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Review: No Other Name, Hillsong Worship

No other nameHillsong Worship (June 2014)

I readily confess that I often judge albums by their cover, or at least, a good cover will often make me want to listen, and the cover of the new Hillsong album is pretty intriguing: Time Square lit up with the title of the new album (and it’s not photoshopped!)

I was keen to hear the new album, and have really been enjoying it, particularly the lyrical direction. (Zac Hicks goes into much more intelligent detail about this, so go read his post)

Who would have thought, back when we lived around the corner from one of the Hillsong campuses, that they would be putting out an album so gospel-centric, with retuned hymns and settings of creeds and prayers? It’s perhaps indicative that millenial Christians are  indeed interested in re-connecting with the historical practices of faith (in a reaction to the rather individualistic Gen-X trend). I love that they took John Dickson’s challenge on board to write a really catchy, singable setting of the creed:

Musically, the album doesn’t break new ground, but is solidly chock full of Hillsong’s classic layered, synthy, guitarsy, melody-driven arrangements. It’s a good sound, and doesn’t get in the way, but really helps support the lyrics to be sung. They’re the kind of songs which could be easily stripped down and sung with simple (average church) arrangements.

Lyrically, it’s really strong, with a focus on the person and work of Christ. I’d happily use pretty much all of the songs in my own context(again, who would have thought..), but my favourites (so far) are:

    

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Some reflections on my songwriting

I’m in the process of setting up a new file system and backup, and as part of that I’m moving my songwriting files and archives across to a new drive. Over the last couple of hours I’ve been enjoying looking and listening back to old stuff and some more recent stuff.

My first really productive time of songwriting was back in the first half of the naughties when I lived in Toowoomba. It was productive in the sense that I wrote a number of songs.  We even sang a couple of them in our church occasionally, which upon reflection, was very gracious of them, and arguably more exposure than most them deserved! It was from this period that Jesus Precious Blood came, a song which I wrote with my mate Tim Burstow, and which was later recorded on the IBC Many Faces Many Places CD:

Realistically, this was the only ‘good’ song from that period, though there were a couple of OK ones amongst a long list of shockers.

I was still writing a bit in Sydney and attempted one or two during my London time, but somehow it faded into the background, and by the time I got to Nürnberg, I wasn’t really writing anymore.

It was, in fact, the acceptance of two songs for the aforementioned IBC CD project which reignited the songwriting itch, and once we moved to Karlsruhe, being again in a position to build up a basic home studio I started writing again.

While it’s a little bit embarrassing to see just how many stinkers I’ve written, even in the last couple of years, it’s also exciting to see just how much (I think) I’ve improved.  Of course, I will probably look back at these songs in ten years and marvel at the patience of those who I made singalong!

Upon reflection, there are a couple of things which I think have been central to this growth:

1. Re-writing

This has been one of the big things I’ve been working on over the last two years in particular. It’s pretty obvious that in my older stuff I was satisfied just to fill up the right number of syllables with the idea in question. I had to learn to not just go with the first idea. I’m learning that if a line feels even just a little less that comfortable,  then it’s not right. The ‘aha’ moment was when I showed someone a song I’d written and they replied with ‘Great first draft, there’s some good ideas in there’. What was initially a deflating moment really helped me see just how much re-working songs need, and I think this discipline can be heard in my most recent songs.

2. Practice

Particularly this year I’m already seeing the fruit of regular, disciplined writing. Just taking a little time each day to ‘write’, even if most days are uninspired and don’t result in anything, helps develop the writing muscles, and makes room for re-writing.

3. Share them live

It’s one thing to upload a demo and quite another to actually get your music team to play through a song, and even more so to ask your congregation or small group to sing it! In some ways this really just an extension of developing good editing. Some songs might well be decent songs, and internally cohesive and pleasing etc. but I’ve found it’s been helpful to ask ‘Is this song good enough to be sung alongside our other repertoire?’. For me, this is the difference between an ok song and a good song. By this measure I’d count my good songs on one hand, out of the dozens and dozens I’ve written. Of course, this needs a healthy dose of reality and humility, and is best done with the input of some trusted friends. The other side of this is that writing for a local congregation can be a really fruitful attitude.

One last thing… I remember someone tweeting a warning, a while back, about not sharing scratch demos online, because songs only get one first impression. At the time I thought ‘yeah, fair point, but I want to get feedback on my ideas!’. But really, I think I really just wanted people to say how great my ideas were, and btw, here’s a publishing contract! The thing is, not only has my songwriting improved, but also my arranging and recording, but I fear that I put so many half-baked, badly-written songs ‘out there’ that now when I want to put a rather more polished demo ‘out there’ (it would be poor form to stop putting up #TewntyFourteenProject demos half-way through!), the bad impression will cause people to ignore it. I tell myself it’s just the new Facebook algorithms…

Speaking of which, I recently put up a recording of a song we’ve done at church a couple of times, so don’t let past experience put you off (and feel free to offer that publishing contract):

No doubt, in ten years time I’ll wonder what I was thinking putting this ‘out there’!

Seriously though, I would love it if you downloaded the track and shared it on your social networks.

Really the last thing now..
Over the last 18 months I’ve been working on a little collection of songs based on the five solas of the reformation, which I think are good (so I haven’t shared them online!) and which will result in a (professionally mixed!) EP sometime in 2015.  So stay tuned (i.e. subscribe via email on the top-right of the page, or follow along on twitter or facebook).

Blessings.
A.

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Writing songs from scripture

Ross Hutto has written a really helpful post on worship song writing which is worth checking out.

