Swimming Pools – Bedah Lagu

Kalau ada satu hal yang gue sadari dari scene hip-hop lokal adalah banyaknya rapper yang merangkap producer. Entah karena cari nyaman berkarya atau karena perkara budget (gue sih dua-duanya), tapi ini tren yang gue rasa cukup menarik untuk membuka obrolan mengenai songwriting.

Gue bukan pakar hip-hop by any meaning. Enggak gede di jalanan dan bukan juga rapper yang udah tahunan berkarya, tapi gue senang menelaah lagu dan strukturnya ditambah lagi gue juga kuliah di bidang music business. Anggaplah obrolan semacam ini adalah side dish di sela-sela produksi karya, kuliah, dan cari duit buat bayar kuliah.

Anyway.

Kebetulan kemarin ada sebuah lagu yang enggak baru-baru amat menangkap perhatian gue karena satu hal: strukturnya. Lagu tersebut adalah Swimming Pools (Drank) dari Kendrick Lamar. Lagu tahun 2012 ini adalah single pertama dia yang menembus Billboard Hot 100 sampai di peringkat 17 sekaligus jadi peringkat 3 di Billboard Hip-Hop 100. Untuk sebuah lagu rap dengan lirik yang cenderung conscious bisa mendapat popularitas sebesar itu di chart mainstream pastinya lagu itu memiliki formula yang tepat, baik secara marketing maupun secara songwriting.

Question is: what make a song popular?

Konon katanya, chorus adalah bagian terpenting dari sebuah lagu untuk bisa populer. Di sanalah “hook” dari sebuah lagu, bagian yang paling identifiable dan kalau bisa makin nempel makin bagus. Biasanya rapper menggunakan feature artist penyanyi untuk membuat hook yang catchy (contoh: Kanye West – All Falls Down) atau menggunakan satu phrase yang diulang-ulang, atau ya bergantung sama instrumental/sample. Pendek kata, makin catchy makin juara. Itulah yang jadi fokus perbincangan kita kali ini.

We’ll talk about it later on. Sekarang mari kita bongkar dulu struktur lagunya:
screen-shot-2016-12-30-at-4-44-45-pm
Setelah intro singkat selama 19 detik, lagu ini dibuka oleh chorus 1 dengan formula hook dengan repetisi satu kata; “drank”; double entendre untuk istilah “minum” atau “purple lean” yang waktu itu (well, sampe sekarang) lagi populer-populernya di sana. Bagian itu gue tandai dengan background gelap karena di part itu mood-nya memang gloomy dengan sound pad dan drum minimalis. Di bagian ini yang “maju” secara aransemen maupun secara sound mixing adalah kata “drank” memberikan audiens fokus dan ekspektasi bahwa lagu ini adalah “lagu minum”.

Siapapun yang pernah ngobrol dengan musisi yang berurusan sama label pasti tahu cerita bagaimana label hanya akan menghabiskan waktu 15 sampai 30 detik untuk mendengarkan demo sebelum di-skip ke lagu berikutnya. Kita-kita yang bikin lagu mungkin akan kesel, sentimen, ngomel kenapa lagu yang udah susah-susah kita buat, mahal-mahal kita rekam enggak didengerin sampai selesai juga.

Here’s the logic: audiens yang belum kenal kita dan kebetulan mendengar lagu kita di radio tidak akan mau mendengar lebih lanjut kalau kita tidak menangkap perhtian mereka secepat mungkin. Lagu kita akan bersaing dengan banyak lagu lain di pasaran sana dan sedikit sekali audiens yang mau menghabiskan waktu lama-lama untuk lagu dari artis yang mereka tidak kenal kecuali lagunya enak banget.

Inilah alasan utama kenapa lagu pop mainstream biasanya akan menaruh hook sebelum menit pertama. Kalau enggak catchy dari awal ya enggak akan laku.

Membuka dengan chorus sebagai hook adalah satu hal yang sangat umum di pop mainstream. Kita bisa setel lagu-lagu Beatles era awal banget (Can’t Buy Me Love, She Loves You) sebagai contoh betapa purba formula ini dalam pengkomposisian lagu. But it does work well, then and now. Mood dan pesan langsung tersampaikan seketika.

