A blog about songwriting and about the songwriter Luigi Cappel

Posts tagged ‘Bic Runga’

Stepping up as a songwriter

I’ve just written a long convoluted email to one of the advisers at the Berklee School of Music. I am thinking of studying some papers on their online school, given that I live in New Zealand and they are in the USA.

The gist of the email is that I feel their courses and degrees are largely focussed at the performing songwriter, aka singer songwriter. Songwriting seems to be focussed around getting your story out, using your experiences to paint word and music textures based around what you have felt, seen, heard, tasted……

I love performing, but it is not want I think I am best at. I am way to old to try to make it as a performer. It’s too narrow a scope for me. I want to write for many genres, but my voice and playing style wouldn’t support that. I’ve written R&B which includes rap, but there is no way I could ever perform it.

I want to write, not about my own experiences, but to be able to make a credible portrayal of the artist/s who perform my work as though it came from their heart.

The courses and most books are about how to make it as a writer performer. They talk about how to market your songs to listeners. They talk about how to get gigs, how to increase your revenue by selling merchandise at gigs. How to build a fan base etc. This is all great for most people, but of limited benefit to me.

I’ve put a lot of effort into sites like MySpace and Music Forte, with relative success if you look at it from the perspective of listens. I’ve had number one songs in Country on Music Forte and been in the MySpace top 10 in the same genre for New Zealand. This means people like some of my songs, but it doesn’t help me sell songs.

One of my greatest strengths is probably also my greatest weakness. I am a generalist and do a little of a lot. I read lots of books, concurrently. I listen to many genres and enjoy most of them. I put energy into dozens of web sites, hoping that one of them will make a difference and I have had a few small successes. I had a song signed with a publisher, but he didn’t sell the song. In hindsight, he wasn’t the right publisher, but it felt good to be able to say I had one. I’ve had a few opportunities to write songs for albums, but haven’t sold one.

I’ve written some good songs, but they were largely written for my own performance and the ones that weren’t, I didn’t have access to the right artists to perform them.

The market here today seems to be largely made up of singer songwriters who write or collaborate to write their own music. When they get dry, they have sessions with fellow singer songwriters. Because I’m not focussed on performing, and took myself out of the scene many years ago to raise a family, I’m not in those circles. I’d like to be, but not as a fellow performer. I’ve written songs with local artists in mind, but haven’t made the effort to try to get them to listen. I wrote one with Bic Runga in mind, but procrastinated to the point of inactivity in making contact with her. Interesting really, because in my business life, I am constantly networking with business leaders.

This sounds like a lot of bleeting, but really what it is about, is me refocussing on my goals at the end of the year, with a view to making something really good happen. To work out how to make this career happen. It’s going to take some serious discipline and work. I’m going to need some help and I’m hoping that Berklee is going to be part of that equation, because at the very least it will help me focus and allow me to access a network that I can’t find locally.

It will be very important for me to make sure that the work I do is centred on my goals. That when I study or work, it is with the end in mind and not just about finishing a paper because there are assignments due. It’s a lot of money to spend if it doesn’t help me realise my goals.

What really helped me focus, was a blog I read and reread, by Eric Beall, author of Making Music Make Money (Which I have just ordered on Amazon, which was called Back to Basics, and seemed to describe my situation perfectly. So, if what I am saying is relevant to your situation, you might like to hang around and follow my journey.

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Get a support act gig

One way of looking for gigs to perform your original songs is to look for opporunities to become the support act. There are all sorts of opportunities out there and they all come from networking. On 4 September I will be one of 4 or 5 suppor acts at Forde’s Bar in Auckland. I found out about it from a friend in a local songwriting group. I don’t know who the main band will be. but all I had to do was ring and ask if I could get a 20 minute spot.

I guess then, the first thing you have to do is ask. The next thing is networking. The reason I heard about the opportunity was through networking. It, as is often the case, is about who you know.

The support acts for main shows are often friends or acquaintances. So you need to become friends or acquaintances with the people you would to support or their supporters, because of course it can also come from a referral.

Who would you like to open for? Go to their gigs, introduce yourself and talk with them. If you liken them you will be able to sincerely talk about their music and what you like about it. Don’t go up to them and ask for a gig!

Your music should fit with theirs if you are going to open for them. A country artist is likely to get boo’d off the stage if they are opening for a Metal band. On the other hand you don’t have to be of the same genre. At a Bic Runga concert a couple of years ago, her openers included Anika Moa (who has a nice smooth sound and fits the easy grooves of Bic’s music and has her friend (get the picture?) Anna Coddington opening for her on tour right now). Another opener who were extremely popular were Flight of the Conchords. This was the first time I and (by the reception) had heard or seen them, so they came accross as fresh and new, but also very different. But they were laid back which was how the whole show came accross. They were very different but they still had a good fit to the environment and atmosphere and the mix of audience.

Muso’s are usually very friendly and open for a chat in their breaks. Don’t be afraid to go up and talk to them even if they are surrounded by people they know and you are a stranger. A few years ago I was in Fiji and had a listen to the house band at the Suva Travelodge as they were doing their sound checks. I sat in the empty lounge and had a listen and ended up having a chat with the band. Next thing they were asking me what I was doing that night. I replied that I had no plans and next thing they are saying “You have now, you’re playing with us”. So that evening I found myself playing the blues with an awesome band, on a very nice Gibson Les Paul.

So what is the lesson? Find bands you like (and have some synergy with yourstyle) , go to their gigs, get to know them and when the opportunity is right, ask if they have or need an opening act. Bands and solo performers generally know each other, at least a little and are likely to know if there are other similar bands needing openers.

Last but not least, try your local music shop, check their notice board or during mid week, when they are fresh and recovered from the weekend, ask them if they know of any acts looking for support bands or artists. They are probably in a band themselves.

Oh, I almost forgot, if you are looking for a country opening act for your gig, have a listen to me at MySpace and give me a call.

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