Songwriting Tips, News & More

Songwriter Story: The Life & Struggles of a Pro Songwriter

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Jun 05, 2014 @11:01 AM

STORIES FROM THE TRENCHES, LETTERS HOME FROM THE WARS. THE LIFE AND STRUGGLES OF A PRO SONGWRITER.

 by John Capek

John Capek, songwriter

It was the early nineties. Arriving in Los Angeles with Australian and Canadian hit song credits under my belt, I thought it would be a breeze to get into the scene. A year later and my life savings gone I couldn't get arrested as a songwriter, keyboard player or producer.

Somehow, I fell into the "B list" session scene as a keyboard player for songwriters who needed their songs demoed. I was a pretty good keyboard player, the pay was poor, but the work was consistent and the songwriters liked my playing.

David Gresham (a former business partner with Mutt Lang) was making annual trips to Los Angeles from South Africa promoting artists and writers from his label in Jo-berg. He needed some demos done and someone recommended me. I worked on his stuff and we became friends.

Some years later, after I had graduated into the "A - list" LA studio musician scene, David called me from South Africa quite excited about an artist he had signed. He asked me if I would try to work with him. A few weeks later, his new artist, Byron Duplessis arrived at my studio in North Hollywood.

Imagine Terence Trent Darby, Prince, Michael Jackson and Lenny Kravitz in a male model's physique with talent and a voice beyond anything that I had heard before. That was Byron.

We immediately fell into writing and recording a song and "LOVE HAS THE POWER" was born.

Without notice, Byron left, and I didn't hear back from him again for some months.

"LOVE HAS THE POWER" was pitched to all the labels. The response was great. But we consistently heard the same comment, "We can't sign an artist based on only one song"..

David called me again from South Africa asking what could be done. I had an idea. If I worked with Byron in LA, he would be just like any other R&B act. However if I went to South Africa to work with him, we might be able to come up with something interesting and unique. The idea was to combine contemporary pop with Byron's African roots.

So, I packed my bags and went off on safari. I was right. The music that we made was great and different. Back in LA, the labels jumped at it. We had record companies in a bidding war for Byron. I thought that I had it made.

One day, our combined demo/masters were being played in the offices of Columbia Records in New York, Coincidentally, the band, TOTO was next door wondering what they were going to do about a lead singer for their next recording and tour. Someone made the connection. In an instant I lost my artist.

Byron Duplessis became Jean-Michel Byron and the new lead singer for TOTO.

Almost immediately, They put a "best of" album together. "LOVE HAS THE POWER" made it to that album and is forever cast in stone, (or vinyl or whatever CDs are made of), on the TOTO album, "PAST TO PRESENT". These were the best musicians in the world at that time playing my song. There is a live Youtube performance of my song from one of the TOTO shows in Paris at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NyY5EBuHHiA

I was deeply disappointed with the loss of Byron as my songwriting partner and production client. I felt that he and our songs could have been "bigger than Jesus", to quote John Lennon. But, I did get some compensation in getting a TOTO cut.

I had a strong feeling that Byron had been badly miscast as a member of TOTO and this feeling turned out to be a truth with some unfortunate results for both Byron and the band. His amazing talent is still yet to be fully expressed.

After that, there was a certain lack of creative and artistic fulfillment for me. The music in South Africa had affected me so profoundly that I had to find my way back there and make more music - at any cost.

David Gresham and I stayed in touch, bemoaning our loss and plotted to find some way to recoup. As a result, I returned to the 'veldt' with David's help and set to recording my own album. Paul Simon's, "Graceland" had just come out. To me it was a revelation and an epiphany albeit a little too smooth for my taste. I wanted to get down to the root of the matter.

INDABA, my album, was recorded in Johannesburg exactly at the time that Nelson Mandela was released from prison. I have had the profound experience of being in South Africa during "the time off starvation", which is what apartheid was sometimes called, as well as afterwards when the system collapsed. Freedom reigned.

INDABA was a musical photograph of that moment in time.

One of the songs on INDABA ultimately created its own challenges, creatively. geographically, financially, legally, digitally and business-wise and with Joe Cocker... and much more.

