A blog about songwriting and about the songwriter Luigi Cappel

Archive for the ‘Hit Songs’ Category

Rise Up Christchurch

Today is the day of the Christchurch Rise Up Telethon and I’m wishing that I was ready to record my new version of my song The Fault Was Mine, which is about a father whose daughter is found in the Christchurch Earthquake wreckage. The first draft is here on YouTube, but I think the new rewrite is much more commercial.

Using what I learned at Berklee and with some mentoring the lyrics have been altered so that it is easier for people not close to what happened in Christchurch to understand what it is about and to relate to the situation so many people found themselves in.

My hope now is to be able to record it professionally and put together a music video, of course that means money so I need to look at how to fund it because my focus is on writing songs and what I really want is for someone else to record it. This means that I probably don’t qualify for the NZ Music On Air new funding because it is all about recording artists, not songwriters who do not want to be recording artists.

So here’s the new lyrics and hopefully I will have a new demo to share soon,

The Fault Was Mine Copyright Luigi Cappel 2011

The Policeman on the phone said come right down

To the hospital on the other side of town

I’d been awake all night consumed with fear

They’d found my daughter in Christchurch Cathedral Square

Now I’m walking and a wondering why was it you not me

I should have been protecting you, protecting you

Are you alive?

Are you hurt?

I’d do anything to turn back time.

They said it was

A new fault line

But I felt the fault was mine

I still feel the fault was mine

The trip past the earthquake rubble seemed to take years

Doctor sat me down, I listened through a haze of tears

At the hospital we did everything we can

Now its up to God we hope you understand

Now I’m walking down the corridor, why was it you not me

I should have been protecting you, protecting you

Are you alive?

Are you hurt?

I’d do anything to turn back time.

They said it was

A new fault line

But I felt the fault was mine

I still feel the fault was mine

A city’s made of bricks and mortar

They can be rebuilt but daughter

It would crush my heart to lose you now

Are you alive?

Are you hurt?

I’d do anything to turn back time.

They said it was

A new fault line

But I felt the fault was mine

I still feel the fault was mine

I still feel the fault was mine

Christchurch Cathedral

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.

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.

It’s March Already

Wow, time has flown. I’m almost at the end of my first Berklee Music paper which is Music Publishing 101 and have been really enjoying it. I knew from past experience that this means self discipline in getting my readings done and getting assignments in on time, but it is so worth it.

Anyone who has studied subjects they were passionate about at university, knows how much you gain from them, and how they can move your career forward. The only catch now is that I have a list of so many things that I need to do asap, that the course has shown me, that I am wondering how I can start on my next paper and do all of those things at the same time.

Amongst the things I need to do is complete all the administration for my song catalogue and have everything in files so that I can access them on demand. This includes archives of Lyric Sheets, Split Sheets (only one song is a collaboration so far, so that’s not a biggie), copies of each song demo on disk in MP3 and CD format, with liner notes and much more.

One area I didn’t really consider or know how to deal with was TV and Film. New Zealand is obviously very successful in the film industry, but I also learned in my research that publishers such as Mushroom Music NZ has had real success in publishing to local and international TV, so they are on my contact list.

I have decided that I need to re-record every song demo for all songs that are on my A and B lists, before I make contact with people like Mushroom, because I want them to be impressed with my writing and not ruin chances by providing A&R people with hastily recorded demo’s, recorded within minutes of completing writing of songs on my Tascam Digital 8 Track. I have also decided that I should record more of my guitar  music arrangements as they are very good, but I have never considered them as having commercial value.

Of course this is all money and time, but if I want to have a music career as a songwriter and composer, I need to get seriously organized and treat it as a business.

So next steps. I had a meeting with APRA last week, which was very helpful. I was looking for advice, but also to let them know that I am working hard on my craft and music education and looking to go ahead in the industry. I put in an application for a grant to attend the Song Summit in Sydney in June and also inquired about next year’s music grants. Currently I am studying my Bachelor of Songwriting degree online, but I can’t complete the full degree online and the cost to travel from New Zealand to study in Boston MA, with accommodation etc is very high, so I am hoping that when the time gets closer I can get some local support to make the trip.

Another challenge I have is staying in touch with the industry and really getting to know it well, locally and internationally. This means reading magazines that you can’t buy locally. These include Country Music Magazine from Australia and of course Billboard from the USA.  New Zealand is really bad when it comes to accessibility to international music magazines, so this means more money to get subscriptions and of course time to read the magazines. There are of course loads of great websites, including the ones for the magazines I just mentioned, this also means more time for reading and research.

