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Best Posts Songwriting Worship Leading

You Need Deadlines (Slight Return)

 

My recent Ben Folds post got me thinking about how helpful deadlines really are to the songwriter.

Q: Do you sit down to write or do you have to get struck by [inspiration]?

Ben Folds: I have to get struck by the deadline. I always have songs in my head and I always have things that I’m starting but I find finishing it is really tough. Most of my best stuff was finished on a deadline.

Here’s a few other takes on the need to have a finish line. Brenton Brown likens the worship songwriters roles to a pastor who has to preach a sermon every Sunday whether it’s ‘finished’ or not.

Matt Redman … or Paul Baloche’s catalogue of songs don’t just happen. At a certain point, you can make a decision. You can either wait for the songs to come or you can treat these albums almost like a Sunday morning service, as a pastor, where I’m preaching to the church on Sunday. I need to prepare, I need to find bread for the brothers. I need to get the Word of God for them. Once you set up that structure, we’re going to try to record an album once every three years or something. That focus, that target, that deadline whatever you want to call it collates everything, coheres everything. You get more intentional about your songs. And that’s not a bad thing, is it?

Classical composer Rossini relied on deadlines to help him to complete his operas

Nothing primes inspiration more than necessity, whether it be the presence of a copyist waiting for your work or for the prodding of an impresario tearing his hair. In my time, all the impresarios in Italy were bald at thirty. I composed the overture to Othello in a little room in the Barbaja palace wherein the baldest and fiercest of directors had forcibly locked me with a lone plate of spaghetti and the threat that I would not be allowed to leave the room alive until I had written the last note. I wrote the overture to La Gazza Ladra the day of the opening in the theatre itself, where I was imprisoned by the director and under the surveillance of four stagehands who were instructed to throw my original text through the window, page by page, to the copyists waiting below to transcribe it. In default of pages, they were ordered to throw me out the window bodily….

Calvin understood the role of adrenaline as an aid to creativity

Lastly, Douglas Adams perhaps serves as a negative example. I remember as a young HitchHiker’s and Dirk Gently fan feeling the frustration of waiting years for the next novel as Adams tinkered around on the latest Apple product.

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.

Download my free single Let’s Build An Airport

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Songwriting Worship Leading

What Is Wrong With Praise And Worship Music?

Tom Waits vs Your Worship Team

Tom Waits has described his music as “Beautiful melodies telling you terrible things” (if you want to put some flesh on those descriptive bones check out Poor EdwardNo One Knows I’m Gone or Dead and Lovely). It occurred to me the other day that this description of his music is the antithesis of a lot of Christian Praise & Worship – which often amounts to terrible melodies telling you beautiful things.

I have always known this. At various stages of my Christian pilgrimage I have attacked it, criticised it, repented of criticising it, enjoyed it, defended it, excused it, ignored it and endured it. Sometimes I’ve done all of these on a single sunday morning.

But ever since I started blogging through all 211 Beatles songs at Beatles Songwriting Academy I’ve come to the fairly settled conclusion that much (most?) of the songs churches sing represent the lowest standards of songwriting around outside of the top 30 singles chart (and yes, Mr. Stickinthemud, I would include many revered hymns in that too).

Here’s a few things that might help

1 – We need to develop a robust methodology (rooted in theology) of dealing with a divinely inspired source text. Christian songwriters don’t really know how to handle the Bible. Not in the theological sense of “dude I don’t think he did say ‘I am the Lord of Dance‘ and I’m pretty sure ‘his feet did NOT in ancient times walk upon England’s mountain green‘”, but in the sense of how you take inspired prose and poetry, both of which were written in another language, and set them to music in a form that is effective for people a few thousand miles and few thousand years away from the text.

No song we ever write will be inspired in the way the Bible is inspired. We need to do some hard thinking about how we take something holy (the Bible) and make an average every day item out of it that people can use (a song), without confusing or contradicting the original message.

Christians need to develop this methodology because secular musicians generally think words don’t matter. What they appear to mean to the listener is just as important as what they mean to the writer. We obviously can’t take that on board. But ramming a passage unchanged into a musical structure is not the answer either.

