My New Blog 4 Worship Leaders

It’s official: I’ve started a new website just for worship leaders: www.forworshipleaders.com. It’s a simple site that provides thought-provoking blog entries on leadership and theology, incredible resources (from gear to websites to conference recommendations), and links to some other things that I’m up to these days. If you are in any way involved in worship leadership, I’d love for you to visit, subscribe, and join the conversation that has already started! Blessings to you today…

Yours,
Steven

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Episode 41: The Story Behind “You Are Faithful”

Hear the heart behind the new song “You Are Faithful” from songwriter Amanda Lee Potaczek. You can download this song + 2 more for free at www.noisetrade.com/1000generations.

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Why Exactly I’m Letting “1000 Generations” Go

Last week, I announced on Twitter and Facebook that 1000 Generations is coming to close. We also released “The Last 3 Songs” that we’ve been working on, for absolutely free on NoiseTrade (to download it, click here). This week, I’d like to explain why exactly I’m moving on.

Let me start by saying that I love our tribe of 1000 Generations so freaking much. This truly has nothing to do with some internal struggle in the band. Over the years, we have truly become a family. I know them inside and out, and they me. We will continue to do life and music together, just not as “1000 Generations.” The reason we’re moving on is a bit a hairball, but I will try to peel back some of the layers for you.

The most focused and happy I felt with the band was probably around the time of releasing our 2nd album, “To Those Who Cry.” It felt pure. It felt honest. It was life-giving. Somewhere along the way though, I started getting caught up in “bigger, better, stronger, faster.” This became especially apparent to me after we started seeing some chart success at radio.

Getting radio was such a blessing. Yet for me, it seemed like all I did for a while was watch the charts to see where we were. I started having good days or bad days depending on our rise or fall. I hated it, and wasn’t feeling very good about myself either.

Around the same time, I started producing other artist friends of mine. I was having SO much fun. I wanted to get into this more, but never could find enough time.

I also started having a strong desire to go back to school to work on a Master’s of Science in Music Technology. I have always loved the nerdy, tech side of music just as much as the creative, emotional side. But we were on the road almost all the time.

I started losing passion for touring because my once clear, God-given mission with the band started getting hazy. What were we supposed to be doing? We tossed around a lot of good ideas but without a clear directive from God, I knew we were just floundering doing our own thing. I didn’t like this idea at all, and I know the other guys didn’t either.

Finally, Amanda and I started having this crazy desire to procreate. We noticed the world differently. We saw “families” for the first time, and wondered what that might look like for the two of us! There really is something to the whole “biological clock” thing I think. Prior to this, we really poured as many of our waking hours solely into 1000 Generations. That was our family.

All this started adding up until the day came that I just asked Amanda, “are we really supposed to continue 1000 Generations?” We’d worked so hard to establish a dream in our hearts, so even the thought of quitting seemed ridiculous. But I couldn’t shake the feelings. “What if it’s time to let it go?” Scary thoughts.

Around December 2011, Amanda and I got together with the rest of the band, and asked them what they thought we should all do. After going round and round for a few hours, we all came to the conclusion that without clear directives from God, 1000 Generations doesn’t make sense. It was bittersweet. It still is.

So what are we going to do now? First, we’re going to finish out this year strong as a band. We are thrilled about the upcoming events left on our calendar, and plan to put out a few more videos and things here and there. Apart from that, we’re not really sure. I know that I want to produce more artists, and spend more time with my amazing family (I also have this secret desire to release a children’s project that parents wouldn’t actually mind playing on car trips because the music is creative and good). We’ll just have to wait and see.

If you haven’t already, be sure to share “The Last 3 Songs” with your friends because they’re completely free. We did this as a way to say that we love you and sincerely appreciate you as one of the many who’ve supported us and our music throughout the years.

Keep watching as next week Amanda will release a YouTube video here sharing her heart behind writing one of the songs on the free release, “You Are Faithful.”

