Songwriting

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT “PRAISE”?

Several years ago I was talking with a buddy, and somehow we got on the topic of heaven. I still remember his musings.

“I know we have to, like, praise God all day long and everything. But I wonder if after that I can do some cool stuff too, like turn into Spiderman and swing from buildings! I just can’t see myself singing to God for all that time…”

Outwardly, I laughed, and said something how it will probably be a bit more exciting than that. But inwardly, I echoed his sentiments. The fact that the Bible was exploding with references to “praising God” was always a little annoying to me. I never saw what the big deal was. I hardly liked any church music, so singing it forever sounded more like a punishment than a reward.

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“BLESSED ASSURANCE” FEATURED ON “SAFE WATER IN GUYANA” COMPILATION

Some friends of mine at Lift Records have released a benefit compilation for “Safe Water in Guyana.” My recording of “Blessed Assurance” was featured on the album, which is now available via iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify.

I hope you’ll consider purchasing the album and spreading the word. Clean drinking water is a luxury that most of us North Americans take for granted, while much of the third world suffers from contaminated water that spreads disease and sickness. May we be reminded of our fortune as we pour ourselves a glass of water from the faucet.

There are several ways you can help. The first step is to check out the music. You can write (honest) reviews on iTunes and Amazon. If you dig the music, share it with others who might like it. You can also call your local Christian radio station and request “Blessed Assurance,” as radio promotion is still a key way listeners hear about new music.

You can learn more about Safe Water in Guyana directly on their website.

THE ART OF THE SONGWRITING PROCESS

pen paperI recently wrote an article for AllAboutWorship.com called “7 Reasons You Should Have a Songwriting Process.” The article was also re-published by the USA Songwriting Competition’s blog.

I used to hate the idea of using formulas within the realm of songwriting and creativity. Then I realized all my favorite songwriters used some sort of process. Turns out a little structure was nothing to be scared of.

You can read the entire article here. Feel free to post comments about your own songwriting process below or at either of the two blogs. Big thanks to Wisdom (at All About Worship) and Ira (songwriting.net) for giving me the chance to share about one of my favorite subjects.

IT IS WELL WITH MY POLL

IT IS WELL WITH MY POLL

Over the last several months I’ve been (not so) secretly demo-ing songs for a gospel album I’m hoping to release once I’m finished with school. Part of the beauty in releasing the demos has been the feedback I’ve received. It helps to know what songs people do or don’t like before you go to release an album!


Would you help me with that process by telling me…which version of “It Is Well…” do you prefer? The first version (solo with ukulele) or the second (full band version with the Mister Rogers Neighborhood bell set)? Just vote via the poll below, or feel free to leave feedback in the comments section.

Which version of "It Is Well..." do you prefer?

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RECONCILING FAITH & MUSIC – “WORSHIP LINKS” INTERVIEW

I had the honor of being interviewed by Worship Links – an online library of worship blogs, articles, etc. I got a chance to talk a little about my struggle with worship music:

“…worship music didn’t become a passion for me until just a couple years ago, oddly. My Venn diagrams of “Music” and “Jesus” never really overlapped much until recently. When I was a teenager I became a big music snob. I was always embarrassed by church music. I try to be honest and confessional about that on the blog and within my community. I’m a recovering non-worshiper! (At least corporately speaking.) …God has been kind, and it’s been a strange journey. I’m finally starting to appreciate worship music and its function within the church… “

You can read the entire interview here. Big thanks to Brad at Worship Links. He reads copious amounts of worship blogs, and handpicks his favorites to create a great online resource for the church.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE BY MAKING MUSIC

Jennifer and Gloria’s trip to the Serengheti is less than two weeks away. We have raised enough money to send them and buy the bed, but we want to be poised to help Tangawizi’s community in whatever ways we can. We really believe that God has a few things up his sleeve, and we don’t want to be limited by our cash flow. We want to send and bless Jennifer and Gloria to do whatever God lays on their hearts if/when they find Tangawizi.

So for the next couple of weeks, the proceeds for my entire recorded catalog (Quick Said the Bird, BRIGHTEN UP!, and the gospel songs) will go toward Lincoln’s “Buy Tangawizi a Bed” fund. It’s my attempt at making a difference by making music. As always, enjoy the tunes, help me spread the word, and let me know what you think. As an incentive to help me reach further: if you share this link via email and/or social media I’ll send you one free download code as a thanks. (Be sure to copy me on the email at morrow_nick@hotmail.com, or tag me in the Facebook link or Tweet, so I know who to send the free download to.)

