4 Songwriting Secrets You Need to Know

GODOkay, yes, I know… God gave you a song and you just don’t know what to do with it or how to “get it out there” to the world. You’ve got lots of questions and wonder about copyrights and studios and “getting published.” Well, believe me, among the myriad things every songwriter needs to know, there are four key things you must know and keep in mind as you develop your songwriting ministry.

The first secret you need to know is that the inspiration from God doesn’t always guarantee a great song.

Throughout the Bible, we see an amazing thing as God works through people to work His wonders. Yes, there were times He miraculously “shows up” (think Acts 2 and tongues of fire), but most of the time He told people like Moses to strike rocks for water, or Elijah to call down fire, or Peter to tell lame people to get up and walk. There’s a crazy kind of cooperation with God that brings about the supernatural results. Well, I believe it’s the same process with songwriting. God only inspires the song, then you have to write it.

In fact, the phrase God gave me this song is so often attached to a very poorly written one that we must question our ability to hear the song God was actually trying to give or question our theology on the whole process. Were there a lot of other prophets God was trying to do big things through in the Old Testament who just didn’t hear Him all that clearly? No doubt. Are there miracles God wants to do all around us every day that we miss because we’re not listening well enough? No doubt. Are there songs He’s pouring out that we fail to write well enough for them to really live in the way He intended? No doubt.

Inspiration from God doesn't always guarantee a great song. #writebettersongsnow Click To Tweet

I think before we ever say again, “God gave me this song,” we should check to make sure we heard it right, and then developed it fully, beautifully, excellently, and to the greatest extent of the craft of songwriting as we know it. To keep blaming bad songs on God is poor theology. I know this will be an unpopular stand, but it’s the truth. You’ll never be heard by the world if you don’t learn how to write great songs, no matter how inspired you feel about it. Learning to write well is our part in the equation, then God can truly trust us with great songs.

The second thing you need to know is that songs are “assembled” as much as they are “written.”

In The Songbuilder’s Blueprint™ tool I use in our online coaching called Six Weeks to Successful Christian Songwriting, I show the function and purpose of each line and section in a song and how each should move the song forward. I talk a lot about using Word Clusters and Power Phrases to impact the listener and pull them into your song with you, to make it as experiential as possible by assembling it from all the right building materials.

To keep blaming bad songs on God is poor theology. #writebettersongsnow Click To Tweet

A great Christian songwriter knows what those building materials are and how to use them to assemble a song rather than to assume the first way it came out is the way it is “meant to be.” That’s the distinction between real writers and amateurs, they pull from their many sources of inspiration and knowledge to put together a great song line by line and section by section.

The third is that writing is rewriting.

As in the first two secrets here, great Christian writers live the lifestyle of rewriting. They spot the holes, the errant images or phrases in their lines, and fill them with Power Phrases and imminent imagery that bring the lyric to life in the ears of the hearers. They become their own best editor as they mature in their ability to identify cliches that weaken their song and the trite, over-worn, need-to-be-retired phrases we bandy about in Christendom so much they’ve lost their impact completely. Rewriting is a lifestyle for the great writer.

Fourth, great writers write and write and write and write.

One of the biggest mistakes aspiring songwriters make is assuming they can write a small handful of songs a year and become truly great at it. Until you’ve written nearly 9,000 songs like the amazing and truly great hymn writer, Fanny Crosby, it’s silly to think the world should be sitting up and paying attention. The successful songwriters I know all write dozens of songs every year in hopes of hitting on a few that will have a life outside the writing room. You must do the same. Write. Then write some more. Then write and write and write and write and write. It’s really simple. Just write.

Rewriting is a lifestyle for the great writer. #writebettersongsnow Click To Tweet

I believe inspiration (being “in-Spirited”) is something we should all have 24/7. We should all be hearing more from Jesus’ Spirit in us and getting great song ideas with the inspiration to write them. What will make a difference in being heard by the world is our dedication to learning the craft of great Christian songwriting.

John Chisum

John Chisum is a pioneer in the Christian music business, serving alongside people such as Bill & Gloria Gaither, Twila Paris, Paul Baloche, Don Moen, and many more. As Managing Partner of Nashville Christian Songwriters, John seeks to empower Christian songwriters worldwide to discover and fulfill their call to write.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. fantastic teaching John! Really appreciate your heart on this sensitive issue!

  2. Great insight! I must write MORE!

  3. Very interested

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