A blog about songwriting and about the songwriter Luigi Cappel

Archive for the ‘Christmas Songs’ Category

Temporary Home Song Analysis

I’m in the process of fine tuning my new song God If You’re Listening, which is a Country Christian Christmas Song. As part of that I am analyzing Temporary Home as an example of both a hugely successful song and one that I love, written by Carrie Underwood, Zac Maloy and Luke Laird.  I want to emphasize that I have utmost respect for all of these amazing writers and that this analysis is to help me improve my craft, rather than to comment on theirs, given that they are all hit song writers and I am still working on becoming one.

At the end of this blog I have included a YouTube clip which displays the lyrics, rather than the official video, so you can see what I am referring to in my comments. You can see the official music video on my previous blog here.

So here we go. The first think I looked at was the hook, which is also the song title. It fits perfectly and is repeated twice in each chorus, so you are left in no doubt as to the point of the song. People who like the song will know the title even if they have never been told it. This is of course important for marketing if people hear it and want to buy a copy.

The theme of the song is consistent. It’s all about people who are in diffifult transitions in their lives, but accepting that better is to come, one way or another. I have read some critiques which said that the song is too simplistic, but I disagree.

I understand that Carrie knew exactly what she wanted to write about when she sat down with Zac and Luke during a 2 day writing session. They each drew from their own experiences, and songwriting teachers always say write about what you know.

There is a balance between writing a song that tells you an exact story, complete with detailed imagery, vs telling a story allowing you to insert your own imagery and imagination, being able to make it yours, based around your own experiences. Someone who listens to a song that matches their emotions and experience and has that special moment, wondering, how did the artist know that about me, is going to be a much bigger fan.

The lyric moves between the 1st and 2nd person, building a word picture then making it personal. I really like the imagery of “windows and rooms”, which is sufficient for you to fill in the gaps from your own memory or imagination, getting you involved in the story. The same with the old man. We know he’s in a hospital bed, we know he’s dying, but it is more powerful to not say it.

The only part I would change would be the beginning, with the 6 year old. The words do not belong to a 6 year old, rather to a commentator. What I’m trying to say is that a 6 year old foster child probably wouldn’t have that positive attitude unless it came from the advice of their caregiver. Like Luke Laird, I also had a time when our family hosted several foster children and they tended to arrive insecure and socially inept and certainly not thinking positively about the long term future. But then most people would not notice this and you quickly move on to the next vignettes and the old man situation which so many more of us can relate to.

The structure of the song is excellent whilst again simple. Whatever the critics say, I believe that commercially simple is best. People can learn the song quickly and sing along with it. The melodic repetition also supports this. Most won’t have Carrie’s chops but they will enjoy singing this song. The build from a boy, to his mother to the old man is linear. Carrie’s performance builds to long sustained notes with the song climaxing with the old man dying and the tension is then released in a more subdued chorus. The cadence from the 1 note to the 4 note at the end of each verse builds expectation and identifies the arrival of the chorus.

The arrangement is excellent for the song. There is a lot more in it than you will hear first time around, but ultimately this is a showcase for the power and clarity of Carrie’s awesome voice. Her phrasing makes so much impact on the song, for example “Looking for a way…………….out”. Great sustained notes and some sweet harmonies.

The backing band is tight as you would expect from Nashville, with the vocal taking centre stage, again I understand a Nashville recording prerequisite. There is some nice pedal and as I mentioned, each time you listen you will here something more, which makes it nice to come back to.

I found it interesting that the song runs for 4.29, which is long for a pop song, but probably less noticeable for a country track and one that tells a story. I would have expected a bridge chorus at the end or for the final chorus to go up a note for a final climax, but the writers kept it simple.

So what was the point of all of this?

  1. Just like an art student studies the great artists, a songwriter wanting to write hit songs, has to study hit songs.
  2. I want to write not only hit songs, but songs that tell a story, engage the listening and evoke emotions. The best way to do this is to understand the crafting of songs that I like, that do this.
  3. I am often too impulsive in writing songs, as I mentioned in my last blog. This exercise is forcing me to slow down and rethink the specific song I am currently writing, “God if You’re Listening “.

So my conclusions? I am now going to rewrite my new song again. I’m going to remove the bridge and do a 3rd verse which will be about the husband and father, thereby telling a 3rd part of the story. In my bridge I have moved from the story to a commentary and I’m thinking that this commentary should be coming from the listener, not the singer.

