Sunday, July 27, 2014

Saying Old Truths in New Ways

“The secret of good writing is to say an old thing in a new way or to say a new thing in an old way.” - Richard Harding Davis

This post is specifically for Christian songwriters, but can also apply to pastors, authors, poets, and songwriters of any genre.

Folks, we need to come up with new ways to say things in our songs. And yes, I’m talking to you Worship Leader Songwriter. I’m looking directly your way Christian Rock Band Dudes. This one’s for you Top 40 Christian Singer-Songwriter.

I get songs sent to me every day from Christian artists and songwriters hoping to get them heard, published, or recorded. And many times, the lyrics are simply unbelievable. As Christians, we know the rules: Use the old standby phrases, write it in a pop-friendly structure, and BOOM! – Christian radio hit right? This one will really get you noticed.
One problem. Your song sounds like every song we’ve ever heard before. If you’re writing for Christians, they may nod and put a hand up in Amen if it feels good. But is it really breaking any new ground for the King of the Universe? Yes, your new song may do the trick for the 3-5 songs you need for the worship portion of your service, but besides regurgitating the same tired phrases and singing them over and over until they are drilled in to people’s heads, what have you really created?

The real problem is, what are we writing for the non-Christian? What are we telling them when we just keep writing the same song over and over? Even WE can’t stand Top 40 Christian Radio because they play the same songs over and over. What would folks who might be seeking Christ think of this mess?

Yes the “Old Rugged Cross”, “Nail-Scarred Hands”, “Woman at the Well”, “Blood of the Lamb”, etc. are wonderful, meaningful phrases, but this just in: they have been written!! I sometimes wonder why unbelievers would give us the time of day at all when our art is continually so poorly crafted.

“Artists rarely do the same thing over and over again. Art is about the new, doing things in a new way.” - Eli Broad

We need to be artists, even if we don’t want to be performers. We need to work harder in our writing to create an original style that God made us for, and then BE THAT in our songwriting.

We need to quit writing lyrics like “blah-blah” on Christian radio, or like “so and so” at Hillsong, and write something that sounds unique. Even if we can’t use it at our church. Even if it may never get close to being played on K-LOVE (industry secret: most things won’t be played there).

We must strive to think of new ways to say old truths. There are still metaphors we haven’t thought of yet. There are still things from this great big world, from literature, from history, from even science and relationships that we can draw from. We just have to TRY! We have to quit being lazy and just throwing lines and phrases from other Christian/Worship songs and saying we wrote something totally unique.

Here’s an example of what I am talking. Instead of saying, “Oh Lord, you are my shining light”, or the much worse “I feel your Son Light”, look at what this songwriter does.

And I am the moon with no light of my own
Still you have made me to shine
And as I glow in this cold dark night
I know I can't be a light unless I turn my face to you
-
Sara Groves, “You Are The Sun” (Hear the song here

What Sara has done here is carefully think of the analogy of us as Christians are the moon, and we can’t be a light unless God (the sun) shines on us for the world to see. Genius! And not something we have heard one million times. Also, if a non-Christian hears this, even if they aren’t sure about Christ, they can see the beauty in that. They can see how being a Christian could be a good thing.

Now, please, no emails about me not loving “The Old Rugged Cross” or dissing any of our sacred phrases. I was born and raised Southern Baptist by an organ-playin’, Sunday School teachin’ momma, so you can’t accuse me of not understanding “how marvelous, how wonderful” these are. I’m not at all talking about hymnody which is a separate thing from the contemporary Christian and Worship music of today.

I’d welcome your comments below, even if you don’t agree. Discourse on this subject is crucial, especially since so many of you reading this likely want to find success with your songs.

Have a great week!

EC
--
Eric Copeland is a songwriter and producer, and he listens to A LOT of Christian songs. He hopes every writer that comes to Nashville to work finds great success, but feels the need to remind all Christian songwriters to write and rewrite. Find out more at http://www.CreativeSoulOnline.com

For more posts on this topic see Writing Real and The DreadPirate Cliché

11 comments:

steve wills said...

Maybe I've gone to the wrong places. I agree completely with what you're saying. But critiques I've been given by "professional" songwriters tell me otherwise. They tell me to listen to mainstream to see what they're doing. One, in fact, told me they have never heard of "Shining". My line is " we are called to live a life of shining."

Paulette Triplett said...

