Bloom Where You are Planted

Paul Baloche, in his excellent book God Songs, talks briefly on a subject that I have always found most intriguing: that is (wait, let’s all shout out to God together…), “God, you’ve given me this songwriting gift. Now what do I do with it!”

He talks about writing for the local church instead of envisioning some larger project. Learning to serve the local body faithfully is exactly how so many of the songwriters we hear about today got started. There is so much joy to be found in ministering to your local body. Let God promote you in His timing as you are faithful to go through doors that have been opened. Through whatever doors he has planned for you.

Check out this article on Getting Your Songs Heard.

Steve

Keep Worship Songs Simple

The line between cliche and simple is really not easy! For me, I find that approaching writing for congregational flows around, ‘how can I say what I want in as few words as possible while remaining conversational?’ That usually is the key for me. When I write, I tend to be very wordy and then cut it down from there without losing the meaning.

Otherwise, when I approach it from the simple angle or try beginning with few words first, cliche comes to rear it’s ugly head!

On the other hand, thinking simple can work for simple praise tunes:

Humbly I will come
And simply I will pray
Father, hear me
Show your way

The thing about simple (whether beginning from few words or the pared down angle) is that focus is magnified. In the stanza above, I was thinking, ‘I will come and and I will pray and submit’. Nothing more. It’s really hard not to try and place the whole salvation message in a song, but there are many messages that need to be told about Him other than the cross. The focus on this was coming humbly, praying and submitting. Otherwise, forced rhyme city comes a-visitin’!

Sometimes, even what appears simple can be even leaner and have a more powerful focus on your message. I could have begun with:

Humbly I will come before You
And simply from my heart I’ll pray
Father, hear my cry of anguish
Show me how to make my way

I might then think: hmmm 8 syllables is a bit much for a worship tune. It’s not that 8 syllables is bad, it’s that making it simpler/shorter is probably best for the listener to remember.

‘Humbly I will come’ says the same thing
‘And simply I will pray’ says the same thing
‘Father, hear me’ doesn’t convey the ‘anguish’ component, but mostly says the same thing. Will it work if I leave ‘anguish’ out??
‘Show Your way’ pretty much says the same thing. Put it all together. Does this work to convey my original message? Am I fooling myself into being cliche, or am I really conveying the message? Am I diluting the message of the Spirit? Will this edify the body?

The last thought on this: writing and using simple hooks help to keep the focus and overshadow any mundane words or possible cliches. The fact that I decided to use ‘Humbly I wll’ and ‘Simply I will’ was an intentional alliteration/inner rhyme hook.

Have fun writing today!

What is CCLI? Important!!

What is CCLI?

Christian Copyright Licensing International, http://www.ccli.com, is an organization founded with the idea in mind that all songs used by churches should be catalogued so as to bless the songwriters with any income the songs might generate.

Primarily, they were founded to help churches comply with copyright law.

A CCLI song number is a number given by CCLI for each song registered with them in order to track usage and to pay the owner of rights any monies that they collect. Churches have the responsibility to report usage (usually, only random churches are selected, depending on the size of the church).

Copyright law states that churches are EXEMPT from paying for PERFORMANCE of songs, but they’re not exempt from liability of distribution of COPIES of the lyrics, whether or overheads or lead sheets, etc.)

CCLI exists in order to grant churches licenses to cover these distributions.

I know, the opinion exists that songs in churches should be free, no matter who wrote the songs. Although no church organization has been sued for copyright infringement, the real possibility exists, and the truth is that churches ARE in copyright violation if they distribute works from Hillsongs, Chris Tomlin, Israel Houghton, and on…AND, why not BLESS these songwriters for their contributions?

(the full story on Performance rights is that there are Performance Rights Organizations in each country. Here in the US they are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. These organizations license restaurants, night clubs and other venues to play copyrighted works. These organizations in turn pay the holder of rights of songs, publishers and songwriters, depending on how much the songs are played. Churches are the only organizations in the this country granted exemption from performance as stated in copyright law.

