A blog about songwriting and about the songwriter Luigi Cappel

Posts tagged ‘song demo’

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.

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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.”

Pack and Run

I have just finished the first draft of my latest song, which is called Pack and Run and I think it is one of my best so far. I need to still do some work fine tuning the lyrics. Often I am too impatient with a new song and want to record a demo as soon as I have finished writing it. I will try to be patient and work through it some more. It would be a shame to rush a good song when it could be a great song.

This is probably something that most writers should think about. It is easy to write a song and then consider it finished, but there is so much to consider at this point, especially if you want great songs.

Is the structure consistent? One of the first things I do is take my scribbles out of my songwriting spiral wound notepad and key it into word, complete with copyright details and the chord structure. I have 2 of these, one which is in my bag all the time in case I come up with great ideas when I am away from home and the other sits at my music desk.

I also record it while I’m writing on my Belkin Tunetalk so that I can’t forget the melody or the sound I achieved. This is important because I often use unusual inversions and positions that I will forget unless I can record them, as I am not great when it comes to notation outside of the common chords.

I also look to see if I have things in the correct order. As Pat Pattison taught me, often songwriters write the last verse first, but don’t realise it.

Does the rhyme work? Is it consistent? Is the tense consistent? Am I consistent in the person I am talking to? Does the hook work? Is the hook in the chorus? Is it repeated enough so that the hook works? Is the hook consistent with the song?

While I was writing, I was also hearing the accompaniment. I don’t think this is a pop song, but it could have legs on the Country charts.  I do hear harmonies in the background, maybe Eagles style and I already have in my mind the way the song starts with just a single guitar, then vocals, then bass, then the rest of the band which is probably just another guitar and drums.

Does it need a middle eight? I don’t know, but it could, now that I think about it, I could put in a bridge. The song is about a guy who finds out his partner cheated on him and how his love was blind and he wouldn’t listen when his friends tried to tell him.

A bridge would give me the opportunity to add an extra element, perhaps after he has left her and looks in the rearview mirror of his car while he is driving, hoping that isn’t her in the car behind, wondering if he will ever be able to trust someone again.

Another question is who the target market for the song is. I think this song would fit someone who likes Don Henly (who has a new album out by the way, called Inside Job), the Eagles and probably and older audience, not teenagers but probbaly anyone from mid 20’s on who has perhaps had a few knocks, not in short term relationships but longer standing ones. Someone that is a more discerning listener, not into bubblegum music, but music with good melodies, good chords and a rich sound. I’m not sure exactly what the genre is, it’s country in the way that Eagles is country, but it’s contempory as the Eagles are. Can someone help me out and tell me what genre they think of the Eagles as?

Anyway, those are things I’m now thinking about. I’m also thinking about imagery. These days so much of music is about imagery and not just the word pictures a songwriter creates, but imagery I can put into a music video or slide show.

If there are any fellow songwriters reading this, I’d welcome your thoughts on this, when you have written a song, do you call it finished, or is that when the real craftmanship begins?

Making money at gigs with merch

While famous bands can earn good money at gigs, for the lesser mortals, often gigs are played for free or cover costs and not much more. For some payment might come in terms of free drinks, food and maybe accomodation.

So how can you make money at your gigs? One good way is merch, aka merchandise. If you can get someone to man a mechandise table, this is a good way to sell some extra product and help build and support your fanbase.

First thing of course is your CD’s. Even when I am playing at an open mike or bar gig, I often get asked for CD’s that people can purchase. My recordings to date are all demo’s and while they are reasonable, they are far from professional quality, for a start I don’t have a drummer on them, not by choice, I just haven’t got round to finding someone to help me with that. Nevertheless, if I had some I could sell them.

So the next thing is because they are demo’s and not of a quality that I would want to produce professionally in volume, I have decided to burn my own for now. To that end I bought a Canon PIXMA iP4500 inkjet printer which will print straight onto printable CD’s and DVD’s. SO I can burn my CD’s from my TASCAM recording unit, or from my PC. I can print labels locally and buy DVD cases, so that I can also easily print slicks to go in them. I can now produce a pretty professional disk for around $3 and sell it for $10 which I think is reasonable. I can also print quality demo’s to go with my Press Kit. If it’s a demo, you could also add other material on the CD including your EPK, lyric sheets in Word or PDF format, video’s etc.

If you have a real following, you can do things like print T Shirts, there are companies all over that can do this for you. In New Zealand, one that is possible is Closet. There are also loads of companies that sell promotional products and there are lot of things that would work for you and many of them are quite cheap, even with screenprinting. One good example is Designagift. Think about what fits with your type of music and the type of audience you have and make sure the Merch you have made is suitable and would be attractive to them.

What is the best way to send your demo to someone?

I’m not convinced there is ‘the right way’ it depends a lot on the circumstances. For example, do you know them? Will they listen anyway?

So the first thing is whether it is an artist, a record company, a publisher, a critic, an A&R person, try to talk to them. If you can get their phone number, try to ring them and talk to them. If you do, be polite and friendly, introduce yourself but get to the point quickly.

