01
March
2018

Forget The Orchestra: Lisbon 2018 Welcomes Back Live Music To Eurovision

When Netta Barzilai was selected to sing for Israel, the first question that Team Insight had was “Will she be able to use the looper?” We needn’t have worried. Sources close to the Israeli delegation have informed ESC Insight that before the final of ‘The Next Star‘, the EBU confirmed that Barzilai’s looper would be allowed on stage in Lisbon if she won through to represent Israel.

Now that we know that the answer is yes and a live instrument will be returning to the Eurovision Song Contest stage, we can explore the importance of ‘Toy‘ in the evolution of the live vocals rule and what potential rule clarifications could await us in the future.

The First Era: Orchestral Manoeuvres

To begin, let’s take a look at how we got to where we are. Before 1973, back in the first era (the Orchestral Era) of the Song Contest, there was no question about how you would perform your song. You would supply your song arrangement and conductor to the provided orchestra, and you would sing into the provided microphone. I spoke to Gordon Roxburgh, author of Songs For Europe, about the way this was achieved:

The host broadcaster, along with the Musical Director (MD) would send all participants the proposed composition of the orchestra, for example the number of violins, oboes, trumpets, keyboards in the ensemble. This would help the various musical arrangers to score the songs accordingly.

This process would also give the participants an opportunity to request any non-standard instruments they wished to include in their compositions:

The host broadcaster and MD would then come back and say we have a guitarist who can double up on the ‘zither’ you want, (so allow one less guitarist in your score) but we can’t help you with a Tibetan nose flautist. If several participants had come back and requested the Tibetan nose flute, then the host broadcaster had the option of deciding whether it was worth including in the orchestra. But if one participant wanted one unique instrument for 12 seconds in their song, then the host broadcaster may decide that isn’t a viable option.

The Metropole Orchestra, 1970

The Metropole Orchestra, 1970

If a delegation decided that it couldn’t possibly do justice to its song without the Tibetan nose flute, then they could choose to have the instrument played live on stage, using up one of their allotted six performers.

The Second Era: Wired For Sound

From 1973 onwards, pre-recorded backing tracks were allowed by the EBU, with Cliff Richard’s ‘Power To All Our Friends’ being the first song to use a partial backing track.

This added an extra complication to the ‘Tibetan nose flute’ problem. If you wanted to use the instrument on the backing track, then you still had to use an extra performer to represent the backing track on stage. The onstage performer could then play live or mime to a backing track, but according to the Musicians’ Union conventions of the time, the person miming on stage had to be the same person whose performance was captured on the backing track. Gordon Roxburgh:

In practice this wasn’t always the case, and the Contest has a few examples where the person on on stage wasn’t the same musician who performed what the audience were listening to. (But of course they are not going to openly admit it). ”

The rule that specified that non-orchestral instruments used in the backing track must be represented on stage is perhaps the origin of the trope of bringing one of your nation’s traditional instruments on stage, which of course became sufficiently common to be given an affectionate mention in ‘Love Love Peace Peace’.

Below, you can see an example of a non-standard instrument being included. Yugoslavia decided an accordion was needed in its 1983 song ‘Dzuli’ by Daniel, which can be seen to be mic’d up and being actively played.

In order to accommodate the wider repertoire of sounds required as the Song Contest and the popular music represented by it matured, a change in the rules was eventually required. This rule change came when Eurovision tracks began to incorporate significant quantities of programmed synthesisers. It is widely agreed that the challenge to the backing track rule came in 1996 when Gina G was ably supported on stage by two synths and two chunky putty-coloured CRT monitors during the Grammy nominated ‘Ooh Aah Just A Little Bit’, to represent the extensive synth programming of composer Steve Rodway. Gordon Roxburgh adds:

The big transition started in 1996 with the likes of the Gina G song where the boundaries were being blurred, and then by 1999 the orchestra has gone, and then ultimately live instruments were gone altogether.