With love,
Steven

Worship Songwriting 101

Just read a great post from a songwriting friend of mine, Martin Reardon. He is a worship leader and songwriting in Atlanta, and was the main worship leader of the Vineyard Music release “1000 Generations.” Note, this is not my band, 1000 Generations! How’s that for confusing?! 😉 Regardless, he is extremely talented and has some great thoughts here…

Steven
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Worship Songwriting Part 1 – Content

From time to time I get requests from people asking for my advice on writing corporate worship music. Although I have written music for a while I do not by any means consider myself the best source. But I do try to help out as best as I can. These are a few of my short thoughts on the subject.

The first thing we have to start with is content. The biggest thing I would recommend is to treat each song like a sermon. I am not sure if you have ever preached or will preach in the future so if I am telling you something you already know feel free to disregard it. What I mean by that is spend as much time as possible researching scripture and texts and concordances for each song’s subject. I know when I prepare a sermon I will spend several hours the week before preparing and meditating and chewing on the text. And the odd thing is the shorter the sermon the more prep time is required because when we try to pack theology into a small suitcase (a song is a very small suitcase) we have to pack deliberately, intentionally and thoughtfully. So instead of grabbing a text like Psalm 34 and attempting to immediately comprehend the ‘fear of the Lord’ and throwing that idea into a song, spend some time asking the Lord what that actually means. Read books on the subject and search scripture for the meaning of things and how they apply to us so that when we pen a lyric it will not only express the emotion we feel as artists, but it will fulfill the greater mission of educating the worshipper about important theological truths. This is the greatest mistake of modern worship songwriting is that we think we only need to emote and that is only a small part of it.

Worship Songwriting Part 2 – The Curse of The Rhyme

No, its not the title of the latest Harry Potter book, but simply a few of my thoughts on “creating” rhymes and cliché lyric that do no one any good at all.

Why does modern worship music suffer? Rather, why do the lyrical content and the method in which it is conveyed cause the listeners to suffer? After giving this some thought and searching my own journal entries of potential songs, I think we can point the finger in several directions. But most of the guilt should lie with our lack of taking the call to educate through music seriously. Worship leading has gone the way of the buffet-style caterer and not the sober-minded educator. But in reality this is nothing new. The poorly-written song has been a legacy in Christian music. Don’t get me wrong, we could spend a great deal of time poking holes in the “poetry” of pop culture as well, but their job as writers is to simply emote and sell a record. Our job is a bit more difficult. We are entrusted with the task of making a song accessible in both composition and lyric while remaining theologically accurate as we walk the tightrope of creativity, which, by the way, is stretched over the abyss of cheese and cliché. And we all know what happens when we fall.

So, you have a wonderful idea inspired by scripture and you have studied and researched and meditated upon it for days and you know within the depth of your “knower” that this is a message that MUST be sung by the congregation, but how?! The first thing I will suggest is to get rid of the grand idea of rhyming everything. Rhyming is a great advantage in helping the average congregant remember a song, but it is not a requirement. Sure Bono is great at it, but you and I are not Bono. If things can naturally rhyme without sounding contrived or forced then go with it. But I have seen too many writers get hung up on a song or a line simply because they were plagued with the curse of trying rhyme. In a Cutting Edge article on corporate songwriting John Mortensen said that we should issue a moratorium on rhyming “adore you” with “before you”. I would like to add a few of my own pet peeves to the list. In the end, what makes a corporate worship song memorable is what people can take with them. Focus on the theology and message first and rhyming second.

The second recommendation I would make is to be careful in choosing words. Verbiage is crucial element in articulating a message. We should all stop trying to sound too deep and overly poetic. If there is any depth to the music we write let it come from truth and theology first and poetic language second. Shy away from the ‘thees’, ‘thous’ and ‘thines’ of the King James translation. And let us also do away with the “church-esque” lingo that has no bearing on the unchurched or non-believer. Instead, let us draw from life. The most powerful and potent poetry comes from writers who draw from the language of daily life. Now I love a hymn as much as the next guy, but we should try to not take too many of our queues from poetry written in another time and another language.

So, when it comes to writing a corporate worship song remember that we are not merely caterers, but educators.

