Christian Songwriter: Set Defined Goals

Whether you’re new to songwriting or are an experienced songsmith, this column is intended to serve as a resource where you can turn to for tips on the craft of songwriting as well as how to develop a culture of songwriting at your church. This column will also offer some practical tips on how to apply the amazing input from the Christian Songwriting column that launched in this issue. Here is a bit of background about how both columns came into existence.

I had a long conversation with an esteemed friend “in the business” at Winter NAMM about what it means and takes to be a songwriter. This conversation was the inspiration behind the Christian Songwriting column where you’ll be able to hear directly from songsmiths like Darlene Zschech on how they approach writing and building a culture of songwriting within their church.

Another friend recently asked for some advice on how to jump start the recording process, and over the course of that conversation it became clear that as much as he wanted to make the jump from writing riffs to writing songs (like so many musicians I encounter) he just didn’t know where to start. Which gets us to what this column is all about. While I believe that just about anyone can write a song, crafting an expert arrangement is something that takes time to master. Here are some things I’d suggest keeping in mind.

SET DEFINED GOALS

Creating specific goals for your writing can be extremely valuable. Depending on where you are in your songwriting journey those goals will vary.

Beginning Songwriters

Being brutally honest about your motivations will go a long way towards setting your goals. Our underlying motivations often drive the decision we make, so deciding who you are writing for is tantamount. Not every song needs to be sung at your church or played on Christian radio, which can be very freeing. If many of Darlene’s favorites songs are ones that will never be sung in church, it is pretty clear who she is writing for and why.

On a more practical note, songs are a combination of lyrics, music, and arrangement. Each of these elements take time to develop and not everyone is good at all three. Identifying which of these are your strengths is key in terms of discovering which areas of your songwriting need the most work. Deconstructing some of your favorite songs is a great way to discover what resonates with you.

Intermediate Songwriters

If you’ve been at if for a while, chances are you’ve come up against some of the common hurdles songwriters tend to face. There is a very fine line between abandoning songs out of musical wanderlust versus moving on to a truly more inspired idea. If you liken unfinished songs with drafts in your outbox, if you find yourself with too many drafts, chances are you’re not investing the time to wrap them up. If you see this pattern developing do yourself the favor of trying to finish more songs than you abandon.

Advanced Songwriters

The most prolific songwriters these days tend to write in teams. There are lots of advantages and approaches for doing this. I loved the way Darlene kick started the writing process at Hope UC by setting up teams of writers to write about the same thing. Having these teams come back together and share their songs is a great way to discover the differing approaches you can take when writing a song based on the same scripture.

Lastly I’ll add this. After interviewing prolific writers like Darlene, as well as Brian and Jenn Johnson, it is clear that they are so deeply immersed in the Word that they can’t help but have it come out as deep revelation in the songs they write. If you want to write deeper songs, go deeper in the Word!

NEXT ISSUE

In the next issue we’ll be hearing from Brian and Jenn Johnson about their take on the art of crafting songs as well as the intentional steps they took to build a culture of songwriting at Bethel.

HOMEWORK

If you’re not already doing so, I invite you to write a devotional song just for God that no one else will hear. This just might be the catalyst you’ve been looking for to kick start your songwriting!

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Doug is the Editorial Director for [WM] and Gear Tech + Recording aka [GTR] magazines. Doug is a 'retired' worship and creative arts director, one of the session players from Guitar Hero, has a disc out on Steve Vai's Favored Nations label, and literally wrote the book on worship guitar per "The Worship Guitar Book" which appeared on the Hal Leonard imprint.

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