Do you ever wonder how the pro songwriters do it? Have you ever listened to a song on the radio or sung a song in church and thought to yourself, “If ONLY I knew what THEY know, I’d write some great songs, too!”? While every pro songwriter has their own set of hacks that work well for them, there are seven I’ve found that work almost every time to shape a working hook, title, or idea into a great song. And now it’s your turn to learn them and start putting them to work in your songwriting to write your best songs ever!
I go into a lot more detail in the ebook Seven Proven Strategies to Write Better Songs and Stand Out in a Crowded Songwriting Marketplace, about the principles that helped me guide dozens of professional songwriters, but here are just a few important things I’ve pulled out to get you started.
#1) Great songwriters never miss a great hook. Have you ever gotten “car fever”? You know what I mean, right? You decide you want a certain kind of car and all of a sudden you start seeing them everywhere on the streets, even though you hadn’t noticed them so much before. That’s what great songwriters do, only it’s for great ideas, hooks, and titles for songs. They decide they are looking for hooks and suddenly hooks are everywhere. It’s weird, I know, but it’s true. Decide you’re on the hunt for hooks and see if they don’t start popping up everywhere!
#2) Great songwriters know the subtle differences between catchy and kitschy. This is a pet peeve of mine, I admit. It just bugs me when I hear “corniness” promoted as greatness and I know some listeners are indiscriminate when it comes to songs. However, the songs that are truly great and become classics are never corny or kitschy. They have weight and power, as in In Christ Alone (Getty/Townend) and 10,000 Reasons (Myrin, Redman). So great songwriters have to learn the subtle nuances and write the kind of songs that can affect the greatest number of listeners and end-users.
#3) Great writers write. The mark of a great Christian songwriter isn’t necessarily that they’re published, but that they write. And, ironically, the primary reason songwriters aren’t published is because they don’t write. Every pro songwriter I know writes a lot, daily if not weekly, always honing their craft and working on a batch of songs and song ideas. It’s so funny to think that a professional dancer would only dance once or twice a year, or that a professional athlete would only workout once or twice a month. If you want to be truly great at something, you have to do it an extraordinary amount of times to develop your greatness. Pro songwriters write and write and write.
#4) Great songwriters rewrite their songs until they’re great songs. I heard Bill Gaither say once that, “With a rewrite a good song can become a great song. And with a rewrite, a great song can become a classic.” Well, he should know, right? I’ve never forgotten that and it has helped me let go of some “pet lines” that were holding me back from a great song. Too often an aspiring songwriter will think that “God gave me this song” and refuse to work on it. I say that God gave you the inspiration to write the song, but now it’s up to you to make it great! Great Christian songwriters rewrite, rewrite, rewrite!
#5 Great songwriters develop “intelligent originality.” There’s often a fine line between originality and eccentricity. When a songwriter is trying to get other people to sing their songs (an artist or a congregation), there are certain parameters that have to be observed, i.e. singability, style, tempos, keys, and much more. A pop performance artist in the general marketplace can be as outlandish and freakish as they want to be to appeal to their niche, but Christian writers are working in a genre where the CONTENT IS KING (quite literally, right?). We are message driven and have to communicate the Gospel in powerful ways with that in mind. Great songwriters will create with this usefulness in mind.
#6 Great Christian songwriters are students of Scripture. As in the point above, there’s a certain level of Biblical proficiency that a Christian songwriter needs to write intelligently. I like to point out that great Christian songs have “heart, art, and good doctrine.” We capture universal feelings, dress them in excellent art forms that communicate contextually, and make sure they are in line with Scripture. No small task, but you can do it!
#7 The truly great Christian songwriter presses into their relationship with Jesus to tell and sing the truth, never losing sight of their True Source of inspiration, creativity, and the very Reason they write. One of the greatest challenges in pro songwriting, as in any kind of ministry, is burning out and forgetting WHY we write. It’s far too easy to focus on the business of songwriting and lose sight of the Person we write WITH and FOR, Jesus Christ. It’s all about what HE’S done in our lives that counts. Without an authentic testimony of His presence, a million well-crafted songs can’t convey an ounce of the Spirit-power. It’s all about being real about Jesus in the songwriter’s life.
If you like this so far, I’ll be doing a deeper dive into these and much more in a special FREE powerhouse songwriting masterclass I’m hosting online April 21st at three convenient times – 1:00, 3:00, and 7:00 PM (CST). I’m going to be delving into the topic WRITE BETTER SONGS NOW (And Discover the Seven Secrets Pro Christian Songwriters Use to Stand Out from the Crowd, Even If You’re Just Starting Your Songwriting Journey!). Long title, but a powerhouse masterclass in the making! You can register by clicking the title or here.
John Chisum is Managing Partner for Nashville Christian Songwriters, a long-time Christian music industry professional, prolific songwriter, publisher, and song coach. He is the former Director of Song Development and Copyright for Integrity Music and the former Vice-president of Publishing for Star Song Media. He is a much-loved worship leader worldwide with over ten worship recordings and over 400 songs professionally published. He and Donna have been married for 36 years and they have a lovely daughter, Aly. John can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out NashvilleChristianSongwriters.com for more information on the NCSMASTERCLASS happening online April 21!