We’re still trying to pinpoint the very last live instrument to appear on the Eurovision stage, but 1997 certainly marks a sea change in the way that Eurovision presentations are constructed. Let’s call that the end of the second era of Eurovision performance.

The Third Era: Dance Alone

The 3rd era of Eurovision performance from 1997 begins with various changes in quick succession.

From 1999 onwards the orchestra is no longer a compulsory aspect of hosting the Song Contest and it quickly disappears. Televoting pushes the musical selections to more electronic, dance-oriented music; further emphasising the use of dancers instead of on-stage musicians. The audience no longer expects to see instruments represented on stage, except if it adds to the aesthetics of the performance.

However, the key rule remains: no vocal or vocal imitation sounds may be included on the backing track. This rule sensibly bans recorded backing vocals and recorded vocals supporting the main singer, but perhaps less sensibly it bans the use of synthesisers and electronic instruments using choir imitation settings.

In the popular music landscape of 1956 when the Eurovision Song Contest began, it was unimaginable that the exotic new musical instruments that were developing at the intersection of modern classical music, horror film soundtracks and garage electronic tinkering would become a core part of the chart sound. The first UK Number 1 single to feature a synthesiser was ‘Runaway‘ by Del Shannon in 1961, but it wasn’t until the end of the sixties that synthesisers became common stage and studio instruments amongst pop and rock musicians.

The kind of synthesisers that could have caused a philosophical problem for the live vocals rule were things like the Mellotron. Originally developed in the early sixties, it used tape loops of real instruments or vocals that could be triggered by a keyboard to produce infinite but slightly ghostly notes. A Mellotron using the choir setting (demonstrated in the video of the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ below) would therefore have second-hand recorded vocals on the backing track and should theoretically have not been allowed.

Analogue synthesisers work by adding simple waveforms together electronically to create complex sounds. It’s possible to make an analogue synth sound that sounds a little bit like a choir singing ‘ah’. With early synths, these noises weren’t convincing enough to fool anyone, but the rule created the philosophical category of ‘vocal imitations’ that would keep the live vocal rule happy for a while longer. You can hear a sample of an analogue vocal synth below.

Every Modern Vocal Is Modified

One thing that has never been in question is whether it is admissible to treat vocals. Almost everyone who sings down a microphone has some reverb applied. It’s really unpleasant to listen to a totally dry vocal, and large amounts of reverb are often used to reduce the impact of a duff vocal. Yes, especially in karaoke.

The degree and method by which you treat vocals can be controversial. When the Olsen Brothers included a little bit of vocoder in ‘Fly On The Wings Of Love’, this was met by protests from the Russian delegation.

There are two different effects that are generally referred to as vocoders – they both involve the mixing of vocal sounds and instrumental sounds to create special effects, but by different means. See Sound on Sound for technical details.

The effect used by the Olsen Brothers to such great effect is a true vocoder – he’s using a regular microphone. If it was a talk box you would expect to see a tube in his mouth. A vocoder mixes the tune of a live vocal with the imprint of a specific set of frequency envelopes, creating the robotic, low resolution vocal effect.

The main way that a talk box could be deemed to be against the spirit of the rules is that you can be much more lax about hitting a note when the note is supplied to you by an external instrument. This overlooks the fact that the combination of singing and playing when using these devices is a skill in itself, and suggests that a talk box could be used to automatically tune a vocal. The original ones using 1970s technology couldn’t, but the story doesn’t stop there.

First released in 1997, Auto-Tune is a music production tool that takes the idea of mixing a vocal input with a supplied note to the next level. It analyses the waveform of a note and then shifts it to the nearest exact semitone. It can do this harshly and noticeably (Believe by Cher) or subtly and almost invisibly (basically every pop record since the millennium) and it can be used both in studios and live to tidy up vocals to meet public expectations. Because vocal capacity is one of the criteria by which the Eurovision juries are supposed to judge entries, auto-tune is clearly not something we would want at the Contest. But would we also want to ban the creative uses of the Cher effect?

