Over the years, I’ve had people come up and ask me how I write songs. I’ll get questions like, “How long does it take you to write a song?” Or, “What do you write first, the music or the lyrics?” The beautiful thing about songwriting is that the process isn’t predictable; not for me, anyway. There is no singular way to craft a song. There are, of course, industry “formulas” if you are aiming for a radio hit, but the process of getting to the end product is not always the same.
As a songwriter, I want the songs I write to say something meaningful. There’s not much I enjoy less in music than a kiddie-pool lyric that contains no real substance. Truthfully, as much as I love an incredible guitar riff and drum beat, the lyrics are what hold my attention after the first listen. A song could be incredibly simple, but if the words are creative and rich, I’m in. As I write songs, my attention and time are spent more on the words themselves than anything else. That’s not to say I don’t care about musical creativity. Those who know me well know I am picky about the music I listen to. I enjoy creative, accessible music. Regardless of whether the instrumentation and melody come before the lyrics, the words tend to get a little more attention.
Most of the songs I have written are not ones we would sing together on a Sunday morning. They tend to be songs about life, love, family, and reflections on our culture. These songs are easier for me to craft lyrically than the ones I write for Sunday worship.
Let me explain.
Songs of worship carry a different kind of weight. These aren’t simply songs I sing that others listen to for enjoyment. They’re not songs that are up for the listener’s interpretation. These songs must be biblical and have a direct correlation to our Christian faith. The words we sing matter 100 times more than any song I write for myself to perform for another’s entertainment. Therefore, songs of worship must ring true because they are being sung by a congregation.
For the most part, songs of worship require a bit more intentionality. The words must mean something, or the song will be shallow (like a kiddie-pool). The melody needs to be singable and memorable. The point, after all, is to sing these songs together for our edification and, most importantly, to praise and worship our Lord.
I pray anything I write that makes its way into the musical repertoire of the church adds value and bears truth. I don’t want to sing empty words to a cool beat. I want to sing life-giving truth with engaging and thoughtful music. I believe that is true for you as well.
Doug King is Schweitzer’s Director of Modern Worship. He will also be a guest speaker at the upcoming Writer’s Roundtable on October 7 focused on songwriting and poems.