Writing Songs For The Church - Webinar with Benji & Jenna Cowart
Notes From The Webinar
Getting To Know Benji & Jenna:
Q: What is current in your lives? What is a day in the life right now?
A: (Jenna) Laundry :-). Benji writes every day and he teaches twice a week at Trevecca University at the National Praise & Worship Institute; he teaches songwriting. We have four kids. We recently adopted a girl from Africa. I (Jenna) try to write 3-4 times a month with Benji and other co-writes.
A: (Benji) Benji expressed how life is not just what you see on social media. He wants to live his life, faithful in the mundain. "Facebook is a lot like the bible. In the bible you have these highlight moments and there are years of life in between. On Facebook we post things that are a window into our lives. There are a lot of the "years in between". It is trying to be faithful in the mundain - those years in between. With social media we can paint our lives with the highlights of our life."
Writing Songs For The Church:
Q: The road to the "Nashville songwriter dream" - Give us perspective on what that road has been?
A: (Jenna) The first thing that we try to do is remove ourselves from the 'who is writing with who?' and 'who is producing who?' game. We fight against worrying about what people think and who we get approval from. Secondly, we remember each week, who we are signing to. When we focus on those small things, then God can expand it from there.
Q: How is it different writing songs for congregational worship vs writing songs for Christian entertainment?
- Songs do have to be crafted in a way that is serving the people. I may have certain preferences musically, but if I am writing songs for the church, I am thinking about the people who are singing them.
- I am also thinking about range - "sing-ability".
- When writing for the church we don't have the ability for a song to mean "whatever you want it to mean". We are dealing with doctrinal issues and we want what we are singing to be direct and to the point and we want songs to be a direct response to God.
- There is a different perspective when you are writing to the 'world wide church' rather than when you are writing for YOUR church. When you are writing for YOUR church, you need to KNOW your church.
- "If you write a song with one persons story in mind, you will probably write a song that many relate to. But if you write a song that has many stories in mind, you will probably relate to few."
- Write for 1 person and let the song reach out beyond that. If you focus on writing for the masses, we may miss it altogether
Q: What types of filters to do you use when you re writing for the church?
- Doctrinally you want to be on the right track.
- I look for "sing-ability". I want to make sure I am giving opportunity for everyone to sing; not everyone can sing the high notes. Worship is their chance to connect.
- As much as we are doing great new music, we still need to hold on to older music like the hymns and other songs that are familiar and engage everyone.
- I am always watching people to see what they are responding well to. And those are the things that we can add into the new songs that we are writing.
A" (Benji) I ask myself, 'Would I lead this at my church? Also, 'Is this a song that someone else has already said in another song'
Q: How do you navigate it writers block?
A: (Jenna) I am a thinker and so sometimes, I have to step away. I have learned what my position of strength is when we write with a third person. I used to feel like I was forcing something. Instead, now I become quiet and wait until I have something to put in. I have learned where my strengths are and I will try to follow the process as it is going on in the room. Sometimes, I need to wait until the idea is formed more before I can chip in and put in an idea for where it needs to go. But sometimes I need to step away in order to process what is going on; sometimes a great idea needs to be re-visited.
Q: (Benji) With songwriting momentum is everything. Things I know work for me to combat writers block are:
- recognizing that sometimes I need to step away. Sometimes I need to put my mind in 'passive mode' doing things like laundry or cutting the grass.
- As far as the BIG IDEA of the song goes, I ask myself how would I pray this over my congregation or how would I pray this to God.
- If I am looking for a melody, I can take a basic scale of 1-8 and I will lay out numbers randomly and then often a melody will come.
- I read, so I look for lyric ideas in books.
- I refuse to get stuck on lyrics ideas or words. I move on to another part of the song or another song completely and come back to it. The word will come.
- A good friend once told me to spend the first moments of a day putting on paper what comes to your mind. It's in those moments when those intuitive melody's or lyrics come. Be sure to record those.
Q: What are some of the exercises you have your students do to improve their lyrics, melodies, etc.?
- A three verse lyric assignment where the syllable count is exactly the same on each verse and that it rhymes. The reason being that we don't want to take people out of the song by being distracted. Not rhyming a word can sometimes distract the person singing it.
- Write a verses and chorus only using 1 octave.
- Download karaoke tracks of P&W songs and then writing a brand new song within an already done structure. Different words chorus and melody.
Final Though: Just be prepared to write at least 200 bad songs before ever wiring a good one. The reparation of finishing and writing songs is the vehicle to get to the good song.
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