Let's Get Together and Write a Song

Featuring Paul Baloche Posted on January 20, 2010

Sometimes you just have to face facts: Let’s suppose you’ve done everything you could. You’ve listened, analyzed and written and rewritten and rewritten. But no matter how you try, your lyrics still sound like sermons or essays rather than flowing, singing lyrics.

Or let’s suppose the lyrics are coming along great, but the tunes are unexciting, unemotional and, well, dull. It could be that melody is not your gift. If you, like most of us, can’t do all these things well, don’t feel bad— find a collaborator. It’s better to be half, or even a third, of a team that really flies than to insist on doing it all yourself and never get off the ground. Each writer brings something different to the table: new ideas, hooks, images, words;  new styles or techniques. Pay attention. Soak it up, and you’ll not only have a better song, but you’ll become a better writer. Remember Solomon’s advice, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10a (NIV).


But, collaboration is an art, and it’s co-writing that has its advantages. It cannot be for the faint hearted. Check your unlocked writer’s block, and it’s ego at the door. What’s needed here are ways to develop your craft. humility and teachableness. (This doesn’t mean you never stick to your guns if you think your idea works best, but it’s good if you can explain why you think so. ) You’ll need to be humble enough to accept a new direction or toss a pet idea—(grit your teeth)—if a better one comes along. And remember to save that great idea for later.

When you co-write, you come up against the age-old question: which comes first, melody or lyrics? The answer is—whatever feels inspired first. Experiment and find out what works best for you. Some composers don’t like to be handed a completed lyric because it squeezes them into a preset metric and rhythmic mold. Some prefer it, asking the lyricist to make minor changes later to fit the tune, if necessary. Some develop words and music together line by line.

Many of the songs Paul wrote with Ed Kerr came this way. Ed would sit at the piano while Paul walked around the church sanctuary, speaking and singing out scriptures, prayers and lines from his journal—worshiping. Ed would listen and put interesting chords under the free form melody lines Paul was creating. At other times Ed would suggest melodic ideas and Paul would find interesting guitar chords to put underneath. A lot of those songs were finished and recorded, then recorded by many others. Looking back at them, Paul feels that those melodies tended to be more original than some of his others.

Paul and Ed were equipped with the co-writer’s most important tools: diplomacy, good manners, compassion ... and thick skin. They understand that you can be stubborn about making changes and have a second-rate song, or you can be objective (easier said than done) and have a better song. This is a team effort and the goal is a strong song.

Some people find this hard to do. We know of one married couple who wrote one song together—a great song. One of them continued through the years to write many great songs, but they never wrote together again. When asked why, their answer is, “We decided to stay married.”

Jimmy and Carol started writing together almost by accident. Jimmy was writing a song, got hung up on the lyrics, and asked Carol for help. So they went to work and discovered they enjoyed writing together. It wasn’t long before songwriting (especially musicals) became their major and arranging became Jimmy’s minor. Who writes which? They both do both, Jimmy more music and Carol more lyrics. They agree that neither of them could have done most of the things they’ve done without the other.

Paul’s wife, Rita has written many modern church standards, including “I Will Celebrate,”“Rock of Ages” and “But For Your Grace.” Rarely have they sat down to write a song together, but they freely critique each other’s material with the goal of helping the other person finish strong.

Last, but first of all: Never forget an opening time of prayer—getting your spirits straight and happy; calling for inspiration from the Holy Spirit. Worship together. This is fundamental to a great collaboration.

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