Here a sampling of my favorite recordings, one from each band:

If you’d like to donate without getting any music, you can still donate via PayPal at morrow_nick@hotmail.com.

Also, Gloria and Jennifer have requested for prayer for the rains in Kenya, which are particularly bad at the moment. If the rain doesn’t let up soon, it could very well block roads and bridges to Keekorok, which would delay their trip. I’m convinced God hears and responds to prayers. Lets pray that their trip will be successful.

NEW MUSIC: “IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL” – THE TRAGEDY & TRIUMPH OF HORATIO SPAFFORD

I was doing a gig a couple weeks ago and threw in a few gospel tunes. As I wrapped up one of my sets with a new arrangement of “It Is Well,” a rough, mustached guy approached me.

You ever heard the story of that song?” he asked. I said yes, but couldn’t remember the details. He went on to tell me that his preacher had told him the story of the hymn: Horatio_Spafford

Horatio Spafford was a prominent lawyer in Chicago. A string of tragedies began in 1870, when Spafford’s four year old son died of pneumonia. The large family grieved the loss of their only son. The following spring, Spafford invested much of his wealth in developing real estate in Chicago. Not six months later, “The Great Chicago Fire” overtook the city, including most of Spafford’s new investments.

A couple years passed, and Spafford decided to take his family to England for a vacation. Held up by some imminent business, Horatio sent his family ahead on the Ville du Havre steamship. The steamship was sunk, though, and killed all four of Spafford’s daughters.

Eleven-year-old Annie. Nine-year-old Margaret Lee. Five-year-old Bessie. Two-year-old Tanetta. They were all dead.

telegram

His wife telegrammed, sending Horatio the unspeakable news. Horatio’s life was shattered into fragments. The man had been gutted. His family and his wealth had literally been destroyed. As he made his way to England and the boat passed the place where his children had recently died, Spafford penned the haunting words to the now-famous hymn, “…when sorrows like sea billows roll…”

Few people on earth will ever have to face the suffering of Horatio Spafford. But when our life is met with inevitable hardships, may we suffer in dignity and grace like he did. And may this song- whatever version we sing of it- remind us to cling to our triumph and hope in Christ.

When peace like a river comes my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, You have taught me to say
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”

It is well
With my soul

My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part, but the whole
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, oh my soul

I long for the day when my faith becomes sight
The clouds be rolled back like a scroll
The trumpet will sound, and the Lord will appear
Even so, it is well with my soul

I recorded two different versions of this song. I’ll release the other one shortly and let you be the judge of which version is best. In the meantime, listen to the song on the player to the right. You can download my chord chart for the arrangement. You can also download the tune for a buck on Bandcamp. All proceeds will go toward Lincoln’s “Buy Tangawizi a Bed” fundraiser. So enjoy, share, “like”, and spread the word. And as always, I love hearing your specific thoughts on the songs.

May you seek and enjoy the peace of God, which is beyond all human comprehension. He is extravagantly rich, and He desires for you to share in His kingdom through Jesus Christ.

EASY BREEZY BEAUTIFUL COVER SONGS…OR HOW TO EMBRACE THE ART OF THE COVER

Cover bands catch a lot of crap from songwriters and artists. In his podcast “The Accidental Creative,” Todd Henry concludes every podcast with the tagline “Cover bands don’t change the world.” I’ve given cover bands plenty of grief myself. I used to be the guy shamelessly rocking original songs in the battle of the bands amidst droves of bands covering Red Hot Chili Peppers and Dave Matthews and Chumbawamba and getting way more girls than I did. I used to think covers were the devil.

But now I’m not so convinced.

Want to know the name of the most famous cover band of all time? Their name was “Johnny and the Silver Beatles,” which quickly changed to just “The Silver Beatles,” who eventually became just…The Beatles. Yep, believe it or not the Fab Four started playing mostly covers. Lennon and McCartney started writing songs early in their career, but the majority of their early set lists and albums were filled with rehashed covers of popular songs.