How other royalties are paid is another story. CCLI is an organization that helps churches comply with the rest of copyright law. So, they’re exempt from performance but not from distribution of lyrics. )

CCLI will grant a license to a church or church organization with the cost being determined by the size of the church or church organization. CCLI will give an identifiying number for each organization. Churches then report their actual uses of songs (not all churches have to, but your church might be picked randomly) so they can bless the songwriters.

HERE’S WHERE WE COME IN: Songwriters and publishers can apply to CCLI to become a publisher or an administrator and then submit songs to them in so they can be listed with them. CCLI will send you a song number. The song number is how a songwriter can be credited for usage.

Church administration, here’s where you come in: visit ccli.com and seek a Church Copyright License.

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Ok, that’s it for CCLI as far as songwriters are concerned.

I to take it one step further to say that CCLI also grants licenses for reahearsals of songs (mp3 distribution). The sound recording is a separate copyright, Again, why not help bless the songwriter? Even though the formula for how the artist/songwriter gets paid from this in the end result will vary, churches are in violation of copyright law unless they have a license.

1) Let our worship and music leaders at church know so they can be legal

2) Register our original songs we wish to use in church with CCLI

ANYONE here can register with ccli.com as a publisher or an administrator. This is not one of those ‘this levels the playing field’ type of come-ons. This is serious stuff.

If anyone is serious about their songwriting in churches, they should do this. Do this if you are a prolific writer and wish to share your songs with other churches.

If anyone here is NOT interested in registering with CCLI, but wish to have any of their songs registered with them, let me know. I am a publisher registered with them, and I’ll be glad to submit your song.

What happens when you submit your song? At this date, they want the title, writer and publisher information for the song and the lyrics. They will only ask for any lead sheet or mp3 submissions after your song has been reported as used by two or three churches.

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Recap:

Songwriters: learn how to submit your songs to CCLI.com so they have a song registration number.

Churches: visit CCLI.com and obtain a Church Copyright License (this covers the overhead and physical distribution of copyrighted lyrics). It doesn’t cost big money. Churches, also obtain a Church Rehearsal License (this covers the distribution of recordings of songs used by the worship team). Also not big money, and well worth it.

A Beginning Study of Melody

Great topic!  It’s a great study, and a great part of the songwriting craft that needs attention.  “Taking the listener on an adventure” is a part of that.  Creating tension and release is a part of that.

Yes, it’s great to listen to successful music to get ideas on how to hone and create melodies.  It’s good to be careful about copying, but as far as I know, there’s no tool out there that would let you know whether or not you have.

But consider this study of two very famous songs, and then make up your own mind.  Over the Rainbow and The Christmas Song.

I’ll give the basic melodies in number form (where 1 equals the root note and 8 equals the octave note of the scale).

In Over the Rainbow, we have:

1, 8, 7, 5, 6, 7, 8

6, 6, 5

In The Christmas Song, we have:

1, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 3, 3

6, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

You can not only SEE the similarities, but you can HEAR them clearly!  Was The Christmas Song considered a rip-off of Over the Rainbow?  You be the judge.  In the case of a court of law, no one has challenged this (that I’m aware of.  And we probably all would have heard about it if there was a case.)

I take this lesson to heart in this way:  As King Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, “there’s nothing new under the sun”.  There are only so many notes to work with.  We can look at this situation in three ways.  1) the writer of The Christmas Song ripped off  Over the Rainbow or 2) the writer of The Christmas Song completely wrote a similar melody that blindly sounds similar to Over the Rainbow or 3) the writer of The Christmas Song deftly utilized a similar approach in creating his melody that he heard in what has turned out to be one of the most successful songs in our history, Over the Rainbow.

As Christ followers,  I know that we want to be sure to honor God with our best creations.  He provides inspiration, but he also gives us tools to hone our inspirations so they are well-communicated to the rest of the flock.  To learn from other successful songs is only natural.  And wise.

We just can’t blatantly copy.  But we should be smart and listen/understand the melodic structure of successful songs.

Steve

Luck?

