Matt Maher On Songwriting: National Worship Leader’s Conference, New Mexico 2010

Matt Maher (Your Grace Is Enough)

1. Become A Great Reader

Worship songwriters must be come great readers. Books without pictures – steal ourselves away from constant “film only” learning.

As creatives, someone would think of electricity, democracy, worship, etc.

Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman told him the story of John Quincy Adams (PBS Miniseries) – eloquent writer.

2. Listen to new music.

Expand your boundaries. Symphony concert, jazz concert, new genre. The composers wrote for the church and for the culture. There is something to be done in the listening.

Classical music now often exists in an academic ghetto. Listen widely.

3. Learn new words.

He’s writing with Derek Webb (controversial but fantastic writer) – ten songs a year, then stops, comes out with a record.

Social networking creates an instant culture; songwriting takes time to linger in.

Careful you don’t contribute to an epidemic of “sameness” in writing.

4. Avoid stale approaches.

We turn to stock things – sounds, etc. that we’ve seen work. A G chord played with the Open The Eyes Of My Heart strumming pattern.

You could set the bar, but usually after learning what others have done. Have integrity in what you write.

If not, we adopt the horrible part of culture – the disposable. We’ll run out of cliche. Take a philosophy that says “we won’t be disposable; we’ll be accountable to do things with creative integrity.”

5. Use different instruments.

Comfortable on guitar – not so comfortable on keyboard? Try the thing that’s more challenging, or pushes you a different direction.

6. Use rhythm tracks.

Much of today’s music is more rhythm-driven. Use the loops in Garage Band.

Just for exercise. Go to iTunes, buy the backup tracks for a great song, and try to create something new over it (don’t actually use it – that’s plagiarism) – but practice that way. It’ll wake you up.

7. Find ways to show, and not tell.

We are proclamation driven. But biblically, proclamation was after 30 years living out a revelation to folks, then proclaiming the point.

I.e. Reveal God first, as opposed to proclaiming God first. Show faith before you tell it. Show ideas before you tell them. Point to truth, with compelling ideas.

Writing with Derek Webb; sat for 10 minutes in co-writing session. He just sat there looking at Matt. “Are we stuck?” Then, he had an idea. Derek works it out in his head; Matt works it out verbally.

8. Co-write.

We’re a church for a reason, sent out in two’s for a reason. Empowered to do the things we’re supposed to do. A musical extension of life in community. Come with an idea. In the process of holding it loosely, you say I’m willing for this person to tear it apart for something greater.

It’s an exercise in humility. You actually may not be the only one with great ideas. God is Trinity; consider this communal creative expression.

When artists come together, we’re experiencing (maybe) a small taste of what the Trinity is like. Co-crafting.

Other Notes:

Don’t write melodies above E over middle C for congregations – tough for them).

Think singability when writing for corporate settings.

If you write 50 songs, and 4 are congregational, great.

Records ideas in phone. Uses “iRecorder.”

Lyric idea confront melody idea? Let one of them hack up the other if needed.


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