The Joy of Developing Song Writers

group.jpgFor the past few years, we’ve been trying to encourage and develop the songwriters in Sovereign Grace churches. This past week we spent three days with thirteen song writers working on songs for an upcoming Psalms project, to be released at the WorshipGod08 conference. It was one of the most encouraging annual retreats we’ve had.

Songwriters sometimes think that the only model they can follow is worship leaders like Matt Redman or Chris Tomlin. I thank God for those guys and others like them. God has gifted them with the whole package of vocal, melodic, lyrical, and leadership gifts. Unfortunately, those kind of song writers are rare. We don’t have any that I know of in Sovereign Grace churches, although some may be in the works.

What we do have is individuals who are gifted to lead, sing, write lyrics, compose melodies, and come up with chord progressions, but not necessarily all at the same time. And all those gifts don’t always exist in the same individual. So we’ve worked at developing a spirit of collaboration and teamwork. This is how it worked this time.

I sent out an email about two months ago to the primary Sovereign Grace songwriters describing the scope and content of the Psalms project, with an example of a song I’d been working on. As they wrote songs, they posted the MP3s and/or lyrics on a songwriters’ website we set up, using phpBB. That way others could review the songs or offer to collaborate on them. We ended up with about 40 songs.

dinner.jpgEveryone arrived Wednesday night for dinner and discussion at my house. I told them that our goal was to write the best songs we could write. That meant that we’d need each other. I encouraged folks to get as much input as they could and learn about their own writing in the process. I encouraged freely offering and exchanging ideas about how a song could be better. I explained the goal wasn’t to justify why you chose a certain melody or lyric, but to work on it until others thought it really worked, without any explaining.

We experienced much of God’s grace in the process. While most of the feedback came from myself, Mark Altrogge and Steve & Vikki Cook, everyone was free to suggest simple changes as well as substantive ones. There was no sense of competition, defensiveness, or private ownership. We were a team, writing songs together. We spent a lot of time focusing on melodies that are easy to learn and hard to forget. On Friday night and Saturday, we recorded the songs we worked on, ending up with a total of twenty. More are still in process.

zach.jpgWhen ideas are freely offered and received, the question of co-writing arises. What constitutes co-writing? It’s a necessary question because when money is earned from a recording of a song, the law states that the writer receives a specified royalty. We determined that nothing was a collaboration unless it was a major change (added chorus or bridge). That freed people up to give and receive specific ideas rather than simply make general suggestions, although both were offered. It was fulfilling to see the collaboration of older, seasoned writers with younger musicians. Some new songs were written on the retreat as a result.

I thank God for songwriters who see their gifts as a means of serving the church for the Savior’s glory. It’s a privilege to serve them and I pray God raises up many more like them.

I’ll keep you posted on the Psalms project as it develops.

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10 Responses to The Joy of Developing Song Writers

  1. Patrick February 6, 2008 at 2:43 PM #

    Bob,

    For those of us who aren’t in Sovereign Grace Churches do you have any books, talks, and/or articles to recommend for us who are interested in writing songs?

  2. Stephen Altrogge February 6, 2008 at 2:55 PM #

    Bob,

    I noticed that you referenced collaboration between “older, seasoned writers with younger musicians.” I think a better phrase might have been “…aincent, crusty writers with younger, hip, cool musicians.”

    Just the thoughts of a young, hip, cool musician who loves getting to work with those who are crusty…

  3. Bobby Gilles February 6, 2008 at 4:13 PM #

    Thanks for taking us inside the creative process. I’m always excited to find great examples of ministries who are encouraging and fostering collaboration and mentoring — similar to what Michael Card writes about in “Scribbling in the Sand.”

    The process you described here is similar to the process Sojourn used on last year’s CD and the one we’re going to record this year (in fact, our songwriting deadline is this week). You’ve given me some good ideas, though.

    I’ve never heard of phpBB. I’ll have to check it out.

    Can’t wait to hear the fruits of your efforts in the upcoming Psalms project.

  4. Paul Martin February 6, 2008 at 5:38 PM #

    “When ideas are freely offered and received, the question of co-writing arises. What constitutes co-writing? It’s a necessary question because when money is earned from a recording of a song, the law states that the writer receives a specified royalty. We determined that nothing was a collaboration unless it was a major change (added chorus or bridge).”

    I know Christians that have wrongly cut each other out of their lives for what they felt were violations in this matter – your simple fix was great to read. And I am sure great to get out in the open from the start!

    It strikes me that when our goal is the glory of God by serving His church, this balance becomes much easier to attain. Thanks for noting this, Bob.

  5. Bob Kauflin February 6, 2008 at 5:55 PM #

    Patrick,

    Sovereign Grace resources on song writing can be found by clicking here. You’ll find other resources recommended in those messages.

    God Songs by Paul Baloche and Jimmy & Carol Owens has some good stuff in it as well.

  6. Ron Reffett February 7, 2008 at 12:35 AM #

    Hey Bob!
    What a great idea!

    The worship team that I play on is led by the pastor of our church, I won’t even go into the problems that this has presented. I write and my late wife had written some songs that our church used to do, however whenever I bring up the subject of the team doing some original songs, it’s met with “well, we want to do songs that people are familiar with”..i.e. on the radio. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good songs to choose from but I really would like to see our team branch out and start writing some original songs. I guess I was just looking for some feedback from you.

  7. Patrick February 7, 2008 at 1:40 AM #

    Bob,

    Thanks for pointing out those resources!

  8. Bob Kauflin February 7, 2008 at 7:30 AM #

    Ron,

    I would just write songs whether or not your church was going to use them immediately. Usually a lot of songs have to be written before they’re ready for “prime time” anyway. Eventually, if you write some really good songs, your pastor might be persuaded to try some of them on Sunday morning.

  9. David Jordan February 8, 2008 at 3:29 PM #

    Bob,
    Thanks for a great blog! I’m a songwriter in Nashville and I’d love to come up there to SGM sometime. I’m going to link to your blog if that’s OK.

    Thanks again! I enjoyed reading and will be back often!

    David

  10. Doug Lewis February 20, 2009 at 7:13 PM #

    I am a 53 year old saved sinner who is retired from medicine prematurely due to parkinson’s disease and other rather debilitating conditions. I am interested in song writing collaberation, my ‘work’ is free as if there is anything good about it I am not the one that the source comes from (God…if there is any part that stinks this is from me…) and due to a continuing progression of my physical and mental debilitation the expected date of completion may be within an hour to more than several months (it comes when it comes and it goes when it goes). I can write verse, music, and can add vocals and synthetic based instrumentation for the whole effect (I can still partially play a midi flute and then really do most by software composing). Outside of rap I do most forms of music (although after you collaberate you may beg to differ…). If you are of a mind we could try to do something, and collaberate over the internet (I am home bound and on oxygen); the only kicker is that I don’t have that long before I go so see God (and am I looking forward to that!), and anywhere between now and five years is my best guess or the rapture, whatever comes first….
    I am also interested in apologetics or any christians that have nagging questions about God or salvation; and don’t worry I don’t bite….too old to anyway…besides who am I to be professorial as any conversations always end up pointing directly to God and the Bible. Any subject large or small, simplistic or esoteric… I will render an inept opinion to all comers!
    I didn’t know where else to post this so if this is the wrong site forgive me, and thanks in any circumstance
    In Christ,
    an ongoing save sinner
    Doug

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