2 – We need to study songwriting. From ANY writer that writes memorable songs that people sing along to. The Beatles are a great place to start but you could look at Abba, Billy Joel, Broadway writers, Motown, Bob Marley. Writers who know how to make a memorable melody that lifts the lyrics, who can distill an idea down to it’s essence and who can make a melody seem fresh and familiar at the same time.

3 – We need to write more songs about nothing. Worship is one of the hardest genres to write for. You have to balance objective truth in the lyrics with simplicity, knowing that your songs will be sung and played by amateurs with little or no time to rehearse. It’s really hard to learn your craft and juggle those balls. So don’t. Learn your craft by writing songs about your cat/girlfriend/football team. I’m not saying give up trying to write for a congregation. Just that it’s easier to learn by tinkering around with structures, how words ‘sing’ and melodic shape on something that doesn’t really matter. Then bring all that skill to bear on weightier matters.

4 – We need to sing more bad songs. But not other people’s. Any writer will get better if they write more songs. And if your church is going to sing bad songs they might as well sing yours. Help them by writing exactly what will fit your church’s journey. A sermon series on Leviticus? If you write a song on wave offerings I guarantee it will be one of the top ten ever written. Are the kids in sunday school learning about the good samaritan? Write a fun action song. Can’t find a suitable song for communion, funerals, that quiet bit during the offering? Write one.

What else can we do to improve the level of songwriting in our Churches?
Who are the Christian songwriters that you think really excel at their craft?

Related Posts: 12 way to increase congregational participation
The saviour of Christian music is not a white guy with a guitar

Download my new song: Faithful & True for free!!!
Other free songs by Matt Blick

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Arranging Worship Leading

We Will Not Reach The Lost If We Have Normal Hair

This made me laugh out loud several times – “You need to worship like Adam Clayton”

Thanks to Mark Graham – an awesome bass player who ALWAYS plays 8th notes while looking worshipful.

Download all my 2011 songs for free!!!
Related Posts: The Soundcheck Song – for free
Other free songs by Matt Blick


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Worship Leading

New Songs, Dad Songs & Don’t Make Me Laugh Songs

I’ve been aware for a long time that bands get bored of a song just as the congregation is getting into it, but now Jamie Brown has done the math. Check it out, especially if you suffer from NSEW (new song every week) syndrome.

Want to know what your Dad was rockin’ out to back in the day? (assuming your Dad was a mulleted headed Christian). Popdose of all places is running a Top 50 Contemporary Christian Albums countdown. Expect horror, cheese and the occasional hidden gem. And lots of big hair.

American songwriter have posted a PRS poll of the Top 10 songs that make men cry. I gotta say it’s the list that made me cry. Assuming some of those guys may have been gay takes care of Candle in the Wind (no 7), but Unchained Melody???

Read it and weep.

Related Posts: The Answer is always Yes
New Song, Free Download – You Spoke The Stars (Mercy)

Free songs by Matt Blick

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Worship Leading

The Saviour of Christian Music is Not a White Guy With a Guitar…

It’s a Black Man on a Mic.

At first I thought it was merely a result of my ineptitude as a blogger. 

I mean when you’ve giving away one of the best albums of the year and you’re struggling to find a taker something’s gotta be wrong, right?

Then I started to notice the underwhelming coverage that Lions And Liars was getting on the web in general. Hey! Sho Baraka’s reformed (as in theology) style of rap is a sub genre of a sub genre of a sub genre. No wonder he’s off the map.

Then the aptly named ‘Under The Radar’ podcast airs a special rap edition. The music is incredible (download it here) but the host sounded like he was already bracing himself for the backlash. What the problem?

The Christian music scene doesn’t need a new star, a new hero, or a new trendsetter. But we do need someone to save us from an army effeminate, doctrine-phobic mystics, and the ability to play barre chords is not necessarily a requirement.

Man-up

To borrow a line from Sho, when you have ‘hip hop minus all the thugging’ you’re still left with something inherently manly. On the other hand, take a pinch of ‘God is my girlfriend’ sentiments, sung in an effeminate vocal style and smeared with guyliner and it may be marketable, but it won’t make Driscoll’s playlist.

Word

The new rap is most bible-saturated form of music around today. Proof? Who are the champions for this new style of music? Old white preachers. Mark Dever (a man whose church regards Isaac Watts as a little edgy) interviewed Voice & Shai Linne.

