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talking songs with josh baldwin

writing with ryan…

One time, in a very informal interview, Ryan Adams was asked about his writing process: specifically, how someone known for being prolific manages when it seems the well has run dry. His response was hilarious and insightful. The paraphrased version is this – “I’m a songwriter. If I can’t get up and write 4-5 hours a day, then I should just quit.” “Most musicians are entitled, lazy !@#$.” I think you probably get the idea. You should take five minutes and see for yourself:

To my knowledge Ryan Adams isn’t a believer. He doesn’t write music for congregational worship. He’s a rock ‘n roller, an alt-country guru. Pretty much every stereotype that can be associated with rock music has either applied or currently could apply to him. So what’s the deal? Why quote him for a blog exclusively devoted to encouraging song-writing within the local church? Well, because hidden within the bad attitude and cursing is a nugget of truth or two. I hear three noteworthy things in this sound-byte.

Focused Calling

Though lots of labels could be attached to Ryan, his identity is grounded in the fact that he considers himself to be a songwriter. My guess is that this has been a large part of his personal identity for years – at first as a dream, then in reality. How many of us consider ourselves to be song-writers? We embrace our calling and identity as followers of Jesus and worship leaders, but how many of us have considered that God may have called us to write? How many of us have ever considered that the desire to write songs might just be the still small voice of the Spirit? We should. God has given every individual a voice and the instinctive desire to sing. I am also convinced that this is true of congregations as well. Who is crafting the lyric, melody and groove for people to sing? Surely its the song-writers! Do you consider yourself to be one?

Order, Order, Order

Ryan Adams has never struck me as an organized person, yet it’s clear to me that because he considers himself to be a song-writer, he orders his life around that calling. He writes four or five hours a day. I’m pretty sure there are lots of days where this isn’t true – days where recording, touring, and “life” eat up the clock, but I would be willing to bet that this is pretty accurate. Every consistent song-writer I know has battled the beast of order. They have put a dagger to the throat of their own daily schedule. Maybe you should write four or five hours a day. Maybe you should write four to five hours a month. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that it is on a schedule. Writing only when inspiration hits is a recipe for never writing.

At our church the song-writers get together in May when school is winding down and each one writes a song every other week until the end of August. We schedule the summer to write the songs that our church will sing for the next year.

Writing Songs is Work

Finally, it’s clear to me that because Ryan Adams approaches song-writing like a job, which means it’s hard work! All jobs eventually become tough (I know: I’ve had lots of them). What begins with inspiration and excitement soon becomes labor. Chuck Close, a master painter, said “inspiration is for amateurs.” Creative sparks come from grinding. There is something about the dailyness of a job that gives the worker the time and repetitions needed to perfect their skills, and writing songs is a skill, just like roofing a house or teaching 2nd grade.

Think about the job that you currently have. When you first started you were probably not very good, but with time and repetition, you became better. You learned the subtle nuances that made you more efficient. These are the on-the-job lessons that only come repetition. You have to show up every day.

So how about it? Let’s embrace song-writing as part of our identity, order our lives, and get to work!



matt maher – writing for the local church!

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