But was it the message?

Pada waktu verse-nya masuk di detik ke-26, line pertama sudah menyatakan sisi negatif dari alkohol. Ekspektasi yang dibangun di chorus langsung dipatahkan di situ (kalau merhatiin lirik sih, kalau yang cuma hyping-hyping doang pasti ya tetep goyang aja). Delapan bar ini adalah bagian di mana Kendrick menunjukkan sisi conscious dia secara lirik, terbalut rapih dengan chorus pertama. It worked well as both conscious and hype song.

Kembali kepada struktur. Setelah empat bar Kendrick menceritakan kondisi personal dia terhadap alkohol, hi-hat masuk membuat mood lagu terangkat seiring liriknya memberikan narasi pesta di mana dia berada saat ini. Satu hal yang sangat menarik adalah bagaimana dua poin cerita (latar belakang alcoholism Kendrick dan pesta) bisa tersampaikan dengan ringkas hanya dalam delapan bar.

Audiens secara umum itu bosenan, lagu kalau flat sedikit pasti dibilang “apaan sih nih, basi!”. Mengantisipasi reaksi inilah yang membuat struktur Swimming Pool ini menarik.

4 bar chorus 1 —> pengulangan “drank” membangun mood, instrumentasi dark & moody
4 bar verse 1 —> introduksi latar belakang cerita, instrumentasi masih dark, tapi cerita bergerak
4 bar verse 1 —> narasi bergeser ke kondisi pesta, hi hat masuk, mood mulai naik
8 bar chorus 2 —> narasi cerita berlanjut ke kondisi “pecah”, instrumentasi dan lirik sama-sama menceritakan kondisi mabuk.

Progresi cerita (lirik) dan pergeseran mood instrumentasi (musik) terjadi sangat cepat sehingg membuat audiens tidak punya kesempatan untuk bosan. Setiap beberapa detik selalu ada hal baru yang terjadi, both lyrical and sonical.

Chorus 2 masuk di detik ke 52, bermain sebagai hook kedua (I swear I ain’t trying to make cheap bar right there), posisi aman di mana audiens yang kita inginkan untuk stay sudah akan stay sampai lagunya habis. Adanya dua buah hook ini juga cara pintar untuk membuat bagian lagu yang berulang tanpa terasa repetitif. Format kedua buah hook ini pun bagus secara narasi, karena hook pertama adalah mengenai “minum” sementara hook kedua adalah mengenai “mabuk”. Sebab-akibat, and that’s pretty smart.

Struktur berikutnya dari lagu ini sebenernya hanya repetisi sih dengan pengecualian verse 2 di mana mood lagu dimainkan setelah tiga bar alih-alih empat bar, tapi more or less tidak jauh berbeda.

Mungkin beberapa dari kalian ada yang merasa ini agak blasphemous ya, menelaah dan mencoba memandang sebuah produksi lagu hip-hop dari kacamata pop. Tapi di mata gue ketika lo memproduksi sesuatu dengan tujuan dilepas dan dijual ke massa mainstream, mau nggak mau harus ada kompromi tentang apa yang mau lo sampaikan dan apa yang mau audiens mau dengar.

Maka dari itulah kenapa lagu ini yang dijadikan bahan telaah. Gue rasa lagu tentang alcoholism yang dibuat seolah adalah lagu peneman minum alkohol ini merupakan contoh terbaik mengenai berkompromi dengan pasar sambil menjaga dignity sebagai seorang seniman.

May 2 Rant

I can’t think any more appropriate day to write about this.

I usually just do one or two social media post every year on this day to celebrate the life and death of one of my favourite rockstar, but I think this year I want to do more. I’d like to rant about Visual Kei, one of his legacy to the world. We can talk a lot about visual kei, from its status in the musical genre, its business model, its A&R, its place in the sonical terra firma, and so many more but let’s focus on the thing I believe matter the most: its status as an artform.

