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Thoughts On Pop Songwriting

Most people give pop music a bad rep. They assume because artists just write catchy melodies, relevant and focused ideas and lyrics, and simple chord progressions that they aren’t talented songwriters.

I couldn’t disagree more.

If we dive into what makes pop music “pop music,” we would find that pop music is simply “popular” music; or in other words “music that a lot of people want to and are able to sing along with.”

To me, the goal of a pop songwriter sounds very similar to a songwriter’s goal when writing a corporate worship song.

When I think about the goals of a songwriter writing songs for a Sunday church service, I ask myself these questions:

1. Are the theological ideas accessible to new Christ-followers or unbelievers?

If we are not singing songs on a Sunday morning that unbelievers or new Christians cannot latch onto and begin to understand the amazing concepts of the Gospel, we are failing to steward the lost or spiritually-young people God is sending to the church we are a part of.

2. Are the melodies and lyrics simple yet unique and easy to catch onto, yet not boring?

Ah… Here comes the divine tension… We should be singing songs that people are able to pick up quickly and sing along to while at the same time weaving deep, biblical, truth into the lyrics. That means the songwriter has the difficult job of making a song as accessible as possible for people who do not know the song to join in while saying it in a way that is new and interesting. This includes:

A. Keeping a rhyme scheme consistent.
EX: If the 1st verse is: A (love) B (joy) A (dove) B (poise), first of all I dare you to write a song like this, secondly, the songwriter should keep that pattern for the 2nd verse identical to the 1st.

B. Writing the same way we talk.
EX: If we normally emphasize the “right” of RIGHTeous, we shouldn’t write a song with the “eous” accented. RIGHTeous. Not rightEOUS.

C. Avoid clichés.
EX: Shine your light. That’s something a lot of people have heard before. So instead of using that cliché, flesh out what that means practically. Shine your light where? What does it look like in your day to day? Ask questions to venture away from clichés.

3. Is the theme of the song focused or all over the place?

Let me use one of my songs as an example. Here are 2 different versions of the same chorus to a song I wrote called Lost Without You (not a worship song JSYK):

Version 1:
Don’t you know that there’s a spark
when I look into your eyes
I’m alright, I’m alright
I’ll keep holding onto hope
*That our flame will never fade though
the rains and waves may blow*
All I know, all I know
I’m lost without you.

Version 2:
Don’t you know that there’s a spark
when I look into your eyes
I’m alright, I’m alright
I’ll keep holding onto hope
*That I’ll see your face again,
then I’ll let my feelings show*
All I know, all I know
I’m lost without you

Which of the 2 italicized lines do a better job of making a focused chorus? To me it was the 1st version. What does “I’ll let my feelings show” have to do with being lost without someone? Also the imagery of “flame” and “spark” tie really well together. All of these points make Version 1 a more focused Chorus that people “get” easier.

So be sure to think before you bash on “untalented” songwriters who write to catch the attention of the most people possible. It is definitely an art, especially when it comes to corporate worship music that carries a weight of truth and therefore far more responsibility. So to all my fellow songwriters out there, work hard to write the best song you can, they don’t always just come to you.

“The worst enemy of a great song is a good song.” -Jeff Deyo (Author of More Love, More Power and Bless the Lord)

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