While you don't have to be a songwriter to be a worship leader, I'm confident that most every
worship leader has, at one time or the other, attempted to write a song that his or her church could sing.
For those of us who've tried, one thing becomes abundantly clear: IT'S DIFFICULT. In fact, it's so difficult that a lot of us just stop trying. We give up on songwriting because it's too hard or unpredictable.
Songwriting isn't for every one, but I believe many budding songwriters quit too quickly because they don't have a good understanding of the unique challenges that exist when trying to create something for your church to sing.
Knowing the hurdles that await you can prepare you for the journey of writing a song. It ain't easy, but it can be fun!
HURDLE #1 - GOTTA' BE FRESH
This is the big challenge of writing isn't it? Trying to create something that hasn't already been said or sung is the first obstacle. Personally, I believe that are millions of unwritten melodies and themes just waiting to be discovered, but it's not an easy process.
You clear the first hurdle with a good idea. Without that, the song probably won't happen.
*Tip: Have a way to record ideas. Most ideas don't happen when we sit down and tell our brains, "think! think!" Ideas, melodies, lyrics often take us by surprise. Keep a running list or audio recordings of stuff you're interested in pursuing.
HURDLE #2 - GOTTA' BE SINCERE
If you don't believe in your song, you won't see it through. This doesn't mean you'll love your song forever. Heck, it doesn't even mean you'll love every part of the song! But you do have to care about something in that song to do the work on it. Sometimes it might even be just a groove or melody you care about...that's enough! Songwriting has to come from a place of honesty. Dishonest songs don't work.
*Tip: If you're not feeling a song, take a break and examine it. Think about hurdle #1. What was the inspiration? What made you even consider writing it? Remind yourself of what's important about what you're writing and work for that. If you can't find it, put the song away for awhile and move on to something else. If that initial song is a keeper, it'll come back strong.
HURDLE #3 - GOTTA' BE PLAYABLE
We're talking about writing songs for the local church, right? That means you need to write with local church players in mind. You may have written a great pop/electronic anthem, but how are you gonna' get the song to your players? Will they need a full demo to learn it or do you want to build the arrangement in rehearsal? What's necessary to the song?
*Tip: Have one player/instrument you're going to rely on. If the song's groove based, maybe play it with drummer and bass player before teaching it to the band. If there's a riff, make sure your guitar player knows the tone and attack it needs. Having one player on board creates "touchpoints" in the song that will help the band form a solid arrangement.
HURDLE #4 - GOTTA' SOUND GOOD
Lots of songs don't make it over the fourth hurdle. Once you and the players start practicing the song, you have to make sure it's a quality piece. Sometimes hearing a song live will show you weaknesses is the composition or arrangement. Don't be afraid to be honest. If it's not working, go back to the drawing board. Let the team know that it's not happening and keep adjusting it. If you have the opportunity, try new stuff right there in rehearsal.
*Tip: There's nothing worse than a songwriter looking at band and sighing, "this just isn't working." That may be true, but you don't want to discourage your players. Agood way to lead people in this is to admit that you're the guy or gal who came up with this thing. Don't be afraid to say, "Sorry, gang. I had this all wrong. Y'all are showing me that this could be much better."
HURDLE #5 - GOTTA' WORK
Sometimes, you're song is a fresh idea. That you believe in. That's playable. That sounds good. And it just doesn't work in a congregation. For whatever reason, the song just falls flat. People don't sing it. Or understand it. Or remember it. For worship songwriters, this happens a lot. As bad as you want that song to bless your people, it just doesn't go over.
*Tip: Remember that not every song you write will connect with your people. But that doesn't mean it's a bad song. Realize that you're trying to create something that will connect with hundreds (maybe thousands) of people at one time. And that's rare. If the song doesn't pass hurdle #5, big deal. You wrote a good song. Enjoy it. Now write another one.
HURDLE #6 - GOTTA' GROW
There is a very real truth you need to know about writing songs for the local church - not every song works the first time. Some of them grow and change and end up blooming much later than you expected. This is good because it means that maybe hurdle #5 isn't as big of a deal as you thought. But be careful about forcing your people to sing a song over and over in the hope that it will "catch." This is tough hurdle, gang. How much is too much?
*Tip: In my experience, if a song hasn't connected with your people after 5 or 6 times, take a break from it. You'll know pretty quick if a new song is working as people will ask about it if they're digging it.
Songwriting is a hard thing, but when one of them works on all levels it can create some amazing God-honoring moments. And that's worth it. Every single time.