Silver Beatles

the young Silver Beatles

When I realized this, I was a bit humbled about the whole “covering songs” idea. Like the Beatles, I think we can gain some things from covering songs:

Covering songs helps you understand songwriting on a more comprehensive level. I recently played with a brilliant sax player, who said he transcribes several famous solos every week so he can understand the style of great jazz players better. I read an interview with Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo who claimed he did the same with Kurt Cobain’s songs. Learning or performing covers gives songwriters a small glimpse through the lens of a great writer. It’s like learning to draw by tracing first. When covering a hymn or a classic, songwriters can learn a lot about crafting lyrics, arranging, and chord structures.

Learning covers can kick-start your creativity. Once I learned a new song every week by an artist I admired. My songwriting and chord vocabulary matured more in that six month period than any other. I learned new chords, alternate guitar tunings, and creative song structures. I started experimenting with them immediately- the new tools were like creative crack. The new chords led to still more chords and voicings, and new melodies followed soon after. Ironically, learning cover songs led to my most prolific songwriting streak to date.

Covering songs gives your audience a way to ease into your original material. I don’t know many people who will sit through an unknown songwriter’s set of all-original material. By nature people gravitate toward the familiar, and drift away from the unfamiliar. Face it- crowds are tough, especially when you are showcasing original material. But peppering in covers into your set helps people get down with the originals.

The Beatles’ first audiences were not adoring fans. They weren’t even serious music fans for that matter. The Beatles’ first long-standing gig was for a rowdy bar in Hamburg, Germany. They did hundreds of gigs in less than a year playing 8 hour sets every night. The ruffian crowds were restless and sometimes violent, and demanded to be entertained.

Covering songs helps you gauge the strength of your original songs. I can’t tell you how much I learned from studying the songwriting of the Beatles. Their chord structures were complex compared to my cowboy chord songs. They loaded their songs full of melodies- my songs only had a melody or two. The Beatles had a wide, whacky variety of styles within their albums- all my earliest songs all sounded the same.

Covering songs can teach us humility, and reveal how much we have to learn. You have to be careful, as Seth Godin says, not to “compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” If you are mopey because you are a creative genius and nobody “gets” you, be careful here. But if you can detach yourself from the songs you write, an objective approach to critiquing your own music can become a healthy habit.

Covering songs enables new generations to breathe life into outdated arrangements or lyrics. Have you ever heard Jeff Buckley’s version of “Corpus Christi Carol”? Mind-blowing. You’ll cry like a little baby. And Wyclef’s adaptation of the disco hit “Stayin’ Alive” was remarkably cool. Re-imagining cover songs within your own creative context gives listeners a fresh perspective without demanding too much out of them.

There is a creative movement going on within the modern church to update old hymns. Who still talks in “thee’s” and “thou’s”? No one. Who still sings hymns strictly to a pipe organ? No one (except congregations that could be mistaken for senior centers.) Thankfully, this hymn-update movement is revitalizing old classics in a context that makes sense for modern ears. You can do the same thing with cover songs. glen_ledited

You gotta’ crawl before you can walk. And if the Beatles had to pay their songwriting dues, so do you and I. Take a note from Glen Hansard’s character from the film “Once”:

“During the daytime people would want to hear songs that they know, just songs that they recognize. I play (original) songs at night or I wouldn’t make any money. People wouldn’t listen.”

Do yourself- and your audience- a few favors. Work up a few unforgettable covers , and you’ll be a cover-song convert. Promise.

 

INTERVIEW WITH STEVEN POTACZEK

Several weeks ago I posted about worship leaders becoming “anti rock stars.” I wanted to get to the root of the question, “How do we resist the temptation to make celebrities out of our Christian leaders?” As a worship leader who grew up playing music on stages, the question has been a powerful theme and a constant tension for my life. I’ll admit it’s been hard for me to reconcile being a Christian with being in the spotlight.

As I learn what real servant-focused leadership looks like, I’ve had the opportunity to ask a few influential worship leaders if they might share their thoughts on the issue. Jamie Barnes and David Santistevan shared some great wisdom. Today I want to introduce you to Steven Potaczek.

Steven and his wife Amanda spent several years touring with the piano-pop worship band “1,000 Generations.” After landing back in Indianapolis, Steven now serves as the senior worship director at Grace Church. Steven also teaches production and songwriting at Anderson University, and produces records in his “spare” time.

steven coloredited

Steven’s a legit songwriter, too. Among plenty of other more prestigious accolades, he’s had a song on my current favorite show, “Parks & Recreation.” (But to my knowledge, Steven is not to blame for any of Tom Haverford’s R&B slow jams.)