John Piper got Lecrae to rap in a Sunday service at Calvinism H.Q. (aka Bethlehem Baptist Church).

Mark Driscoll had Lecrae & Tedashii over to jam at Mars Hill to the studied indifference of 9000 bemused Seattle cage fighting software programmers.

Why did this happen?

These preachers love the word and they love musicians who love the word.

This is something of a sea change as far as ‘urban’ music goes (and why urban? Do all the white guys live on the farm?). Marred by self-actualisation & the prosperity gospel and hamstrung by a ridiculous allegiance to King James English, too often black gospel artists have sounded like funky positive thinking emissaries from the 17th century.

Sunday morning

That all well and good. But can you rap corporately?

No.

And that’s probably a good thing.

Because at the moment it’s hard to tell who’s a worship leader and who’s not. It used to be easy. The worship leader was the one with a hole in the middle of his guitar.

But now he has a Strat, and a band, and a light show. He’s just like any other band leader (except his band gigs every Sunday morning). This problem isn’t the hardware. It’s the songs.

Let’s call him Don

Don has a Transcendental Experience of God.
Don commemorates that in a song.
Don sings that song at every gig for the next 3 years. 
Cool.

Don brings the song into a worship setting and teaches it to everyone.
They sing about Don’s mountain top experience.
Some identify. Some don’t.
Don introduces a few more mountain top songs.
Touching the divine right here, right now starts to become the expectation for a normal time of worship.  
Not so cool.

Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus.
When he got up off the floor he carried on down the road.
He didn’t build a roadside tabernacle and go back there every Sunday expecting to feel the same Holy Ghost high.

Imagine a testimony time where after every story of deliverance, healing, financial provision the whole congregation jumped up and started confessing that it had happened to them too.

Crazy huh?
Let’s make sure we’re not doing that when we sing.

This is me.

I’m a white guy with a guitar. I’m not dissing my tribe. But I’m thrilled to see something exciting and ground-breaking happening in gospel rap.

I want to welcome what God is doing with open arms, honouring him for the gifting he’s placed in my Christian brothers Sho Baraka, Tedashii, Lecrae, Trip Lee, Katalyst, Shai Linne (to name just a few)

Will you join me?

Here’s three good places to start

Under the Radar #80
Lions & Liars
Identity Crisis

Free songs by a white guy with a guitar

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Worship Leading

The Answer Is Always Yes

You have you’re Sunday morning set list nailed down and perfect. You may have even rehearsed it. Then your Pastor informs you that you need to cut a song. What do you do?

Jamie Brown has a great post on this. And I thouroughly agree with him on it.

Worship leaders can quickly become territorial and protective of the time of singing as being “their time”. When that happens, requests to cut a song and/or shorten the time can be viewed as personal attacks warranting extreme defensive measures. 

Check it out.

Related Posts: Dealing with criticism
12 ways to increase congregation participation

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Worship Leading

Homesickness, Criticism & Fighting

No it’s not a report from the Together for the Gospel conference*, just 3 posts you might find helpful!

Dave Trout of (Radar Radio fame) has some good counsel for touring musicians

Jamie Brown is a font of worship leading wisdom who I need to link to way more often than I do. Ten things to say when someone criticizes you after a service is just one of the many great posts on his blog Worthily Magnify.

Lastly a great rap from Tedashii (& John Piper)

[If you’re subscribed to this blog via email, you will have to click on the post’s title to watch any video content (the link will take you my site).

* This is a joke.

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Worship Leading

Should We Pursue Excellence In Musical Outreach?

Updated 23/03/10

Here’s the scenario. You live in a hip city, a bustling metropolis if you will. You are reaching out with the gospel to cultured people, artistically and aesthetically switched on. They’re not just urban they’re urbane. So what music are you going to use in your outreach? Or more to the point what level of quality?

Isn’t it obvious? These aren’t X-Factor loving binge drinkers you’re trying to win. You’re reaching out to discerning people. Surely you need cutting edge music performed by top quality musicians, industry-standard sound gear, maybe even stage lighting. Anything less will turn them off. Won’t it?

