Writing, producing, and releasing music is one of the most fun and rewarding things our worship team gets to do. It requires a whole lot of hard work, discipline, extra hours, late nights, rehearsals, revisions, compromise...the list goes on. But it is anything but a burden. What a blessing it is to us. And, of course, our hope is that our music will be a blessing to everyone who hears it.
As we prepare to release our new album, we thought we would give our Friends + Family a behind-the-scenes look at our songwriting process. There is no formula for a good song, but there are some habits, practices, and disciplines that can help you as you work to create music of your own. As we say often here, we are on the journey of learning and growing in this capacity. We have by no means arrived. And we never will. The goal will always be to dig deeper and discover more of the gifts, talents, ideas, and creativity God has placed within us. No matter how proud we may be of today’s song, we will always look ahead to discover the new song in the next season.
I don’t know you personally, but what I can say confidently is that your gift is unique. No one can do what you do quite how you do it. Your story and your spiritual gifts come together in a specific and singular way. If God has put it in your heart to write a song, I believe the world needs to hear it. What happens to that song once you release it into the world is not up to you. We don’t measure our value on a song’s popularity. We strive to be faithful with all God has given us and trust him to do what he wills.
That point is important for us. We are not trying to write a “hit song,” and that is not what this article promises. What I want to give you is a few quick tips for taking your desire or your idea and turning it into a real, tangible, finished song. Here are five tips for writing a song.
1. Schedule Your Songwriting
If I only wrote songs when I felt like it, I would never write songs. I have encountered people who can’t seem to help but write. I am not one of those people. Maybe you are. Even so, I would encourage you to create a discipline of writing. Aside from a few moments of late-night inspiration, everything I have ever been part of writing has been the result of a scheduled writing session. Intentionally setting aside time is the only effective way I know to ensure something gets done. This is true for two simple reasons. First, it removes the need for inspiration to strike. You can sit down and get started at any time and stay there until something happens. Second, most good songs start as bad songs. Doing something will give you something to work with and improve.
2. Record Your Progress
We live in a time when technology makes some things a whole lot easier. One of those things is keeping track of your ideas and recording your progress. In day-to-day life, this could mean grabbing a quick voice memo of a melody or jotting down a lyric in your phone. In a writing session, this means capturing what happens in the room and sharing it once you’re done. This little bit of housekeeping can easily get neglected but it is so important. When we’re writing, we’re moving fast. Different people are throwing out melodies, lyrics, and lines. We’re playing with different chord progressions and song structures. If we don’t record what’s happening, we will lose most of it. We’ll forget the melody or the lyric or the riff.
These things are the raw materials we use to construct songs. We can’t afford to lose them. So before you start writing, have someone start a recording on their phone or computer. When the session ends, share the file, along with any scriptures you referenced and lyrics you jotted down. This may feel tedious at times, but it is part of your song’s story. You won’t regret filing your ideas and tracking your progress.
3. Complete Your Idea
All of our songs begin with a thought and a scripture. Sometimes the thought is a title, other times it is just an idea or a theme. We always include scripture to guide our writing and ground it in God’s word. A session could last anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours. (We usually don’t go much longer than that before we stop and eat something.) Whatever the time limit we set, we strive to leave the session with something. The minimum goal is typically to have two sections of a song done—a verse and a chorus, chorus and bridge, etc. The key here is to avoid overthinking, keep things moving, and leave with a completed idea. Don’t shoot for perfect, aim for done. The faster you finish it, the sooner you can fix it.
4. Revise Your Work
One of the things that will free you up to get more done more often is the realization that your first draft is rarely your best work. Let go of any pressure to get things right on the first try. View your songs as drafts that can always be revised and improved. Don’t be precious with your ideas. Throw things out and see what sticks. I tend to wait to get things right before sharing with others. But I know that this tendency slows me down and curbs my productivity. Get things on the table quickly so your collaborators can help you see what needs to stay and what needs to go. Revision is an underrated step in the process. Every song I’ve ever been part of was better at the end than it was at the beginning. Almost nothing ended up quite like it started. We were surprised by the twists and turns along the way. And the song was better for it.
5. Release Your Song...or Don’t
Drafting and revising is key, but at some point you need to be done. It was Leonardo Da Vinci who said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Referring to a song I’ve written as “art,” or mentioning Da Vinci in this conversation, feels a little silly to me. But you get the idea. I love a commitment to excellence. But our work will never be perfect. At some point, we are going to have to say it’s good. I believe this is an important idea for creatives of any discipline. Work hard. Take it seriously. Craft the details. Then let it go. Know when to say I’m done.
Once you have a song done, then you can decide what to do with it. The fact that you wrote it doesn’t mean anyone needs to hear it. I love how Guillermo Del Toro said it, “Someone is going to be brutal: the audience, the critics, or you.” I would rather it be me. Writing songs for corporate worship is not the same as being a pop artist. I’m not concerned with a career or with how my music is “received.” But I want to bring my best to the table. You should have some finished songs that stay on the shelf. Be patient. Write more. Only release your best. Enjoy the process, remove the pressure, and go for it.