songwriting

Songwriting: The Fight of The Creative

The Journey Begins

I was working on a song recently. I wanted it to be congregational; I wanted it to be catchy, easily sing-able. I wanted all the lyrics to be fresh and new, but also speaking of something eternal. In my opinion, goal setting is good in songwriting. I think writing for a theme, a particular tempo, or key (male or female, or both, range!) is important. It’s good because if something doesn’t fit your parameters, you scrap it and keep moving. Momentum is key in songwriting. If you’re not moving forward, you’re probably stuck. Here is the flip side of this.  

As I was working on this song, every line I wrote just wasn’t good enough–every melody felt cheesy, every chord sounded bland, and don’t get me started on the second verse…because, well, it didn’t exist. After about an hour of wrestling through, I was ready to call it quits. My initial excitement had given way to frustration. So, I walked away from the song. 

I think if we are even remotely creative, we are probably our own worst critics. Even before someone else hears a twinkle of our song, we have already cast great judgment upon it.

Eight years into songwriting, with many contrasting seasons, I know this: God is interested in the journey. And what I have realized (and am still realizing) is that songwriting is not the exception to this rule but is very much in the center of it. 

The creative process is more important than the outcome. 

When I write what I think is a bad lyric/melody/song, how I react becomes important in the process. If I get frustrated, I could end up walking away. When I think of the process of songwriting, I very much want it to reflect strength of my character. I want in the frustration to seek God, in the disappointment to believe that it is purposed for growth. When feedback comes, when I share the song and the response isn’t what I expected, I want to be marked with humility. I think songwriting can be purposed not just to spark truth in the hearts of those who hear a finished song, but it can spark and grow truth in the writer, as they write it.

I think parameters are good. I had an idea for a theme for a song and even came up with a first line. Then I set some parameters for it. I decided I wanted it to be slow, mellow. I wanted the chorus to lift a little but not to become a ballad, and I wanted the bridge to be the highest point of the song. I chose to take every idea and move with it, even if I knew it wouldn’t be the final, I wanted to keep moving. I sang through lyrics that I knew wouldn’t work, but kept them untill I found the ones that did. I smiled through the bad melodies, and laughed at the terrible chords that weren’t working. You should hear my voice memos. I found that even in the midst of what I would have once deemed a failure or even a waste of time, I found joy and hope that I was once step closer to finishing the song. 

I hope for you that if you have lost joy in songwriting you let God rekindle it in the journey, and if you are just starting out then don’t be surprised if frustration creeps in. Remember the journey of the song is important. Don’t lose heart. 


Jennie Reynolds is the Artist Development teacher at Ocean's Edge School of Worship. She is an excellent teacher, music artist, wife and friend. Learn more about Jennie

Songwriting Talk | Matt Stinton

Last week, we got the opportunity to hangout over FaceTime with Matt Stinton, a worship leader and songwriter from the Bethel Redding community. He shared about the culture among writers at Bethel, his thoughts on co-writing, inspiration, and the struggle between creativity and criticism. Here are some takeaways from Matt's Songwriting Talk to explore as you pursue your artistry.

"Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just get to work." - Chuck Close

It can be extremely disappointing (and unrealistic) to expect that you can sit down and write a song in an hour, when you haven't really been writing consistently. You can't rely on just waiting for inspiration, you need to be working at your craft and creating without it. 

The more you write, the more you write.

The best way to write a song is to write the way that you write. Whatever way works for you is the right way. Go with the ideas you have and don’t force a fit or a box.

When critiquing starts, creativity stops.

This TEDtalk describes evidence for how the creative part of your brain and the critiquing part of your brain can't function together at the same time. Learn to turn off the inner critic while you're creating art. 

Songs are encounters waiting to happen;
they change people.

Relationships don’t flourish without vulnerability and neither do songs. The more honest you can get as a songwriter, the more impact your songs will have, all for the purpose of touching lives.

Keep track of your ideas somewhere.

If you don't sing an idea into your phone or write it down, you'll likely forget it!

Cowriting:

Having something to prove is terrible motivation and will leave you exhausted. Feeling like you have to do it all on your own may keep you from finishing a song, a rob someone of the encounter their soul needs.

It’s okay to have people you write better with.

Writing cold turkey with someone can be tough, better to start a song, take the ideas to someone and ask for help. And you don’t have to keep every idea that they offer you. When it comes to song splits, setup a system ahead of time that will protect you both from any tension if ideas do/don’t get used. It’s always better to err on the side of generosity. 

 

Get connected with Matt STinton.