A lot of people refuse to put Visual Kei as a musical genre on its own since it has no musical identity. The sound of the bands differ greatly, there are little to no correlation between one band and another. Which is partially true if not for the fact that some bands’ sound follow a cliche that literally make them sound indistinguishable to the point of questionable plagiarism.

But I digress.

If you are one of those people who say that VK isn’t a musical genre, I’d totally back your claim. It isn’t. It’s an artform genre that consists of music, visual, stage act, and last but not least: the marketing. I’m not gonna talk about the marketing side of it. My friend Tyas know it better than me so you can ask her instead. I’m gonna talk about the rest instead.

Take a look of Malice Mizer, one of the giant name in VK world. In their (sadly) short career as a band, they have three different vocalists with three different approaches to their musicalities and identities; Tetsu with the raw angst-ridden neoclassical rock, Gackt with the elegant aristocratic approach, and Klaha with the downright dark operatic goth. The look complement their sound and their sound goes hand-in-hand with their look on one big stage act that utilize both powers to the maximum.

Visual Kei isn’t the only one (or even the first, for that matter) to do this. We all know Bowie did it way before, Alice Cooper did it before, (Peter Gabriel) Genesis, plethora of glamrock bands, or the latest one: Lady Gaga did it as well. All have one big similarity:

The visuals are being treated as seriously as the music. The visuals have message, have purpose, and they are being done seriously for the sake of delivering the art.

Sadly, that is exactly what’s missing in some of VK artist nowadays including (but not limited to) my fellow Indonesian. What exist are cliches over cliches without rhyme and reason behind their look as if claiming yourself and your fellow band member as a bishonen is enough to be a good “visual band”. Yes it’s your art and I can’t be scene police saying which band is VK and which band is not, but why should I, as an audience, take your art seriously when you yourself clearly isn’t?

While we’re at it, when someone from a VISUAL KEI scene treat their visual as a means to an end, how can the scene being taken seriously?

Yes, there are artists and band that are doing it good, there are also a good amount of band that has done it better in the past, but my point remains. Hate me if you will, I made a lengthy writing about the importance of visual identity before and I think I have deliver what I mean by “taking visual identity” seriously there. I believe there are musician with same restlessness with me right now that believe this need to be changed, and I believe there are also fellow fans who believe we deserve better.

Especially in our local scene, small that it is.

Tabik.

Good Morning!

Making fun of Kanye seems almost like a norm nowadays. People keep attacking him, saying he’s not a musician, saying that he’s dumb (which is actually true in a sense) and have no right to be called a genius. Which isn’t true, he revolutionised hip-hop production and have a good lot of lyricism aside from his occasional stupidity.

And as we all know, people like stupid because stupid make them feel better about themselves :P.

Take Good Morning for example. This song is one of his seminal work and is one of my personal favourite. It’s a somber song about graduation day and it show Ye’s cynical view about school system (he’s a dropout himself).

While it started as a standard brag song about his achievement after being a lazyass stylish student who happens to be like fly Malcolm X: “buy any jeans necessary” (seriously, Ye -_-), it evolves into a something deeper as the verse goes on:

Good morning, look at the valedictorian
Scared of the future while I hop in the DeLorean
Scared to face the world, complacent career student
Some people graduate, but be still stupid
They tell you read this, eat this, don’t look around
Just peep this, preachers, teach us, Jesus
Okay look up now, they done stoled yo’ streetness
After all of that you received this*

*) graduation paper

First he compare the fresh graduate who are stil unsure about their life past graduation to himself who are ready for the future (hop in the DeLorean).

There are several points he make here: about the “career student” who are focused to the study and study alone and not ready (or even know) what they actually gonna face in the real world. How you don’t necessary have to be smart to graduate from school, you just need to pass the tests and follow the rule (read this, eat this, don’t look around).

And how the “streetness” being taken away by the years and years of schooling.

Some people think the last two lines talk about one should stay “street” and left the school while I believe it’s something beyond that. Kanye talked about how your “street smart” are slowly being dulled by staying in the educational system that was not only turning you into a machine, but make you losing what it actually needed in a real world application.

