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Monthly Archives: May 2009

I’m certainly no authority on songwritting. However, I’ve written a hand full of songs and people seem to ask me often about songwriting.

The greatest songwriting lesson I’ve ever heard came from the movie Walk The Line. Listen to the sound clip called “bring it home” on moviesoundscentral.com (scroll down to: “bring it home” it’s 4th from the top) or just read this excerpt from the script:  


[after record producer Sam Phillips stops Cash’s band a couple of verses into their audition]


Sam Phillips: We’ve already heard that song a hundred times. Just like that. Just… like… how… you… sing it.


Johnny Cash: Well you didn’t let us bring it home.


Sam Phillips: Bring… bring it home? Alright, let’s bring it home. If you was hit by a truck and you were lying out there in that gutter dying, and you had time to sing one song. Huh? One song that people would remember before you’re dirt. One song that would let God know how you felt about your time here on Earth. One song that would sum you up. You’re telling me that’s the song you sing. That same Jimmy Davis tune we hear on the radio, all day. About your peace within, and how it’s real, and how you’re gonna shout it? Or… would you sing something different. Something real. Something you felt. Cause I’m telling you right now, that’s the kind of song people want to hear. That’s the kind of song that truly saves people. It ain’t got nothin to do with believin’ in God, Mr. Cash. It has to do with believin’ in yourself.

– Walk The Line, 2005, 20th Century Fox

 

Something worth singing about originates from your “gut”. That means it’s not something you know as much as it’s something you feel. Furthermore, it’s something you feel strongly about. It’s not always correct or even accurate, but it is how you feel at the time.

In my opinion, it seems like too many songs I hear sound more like they’ve been written from a place of obligation or pressure as opposed to any sense of real urgency. (Pressure meaning to appease a specific audience, culture, or a time crunch.) Often the result if this kind of writing is that the words might be “true”, but they just don’t sound like “the truth”.

Quick note:  Have you ever wondered why bands often put out an incredible first album, then release very average second and third projects? It’s probably due to a major label production schedule. They spent 3 years writing the first album (before they got signed) and about 6 months writing the second and third.  

All this to say the writers who really touch me are the ones who are brave enough and honest enough to tap into that dangerous place in their hearts and sing about something they really feel. Not just something they think they’re supposed to feel.

So lets bring this home:

“If you was hit by a truck and you were lying out there in that gutter dying, and you had time to sing one song..that people would remember before you’re dirt….that would let God know how you felt about your time here on Earth. You’re telling me that’s the song you sing…. Or would you sing something different. Something real. Something you felt. “

How do you really feel about life, yourself and the world around you? Do you really believe your words that your singing? Are these the words you would sing if nobody was around? What makes you cry? What makes you laugh? Do your own words and melodies move you or are you writing the things that you feel people like you ‘aught to write? Are you singing the words and phrases because they mean something to you or because you’ve heard them before?

Don’t give me the “side hug” folks. Write music from your gut, not out of obligation.  I want the grit. I want the hard truth. Otherwise your just buzzing like the fridge. We all hear ya, we just don’t notice anymore.

 

-JM

There are few things I enjoy more than listening to music. I may not be the most well listened person you’ll meet but I certainly enjoy the music more than almost anyone.  But, to tell you the truth, I’ve been in a bit of a slump lately. I don’t think I’ve heard an album in the last 6 months (possibly a year) that’s knocked me on my butt.  And to make it worse all the albums I’ve been looking forward to this season I’ve found to be a little disappointing. The new My Morning Jacket, The new Killers, The last 3 Ryan Adams albums, etc. I didn’t particularly hate any of them but none of them are still in my car. The Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, and the new Kings of Leon are pretty rad but I still don’t seem to find those tracks that I’m compelled to repeat over and over and over….

I just find myself craving another “Cold Roses”: the double disc album where Ryan Adams returned to Alt country and blew everyone away with over 20 essential tracks of golden Carolina honey for your eardrums. If you’re in your late 20’s/early 30’s and don’t own that album, though you would have some explaining to do, I envy you so dearly. I wish I could go back to not having that album so I could purchase it today and have my whole summer rocked again by illustrious twang of vintage gibsons/gretches and fender twins. But alas 4 years and seventy-bazillion alt country bands later I have found no fuel to light my summer fire.  

What I need is another Arcade Fire album. But not just another album from the band “Arcade Fire”. I mean an album that hits me like the first time I heard the Arcade Fire.

What is my problem!?!

You know how when you ask people what they consider to be the greatest music of all time and they always tell you “without a doubt” it was the music that was popular when they were in highschool. Is my problem similar? Has my brain subconsciously stopped listening to music? Or is it that White Ladder reminds me of falling in love with Sarah or Cold Roses of Ashville in the Fall? And Hot Fuss reminds me of driving to Saint Augustine with Eric and Amanda? Could it sometimes be that the memory of something is often the best part of the something and music triggers that memory?

I don’t know.

I’ve had some pretty incredible memories this year, but as of yet not quite the cornucopia of corresponding audio associations.

Help.

Note: If you are a band and have released and album recently, please don’t be offended. I’m sure I’ve either not heard your album yet or I just forgot and just “feel” like I need something new.

