Some More Thoughts on Songwriting

So in last week’s episode of ‘Mikey is suddenly and unexpectedly serious’, I suggested that our worship music is sometimes let down by its lyrics. Perhaps it’s a mistake to assume that worship leaders automatically make good songwriters. Perhaps we should encourage non-worship leaders to get involved. Perhaps more lyrical guidance should be given to aspiring songwriters.

This week, I continue that train of thought.

Because I don’t think those are the only reasons for the disparity between our ability to write melody and our ability to write lyrics. What we reproduce directly correlates with what we consume. And, correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like a song with a strong melody is more likely to be more successful than one with strong lyrics.

Obviously, these two are not mutually exclusive. And this is by no means a hard and fast rule.

But I believe we have made melody king, and our lyrics have suffered in comparison.

A few months back, I read an interview with Ryan Tedder, lead singer of OneRepublic and writer of such hit songs as Halo (Beyoncé), Rumour Has It (Adele) and the hit songs that OneRepublic had. He was listing his song writing secrets, and one of them was that ‘melody is more important than lyrics’.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have a lot of respect for Mr Tedder. He is very good at what he does and there’s a heck of a lot of skill in that.  But I think he and I will have to agree to disagree on that particular point.

Maybe that’s why he earned $2.5m in royalties last year and I earned somewhere a lot closer to zero.

Because of course he’s right. If you’re writing pop music, melody is king. And worship music bears some similarity to pop music. It is designed for mass consumption and has to be easy to pick up for people to sing along.

But there are some crucial differences. Worship music is also meant to teach and express truth. It is meant to attempt to describe the indescribable. To express an earnest heart cry (Christian phrase bingo points) with eloquence. To reflect some of the glory and creativity of God himself. It should aim to glorify Him in its excellence.

What’s my point then? I think my point is to encourage us to up our game and to make lyrics a higher priority. And not just to aim for theological accuracy. Even the most powerful theological truths can appear hackneyed and hollow if they are expressed in the same way time after time after time.

But the goal cannot simply be originality. Or relevance. Or more flowery, poetic language. These are admirable qualities. But not ends in and of themselves.

I guess what I’m really looking for is more reality. More honesty. Less worship by numbers. Less safety. More ambition. More risks.

I long for some fresh imagery, new metaphors and similes. Lyrics that stop me in my tracks, words that capture exactly what I was trying to express but couldn’t quite manage.

Don’t mishear me on this. My intention isn’t to rag on worship music. I’m still so keen not to be the sneering cynic in the corner. And actually, much more of the stuff I’ve listened to recently is doing this well. Sit down and read some Rend Collective lyrics. The new Bethel album has some killer turns of phrase too. My friends The Bright Expression haven’t even bribed me to write that the lyrics in their debut album Bone by Bone, available now on iTunes, are often exceptional.

Neither do I think I could do a better job – I’m talking to myself as much as anyone and this is only worthwhile if I’m prepared to act on it. And I just thought that perhaps there might be a few of you who would be glad of the same challenge.

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