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john mark mcmillan


I love the way the Calnin’s were able to capture the community aspect of what we do. I love to create with my friends. I think that’s the way music is supposed to happen. I don’t care how good you are as a musician or a producer; I don’t want to work with you if you aren’t at least somewhat emotionally invested in what we’re doing.

Be sure to view more of the Calnin’s work at www.vimeo.com/calninmedia

Get the Chords and Lyrics to “Skeleton Bones” here.


Credits:
Nathaniel and Chris Calnin – video direction
John Mark McMillan – acoustic guitar/lead vocals
James Duke – electric guitar
Andrew Williams – electric piano/backing vocals
Lee Worely – percussion
Shae Wooten – bass guitar
Sarah McMillan, David Valier, Austin Forbes – backing vocals
Joel Willis – sound engineer

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.


I’m not sure exactly why, but I sure do.  In fact, a really good heartbreaker is my favorite kind of song.  I guess they just make me feel like a person.  Which is great because that makes me feel alive and I’m pretty glad to be alive.  Maybe sometimes it can be comforting when I’m in a difficult situation to listen to someone else who’s in a difficult situation too.  Maybe it brings things into perspective to realize that there are other people in the universe and they don’t all feel exactly the way I do.   

I don’t know.  What I do know is that songs like “How Do You Keep Love Alive” and “Say Hello Goodbye” never get old to me.  
If I think hard enough about it, I would probably have to say that the reason I seem to be so drawn to these songs may be because sad songs are probably the most authentic songs written.  Love songs are just so dang marketable. That’s why there’s a billion of them and many of them seem cheap and fake.  You just never hear an A and R guy telling his artist  “man there’s just not enough pain in these tunes bro”.  Heartbreak is not flattering.  So it seems more likely that someone willing to sing about it may actually be heartbroken.  And though I’m not apposed to fiction, I still want to feel like I’m hearing a person and not just what someone feels like they’re supposed to say.
Once again, I don’t know. I just love’ em.

I recently read a couple of interesting statistics about cigarette smoking. (Don’t worry guys. This post is in no way shape or form a commentary on smoking or nicotine addiction. I’m just using these statistics to make a point. So whether you smoke or not, please stick with me for a sec).  The first observation is this: More people know about the dangers of smoking today, than ever before in history. I don’t think anyone would argue with that. The second observation was this: more people smoke, today, than ever before in history. No one would argue with that statement either. 

So the obvious question would have to be: If people know more about the dangers of smoking, then why in the world do more people smoke today than ever in the history of smoking?

World famous writer and sociologist Malcolm Gladwell says this: For a huge percentage of people, the initial attraction to smoking is actually the danger associated with it.  The fact that the whole world is telling people not to smoke is actually the very reason people often start. The element of danger is the “tipping point”. 

I don’t know if you guys have figured it out yet, but this concept applies to much more than smoking. I would go as far to say that Rock’ N’ Roll isn’t even about music. It’s about danger too. It represents everything unpredictable, unexpected, and unrestrained.  At least it’s supposed to.  (These days I guess the appearance of these qualities is more common than the real thing, but you get my point.) People are attracted to it because of the danger.

All this led me to another conclusion. Jesus isn’t exactly so safe himself…

He might spit in your eyes (Mark 8:23), he might call you a dog (Matt 15:26), he may ask you to do things that you can’t do (Matt 14:29), he might bring 120 gallons of wine to a party where people have been drinking all day (John 2), he may lead you to open sea in a storm (Mark 4:37), he might change your life then ask you not to tell any one (Luke 8:56), he and his friends might get arrested (John 18:12), he might offend your friends (John 6:66), he might insult the “righteous” people (Matt 23:27), he might let guilty people off the hook (John 8:10-11), he might offend his own family members (Luke 8:19-21, 14:26), he might hang out with people you don’t like (Luke 19:7), he might start a riot (John 2:15), he might use toilet speak to support a spiritual principle (Mark 7:20), he might tell you that what you’ve believed your whole life is wrong (John 3), he might use offensive language at the dinner table (Luke 11).

The way I see it, Jesus is anything but safe, but he’s never boring… And isn’t that what we really want? 

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

So… I didn’t go to church yesterday. Honestly, I didn’t go to church simply because I was tired and wanted to sleep in.  However, being Easter Sunday, I did do a bit of thinking about resurrection all day. Here are some of the thoughts that passed through my brain:

Isn’t resurrection day everyday not just Easter Sunday?
Why do church people focus so much on the cross when Jesus’ death was actually powerless without the resurrection? (at least thats what the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 15:13) 
If Christians taught more on resurrection than death, would Christianity be more interesting? Or maybe Christians might be more interesting people? Would I be more interesting?
Do we focus more on death because we don’t really understand resurrection? 
What if I focused on living resurrection instead of mostly talking about it and singing about it? 
What if I don’t have to wait until I die to be resurrected but my body, which dies a little everyday, could be resurrected every day?
What if all this stuff I talk about with my friends is actually real and not just what we do cause we grew up in the South?