A Good Song and Johnny Cash
This article was originally published in Worship Leader magazine (Jan/Feb 2016). For more great articles like this one, subscribe today.
I recently attended a special writers night at Nashville’s Johnny Cash Museum that I will never forget. Hosted by Cindy Morgan, the event featured some of the finest writers of our day, including Wayne Kirkpatrick, Tom Douglas, Andrew Peterson, and Jonathan Kingham. As I leaned on a railing near the front door, listening to Wayne strum “Boondocks” on his guitar, or hearing Tom explain how he came to write “Little Rock,” I was reminded of the power of a song—and the foundational role played by songwriters.
As worship leaders and artists, the craft of the song is no less central to its impact. So the writing process—and continuing to hone one’s songwriting chops—should be a top priority.
Art of Collaboration
“The best thing an independent artist can do to grow and develop in their writing is to continue to write regularly, write with others in humility, and to make it a priority to finish songs,” said Jonathan Mason, Director of Word Worship. “Many careers have years of schooling involved—and you can go to some great schools for songwriting. Even with a natural gifting as a songwriter, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have arrived. Be teachable. Confidence is important, but it can’t trump an honest humbleness. Working hard and finishing songs is important but it is just as important to learn patience. Slow and steady wins the race.
“Hands down, the most productive way to improve as a songwriter is to collaborate with others,” said Steve Rice, creator of Nashville Music Architects. “Study, write, re-write, collaborate, attend seminars, take courses … and become the best songwriter you can be.”
Stewarding the Song
“If you’re an artist or worship leader, then you are either using songs you’ve written or songs penned by other writers,” Rice explains. “And if you are selling music, you need to at least contact a copyright administrator to help sort out licenses and royalties. You need someone on your team who understands the world of music publishing to ensure:
- Compliance with copyright law when using other’s songs, such as recording or posting on social media
- Protection, management, and collection of royalties on your songs when used by you, your church, or others”
Mason concludes, “If a song is going to be used beyond the walls of the writer’s actual private use, publishing is important, whether through administering yourself, through another service, or a major publisher. It will allow you to receive proper wages for your work.”
Whether you find yourself leading worship at your church on a Saturday evening, singing into a headset from an arena catwalk, or standing before the mic on the Grand Ole Opry stage, the connection with your listener begins and ends with the essence of a song. Creating the heart of those moments is the gift of every songwriter.
Brian Smith has been serving Christian artists in the area of publicity and public relations for nearly 30 years. Turning Point Media Relations, founded by Smith in 1995, currently represents Newsboys, NewSong, and Ricardo Sanchez, among others (turningpointpr.com).