The Fourth Era: Grab The Moment

Last year, we may have seen the start of the fourth era of Eurovision Song Contest performance. Whilst representing Norway, JOWST pushed the envelope on both treated vocals and backing track vocals. The chorus of ‘Grab The Moment’ featured a section of Aleksander Walmann’s vocals which had been treated in a way that turned them into a set of synthetic stabs that critically for the rules couldn’t be performed by the human voice alone. This was definitely a vocal-like sound with recognisable lyrics, and sync’d up to an image of a pixellated Aleks singing the same lyrics. But it was appearing on the backing track? What happened?

After the Song Contest, it became clear that because the vox chop stabs weren’t reproducible live on stage by the human, the EBU had cleared JOWST to include the vox chops on the backing track. JOWST says that they did have a backup plan if the decision had gone the other way, but that it wouldn’t have been as effective. But how did the EBU come to the decision that a manipulated vocal track was acceptable on the backing track? Would it have made a difference if the real Aleks was miming to the vox chop? Did the graphic overlay make a difference? Would it have made a difference if it had been another part of the song?

It appears that there has been no formal change in the Eurovision rules to reflect the JOWST precedent. Any country that selects a song with a similar element will have to seek clearance to perform it, running the risk of the Contest being accused of favouritism and lack of transparency in the event of a negative decision.

For Lisbon 2018, Netta has been allowed to use her looper at the Song Contest. This is different again.

The looper isn’t like autotune or like a pre-recorded vox chop. Through using the looper, Netta’s vocals become an instrument that will be played live. She can apply various filters, harmonic and rhythmic changes and accompany her own live vocals. She can add beatboxing. She could in theory do the whole song with no backing track. She can display tremendous amount of technical and compositional skill at the same time as giving a superb vocal.

However, she will also be playing a musical instrument, which is also against the existing form of the rule. If the EBU were to  formally relax the rule as demonstrated by the above examples, we would not have been  on tenterhooks to hear whether Netta is allowed to use her looper on ‘Toy’ and we would allow further musical diversity and personal expression into the contest.

We should formally acknowledge the start of a new performance era for Eurovision by creating a full ruling on which vocal treatments are allowed on backing tracks, and which technical effects may be produced live …and also a full investigation on why so many people are hiding their backing singers.

As always, the Eurovision Song Contest has to find a way to keep up with technological progress whilst still retaining the live magic that keeps 200 million people tuning in every year.

In the meantime, ESC Insight is very happy that Netta can start up the looper.

Categories: ESC Insight

01
March
2018

Monsters in the lead, but which song should Saara Aalto bring to Eurovision?

Contrary to the outfits, Saara Aalto’s three songs have all been well received, but “Monsters” seems to be the preferred one. Are you also on board for that one, or are the fans overlooking a true gem among the other two? 

With more than one million views, Saara Aalto’s Monsters is the most watched one on YouTube, of her three entries for the Finnish UMK final on Saturday, the 3rd of March. As the first one released, it however also do have an advantage, just as the second one have to the third one.

Contents

  • 1 Monsters
  • 2 Domino
  • 3 Queens
  • 4 Conclusion

Domino was the second one released, and it has passed half a million views on YouTube. The third one, Queens, is currently at 423.000 after just four days. So no, the views on the videos does not say anything about which one is more popular. Had one of the others been released as the first one, it might have been that one which had passed the magic one million. One can however also argue that, she released the strongest one first to secure higher views on the others.

As we can’t conclude anything from views, let’s look at polls. In a poll at Eurovision World, the song monsters is a clear winner with 76% of the votes. At Oikotimes, Monsters lead by 67% while our own poll below give Monsters a 70% lead.

Finland - Which song should Saara take to Lisbon?

Eurovision perspective on the three songs

People can be eager to follow the common opinion, so we won’t rely just on polls either. We asked three team members from various places in Europe to listen to all three songs, and comment on the songs and their potential in the international competition.

