How to Choose Your Songs

When I began the process of recording my first official album so many years ago, I had a unique sound within the very popular country/pop genre. I also had a love for and ability to write and perform in a variety of styles. I wanted to show the world everything I was capable of within this record and not let anyone think I was just a country singer. There were a few strong country pop tunes, a ballad worthy of Christina Aguilera, followed by a jazzy piano tune and then a heavy-hitting rock anthem. I was so proud of myself. “Hey everyone, look at how eclectic I am!”

Although the songs were all strongly written and performed, I soon found out that I had made a big mistake. In trying to do everything, I had failed at doing one thing well. The project had no sense of itself and record labels rejected it because they had no way of marketing me to a target audience. 

The point that I missed was that I did not balance my musical identity with my musical diversity. There is an inner struggle in every musical artist that battles between finding and staying consistent with their unique sound, and the desire to show their ability in styles and genres. No one wants to be pigeon-holed. The problem is we begin to think of our musical career in the context of one album, thinking that if I don’t release all of these great songs now, I may not have a second chance, or people will miss out on the potential I have as an artist. In fact, it has the opposite effect. Your listeners want to feel like they know you and that you know them, that they aren’t just listening to a sampler CD of your work. Every album takes them on a specific journey that leads them to the next.  

Example: If you have ever eaten Jelly Belly jellybeans, you will know that you can have a wonderful taste explosion or a horrible taste disaster in your mouth depending on what you stuffed in there. Grabbing a handful of random Jelly Bellies is not a smart move. Picking ones out that you know taste great together is the better way to go. It’s the same with your songs. Although each might be great on its own, together they may not make sense.

Whether you are a worship team or a solo artist, it is vitally important that each and every project you attempt has a consistent sound, style and identity that will resonate with a target audience. Within this consistency is where you will establish some diverse ways of offering up that identity. A good trick to this is to write songs that vary in style just a bit, but use the same instrumentation throughout each one. For instance, your soulful ballad and upbeat pop tune can both have a banjo/piano accompaniment tucked in the mix … or maybe use the same guitar tones in each. Not only should this apply to the music, but also all other marketing materials (graphics, website, dress). 

Pro Tip: If you have two very strong songs, a cool trick is to pay homage to one song in the lyrics of another. This doesn’t mean just using the same lines in each, it means finding a clever way to incorporate some of the words of phrase so that it brings to mind the other song. 

Keep in mind I am not trying to limit what you are writing … you should write everything you are capable of. This is about what you are releasing and doing it in a way to garner the most impact. This is about letting go of our “artistic” tendencies and grabbing hold of something intentional and well-thought out. It is my hope and goal to see you release songs and albums that draw people to who you are and keep them asking for more. Balancing musical identity and diversity in each project you undertake will give you a much better chance of success. 

If you have any questions at all or would like further guidance with any of these points, don’t hesitate to contact us at [email protected]. We also offer training workshops and webinars for your church; find out more by clicking HERE.  

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robcarona@churchleaders.com'
Rob is a veteran worship leader, songwriter, and and public speaker. He is the founder of Songsmith Creative and a director in the SOTN Organization, through which he provides training and resources to worship teams across the globe on the topics of songwriting, musicianship, and ministry leadership. For info on booking a workshop and other resources, please visit www.songsmithcreative.com.