Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Dread Pirate Cliche

No this isn't a blog about pirates. It's a villain far more insidious and worse than that to the ports of songwriting worldwide: It's the dreaded cliche, and it permeates Christian music like the black death.

Love from Above like a Dove. Really?

You sneak lines of Amazing Grace or Blessed Assurance into your new song. Oooh, that’s really clever.
It’s the number one problem with Christian music: cliched phrases and ideas that have been used one million times. I see it weekly from the new Christian songwriters that send songs to me. And it’s so easy to do. We have a basic truth, and Bible full of things that are so wonderful, so marvelous. Oops. See how easy it is?

The funny part is we don’t even realize we are doing it. And worship songs have taken it one step further. Now we have “vertical” songs and worn out song phrases like “Lover of My Soul” and “Awesome God”.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing inherently wrong with those phrases, or hymn titles, or even the Love that comes from Above. You just can’t use them in your next song! Sorry, no!

There are lots of business or success reasons:

1. The powers that be that can help get your songs out are sick of these similar titles and phrases, and they will throw titles like that in the trash without even listening.

2. Those of us who try to help artists will sometimes do something similar when presented with this material, or be forced to just put a shine on a tired idea.

3. The people you are trying to reach are also probably tired of hearing these phrases and clichéd ideas. It is our duty as songwriters to bring something new to their ears.

But here’s the biggest reason:

4. Doesn't our God, the supreme Master of the freaking universe deserve a unique way to praise Him? Should we not put forth anything but the very best for Him? No more tired rhymes for the One who created us and everything in heaven and earth. No more boring four (or three) chord progressions that grate on the ears of anyone listening.

One of the best sayings I have ever heard (which is almost a cliché itself) is we have to find new ways of speaking old truths. This is the key!

How to Get Better!

1. Think of a New Way to Say It.

If you are talking about the resurrection, find a new phrase or idea that hasn’t been “beaten like a dead horse”. Writing a Christmas song? Find a new angle. Look for poetic means here. A lot of times these will hit you when you are thinking about or doing something else. An idea for a hook or unique way of saying something will come to you. (That’s where programs like Evernote are priceless, or just the note program on your cell phone.)

2. Quit Being Lazy.

It’s easy to use easy rhymes like love and above, or you and to. But folks there are a plethora of ingenious and interesting words to use for anything.

We tend to use words like awesome and amazing a lot. But look what the old thesaurus gives us just for the word amaze: affect, alarm, astonish, astound, bewilder, blow away, blow one's mind, bowl over, daze, dumbfound, electrify, flabbergast, impress, move, perplex, put one away, shock, stagger, startle, strike, stun, stupefy, touch.

Those are some great words to describe what God has done. Use them. Find a rhyme for dumbfound or perplex, and blow people’s minds!

All this takes is the decision to make the extra effort. I usually keep the web site open while writing lyrics. Just go to it and you’ll see why. Or you can just an online thesaurus, or just plain old THINK harder and longer on your lyrics.

This kind of detail, work, and imagination is what sets more professional and successful songwriters apart from amateurs.

3. Don’t Trust Your Mom.

It’s not that she’s not trustworthy, but she will like everything. And she loves Amazing Grace, so if you use that in your song it will be her favorite. This goes for spouses, other family, and best friends.

Seeking out stranger’s opinions is your best bet. Or go to your music pastor or local studio and get their thoughts. Ask them to be dreadfully honest. Sometimes it’s very difficult to get a real read on where you are with your writing as you may be in a small area and everyone knows you and loves you. They may not want to discourage you. But that isn't always a good thing.

I had to come to Nashville many times and leave with my tail between my legs knowing the songs I brought weren't good enough. But each trip, each time, I saw where the songs were weak, and it helped me get better as a writer.

So “get back to the drawing board”, avoid cliches “like the plague”, and take your songwriting “to the next level”.

See how easy it is? Arrrrgh!

Have a great week!

Eric Copeland is a succinct songwriter and industrious producer whose various organizations endeavor to help the Christian artistic sojourner. OK, that’s going a bit far, but blame the thesaurus. Soul of the Songwriter is presented by Creative Soul. Find out more at


Unknown said...

Hi Eric...I totally's too easy to make it work with the cliché. It really takes time to do it as you a minute I can borrow?
Keep up the good work.

Eric Copeland said...

Sure Bill, just contact me at

Becky Wright said...

Well said, Eric. I'm teaching another songwriting workshop (at our university here), and this is one of the points we always bring out. Just last week, a Nashville band manager friend of mine sent me a CD to critique (new band he's helped with their 1st album recording). Sadly, NOT ONE of the songs was ready for recording - much less for radio! I see this costly mistake too often: Investing time & money to record mediocre (or just plain BAD) songs, instead of getting professional feedback to improve the writing FIRST. You may offer this service, Eric? I do, too. Best $25 a writer can spend... Before spending thousands on a recording of a song that will never get played.

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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