I haven’t done any gigs for a couple of months, because this also takes time for practice and the gigs themselves, but I really need to fit this in as well, not to mention writing new songs!

So loads of work to do, money to find for recording, artists to find to record my songs, because I can’t do them full justice myself. In between I have a full time job, a family, a mortgage and other commitments, but they say if you want something done, give it to someone who is busy.

What I need now is a winning Lotto ticket so that I can focus on my music instead of working 50 hours a week in my day job.

The bottom line is that if you want to be a success in this industry you need to work hard and a little luck would be nice, but most of the time you need to make your own luck, by putting in the effort. I can’t remember who actually said it the first time, but it was along the lines of “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

The Recording Studio

Hey guys, first of all apologies for the blogfade, I’ve been really busy, especially since my broken wrist has healed and I am playing again. I have a few great new songs ready to be recorded, well two of them are ready to be recorded, I’m still working on the guitar solo for the third which is a jazz song.

I’ve said many times that you should sign up to your Performing Rights Association. I’m a writer member of APRA (If you are in the USA you can join either ASCAP or BMI) which looks after Australia and New Zealand. Actually I wonder why it isn’t called ANZPRA? As well as making sure that you collect your performance royalties, they do lots of other things like putting on the awesone S3 Song Summit Sydney which I went to and blogged about last year. They also support and sponsor lots of seminars like the one I went to at Depot Artspace yesterday.

Now I have of course recorded in a studio before, but this was a great workshop with the opportunity to learn more about recording, mixing and mastering. There were a couple of things that I came away with that I thought I would share with you.

First of all, with the economy as it is, many studios are quiet and you may be able to negotiate a deal, even if its just some extra practice time. Rates seem to vary from $25 an hour to huge sums. Don’t just go on price because you may get what you paid for, although some people may be very good, but either getting started or just want to help fellow musos or gain experience. So cheap doesn’t necessarily mean poor quality.

A key bit of advice is to hear some examples of their work. Also see if they have experience in your genre.  Someone into electonica or heavy metal might not bring the best out of country or a solo singer songwriter with just a guitar. But then they might too. Anyway check what they have done and ask if they have testimonials or any hits under their belt.

Another good bit of advice is to collect a selection of tracks of artists whose sound you like and you would like your track to sound like. Then you can take those tracks to the studio for the team to listen to. You can say, I want my track to sound like that. The guys at Depot Artspace, said that if you do that, they will be able to come close, although of course a lot of it is up to y0u.

There was some discussion, instigated by me, as to what costs to expect for mixing, mastering etc. I wont preempt any pricing but you should be leaving at least a c0uple of hundred dollars. One of the suggestions was whether you were looking for a single or ‘just an album track’. I was surpised at that. Obviously some people want to put more into their ‘best’ tracks. The problem I have with that is that I want all my tracks to be the best they can be and often the track you like the best isn’t the one that becomes the hit. There is also the issue that in todays world of iTunes and downloads, its quite possible that most of your sales will be for single tracks. These days of most of the albums I buy, there are only a few tracks that I really like.

I’ve currently got my eye out for a few musicians that would like to record with me in the studio. I’m especially after a drummer and someone who plays pedal steel. I can’t pay them but they will get credit on the demos. I’ll do another blog soon about demos, this blog is about the studio.

For solo artists like myself (I do play with resident or jam bands but its been many years since I’ve been IN a band), keeping time can be an issue when you bring session musicians in. When  its you on your own people won’t notice if your timing slides a fraction and sometimes you even do it deliberately. I do that in my new jazz song Color Blind. If you can’t keep steady in a studio, it’s going to cost you time and money and annoy the other musicians. My Tascam home studio has a click track and I also have a metronome, but they are both so  boring and don’t give you the one beat. Fortunately my new Digitech Jam Man has a choice of 10 click tracks, they aren’t great, but much better than what I had before and I don’t mind playing with them. Maybe I’ll  be able to download some better samples. One thing the Jam Man doesn’t seem to be able to do is let you select the beats per minute, you have to tap it in, but I digress. The point is that if you make sure you are as ready as you can be, before you get to the studio, the better your result will be.

So shop around, do your homework, ask for examples of their work and ask liots of questions. People don’t work in recording studios for a job. They do it as a vocation. They do it because theyh love it. You will pretty much find all of them interested and happy to show you around and explain how they work. Remember, its about their reputation as well as yours.

How about leaving a comment and sharing your experiences in the studio?

