Seven steps toward writing better songs
By Jeff Deyo of Sonicflood
There are many spokes in the wheel that make the world of music go ‘round—artists, producers, players, teachers, radio stations, studios, YouTube, Spotify, record companies, managers, and booking agencies, to name a few—but there is only one true hub at the center. The song and the songwriter.
Christian songwriters are inspired and compelled to write not just because of their desire to write songs, but also because there is a powerful song to sing.
Here are 7 helpful tips if you are aspiring to write the songs to inspire a generation for Christ:
- Write, write, write.
This may seem obvious, but many would-be writers rarely practice their writing. It’s the same as with any skill. Many would love to hoop it up in the NBA, but few are willing to do the work it takes to do so.Believe it or not, songwriting must be practiced, because it’s a skill that needs to be developed. In basketball, I’ve heard of star players shooting free throws as long as it takes to make 100 shots. In a row. Every day. As with any other career, songwriters begin with varying levels of talent, but those who want to write great songs must write, write, and write some more.
- Always look for inspiration.
Good writers are writing all the time. They are always looking for compelling ideas to share—maybe from a sermon, from a scenic view, or simply from a conversation happening at a table nearby. They pay attention to things other people miss.Why? Because Christian songwriters are watching. Listening. And they always have a notepad or songwriting app handy to capture the inspirational musical or lyrical suddenlies of life.
- Write songs that cause people to say “me too.”
Ironically, the best songs rarely attempt to tell us something we’ve never imagined, but strive to bring us all together around a topic we can all relate to.That’s why pop music can be so gripping for so many—not because it says something we’ve never heard before, but because it touches our hearts with things we all deal with on a daily basis—like disappointment, fear, sunsets, traffic, loss, the unknown, and of course, love and relationships.The best way to captivate people’s hearts with a song is to rally them together over the joys and struggles we all face.
- Use a fresh approach.
It’s very easy to get stuck in a box. Whether from writers’ block or using the same lyrical approach to every song, Christian songwriters must find ways to keep things new. There are many ways to do this, including writing on an instrument you are less familiar with, starting with a lyric or title if you normally start with chords and a melody, or branching out to collaborate with other writers.At North Central University, aspiring student songwriters participate in “Creative Friday’s,” inspired by a similar process at National Community Church. Each Friday they gather for 2 hours with anyone who wants to write songs across the NCU campus. This approach helps students to continue to bring fresh songs to the table and build off each other’s ideas!
- Listen to learn.
One way you can become better at anything is by learning from others. For someone hoping to write worship songs, this means listening to a lot of music. Whether on the radio or Google Play or with friends, you must constantly consume and “evaluate” other people’s songs.You should always be learning something from other songs. Train yourself to get beyond casual listening to ask questions like “why do I like this song?” or “what makes this hook so infectious?” Of course, there are also things we can learn about how NOT to write. Is there something that bugs you about a particular song? Don’t turn it off. Ask yourself why.
- Educate yourself.
In the same way that listening to songs from other writers helps you learn, take every opportunity to grow as a songwriter on your own. Reading songwriting books like God Songs from Paul Baloche or The Art of Songwriting from Casey Kelly or Writing Better Lyrics from Pat Pattison can give you a boost. Of course, there is always the YouTube video approach as well.
- Get a degree in music.
Foundational to any career in music is a degree in music. For someone pursuing Christian songwriting, this could be a degree in worship leading, recording artist, music performance, or more.A major in music gives you the opportunity to develop your knowledge of musical theory, to understand ensembles, and to be immersed in times of musical expression.If it is true that songs make the world of music go ‘round, there is certainly ample motivation to grow as a songwriter in order to seize the opportunity to encourage and challenging the vast sea of listeners with worship songs.
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