music that still delights the listener, especially after multiple hearings.
In the case of the “new” version, some of the creativity can be found in how a “triplet” motif plays against the “square” rhythmic bed. This occurs right at the start, when the original fanfare gives way to the solo saxophone – which takes us into a more “urban”-style groove. The sound is a little more dark, maybe with a little more intrigue. Certainly, the instrumentation is different as well, as we use a combination of natural and synthetic sounds, in the funky rhythm we’ve described earlier.
Listen to what’s similar between the two tracks, and also to what’s different. As I always say to music students when I teach theory or musicology classes – all of us can, and should, improve our listening abilities. Where better to do that than with music ?!?
We hope you found this little “music theory” lesson interesting. With the new track and its variations, titled “Cutting Edge,” we also hope to help the “WJR Internet Advisor” achieve more years of success ! Then, somewhere around 2025 or so, we’ll redo the theme again…
(Click Here to hear Steve’s original “Internet Advisor” theme ! – opens new window)
(Click Here to hear the new “Internet Advisor” theme – titled “Cutting Edge” ! – opens new window)