Before we moved to Albuquerque, I had a publishing deal as a songwriter with Word Entertainment in Nashville. Basically all that means is that I got paid to sit in a room with another songwriter and try and co-write the next big Christian hit. At the end of the day, we would turn in the song to our publisher and they would pitch the song to a Christian recording artist.
I found out soon enough that this style of songwriting really wasn't for me, but that is another blog post for another day...
I tell you all that just so you know that I have some experience with songwriting and have, in the past, tried to write songs that would be good for corporate singing. On the whole, I have felt that I have been unsuccessful in this endeavor.
Here are the three main reasons why I believe songwriting for church use is a unique challenge:
1. Catchy Yet Simple Melodies: Writing melodies that are easily accessible to a large group of mostly non-musicians is very difficult, especially when most of our churches don't use musical notes on a page. If I were your average artist on the radio, I would just write melodies that are really catchy and sound good when I sing them. The worship songwriter cannot approach his craft so selfishly. The worship songwriter has unique constaints: Is this too high for the average non-singer? Is this melody too rhythmically challenging? Can this melody be quickly remembered? Is the range of the melody too extreme (like Silent Night or The Star Spangled Banner)? Writing for a large group of mainly non-musicians is not easy.
2. Unique But Not New: Writing songs that have lyrics beyond "grace, place, see your face, run the race" is difficult as well. Expressing great theological truth without sounding awkward is very challenging. We have a fixed message. Our Biblical content is unchanging. Within these fixed theological boundaries, saying something in a unique way (being creative) without saying something new (this would potentially be heresy) is quite daunting for the worship songwriter.
3. Creative and Clear: If I were a typical artist that was just looking to sell some records I could be artistically creative and to some degree could care less if my audience totally understood all my metaphors. They might just write me off as "arty" and that would be a good thing. For example, I love Radiohead and I seriously could not tell you what one of their songs is about. The worship songwriter does not have this luxury. They have to be creative enough to be respectable as an artist, but clear enough to have the mind quickly engaged in the truth that is sung. This again, is no small feat.
I write this so you can truly appreciate great songs for corporate worship singing. Believe me when I tell you that songs like, In Christ Alone, How Deep The Fathers Love For Us, Our Great God and Psalm 62 are very hard to come by. Thank your music leader when you sing them and pray that God would give songwriters inspiration to craft new songs for the Lord and for his people.
(If anyone is interested, on my blog site, in the sidebar on the right, down a little bit, I list about 50 of our best songs that we use at the church where I lead. If you are looking for some new songs or new arrangements, you might want to check those out)