I'll get into that with my next installment as well as more discussion about songwriting, its craft and its art.

 

 

John Capek has achieved international acclaim as a composer, songwriter, keyboard player, producer, arranger and scorer for feature films and television.

 

Rod Stewart leads the list of popular music icons who have recorded Capek compositions. Others include Bonnie Raitt, Cher, Diana Ross, Joe Cocker, Toto, Chicago, Olivia Newton John, Little River Band, Heart, Manhattan Transfer, Isaac Hayes and Amanda Marshall. John Capek’s most performed award winning songs include : “Rhythm of My Heart”, ”This”, ”Soul on Soul” and “Carmelia”.  Capek’s most performed productions include Dan Hill’s Billboard hit duet with Vonda Sheppard, “Can’t We Try” as well as work with Ken Tobias, Gene McLellan, Good Brothers and Downchild. As a keyboard player, John has recorded with Diana Ross, Olivia Newton John, Ian Thomas, Marc Jordan, Dan Hill, Kermit, The Chipmunks, The Simpsons and countless other international performers. John’s songs are heard in the feature films, “A Perfect Storm”, “Cocktail”, “Blown Away” and many others. For more information go to www.johncapek.com

 


For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to:http://www.songwriting.net


Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Recording, 4-track, A&R, Billboard Charts, Diana Ross, Billboard, musician, studio, Bonnie Raitt, Cher

Songwriting Tip: The Backyard Connection

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Jan 23, 2014 @09:49 AM

The Backyard Connection

by Mark Cawley

Back Yard Musicians Songwriters

If you've been writing songs for awhile you have to have heard someone preach about the value of networking and getting connected.

Pretty much a given, you can create in a vacuum but you can't grow there.You may be all alone in your room and in your head when you create but to get that song (and you as a writer) in front of people it takes more people. More people means connecting and more connecting. Takes a village to raise a hit. Where to start?

Scour the village!

What does that look like for a beginning writer or a writer living outside of a major music center? It takes some digging on your part. For instance, I coach songwriters from all over the US and beyond these days and many live in places like Indiana, just to pick one. I urge them to look for a local resource first. If you write lyrics but don't play an instrument see if you can connect with someone who's a good player. If you're a songwriter but don't have production skills look for someone around you who's making magic in the basement. Grow together.

One of my favorite ways to connect in these cases is to, in the words of John Hiatt "pull my pony up and hitch my wagon to your star". Is there someone you've heard in a local club? Online? At church? Who's a diamond in the rough? Connect with them. So many writers made a career of working with an unsigned artist and as the artist gained attention, as good ones tend to do, the songwriter’s name was attached. I'm not just suggesting you pitch your songs to this budding artist but suggest you offer to co-write. Get them invested in the song and as they rise so will you. Not every artist we know and love came from LA, New York or London. Some of them came from small towns and for the sake of my point, the pride of Seymour, Indiana, John Mellencamp.

 

I Was Born In A Small Town

I know John a bit from my days of playing in Indiana and most of the people connected to him in the beginning were all local players. The guys I saw in the local bars where the same ones I saw years later at the LA Forum. Some of his earliest hits were co-written with a local lyricist named George Green. John worked with what he had around him.

Sure the odds go up if you move to one of the cities I mentioned and put yourself out there but in the meantime make the most of what's right in your backyard. Might seem like a small connection but it just might be the one to hitch your pony to. Oh yeah, one more Hoosier...John Hiatt.

 

Got Nothing Against the big Town

In defense of the writers and artists that make the big leap to a major market, most of the ones I know worked hard at making and keeping connections. One of my favorite illustrations would be the number of them that offered to sing demos for songwriters, sometimes cheap, hoping that as the writers song gets heard someone will discover the singer. In my first few years in Nashville it was common for me to call some of these folks like Gretchen Wilson, Brett James, Clay Davidson, Ruby Amanfu and Neil Thrasher to sing a demo for me. Worked out pretty well for me and for them.

No matter how you get your break, you never stop connecting on any level in this business you chose.

