(This is a 3 part post from Aaron Ivey about songwriting)
In part 1, we looked at the role of the worship leader in songwriting. In part 2, we looked at what it takes to be a revisioner and the necessity of writing about our own lives and feelings. In this part, we’re going to look at the discipline of songwriting. I’m going to make quite a few short points here and this post is going to be heavy in application.
Establish a Rhythm
- If you don’t have a routine or habit of songwriting, simply sitting down to write a song usually won’t work. You need a rhythm of writing in your life, so that you can catch imagination when it comes.
In “The War of Art,” Steven Pressfield talks about the difference between an amateur and a professional. We typically think that means “amateur = no pay” and “pro = does it as a career.” But according to Pressfield, this is very wrong thinking. I’ve also come to the conclusion that it’s not about whether writing is something you get paid to do…but instead It’s much more about the discipline in which you it.
Just like a lawyer doesn’t just go to the office once a week when he’s feeling particularly argumentative, a songwriter can’t wait for the perfect moment of inspiration to write a song. They MUST write something every day. Every single day, I try to open my journal and write down a verse, a chorus, a phrase, or just an idea. This rhythm of writing has helped immensely! When you do this, you are sharpening your skills and building a bank of ideas that you’ll draw from every time you write.
As songwriters, many of you need to cross this line towards thinking of yourself as not an amateur, but a professional. You need to cross the line towards rejecting your fears and insecurities, to put pen to paper every single day. I try to re-evaluate my weekly schedule consistently, to ask the question, “how much time am i devoting to writing every single day of this week?”
- A major aspect of good songwriting is pretty technical and is going to be difficult to flesh out in a blog post. Good songwriters must pay careful attention to things such as melody, rhyme, rhythym, repitition, key, range, etc. There have been a few technical books that have been monumental in shaping how i approach technique in writing. For more on these few points, a book I highly recommend is “Writing Better Lyrics” by Pat Pattison.
Create Art in Community
- As worship leaders, we should develop or engage in a culture of collaboration. When we as a community come together and create art as a community, the result is always better art. We were created in community (God is a triune God) and I believe there is great benefit in engaging the creation of art together. Be vulnerable in submitting content to other songwriters that you trust. Get AND give feedback. Co-write. It will stretch you immensely.
Write Lyrics People Can Follow
- Songs written for the church require a greater attention to lyrics. There needs to be richness in theology, expression, and mission but also an accessibility to those singing the songs. There have been many times, as a songwriter, I’ve had to sacrifice creativity and personal preference for the sake of people following.
Sometimes obscure lyrics can be inspiring, but oftentimes it just doesn’t makes sense or allow for anyone to follow. This is another reason why community is important. You need to have people around you that can be honest about whether you are leading people to sing songs rich in mission, theology and expression, or just confusing them with vague or untrue lyrics.
- Finally, when determining whether a new song should be used corporate worship, I run all of them through these four invasive questions:
- Is this song honest?
- Are these lyrics theologically accurate? (I have many people check them)
- Is this melody singable?
- Does this contain words/themes that MY people need to be singing right now?
We should consider it a huge blessing and gift of grace that God would give us a piece of His character — the ability to create. My hope is that as we all continue to grow as songwriters, we would lead people to be more in love with God, His beauty, and His gospel.