“What new songs are you singing??”
This question comes across my twitter feed multiple times a week. Not always directed at me but lots of worship leaders are looking for places to find new songs.
I understand. I get it. I really do. We want to look past the famous and familiar to find the songs that churches are singing below the radar. Where are the songs that are saying something of substance and giving a voice to an aspect of our worship expression that isn’t necessarily communicated by the Toml-Redm-Hills-Pass-ethel’s of the world?
So let me come at this a few different ways. Let’s talk about our dislike for hit songs, let’s talk about some songs that I’ve found recently that may not be getting the attention they deserve and then let’s talk about how I go about finding new songs.
First of all, let’s agree together that songwriting is a skill. The art (and it is an art) of crafting lyric, melody, emotion, tone and rhythm together to form a song that people are not only able but willing to sing is one that must be appreciated.
Good songs generally come from good songwriters. Good songwriters generally come from writing lots and lots and lots of songs, many of them which are not good but lead to better ones.
Good songwriters shouldn’t be cast to the side and disregarded simply because the songs they write are very good, very popular and very common in churches around the world. They should be celebrated because of this fact! The reason that songs become popular and are sung around the world is that there are very talented songwriters who understand the craft of songwriting and have put together these various elements in a way that allows people of every musical skill level to sing as an expression of their worship to Jesus.
Great songwriters are an incredible gift to the church and are worthy of honour. Eyes get rolled at the new album from any of the well known songwriters, worship leaders or churches because the assumption that these are somehow cookie cutter or assembly line creations by songwriters who are just looking to make a quick buck.
The only reason these songwriters, worship leaders and churches have become well known to the point that their new songs and albums come with a level of anticipation is that they have been able to consistently deliver great songs for a number of years! If people are paying attention, they’re doing something right!
So don’t discard or discredit new songs from the Toml-Redm-Hills-Pass-ethel camp just because “every church is going to sing those songs!” That’s an incredibly relevant reason to join in with the global chorus of voices and sing them, too!
(As an aside, if any of those well known, popular, successful, accomplished songwriters are reading this allow me to say thank you and express what a gift you are to my ministry, to my church, to the work of Jesus around the world. Some of you I know, most of you I don’t but you have poured out your love, your passion, your talent and your ability so that millions of people around the world will celebrate and honour Jesus together. How could we not appreciate the work that you do?? Thank you for giving! May God increase and continue to pour out creativity and inspiration into your life.)
And yet of course there are going to be songs which will be undiscovered and still need to be sung by certain congregations at certain times and certain places. How we do find, evaluate and sing those songs? Great question.
I wholeheartedly support the work of local songwriters contributing to the worship vocabulary of their own congregation by taking words and language which are meaningful to that specific location and putting them to music in a way that will stir the hearts of the people as they sing in a way that can’t happen with other songs.
At C4 Church we’ve been gathering songwriters together this year to work on songs which we believe God will use in our own church, allowing people to celebrate Jesus for the things He is doing in our local place at this specific time. As I say, there are some songs that our people need to sing and nobody else can write those songs for us.
Some of these local songs are meant to have a larger audience, not just our songs but songs from other local congregations around the world. I do believe that part of the pastoral responsibility of the worship leader is to be digging and looking for those songs which are beyond the CCLI Top 100 which really do give a voice to what God is doing in your midst. If you can’t write them, find them.
So what are some of those songs I have discovered lately? Let me share with you some songs that I’ve been listening to, singing on my own, evaluating to see if we could include these as part of our corporate worship. These songs are maybe a bit overlooked but I believe they do say something really significant in a way that other songs don’t. Some of these are interesting musically and there may be something melodically that I’m really drawn to in a way that I think will allow our people to hook into the song and be reminded of the lyric as they hum along on a Tuesday after we’ve sung it on a Sunday.
Citipointe Live – Forever You Remain
CityAlight – The Love of the Father
Housefires – Good Good Father
Woodside Worship – Presence
In a world of hundreds of new albums released every week, thousands of songs available to us, unending #worshipset tweets and new music promotions how do we sift through the noise to find those songs which may be below the surface, undiscovered and yet deserve to be heard and sung in our churches?
Strategy #1 – Twitter
For me, twitter is about asking! Someone asked me a while ago who I follow to find new great songs and I told them it was more about who follows me. The audience I’ve developed on twitter is for the most part involved in church leadership and worship ministry specifically. So when I ask them what new songs they are singing or new songs they are getting ready to introduce or new songs that they are listening to I get some really great answers. Most of the albums I listed above came to my attention by asking questions on twitter.
Strategy #2 – iTunes
Yes, we know that iTunes is the place that new music can be found. Even if a band is not on a major label, if the songs are worth singing then they will be found on iTunes. They may not be on the front page or easy to find but you should be digging through the Christian & Gospel (Inspirational, in Canada) genre page once a week to see what’s new, what’s being featured, what other people are buying.
But get past the top songs/albums and go one step further. The “listeners also bought” links are really valuable. For example, from the new Bethel “We Will Not Be Shaken” album I clicked through to the Housefires album and then from there to Laura Hackett Park (not well known but not a secret) and from there to Ryan Kondo, an independant artist I’d never heard of before. His music isn’t featured anywhere else and I would never know to search for his name but with a few clicks I’ve landed on his album.
So there’s a couple quick ideas from me on how I find new songs. I’d love to hear how you are working at finding the best new songs for your church to sing. The truth is that you have got ways of doing this which are probably way better than how I’m doing it and would be really helpful for other worship leaders.