These posts on songwriting are not written from a professional point of view. These are just my thoughts as I experience new aspects of the craft. The best part of these posts will be your input.

I've been writing songs for the church for almost 7 years. I've learned some things about writing, like, I've written a ton more bad songs than good. I've often said that I have to write about 10 bad songs to get a good one. I've also learned that the trick to writing a great worship song is writing something that is simple, accessible, and yet still fresh. Last night I was driving home listening to a very well known worship artist's new CD. As they started singing one of the "new" songs from this very anticipated release, I realized that the melody line to the chorus was pretty much identical to another song from a not as well known worship artist that just came out last year. I'm assuming that the very well known just hasn't heard the not as well known, mean while, I feel a little jipped.
Uniqueness is what gives a song it's own identity. When I first started writing, I wrote a song called "I Will Worship You". I know, real original and unique, right? Granted, the lyrics were pretty generic, but the melody line was actually really good and infectious. I was excited. I thought I had really written a nice piece. Then, a couple days later, it hit me. As I was singing it, I realized it was the exact, identical melody line to Michael Jackson's "You are Not Alone", which was a huge, mid-90's tune. At that point, I had a choice. I could either keep it and use it, because I was in a pretty traditional Independent Baptist church, and I'm sure they weren't up on Michael Jackson songs. Or, I could wad it up and throw it away. I recently heard Andy Stanley speaking about "ideas". He said, that our creations become our babies, and if we're not careful, we will hang on to them, even at the expense of our ultimate goal. At that moment, I learned the importance of uniqueness. If it's not unique, I will definitely toss it, and I've learned the art of throwing away bad songs more and more since then.
As worship songwriters, we have the daunting task of writing something that is simple, yet unique. If it's complicated, it can be really counter-productive in worship, and if it's cookie-cutter, then it loses flavor. That can be a challenge, but it's a worthy one. When it comes to the melody line and musical composition of a song, we should not settle for anything less than unique.
Then we have lyrics. I think we all know the challenge that lies here, but again, it's a worthy one. Writing a unique lyric in worship can be very tricky. If we use the same lyrics over and over again, it loses the beauty, but if we focus too much on wording things in a new way, we can miss the target. There are certain words that just can't be substituted when we worship God. The biggest word is probably "holy". This is possibly the greatest attribute of God, and it says so much. There other words as well. We don't have to eliminate them in writing, but we do have to learn to use these words in a fresh, unique way. I just recently wrote a song where the chorus starts off with "Holy, holy". That's a huge part of the song, but the word holy is not the focus word in this particular tune.
Psalm 96:1 says "...sing to the Lord a new song;" If your song sounds just like something else, then it's really not a new song. Just because we pen a song, doesn't mean we've created something original. As we grow, as writers, we have to learn not to settle. The greatest part of that verse is that God is the One is birthing the new songs. He's bringing songs through us, for us to bring Him praise. The best worship songs that I've written all came from Him. There's only so many words, and so many chord progressions, but God is still moving and people are still creating. Freshness is so vital in keeping things moving and growing. As we write worship songs for our churches, we should settle for nothing less than unique.

Have you ever written a song that, you realized eventually, sounded just like a another song?


Anonymous said...

A few years back I wrote a song called "See You" only to realize the chorus melody was exactly like "Capture My Heart" by Phil Wickham.

I also wrote a song with the lyric "do you believe in miracles." It just so happened to be the same melody as Jimmy Eat World's "Do You Believe In What You Want."

It's funny what our subconscence picks up and spits back out!

Anonymous said...

I find myself ripping off other songs accidentally more than I want to admit! Great article Gary...

mandy said...

Great thoughts, Gary. I'm hoping to confirm if this song is a copy cat of something already out there, or just inspired by something else. I think it's hard to separate inspiration and imagination sometimes, since there are so many songs that we have access to--and as musicians, our brains are going to log all of it. We're trapped!