My good friend, Cameron Lawrence, put it so well when he stated that we should, “write poetically in today’s language, within certain bounds. Poetry at the expense of clarity is bad. And the other way around, clarity instead of poetry, isn’t bad per say. But it leaves something to be desired…so, as we pour ourselves into theology, to become better educators, we need also to become more literary — reading poetry, prayers, fiction or whatever else”. I could not agree more with his take on the matter.

Worship Songwriting Part 3 – Composition & Audience

“Who Is The Audience”

I have two main thoughts when it comes to adding composition to lyric: “Who is the audience”? and “Does the composition compliment the lyric”?

The first key to composing worship music is knowing your “audience” or congregation. What is palatable? What is not? What is the median style and preferred taste of the worshippers? What is the median style and preferred taste of the leaders and musicians? If you are unsure of the answers to these questions then you need to go on a fact finding mission. Or you can write songs and try them out repeatedly and see what the results are. But bear in mind that a fact finding mission can save you time and credibility.

All you need to do is simply ask people if they prefer The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. If only it were that simple.

Once you know your audience and you have the idea for your song follow these steps:

1 – Forget about the congregation’s style preferences. After all you are the worship star…I mean, you are the songwriter. Seriously though, take a minute and forget about what everyone else likes and make sure that before you serve a dish to someone that it is something you would eat. Write a song you would listen to.

2 – Now compare your new song to what you know to be true about your congregation’s style preference. Is there a big difference? Is there no difference at all?

3 – Fix it. Fix the song so that it will be palatable. BUT please do not dumb it down to the lowest common denominator. When we do this as writers we lose the tension that is essential in leading worship. We need to find ways to remain in the tension of being accessible and challenging at the same time.

4 – Get honest feedback from people you respect and listen to it. We see the result of the contrary when we watch American Idol auditions. It would seem that no one gives most of the would-be contestants honest feedback. That, or they simply ignore the what people are telling them. Either way the results are the same.

5 – Be willing to kill a song or re-write it. If you love it and your peers love it, but its just not working in your congregation…kill it and start over.

“Does the composition compliment the lyric”

Andy Park’s “In The Secret” does not match up lyrically and musically. I think he actually pointed that out himself to my good friend Billy Somerville. Finding the proper tension is kind of like a good balsamic vinaigrette; it tastes good, but only when we work to keep the “parts” together.

I once saw an interview with Winton Marsalis (I think it was him) and in it he said his father would tell him to stand in the corner and play one note until he could play it through every emotion. Whether my memory is correct or not I really like that idea and try to incorporate that into my writing and playing. Too often we try to make up for lack of emotion in music with more pedals or software and while those tools can be helpful they can never replace the simplicity of a note played with passion. Listen to B.B King for example. He never plays anything complicated…no delay, no reverb, no overdriven amp…just simple notes played with feeling. Its as if his notes cost $1,000 each and he spends them wisely. Try to take the same approach to your writing and playing. Strum a G chord until you can strum it and pick it and pluck it through every human emotion. Let the listener feel what the music and lyrics are saying.

The Story Behind the Song “It Could Be Me”

Hey friends, thought you might enjoy hearing a bit of background on the new single!

IS the “Album” Dead?

I’ve been wondering about this for some time. I can’t even remember the last full CD I purchased (actually, I do. It was Jamie Cullum’s “The Pursuit” and much of it was pretty bad). But really, when was the last time YOU bought a full-length CD? Or even a digital album on iTunes? I’m seriously curious.

The fact is, here are the statistics:

Yep, that limp blue line is physical CD sales. The red line is single mp3 sales. The green line is digital album sales. So again my question: IS the “album” dead? Should we, as artists, abandon the full-length album format? Or, is this simply a trend that will turn around?

Here’s a great “opinionated” blog from a fellow music blogger: Mark Cuban.

There once was a time when the release date of an album was exciting. For our favorite artists we knew when the last album came out and when the next album was due. If you loved the artist you bought it. If you didn’t you either bought the single or you listened to the album with your friends and then decided.

As the price of records and then CDs increased year by year, spending 20 bucks for a CD became a purchase you needed to be sure of rather than a no brainer or impulse buy.

Then free became an option.

Then aggregating almost unlimited free music on a PC and then an IPOD became easy.

So here we are in 2011 and the only given in the music industry is that CD sales have and will fall. And fall. And fall.