I have also decided, as per my previous blog, to make the performance simple, just lead vocal, guitar and bass. If I do a version with more, it will just be for fun, but I am not writing as a singer songwriter, I am writing for someone else to perform. I believe that the more elements I add, the narrower the appeal will be for someone to pick the song up.

This has been a personal exercise for me, but I hope it also gives you some ideas for your own writing. I would welcome any feedback.

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Songwriting New Year’s Activity and Resolutions

So its 2011 and I have made some resolutions, the big one being to really work hard in my songwriting and I’ve started off the way I intend to continue.

My first blog for this year was about my new song God if You’re Listening and having given it a lot of thought in the wee hours, I am doing an about face which will hopefully head me off in the right direction, especially a week before my first Berklee Music Semester of the year, with the paper on Commercial Songwriting Techniques.

So here’s my first weakness which I aim to correct. When I write a new song, I record a demo straight away. That’s fine if you do it so that you can remember all the nuances, but I tend to want to upload it onto websites straight away before it ripens. The result of this is that:

  • I haven’t learned how to play it properly yet. This means that the recording sounds like what it is. What it isn’t is a quality demo. Just because I know how I want it to sound, doesn’t mean that it is ready or refined.
  • I haven’t run through my Song Quality Checklist from Music Publishing 101. The first question of which is “Does the title sound like a hit. My song from my last blog started off as Santa If You’re Listening, but I very quickly realized it was wrong for lots of reasons, including that the dominant theme was a woman talking to God. It also means that it is not just a Christmas and Country song, but also a Christian song.
  • I rushed the accompaniment which actually sounded rushed and boring.
  • I added more instruments than necessary which actually detracted from the recording. As I songwriter, I really need to focus on simple elements, vocals, one guitar and bass. If  I want to pitch the song to an artist, in most cases less is more.
  • The melody and phrasing always improve the more you play a new song.

So sometime soon I am going to re-record “God If You’re Listening”. In the meantime, I am going to do the following things:

  1. Work through my Song Quality Checklist.
  2. Create a song Admin Sheet
  3. Print copies of the song and chords for my 3 performance clearfiles
  4. Register it with APRA
  5. Analyse a hit song in a similar style from my ongoing list of 5 songs for analysis. Probably Temporary Home by Zac Maloy, Luke Laird and co-written and recorded by Carrie Underwood, because it is similar inasmuch as it was written to evoke emotions and because it is a very successful hit song.
  6. Then I will revisit my song to see what I can improve.
  7. When I am happy I will re-record it, put some copies onto CD and then submit to a number of websites.

The key point I am making is about treating my songs as a business product, because if I don’t no one else will.

New Song ‘God If You’re Listening’

So I’ve now finished the first cut of my Christmas song for 2011, which as the name of the blog suggests is called, God If You’re Listening. This started off as Santa If You’re Listening, which I wrote about in my last blog. It started as my 2nd to last Harmony assignment for the year. I finished it this morning, 1 January 2011 and recorded the first cut which you can listen to here. God if You’re Listening

I decided to change the name because God If You’re Listening is more generic and while Christmas makes the concept more poignant, and is a time that many people do lose their jobs, it could happen at any time to anyone. Most people will lose their jobs at least once in their lives and often when they least expect it.

Here are the lyrics. I hope you like it. I’ve sent the song off to someone who offered to master a song for me for free. I’ll wait a few days and see what comes back before putting it onto my favorite music sites. So you’re the first to hear the raw demo. Let me know what you think.

God If You’re Listening © Luigi Cappel 2011
Verse One
There’s a young boy on the corner sitting on a garbage can, his red rimmed eyes are looking at the sky. He says
Santa if you’re listening, can you bring my Dad a job? Since they closed the plant we’re barely getting by.
Chorus
Santa if you’re listening I sure could use some help my Mom is lying crying in her room
I don’t need no toys or such, I’ll just do my chores and please Santa can you make it happen soon.
Verse 2
In the bedroom sits his mother and she’s staring at the wall, her eyes glazed over can’t see through her tears, she says
God if you’re listening can you help my family? Our food is low and the rent is in arrears.
Chorus
God if you’re listening I sure could use some help, my husband’s tried most everywhere he can.
I don’t need no Christmas Tree or fancy clothes to wear, I just hope that you have a plan.
Bridge
The same could happen to you or me, if you see someone in misery throw them a lifeline if you can
It don’t have to be much, just a friendly hand and a loving touch can be all it takes to revive a weary soul, and she said
Chorus
God if you’re listening I sure could use some help, my husband’s tried most everywhere he can.
I don’t need no Christmas Tree or fancy clothes to wear, I just hope that you have a plan.