Monsters

Ashleigh, United Kingdom

Monsters is my favourite song out of the three. I really hope that Finland make the right choice and send this song to Lisbon. The video looks promising, and the directors have shown good vision with it. I would be really excited to see how they turn this into a production on the big stage. The song is up-tempo, fresh and would definitely stand out. We could be hearing a potential winner of Eurovision if Finland select this song.

Pedro, Portugal

It is not everyday that you get to listen to good Pop music. The “fast food music” comment is correct up to a certain point. Singers nowadays keep on releasing music until something sticks. It doesn’t matter if it features silly lyrics, trends or dated sounds, they’ll just do it, so when you listen to something like Monsters, it just feels right. The production is on key as it features great Pop elements and the lyrics aren’t just there. They’re empowering to the listener. It is the perfect Eurovision fit: an amazing Pop Dance production mixed with empowering lyrics and an amazing vocalist. On top of that, possibly an amazing performance. I’d risk saying if this goes to Lisbon, Finland will most likely finish top 5.

Josef, Czech Republic

Monsters sound the best out of the three songs chosen for Saara. It has that anthemic potential, and I am pretty sure that this entry would not only be a strong contender for the victory, but also a hit at Euro Club. The melody combined with Saara’s vocals and the usage of her high notes is the most efficient (as we see it in all of these entries). Also the theme is really a lot LGBT themed, either in the case of coming-out or the bullying, and that you have to face the monsters and you should not be scared of them anymore. It’s also the fastest of those three songs, which is a good sign.

In Eurovision, Monsters would be an almost sure qualifier, and even a possible winner. Especially as halfway through the selection of the songs, a lot of fan favourites failed to qualify from their national selections, so still we have no clear winner. Saara may be one of them, if she choose Monsters. TOP 5 in the final.

Domino

Ashleigh, United Kingdom

Domino is a good song with a nice melody, and there is no doubt that Saara would smash the vocals. If it was selected as the Finnish entry, it would do quite well. But I don’t think it is winning song.

Pedro, Portugal

All the fierce aspects of Monsters are now gone as love and passion replaced them. The production is smoother, yet the chorus still is strong which could be a good factor for Eurovision. The way the song builds up could also end up in an amazing performance, yet it isn’t a given as Domino is something more common and less unique. I could see it in the finals though.

Josef, Czech Republic

Domino is the slowest out of the bunch. Co-written by Thomas G:son, everybody expected a lot from Domino. But I was disappointed a lot. It sounds the most generic out of these three entries. Domino is also the least „Eurovision-style“ song out of them. I would say that Saara’s vocals are not used efficient enough in this song.

As we already saw some G:son’s songs doing better and even worse, in a combination with the charisma of Saara, Domino could qualify for the final, but after that, I would predict a placing around 15th place. It just doesn’t have the same level of attraction, or even wow effect, which Monsters have.

Queens

Ashleigh, United Kingdom

Queens is my least favourite song out of the three. For me, it is all over the place. The melody changes a little too often during the song, which makes it hard to follow and enjoy it. Having said that, the changes in the melody made the song sound more unique, and it would sound distinctive against competing songs.

Pedro, Portugal

Maybe the riskiest entry of them all. Could be a hit or a miss in Eurovision. Despite the anthemic chorus, the verses could get the listener lost in between, as it represents a huge break on the song. Nonetheless, its mysterious production could easily provide Saara all the tools for one of the best performances. I could also see it in the finals and, in case it ends up being a hit, finish close to the top 10.

Josef, Czech Republic

If we speak about the tempo, Queens are similar to Monsters. In my ranking, it is somewhere in the middle – better than the slower Domino, but still not as good as Monsters. The video is really artistic in terms of using different haircuts, dresses and makeup. Queens would be suitable for Eurovision, but I just don’t see it winning in Finland.

Should it, with Queens, Finland would qualify from the first semifinal, as there is only a small group of the countries that would be sure qualifiers. For the final, I am not sure how Queens may appeal to the Eurovision audience, but I am guessing it won’t be enough to break into TOP 10. I expect a 10th to 15th place for Queens.