Luck?

luck (n.)
late 15c. from M.Du. luc, shortening of gheluc “happiness, good fortune,” of unknown origin. Related to M.H.G. g(e)lücke, Ger. Glück “fortune, good luck.” Perhaps first borrowed in English as a gambling term. To be down on (one’s) luck is from 1832; to be in luck is from 1900; to push (one’s) luck is from 1911. Good luck as a salutation to one setting off to do something is from 1805. Expression better luck next time attested from 1802. Taken from http://www.etymonline.com

This is an extension of the thought of ‘luck’ as written in my post Reveling in the Call from the Heart. The opening of that post talks about an interview I read with a songwriter who said that his successes have come though luck and following his heart. I just gave a short sentence saying, “let’s get ‘luck’ out of the way: luck is when preparation meets opportunity”. This post is a companion to that one. It expands in a similar, but different way. This one expands on ‘luck’.

As a person after the heart of God, I find that the etymology of the word ‘luck’ takes on an expanded definition. Or to say it another way, I find that the etymology of the word (happiness, good fortune) is an inadequate explanation for the feeling conjured. The word conjures thoughts of an unguided, unfounded happiness that somehow comes to us; it tells us that maybe a necessary component is gaining more money for happiness.

There’s a ton of sweat equity in songwriting. Many times dissapointing. But there’s really not much glory given to God by not preparing and honing the skills! As the saying goes, ‘luck’ is when preparation meets opportunity. There’s the type of unskilled luck at the casino table and then there’s the times when preparation meets opportunity. Songwriting needs to be about when preparation meets opportunity. Those chances where there are possibilities for success in songwriting come as God opens doors and you are giving God the complete glory for how he has bestowed upon you this magnificent gift. I’m sure, in God’s timing and will, that He would like to see each of us have successes. But how can we not ‘put on the armour of God’ for spiritual warfare and not also understand this to mean to be well prepared for the opportunities ahead of us in the battlefield of life and songwriting!!

God’s will for our success in songwriting, or any aspect of life, is when preparation meets opportunity. Luck is blind chance. Becoming a good songwriter is not. I mean, there’s a certain aspect of casino-table-type luck where you or your song is just going to be in the right place at the write time, but are you willing to stake your entire songwriting career on that?? Be prepared. Looking like a serious songwriter will take you far.

Which PRO?

Which Performance Rights Agency should you choose as a writer? For the U.S., you have the choice between ASCAP, BMI or SESAC. You only choose one, but the one you choose is up to your tastes and how you feel the PRO fits with your style. And how you agree with the way they handle business. All three have an impressive list of songwriters as members.

It doesn’t matter which one you choose, but it’s important that you choose one and that you register your works with them. After/before you seek a copyright registration, but registering your songs means that the PRO has a database of your songs from which they can assign any royalty payments that may come your way. Many doors and career benefits will be opened.

If you choose to be the administrating publisher for your works, then find out the requirements for having a publisher membership and seek that. If you have a publisher membership, then register your songs under your publisher membership instead of your writer membership. This assures that the entire performance revenue stream is assigned to you or your company. As expected, the main criteria for joining as a publisher is to show evidence that you have had a song published. Find whatever opportunity that you can, say with an independent artist, to get a cut so you can apply for a publisher membership. Or, if you’re a solo artist, then providing info on your first solo CD project or EP or solo song will be the ticket.

If by chance you intend on helping other writers by being an administrating or exploitation publishing agent for them, be sure to sign up for a publisher membership with their PRO so you will receive the publisher’s share of performance royalties.

The Business of Songwriting – 101

Beyond understanding why my heart burns for songwriting, there lies a need for me to understand the beginnings of songwriting administration. The separate business of Songwriting Administration that is performed by a publisher is also crucial, but that lies separately from what I need to understand as the songwriter.

As a songwriter, I need to begin to ‘dot my i’s and cross my t’s’ by being organized. Not everyone is going to feel the need to be so tidy as another might, but what I mean is so that you have a listing of your songs available so that at a moment’s notice you can be prepared to pitch a song. Creating a spreadsheet with items such as title, song form, musical style, copyright registration in hand/application sent, PRO registration and contract status are some important items. I’ll break out some of these items below.

