A blog about songwriting and about the songwriter Luigi Cappel

Posts tagged ‘country music’

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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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.”

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.

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.

Books are full of song ideas

I don’t usually suffer for a lack of ideas to write songs about because I am always open to them. I read lots of books and always find a way to keep notes or make sure I can find my way back to lines that caught my attention.

I recently found a highlighter that also has a Post It flag dispenser in it. This means that with just the one device you can highlight your notes and put  flag on the page so you can find it again. Many of the books I read, especially non fiction, are full of Post It flags.

I also found a card of different colored Post It flags which is like a bookmark, so I often carry that with me as well, especially when I am travelling. Really handy when I’m on a plane and I’ve forgotten to take a pen out of my jacket which is now in the overhead luggage compartment and I have thewindow seat.

Something else that you need is something to take notes on, or even write lyric ideas. You need to have this anytime, anywhere. I have 2 lyric books, which are A5 (half an A4) and ringbound, so I can easily fold it around and write on both sides easily. Sometimes, such as the previous example, I don’t have quick access to it. I often carry around a blank A4 sheet of paper in my jacket as well. If neither of those work, I use anything and a common one for me is the back of a business card. It’s amazing how much you can fit on one of those if you are desperate.

Sometimes you are in a position where you have to memorise what you have written, such as when you are in the shower.  Then I go back to the rote memorisation I learned at school, just repeating it over and over again and hope that I don’t get distracted by anything or anyone before I can get pen to paper. That’s what I did with my new song that I am still writing, ‘When Madison Smiles’, but now I’m digressing.

Basically what I wanted to share is that the books you read are full of ideas that you can write songs about. The key to me is a subject that touches you strongly, or that you have a strong opinion about. Good songs are written with passion and from the heart. If you keep that in mind when you are reading, writers block should not be an issue. Of course if you don’t read books, magazines and newspapers are also great building materials to grow ideas from.

The most importand things are:

  1. Be open for new ideas all the time
  2. Have a way to highlight or find the idea again later when you need it
  3. Keep paper or books and a pen or pencil handy at all times, even when you are in bed asleep, especially when you are in bed asleep and this is often when you are most creative.
  4. If you are really organised, find a way to catagorise the texts you have highlighted. Coloured tags could be a way to do that. Most songwriters though don’t tend to be that well organised in my experience, but you should consider whether you are writing for fun or as a hobby or as a mental health tool, or whether it is a business or career, If it is the latter then you should treat it the same way as you do a job. If you are doing a job, of course you have the right tools on hand.
  5. Finally, if you do become successful and maybe even famous, the paper you originally scribbled your lyrics on could become very valuable, as collectors items although not necessarily to you personally, but perhaps your children or other important people in the future. For example someone made 1,000 prints of the John Lennon song ‘Little Flower Princess’ from his original writing and is selling them for $150 EACH at eBay right now!

Music Education on the Net

This morning there was a feature in the Business Herald about Gordon Dryden, which I haven’t finished reading. Gordon is one of New Zealand’s prominent experts on education and I have a few of his excellent books in my library. The story was obviously related to the launch of his new book, The Learning Web, which I  will have to add to my collection.

A major concept of the story is that in the future , no later than 2014, 25% of high school courses will be available on the net. The timing was interesting because I already learn a lot about the music industry on the net, from blogs, web sites and especially through 2 of my favourite podcasts, being The Musicians Cooler and Music Business Radio.

I actually made a personal commitment yesterday while listening to an interview with Chuck Wills and Monty Powell on the Music Business Radio podcast Episode 79, which I strongly recommend anyone interested in breaking into the country music industry as a performer or songwriter should listen to. You can find it here. Monty was full of great information and about his experiences, songwriting and the importance of Nashville as one of the last big music cities that is still thriving and full of professionals today.

Monty’s work appears on over 50 million records and listening to him critiqueing people’s work, there is no doubt that he knows his craft intimately. For the up and coming songwriters he had lots of encouragement, stating that songwriting is a craft which can be taught and honed.

I live in Auckland, New Zealand and have a family and a day job and my commitment to them means that if I ever get to Nashville it will be for a week or 2, not to stay, which I should have done years ago, but now I want to go back to the net and education.

A year or so ago I had the good fortune to attend a weekend course with Pat Pattison, of the Berklee School of Music and I learned lots and got huge value from the course as well as the networking with other local musicians. Networking is something that Monty also emphasised as crucial to your success as many if not most careers have been forged through who you know.

From an educational perspective, I know people who went to Berklee, like Taura Eruera. But he and many others do offer excellent training on the Internet for those who can’t take a few years out to go and learn in the university or head to Nashville to soak information and experience from those who are willing to share.

The web is full of online courses for songwriting, so all I have to do now is decide where to start at a level that my budget can afford.

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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