In working with Christian songwriters, we sometimes see some confusion about the kinds of songs they write, and the uses for them. We all hear about publishing, co-writing, royalties, commercial songs vs. artistic songs, etc.
It’s hard to know which way to write to please the powers that be in the music business. But the good news is we really don’t have to, and here’s why.
“Caesar was a man of great common sense and good taste, meaning thereby a man without originality or moral courage.” – George Bernard Shaw
If you are a Christian songwriter with an aim towards writing so that someone will publish your song (which basically means something will be done with your song, ie. recorded, played, etc.), then you do have to write what you think the artist, producer, audience, or publisher will want to hear. You have to write for them, while also of course writing for God.
As a songwriter “for hire” (so to speak), your job is to write songs for whoever you are trying to please. I put it that way because music is a very subjective thing. If you are writing songs for a publisher and you know he/she has very specific likes and dislikes, then you are going to tailor the song to their preferences. If you are writing a certain kind of song, you are going to stay within the parameters of that genre to have the best chance that song will be deemed worthy.
If you have an artist you want to pitch the song to, you want to tailor that song to that artist. You won’t write a six minute jazz epic for a praise and worship artist (although there could be real comparisons between the two! ;)
This is where rules come in. Hook, melody, smart original lyrics (or traditional lyrics, whichever the song calls for). A song that is not too long, and really, really catchy. The right song at the right time for the right ear.
Now if all that sounds like no fun at all, then you may prefer to write songs for your own use and audience.
“Make your own kind of music, sing your own special song.” – Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil
Lately I have had conversations with artists who are a bit confused by reviews and industry comments that on one hand imply their music sounds like other copies of other Christian artists, and then says their music is too unique and doesn’t fit “the genre” or playlist. Artists are wondering what to write and how to please everyone.
“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” ― John Lydgate
The good news is, if you are an artist wanting to take your own music into the world, you don’t have to worry about pleasing anyone. Why? Because as a music ministry, the emphasis isn’t really on the music anyway – it should be on the message. If you can’t please everyone, then write the music that God gave you and what you hope pleases Him.
The truth is that getting on commercial radio is a game only the majors can fight, mainly because it takes money and marketing that most independent artists don’t have access to. Reviews of independent music don’t reach enough eyes to make a difference in online sales, which don’t amount to much anyway.
What we need to concentrate on as artists is making the original music that comes from our hearts, no matter what that is. It should be personal, and meaningful, and interesting, and done with the absolutely highest quality we can muster. This is what we will take into the world, show our friends, family, and fans, as well as putting our mark on the massive amount of music out there.
Not much has changed on the music publishing side. The old rules of writing, co-writing, pitching, etc. are still very valid. But the rules of being an artist have changed dramatically, with one small caveat – in person, live music still rules. It always has. Yes recorded music took over the Twentieth Century, but we are getting back to a time where the live performance is king again, especially in sales and our ability to reach a captive audience. And as artists, that captive audience is who we should be writing for as artists.
“To me, art's highest purpose is to entertain, to enlighten, to inspire, to evoke emotion and to change an audience in some way, big or small.” – Charity Sunshine Tillemann-Dick
Have a great week!
Eric Copeland is a music producer and also a songwriter who has written for publishing and for hire, but would prefer to just write whatever inspires him as God designed. But he helps songwriters do both at his company Creative Soul. Find out more at http://www.CreativeSoulOnline.com