Why have a column for song form? Not only is it a good way for you to understand the different types of song forms, but it might be a catalyst for you to intentionally write songs in certain song forms. Just another way for you to sharpen that tool for the craft tool box.

Musical style column? No matter what genre(s) or sub-genre styles you write, you’ll be prepared to pitch certain songs when a music manager calls for certain styles or feelings in a song.

A column for copyright registration explains itself. This is a great way to remind yourself that protecting your work before any submissions are made is vital.

PRO registration. Performance Rights Organization. In the US, these companies are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. Don’t forget about registering your songs with CCLI. These companies collect royalty monies for any works that are made public, whether that’s radio/tv/satellite or other digital transmissions. Bars, clubs, restaurants, broadcast companies and websites that allow copyrighted material to be publicly played are required to pay license fees to the PROs and the PROs distribute money directly to you, the writer. This revenue is called performance royalties. This is how the basic revenue stream is set up, depending on the agreement you have with your publisher: The PRO will distribute 50% directly to the writer, if you have registered the song with them, and 50% to the publisher. Traditionally, the PROs only paid performance royalties to the songwriter and publisher, but due to the digital act of 1995 added to copyright law, artists now also receive a share of ‘digitally transmitted’ royalties.

Contract status. It will be good for you to keep track of whether or not a song is currently under contract, the type and length of contract and whether or not the contract has granted any exclusive exploitation. Unless you really want to have a column for all of these separate considerations, at least the easy visual of a check mark will lead you to discover the rest of the details in a specific file folder or computer folder somewhere.

As your musical catalog grows, the more you’ll find the need for organization. But only you can dedide that, and whether or not songwriting is a serious business consideration! But let me say that the more you treat it professionally at home, the more professionally you’ll be treated when pitching your wares 🙂

The actual method of pitching will probably vary, depending on your personal or other contact. I guess it’s best to say that being prepared to pitch your songs in a variety of ways might be the best thing. For example: mp3s at the ready, the ability to burn CDs or even inexpensive thumb drives with your personal information. Creating relationships with those who might be willing to listen to your work is a great consideration. Deciding on what type of package to create for pitching is up to your creative genius. The more professional the package and your willingness to make contacts or follow the rules of submission, the more receptive music managers and publishing agents will be with your works.

It’s all about relationships!

The Call from the Heart and from God in Songwriting

The call from the heart and from God is to relax and simply perform as I must in order to travel down the path that was created for me.

This is not unique to any other type of calling in the life of an individual. But it can seem in the arts that the passion of performing as one is called by God vs. the pull of other responsibilities and activities in life can be a struggle particularly full of angst due to the input and filtering of the messages of the world vs. the messages from the heart and from God.

A very large creator of angst in the songwriting and music industry is the angst created by the real and fabricated ‘fame, fortune and freedom’ that we see on TV and read in the news. No matter how humble many of us are, there is a tug on us that wants a piece of that action. We want to know how to get some of that. That’s only natural for us, I suppose.

But I’m not writing this to delve in to all of the possible issues and feelings of that angst other than how it can relate to us as songwriters. And we are songwriters that, in our estimation, are on the outside looking in. How can we participate in this business of songwriting and be successful?

Some of the first questions we have to ask ourselves are about the definition of success and the direction you want to take as a songwriter. Look for resources that can help answer this for YOU. Pray and spend time with God in finding answers. Are you writing for an audience of only One? Do you write songs with the intention of having them sung at church? Are your songs destined to be sung by a popular artist? Are the lyrics and music you’re writing for the purpose of you getting out and performing?

The definition of success is a topic of it’s own and deserves a separate written blog or article. But let’s simply define success in the eyes of God as one word: obey. That’s what we’re called to do, to obey Him and to focus first on the kingdom. Focusing on the kingdom means that we are to praise God, number one, and change lives, number two. Kingdom success.

