by John Chisum, Nashville Christian Songwriters
I wish I could snap my fingers and make you a great songwriter, but I can’t. Only you can choose to take the broad perspective of how much change can happen in your writing over the long haul and then make it happen one day at a time. You can begin to see immediate benefits from using these principles, but the greatest change will be when you look back at them one day in awe, having written some amazing songs.
1. Resist Short Cuts. Even if you wrote the greatest Christian song of all time today, there’s still a lengthy process involved in getting it heard by the world. These things don’t happen overnight. Any temptation to take a short cut to great writing will most likely yield little result because good things take time to nurture, develop, improve, and become the best version of itself, including us. God uses the writing process to hone our characters as we exercise patience and apply our hearts to his wisdom process. Short cuts reveal a lack of trust and character. Repent.
2. Make Writing a Lifestyle, Not a Hobby. There’s nothing wrong with a hobby unless you really want to be great at something. Songwriting is one of the most demanding disciplines in the world. It requires talent, education, drive, and a lot of practice to be great at it, not to mention getting the right demonstration recordings and having people in power positions hear it. Hobbyists rarely excel to great heights in songwriting, though some “naturals” can and do excel with seemingly little effort from time to time. How serious are you about this? Are you willing to pay whatever your price is to become a great songwriter? Only you can answer that question and make the shift from hobbyist to a lifestyle songwriter.
3. Develop a Healthy Detachment from Your Work. Art is a tough way to make a living, especially if you attach so much of your self-esteem to it that rejection becomes a heavy emotional toll every time someone criticizes your song. Rejection is reality. You will write many songs before you start writing great songs; so if your worth is tied up with your acceptance and celebration as a writer, you’d better get on meds now because you’re going to need them. Not only is the music business full of rejected songs and songwriters, the church itself rarely celebrates its best artists, much less the lesser ones. Be forewarned. A healthy detachment from the work is the only way to survive and thrive as a songwriter. Celebrate each song as it goes by and welcome the next one.
4. Understand the Current Songwriting Marketplace. Few writers will become professionals. It does happen when many elements like originality, talent, the right demonstration recordings, and contacts align. Understanding where music is right now is important and helps direct your efforts. Being lazy about it handicaps your efforts. Doing things like iTunes sweeps and other music research is the best way to understand the trends and compete within them.
5. Dream, Think, and Plan Beyond the Current Songwriting Marketplace. Understanding the current marketplace is vital but so is dreaming and planning beyond it. A music business executive once explained to me that what is current today was avant garde yesterday and will be old news tomorrow. Whatever is fringe and avant garde today will be middle-of-the-road/mainstream tomorrow. If you start acquiring a taste for whatever is fringe today, your chances increase for being mainstream tomorrow. Music has cycles, and they become apparent if you look for them.
6. Develop Intelligent Originality. In a world of sound-alikes, originality is king. Nurturing intelligent originality is very important to gaining a hearing in the overcrowded marketplace of songs and music. One decorator I know says that every room should have one surprise element in it that catches the eye. She calls it “a pop of red.” Songs are like that — every song should have a “pop of red,” some surprise twist of a phrase or chord structure that sets it apart and makes the listener take a little more notice.
7. Tapping Hidden Inspiration and Creativity. In the final analysis, having Jesus as your personal Savior doesn’t guarantee that you’ll become a great Christian songwriter, but it sure helps. 1 Corinthians 1:30 tells us that Jesus has “become for us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.” We rely on the wisdom of God in Jesus to write songs that can move nations to believe in Him, as well as how to grow to become the believers and worshipers he desires us to be. There are vast supplies of inspiration and creativity in our “hidden” relationship with him as Paul said in Colossians 3.
All of our songwriting hopes and dreams must be tied to His hopes and dreams for us, for we belong to Him. He is inspiration, and He is the Creator. As Christian songwriters, there is no higher tool or tip or trick to songwriting success. We write because he lives in us, and we can’t help but tell the world what that’s all about.
This short excerpt is from John Chisum’s practical e-book, Seven Proven Strategies to Write Better Songs, which is available online at Amazon.com along with Five Keys to Engaging Worship. Check out www.nashvillechristiansongwriters.com for more information and special offers.
Click here for other John Chisum articles available at DiscoverWorship.com.