The street knowledge, the things you can only learn from actually being part of the real society out of the safe bubble that is college.

Some might disagree on this view and I totally understand that. College is important and I just realise that after I actually being the part of the college life itself. But on the flip side we can’t discard the reality about the fresh graduate who are totally oblivious about the real world and got shocked with what they are getting post graduation.

Eight years after the song got released, the now-maturing me believe there should be a balance between education and real world skill. The advancement of technology also helped the younger students to learn to fill the knowledge void formal education left them with. While a lot of school still have the old rigid system, some good lot are actively evolving for the better.

Kanye probably will never go back making songs like this again and I’m totally cool with that. He changes like everybody else do, hopefully for the better sooner or later whether the fans like it or not.

You may see him as Kim’s husband, or that weird egomaniac on Twitter, but I’d like to keep him as the musician that inspired me, both lyrical and production-wise.

Empat Dinihari

So my first music video EVER is finally here. It took quite awhile to get everything handled and mastered, but with an IMMENSE amount of help from my college mates I finally be able to finish all the stuffs I need to finish.

I will release a full mixtape later this month, but for now please enjoy the song!

[Lyrics]

Jemari bertaut di penghujung hari
Sepasang kekasih pukul empat dinihari
Tersenyum dalam diam menikmati sepi
Detik berlari, seiring lampu kota menari

Mulut membisu, hati berlagu
Degup seirama seolah jadi satu
Terbisik kata cinta di penghujung asa
Disambut kecup lembut dan ia berkata:

Ikuti rasa, satukan kita,
kau terlalu berharga ‘tuk menjadi yang sementara
Waktu telah tumbuhkan cinta,
biarkan dia bersemi sekarang dan selamanya

Karna kuingin kamu sekarang dan selamanya
Kuingin kita bersama dalam susah dan bahagia
Berbagia cerita dalam duka maupun suka
Karna kau Puspita yang mekar hiasi dunia

Maka menikahlah denganku, kumohon jangan kau ragu
Engkau separuh jiwa, tanpamu ku tak ada, tanpamu ku tak akan ada

Genggam tanganku, rasakan cinta dariku
kuingin kita bersama meski waktu berlalu
Tatap mataku, lihat gelora di sana
lebih dari cinta yang terucap lewat kata

Genggam tanganku, rasakan cinta dariku
kuingin kita bersama meski waktu berlalu
Tatap mataku, lihat gelora di sana
lebih dari cinta yang terucap lewat kata

Ikuti rasa, satukan kita,
kau terlalu berharga ‘tuk menjadi yang sementara
Waktu telah tumbuhkan cinta,
biarkan dia bersemi sekarang dan selamanya

Untukmu…

About Visual Kei, Art, and Everything in Between

Visual kei is what brought me to Japanese rock scene. As a kid that grow up in theatre, I have seen a lot of stage play, big or small, in almost daily basis. When I grow up a bit, I learn about glam rock, hair metal, shock rock, and I got easily hooked by how grandeur and lavish their stage presence are. This also what made me fall in love with nu metal.

And then, I accidentally stumble upon dir en grey’s Filth MV on VCD I rent, that was really magical for my high school self.
I have known Luna Sea before, I know what Japanese rock is. But I always see Luna Sea as an awesome “rock band” with great music, their visuals tells no story other than them being cool.
What struck me when I saw dir en grey then is that their outfit matches the story, the theme of their music video though I don’t understand the lyrics (mind you, I don’t speak Japanese and Jpopasia was yet to exist back in 2003). There is a sense of theatre there.
Not a month after, someone handed me copy of Malice Mizer live. That was life-changing. The setup, the stage, the music, it’s a complete package of performance art and it made me see visual kei as something more. The geeky me then jump headfirst to listen, watch, read about this musical scene as much as I can found from the era of D’erlanger and Kuroyume to today.
I always see visual kei as an art form, though not everyone see it that way, even within the scene itself. The outfit one create to be on stage is part of the art, not just mere make up to support the music. But a “character” to exist as part of the performance. Like Marilyn Manson for Brian Warner, Alice Cooper for Vincent Furnier, or maybe Ziggy Stardust for David Bowie. Maybe I’m a bit ahead of the reality here, but I think this is why most visual kei artist (take Mana, for example), hide their actual name and birth year. They want to be known, to be remembered, as the character they are playing. It’s a big stage of performing art, more than dresses to wear.
I have to admit that there are washed-down stereotypes that we can’t help to have, and it’s okay. But I believe there’s always place for this package to be taken seriously in the vast land of musical diversity.
That’s a simple fan talk though, you might have different perspective with mine and as usual and that’s totally fine, this is a discussion starter anyway.