 Mark Cawley, songwriter

Mark Cawley

Nashville, Tennessee

1/15/14

Photo: Google Images

About: 

Mark Cawley's songs have appeared on more than 15 million records. Over a career based in LA, London, and Nashville his songs have been recorded by an incredibly diverse range of artists. From Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Wynonna, Diana Ross and Chaka Khan to The Spice Girls, Tom Scott, Kathy Mattea, Paul Carrack, Will Downing and Pop Idol winners in the UK. He has had #1 records in the UK and throughout Europe as well as cuts in Country, Jazz & R & B. His groundbreaking website Song Journey created with Hall of Fame writer Kye Fleming was the first to mentor writers from around the world one-on-one online. He is currently writing and publishing as well as helping writers and artists worldwide with a one-on-one co-active coaching service, iDoCoach.

For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 

 

 

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Mark Cawley, Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Wynonna, Diana Ross

Songwriting Tip: When the Well Runs Dry

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Mar 07, 2013 @09:00 AM

When the Well Runs Dry

 Mark Cawley, songwriter

By Mark Cawley

I don’t believe in writers’ block so much. I do think you’re gonna have dry spells; periods of being uninspired from time to time. If it goes on long enough, self doubt can creep in until you wonder how you ever wrote a song in the first place. So how do you do your best to keep the well full?

You prepare. One definition of prepare is to “make ready beforehand for some purpose”. Nothing beats that moment of divine inspiration…but if you’re writing songs for a career you know you can’t conjure up these things every time. Sometimes it helps to have done some homework and stockpiled ideas for those days when you need something to get you going.

Keeping a list of ideas/titles has always been my favorite. I can’t tell you how many times these lines that I heard, read, or found have worked their way into a song on a day when I had nothing. I’m not the first to come up with things you can do to be creative when you’re not actually writing; there are some tried and true ways to use your time wisely: writing down bits of conversation, walking down the aisles of a bookstore and jotting down titles that catch your eye, watching movies and television with your paper and pen close by. You can highlight lines in newspapers, magazines, and books until all these things make their way onto a list of ideas for the future. Being intentional in your search for ideas can really pay off in the long run.

One of the secrets for me has been to make sure I get these lines all in one place. Doesn’t matter if they seem disconnected, I found them at all different times so there’s no thread anyway. Keeping them handy has been the key. Being able to throw out lines to a co-writer or just pore over the list while I’m playing guitar/keys or looking for a drum groove has gotten me unstuck more times than I can count. Some of these never turn into anything but can spark something else, some of them become titles, and lots of them find their way into verses or bridges.

If you write music, switching instruments is another lifesaver. Write on something you’re not familiar with and you’re bound to eventually come up with something different and inspiring.

Lastly, just taking a break can help. Give it a rest for awhile and do whatever lets you replenish your mind and body. I’ve taken breaks that range from just taking a quick walk to going weeks without touching an instrument.

Refresh, replenish, and refill the well... before it runs dry!

 

About Mark Cawley

Mark Cawley's songs have appeared on more than 15 million records. Over a career based in LA, London, and Nashville his songs have been recorded by an incredibly diverse range of artists. From Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Wynonna, Diana Ross and Chaka Kahn to The Spice Girls, Tom Scott, Kathy Mattea, Paul Carrack, Will Downing and Pop Idol winners in the UK. He has had #1 records in the UK and throughout Europe as well as cuts in Country, Jazz & R & B. His groundbreaking website Song Journey created with Hall of Fame writer Kye Fleming was the first to mentor writers from around the world one-on-one online. He is currently writing and publishing as well as helping writers and artists in the US, UK, and Australia with a one-on-one co-active coaching service, iDoCoach. Check it out at www.idocoach.com

For more information on the 18th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Mark Cawley, Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Wynonna, Diana Ross, Chaka Kahn, writers block, Spice Girls

Songwriting: Top 10 Best Love Songs of All Time

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Feb 14, 2012 @01:51 PM

Top 10 Best Love Songs of All Time by Jessica Brandon


Today being Valentine's day, I thought it would be most appropriate to release the list of the Top 10 best love songs of all time. These love songs are some of the biggest hits of all time. Not surprisingly, big voiced pop Divas such as Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and Barbara Streisand are all on this list that have recorded these pop standards. All of the songs listed have hit #1 on the Billboard 100 charts. 


