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Monthly Archives: August 2009

A while ago I read an article in the Washington Post called Pearls Before Breakfast. This article was about an experiment.

A professional violinist would stand in the Washington DC metro posing as a street musician and serenade DC commuters on there way to work. But it wouldn’t be just any violinist. It would be Joshua Bell “one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made”. The purpose would be to see how differently people would respond to him as opposed to the average street musician.

What they found was pretty striking: Of the thousands of people traveling to work that day, ALMOST NO ONE PAID HIM ANY ATTENTION. In fact only one woman stopped to listen and that was because she recognized his face from a concert three weeks before. “Here he was, the international virtuoso, sawing away, begging for money. She had no idea what the heck was going on, but whatever it was, she wasn’t about to miss it.”

“It was the most astonishing thing I’ve ever seen in Washington,” The woman says. “Joshua Bell was standing there playing at rush hour, and people were not stopping, and not even looking, and some were flipping quarters at him! Quarters! I wouldn’t do that to anybody. I was thinking, Omigosh, what kind of a city do I live in that this could happen?”

My point is this: Sometimes it doesn’t matter how good you are, how correct you are, how smart you are, how creative you are or how passionate you are. If you are in the wrong place, at the wrong time, or doing it the wrong way, then you could very well be wasting your time. The key word here is “context”.

Need good new music? Here is some killer stuff you may have never heard about. All these folks are personal friends of mine and I wouldn’t recommend them if they weren’t all over my iPod right now.

The Embers Some of Kentucky’s best worship music.
Mark Mathis Songwriter from my home town. He also has anew FREE EP.
Glen Yoder Great young songwriter from central Kentucky.
Public Radio One of the best bands out of Charlotte, NC right now.
Flagship Brigade Some of these guys used to be in my band. They’re probably gonna be huge.
Aaron Strumple Great songwriting. Just released a sic new EP.
Agents of Future Pretty much the most creative worship music I’ve ever heard.
Please listen/enjoy/buy their music/ give them some love from JMM.

Last time I wrote a little bit about how overused or common phrases tend to lose power or potency. To this discussion I would like to add that any moron can tell you what’s wrong with something, but few can tell you how to make it better, and even fewer have the commitment to actually do it. Let me just say I don’t want to be that moron. Writing a song is hard. The easy part of this process is recognizing “dead” wording. The difficult part is finding new ways to say things that don’t just make sense but actually impact the listener.

I recently had a five-minute conversation about songwriting with one of my songwriting heroes, Kevin Prosch. (Kevin may be the greatest unsung hero of the worship movement. In my opinion he could be the most influential worship leader of the last 20 years. Pick any successful modern worship band and, 9 times out of 10, I can trace what they do back to Kevin. )

Kevin told me that whenever he sees a sentence, or any group of words weather it be on a sign, in a book, or on a magazine cover he’ll reorder them in as many ways possible to see how many new lines he can make with the same words.

This is a great exercise as a songwriter and is a good way to experiment with new ways to say things in a lyric or song. If your lyrics are boring, flip them around a little. See how many things you can say with some of the same words.

Want to see how a master does it? Watch Bob Dylan in this video.


A note about lyric:

Words lose potency with overuse.

My rule of thumb is if you’ve heard a term or phrase before, then don’t use it. Never use clichés, “dead” words, or tired metaphors.

A line doesn’t have to be especially clever or extreme to deliver an impact. It just has to be “heard”.

Here is a line from the chorus of my song “Skeleton Bones”:

“Oh let us adore the son of glory dressed in love”

There is nothing innovative or revolutionary about this line whatsoever. The idea isn’t new. I didn’t use any big words, and it isn’t difficult to understand. But as far as I can tell, it’s not been said before exactly like this.

I don’t think the specific term “Son of Glory” is used in the Bible at all and that’s exactly why I used it/possibly invented it. At the same time it isn’t at all unbiblical either. Christ in you is the “hope of Glory” and Jesus is known as the “son of man”, “the son of God” , the “son of David “ etc… so Jesus could easily and biblically be described as “the Son of Glory”.

I know this particular line obviously won’t “make” or “break” a song, but if you apply the idea to a whole song, then you could end up with something that sounds more original and authentic.

Just think of how boring it would have been if I had written:

“Come praise God, He’s so Holy, His name is lifted up”

The line is true. Just nobody will ever know how true it is because they won’t ever hear it. It will slip right by them. It will be true and silent.

29

In November I turn 30. No big deal. Actually it does freak me out a little. Not that 30 is old (30 isn’t really “old” at all), but it is the first mile-marker to signify the reality that ”this train don’t stop”. Meaning nothing on this planet is permanent. At least that is what it’s been for me and it’s caused quite a bit of commotion amongst many of my internal conversations this year.

In the midst of these conversations I’ve realized something: I don’t really want to be young again. I was going to write a blog about it, but this is so much better.

Enjoy.

I remember seeing a news program that was reporting on infant mortality in a certain African nation.  The focus of this segment was on an organization that was taking measures to prevent the death of newborns in the poorest of villages by handing out “birthing packets”.  These birthing packets contained little more than a plastic sheet and a sterile knife, but the villages where these packets were handed out saw a massive decrease in infant mortality.  Interestingly enough, in the villages where the packets were SOLD, as opposed to given away, the number of infant deaths decreased significantly further.  So in areas where they made it just a little more difficult to receive help, the people actually received greater benefit from the birthing packet.

The psychology behind this is that when something is too easy to get, it often possesses little value to the receiver and is more easily misplaced or overlooked. When people had something invested in the packets, their children were more likely to live.  There was nothing actually wrong with the free packets, it’s just that they may have been too easy to get.

Similarly, the same psychology comes in to play when you are talking about information. Do you ever think we can devalue a message by making it too easy, too obvious, or oversimplified?  In the same way that the birthing packets that were easy to “get” had less of an effect on the community, could a message that is too easy to “get” also lack influence?  Do you think that sometimes it helps a message if people have to invest a bit of thought into it?

Personally, I believe it’s for this very reason that Paul called the gospel a “mystery”.  If this is true, then I want to know why we seem to be so afraid of any kind of mystery in our modern faith? Why do we feel like we always have to have the answers?

Jesus had a fascinating mystery about him.  Mathew said he always delivered his message in the fashion of a story (Matt 13:34).  He often said things that even his own disciples didn’t understand. In fact, because of one such message in John 6 he lost many of his followers including some of his innermost circle.  The interesting thing is that they didn’t leave because they disagreed with him. They left because they didn’t understand.  And even more interesting is the fact that Jesus knew they misunderstood and never attempted to explain.  Jesus obviously knew what he was doing.  His 3-year campaign has probably had greater affect on mankind than any other event in history.