The song Low Rider by Flo Rida sold 467,000 units in a single week. There were 27 digital singles that sold more than 100k units in that week. The obvious trend continues that people are ready, willing and able to buy singles of songs they like.

So the question arises, why don’t artists serialize the release of songs ? Why not create a “season” of release of songs, much like the fall TV season and promise fans that Flo Rida is going to release a new single every week or 2 weeks for the next 10 weeks ?

Sure, its not easy to come up with a great song every 2 weeks. But isn’t that exactly the same problem you have with an album ? Maybe thats not the “creative process” for certain artists. That’s a problem for them.

What we do know is that music fans will spend 99c and that its easier to ask them for 99c a week than it is to get 9.99 at one time from them for 10 songs.

Serializing the release of music also allows for the marketing arms to be in constant touch with sales and radio outlets. Rather than having to initiate marketing plans and hope to reinvigorate the interest in an artist, it becomes a digital tour that never ends.

If an artist commits to release music on a weekly or bi weekly basis, then consumers can make a commitment knowing they are going to get something new and hopefully exciting for their 99c. If the commitment is strong enough its feasible that artists could sell subscriptions to their serialized releases. My guess is that consumers will feel better about subscribing to an artist and getting a song a week or every 2 than dropping 10 dollars at a time for an album.

In reality thats exactly how I buy my music right now. I dont do it by artist. I go to iTunes and I go through the top 10 lists and listen to samples and thats how I determine what music I’m going to buy.

If there was an option when I bought a single to subscribe to an RSS feed that would send me a sample of that artists song when they released a single, I would add that RSS feed to my browser. Add a 1 click to buy, and chances are I’m going to buy a lot more music.

Consumers are buying music 1 track at a time. I think people will pay 99c to get a single rather than steal it. I think people would rather steal a full album rather than pay 10 dollars or more for it.

I’d love to hear from you.

Your friend,
Steven
Worship Musician with 1000 Generations
1000generations.com

Why Lyrics Matter…

Lyrics matter. All of us know that music has the ability to go where a 1,000 speeches (no matter how inspired or heartfelt) could never go. And because this is the true, lyrics matter.

I have often heard it said that the worship leaders are the true theologians of the Church. What this means is that what we sing is what is really taken into the conscious and sub-conscious of our people. It’s not the scholars who are on the front-lines (though without them, we would have no effective front line), it’s the singers and songwriters. If we sing and/or write bad or weak theology, the people believe bad or weak theology. If we sing and write the truth, people believe the truth.

Sadly, much of the current pop-music landscape (mainstream and Christian) is littered with annoying anecdotes, corny catchphrases, and horrible clichés. Lyrics matter! There’s a reason why James Taylor’s music is still loved after all these years…

I spent a few years hanging with James’ brother, Livingston Taylor (he took me under his wing during my college years). During our time together, he would often say that he and his brother were not the best singers and not the best songwriters. “But James is a master communicator,” he would say. And he was right. Love him or hate him, James’ lyrics have a way of communicating something transcendent, something beautiful. And James is cherished still because of this gift.

Will we as songwriters leave behind golden nuggets like John & Charles Wesley and John Newton did? Or will we simply be the noise of a generation that withers as soon as it is born?

In no way am I criticizing out of feeling that I’ve arrived! On the contrary, I am frustrated by my own shortcomings. I must confess, when I read some of my own lyrics, I am disappointed. How I long to write truly great songs! To write lines that inspires hope! Lines that makes people think. Lines that directs them to something and Someone greater than themselves.

Am I being overly dramatic? I don’t think so. How many times have you been at the end of your rope and turned to a song or a poem that gave the strength to hang on? How many times have you heard the soft whisperings of God through the power of music? I cannot keep count.

Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 30 years in a tiny cell. What gave this man the power, after those 30 years, to forgive the very people who put him there? This is the poem that, as he put it, “gave me the strength to stand, when all I wanted to do was lie down…”

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Lyrics matter. Help me Lord to write and to sing with divine inspiration. Help me not to settle for 2nd best. Anoint me to write hope. I cannot do this by myself.

Amen,
Steven Andy

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