A few months back I saw that Steven had started a blog, forworshipleaders.com, which quickly jumped on the short list of blogs that I follow regularly. Steven writes with a refreshing depth, musically and spiritually. His blogs range from “embracing suffering” to “why it’s important to tune your church drums regularly.”

I connected with Steven through his blog, and asked if he might share a few thoughts. Steven gets ten bonus points for scrubbing toilets as a part of his first church gig. Here’s the full interview:

Nick: You and your wife met in college and started leading worship together and then gained popularity in the CCM market. Now are back to leading worship on a local level. Was there any amount of culture shock you faced, transitioning back and forth between local worship leading and the CMM market?

Steven: Holy cow was there ever. When operating properly, the church’s primary gauge of success is fruit. Without demonizing the entire CCM industry, the reality is that no matter how you cut it, it’s still an “industry.” It’s a business, a market. In business, the primary gauge of success often is financial return. So you’re going to often see a discrepancy between what the Church’s main priorities are and what the music business’ priorities are.

Steven onstage with 1,000 Generations

Steven onstage with 1,000 Generations

To be frank, the more success we starting having as a band, the less I enjoyed things. It’s not that the CCM industry is bad or wrong or anything; in fact, there’s a number of AMAZING believers there. It’s just that I started to realize that I wasn’t liking where our priorities were heading: we were getting more and more pressure to write “radio hits” and go to all these radio and retail conventions, do interviews, etc… That just wasn’t where our hearts were. Again, these aren’t inherently bad things, just something we weren’t sold out on!

Nick: You guys played a fair amount of big venues. How do you reconcile being on stage with loads of lights and sound and remaining a humble servant? Is there a tension there, even within the Christian music industry?

Steven: Yes, there is a tension there no doubt. Some people handle it really well, and others don’t. Since my wife and I were playing large shows on Friday night, and scrubbing toilets (we were janitors at our local church in addition to being worship leaders for a good number of years), it was hard to get too big of an ego! That said, large stages and lights aren’t problems, they’re solutions! When God is moving through an artist or worship leader, many are attracted. How we handle that attention makes all the difference though.

Nick: You’ve led worship in a real variety of places- more than most worship leaders. That must take some degree of flexibility? What advice would you give to worship leaders going into a new place for the first time?

Steven: The best advice I would worship leaders is that it’s not about them. People aren’t (primarily) coming to hear them, but to engage with God. Whenever I’m helping another ministry by leading worship, I’m always wanting to “partner” with them, asking questions like “how can we best come alongside what God is already doing in our congregation.” Flexibility, sure. The big key though is partnership.

Nick: What specific things get in the way of worshiping and leading well? Any stories you’d care to share about a particular worship-fail that you wish you could go back and do differently?

Steven: Let me first say this: there really are two kinds of “Christian” music: that which is regarding Christian lifestyle, and worship. Worship is a totally different beast than performance. Worship leading is about leading the people of God into the presence of God. It’s not about selling albums, garnering more fans, or anything like that. Those things can come as a by-product, but the focus as worship leaders is to lead the people of God into engagement with Him.

On my worship blog (www.forworshipleaders.com), I write a lot about what gets in the way of leading worship well (for instance, see the article “The #1 Worst Thing To Do When Leading Worship”). In terms of my own worship-fails, I’ve had countless! I’m on a journey just like everyone else! I’m constantly growing as a worship leader and need to be fed good information from other leaders. That’s the whole purpose of me creating forworshipleaders.com.

EV_Artist_Steven-Potaczek_EA5621111155_2taf1tl5xezt_PROXYedited

Specifically though if you want some “juice:” I’m awful at remembering lyrics. I’ve botched them more times than I can count. On “Your Love Oh Lord,” I’ve sang “your faithlessness” and had to stop the song because everyone started laughing at me, and on “I Will Worship,” I’ve sang “I will lick” you (a mashup of “I will love you” and “I will seek you”). Yep, me and lyrics…

Nick: What books, blogs, or resources do you recommend for worship leaders?

Steven: Of course! Be sure to visit www.forworshipleaders.com. The topics range from practical spiritual growth to to leadership tips to using Ableton Live in worship. Additionally, a subscription to Worship Leader magazine is fantastic (pass on the monthly CD program though). As far as great books on the subject of worship, I’m reading an incredible book on worship right now by Dick Eastman called “Intercessory Worship.” Matt Redman’s “The Unquenchable Worshiper” is also terrific.

 

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