Hillsong’s “What a Beautiful Name” (Ligertwood/Fielding) has taken the worship world by storm. We sing it a lot at our church, and I bet you do too, because it’s way up on CCLI’s Top 100 chart, and that means this song is being used by a lot of believers right now. It’s just one of “those” songs that seem to burst into the church unannounced like a hailstorm cropping up on a scorching West Texas summer day.
At this writing, “What a Beautiful Name” has had over 149,312,091 views on Youtube alone, not counting all of the shares and likes and repostings of this song worldwide. I talk a lot about “successful Christian songwriting,” and this is a glimmering example of that idea because it’s obviously hitting home with millions of people and it’s only been out about a year. Very impressive.
So what can we learn from a song like this?
First, this is an exquisite hook/phrase that every Jesus-worshiper on the planet is happy to utter. “What a beautiful name it is” is one of those composite phrases that fuses classic titles like “There’s Just Something About That Name” (Wm. J. and Gloria Gaither) and “How Beautiful” (Twila Paris), or “Beautiful One” (Tim Hughes), and “Your Name” (Glenn Packiam and Paul Baloche). I’m not saying the writers did this on purpose, but, however it happened, their blending of these phrases put one of the freshest and most endearing worship phrases into the mouths of worshipers worldwide, capturing the essence of our heart’s desire to express such a thing.
So, this is a hint for all aspiring songwriters. Research hymns and every song title you can find to look for fresh combinations of phrases (think Tomlin’s “Amazing Grace/Chains Are Gone” here).
Second, these writers kept it simple. Simplicity is one the greatest keys and most difficult challenges to hit songwriting. For me, a “hit” is something that connects with the greatest number of listeners/users, regardless of the genre. In worship music, that means people want to sing this song over and over again in their churches. “In Christ Alone” (Townend/Getty) is a hit. “How Great is Our God” (Tomlin, Cash, Reeves) is a hit. “10,000 Reasons” (Redman/Myrin) is a hit, too, but none of these just because they were promoted by big record companies or were played on the radio. These songs connect with the greatest number of worshipers because the writers kept the songs deceptively simple in a way that helps you want to sing them.
Third, the sheer singability of this song makes it immediately accessible to everyone. This means that they didn’t make the range of the song out of reach for the average worshiper, keeping it pretty much in a six-note range throughout, which is quite comfortable for most people.
“prosody” … has to do with the marriage of the lyric and melody. If it’s a great marriage, it’s probably a great song.
Along with range is the quite memorable, worshipful, and emotional chorus melody coupled so beautifully with the lyric. In songwriting language this is called “prosody” and has to do with the marriage of the lyric and melody. If it’s a great marriage, it’s probably a great song. Sometimes a song can have a great lyric and a less-than-great melody or vice versa and it tanks the whole thing. You want great prosody, and these guys certainly captured it in this song.
If you can find a phrase as beautiful, worshipful, and universally applicable to worshipers as “What a Beautiful Name It Is,” for goodness’ sake, keep it simple and singable. Don’t overthink it or complicate it just to show how crafty you can be in your songwriting. Keep the range easy for the average guy and make sure the melody and lyric have a blissful marriage, and you’ll be on your way to blessing a whole lot of people.
I’d be pretty happy with just one-million views on one of my songs, and probably go into a coma if I had 149 million and climbing. Ligertwood and Fielding deserve the accolades and the royalties. They’ve given us a new classic that is deserving of great rewards in heaven and on this earth. Now it’s your turn.