Occasionally I’m asked how I go about writing songs. Do I write the music first? Do the lyrics come first? Where do I get my ideas?
Honestly, the “music or lyrics” question is kind of like the chicken and the egg. It’s hard to say which comes first. In fact, I’d say it varies by song. But one thing that never varies is where I get my ideas. Or more accurately, how I get them.
No, I don’t have strange pointy things growing out of my head. I’m also not an alien, although I can look like one on a bad hair day. But what I do have is a pretty keen awareness of my surroundings. An ear to the ground. An eye to the environment. I notice things. And that’s where the vast majority of my song ideas come from. It’s pretty rare when anything else works, at least for me. I can’t just go into a room with a pen and paper and go, “OK, I’m going to write a song now.” If I were to try that, chance are I’d get bored within about 4 minutes and pop on Netflix for an exciting episode of Breaking Bad.
I get sparks of ideas from just about anywhere or anything. It could be a radio ad, or something a child says, or a bumper sticker, or a sermon, or a stupid comment by a TV commentator, or even a billboard … when the world talks, I listen. Here’s an example.
About a year ago, I was driving home from church on a very, very cold Sunday morning. The worship set had gone pretty well, and the sermon was good, but nothing stood out to me. I remember feeling very tired that day and thinking, “I can’t wait to get home so I can take a nap.” That’s when I saw the billboard. Crazy as it sounds, I’d never seen it before, and I’ve never seen it since. Trust me, I’ve looked.
It said, “I am God. There is no other.” Perhaps the simplest, most concise version of the first commandment I’ve ever seen. And for some reason, it just SPOKE to me.
Almost immediately, I felt the presence of God. He’s never spoken to me audibly, but I sense His calling often, and He was in full download mode on this particular Sunday morning. By the time I reached my driveway — about 10 minutes later — I had written the following chorus in my head.
You are God, I have no other
Abba, Father, Adonai
You’re the only One that I will glorify, glorify
You created earth and heaven
And every star across the sky
Still you hear my small voice when I glorify
I glorify You
I don’t suppose it’s the greatest song ever written, but it’s meaningful to me because it comes from a God who spoke to me in a moment driving 65 miles per hour, a beautiful utterance that would have been gone in a flash had I not been fortunate enough to have my antennae up. And you know what? Very soon, we’ll begin a series in my church about the Ten Commandments … and I’ll have a nice new song to sing.
Feel free to listen here to my demo. The song is called “Glorify.”
So what’s the point in telling you all this? Well, you can apply the same principles to your own life, not necessarily for songwriting but for listening to God. God has many things to say to you, and He doesn’t often speak audibly like Moses at the burning bush. From what I can tell, that was sort of a one-time supernatural occurrence, and if you’re expecting it again, you might be disappointed. So keep your antennae up. Pay attention to the world around you, and you may just hear Him speak … through other people … through bumper stickers … through the cry of a child … through the hug of someone you love.
He speaks. We just need to have those antennae up.by