King Solomon got it right when he wrote, “There is no new thing under the sun.” (Ecc. 1:9 KJV) At least, it seems there’s “nothing new under the sun” when it comes to writing fresh worship songs. Haven’t we been recycling the same four phrases about “coming into His presence” and proclaiming “You are more than enough/God of creation/earth/sky/sea/future/past/sins/brokeness/etc” so many times we’ve all become numb to them? Of course we have.
But, considering the fact that we’ll never exhaust God’s goodness in a million years, I believe it is possible to write fresh, usable worship songs if you approach them with these next three points in mind.
Point 1 – Stop competing with Chris Tomlin (or anyone else)
Comparison is poison to creativity. Songwriters who stand out are those who choose to be themselves. Crowder, Tomlin, and All Sons and Daughters are just a few voices who broke contemporary music molds to blaze trails of their own with their “different” sounds. It wasn’t long before everyone wanted to write “like” them. But there’s never a second original. Oscar Wilde said, “Be who you are. Everyone else is taken.” It’s true. We don’t need another knockoff artist or songwriter. We need you. We need your sound, your message, and your unique voice. Just do you.
Point 2 – Challenge yourself to think like a pro songwriter
You’ve got to have better tools in your tool-belt if you’re going to raise your understanding of how songs are really crafted. Just because you “felt something” when you wrote it and say, “God gave me this song,” doesn’t mean anyone’s ever going to start jumping pews and shouting down their hair over it.
The real test of a great song is if a large number of people actually want to hear it again and want to sing along. If you want to write engaging songs, you have to do the hard work of figuring out exactly why a Tomlin song like “How Great Is Our God” (Tomlin, Cash, Reeves) wins over and over. Pro songwriters have honed their skills, and so must you, to be heard.
Point 3 – Avoid trite phrases and concepts
Avoid using phrases like “in His/Your presence” and “We’ve come to worship You.” That’s harsh, right? Isn’t worship about coming into His presence to worship Him? Of course it is. But toss one of those into your song these days and just about everyone’s going to tune it out. Why? Because we’ve become numb to the whole thing after years of hearing those exact phrases, and many others like them.
…you’ve got to approach songwriting these days with much more authenticity than rehashing the same old phrases. Using them makes you look insincere and amateurish.
While they’re true, you’ve got to approach songwriting these days with much more authenticity than rehashing the same old phrases. Using them makes you look insincere and amateurish. All Sons and Daughters (David Leonard and Leslie Jordan) were phenomenal at delivering delightfully new phrases like “I am a sinner/If it’s not one thing it’s another/Caught up in words, tangled in lies/But you are a Savior and You take brokenness aside/ and make it beautiful” (“Brokenness Aside,” David Leonard, Leslie Jordan © Copyright 2011 Integrity’s Alleluia! Music, Integrity’s Praise! Music).
While ASD could have just said “Dear God/I sin a lot but You forgive me because You’re faithful and good” they coined a very unique phrase in “brokenness aside” and caught our ears once more, re-tuning our hearts to the timeless truth of God’s limitless grace and forgiveness. It’s pretty fun to sing, too.
The biggest part of great songwriting is becoming aware of what’s not working. The work of an editor or a pro songwriter is figuring out what doesn’t belong and jettisoning it out of the song. Use these three powerful principles and you’ll see a major spike in the attention and enjoyment of your listeners. While there truly is “nothing new under the sun,” the wise songwriter uses what they have to form fresh, engaging, and powerful new combinations to capture their listeners attention and direct them to God who deserves fresh new praise