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.
Thanks Bob. Very helpful.
What amazes me most about all of the Sovereign Grace albums that I have is how unified the lyrics are even though they come from different writers. Reading about how these songs are created offers great insight into how SG’s albums can sound so unified.
Please keep up the great work – we are all blessed by what the Holy Spirit is creating through you.
Thanks for the nuts and bolts!
Wow… that sounds like a great experience!
This seems like something that songwriters should just do more of on their own in general. Albums may not be produced without a movement like Sovereign Grace behind such a retreat, but great worship songs for local churches certainly could come out.
Thanks for working to resource the local church with content-rich, worshipful songs to God! Can’t wait to hear the next album!
thanks for the update Bob. its helpful to know more specifically how I can be praying. Can’t wait to hear the new songs that are created as a result of all your hard work!
Amazing. I’m inspired. Thanks for sharing! I will definitely be sharing this with my blog readers.
great post, and website…. you guys should come over to weeksofworship.com and check out the great songs and everything.
Bob, my primary calling is as pastor, but I also used to play guitar and contribute vocals during musical worship so have long tried to carefully evaluate music especially for congregational worship; in the main I really appreciate the Biblical/theological expression of most SG songs but do sometimes wonder if the melodic thread is “sticky” enough to capture quickly and lodge in people’s hearts in order to feed them throughout the week until we gather again. it could be that the church I am currently in is not musically rich( vocally or instrumentally) and the songs therefore are lacking that sense of pulling us together during worship,and it’s not really the songs per se but rather those trying to lead them that results in this “feeling” of having a group of individuals trying to sing together but failing rather than a strong sense of oneness. what do you think? do you guys evaluate the songs in terms of their ease to learn, easily access and assimilate? (assimilate meaning carry with you into the week to draw from and use even if quietly in personal reflection and worship? God bless, and thanks to all of you for your ministry.
William, accessibility is always something we consider, but we balance that we creativity. Behold our God is a good example that seems to be very accessible. O Lord My Rock and My Redeemer a little less so, but still easily singable. Others we’ve written are pretty difficult to sing. Leadership definitely plays a part in what a congregation can pick up. If we don’t focus on the truths we’re singing and assume the music will draw them, it will be difficult to lead them in songs with melodies that aren’t simple or repetitive. But sometimes the tunes are worth learning because the melodies are deeper than “immediately gratifying” and the words are rich. Repetition from week to week plays a part in that, clear leadership, and a good mix. But as I said, we don’t always get it right!