A blog about songwriting and about the songwriter Luigi Cappel

Posts tagged ‘christmas song’

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.

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

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