Home Worship & Creative Leaders Articles for Worship & Creative If You Don’t Have This, You Won’t Make It as a Songwriter

If You Don’t Have This, You Won’t Make It as a Songwriter

Frances Mayes writes in The Discovery of Poetry:

If your blood is on fire with the love of language and the desire to make something with words, you probably know that. You probably know, too, that no matter how awkward your writing is right now, something in you will make you a writer. … Teaching in a large urban university, I’ve been surprised to find that genuine talent is not at all unusual. What is unusual is the perseverance and will it takes to become a writer.

I’ve lost count of the number of short stories, songs and other pieces of writing I’ve done that have never seen dawn’s early light. Before I discovered that I preferred writing songs and nonfiction, I even kept a tally of the number of rejection notices I received for short stories versus the number of stories that literary journals accepted. I believe the final score was:

  • 150 rejections
  • four acceptances (one of which was by a magazine that went out of business before publishing my story)
To Make It, You Must Persevere

We all know it takes talent and it takes experience. One of our major goals at My Song In The Night is to give you tools and pointers. But realize that it also takes volume—plugging away, day after day. A personal example:

Every time our church, Sojourn, releases a major, full-length album of original worship songs, we include 10-12 songs from a pool of at least 50 songs that writers have submitted. And these 50 are the resulting work of writers who tested, pruned and started many other songs that they knew not to submit.

Yet occasionally writers have expressed disappointment to me that their song didn’t make it. “Your song?” I ask. “You turned in one?”

“Yes. My best song ever.”

“Was it your first song?”

“Yes.” Or sometimes “Not my first. My third.”

OK, so let’s do the math. Let’s just say all the Sojourn songwriters together turned in 50 songs, one of which was yours. Lets not even factor in that this was one of the first songs you’ve ever written, while many of the other songs came from writers who have been doing this for a decade or longer. Your chance is 1 in 50. You had a two percent chance, and it didn’t pay off. Small wonder.

Let’s also consider that it isn’t even really a matter of choosing the 10, 11 or 12 “best” songs. Maybe your one song was good—even worthy of recording, in and of itself. Let’s say your song was slow tempo, rock music and your theme was “God’s power displayed in creation,” and you wrote it to be used as a Call to Worship. OK, now let’s say that of the 50 songs turned in, 23 are worthy of recording. But:

  • 15 of them are slow. We’re probably not going to release an album of mostly slow songs.
  • 11 of them are “God’s power displayed in creation.” This theme occurs so often in modern praise and worship music that it’s hard to write a new one that will stand out. Meanwhile, many other themes and even major doctrines remain largely unexplored.
  • Seven were written for the Call to Worship. Your song is good but has stiff competition. Unless the entire theme of the album is “Call to Worship songs” we probably won’t record more than one or two of them.
  • Yet only eight of them are rock songs. In fact, let’s say that the majority of good songs turned in for this project happen to be Americana-folk-country styled songs. That style will probably influence the entire direction of the album. Your rock song just doesn’t fit in. Maybe next time (compare the difference in styles between Sojourn’s Over the Grave and The Water and the Blood albums).

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bobbygilles@churchleaders.com'
Bobby Gilles has written several of Sojourn Music’s popular worship songs for albums like The Water And The Blood, Over The Grave and Before The Throne. He is content manager for sojournmusic.com and has mentored songwriters and led many Sojourn songwriting workshops as part of Pastor Mike Cosper’s worship ministry. Bobby is also Sojourn Church Director Of Communications, and works with Lead Pastor Daniel Montgomery to communicate Sojourn’s mission and vision. He co-wrote the children’s book Our Home Is Like A Little Church, published by Christian Focus. As a former radio disc jockey and music director, he was twice named a National Top 10 Finalist for Gospel Music DJ of the Year.