A blog about songwriting and about the songwriter Luigi Cappel

Posts tagged ‘Ralph Murphy’

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

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?

Join your Performing Rights Association

Your Performing Rights Association can be very important to you in a number of ways. They assist you with protection and ownership of your Intellectual Property IP) and most important, they collect and distribute performance royalties on your behalf. They do much more than this, but this is the key reason for their being.

I am a member of APRA which is an awesome association covering the rights of New Zealand and Australian songwriters and composers. Venues pay them a fee for live gigs and radio stations provide them with playlists so that they can process royalties for radio play of songwriters work. APRA also works closely with their counterparts around the world, the biggest being ASCAP and BMI which are the 2 societies in the USA. You will find loads of great information on their websites, even if you don’t live in the USA. They also run amazing seminars with some of the best songwriters ever.

When I play a gig, I put in an electronic return on the web site, with the venue details and my set lists and the following I get paid. It’s not a lot, but the more you gig, the more royalties you get. You also get paid whenever your tracks are played on commercial radio. Ironically at the moment I get no play in New Zealand, but you can hear some of my songs on the radio in Canada.

APRA also puts on training seminars and as of this year, they started the great new event S3 (check out the link from my other blog about this event Song Summit Sydney) which was a fantastic learning and networking exercise. They even let me pay for my registration from my future royalties. This is no small event with speakers including Jimmy Webb, Paul Williams and my fravorite Ralph Murphy.

APRA also sponsors the APRA SIlver Scroll Awards which is the major music event of the NZ calendar.

On top of this they are greatt people and from the directors through to the team in the office, they are there to help us as artists in any way they can. You can even use their premises for meetings (relevant of course) if you need some space. APRA people are there first and formost because they care about local music. You should find out who your PRA are and join them as soon as possible. You won’t regret it. This organisation’s sole purpose is your rights an outside of running costs, all revenues aer distributed back to the artists.

Oh and I almost forgot, their website is full of useful information and contacts as is the APRAP, a magazine I always look forward to reading.

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.

Tag Cloud