So there are 4 main ways you can send your demo.

  • You can send it as an attachment to your email. The risk is that their mail server will not allow your email to get through at all, or that it doesn’t accept large files. Don’t do this without their permission. It is an easy solution because they don’t have to do anything to get it.
  • You can use a product like You Send It which allows you to set an FTP site. FTP or File Transfer Protocol is designed is a secure way to send files from one computer to another via a 3rd party and there are several free services. Another one you can use is SendThisFile. Basically the way they work is that you upload your file to their site and they send an email to the person you want to have it, telling them how and where to access it. It means that they can get it when it suits them.
  • Another solution is to direct them to your web site, whether it is your own .com (Don’t have one yet? Check out GoDaddy) or your MySpace or other music site. If you want them to be able to able to download the song, not just stream it, make sure you have enabled the download.
  • The other option is in the mail. If you do that, make sure your presentation is very good, as in artwork, or at least make sure the name of the track is printed on the CD as well as your name and contact details. Often the CD will get separated from the case, so if you don’t have everything on it, they may love it, but not remember where it came from which would be a disaster. You can buy CD pens, or better still get a Lightscribe Drive so that you can etch the details straight onto the CD. It isn’t beautiful but it is much more professional than scribbling with a CD pen.

Of course you also need to send a lyric sheet. I always include chords above the lyric lines. I do this in Word, but there are lots of software packages that do this very nicely. I have a copy of Finale Notepad, but I’ve never actually used it.

So what is the best way? I still don’t know. I think the best way is to ask the person who has approved you sending it to them, what their preference is. Make life easy for them and the act of asking and doing what they asked, will help with recognition when they get it and your demo will then be more likely to be the one they listen to.

What makes a professional bio?

Your Bio is obviously the number one component. I’ve talked about what sould be in your bio. The next thing to think about is how professional does it look. How do you want people to perceive you. Have a look at your bio now. Does it shout out, this person is a pro? Is this a star performer or songwriter or is this something they put together in a hurry.

If you don’t have the skills to put it together yourself, go to a secretarial service or find a friend with Desktop Publishing experience. Do you have Microsoft Office? Micorosft Publisher would be an easy way of putting it together and you will find some templates either in the program or by searching for a template on the web. They not only have a section on the web about making a good media kit on on this link you will also find a link to their templates section.

So we’ve talked about the content, to some degree. The key things I would look for are:

  • What have you accomplished recently? Not the talent quest you won when you were 11. Have you performed somewhere recently or been featured in an article? I had the pleasure in performing in Florida and Jamaica last year. That would be worth including perhaps.
  • A quote from someone or a media that props you up would be good.
  • A photo. This is another thing that is important. You need a photo that represents you in an appropriate way. From a bio perspective (this is not a press release) a good thing to do would be a nice professional head and shoulders shot, maybe in an interesting background. The key thing is represent yourself in such a way that if you read it, you would be impressed and interested. The key word is professional. If you don’t have a really good photo, it would be worth spending a couple of hundred dollars and getting a professional photographer to make up a selction of high qulity shots. I quite like the idea of bleeding the photo into the bio, maybe in a triangle on the bottom right of the page.

Remember, your bio is not a press release. It will accompany a press release, it will also accompany a demo or any material you want to send to someone.

Your bio gives you credibility. It says you are a professional and treat your music career as a business.

Make your Bio text effective

Why do you have a Bio? Is it to make you feel important? Is it written for a purpose? There may be many places where you can use a Bio, for example on a blog, on your music page or to get someone to do something.

I would hope it would be to get someone to do something. Today I am talking about the bio that you send to an A&R person, I record company, a publisher, or someone who you want to have buy or perform your music. In most cases this would be a document you would post, courier or give to that person.

You want the person who reads your bio to act, to listen to your demo, so the first thing you have to do is make them want to read it in the first place.

In advertising and writing news stories, my favourite formula has always been AIDA or AICDA. Attention, Interest, Desire and Action. the C in the second one stands for Conviction. So in simple terms:

Attention. Make them want to read the whole bio, which is I said yesterday, should be 2-4 paragraphs. Start with a line to grab their attention, just like a headline. It might be something compelling about you, or maybe something about the song the Bio accompanies.

Interest. Tell something interesting about yourself.

Interest. What is special or interesting about you, and here is something that I have learned from the media world, make it relevant to the specific reader. If I am sending out press releases, it’s not one size fits all, I modify it for each media or publication to make it relevant.

Desire, make them want to read more, or to become involved with you.

Conviction. Convince them that the time they spend reading your Bio and listening to your songs is going to be well spent and rewarding.

Action. Ask them to listen to your song and point out respectfully what you are asking from them. This is a business document and not just a whiny, please listen to my song cause mum said its really good.

Start with your most recent achievements first and given that you only have 4 paragraphs, make them short and snappy. Don’t use exaggerated praise, don’t say you are the best artist they have ever heard, be humble but confident.

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