Songwriting can be tough! Songwriting for the local church can be even tougher because not only are we balancing lyric, melody and meter, but we are called upon to create something for everyday folk – people who are not skilled musicians or singers. We are called to craft approachable words that give voice to the human heart for people who, generally speaking, are not poets – theological truth that can be feasted upon for people who are not theologians, and somehow package all this in a way that preserves artistic beauty. (And by-the-way, we all want beauty, artist or not. You want beauty. I want beauty. Heck, even my log-buying-mule-riding-punch-you-in-the-face dad wants beauty!) Admittedly, it’s a daunting task, but one well worth the struggle and strain.
Perhaps one of the best ways to start is by creating a songwriter’s circle. We first began one at our church five years ago and I can honestly say that nothing in all my years of being involved in the church has done more to empower songwriting. Up until our songwriting group formed, original songs were sporadic and generally written by two people. After the group, new music was regular, as well as the number of writers increased dramatically. One of the most enjoyable parts of all this for me was that people who never considered themselves to be writers were suddenly, within two weeks, writing songs – songs that our church still sings five years later!
Here are the essential ingredients to a songwriting circle that will change your church forever:
1.) People! Keep the group small enough that there can be time to share songs without creating a four hour meeting but big enough that it is interesting. 4-10 people is perfect. Also, don’t be afraid to invite a couple of people who didn’t instantly come to your mind – someone new to the worship band, the super awkward 13-year-old skate punk, the mom of three who hasn’t played her guitar in years. Often, these “additions” are packing a punch in terms of fresh perspective.
2.) Deadlines! Decide how often you are going to meet, and when songs are due and stick to it! At our group we write a song every two weeks, and if you don’t bring a song then you are out! The biggest obstacle to writing is procrastination, and everyone knows that musicians and artists are the worst procrastinators. Make a deadline – every week, every other week, once a month or some other interval – the interval isn’t as important as sticking to it.
3.) Critique! The only way to get better is to play what you have written and then receive some real feedback. This can be sticky – artists are notoriously sensitive, but it is essential. Maybe that melody isn’t quite as rad as you thought, and you need to know – and eventually, you will be glad. Likewise, maybe there are a few things that are pure gold, a turn of phrase or metaphoric idea, and again, you need to know. Make this way more about encouragement than correction, especially with new writers. Also, backhanded complements just suck, so don’t be a jerk. At the beginning, only allow a critique after two or three positive affirmations.
More to come!