 

I often receive messages, emails, etc. asking questions similar to this message that recently came my way via facebook. I’ve decided, with permission of the sender, to respond to his inquiry in my blog, because I think many people would find my response helpful. Plus it may save me time from responding to many similar questions:

 

This question is from Richard:

 

“I was just wondering if you have any convictions/ thoughts about playing music for a living as a Christian? When I first heard of your music I noticed you had two myspace accounts set up… it seemed like it was to divide the worship type songs from the others. Have you ever struggled, wondering if you should be fully devoted to worship music and play with the goal of ministering every time? I assume you do play with the goal of ministering every time, though. 

“I haven’t really followed your tours fully, but do you play in bars/clubs or do you just do conferences and go around to churches? I’m just asking because I’ve always had on my mind the idea of being a musician or some kind of artist… but there always seems to be a conflict of where the purpose would be. Like, would it be for my own gratification or for God’s glory. I just think of bands like Switchfoot.. and I think The Fray is like this… they steer away from being considered “Christian” which is fine by me and they kind of just go on like any other rock band with this hidden message that most people know is a Christian message anyway. The conflict there is being a “friend with the world.” John said we can’t have a love for the world and a love for God… I think he meant in terms of being accepted by the world and being in common. I just see a lot of bands that claim to being playing out of faith and they have acceptance with the world and it just doesn’t align to me.”

“I guess (I’m) just asking if you can be out in the world using your gift without being overtaken and trying to cater to the wrong audience? I like a lot of the bands you have mentioned under your favorite music… my morning jacket is amazing, but I’ve steered away from listening to them… when I listen to them, I can’t totally just sit and enjoy it because the whole time I just think about being in there place.. and I think I covet a thought. I also just feel like they are fully a “friend of this world” and totally lost and it makes me sad in the end.”

 

Here is my response:

 

Thanks for inquiring Richard. I think I understand your conflict. I’ll do my best to answer your question to the best of my ability. These things are not always as black and white as we’d like them to be, but here is my take on the issue:


First of all I’d have to say: yes I have convictions. My conviction is that I MUST play in the world as well as in the church. If Christianity only works in church buildings, then it doesn’t work.

If you are a Christian, everything you do is “ministry”. Everything you do is supposed to be “as unto the Lord”. Playing worship music in a church building is no greater calling than serving tables in a restaurant or playing music in a club. Music isn’t holier or less holy than any other profession.  Should a plumber feel bad for working on a house as opposed to a church building? And if he works on a church building should he not work on houses anymore?

Not only is it OK to serve in the world, Jesus actually commanded us to do it: “Go ye therefore into ALL THE WORLD…”. When John is telling us that we can’t love both God and the world he is saying that we shouldn’t be so attached to our things that we miss our opportunity to receive that which is greater. He goes on to outline specifically what he is talking about in 1 John 2:16 which is lust and pride. But to say that the Love of God isn’t in us if we want to do great things in the world can’t be an accurate interpretation of this passage. Otherwise, we have a pretty massive contradiction throughout the weight of scripture. John himself also said that God himself absolutely loves the world (John 3:16). So, if God loves the world and the love of God exists in us, then we must also love the world. 

I think the conflict you feel is more with a traditional mindset that often seems to communicate that anything not related to an institutional church activity isn’t a valid expression of the Kingdom of God. In my opinion this idea couldn’t be further from the truth. The New Testament church actually didn’t even have a word for “secular”. The idea of sacred and secular (which is called dualism) came from Greek philosophy that mixed with Christian thought when Constantine (the pagan emperor of Rome) made Christianity the official religion of the world (for political reasons). The Bible seems to say to me that any religious institution should only complement and assist us with our “secular” lives, but not become our lives.

As far as being a “friend of the world”. I would say look at the lives of 3 major leaders in the Bible:

Joseph had to dress like an Egyptian, wear make up, and shave his body (Jewish men of his day were not even supposed to shave their beards). He did all this to serve and be accepted by a wicked pagan ruler who considered himself to be a god (Pharaoh). Joseph had an enormous impact on the world because of this placement and because of his friendship with worldly people.  Joseph actually saved his entire family (the bloodline of Christ) from starvation during the 7 years of great famine. 

Look at the life of Daniel. He was called to be a political leader in a Pagan society. He had to be well versed in all of the Pagan mythology and literature of the day. Had he not, he wouldn’t have been able to be the force for change that he was among the most powerful men of his day.

Ester is very similar. But she actually concealed her beliefs until the proper time when she saved the Jewish race from extinction. 

All of these people required an audience with the world in order to be effective for the Kingdom of God. And I think the biggest mistake the church has made in these last decades has been to remove our brightest stars from their worldly platforms. We point the finger at the tastelessness and darkness of the world but we are the ones who have removed every grain of salt and ray of light from the places where they are needed the most. People criticize groups for “watering down their messages” but I think people don’t understand how many times a subtitle message can be more powerful than an obvious one. Jesus knew that. That’s why he often spoke in parables that even his disciples didn’t fully understand (john 6).  

As far as your motives go, here’s my advice: Don’t over evaluate your motives. Remember, it’s not about you.  It’s not about your motives. I think if you’re in the will of God at some point you won’t even know what your motives are, because you’re not focused on yourself. Just focus on doing what is good and let God deal with your heart.  Its Gods job to change you; it’s your job to change the world. I would say to focus on your job and let God do his.

Recommendations:

I recommend you read a book called “Imagine” by Steve Turner and/or check out the teachings of Lance Wallnau.