Monday, July 13, 2015

Writing Real

"Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced.” - John Keats

Recently an artist told me they had written a song in order to really speak to someone about Jesus. They wanted to relate to this person on a deep level about exactly what the person was going through. So they had written a song just for that person.

Then they played me the song. It was a fairly generic song about the love of Jesus. Now, there was no problem with the song technically, but it certainly wasn't about the issues they said the person was going through. It was just a song with similar Christian diatribes as other general Christian pop songs.

Another time, an artist came to see us and I asked them what made them different with their music. They proceeded to tell me how they write really different Christian songs, with unusual chord patterns and lyrics that go deep. There was nothing wrong with what they showed me, but the songs were neither unusual in chords, nor deep in lyrical content.

So what is the problem here?

As Christians we tend to think that any song we write is unique and special because it is coming from our heart for the Lord. We believe that it is our gift from God to a hurting world. The problem is, many times it just ends up being a retread of every Christian or worship song that has already been written. These songs are not bad at all and actually are quite good sometimes. But they are not wholly original, they are not unique, and they have no real application to the world that is begging for something authentic.

Now, I’ve written praise songs and literal songs about the Cross and Jesus, including ones that fit a specific pop Christian or worship template. These songs definitely have their place in what we do as Christian songwriters and artists.

But when people tell me they need to speak real to a friend who is hurting, will a generic song about the love of Jesus that does not address the needs of that friend help? When someone is needing cheering up, will a formula vertical worship song whip them into shape? Probably not.

Add to that the issues of writing songs that come from Bible verses or regurgitate hymn or worship lyrics, and it can be hard for our songs to relate to the problems our Christian and non-Christian listeners are having. Relating to the world is kind of our imperative.

Frankly, the hardest thing to teach to Christian songwriters is how to reveal the wonders of our faith in real, conversational language.

Recently, I listened to an older Sara Groves CD, The Other Side of Something. There was a 2nd CD with interviews on it on how she wrote the songs; every songwriter reading this should listen to that interview.

If you do listen, you will hear her talk about the ideas, people, and real life situations behind each song. Every line is a “real” sentence we would say in normal conversation, or maybe in prayer.

Read this lyric from Sara Groves song “Compelled”:

What a relief it is to know
I’m a slave to Christ
Of all the masters I have known
I’m compelled to live this life
Free for you

I’m on the other side of something
I’m on the other side of something

I have a new hope that blows away
The small hopes I knew before
And at the end of the day I am yours
And I am compelled

You’ve written on my very heart
Where no man can legislate
The law of your love has taken hold
With your holiness and grace
There’s no mistake

I’m on the other side of something
I’m coming out the other side, the other side

I have a new hope that blows away
The small hopes I knew before
And at the end of the day I am yours
And I am compelled

I am drawn and driven, I am compelled
You have written it, I am compelled
You live in me
And I can’t help myself

See how freeing this lyric is? How appealing, while still talking about the compelling love of Christ, and how we want to live it each day in real life?

This week as you sit down to write an idea, think of a real concept. Not something you've heard before or a Bible verse, but a phrase or saying you heard in real life that might make an impact on both a Christian, and a nonbeliever as well.

“If you copy, it means you're working without any real feeling. No two people on earth are alike, and it's got to be that way in music or it isn't music.” - Billie Holiday

It’s time to write real.

Eric Copeland is not anywhere as good a songwriter as Sara Groves, but he’d like to think he and his artists are getting there. Check out what Eric’s company Creative Soul does with and for Christian songwriters at

Also check out their publishing and songwriting services arm.


Scott Lowder said...

Love this. I'm giving you a high five over the internet! As songwriters we need to live outside of our cliches and be storytellers! Great thoughts :)

Unknown said...

Excellent article. I am new to writing songs from a purely Christian perspective but this was a great read. I think any song should have at its root a great deal of sincerity . If it is a song intended for someone in particular then it shouldn't be just another generic repeat of previously created songs and it should be personal. As I said, a great read.

ACook said...

Great article, Eric. I've finally made the decision and am taking decisive action on developing my songs/sound/style, etc. Thus this article is timely for me.

Some of the comments already say what I would regarding "storytelling" and "cliches". Honestly, I seldom listen to "Christian" music these days because of the lack of storytelling, and the repeated overused cliches. For whatever it's worth, I tend to think that most "Christian" songwriters believe this is what's expected of them, so much so that it has become the norm. Not sure where these seemingly self-imposed limitations come from.

In reviewing and fine tuning my own lyrics, I'm forced to do a lot of rewrites based on songwriting studying I've done recently. The word 'vulnerability' pops up a lot. Respectfully, the example lyric above IMO lacks some of that. She never gives a personal experience that exposes something about 'why' she's Compelled. The lyric simply scratches the surface. Please understand my intention is not to be denigrating in any way, shape or form.

My understanding of "Creating Real" per your article relates to expressing and sharing emotion that helps others connect to the human experience. And yes, it's sort of scary - vulnerable. But it's this vulnerability that makes for songs that lots of people can connect to and and subsequently with each other, that hurting friend, for example. "Christian" songwriting can and needs to extend beyond the four walls of a church building.

Of course there's so much more that can be said. I pray your article helps to continue the conversation. Thanks, man.

Therese Hood said...

My album From Broken To Bethany is about the real mess ups of life;secular songs but each with a redeeming Scripture. In other words God's answer to our suffering. From broken to a place of peace with Him, Bethany.

Tom Dolan said...

Great article Eric. Been there, done that with you. It helped a lot when you put your foot down and said to keep working on it, "You can do better."

Leslie McKee said...

Good thoughts, Eric! Thanks for always pushing us to a new level in what we do.

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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