No introduction needed for Cristiano Minellono, globally renowned for his many beautiful songs, famous in every corner of the world.
He is the only Italian lyricist to have won the Sanremo Music Festival twice, for songs “Ci sarà” and “Se mi innamoro”, and to have seized the second place for four times.
He has sold over one hundred and fifty million records with his pieces, sang by the greatest Italian pop music artists.
He is also extremely popular in England as the only lyricist that the Beatles entrusted with an Italian version of “Let it be”, rendered as “Dille sì”.
He has written songs for famous international artists such as Dalida – to name a few of their hits, “Laissez moi dancer” and “Il faut dancer reggae” – or Gérard Lenormand with his splendid “L’enfant des cathedrals”.
Songs “Felicità”, “Mamma Maria”, “Soli”, “Come vorrei” and “L’italiano” have been performed by the world’s greatest performers.
Maestro, your career and life have been full of incredible success. How are your pieces born?
They are despite me.
I’m blatantly lazy. Artists often have me listen to a song, and based on this I decide whether to take care of the lyrics or not.
I always write last minute, there’s no preliminary work. Sometimes, I can write the full lyrics in a bunch of minutes, as if words came on their own.
I re-listen to the music three or four times in two to three weeks, for the meter to be clear to me, then I start writing.
The music always comes first – except for “L’italiano”, for which I wrote the lyrics first.
The lyrics of your songs are frames of life, poems in music. What inspires your writing?
I draw inspiration from all that I have personally experienced and that happens around me – a movie, a couple of friends’ love story…
The way I see it, songs should be movies – while listening, you should also be able to see them. Words need to draw pictures.
Recently, when introducing songs, the lyricist has not been mentioned any longer, with all the credit going to the performer, or the character they’re playing. How do you feel about this?
It’s a bad custom – how else to call it? Until the early ‘70s, the Sanremo Music Festival, which celebrates Italian songs, honored singers, lyricists and composers alike.
The winner announcement made this clear – “the winning song is sung by”, “lyrics and music by” – and lyricists and musicians were the ones collecting the award.
Then everything changed, and the media power of TV traded substance for appearance. More room was left to singers, who often became celebrities that create audience.
I won two editions of the Sanremo Festival with my songs, and “L’italiano” won it by popular vote too, but I never received anything for this – not even a certificate, or the slightest recognition.
Today, no great skills are needed to work on television. Show business is merely based on economic factors, whereas quality and professionalism are overlooked.
At the Sanremo Festival, for example, the backstage used to be authentic. We were all friendly with one another, and the same went for the artists battling for the first place. There was a healthy competition between them, based on respect for everyone’s skills and artistic talents, and on mutual esteem.
But let’s have a look at today’s voting system: the expert jury is made of people that totally lack the musical expertise needed to judge songs, as they’re often celebrities that boost the audience up.
And what about phone-in voting? It works in unclear ways that are anything but transparent.
How have copyright laws been applied in Italy?
This is a really serious issue, and we have been campaigning for it for years.
I chair the Music Division’s Committee of SIAE (the Italian copyright collecting agency), and I’m also on its Supervisory Board.
I’d like to stress that SIAE is not some state-owned chaos. It’s a private company established by playwrights, lyricists, composers, musicians, and so on.
Little is known about copyright in Italy, where it’s underestimated and often unrecognized.
However, everyone who intends to use any song to make profits, from disco clubs to karaoke nights, should remember that they’re using a product that was created by professionals, and these professionals need to be paid just like in any other supply chain.
Other European countries are more respectful and serious about this.
A few years ago, we managed to collaborate with the European political authorities to present the European Commission with a plan to have the major players – like YouTube – pay for copyright.
Our plan became a European norm that was accepted by all governments.
All but Italy’s. Why?
This is why we started a petition to spark up a fight and stir this numb Italy that shoved the European norm away in a drawer, or possibly even forgot about it.
We have already collected 20,000 signs.
These people need to be paid for the work they do, and this should be fairly compensated, to increase motivation. With no cinema, no music, the world is dead and lifeless.
There are no more great authors and lyricists because it has become impossible to make a living out of this profession.
What would be your advice to young people who want to make music?
Make real music.
Remember that it’s impossible to know it all, which is why we have specific jobs – great lyricists, producers, musicians, amazing artists. Only if we truly consider them as a system, we can have quality, unforgettable results.