Conclusion

We started out wondering if Monsters really is that much better than the other two, or if people might be overlooking a true gem among the others? The polls we looked at all clearly shows that the international fans voting in such polls, with a big majority prefer Monsters.

Our three journalists, one based in Eastern Europe, one in South Europe and one in Western Europe, looked at the three songs from a Eurovision perspective. Despite their big spread geographically, they all go with that Monsters have the best chance for good placement for Finland, in fact they all predict a top 5, and maybe even a Finnish victory.

On Saturday, the third of March, Finland will select one of these three entries, which will then represent them at the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest.

Categories: Eurovisionary

28
February
2018

DoReDoS releases new version of My Lucky Day – Which one do you like the best?

DoReDos won the Moldovan national selection for the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest

DoReDoS released a new version of their Eurovision entry “My Lucky Day”. The song was remixed by German DJ Shantel known for his ethnic productions. It is still unsure which of the two available versions, they will use for Eurovision.

Last weekend, Moldova hosted their national selection – O Melodie Pentru Europa 2018 – where the group DoReDoS came out as the winners of the show getting both the public and the jury votes with 24 points.

Their song, My Lucky Day, was originally created by Philip Kirkorov – responsible for the 2008 Ukranian entry, Shady Lady, and Belarusian’s 2007 entry Work Your Magic – along with John Ballard. To those two, we now add Shantel, a German DJ and producer known for remixing traditional Balkan music with electronic beats, who has remixed the song.

See alsoListen to the acoustic version of Michael Schulte's Eurovision entry

The new version features a bolder and smoother production with way more electronic elements in its instrumental that certainly makes it more Eurovision ready, but DoReDoS are still unsure whether this version or the original one should be used in Lisbon.

The “old” version is available on their YouTube channel. In the video below, you can listen to the new one. Which one do you prefer? Let us know your favourite, in the poll just below the video.

DoReDoS - Which version of "My Lucky Day" is the better one?

If the band really isn’t sure, it remind of the San Marino situation from 2016. Serhat represented San Marino at the Eurovision Song Contest with the song I Didn’t Know. The song wasn’t that well received, but shortly after, he released a disco version, which people preferred instead. Before you knew it, it was announced that they would use the disco version for Eurovision.

The song still failed to qualify for the final, although it did finish 12 in the semi-final so it wasn’t that far off.

Categories: Eurovisionary

28
February
2018

Diogo Piçarra quits Festival da Canção after plagiarism accusation – Susana Travassos joins final

Diogo Piçarra – Festival da Canção’s most popular act and favourite to win – withdrew from the national final after being accused of plagiarism. He is being replaced by Susana Travassos.

UpdateSusana Travassos has been added to the final line-up after the withdrawal from Diogo Piçarra. Her entry is Mensageira, with which she took part in the second semi-final of Festival da Canção.

 It is just two days ago that Festival da Canção’s second semi final took place. Along with the show, a lot of drama submerged as the competition’s favorite act, Diogo Piçarra, was accused of plagiarism for his song Canção Do Fim.

According to the first reports, Canção Do Fim plagiarizes a song from the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), Abre Os Meus Olhos. In a first instance, Piçarra took the time to comment on the accusations and never hinted at quitting the competition: “I am at peace and I am the one who is mostly surprised among all this. I was born in 1990, I am not religious and I am finding out that an evangelical song from 1979 from the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God is similar to what I’ve created. Ironic, at the very least.”

Nevertheless, as time went by, the controversy around the topic only continued getting bigger, to the point there was an article titled “Even if he wins Festival da Canção, Diogo Piçarra will have to face EBU”. As for today, Canção do Fim is the most watched video in the Portuguese’ YouTube and the supposedly plagiarized song, the 8th most popular.

With all that, this evening, Diogo announced through Facebook that he is quitting Festival da Canção as his participation is no longer about his music but about something else. He also thanks for the support which he received, and adds that his career doesn’t rely on his participation.

See alsoArmenian drama: Tamar Kaprelian accuses producers and Asmik Shiroyan of foul play

To all this family, I announce that I am terminating my participation in Festival da Canção.

