CHRISTIAN SONGWRITING 101: 5 PROVEN TIPS PROFESSIONAL WRITERS USE
Christian songwriting is an art form unlike most any of the other songwriting genres. There are few styles of music where the words are as heavily important, nor as critiqued. Becoming professional in Christian songwriting means you have to care for your hearer and audience more than just the song being created. In essence, your song becomes a vehicle for the ministry in the name of Jesus. There may be no higher calling in music.
One thing is for sure, there is no formula that makes for a perfect song. Sure, some Christian songwriting champions have tried to boil it down to a formula, but they don’t seem to last long. While there is no perfect formula, there are some key guidelines that are pretty consistent in any writing or co-writing session I am privileged to be a part of. Here are five tips for Christian songwriting you can employ during your next songwriting session. These work whether you are just starting out or a seasoned veteran.
1. SAY A PRAYER AT THE BEGINNING OF YOUR SESSION.
At one of my first professional songwriting sessions, I was afforded the opportunity to write with two established writers. I remember the moment. We had finished all of the pleasantries of acknowledging who we were. We had been connected together as part of a larger conference, so we did not know each other prior to writing. I began the actual writing portion by asking if I could pray for our time. The other writers were taken aback. They didn’t typically pray before or during a session. As I prayed, one of the writers took a statement from my prayer and said: “that’s it!” We have to use that line. Thus the song during that session was ignited. Praying before and during a Christian songwriting session should be commonplace. If God created music and if these songs are to be ministry-oriented, why would we not ask his presence to guide in the creation of the new song being formed. Pray every time.
2. DEVELOP A STRUCTURE AND STICK TO IT.
Every song tells a story. Every song has a point. Every Christian song, by it’s very nature, has to point to Christ in some manner. The very best writers begin their sessions by finding an answer to their question: “what do we want to say in this song?” If you find an answer that is a solution to your question, then you begin outlining your song. You plan the chorus to have a reveal and the verses to be a setup to that revealed chorus moment. You don’t want to give away so much in the first verse that the chorus is just a rehash of the verse. A bridge can only truly exist if you have a shake up or unresolved tension that wasn’t tied up in the chorus. A pre-chorus may or may not be necessary. Assuming one is a rookie mistake. Spending an hour working out an intro may be an unwise usage of time. Basically, good songwriting begins with a good plan. If you aim at nothing you will hit it every time.
3. DON’T BE MARRIED TO YOUR FIRST IDEA. BE WILLING TO EDIT.
Do your best to hold loosely to your ideas. Better ones may come along. Being willing to edit is key to writing a hit song. If you marry into a line in a song, but the moral of the story shifts, making that line obsolete, then you have to get rid of it. If it’s a great line, put it into a great idea folder. Being a winning editor is about as important as being initially creative. The two go hand in hand. I always know that even some of the best song lyrics began as placeholder text. The worst thing songwriters who want to be great can do is assume that their works are great right out of the gate. Find humility and also sleep on your creation. Sometimes 24 hours away from your new baby will reveal that you need to make adjustments. Remember, it took the light bulb over 1,000 tries before its invention. Are you writing a light bulb?
4. IF YOU CAN’T REMEMBER YOUR SONG, HOW WILL SOMEONE ELSE?
This one is the most debatable of any of the five tips. I recommend not writing down any of your lines until the end of your writing session. This may be the hardest piece of advice to implement, but here is why I recommend doing so. If you are trying to write a song that someone will remember, one that someone can use as a ministry tool, then you need to remember it yourself during the songwriting session. If you cannot recall your lines, why do you think an audience will? The best thing you can do is to sing your newly formed lyrics over and over. Keep trying out different combinations and tones in your phrasing. Internalize your lyrics until they are just right. When you can sing your new song naturally and without hesitation, it’s probably ready for pen and paper. It’s ready to be recorded on a work tape.
5. WORK TAPES LIVE ON. BE PREPARED TO SHARE.
Recording a work tape today is so much easier than even ten years ago. Gone are the days of the device solely dedicated to recording your voice/guitar as a work tape. We have smartphones with higher sample rates than the first Beatles recordings. I seriously recommend that you record a voice/guitar/piano or whatever instrument you utilize every time you write. My other recommendation is that you remember that work tapes live on. They can go out to friends and family members. For established writers, they can be the basis for the song plugger’s pitch. Do your best to only release quality work tape. If you wouldn’t want it posted all over Facebook then do a retake. You never know whose ears will hear your song.
Sure, there are certainly going to be more things you can implement while writing a Christian themed song. The five above are great ideas to begin with. We can get more specific as time moves forward. Co-writing is a different animal than when writing solo. Writing with people you know is different than being thrust into a room with someone you don’t know. All in all, these five tips should work in every situation.
If you are established in Christian songwriting, what are some other tips you would recommend? If you are just starting out as a writer, do you have questions? I am glad to answer as many questions as I can. Of course, my aim is to help. Comment below.