This Article Originally Published December 1997
by Andrea Tucker
Countless musicians have searched for ways to create that perfect musical foundation on which to express their innermost desires. Words alone are oftentimes easily forgotten, but when partnered with a melody, they seem to live longer and are more readily associated with specific emotions or events in one's lifetime. Oswald Chambers captures this idea beautifully in his book My Utmost For His Highest by saying, "The author who benefits you most is not the one who tells you something you did not know before, but the one who gives expression to the truth that has been dumbly struggling in you for utterance." For marketing's sake, I'd like to add, "From a unique and fresh perspective when compared to what has been done before." In order to be successful, a songwriter must creatively communicate the specifics of the Christian faith.
Lyrical content is by far the most important part of a song in the Christian market. The best approach a songwriter can take is to make sure the title/hook/idea of the song is stated in a unique and intriguing manner. Ask yourself these questions:
- "Is there another song out there already of this same title that
is really popular?" Few artists are willing to record a song with
a title that has become a "classic" in Christian music. The market
is still too small to keep it from being confusing.
- "Have I lent a new view to this subject compared to what has been
done before?" No one wants to hear a story repeated that has been
well stated in a hit song already. Add a new twist to the lyric that
makes your particular interpretation more personal and insightful
while still maintaining the integrity of the message.
- "Can the emotional value of the song be increased by changing the
person in which it is written?" This is a very big problem in many
of the songs we receive. It is so difficult to get a song cut when
it is written from God's perspective. Most artists are not willing
to put themselves in a position to speak from God's perspective, but
would rather entreat or petition God about their situation or talk
to others about their struggles and victories in the faith. Sometimes
a song can be much stronger when it is written from personal experience
(ex. "I did this" or "This is my story"). Just make sure it is not
personalized to the extent that it keeps others from being able to
express your ideas.
Familiarity with your subject matter is imperative. Make sure you write about the things you know. You must have a conviction about your idea or else it will come out half-hearted. The facts are very important. However, cold hard facts, without any feelings, are exactly thatcold hard factswhich can, in turn, produce a cold hard response. A good songwriter will take the facts and feelings in his life and portray them in a manner which "gives expression to the truth that has been dumbly struggling in you [the listener] for utterance."
Once you've chosen your subject matter, stay focused. When you are writing from the heart, you may sometimes be tempted to say everything you know about the subject in one fell swoop. In most cases, it is better to identify the most important idea to be communicated and focus on that idea. Use associated words when trying to establish an image in the listener's mind. Vary the word pictures and phrases you are using giving them a different perspective than what has been written before. Imagine the listener has never heard a word about Christ. Explain everything using terms familiar to that person without using the Christian lingo. The artists/producers/A&R people who are looking for songs want to be moved or inspired by the songs, but they want it done creatively.
Consider carefully the musical interpretation of your subject matter. Prosody is the marriage of the words to the music. Does the music you have written capture the spirit of the mood and intention of the lyric? The music must capture the same emotions you are expressing in your lyric to complete the "picture" you are trying to communicate.
Last, but still extremely important, KNOW THE ARTISTS! When TAXI gives you specifics about the style of music the listing is seeking, make sure you are very familiar with the artists they list to describe their needs. What is their musical style? What "person" are their songs usually written in? Would they be able to hear the potential in your song by the way you've recorded the demo? Does it "sound" like something they would do? Are they married? Do they have children? What kinds of subjects do they like to address?
Research is key to matching your songs to the right artists. There are many stores that offer CD listening bars where you can preview a recording. Also, most public libraries carry cassettes and compact discs available to be checked out. Subscribe to CCM magazine to learn more about what is really working in the market. This will give you a more educated view of the industry and what the market is really like. If you begin to pattern your work from the current popular styles in Christian music, and still write from the heart of experience, your songs will potentially gain more attention in the professional market.