10. Woman In Love - Barbra Streisand (3)
"Woman in Love" is performed by Barbra Streisand and taken from her 1980 album, Guilty. The song was written by Barry and Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees. "Woman in Love", as the lead single, became one of the most successful songs of Streisand's music career. It spent a total of 3 weeks at the number-one position on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, Streisand's fifth (and last to date) number one on this chart. It also spent five weeks atop the adult contemporary chart, her sixth number one on that tally. The song also proved very popular internationally, reaching number one in many countries, including the United Kingdom.

9. I Just Called To Say I Love You - Stevie Wonder (3)
"I Just Called to Say I Love You" is a song, produced, written and performed by Stevie Wonder. It was one of Wonder's most commercially successful singles. The song was first featured in the 1984 comedy “The Woman in Red”, along with two other songs by Wonder, and scored number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for 3 weeks from October 13, 1984, and also became Wonder's only solo UK number-one success, staying at the top for six weeks.

8. Nothing Compares 2 U - Sinead O'Connor (4)
"Nothing Compares 2 U" is a song by Irish recording artist Sinéad O'Connor, released as the second single from her second studio album, I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got. It was written by Prince for one of his side-projects, The Family. However, it wasn't until O'Connor recorded and produced the version along with Nellee Hooper when it became a worldwide hit. An iconic music video was shot and received heavy rotation on MTV. This son spent 4 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100, in addition it was a number-one in Billboard Alternative Songs chart.

7. The Power of Love - Celine Dion (4)
Gunther Mende, Candy DeRouge, Jennifer Rush and Mary Susan Applegate wrote this song. "The Power of Love " is the second single from Céline Dion's 1993 album, The Color of My Love. It topped the Billboard Hot 100 for 4 weeks, the first Céline Dion single to do so. Originally recorded by Jennifer Rush (#1 in UK for 5 weeks), it has also been recorded by many other artists such as Laura Branigan, Air Supply, and translated into several languages, becoming a pop standard.

6. (Everything I Do) I Do It For You - Bryan Adams (7)
"(Everything I Do) I Do It for You" is a power ballad performed by Bryan Adams and co-written with Michael Kamen and Robert John "Mutt" Lange, featured on the soundtrack album from the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and on Adams' album “Waking Up the Neighbors.” It was an enormous chart success internationally, particularly in the United Kingdom, where it spent 17 consecutive weeks at number one on the UK Singles Chart (the longest in British chart history), 7 weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, and nine weeks atop the RPM singles chart in Canada. It was a number one hit on several charts, making it Bryan Adams' most successful song.

5. Endless Love - Lionel Richie & Diana Ross (9)
"Endless Love" is a song written by Lionel Richie and originally recorded as a duet between Richie and fellow soul singer Diana Ross, used in the movie of the same title. Billboard has named it the greatest song duet of all time. This song became the biggest-selling single of Diana Ross' career, topping the Billboard Hot 100 charts for 9 weeks. The song was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song for Richie, and was the second song with which Ross was involved that was nominated for an Oscar. It also won a 1982 American Music Award for Favorite Pop/Rock Single.

4. You Light Up My Life - Debbie Boone (11)
"You Light Up My Life" is a ballad written by Joe Brooks, and originally recorded by Kasey Cisyk for the soundtrack to the film of the same name. Debby Boone, was recruited to record the single, which became a massive success, topping the Billboard Hot 100 chart for a record-setting ten consecutive weeks (at that time). It easily became the most successful single of the 1970s in the United States, and set a new Hot 100 record for longest reign at No.1 (at that time).

3. We Belong Together - Mariah Carey (14)
This song is a multi-way co-write by Mariah Carey, Jermaine Dupri, Manuel Seal, Johntá Austin, Kenneth Edmonds, Darnell Bristol, Bobby Womack, Patrick Moten, Sandra Sully. This became Mariah Carey second most successful song in her career so far. Billboard listed it as the "song of the decade" and the ninth most popular song of all time. Besides its chart success, the song broke several airplay records.

