A blog about songwriting and about the songwriter Luigi Cappel

Archive for the ‘Song Hook’ 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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Harmony Assignment

If you follow this infrequent blog, you will be aware that I am studying at Berklee Music. I thought I would share my final Harmony Assignment here. Welcome feedback or questions. This was an awesome paper, led by Shane Adams. If you are serious about your music development I strongly recommend this paper and Shane as an awesome tutor.

I looked at Verse – Chorus, Verse – Chorus, Bridge – Chorus formula, but felt I didn’t have enough verses to tell the full story, so ended up with ABABABCB. It finishes in 3 minutes which I think is a good song length.

It uses verse/refrain with a full cadence which builds and emphasizes the title, which is also the hook. The verse makes use of repetition between 1st and 3rd lines and follows the same chord progression model in the 2nd line starting from the IV chord. The verses in effect make use of the Major-Key I IV Power Progressions.

In the melody lines I am making use of contrasting sections from one progression. I used harmonic variations of a melodic pedal in both the intro and the bridge which you can hear in the backing guitar. I also used a tonic pedal for the bass line on the 1st and 3rd lines of the verses.

The verses and chorus use full cadences from the IV chord to the I chord except at the end of the 3rd chorus, where I make use of surprising parallel key modulation with a D minor, instead of the D Major used in all other choruses. This allows me to lead to the bridge, which is in a different key and correctly placed between the choruses.

I used chord rhythm slightly speeding up the 4th line of each verse to help build power and progression to the chorus.

For coloring, the song is mostly in natural keys representing the happy times of the 5 year old. However the Major 7th’s allow me to introduce tension into the verse lines, the refrain going back to the natural chords, with the exception of the B minor (VI chord) I use to help resolve to the full cadence. The verse chord progressions allow me to emphasize that I’m telling a story. The D minor in the 3rd chorus introduces irony into the song, the minor chord leading into the bridge, which expresses sadness that life can’t stay that way.

In the bridge I started with a standard EMaj7, but replaced the G# minor with a G#5 and the A Major with A7Sus4 and A7.

I finished the final chorus with a half line repetition as a fade.

Life is Simple When You’re Five

Copyright Luigi Cappel 2010

Life Is Simple When You’re Five

Verse 1

D……………………….DMaj7……………..D7…….D6…
Summer seems to last forever for a boy of five

G…………………….GMaj7………………Em7………….A7…
Burning sand between his toes he runs into the tide

D……………………..DMaj7…………………..D7………………..D6..
He jumps and he splashes, wipes the water from his eyes

G……………………A7…………D…..Bm…G…………….A7………………D….
Joy is something you can’t buy……… life is simple when you’re five.

Chorus:

G………………..A7…………….D….G…………………A7….D…
Life is simple when you’re five, it’s so good to be alive

G……………..A7…………D………..Bm…..G………………..A7…………….D…
No cares or worries, never in a hurry, Life is simple when you’re five

Verse 2

D……………………….DMaj7……………..D7…….D6…
Autumn passes in a blur for a boy of nine

G…………………….GMaj7………………Em7………….A7…
Moving house from State to State, losing track of time

D……………………..DMaj7…………………..D7………………..D6..
As soon as he has made new friends he’s leaving them behind

G……………………A7…………D…..Bm…G…………….A7………………D….
His mind goes back to summer skies……… life is simple when you’re five.

Chorus:

G………………..A7…………….D….G…………………A7….D…
Life is simple when you’re five, it’s so good to be alive

G……………..A7…………D………..Bm…..G………………..A7…………….D…
No cares or worries, never in a hurry, Life is simple when you’re five

Verse 3:

D……………………….DMaj7……………..D7…….D6…
Winter seems to last forever for a boy of ten

G…………………….GMaj7………………Em7………….A7…
Father’s left, spends nights alone, mothers out dancing again

D……………………..DMaj7…………………..D7………………..D6..
When she’s back home with a new uncle its dark and 2 AM

G……………………A7…………D…..Bm…G…………….A7………………D….
Joy is something you can’t buy……… life is simple when you’re five.

Chorus:

G………………..A7…………….D….G…………………A7….D…
Life is simple when you’re five, it’s so good to be alive

G……………..A7…………D………..Bm…..G………………..A7…………….Dm..
No cares or worries, never in a hurry, Life is simple when you’re five

Bridge:

EMaj7#5…………G#5…………….A7Sus4……….A7……
A loving home where a boy can thrive, with fun and friends good times

EMaj7#5…………G#5…………….A7Sus4……….A7……
If only life could stay that way, let innocence survive

Chorus:

G………………..A7…………….D….G…………………A7….D…
Life is simple when you’re five, it’s so good to be alive

G……………..A7…………D………..Bm…..G………………..A7…………….D…
No cares or worries, never in a hurry, Life is simple when you’re five

G………………..A7…………….D…
Life is simple when you’re five

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?

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.

Weaving a story

Many people will tell you that there are 2 key ingedients in writing a great country song, the first is telling a good story and the other is roping you in so that you get emotionally involved in the story.