The thing is if you go through most people’s playlists, CD rack or vinyl collection you’ll probably find nestling among the multi-platinum perfectly produced classics some of the following

Punk
Early folk music
Blues
Grunge
Field recordings
Rock and roll
Live bootlegs

What characterises many (but by no means all) artists in these genres is poor recording quality and a ‘rough and ready’ level of technical proficiency. But something in them connects with the hearts of people, sophisticated and simple. And maybe that same thing would connect them to the music played in your church.

But what is it?

Leave me a comment…

Related Posts: This is sooo wrong #2

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Free Words Worship Leading

Stop Singing, Start Worshipping And Get On That Treadmill!

Want to know how to work out whether a band is christian or not? Josh Harris (via Sound Doxology) is happy to help. (click to enlarge).

Are you a leader who needs to get back to the heart of worship? This talk by Dave Holden will do you good.

But maybe you want to kill off congregational singing in ten easy steps? Let Jamie Brown lead you.

I’m just discovering OK Go. Apologies if you’re one of the 47 ,000,000,000 people who have already seen this video.

On a personal note last week saw my 800th song download. Thanks to every one of you. Hope you liked ’em. If you did, tell a friend. They’re all free! Also over at the blog after 909 I’ve blogged my way through the Beatles first album. Only another 12 or so to go…

Related Posts:
The slow death of Congregational singing
Armistice (Mutemath) review

[If you’re subscribed to this blog via email, you will have to click on the post’s title to watch any video content (the link will take you my site).

Categories
Worship Leading

Does The Holy Spirit Thrive On Chaos?

Paradoxically one of the ways we’ve learned at Grace Church to be prepared for the Spirit spontaneously directing our meetings is by first getting clear on what an average meeting looks like. Not a boring meeting but one where the gospel is preached, the sheep are fed, God is glorified, the afflicted comforted, the comfortable afflicted and so on. Like it or not, most meetings will fall into this category. Once we’re clear on what the plan is we’re more confident to depart from the plan.

This is counter-intuitive for a lot of Church leaders though. What I’ve often seen in leaders hungry for the Spirit’s presence is artificially produced chaos. Sermons remain unpreached, setlists are torn up, finish times ignored, all because we sense the Spirit waiting in the wings. It’s as if preaching the Bible, and singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs is what we do only when God isn’t in the building! It is as if we think the Spirit enjoys a chaotic atmosphere and feels at home there, so perhaps “if we build it he will come.” Where did we get this idea?

It’s true that chaos sometimes ensues when the ‘irresistible force’ of the Spirit meets the ‘immovable object’ of our plans but in scripture we always see him bringing order (even if he has to disrupt everything to do it). Not to mention the fact that if all your worship times are unpredictable, that’s SO predictable!

If ever there was a meeting full of chaos it was the meeting between God and creation in Genesis 1. The Hebrew in verse 2 say the earth was “Chaotic and desolate” and there is the Spirit hovering above! Maybe this is his kind of party! But no, God is there to bring form and order out of chaos. If he’s attracted to chaos it’s only like a paramedic is attracted to traffic collisions, wanting to fix something.

When Paul & Barnabas were sent out on mission by the Holy Spirit and the Antioch Church they did not throw their map away so that they might be better led by the Spirit, they followed the road to the next logical place. They kept doing this till God stepped in and stopped them. So they tried the next place. God stopped ‘em again. Then God gave them a vision. It wasn’t that God was only directing them when they had the vision, God had been leading them all along. He’d just been leading them by mundane common sense ways first. Then a crazy supernatural way.

SO what can we do to be ready for the Spirit’s leading? Here’s a few off the top of my head, but what would you add? What do you do that’s most helpful? What do you not do that causes the biggest hindrances? Leave me a comment.

  • Decide on what your normal start and end times are.
  • Be clear who will make the call to lengthen/shorten/interrupt the worship time.
  • Have clear avenues of communication between all who need it – Elders & worship leaders especially. Have agreed hand signals. And keep your eyes open when you lead.
  • Have a vocalist ready to step in and continue leading the song if the worship leader is talking to an elder.
  • Have all your music ready and to hand in a form that is easily searchable (and the best way is to memorise it).

Over to you…

Related Posts: 12 ways to increase congregation participation