Where Music & Dance Fall Face First Into The Internet

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Rise & Fall Of The Fu

The Rise & Fall Of The Fu
I sent out a tweet today that a few Song Fu veterans didn't care for or agree with. They didn't like me laying blame on the all mighty Plumey for the failure that was Song Fu 5. Personally I like Ken, matter a fact I really admire what he's done in creating Song Fu. It's a place to discover new artists that probably don't get the attention they deserve for one reason or another. I also love the competition aspect of it even though I don't actually compete. So all in all Ken is a swell guy. But he's not perfect, and Song Fu is FAR from being perfect....especially lately. I don't think Ken has skin so thin that my little tweet will hurt his feelings. I mean if you're going to be on the internet you have to have thick skin. It's also not my intention that anything that follows hurts his feelings. I just want to mention some things that make Song Fu great, and maybe point out how Song Fu has taken a wrong turn or 2.

The Masters:
It's a no brainer that the 'Masters' are an important part of this competition. I mean that's what gets people interested enough not just to listen & vote, but to compete in the first place. From talking to various competitors one of the big draws is being a part of something that Jonathan Coulton, Paul & Storm, Neil Innes & etc... are a part of. During the last few Fu's a few things have happened that have taken the focus off the masters. Some of these things Ken has control over & some he doesn't. The first thing that happened I don't blame Ken for in the least. When the tournament format changed, and the masters didn't compete each round it's obviously a downer. However in the long run I think this had to happen. Ken has contacts that's for sure, but I imagine it's not easy to line up masters for something like this. I mean they don't get paid & it's a time consuming commitment. So getting someone to agree to write 3 or 4 brand new songs for you isn't a small task. Eventually if Song Fu was going to continue on a regular basis Ken would probably run out of people willing to be a master simply because people can't keep working for free. If Ken's resources were endless then sure lets go back to the old format, but realistically unless you want to limit Song Fu to once a year or something, the format change was needed. Getting people to commit to 1 song over a week or so is much easier then the alternative.

Before the format change happened there were a few times when the masters didn't complete the challenge. I don't blame anyone for things like that, I mean LIFE HAPPENS. You might have to work (I mean the kind that pays the bills), you may have a baby (that happened twice), or something else that's a little higher up on the priority list then an on-line songwriting tournament. Now even though those things do happen they can be planned for, and by the end of Song Fu 3 there was plenty of reasons to start planning for them. Masters dropped rounds left & right in SF3. Luckily Paul & Storm stayed for the finish, but that's only after skipping a round themselves. So when SF4 started & the format changed for the second time, it was a time bomb waiting to happen. Before if a the master skipped you had fall back masters who were already competing. Now if the master skips what happens? You're screwed, that's what. I'm sure Ken learned from that, and I imagine he had a back up plan in case that happened in Song Fu 5. Unfortunately whatever his backup plan was also flopped. So for 2 Song Fu's in a row, the thing that is the biggest draw has been a no show. This is obviously my second example of things that have taken the focus off the masters.

I have to lay some blame on Ken because there are ways to avoid this. Matter of fact since the end of SF4 I've thought that Ken should give the master his/her challenge before the tournament even starts. Once you have someone lined up, give them a week or so to complete a given challenge. Then store that song on your computer, and start the tournament. When it's time for the final battle you give the same exact challenge to the winning challenger with the same time period. There's no possible way you're going to disappoint anyone in that circumstance. If the challenger doesn't step up, that's not a big deal. At least not compared to the master not showing up. I'm not saying my way is the only way to go, but it's an example of how this recent let down could have been avoided. Since this isn't a new problem at this point, and there are ways to avoid it...it's only fair that Ken takes some blame.

The third thing that has taken the focus off the master is definitely Ken's fault in every way possible, because it's Ken himself. Song Fu 5 wasn't the first time that the master didn't compete until the end, but it was the first time nobody knew who the master was going to be. If the big draw to the carnival is the strong man, you don't have the barker shouting about the bearded lady. By not telling people who the master is you lose even more interest from people, and after the finish to SF4 you really didn't need that.

At this point I don't want to keep writing because I'm terrible at it, and even Microsoft Word can't fix all my grammatical errors. Since I've started I feel I should finish, so I'll move on to something else that has bugged me and many others about Song Fu....the voting.

This really isn't as big a problem as the master issues, but it is something that should be fixed, and can at least be improved upon. I know Ken has looked into a couple ways to do voting, and he said there's problems with both systems he has investigated. I don't disagree with him, voting can be a bitch, and I hear about people hacking/cheating or just taken advantage of systems all the time. But just because something is difficult to solve you don't just avoid the problem. Currently the voting system is unfair for 2 reasons. The first being that it's easy to cheat the system and vote multiple times. The second reason is because it's a bit of a popularity contest that isn't based on talent. I liked Berg & Jerry, but do you honestly think they created the best music for SF4?

Here's another suggestion from me, and again I don't mean to imply it's the only way. Instead of having 1 voting system, have 2. Continue to allow fans & listeners to vote with the same system you have in place. The person with the most votes at the end would still go up against the master. However you also allow challengers to vote via e-mail for their favorites each round. It's not hard to set up a single purpose e-mail & count the votes from 20-30 different people. Sure it's not fun, and it may take a half hour of your time, but the people taking the time to create these songs deserve it. At the end of the 3 rounds whoever has the most votes via e-mail would also battle the master in the last round. This would insure that someone with a lot of "fans or friends" doesn't just overwhelm talent. I don't think people would mind having 3 people battle it out in the final battle. For the last round you would probably have to pick just one system, but at least my solution gets you a challenger whose peers would have to agree deserves to be there...after all they alone would have voted for it.