The direction you want to take as a songwriter is something that may be a separate consideration from kingdom success. But everything should be measured against kingdom success first. Then it’s time to define your direction. Each direction will give you different answers as to how to proceed. For example, if you believe that your calling is to write strictly for an audience of One and it’s unlikely your lyrics would ever sung by another man or woman, then honing the craft towards an earthly target audience may be a waste of your time. If you are writing with the intention of getting songs sung at church, you now have more than God in your audience. The songs now need to be sung and need to be repeatable by the congregation. To have your song recorded by other artists requires an enhanced approach. Focusing on getting out and performing requires another plan. Each direction deserves individual consideration as to the skill set needed.

We can expand on the individual topics of the skill sets needed later. The call from the heart and from God for your life, songwriting, is a simple song of it’s own. It’s a song that needs to be nurtured and expressed by you in conjunction with the call. It’s a song that is as individual as is your relationship with the Father. Relax and perform it as only you can. Commune with the Father to continually discover the path that He has for you.

Reveling in the Call from your Heart

I recently read an article from a successful songwriter that spoke that his success came to him through luck and following his heart. He wrote it from a non-believer perspective and I wanted to spend a moment analyzing these thoughts.

Let’s get luck out of the way: I’ve always thought that luck is preparation meets opportunity. Enough said?

I am one of those people who believe that everything in the world is created or allowed by God and all people are his children, whether they know it or not. I don’t spend my time judging others for not following Christ but rather look for how Christ is acting in other people’s lives even if they’re not acknowledging Him.

This songwriter began with a quote from an Indian mystic speaking of being still and listening through the quiet and being led by your inner voice. I immediately thought of that small-still quiet voice that we as Christians acknowledge is God acting within us. This is an example of how God has infiltrated many spiritual beliefs in this world and written His name on their hearts.

The writer goes on to say how important it is for us to learn to listen to this inner voice and then lead from the heart. He says that nurturing and developing how to hear your heart is the key in learning to trust decisions, sometimes seemingly crazy, made by it. This reminds me so much of my personal connection with the Father and how important my daily quiet time is in getting to know Him and nurturing the call He has on my life.

Taking action on this leading from the heart is how this songwriter has learned to navigate the music industry. He states that over the years he has become encouraged to take action according to this intuition. It’s like “making a deal with Creativity itself”, he says. The more he has trusted his heart, the more his heart has trusted him and further opened the lines of communication with him.

In Matthew 8, we read Jesus telling us that we need to knock, to seek and ask the Father. In verse 9, Jesus says: “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

We know through the study of the word that God is not a genie in a lamp, and that he just doesn’t dole out gifts due to our whimsy, but rather He gives us what we truly need in His timing. He gives us the desires of our hearts as it aligns with His will for our lives.

If the will of the Father is that I am to be a songwriter then He will give me the tools that I need according to His will and according to His timetable. The Father already knows who I am and what I need, but Jesus tells us that we need to continually knock at His door and petition Him and to continually ask. I need to continually ask and to listen to that still-quiet voice and to nurture my relationship with the Father so I am in tune with His will! I need to constantly seek God’s counsel so I can commune with Him and so I can remove some of the silly requests that no longer make sense, or to try and understand a changing landscape.

I need to spend time with Him to understand the type of songwriter that I discover that I am to become. The pressures and other responsibilities in my world need to find balance with how I am called, but the main consideration in life is that I am reveling in the call that God has placed on my heart.

Why a Songwriting Course Now?

Why start a course on songwriting now?? This is a loaded question and an open-ended/multi-pronged one at that. I guess I’ll answer it in two or three broad strokes (with many sub-questions in between :-)).

First, what do I mean by the question? I’m 53 and in the years where many a man begins to wonder whether they’ve ‘missed the boat’ or begin thinking whether or not retirement at any age will financially feasible. Why, after being a songwriter of 15 years or so, should I take a course on songwriting now? I’ve written 40-some songs, don’t I know what I’m doing yet?? Why this particular songwriting course? How does this fit with any spiritual, emotional and financial plan for my life?

