A blog about songwriting and about the songwriter Luigi Cappel

Posts tagged ‘singer songwriter’

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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The Recording Studio

Hey guys, first of all apologies for the blogfade, I’ve been really busy, especially since my broken wrist has healed and I am playing again. I have a few great new songs ready to be recorded, well two of them are ready to be recorded, I’m still working on the guitar solo for the third which is a jazz song.

I’ve said many times that you should sign up to your Performing Rights Association. I’m a writer member of APRA (If you are in the USA you can join either ASCAP or BMI) which looks after Australia and New Zealand. Actually I wonder why it isn’t called ANZPRA? As well as making sure that you collect your performance royalties, they do lots of other things like putting on the awesone S3 Song Summit Sydney which I went to and blogged about last year. They also support and sponsor lots of seminars like the one I went to at Depot Artspace yesterday.

Now I have of course recorded in a studio before, but this was a great workshop with the opportunity to learn more about recording, mixing and mastering. There were a couple of things that I came away with that I thought I would share with you.

First of all, with the economy as it is, many studios are quiet and you may be able to negotiate a deal, even if its just some extra practice time. Rates seem to vary from $25 an hour to huge sums. Don’t just go on price because you may get what you paid for, although some people may be very good, but either getting started or just want to help fellow musos or gain experience. So cheap doesn’t necessarily mean poor quality.

A key bit of advice is to hear some examples of their work. Also see if they have experience in your genre.  Someone into electonica or heavy metal might not bring the best out of country or a solo singer songwriter with just a guitar. But then they might too. Anyway check what they have done and ask if they have testimonials or any hits under their belt.

Another good bit of advice is to collect a selection of tracks of artists whose sound you like and you would like your track to sound like. Then you can take those tracks to the studio for the team to listen to. You can say, I want my track to sound like that. The guys at Depot Artspace, said that if you do that, they will be able to come close, although of course a lot of it is up to y0u.

There was some discussion, instigated by me, as to what costs to expect for mixing, mastering etc. I wont preempt any pricing but you should be leaving at least a c0uple of hundred dollars. One of the suggestions was whether you were looking for a single or ‘just an album track’. I was surpised at that. Obviously some people want to put more into their ‘best’ tracks. The problem I have with that is that I want all my tracks to be the best they can be and often the track you like the best isn’t the one that becomes the hit. There is also the issue that in todays world of iTunes and downloads, its quite possible that most of your sales will be for single tracks. These days of most of the albums I buy, there are only a few tracks that I really like.

I’ve currently got my eye out for a few musicians that would like to record with me in the studio. I’m especially after a drummer and someone who plays pedal steel. I can’t pay them but they will get credit on the demos. I’ll do another blog soon about demos, this blog is about the studio.

For solo artists like myself (I do play with resident or jam bands but its been many years since I’ve been IN a band), keeping time can be an issue when you bring session musicians in. When  its you on your own people won’t notice if your timing slides a fraction and sometimes you even do it deliberately. I do that in my new jazz song Color Blind. If you can’t keep steady in a studio, it’s going to cost you time and money and annoy the other musicians. My Tascam home studio has a click track and I also have a metronome, but they are both so  boring and don’t give you the one beat. Fortunately my new Digitech Jam Man has a choice of 10 click tracks, they aren’t great, but much better than what I had before and I don’t mind playing with them. Maybe I’ll  be able to download some better samples. One thing the Jam Man doesn’t seem to be able to do is let you select the beats per minute, you have to tap it in, but I digress. The point is that if you make sure you are as ready as you can be, before you get to the studio, the better your result will be.

So shop around, do your homework, ask for examples of their work and ask liots of questions. People don’t work in recording studios for a job. They do it as a vocation. They do it because theyh love it. You will pretty much find all of them interested and happy to show you around and explain how they work. Remember, its about their reputation as well as yours.

How about leaving a comment and sharing your experiences in the studio?

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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