John Hodgeman:
This is the last thing I want to mention, then I'll close. It's actually more of a question for Ken, then anything. After having 35 people/groups write songs about John's mole men, why on earth couldn't you take 30 seconds to ask John about what he thought of it in your last chat with him? I'm just curious, I know a lot of the people would have loved to hear what his response would have been.

Please forgive me if this seems mean, but it's not supposed to be mean. Laying blame never comes off as being nice though, so I get if people don't like this, and they can disagree with me by posting comments below. Besides loving Song Fu, and liking many of the people involved, I think some of these problems get me mad because of my profession & nature. I'm a PE teacher, or at least an unemployed one, and it's part of my job to design games & competitions that are fair. I also modify lessons every time I teach. If I teach a lesson & it didn't work, I make changes so that the next time it might. Being naturally competitive at everything, I hate seeing something I view as being unfair. This is my way of venting some frustrations with something I see as needing fixed or modified. To close I just want to say I loves me some Ken Plume...but totally in a heterosexual way. Keep up the good work, just do it even better. The artists deserve it, and that's who it's all about.

Song Fight Review: Crush
Right Click "Save As" on the names of the artist to download a MP3 of their entry.

The last challenge over at Song Fight was titled "Frostbite", and I predicted that Jeff DeSantis
would win. Or at least that was my favorite entry. Well I was wrong, and RE:FLEKT got the win. You can decide for yourself which is better, but RE:FLEKT wasn't even in my top 7. There's a whole new batch of songs over at Song Fight, so I suggest you go pick your favorite songs for the current round. My picks are listed below:

Voted For:
(Right Click "Save As" on the artist's name for a MP3 of their entry.)


Ken's Super Duper Band 'n Stuff


Deja Vu featuring Vertigo

Still Good: Berkeley Social Scene - Ross Durand - Cain / Prosthetic Limp - i.p. - The Weakest Suit - Boltoph

Not Too Bad: Benjamin Sturdevant - Jon Eric - Tuners Union - James Owens

State Shirt
I'm always up for posting YouTube videos for these Song Fu/Song Fight blogs. I really liked the stop motion video for this entry.


  1. Hello, Travis!

    For those of you who read this and don't know, I'm one of the people who questioned Travis' initial tweet. It's ironic, I think. In the TMA chat, Travis explained his criterion for omitting some of Sammy Kablam's reviews. He explained that if they were "just mean," he dropped them. However, if they included "constructive criticism," he left them in. Personally, I believe that tweeting, "Ken Plume has failed yet again to..." falls into the former category. This blog post belongs to the second...

    While I agree with many of Travis' points, there are a couple with which I disagree, or at least believe that there's more to the story. One is Travis' contention that it was a mistake not to announce the identity of the Master at the beginning of Song Fu #5. Now -- technically -- this was the SECOND time that had happened, as we did not know that Molly would be the Master of Song Fu #4 until the end. But I actually believe that Ken did well to keep the Master's identity a secret. Yes -- it may have meant for less traffic throughout the various rounds. But it allowed Ken more flexibility in trying to guarantee that there WOULD be a Master for the final round. If he had posted someone at the beginning of #5 who was no longer able to do it at the end of #5 -- Ken's now got a completely different problem on his hands. Cloaked in mystery, Ken can try to replace a fallen Master with a "fresh" Master in time to still hold a final round. Which he DID attempt to do. I think it's telling that even WITH this flexibility, securing a Master has proven impossible in two consecutive iterations of Song Fu. Imagine how much harder it would have been had everyone visiting the site been promised someone PARTICULAR...

    The other point on which I disagree with Travis is the idea of having two sets of voting. Here's why: (Travis was a P.E. teacher, so he'll understand this phenomenon immediately...)

    It's Student Council election time at Song Fu Elementary School. Three students are running for class president -- two girls, and a boy.


    Doesn't matter if the girls are smart, popular, well-suited, committed, etc. The boys in the school will vote for the boy. The girls in the school will split their votes.

    It's not a perfect analogy. But it's a valid concern. No one who follows Song Fu can be blind to the fact that the voting results are not a referendum on talent. And those of us who keep returning to compete in Fu after Fu have all found our own ways of coming to terms with that -- and possibility even embracing the fact that, for us, Song Fu is not about the voting or about how high we climb in the rankings. At the end, there's a winner, and we feel happy for that person/group. And we know that -- were there different amounts of Internet exposure -- someone completely different could have gained the top slot. And we would've felt happy for THEM...

    So -- that's my two cents. Take it for what it's worth. Big hearty congratulations to Joe! A heartfelt "Well Done!" to all who competed. And here's looking forward to Song Fu #6. I know a lot of people are finally ready to take the deep breath and throw their hat into the ring for this next one -- I look forward to hearing your efforts!!!

    Long live Song Fu!

    Edric Haleen

  2. Edric is correct about the Master for Song Fu #4. I don't know why it was in my head that Molly was announced at the beginning. My opinion on why that's a bad idea doesn't change however. Thank you for pointing out my error Edric.

  3. I agree: Ken's non-communicative nature is frustating and detrimental to the competition. Not involving Hodgman with the Molemen round is more than a disappointment. I would love to hear which songs are his favorites.

    It's as if Song Fu is on a site completely seperate to QSE/ASCF, to the point that there is no cross-promotion for it on any other blogs or podcasts on the site. What's the point in having a network of media content that draws thousands of people every week if the people involved don't inform visitors about the events on the rest of the site?

    I still have faith that Song Fu can become something better than what it is, and I'll stick around to see if it happens.