Monday, May 26, 2008

Writing for Love, God, or Money?

So why do we write?

Do we write because we just plain love it? Because even if we wanted to we couldn’t NOT write?

Is it because we feel God gave us this gift and we MUST use it for Him (or lose it?)

Or do we think this is our ticket, our job, our vocation even! And to write means one thing: THAT HIT TUNE that will put us on the map and at the top of the charts!

I find that I split my writing between the three (love, God, and money).

Right now, I must admit, 90 percent of my writing is personal and therapeutic. As will be come evident in a few months, I am working on a ton of new music straight out of my brain and no one elses. And it is FUN! I think it’s so important for us to do this.

These songs probably won’t float everyone’s boat, or certainly get much radio play. Not even sure how much they will sell. But I know one thing: they have freed my creative soul in a way that I forgot needed to be free!

You HAVE to feed that LOVE of writing. The reason you started. The feeling of hearing the song back for the first time and simply being in LOVE with it!

It’s OK to do this. It’s not self-serving. It’s therapy. It’s part of the gift God gave you (to then use for Him).

Which leads us to the next reason we write.

God did give us the talent for a reason other than pleasing ourselves of course, and that’s to glorify Him. For use in the church, for use on the street, for use to reach that loved one or friend that needs to hear the message of grace and forgiveness.

I would imagine that most of you would say that the FIRST reason you write is for the glory of God. And that is the way it should be.

The work we do by getting the message of Christ out to a hurting world in a musical fashion is the reason we were put here. And don’t ever let anyone tell you that just because you can string some words and music together, it doesn’t mean you are “holy” enough to write about God. I believed that lie for a long time (and used it as a crutch not to write religious songs).

Just as we don’t have to be a priest to pray, we don’t have to be a minister of music to write and perform Christian music.

And now on to the touchiest reason for writing: To make a living (and/or, in our dreams, be famous and filthy rich).

In the blog I referenced above, the saddest thing is that Timbaland and those others are the “hit songwriters” of today. Have you listened to “Please Don’t Stop the Music” and some of the other current top 40 “hits”? It’s drum machine madness, samples, and pretty average rap. How hard is that?

You can’t tell me that someone was sitting under a tree, got an idea and said, “Whoa, what a beautiful melody...Please don’t stop the music, music, music...”

But the truth is, like I tell all my clients and writers, the audience wants something they can sing (and yes, dance) to. From power ballads (I don’t want to close my eyes), to the aforementioned dance music, to the occasional rock or country hit, all of them have something in common. They are catchy. They are short. And they are disposable (meaning they can be played and forgotten instantly so we can get the fast food sandwich down and get to the movie!!)

Still, as the article points out, people DO make a living on this. I make a living working with writers, artists, and folks who need my services to get the songs out there.

When I write a song for an artist, we ARE thinking: What can we write that will at once, serve the Kingdom, appeal to the artist, and please the listening audience (not to mention placating the gatekeepers at radio, distribution, publicity, etc).

This is the “work” part of it.

If you are looking to make yourself happy and enjoy songwriting, then you needn’t be worried with this part.

If you are looking only to please the Lord and lead people in worship, you needn’t be bothered by this.

But if you have told people (and convinced yourself) that you intend to work in the business of music, particularly songwriting, then you had better be absolutely sure that you are willing to write what it takes to make money. This means rules, thinking about your audience as much as the Lord and yourself, and writing strong, catchy, and yes, somewhat forgettable music.

Stinks huh? Why would you want to write something that is not new, fresh, and amazing?

Well, that’s the choice you have to make.

If you just want to win awards for being a great songwriter, then the fastest road there is write formula for the masses. Follow the rules of songwriting, read books by Jason Blume and others. To be honest, studying all this can make you a better writer. Learning correct form and songwriting structure is not a bad thing.

But there is another way.

The way of Chris Rice, Sara Groves, John Mayer, and Nora Jones.

And that is to write amazing. Be different. And enjoy the ride. Find an audience for your music. Build that audience one person at a time, and have fun doing it.

I think that’s the silver lining in this. Write for the Lord, for yourself, and for YOUR audience. If it’s southern gospel then go for it. If it’s contemporary then go there. If it’s jazzy like mine, then do what you do.

If your audience is the maInstream audience, don’t worry, someone will hear your music and direct you there.

But sometimes when we think that we might have to do our creative craft according to someone’s “rules” it takes all the fun out of it. And you’re right, it does.

First and foremost, realize that you have a tremendous gift. A gift to be used for the Lord, and for enjoyment. Whenever that part begins to wane because of the pressure of being “popular”, go back to the drawing board (read: your piano/guitar).

Write something that brings you joy. Thank the Lord for your gift. And share it with someone.

If you have questions, I’d be happy to hear from you!

Have a great week!

Eric Copeland is a songwriter, producer, and consultant and heads Creative Soulin Nashville, TN. He is lucky enough to be able to sharpen his iron with artists and writers around the world. For more info go to

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Eric Copeland is an author, producer, keyboardist, songwriter, and president of Creative Soul Companies. What is Creative Soul? Our main goals are to inform, encourage, and assist Christian creative folks in ministry, no matter where they are in their journey. Thanks for reading! Find out more about us at