Monday, July 09, 2007

so much for the poetry of songwriting

Working on another Thrillville means working to license another set of music from record labels. While I can't get into which songs we're licensing, I will say that I've been busy over the last few days with my absolute least favorite part of music licensing: transcribing lyrics for submission to the ESRB.

You see, the ESRB (or Entertainment Software Ratings Board) are the people who figure out if your game is rated E for Everyone or M for Mature. As such, they have to scrutinize any and all content that goes into the game, including all of the lyrics to any songs found within.

So, it falls on me as Music Supervisor to make sure that anything and everything that can possibly be construed as a sung syllable gets reported, lest the ESRB hears something that they're not sure they can identify and delay the rating process. What makes the whole thing a bit frustrating is that their guidelines for E for Everyone content states that they're looking for "Soundtracks that contain profanity or adult themes, including edits or 'bleeps'." Pretty vague. Profanity can vary depending on your country. In the US, there are plenty of people who don't regard "hell" or "damn" as profanity, or at least as extremely minor profanity. In Canada, however, French-Canadians curse by saying things like "Chalice!" or "Tabernacle!," because they have a religious tone instead of a sexual tone. So, I have to transcribe absolutely everything and let them (the ESRB, not the French-Canadians) figure out if it's offensive or not.

Anyway, what the hell does all of this mean. It means that when I do this task, I have to first see if someone has typed up the lyrics online, then listen to the song while I scrutinize the online lyrics and make sure that they're right, then lastly add in and correct all of the stuff that the online versions leave out.

The one thing this has taught me is that absolutely no one knows what anyone is saying in any song. Ultimately, this means that the material the songwriter is trying to express rarely seems to get through to the brains of the listener. If the listener then tries to learn the lyrics off of an online lyric sheet, they're memorizing someone else's jumbled mistranscription and the whole thing perpetuates more misunderstanding.

For instance, this happened to me when I did the first Thrillville. The song "Emo Skater Girl"'s lyrics can be found on my MySpace page. Regardless of that, however, at least one version of the lyrics popped up online on a lyrics forum and is a garbled mess of what I actually sing in the song. For instance:

"You think I'm not/
I tried to hang but couldn't hack it"

is transcribed as:

"Think I'm not/
A try to hang the food and hacket"

Then there's the chorus:

"I'm just a nerd/
Lost to the world/
'Cause I'm in love with an
Emo skater girl"

Apparently ended up online as:

"I'm just a dork/
My stupid world/
Who fell in love with an
Emo skater girl"

And it's generally like that for every song I'm trying to transcribe the lyrics for. Today I found a song where "and it goes by like a bullet" was written as "and it can fly like a burden."

I don't know why lyricists try. It seems like a losing battle.


EmoRiot said...

You know licensing a track by a certain band would be so easy for you because they'd be happy to provide you with the actual lyrics in electronic form so you can just copy and paste into your document. :)

Bug said...

Huh ... That's an interesting thought ... It had never crossed my mind. : P

EmoRiot said...

I thought of you last night as I watched the worst glitzy tacky tv show since Solid Gold. NBC's Singing Bee is based on your idea that nobody knows the right lyrics.

However, aside from the show being totally cheesy and painful to watch (an NSYNC host doesn't help) it actually shows that people pretty much know the lyrics.

In fact, the biggest lyric error made on the show was people throwing in or leaving out the word "well." As in "Well I'm your venus, I'm your fire, your desire." (wrong) or "Well you're gonna have to face it you're addicted to love." (right)

bad show...

Bug said...

Sounds bad. And oddly, there's a version that's coming on Fox as well called "Don't Forget the Lyrics."