Visual Identity as Communication Medium

Originally written for my midsemester essay. I kinda like how it turns out so I post it here. Feel free to agree/disagree!

How important is being good-looking compared to musical skill in order to be sucessful in music business? This has been an object of debate. Some might cynically say that being good-looking is all you need to sell in music industry, while some others might give a rebuttal that career based on look alone wouldn’t last because “look” will fade one way or another whether it’s due to age or the shifting perception of beauty. Each arguments have their strong and weak points, so how significant it actually is to one’s career?

The common misconception about musician’s visual aspects is that you have to be good-looking to appeal to your audience. While it is partially true, good looking by itself is never enough to make people stay. Having a good appearance could help to make people to look, but it wouldn’t create an ongoing stare if one doesn’t have something interesting enough beyond their look. In the late 90’s, we have a vast array of boyband selections, all filled with three to five guys with ridiculously good look ready to swoon their audience. But do they succeed to last? Some does, some doesn’t. What makes the difference?

Before we continue, we need to stop and review the aspects that make a good product in music business. First we have the music, then we have the look followed by live stage performance (both fall in the “visual” category), artist’s story complete with the lifestyle surrounding them. Back in the early days of popular music, there were only radio and print media as promotional kit to sell the product. So the music has to be exceptionally good or the live have to be fenomenal to captivate the audience’s attention. But as time goes on we have even more media from television to internet, each with its own characteristics, that create more way to sell the products accompanied with different challenges.

Elvis Presley is arguably one of the first musician that was sold in the package more than just music. With the rise of television (black and white, nonetheless), Elvis’ look was easily highlighted because now the audience at home not only listening to his music but also have time to gaze upon the persona. The keyword here is “persona”, because Elvis was seen more than a musician, he also known for the look, the stage dance and performance, and the lifestyle he oftenly related to. He got all the package that turned him into an icon.

Comparing Elvis Presley to some boyband of the 90’s, the difference is pretty clear. Elvis got a bigger message as the “voice of generation” who are fed up with the war and just want to have fun. His music, his look, performance and personality in general is just a medium to convey the idea. This is what missing from the majority of boyband of the 90’s. Though they are good looking only small amount of them have something to say with their look whether it’s subtle or blatant.

This is what makes Justin Timberlake is a bigger star one and a half decade later than all of N*sync and Backstreet Boys combined. Justin evolves in the matter of look and the message he carry along while the others still trying to find a way to stick on the dated persona.

As aforementioned there are several aspects in one product in music business that we can classify to three branches of medium: audio (music), visual (look, outfit), story (anything press-related). Each of these three support each other and as we all can see, visual is a third of the whole package. It is significant enough that one cannot go without, but not that significant to be the sole aspect one hold on to and as explained before, visual aspects is more than good look. So we can safely say that having a good look per se is not that significant. What important is creating a visual imagery that suits the message one wants to convey as well as having an unique iconic look.

The best example of this maybe Lady Gaga. While she herself is a good-looking person with a great musical talent, she play along with her outfits, live performance, putting semiotics and symbolism in each of her video. This creates a good balance when it’s being compared to her lyricism and songwriting that are rather in-your-face. If she didn’t put as much effort to her outfit, she might be passed along as another generic pop musician.

Lady Gaga is having a visual identity, she brings the artistic aspect of dressing up. Each outfit has its own identity along with the message and she communicate with her audience through her look. For her, the clothes she’s wearing were not a mean to an end, unlike parading a good look for the sole reason of looking good.

