Originally Published in Worship Leader Magazine Vol 28 No 3
By Matt Redman
How do you balance writing a song that’s simple enough to be “catchy” but complex enough to be interesting?
Great question. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that there’s no formula! Some songs (or a section of a song) to the cerebral songwriter brain might feel ‘over-simple’—but somehow connect so well, and people don’t want to stop singing them. Others are less simple, but somehow get boring more quickly. It’s quite the conundrum, ha! I kind of like the fact that there’s no simple formula, as it keeps us dependent – it keeps us seeking and searching for a new inspired way to help people talk to God in our songs. And perhaps that’s the key word—’inspired.’ There’s a certain kind of song which seems so inspired, so ‘God-breathed,’ that it feels right at home in your heart, and doesn’t grow tiresome to sing—even though simple.
An example would be the choruses of songs like ‘How Great is our God’ and ‘Great are You Lord.’ They are two of my favorite songs from the last couple of decades—and written by friends of mine—but if I’m honest, the cerebral part of my songwriter’s brain doesn’t understand how they’re quite so special to lead in worship. And yet they are. There isn’t really an explanation—they just are. They are inspired. It’s almost as if in some beautiful way, the sum is greater than the parts. One last thing I would say here—simple doesn’t have to mean shallow. There’s a way to sing depth without being overly wordy. And also think about the flow of lyrical depth in a song—for example packing the verses with lots of poetic truth, and then making the chorus a simple, easily-grabbable response to the truth we sang in the verses.