The homie Toshitaka Kondo over at Rhapsody caught up with Danja for a little Q&A recently. I found one of Danja's answers particularly enlightening.
Explain how you test your melodies as ringtones to see if they’re catchy?
I call it “ringtone” because it’s a silly little melody that catches you. I do those melodies and loop them and build songs around that melody, whether the artist is singing it or [an instrument] in the track is playing it. I’ll pull a random person into the room and say, "Listen to this." They listen to it and I come back [in 10 minutes] and say, "Sing what I just played for you." If I know they can remember it from hearing it one time, then I know we have a potentially good record.
As much as I can say I'm not a fan of most ringtone rap (or at least the ringtone rap that is made specifically for the purpose of being a ringtone), I do think that Danja's attitude and method for knowing what is a potentially good record is right on the money. There's this prevailing notion among high-minded music enthusiasts that a "silly little melody" takes little thought or effort to pound out on the keys. That type of talk usually comes from people who either can't play an instrument (so they're stuck sampling), or can play but make a habit of just putting too much thought into it, or are just flat out hating on the fact that they can't make a hit record.
My thing is, there are many different ways to play a simple melody, different rhythms, different variations of the chord, different keys it can be played in, different progressions of the chord or melody...etc. Now I'm not saying that these are the most complex things in the world, but at the same time they can be more than just fingering 3 notes on a Motif. Also, when you're working with a vocalist, there are specific key ranges that certain artists are generally comfortable with. And let's keep it real, a four bar loop repeating for three and a half minutes gets pretty boring after a while (hello hip-hop, are you listening?).
So while the initial steps for figuring out whether something is catchy enough to be a ringtone may be as simple as asking someone to listen to something and then seeing whether or not they can repeat it, taking it a step further and actually making a record that will have more shelf life than "Chicken Noodle Soup" is a much more complicated process. Just like the classic 50s Progression is the easiest keyboard progression to play, but not everyone can make their very own version of "Stand By Me." Other than JR Rotem and Sean Kingston, of course.