1. What Is Missing?
Christianity has a rich tradition of putting music and words to what we believe. Our God is infinite, which means there is always something more to discover and always a new song to be sung. I think as writers we always need to push ourselves to express ourselves in new ways. That is certainly not to say that we can’t find new ways to sing themes that we have sung before, in fact it is perhaps important that we do. It is natural to be inspired by the great writers around us and by the songs that speak to us the most. Though we need to be careful that we don’t end up writing songs that are in the same lane as a song that has just done the same thing really well (maybe better…). The song ‘Good Good Father’ is an amazing song in so many ways; I think at least one reason it has had such a connection with all of us is that we were so ready to sing a new song about the Father’s love. When I first heard ‘Good Good Father’, the theme resonated; it felt like an important and necessary song to sing.
Perhaps a good process to go through lyrically is to consider each line individually and ask whether it has been said before and whether there is a new way of expressing the thought. On the other hand, a familiar line might really help make a section feel friendly and comfortable and may support more adventurous lines. The same applies melodically. While melodies and cadences can be familiar. Sometimes a creative melody can make a word like ‘Hallelujah’ sing like it has never been sung before. I guess it is just important that we are intentional about the way we decide the familiarity of a song’s theme and musical elements. So we should ask, what are we not singing that we should be? Start by thinking about what you would personally like to be singing in church where there is a current void. In other words – let’s write where there is need.
2. What Is Authentic?
I think this is often closely linked to the previous consideration – as your answer to the question of what is missing will likely fall somewhere in the perceived gap between your own personal revelation and that of others (expressed in the songs around you). What we feel passionate about writing should be allowed to germinate – allowing time for our revelation to develop. Often we also need to dig deeper and continually search for a greater understanding of God. I love writing with people who do this. One example is Brooke Ligertwood who has been known to send through what is basically a research thesis on the theme being written 🙂 It is a useful reminder that what we write about should be something that we have taken time to explore and that also comes from a real place. We must make sure that our songs are authentic and feel authentic, thinking about the prosody of each line.
For example, if the melody is reflective or intimate, the lyric should suggest the same tone. There is a perceivable difference between an intellectual assent and that which has a heart connection. Both intellect and heart are important, they must work together. The best songs get this balance right. They are carefully crafted and have a depth that has been tastefully crafted into the ‘feel’ or emotionality of the music. We can all fall into the trap of trying to write like other writers. But there is something more honest about trying to just write better songs that reflect your own personality as a writer. Discovering, honing and trusting your own instincts is an important part of maturing as a writer.
3. What Is Memorable?
The best songs leave an indelible mark. The best melodies and the best lyrics perpetually resonate. To my mind, it is the pinnacle of songwriting, when your favourite lyric and melody coalesce naturally. These are the inspired lines that we need to actively pursue in our writing. Sometimes they will come easily, sometimes they will require days, weeks and even months of searching and refining. I think the key is for us not to settle for writing a song that simply works, but to be searching for that indelible quality that makes certain songs timeless. A useful gauge is what you (and if relevant, your co-writers) keep thinking about and wanting to listen to over and over. You can also get a useful indication by showing other people the song and seeing if they continue to ask or talk about the song – I find this to be very useful in deciphering what is likely to connect more broadly. It will require giving your songs time to breathe.
May God continue to inspire you as you engage in the ongoing process of refining the gift that you have been given, and may you write the best songs that you ever have.
P.S. Hillsong Conference is coming up soon, where we’ll be hosting a songwriting masterclass and other great training for worship teams – we’d love to invite you to come and be a part of it! Register here