Pack and Run

I have just finished the first draft of my latest song, which is called Pack and Run and I think it is one of my best so far. I need to still do some work fine tuning the lyrics. Often I am too impatient with a new song and want to record a demo as soon as I have finished writing it. I will try to be patient and work through it some more. It would be a shame to rush a good song when it could be a great song.

This is probably something that most writers should think about. It is easy to write a song and then consider it finished, but there is so much to consider at this point, especially if you want great songs.

Is the structure consistent? One of the first things I do is take my scribbles out of my songwriting spiral wound notepad and key it into word, complete with copyright details and the chord structure. I have 2 of these, one which is in my bag all the time in case I come up with great ideas when I am away from home and the other sits at my music desk.

I also record it while I’m writing on my Belkin Tunetalk so that I can’t forget the melody or the sound I achieved. This is important because I often use unusual inversions and positions that I will forget unless I can record them, as I am not great when it comes to notation outside of the common chords.

I also look to see if I have things in the correct order. As Pat Pattison taught me, often songwriters write the last verse first, but don’t realise it.

Does the rhyme work? Is it consistent? Is the tense consistent? Am I consistent in the person I am talking to? Does the hook work? Is the hook in the chorus? Is it repeated enough so that the hook works? Is the hook consistent with the song?

While I was writing, I was also hearing the accompaniment. I don’t think this is a pop song, but it could have legs on the Country charts.  I do hear harmonies in the background, maybe Eagles style and I already have in my mind the way the song starts with just a single guitar, then vocals, then bass, then the rest of the band which is probably just another guitar and drums.

Does it need a middle eight? I don’t know, but it could, now that I think about it, I could put in a bridge. The song is about a guy who finds out his partner cheated on him and how his love was blind and he wouldn’t listen when his friends tried to tell him.

A bridge would give me the opportunity to add an extra element, perhaps after he has left her and looks in the rearview mirror of his car while he is driving, hoping that isn’t her in the car behind, wondering if he will ever be able to trust someone again.

Another question is who the target market for the song is. I think this song would fit someone who likes Don Henly (who has a new album out by the way, called Inside Job), the Eagles and probably and older audience, not teenagers but probbaly anyone from mid 20’s on who has perhaps had a few knocks, not in short term relationships but longer standing ones. Someone that is a more discerning listener, not into bubblegum music, but music with good melodies, good chords and a rich sound. I’m not sure exactly what the genre is, it’s country in the way that Eagles is country, but it’s contempory as the Eagles are. Can someone help me out and tell me what genre they think of the Eagles as?

Anyway, those are things I’m now thinking about. I’m also thinking about imagery. These days so much of music is about imagery and not just the word pictures a songwriter creates, but imagery I can put into a music video or slide show.

If there are any fellow songwriters reading this, I’d welcome your thoughts on this, when you have written a song, do you call it finished, or is that when the real craftmanship begins?

Songs about the depression

When i was a tiny tot there was a song on a record that my parents used to play, the group was Peter, Paul and Mary and the song was Buddy Can You Spare a Dime. I used to sing it and thought it was about a guy down on his luck. Sort of like the old Blues standard, rejuvinated in recent years by Eric Clapton, Nobody Loves You When You’re Down and Out.

Here’s a great version by Tom Waitts

I really liked the lyrics, “Don’t you remember, you called me Al? Iit was Al all the time, don’t you remember, I was your pal? Buddy can you spare a dime.” Now that I know those lyrics were written by Yip Harburg in 1931, it makes more sense.

We’re in the Money came out just after the depression, but I never paid much attention to the lyrics. I just thought it was a happy song from a stage musical. “We never read a headlne about breadlines today. And when we see the landlord, we look that guy right in the eye.” Written by Songwriters Hall of Famer,  Al Dubin and Harry Warren’s catchy tune in 1933, ring a little more poignant. Especially when we read in our newspapers that middle class people are now starting to line up for food parcels at Foodbanks around the country.

It’s funny how we are out doing our Christmas shopping and not yet realising what’s going on. IK had a look at Big Boys Toys,  my favourite expo today and  the show seems to be a good 25% smaller than previous years and there appears to be more tyre kicking than buying from the reduced crowd.

Then there were the  blues, but I won’t go into that. I want to know about the songs of the 21st century. There bwill be lots of stories in the papers and on the streets. Today’s blues will probably be Rap and Hip Hop, but the concepts will be the same.

I can’t text you babe

My account’s been cut, I’m flat on my ass, no money for gas, I thought I was fine, can’t even afforfd to rhyme.

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