I have a sweet job. One of my responsibilities is to oversee the production of Sovereign Grace albums.
Some of you have asked where the songs for those albums come from, and what the process looks like. I’m right in the middle of a three day retreat with 18 songwriters from various Sovereign Grace churches, so I thought now would be a good time to answer that question.
Last fall I worked with C.J. Mahaney and Jeff Purswell to determine what albums we wanted to produce in the coming year. That would set the course for a significant part of my job description. We determined that I’d focus on four main projects (I’ll share those details next week).
About two months ago I sent out an email to our primary songwriters (those whose songs have been recorded or who have significant experience), giving them the details of the projects. We have a songwriter’s forum (powered by phpBB) where writers can post songs or ideas for songs. Some writers also collaborated through Google Wave and Skype. We had about 25 songs posted by the time the retreat started.
The writers flew in at their own expense, and we provided housing and most meals. The first night I shared updates on Sovereign Grace Music and described the kinds of songs we were seeking to write for each project.I reminded them that the songs we write fill shape people’s understanding of who God is, who we are, how we’re to think about our relationship with him, and what we’re to feel. Writing songs is no insignificant task.
I also talked about our goal to write as a community. Who gets songwriter credit is not nearly as important as seeking to produce the best songs, no matter who writes them. I encouraged everyone to be quick to share their thoughts with others, and slow to demand they be accepted or that they receive credit.
The first morning began with prayer and worship in song, then the writers began to play their songs for an “evaluation panel” that consisted of me, Steve & Vikki Cook, and Mark Altrogge. Kind of like a Christian songwriter American Idol. We’ve found it helpful to limit evaluation primarily to a small group rather than hear from everyone in the room (which can be confusing). It’s also helpful to evaluate as a team. If we’re all saying the same thing about a song, it’s easier for a songwriter to receive it. When our comments don’t agree, it helps both the songwriter and those of us on the panel to know that.
Each songwriter played their songs until they shared one that we thought was worth working on. At least 1/3 of the songs are just a verse and a chorus. That way a writer can find out if a song is worth working on before laboring on it for ten hours. Our goal in evaluating songs is first to determine whether or not its even worth finishing. If it is, we’ll give specific thoughts on its strengths and weaknesses.
While we’re evaluating songs, other writers are either listening in or working on songs together in other parts of the building. They’ll either be editing songs we’ve evaluated, or trying to write new ones. Yesterday we heard 32 songs. I’m guessing about a dozen of them, maybe more, will make their way on to one of the albums. Today, we’ll probably hear about 25 more songs, and hopefully try to do some writing or co-writing ourselves. This afternoon we’ll begin recording demos of “finished” songs. Of course, songs can and will be edited until they’re actually recorded.
When it’s all said and done, we’ll probably write over 100 songs for four albums.
Why do we do this? Because God’s saving acts in history and in our lives demand new songs. Because 1000 tongues or a 1000 songs will never be enough. Because Jesus Christ is a great Savior worthy of unending praise. Because the Word of God is eternal and life-changing. Because this is one small way we can contribute to building up the church, comforting God’s people, and advancing the gospel, all for the glory of God.
And because, in the words of King David, “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD” (Ps. 40:3). And that’s our prayer.