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Songwriting Tip of the Week with Matt Redman

Award winning songwriter, Matt Redman shares a one-minute quick tip on writing melody for the congregation…

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Matt Redman has been a full-time worship leader and songwriter since he was 20 years old and his journey has taken him all over the world.  He is known for modern day classic church songs  like ‘The Heart of Worship’, ‘You Never Let Go’ and ‘Blessed Be Your Name’.  His more recent compositions include the Grammy-nominated ‘Our God’, and the double-Grammy winning ’10,000 Reasons’.  Matt is also the author of several books, including The Unquenchable WorshipperFacedownMirrorball,Blessed Be Your Name (co-authored with Beth Redman) and Indescribable (co-authored with Louie Giglio).  Visit Matt’s website at www.mattredman.com

This video is from Premier Christian Radio of London.  You can find them on the web at http://www.premier.org.uk

Songwriting Tip of the Week – AARON SHUST

Document all ideas, even the ones that don’t feel inspired. Don’t feel you have to complete the song right away. Collect those ideas for a rainy work day; they may inspire your collaborator!   – Aaron Shust

Aaron_ShustCentricity Music recording artist, Aaron Shust is a Dove Award winning songwriter who has penned Christian radio and church favorites like, MY SAVIOR MY GOD.  His current radio single, GOD OF BRILLIANT LIGHTS, is from his 2013 album release, Morning Rises.  You can learn more about Aaron at www.aaronshust.com.

Why You Need Writing Partners

One of the biggest surprises for many songwriters who move to Nashville, is how much co-writing goes on in the professional circles.  Venturing an educated guess, I would say that 80% or more of today’s hit songs, across most popular genres, are co-written.  That’s a surprising number to most people, and the percentage could actually be higher.  

A colleague of mine has often mused about the fact that songwriting might be the only art form where a work of art can be created through collaboration.   He gives the example that you don’t see fine artists “co-painting” or “co-sculpturing”.   He may be right that songwriting is different than painting in that way.  However when it comes to music, collaboration is not a new thing.  For decades (if not hundreds of years), society has created music through partnership.   And we have seen the same with the writing of literature and plays.  We certainly see collaboration in artistic performance everyday, with musicians “co-performing” as an orchestra, band or choir, and actors “co-acting” on the stage or screen.

Most of the professional songwriters that I know have a co-writing session on their calendar almost every day of the week.  Why are so many songs co-written today, and why should you work with writing partners too?

Here are a few reasons you may consider co-writing your songs:

  • LEARN SOMETHING NEW –  Writing with others helps expand your possibilities – whether it’s new genres, new structures, new techniques, or something else, you’ll almost always sharpen your songwriting skills from writing with a partner.   Songwriters improve in their craft much quicker when they collaborate often.
  • BREAK BAD HABITS –  When writing solo, we tend to fall into ruts that limit us in our growth as a songwriter.  Sometimes our songs even begin to sound the same.  Through collaboration we more readily realize our weaknesses and the imaginary limits that we’ve put on ourselves.
  • TWO HEADS ARE BETTER THAN ONE –  With two or more working together on a song, it’s easier to get through the tough spots or the hurdles.  If you’re writing alone and you just can’t find the right word, or don’t know what to do for a bridge, you’re stuck.  With a team of writers contributing to the song, those issues are much easier to navigate.  Plus… we all want to write songs that others will enjoy.  If you bounce ideas off of one another, and you both like the outcome, there is a better chance that other listeners will like it too.
  • GET AROUND YOUR WEAKNESS –   Know what your strengths are and find someone that is strong where you are weak.  For example, one of you may be strong with melody; the other with lyric.  Or one may be more of an idea person and the other  a “finisher”.  There have been many famous songwriting teams over the years.  Often when two writers find that their skills successfully compliment one another, they will become a career team.

There is another reason that professional writers collaborate today…

  • GUARANTEED CUTS –  Professionals know that it is more difficult to land cuts today than in years past.  Since albums sales are down, artists and producers are finding new ways to build back up their income.  One of these ways is by writing more of the songs on their albums and using fewer songs written by other songwriters.  However, many of these artists need help from more talented writers to get hit singles.  So smart songwriters work hard to develop co-writing relationships with artists and producers to help ensure they can land song(s) on recording projects.

When publishers sign new staff writers, one of the first things they will do is begin setting up co-writing appointments for the writer.  Publishers know from experience that this is one of the fastest ways to help the songwriter stretch his/her muscles and grow in their craft.  It’s also one of the best ways to network the writer in the music community, which leads to cuts.

It’s normal to be apprehensive about collaboration, especially when it’s with someone you don’t know very well.  But co-writing has become part of the fabric of today’s music business.  If you’ve never tried writing a song with someone else, let me encourage you to step out and try it.  Maybe the first time will be more of a “get to know you” coffee session.  You don’t have to write something the first time you get together.   Do try writing with 3 or 4 different partners and see which ones are the best fit.  And don’t throw in the towel immediately.  It might take a while to get the hang of it, but I believe you’ll love it in the long run!

Build A Bridge

Lennon and McCartney called the bridge section of a song, “the middle eight”.  Although there is no rule as to the length and location of your bridge, typically a bridge will be about eight bars and will be located near the middle or last third of your song, usually immediately following the second chorus.  (Personally, I prefer a shorter bridge, if well written.  Some of the best bridges I’ve heard are only a couple of lines.)  But what is the purpose of a bridge?

In short, the bridge is an optional transitional section. Unlike your verses, pre-choruses, and choruses, your bridge should only occur once in any given song, and should be musically and lyrically different from the rest of your song.  A bridge prepares your listener for the return of the original material section.

In classical music the bridge is often a musical passage from one portion of an extended work into another, or serves to smooth what might otherwise be an abrupt modulation.  In popular music however, the bridge lyric is as important as the bridge music.

Lyrically, the bridge is typically used to pause and reflect on the earlier portions of your song, to sum up the main idea in broad terms, or to prepare your listener for the climax.  It can sometimes be an “ah-ha” moment, adding words to expand upon the main theme or helping to finally clarify the previous words or phrases in your song, that may have intentionally had a double meaning.

Back to Lennon and McCartney … some say they wrote the book on great bridges.  They would often supply each other with bridges for their songs.  The brilliant idea of shifting from one writer to the other for the bridge, only added to the desired contrast that the bridge section was to bring.  Take for example Lennon’s addition of the “life is very short” bridge to the otherwise hopeful song, “We Can Work It Out”.

Another thing to consider when writing your bridge is that, by the end of the second chorus of your song, the listener has often had a lot of information to process.  A well-crafted bridge will often be used to change the pace of your song, both lyrically and musically, becoming a short respite or oasis from the intensity of the rest of the composition.  You’ll note this use of the bridge if you study a variety of popular songs of today.

Adding a bridge to every song is not necessary, but this section can be an important element of your song, when used properly.

Check out our Lyric Writing category for help as you develop that next great bridge!