Having visual identity isn’t always have to be over the top like Lady Gaga. Justin Timberlake, the artist that was mentioned before, is one of those who are able to put his look and persona in line with his music and target audience. When he released his solo album, he fill the void of white male Pop/R&B singer and letting go of his pretty boy N*Sync persona. His new approach of dressing up matched his music and although he might not be as handsome as some other male singer, his complete personality grown really strong the American market strive to seek for his replacement after he decide to go on hiatus. After several years break and back with Suit & Tie single, he changes his appearance again to suit (pun intended) his now-grown-up market as well as his new, much more mature and suave, music material. The result is uncanny.

So, how important is being good-looking? Not as important as one might think it is. What’s more important is finding a way to use your overall look as a medium for the message you want to convey to your audience and turning it to a unique personality trait.

Because good look might make people to stop and stare, but the personality is the one that make them crave for more.

– January 2015

(My) Afterword from Tribute to Diversity

It’s hard to be different.

I know it could sound juvenile at one time or another, but when you’re actually young and very different from your peer, it’s actually pretty hard to fit in. Let’s not talk about sexual preference or religious belief, you could get intensely mocked because you don’t like certain kind of music or sport.

In my elementary school time, some kids bullied me because I can’t do sport and I don’t like watching soccer. They called me names, saying that I’m a “queer” and all those nasty words which at certain part of my life pushed me onto deep hatred. Over a motherfucking sport.

I still not into soccer until now, but I’m not as hateful as I was.

I still think sport fanaticm is stupid tho’.

That’s why when Ines and Bumi proposed the idea of “Tribute to Diversity” event yesterday, I was hyped. The event was triggered by the cancellation of Lady Gaga’s BTW Ball in Indonesia, hurting not only the right of the concert attendees, but also the very basic idea of the reformation in 1998; the freedom of speech.

Born in artist family, I’ve seen firsthand the oppresion authorities did to my big family. I’ve seen my brother get caught by the police when he join the demonstration against the New Order regime that shut down Tempo magazine. I’ve seen how happy my mum was when Soeharto finally get toppled down. Growing here, I learn the value of freedom.

Yet, during my teenage years I never feel like I “belong” somewhere. It’s an identity-searching facade we all went through and it was never easy. Some people might say something like: “you’re only fifteen, you’re not tormented or lost, you’re just a kid!”, and I guess it’s a normal reaction from most adult.

But “normal” isn’t always “right”. As a grown-up we have weapon we didn’t have as a kid: experience.

Yes, I’m quoting Jake’s mum from Animorphs there. Fucking sue me.

But it’s true, as we grow up we tend to see teenage problems lightly and forgot how it was when we face them for the first time.

And these kids, these Little Monster are facing something most of us never face when we’re at their age: FPI threat.

We can go on talking conspiracy, ideology, morality; but these kids don’t know nor understand. All they know is they want to have some fun and their right is being ripped off just like that. And not all of them are “rich spoiled brats” or anything near that. Maybe some of them are, but most of them are just a middle-to-low class teenager, saving for years to make the costume and to buy the ticket. They even walked from GBK to Pacific Place to attend the events because they don’t have enough cash for the taxi.

And this is what they said threatened our country’s morality.

During the event, they listened to Tika’s music that voiced her view on freedom. They listened Tembang Pribumi chanting inter-religion prayers gracefully with their traditional-modern musical fusion.

And you know what these Little Monster did during Tembang Pribumi session? They sing together, they enjoy and embrace the real Indonesian culture; art and music, despite their unusual Gaga-esque outfit.

So seriously, Gaga (and “western value”) destroyed our culture? Think again, these kids loves Indonesian art performance more than some certain demographics. So tell me, who’s destroying Indonesian culture again?

And when the light went out and they performed their dance, I can see the spirit in their eyes, the joy of finding the place where they belong with people that accept them for who they are.

I am never a Gaga fan, but I think the message she try to deliver is the message I want to deliver to my children. Just be yourself and stay true to what you are.

Because you were born that way.