In the previous three articles we looked at reasons for establishing a songwriting community, ways to do that, and how to establish the community through regular workshops and fellowship. But if your goal is to produce new worship music for your church fellowship, then your songwriting group hasn’t arrived until it’s doing that. And it’s not going to do that in the most efficient manner until you provide clear direction and lay out a vision.
This can be as simple as saying “We need more songs about the cross” or “we need some good ‘Call to Worship’ songs and some songs of assurance.” Then you need to communicate how writers should submit songs. If you have a small church and only a couple writers, this might be an informal process. Large churches will need to come up with specific procedure, which might look something like this:
- submit songs via mp3 and Word doc. to the group facilitator or submit in person with a CD and printed chord sheet
- songs will be turned in to worship pastor (or music review team, elder committee — whoever decides that sort of thing in your church) by x date.
- Songs selected will be announced by x date. Worship pastor will provide critique to all who request it.
This is our basic process at Sojourn. Over the last couple years we’ve tied our submission process into our CD project development. This began with our Before the Throne album, a thematic worship CD where each song represented a particular part of our worship liturgy, from “Call to Worship” to “Benediction.” Sojourn Worship Arts Pastor Mike Cosper communicated this vision to me and to our Visual Arts director, Michael Winters, charging our visual artists to also produce one painting or photo for each liturgical element.
Michael and I then hosted a joint breakfast meeting for songwriters and visual artists, with an agenda created by Michael, myself and worship leader Lorie King to explain the concept of the project and open the door for collaborative ideas.
We gave the writers a six-week deadline for completion, during which time we started a private songwriter’s blog for peer review of songs and hosted one of our songwriting workshops. Right after our deadline we gave Mike the fruits of our labor: 45 songs written by 21 writers. Fifteen of the songs were co-written by seven different collaborative teams.
After extensively reviewing the songs, Mike wrote to the songwriting group, “Where can I begin to describe how exciting this project has become? The work that you have accomplished as songwriters is terrific, and the songs you’ve turned in are really great …I’ve taken time to listen and read carefully each one, and I’ve sought advice from a number of others on the edits.”
He further explained that the songs selected for the recording were what he felt “accomplished the goal of the project: to create songs that clearly expressed the thematic ideas of the liturgy,” and ended by telling the writers that he’d gladly discuss their songs in detail with them on an individual basis.
We followed the same procedure to come up with songs for the project we’re recording right now — two CD’s of new worship music inspired by the hymns of Isaac Watts. By the time of the song submission deadline, we’d come up with even more demos by more writers and collaborative teams than the year before — sixty songs.
So what would a songwriting group facilitator do after announcing a project like this? Between then and the deadline, I do these things:
- encourage the writers and make myself available to anyone who wants criticism and direction.
- send weekly group email reminders of the deadline and answers to commonly asked questions.
- meet with writers who request it. Newer writers in particular often want to meet in person for critique, encouragement, and advice on things like how to record a demo or convert WAV files to mp3.
So basically, I try to be as approachable and available as I can. Of course, I’m also writing on my own during these times, although more often I collaborate with some of the other writers. Then when the deadline arrives, the writers send mp3 demos and chord sheets to me. I organize the material in alphabetical order (by the writers’ last names) and give it to Pastor Mike, who then decides which songs will be chosen. He seeks counsel from some of the other pastor-elders, musicians and people in the community as well.
And there you have it. No system is perfect, so we’re always thinking of ways to improve the process and to serve our songwriters better. We hosted a couple songwriting seminars in 2008, featuring professional songwriters and recording artists who are members of our congregation (Jamie Barnes and Dirt Poor Robins’ members Neil and Kate Robins).
Next February we are bringing in Keith and Kristyn Getty (“In Christ Alone,” “O Church, Arise”) to lead a special seminar. Through efforts like this, the workshops and opportunities to participate in worship CDs, we try to provide songwriters with vision, education, community and mission. I’m sure I haven’t answered every question you might have — and probably can’t. But I’m glad to attempt it as well as to dialogue with any of you. I’d love to hear what you’re doing with songwriting in your church, as well as things you’ve tried that didn’t work, or plans that you’re working on. And God bless your songwriting efforts.