2. I'll Make Love to You - Boyz II Men (14)
1994 number-one hit single by R&B group Boyz II Men for the Motown label. The song, which was written by Babyface, was the lead single from their second album II. The single spent 14 weeks at the top of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. The song ties “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston and “We Belong Together” by Mariah Carey as the song that spent the second most weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.

1. I Will Always Love You - Whitney Houston (14)

Whitney Houston, singing "I Will Always Love You" in her video of the same name
Originally written by Dolly Parton, released in November 3, 1992, the single spent 14 weeks at the top of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, which at the time was a record, recorded by the late great pop diva, Whitney Houston, used in the movie “The Bodyguard”, this is Whitney Houston most successful song in her career. This song ties with “I'll Make Love to You” Boyz II Men and “We Belong Together” by Mariah Carey as the song that spent the second most weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, behind Carey's 1995 collaboration with Boyz II Men, "One Sweet Day" (which spent 15 weeks at number 1).

 

Do you think any other love songs should be on the list? Please write your comments below, we would love to hear from you!

 

This is brought to you by USA Songwriting Competition. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, visit: http://www.songwriting.net

 

Tags: Songwriting, Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, Top 10 Best Love Songs of All Time, Whitney Houston, Boyz II Men, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion

Songwriting Tip: In Defense Of The Title

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, May 12, 2011 @12:57 PM

In Defense Of The Title

by Mark Cawley

Mark Cawley, Songwritier Advice

As songwriters we’re all paying attention to lyric, melody, structure, rhyme scheme, groove, track and more. In coaching writers I usually find the last thing a young writer considers is “the idea”. What is the song about? Is it an idea that will make a listener want to discover the song, listen further and get you beyond the dreaded “nice” comment? Is it relatable?

 

Sometimes it starts with a title, I admit to being a title writer. I think if the title gets people to listen to the song, open the book, try the movie then we have a leg up.

 

Not to say that every great song has to have a clever title but it sure can help a co-write get off the ground, give your subconscious something to work on or make a publisher pick your CD out of the pile.

 

I have to share one instance with you of a title really working. Years ago I moved to Nashville and while most of my success was in Pop music, especially in the UK at that time, I was getting country cuts. I was writing with Hall Of Fame songwriter Kye Fleming, still one of my best friends and the best pure lyricist I know. So.. we were stuck and she suggested we take a break in the middle of the day and go see a movie. We went to see Jerry Maguire. You remember, the “show me the money” movie.

 

The theatre was mostly empty aside from a few songwriters and music folk we both knew. Midway through the movie René Zellweger looks at Tom Cruise and says...."you had me at hello”. Kye elbowed me and said, “watch this”. Sure enough 4 people got up and made their way out, in the middle of the movie. They knew they had found their idea, or the perfect title. In her wisdom Kye told me that they would all go write it, a couple will demo it, a few publishers will get it to producers and one will be a hit in 6 months!

 

Around 6 months later Kenny Chesney had a number one called “you had me from hello”.

 

I still keep a running list of anything that remotely sounds like an opening line, great title or just a good idea.

 

One Nashville writer I know always cautioned me to “make sure the journey was worth the destination.” Don’t just depend on the twist or the hook to carry a song but make sure every part of lyric is seamless leading up to the big idea. In other words, a great title on it’s own is not a great lyric. Good advice!

 

Mark Cawleys’ songs have appeared on more than 15 million records. Over a career based in LA, London and Nashville his songs have been recorded by an incredibly diverse range of artists. From Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Wynonna, Diana Ross and Chaka Kahn to The Spice Girls, Tom Scott, Kathy Mattea, Paul Carrack, Will Downing and Pop Idol winners in the UK and around the world. He has had #1 records in the UK and throughout Europe as well as cut’s in Country, Jazz & R & B. His groundbreaking website “Song Journey” created with Hall of Fame writer Kye Fleming was the first to mentor writers from around the world one on one online. He is currently writing and publishing as well as helping writers and artists in the US, UK and Australia with a new one on one co-active coaching service. Visit www.idocoach.com for details.

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, USA Songwriting Competition, Mark Cawley, Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Wynonna, Diana Ross, Chaka Kahn, The Spice Girls, Tom Scott, Kathy Mattea, Paul Carrack, Will Downing