Christmas Hope Songs

So I’ve written a number of blogs about Christmas songs and a key point being that you need to write it 6 months out. A couple of years ago I wrote Another Stretch in Iraq which I blogged about here. This was my recognition of the men and women of the military who have served and are serving around the world. Following this year’s study it is going to get a major rewrite and new name, but the fundamental message doesn’t change.

Coming up to Christmas I was working on my second to last Melody Assignment at Berklee Music and decided to do it as a Christmas song. I haven’t finished it, but thought I’d share a couple of verses and chorus with you. I’m thinking it will end up with another verse and bridge before I record it properly, but hope you like the concept.

I am really into telling stories which will become obvious if you listen to more of my songs. So this one is about a family who have hit tough times and despite their own feelings are wishing for something good for someone else.

The exercise was point and counterpoint between bass and lyric melody. For the verses I’ve used Oblique motion where the dominant movement comes from the bass. In the choruses I’ve used Parallel motion to really draw attention to the emotion in the lyrics.

Hope you like it. All feedback welcome. You can hear it by clicking on the following link: Santa if youre listening

Merry Christmas to you and yours and many thanks for visiting my blog.

Another Stretch in Iraq, my Christmas Song

December is only hours away and I have just entered my song Another Stretch in Iraq into the Paramount Group’s Christmas Song Competition. Why enter a song about a soldier going back to the Iraq War?

I couldn’t think of anything more poignant than soldiers in the field opening up a parcel from home which has a miniature Christmas Tree in it. The men and women will be thinking of home, wishing they could be with their friends and family, just as they would have at Thanksgiving. Just as their families and friends are thinking of them, wishing they were at home, hoping they will come home safe, sound and soon.

The concept of soldiers going to war with pictures of their loved ones helping them keep it together and coming home finding their loved ones have moved on in their absence is not unusual and while it is tough, the strength and security of knowing your fellow soldiers have your back is in a sense even stronger than your home relationship because their support can be the difference between coming home alive or in a body bag. The memories of experiences in the field can not be fully understood by those who have not served in the field of war. The worry of those at home waiting and praying for their men and women is also a unique feeling, worrying every time the mail is late or the doorbell rings late at night.

So while my Christmas song is not about sleigh bells ringing or Santa coming down the chimney, it is about love and family, about fellowship and trust and about being alive, that special way of feeling alive in a world of uncertainty.

Now I haven’t been to war, I’ve been lucky to have come of age between wars, but plenty of my family members have served in times of peace and war.

I did spend 6 months or so researching it and the reaction of men who served in Desert Storm when I performed it in the US last year suggest that I managed to capture some of the feelings.

It must be pretty tough for someone to want to go back to the Bradley (personnel carrier)

Id rather have my Bradley

I'd rather have my Bradley

and the MRE rations (Made Ready to Eat) having gone home to the girl or guy they felt they were fighting for and finding they now love someone else. But the story has probably happened a hundred times to soldiers in the last year and to thousands before them.

So, I give to you and the judges of the Paramount Group songwriting contest, Another Stretch in Iraq and hope that they see my Christmas Song entry as a piece written full of respect for the men and women whose blogs I read and commented on at the Milblogging Site and the diaries of Desert Storm which told their story in their own words. This isn’t a song of war, but a song of people who do what they feel they must and what they feel.

Merry Christmas to all those brave people fighting and peacekeeping on their missions around the world. You and your families have my deepest respect. May your stretch be short and your Christmases with your families holding each other around  the tree be many.

Another Stretch in Iraq

(you can listen at MySpace)

©Luigi Cappel 2007

1

I was walking on an empty street

My feet were marching to a lonely beat

I had you on my mind.

I kept on walking though my feet were sore

There was no procrastinating I could take no more

I wanted to leave you far behind.

I served my time on the sand in Iraq

While you were making hay with my good friend Mark

How could I have been so blind?

Thinking of you helped me keep my cool

Little did I know you played me for a fool

Feel like I’m gonna lose my mind.

Chorus

I might as well sign up for another stretch

There’s nothing left to keep me here aint life a bitch?

At least in the army I know where I stand

Serving my country in a foreign land.

Sit-rep says its all haywire

Its home where I got shot by friendly fire

I’m going back

Home is where I thought I wanted to be

Now I’d rather have my Bradley and an MRE

Even in Iraq

Bridge

It’s a strange old world we’re living in

Don’t know who you can trust

Don’t know where to begin

Now I’m gonna live my life one day at a time

So its Christmas time and the desert is cold

My life is with the army if the truth be told

They’ve got my back

My mom and dad sent a little Christmas tree

They said that they were praying for the boys and me

They said get yourself back on track

Chorus

I might as well sign up for another stretch

There’s nothing left to keep me here aint life a bitch?

