Song Writing For Life Change (How To Write an Encouraging Song)
Song Writing for Life Change: How to Write Encouraging Songs By Patrick C. Connor and associated with video at http://www.youtube.com/PCCSongs)Stage 1: Important PreparationsThe Process (Song: "Remember Me" running example):- It starts with an idea or event. > Either I have a neat idea or have been studying something in the bible thatsgrabbing at my heart and encouraging me... and I want to codify that in a song.(running example: Saw trailer for "The Passion of the Christ") > Or, theres an event (e.g., wedding, baby dedication) that I have been asked toprepare a song for. Deadlines are helpful.- Pray. Ask God for the help > If its to bless others, thats a pretty good place to be in... > If he wants it done it will be done- Start researching around the main idea. > Bible study - do your own or look at someone elses (e.g., the LifeBridge GrowthGroup derived songs, one sermon series song). (running example: Took a harmony ofthe gospels and outlined the things that happened to Jesus surrounding his crucifixionand resurrection) > Life experience - what kinds of problems did you face or attitudes did you have?How do they compare with proper attitudes or correct thinking? What got you through? > Identify the key heart-changing thoughts. This is the heartbeat of theencouraging song. Note that these are not likely going to be direct commands, butrather identifying qualities about God and how we relate to him that help us trust himand do the right thing, even when doing the wrong thing looks better. For example: - Because I am his child (a child of the eternal, all-powerful, all loving God), Iknow that he values me deeply. Since thats true, I shouldnt have to worry aboutwhether others like me a whole lot because their sense of my value is distorted andbased on their narrow (and often self-serving) perspective. This can help me wiggleaway from peer pressure, avoid needing to outperform others in the workplace andmore... - God loves me more than I love myself... because he lets me go throughdifficult things to mature me. Many times I wouldnt love myself enough to do that.This thought could help me trust God and walk through a difficult circumstance with himand mature through it instead of just praying to get out of it. - In our running example, Jesus did many miracles so that coming off the crosswould have been easy for him... so he must have stayed there on purposes... for me.This could help someone simply realize that God deeply loves them and the rest ofhumanity and receive him or go deeper in their relationship with him. Without parts of the song that do this, I would say that your song wont be asencouraging... even though it may help you realize something youre doing wrong orshould do better. The goal is not only to reveal the problem, but convince people thatGod, in some way offers you the ability to overcome the problem.- Clearly express the main idea in a small paragraph to keep you focused.
- Draw your ideas into natural groupings. From the research youve done, see ifthere is a natural grouping of ideas that emerges. You will probably not get in all ofyour ideas. You will have to pick the most important ones.- Choose an approach to relate to your audience... a necessary consideration if youwant to really encourage them and help them change. > problem/question/tension (Running example: tension in each verse released intothe chorus). These can be related either through: > story (Running example: story of the last hours before the crucifixion), or > personal life experience (the research you did earlier)- Choose a song structure that fits with your groupings of ideas and way ofrelating to the audience. > the structure may be the popular Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus,Chorus or something else entirely... it may not even have a chorus (gasp!) > main idea is likely featured in the chorus or some other prominent and/or repeatedpart of your song (so that it is memorable). Whats the one-liner that you want peopleto remember? Probably one of the key heart-changing thoughts. Take care toemphasize this point in your song. > if you choose to use tension, verses might both address particular difficulties andresolve them, or one verse might highlight a tension and another verse provide asolution to it... along with the chorus (e.g., Songs: "I am His Child", "We Will Dance"). > key heart-changing thoughts make good pre-chorus lines and bridges becausethese build into a chorus (if you have one) and transition well from a tension to asolution (and may be part of the solution). > time-released details - some details take repeated listens to sink in... which give itmore longevity. My guess is that these would probably go best in verses, which peopleare not as likely to notice on the first few listens, as opposed to the chorus, whichpeople tend to remember because it is repeated.Stage 2: Writing and Refining- Come up with a series of potential phrases using the following helpful lyricalelements > artistic themes (e.g., water - lots of metaphors), > local colour ("do you want to be a millionaire" from "Live Out Loud"), > alliterations (many words in the same line having the same first letter(s)), > unique rhyming patterns. This is the part where God steps in the most, it seems, to provide just the right words.So you might want to insert more prayer here. See also a link below (How to Write aSong #3: How to Write Lyrics Video) for some more ideas to help here. > Warning: Use appropriate vocabulary - consider what words your audienceknows or would be comfortable with. Churchy words and phrases like, "the blood ofthe Lamb", "the Lord", or "the Word of God" may be offputting to people with littleunderstanding of God or of a different faith. Childrens songs probably should keep thevocabulary to simpler words. etc.- Put phrases together to make roughly cohesive verses, choruses, and bridges (also