We’ll get to those questions. But first, how about this answer for anyone who has a bent for songwriting: Why not take a course on songwriting???? I mean, learning more about the craft is not like taking a stab at all of those ‘can’t miss’ financial opportunities that are out there (with the empty feeling that if I don’t grab the right one that I’m going to ‘miss the boat’). Learning about the craft is a definite boning up on a specialized skill set. Learning from experts can give you the toolset you need to succeed and blossom in the songwriting business world. At the very minimum, becoming a better writer will make your word art take on some very satisfying forms. You’ll craft songs that will more richly tell your stories and enrich your life along the way.

But should I or you take any particular songwriting course?? As is a good plan in life, it’s always worth defining a road map or plan of action. You don’t have one yet?? Don’t worry about it, just keep working toward it.

All right. Why should I start a course on songwriting now that I’m 53? For one thing, it’s because I know that I have already done well at songwriting but now I want to be great at it. I feel that I’ve always been a decent writer. Not great, but I can string together words okay. Looking back at many of the songs that I’ve written, I see a natural feel for forms and prose and a natural feel for instilling clarity, or really being conscious of being concise with my words and aware of not confusing the listener.

Am I trying to make up for lost time; have I missed the boat? Ha, no. But it’s time for me to knuckle down and be the best that I can be in my calling from God to be a songwriter. It’s also the time that I can consider retiring from my full-time job. I’m eligible to retire in two years (because I meet a requirement of being 55 years old plus having a minimum of 15 years of service). What does that mean? It means that I’m eligible to begin withdrawing pension money. I can begin withdrawing from retirement accounts at 59½ years without penalties. But what it also means is that I won’t have health insurance!! Big drawback. What this all means and whether I’ll actually retire in 2 or 5 years is another story for another time!!

So why, after 15 years of songwriting, should I take a course on it now? Don’t I know what I’m doing yet in this business of songwriting? The short answer is no! I’ve been very “successful” in getting my and others songs out there in the world (literally, I’ve shipped CD’s of me and other artists to many different countries) in an effort to spread the gospel. I’ve learned much about publishing and administration. I’ve been “successful” in writing personal praise and corporate worship songs in a local effort. Now, I want to have better commercial success.

I really am less concerned about me as an artist and more concerned with writing songs that other artists and worship teams will want to sing. I want to fill the pipe line full of songs to music managers of all sorts. I want to send music packages to other worship leaders. I want to make my songs shine by paying attention to getting better at the craft of writing, and I want to increase my awareness and write songs specific to genres (actually, sub-genres for me. Since the vast majority of my songs are personal and corporate praise and geared toward the Christian music market, I will concentrate mostly on music managers within that market).

I’ve begun this online course at Christian Songwriter University (which has since folded into the larger ccmni organization). Why this particular songwriting course? I found out about it while searching for Christian songwriting sites. I ran into Contemporary Christian Music Networking International which I found to be very fresh and up-to-date. It is a part of a network of music business related sites, all concentrating on the Christian music industry. CCMNI has a songwriting contest, which I entered. One of the prizes of the contest is one month free membership in Christian Songwriting University. Intriguing! After reading more about CSU, I found that they are not interested in only teaching better craft and about industry relationships. They are primarily interested in helping a songwriter cultivate an attitude of kingdom-first. How we plug in to the calling on our lives from God, and how we express that is of great importance in their curriculum. I found that fascinating and fresh! That spoke to me more than I can express at the moment.

This course and these people who are instructing it are exactly what I need. My heart really wants to grasp all that God has for me in this arena. I have no other longing other than to do my best for Him and to show my wife some earning security in this second half of our lives. Yes, I want to be more financially successful in songwriting. Yes, I want to be able to retire from my other job and lead worship and write full-time instead of part-time for both. These people offer all aspects of what’s on my heart. I truly believe this is a God thing.

This time of my life is really fulfilling for me, and creating a second career of songwriting really fits the emotional bill. This is the person I was designed to be: a songwriter, a worship leader and a husband.

There is no, why now? question about this.

Listen to the call that says He knew you evermore
And knew the days of your life before you
Listen to the call and wonder what He has in store
This chapter of your life is all brand new

Stephen Robert Cass Christian People – 1998 Solid Walnut Music