I strongly agree with all I you have said .The problem is that we are not tapping into the Spirit of God daily . I'm not well known ,or have won an award ,or signed with a label .Im on my way . My aim daily is to write a new song to God ,to praise him.I got this revelation about a year ago.Each song is different I must say . It's amazing how tapping into HolySpirit daily is a well of creativity and melodies unknown to this realm . For what God is doing and needs to do in this hour we need to use all he has made available to us by his Spirit. Hopefully ,we have prayer lives as well.Just saying ,the giftings come from God.As we yield ourselves to him, and the gift to him , on a regular basis, what you have written about will not be us .

God's Psalmist

Esther said...

Say it how you feel, Eric. If we could only start with our unique personal walks with the Lord (rather than mimicking someone else's story), the songs would effortlessly flow from a deeper and more authentic place.

Ron said...

I agree with you 100%. I have a hard time listening to most Christian music because it all sounds the same to me. Everything seems to have to fit into a very tightly defined formula to "pass" as "legitimate" Christian music. The problem I have encountered is that the music I write doesn't "fit the formula", so no one seems to know what to make of it. I am a worship leader at a church and wouldn't dream of suggesting using any of my "worship" songs because they DON'T sound like all the other ones out there! I feel like I need to specifically STOP trying to be creative, unique, and real in my writing and just start writing stuff that fits the formula just to even have a chance to be taken seriously before even trying to get anyone to listen. How sad.
Until I read this article. You have given me hope to continue to strive for real artistry in my writing and I now look forward to submitting some material to you that INTENTIONALLY does not sound like everything else. Thanks.

Maestro Mitch said...

This article makes me smile...thanks very much.

ACook said...

At some point I think we Christian musicians and artists in general would do well to create from the perspective and mindset of "an artist who happens to be a Christian" rather than the other way around, which continues to follow the ever present preconceived path of "success" (meaning cookie cutter mold). With an artist first mindset, there may be a lot more creative originality throughout the industry as a whole, to the point where audiences expect that to be the norm. That would be kinda cool actually.

Jacob said...

Eric,
Terrific post.

One of the books I read on lyric writing talked about 'making it your own'. To make the emotional connection with the listener, you have to dig deep and get vulnerable – share a part of yourself. That is how to build 'uniqueness'.

It's funny, just yesterday, I made the conscious decision to view myself as an 'artist'. I found this post serendipitous.

RE: KLOVE, I'm concerned it's all getting a bit too homogenous – in fact a bit boring and predictable. Don't get me wrong, there is still some incredible Christian Top 40 material out there. But, I'd like to see things shaken up a bit.

Peace and Blessings,
J

Rebekah said...

As a Christian and songwriter, I was thinking about this very thing yesterday. I wrote a blog post about it: http://www.anewsongtosing.com/christian-music/ As I said in my post, I want to write song with questions rather than answers. I want to invite others to gather at the Table to join in the Mystery.

Tabish Javed said...

This article was very helpful in answering alot of questions.Thanks for posting.
Tabish Javed

Dave in Central Wisconsin said...

Well said, Eric... and gutsy.

I come from the old school (because I am, well, old). As a concert promoter, writer and sometime radio guy in the early years of Contemporary Christian Music (when the genre was still "weird, man" and its practitioners were radically in love with their Lord, their craft and their "peculiar" calling to communicate Christ to a generation familiar with the gospel but not with its Savior) I'm often disappointed in today's CCM offerings.

With some exceptions, today's charts are, in general, NOT what many of us old guys had envisioned and prayed for (IMHO). In the late 70's/early 80's there were at least 12 musical genres all meshed into a single "Jesus Music" category -- and it worked!

Today's CCM thrives largely thanks to the fact that the music and musicians of that era pro-created the gospel in song and, because they did it without reservation and without formulaic models their contemporaries caught on to a 2k-year-old message they had never heard in their own language.

Writers, check out the lyrics of some of that pioneer generation's masters - Keith Green, Glenn Kaiser, Randy Stonehill, Phil Keaggy and, yes, Bob Dylan, (etc.) and you'll see what I mean. If you have to copy someone, copy the originals (double entendre intended).

In Him...

Crystal Hott said...

Agree!! A lot of my songs I have written are very metaphorical. I love the uniqueness because it does seem every other song on radio is saying the same thing!

A verse from my song "it's going to be okay"

"The storm is a rushin' in
The clouds are comin' down
Oh I feel the wind upon my face
But I'm not gonna let it get me down
I see a light a shinin'
As you break right through and calm it down
Your Son fills me with warmth
Oh I know it's ok to calm on down."

Mainstream may hate but the words spoke volume to me when I wrote it!!

About Me

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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 http://www.CreativeSoulOnline.com