At least in the army I know where I stand

Serving my country in a foreign land.

Thanks so much for reading my blog. If you know someone who would appreciate this blog, please send them a link. Please feel free to leave a comment, I always welcome feedback. If you are inspired by this, check out the links, its not too late to contribute to a Christmas Parcel. The guys who blog at Milblogging also appreciate feedback and knowing that even total strangers are thinking of them. Finally wish me luck with my Paramount Song Competition entry, I’m keen to grow my career as a songwriter and a competition like this could be a leg up.

How to write a Christmas Song

I’ve noticed that a number of people who read my blog recently found me by putting in a search query on the search engine, asking how to write a Christmas song. They found me because of a blog I wrote back in August, saying that was the time you needed to write it.

That blog covered lots of topics you can write about, but I just wanted to add one for those of you who are now inspired. It’s too late to record something to go into a Christmas stocking unless you are burning it yourself, which is a good idea. You could also send a song as a Christmas present to your friends, family and fans as an MP3 Musicgram, which is a cool idea. This site allows you to upload songs and send them to a friend. I’ve tried it myself and it was very cool.

Anyway, I just wanted to add one very important point. If you disect the songs that populate the hit charts, you will find a major difference between the average singer songwriter song and the hits. That is that a hit song usually has a happy theme, like “I’ve got a new guy/girl and I want to tell the world.” “Now that I’ve found you”. “I’m in love”.

Many singer songwriters write about the one that got away and are being what Ralph Murphy calls the typical singer songwriter, a self indulgent writer who writes to get things off their chest (which is fine if that’s what you are after), but most people want to listen to songs that are uplifting and what more uplifting is there than “I’ve got you and that’s all I need for Christmas”. Think about the songs that you have on your stereo or listen to on the radio on Christmas Day to set the mood.

Sometimes you can do something a little more melancholy with a Christmas tone, but it probably won’t become a popular Christmas song. There are ways to add some special sentiment. For example in my song Another Stretch in Iraq, there is a mention as follows (about the tradition of sending miniature Christmas trees to the troops):

‘It’s Christmas time and the dessert is cold

My life is with the Army if the truth be told

They’ve got my back

My Mom and Dad sent a little Christmas Tree

They said that they were prayin for the boys and me……..’

Check out this list at Lyrics Vault for the top Christmas Songs of All Time and you will see that they are pretty much all uplifting happy songs full of Christmas Cheer. Of course there is a place for sad songs, but if you want to write a hit, write one in a major key with a lively beat and chuck a few sleigh bells in the chorus.

If you really want to be a little melancholy, you can still turn it into positive. Live Aid’s Do They Know Its Christmas did a great job of telling the sad story and what people could do about it into a happy one. It is just as popular today as when it came out in 1985.

watch?v=stNGHiscETo

Who do I sound like?

There are lots of sites where you can post your music and one of the ways people find you is when they are looking for people who sound similar to one of their favourite artists. MySpace has that feature. Last FM is built around that concept.

Last FM is like your own personal radio station that tries to come up with the music you like. It’s free, which is great and when you listen to music you can rate it, love it or ban it and the station will eventually evolve into exactly the kind of music you like. You can get it to start playing music by selecting an artist or a topic. If you want to listen to songs about Christmas, just key in Christmas, if you want to listen to my songs or artists like me, select artist and enter Luigi Cappel.

As a songwriter, artist or band, you can set up your own site where you can upload your music and videos and people can listen to your music. Just go to the Music Manager section and start creating your page. I have 1 1/2 albums up there so far. Greenhouse and Reflections which is only half complete so far.

So here’s the problem. I have entered 3 artists who have influenced me, particularly on certain songs. They are Don Henly (in particular my song Only Memories Survive), Willie Nelson and Jimmy Webb. The problem I have is in being objective when I listen to myself. So perhaps you can have a listen to some of my songs on one of my sites and tell me who you think I sound like. You can here them at Last FM by entereing my name, you can hear some at MySpace and more at Music Forte.

If you can be bothered, it would be great if you can give me feedback on what artists you think I sound like so I can add them into my sites to help people who like those artists find me. I’ll be happy to return the favor of course.

There are many benefits of understanding who you are like. If you know who you sound like, you can look for gigs where people like that kind of music. You can get a better idea of who to pitch your songs to as a songwriter and you can guide potential fans to your music online.

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