hard work) etc.- Massage: make sure that the phrases and larger parts work well together andfix as necessary. Good transitions between phrases and larger parts is important.Abruptly or bluntly introducing a new idea that seems out of place can distract yourlistener or make them think that you dont understand their particular situation.... or thatmaybe youre trying to "fix them". Flow between phrases and major parts of the song isimportant to help you avoid this. Sometimes adding a hint of mystery (the opposite ofbeing blunt) might be a good idea because it adds intrigue.- Help! What if its just not working!? Because developing phrases and puttingthem together effectively is tricky work you may run into some real difficulty. Try thesethings in this order: > Keep working at it. Sometimes all it takes is a little more time. > Choose a different artisitc theme (e.g. use a financial theme instead of a watertheme) which offers a different set of metaphors that may better suit your main idea. > Be willing to sacrifice an entire verse or chorus and start it over if thats what ittakes. > Set your song aside. The research may not go to waste (e.g. in our runningexample, a previous attempt at developing a song to describe both the crucifixion andresurrection just didnt fly. So I set it aside, only to pick it up a while later under newinspiration and a different focus -- just the hours before the crucifixion)- Start working on basic chord arrangements and melodies that suit the theme,mood, etc. Im not an expert here, but Ive found things that work. I usually havesome ideas about the melody, but it is not fully developed until I get some chordsfigured out. > I work with the guitar first because thats what I play. But having more instrumentsis great. Consider collaborating with others (your friends, kompoz.org). It takes moretime, but can produce a greater song in the end. (Songs "Remember Me" and "I Will")- Refine, refine, refine! It takes time to polish your song, but can make a bigdifference in the quality. The song "Beautiful Symphony" is my favorite mostly polishedsong. (running example: Im still thinking up ways of changing the lyrics of my 8 yearold song) > Take time to identify awkward wordings or lyrics that dont fit comfortably with themusic and look for better (usually less-wordy) solutions. . > Get feedback from one or more people who will give their honest opinions and helppoint out parts that seem awkward, are theologically incorrect, have grammar mistakes,etc. Also ask them, "Does the main point come across?," and, "Is it convincing ordoes it just sound a theological statement?" > Practice the song. Jam with it on your own. Youll find that the more you playand sing it, that more comfortable and artistic ways of singing may come up... lyricsmight even improve because simpler ways of singing the same ideas can fall from yourlips during practice. > Perform - consider the feedback you get. Distinguish the "Good job!" from "Thatmoved me!" from tears of encouragement you see falling when you perform. Use thisfeedback to decide whether or not you need to go back and make some changes, andperhaps develop your heart-changing thoughts more. (running example: lots ofpositive feedback over the years. The most recent from our running example was from
an older Christian who was clearly blessed by the song by her tone and words). Oneword of caution: If you are writing a song for an event, the events performance mayset your lyrics in sentimental stone. Those for whom you wrote the song may beresistant to further changes. E.g. Wedding songs. Also, consider who is giving youthe feedback. Someone who is also musical and/or writes songs is probably the mostcapable of giving you effective feedback.Final Words:- Problems Ive experienced - being too wordy, trying to pack in too many ideas whichforces it to be a longer song and less listenable. Writing too theologically and notartistically. Wanting to hang onto original ideas that I should just let go so that I canwrite a better overall song. Using metaphors that very few others would understand. > Reality check - not all songs work out... probably few will be as polished andeffective as the top professionals produce. Song writing also takes a lot of experienceto get good at, or at least thats my experience. Although early songs I wrote may havehad some good ideas in them, the way they were expressed (looking back) is moreawkward than the average song Im writing now (about 30 songs later <using thisprocess>). I remember listening to a radio interview with Steven Curtis Chapman whomentioned in passing that he prepared 40 or more snippets of songs to share with hisproducers in preparation for an album. Of course not all of these made their way to thefinal product. > On a positive note (pardon the pun) - In the past year, all 8 songs (6 of whichare on my YouTube channel) that Ive attempted turned out quite well, so the process(and Gods help) have seen me through.As mentioned earlier, the process Ive described takes hours to write a single song.But what makes for a more rewarding song than helping someone work through anissue in their life, blessing, them, etc.? If for no one else, the experience of writing asong that blesses your own heart and reminds you of important truths may be well worththe time and effort.Additional links: www.stevencurtischapman.com - A favorite artist of mine whose songs usually have anencouragement focus. Would love to know what his song writing process is! "Songwriting Formula" Video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDS3pGEV-aM) - Thepopular song structure and some tips for writing in this format. www.kompoz.com - a website for collaborating with other musicians to write songs. Ihavent used it myself, but it looks neat!How to Write a Song #3: How to Write Lyrics Video(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iabXvLojrp4) - helpful in the generation of phrasessuitable for your encouraging songs