There are no words to thank all the support, I have been getting in the past 24 hours from other musicians, friends, family and fans. My attitude towards my song is still the same, I am not concerned and I am still strong, but I don’t want to continue to feed this cloud. All that was created around my participation is no longer about music.

I still want to say that I would be extremely proud of representing my country in a contest such as Eurovision, but it is now senseless getting the opportunity. My career or life don’t rely on such. They only rely pn you.

To all the contestants, I hope the winner of Festival da Canção will be the next Eurovision winner. I will be here, with all Portuguese people, applauding you.

Thank you for everything.

Diogo Piçarra on Facebook

Categories: Eurovisionary

27
February
2018

Diogo Piçarra quits Festival da Canção after plagiarism accusation – This is what happened

Diogo Piçarra – Festival da Canção’s most popular act and favourite to win – withdrew from the national final after being accused of plagiarism. He is being replaced by Susana Travassos.

UpdateSusana Travassos has been added to the final line-up after the withdrawal from Diogo Piçarra. Her entry is Mensageira, with which she took part in the second semi-final of Festival da Canção.

 It is just two days ago that Festival da Canção’s second semi final took place. Along with the show, a lot of drama submerged as the competition’s favorite act, Diogo Piçarra, was accused of plagiarism for his song Canção Do Fim.

According to the first reports, Canção Do Fim plagiarizes a song from the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), Abre Os Meus Olhos. In a first instance, Piçarra took the time to comment on the accusations and never hinted at quitting the competition: “I am at peace and I am the one who is mostly surprised among all this. I was born in 1990, I am not religious and I am finding out that an evangelical song from 1979 from the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God is similar to what I’ve created. Ironic, at the very least.”

Nevertheless, as time went by, the controversy around the topic only continued getting bigger, to the point there was an article titled “Even if he wins Festival da Canção, Diogo Piçarra will have to face EBU”. As for today, Canção do Fim is the most watched video in the Portuguese’ YouTube and the supposedly plagiarized song, the 8th most popular.

With all that, this evening, Diogo announced through Facebook that he is quitting Festival da Canção as his participation is no longer about his music but about something else. He also thanks for the support which he received, and adds that his career doesn’t rely on his participation.

See alsoArmenian drama: Tamar Kaprelian accuses producers and Asmik Shiroyan of foul play

To all this family, I announce that I am terminating my participation in Festival da Canção.

There are no words to thank all the support, I have been getting in the past 24 hours from other musicians, friends, family and fans. My attitude towards my song is still the same, I am not concerned and I am still strong, but I don’t want to continue to feed this cloud. All that was created around my participation is no longer about music.

I still want to say that I would be extremely proud of representing my country in a contest such as Eurovision, but it is now senseless getting the opportunity. My career or life don’t rely on such. They only rely pn you.

To all the contestants, I hope the winner of Festival da Canção will be the next Eurovision winner. I will be here, with all Portuguese people, applauding you.

Thank you for everything.

Diogo Piçarra on Facebook

Categories: Eurovisionary

27
February
2018

Listen to the acoustic version of Michael Schulte’s Eurovision entry

With the song “You Let Me Walk Alone”, Michael Schulte won quite convincingly the German national final. This evening, he published an acoustic version of this entry, which will represent Germany at the Eurovision Song Contest in May.

Five days ago, Germany held their national selection, Unser Lied für Lissabon. With top marks from all three voting parts, the public, the juries and the fan panel, Michael Schulte has everyone backing him up when he travel to Lisbon, Portugal in May for the Eurovision Song Contest, despite the title of his song.

His entry You Let Me Walk Alone has now been recorded in an acoustic version, which you can hear below.

You Let Me Walk Alone is written by Michael Schulte himself together with Thomas Stengaard, Nisse Ingwersen and Nina Müller. Thomas has previously won the Eurovision Song Contest as he was a part of the songwriter team behind the Danish 2013 winner Only Teardrops performed by Emmelie de Forest.

Categories: Eurovisionary

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