For 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.
Everyone 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.
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). 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.