Today I received a ‘friend request’ on my MySpace page from Kirsty Lee Akers. Her voice sounded a little like Dolly Parton’s and that isn’t a bad thing. But this girl is from Australia and is totally her own person. She has some really good songs, covering a range of topics that show up her talents and belie her age, but one of them prompted me to stop what I was doing and really listen.

Any song that really makes you listen and can evoke emotions the way The Territory did in me, shows great talent. Kirsty Lee has a great voice, clear and crisp, but what stands out is the story which even without a great video is very moving. Another thing you should do is have your own website and hers is crisp, modern and yet you get the impression that she is sharing herself with you.

I recommend a close listen to each word for an example on how to craft a great song.

What are the fans listening to? How to get your hitsong.

Some great advice I picked up somewhere was that if you want to write a hit song, you need to know what people are listening to. Whilst its true that there are song pluggers and the radio is very much influenced by the record companies, the fact is that if he radio are regularly playing songs, whether it is because they have an incentive or for any other reason, the net result is people listen to them.

I think it was Jimmy Webb at the S3 conference who said that if you listen to a song at least 5 times, it will grow on you and you will start to like it. This is a formula that they use to get you to buy or follow a track. The lyrics become familiar, the hook becomes entrenched in your mind and if it is pleasing to you, you may well find yourself singing along.

Hit’s are here the money is in songwriting. If you write a hit song, you will be well remunerated and also you will become noticed and in demand by artists and their team, looking for a new song, hoping that you weren’t a one hit wonder.

So is there a magical secret? Magical no, but the key thing is knowing what people like, what are they listening to today. It’s easy to find a market for your songs in today’s world with so many internet vehicles like MySpace, FaceBook, iTunes, Music Forte and hundreds if not thousands of others. But these are less likely to get you a hit for music’s sake, than the radio, which isn’t going away anywhere fast. Radio plays mainstream and mainstream is what it means, i.e. what most people are listening to today.

So in my humble opinion, if you want to write a hit song, rather than (as Ralph Murphy says) be a self indulgent songwriter, writing songs to play in bars after 10 P.M. when people are drunk or t least merry and mostly don’t care, you need to write something different. Something uplifting, which is often very different to what the average songwriter puts together. Murphy says that the hits are the songs that people listen to on the way to work in the morning when they want a lift.

So the first thing to do is to find out what they are listening to. I live in New Zealand, so if I want to write a hit song for the local market, I would go to RIANZ. “The Recording Industry Association of New Zealand Inc (RIANZ) is a non-profit organisation representing major and independent record producers, distributors and recording artists throughout New Zealand.”

RIANZ publishes the weekly New Zealand Top 40 Singles Chart. “The Top 40 Singles Chart is compiled based on a 75:25 split between physical / digital singles sales figures and radio play information gathered by radio data collection agency Radioscope.”They also publish a number of other charts including the Top 10 Radio Airplay Chart.

Like all charts they show the position this week, last week and weeks on the chart. A quick look through these will tell you what is popular in your local world. These charts are a mixture of everything, local and international. To give you an idea, the Top 40 as at Monday 28 July included 5 local acts and Number One on the chart was Phil Collins, In The Air Tonight which this time has been on the NZ charts for 21 weeks! Always on My Mind by Tiki Taane is number 3 still and has been on the charts for 14 weeks.

In my opinion, Always On My Mind is very much a polynesian sound and will be hugely popular locally with our youth and with a reggae flavour has some legs internationally, but I can’t see it being on the charts at Billboard, the other place I look to see what is popular, especially on the Country Charts because Country Music has a huge following in the USA, my major songwriting target market.

So now you know what people are listening to on the radio and what they are buying. What do you do next? Subscibe to my blog and I will tell you more, this isn’t a book after all lol.

If you think this blog is helpful, tell a friend. If you want to hear some of my songs, check out my MySpace page. Oh and please do leave a comment. Is my blog intesting? Is it helpful? Are there things you would like me to write about?

Songs have to have WOW factor for A&R people to get excited

So you want to send your song to an A&R person and see if you can get it picked up by a record company or one of their artists.

Take a step back from the song you wrote and love and think about what their email and snail mail boxes look like. How many submissions do you think they get in a week. I’ll give you an idea. Even the smaller ones will get 100’s of demo’s. Why should they listen to yours?

Is your song REALLY GOOD? Who told you? Here’s an analagy. When you watched American Idol (Come on, I know you watched it at least once!) do you remember Simon or Randy ask “Who told you you could sing?”. So I’m asking you, who told you this is a good song? Your friends and family?

But this is only the first question. The record companies get thousands of really good, well constructed, nice songs every year. The thing is they are not looking for a good song, they are looking for a GREAT SONG. They are looking for something UNIQUE and given that there are always numbe one hits, there are plenty of great songs out there.

It can be on the same subject matter as other songs, but it has to have something special, a great hook, a really catchy melody. If your song is going to be a hit, it has to appeal to millions of people not dozens or hundreds.

When the A&R person listens to the first 60 seconds (because that might be all the hearing your song gets, they need to be saying “WOW, this is the ONE!”

So go back to your good song and see if you think it is great, or is it as Ralph Murphy says, a great song for people to dance to in a club after 10 P.M.

Of course not every song will be a hit, most of the songs of the great song writers aren’t hit songs, but it was usually their first hit that started their professional careers.

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