Most, if not all of my worship songs come directly from scripture. There’s a plethora of ideas and in my opinion the best source for writing songs for worship. So, I try and read scripture. A lot of it. I don’t mean legalistically, but it’s a great idea to soak in it, to meditate on it. You want to write from a place of experience and familiarity with Scripture. Don’t just throw a dart at a random Psalm and make a song out of it.

He looks in particular at approaching a scripture passage for lyrics, and gives the advice to boil the passage down to one theme.

It might take a while to actually boil it down because sometimes you’ll see more than one theme jump out at you. Which is actually a good thing. Use a songwriting notebook and catalog those ideas for later use. You can actually write multiple songs from even the shortest passages.

A further point to remember is to try rewriting and paraphrasing things; this is the art of finding fresh ways to express ageless truths.

The point is that you can say basically the same thing many different ways. I believe, that depending on the translation you start from, it might actually benefit you and those that hear your songs to actually hear different versions of the same concept. Why? Well, for one thing if you’re writing for an environment that hopes to include those who are far from God, you don’t want to be “churchy” sounding with all of your songs.

Do check out the rest of the post.

H/T WorshipLinks.

Music downloading poll

I just posted this straw poll on my BookFace page, and would appreciate your answers:

1) Do you regularly download free music (legally – e.g. noisetrade, bandcamp)?

2) Do you regularly buy music downloads?

3a) If not, why not?

3b) If yes, do you regularly download (free or paid) albums, singles or both?

4) If you also stream music (legally – e.g. Spotify) would you still be inclined to download music you like?

5) Are you more or less likely to download free music from indie or unknown artists?

Any other comments on what might you more likely to download and share (legally) free music?

(none of the above refers to illegally downloading or sharing music, because you shouldn’t be doing that).

Cheers!

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The heart of worship planning

A few weeks ago Jamie Brown stirred up the evangelical worship leader blogsphere with this post. While there was quite a lot of pushback from some, there was also a lot of helpful dialogue about why we do what we do in our services. I think it was a good conversation to have, and Jamie raises some really important points.

In the week following, another thoughtful worship music blogger, David Santisteven mentioned the issues in his regular e-mail newsletter. He kindly gave me permission to post an excerpt, and what I think is the heart of the matter:

While we know worship isn’t about lights, music, and videos, we still need to strategically think about how and why we use these mediums in corporate worship.


When deciding which tools to use in corporate worship, we need to think like this: How will {insert worship form} help my people remember what God has done, trust God in their present circumstances, and look forward to the coming reign of Jesus?

That is basically the job description for those who are planning and leading worship services, isn’t it? But how easily we forget that in favour of doing things we think are trendy or will make us look good!

Blessings.

Img source: Anonymous Account

A ramble… bring on the holidays!

Img source: Anonymous Account.

I suppose it’s obvious that I’m not a particularly disciplined blogger of late. There’s plenty of stuff I could write about, for example, I was planning on writing this week about the wonderful international service we had last sunday… but I just haven’t got it in my right now. All I’ve got is this bit of a ramble.

I can see the summer break on the horizon – a break from 6+ months straight of rehearsals (performances are fine, it’s a 6 week rehearsal period which will get you.. give me 4-5 new productions back-to-back and it becomes a little like treading water at times). I anticipate that the summer break will be also an intentional digital break, from where a recalibration can take place.

I’m still writing songs. It’s hard, and this month I’m struggling – not from time, but from the work of writing. Where I usually have a really solid idea or sketch by this stage of the month, I’m only now starting to coax out some potential idea. But this is the whole point of the project, to push on when it would “nothing to post post”.

I’m looking forward to carving out some space to think about what this blog might actually be, or become. Will it remain sporadic and somewhat eclectic – a haphazard occasional snapshot of my thought life? Will it sharpen its focus a lot more on music? And if so, which of my two main musical energies?

Anyhow, those questions can wait for another time. I’m off to take a nap before tonight’s Premiere.

Blessings.

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#TwentyFourteenProject May: You have raised me up

It’s time for a new #TwentyFourteenProject song again…

In May I wanted to try something a bit different, and get away from the usual four-on-the-floor I gravitate towards. The nice jazzy tone of my Gretsch helped pull out some old Ska influence. The result was a bit of fun, based on Ephesians 2… it’s far from perfect, and I see that I need to spend more time on verses, while choruses come much more easily.

Anyway, check it out:

Some crowdfunding albums to support

Crowdfunding has really opened up the doors for church songwriters. Grassroots and local songwriters have access to the means of getting their work ‘out there’, and I personally a big fan (fund others as you would have them fund you!), and have already blogged about projects which I’ve supported in the past. In this post I want to highlight a couple of projects which are currently raising support, and IMO, well worth supporting.

 

 

and

For what basically amounts to ‘pre-ordering’ you can help make these projects a reality.

Farewell old friend – images from my Nikon D50

Last week I sold my trusty Nikon D50. I bought it when we lived in Sydney, and it was a real catalyst for my picture taking. I’ve taken it around the world a bit, and taken some wonderful images on it, including one which won a prize. So, as a way to mark the occassion, I’ve put together a Flickr album with some ‘highlights’ of images taken with the D50:

New EP from Zac Hicks: ‘His be the victor’s name’

A little while back one of my favourite bloggers, Zac Hicks, and a team from his church, brought out a great EP of congregational worship songs. Zac was kind enough to send me a copy.

cover - HBTVN - smallThe EP has a couple of originals and a couple of hymn retunes. Serious points are won by the opening track which starts with a massive organ introduction using Bach’s ‘Wachet auf’ then launching into a fairly driving song ‘Wake up sleepers’.

‘Most merciful God’ is a beautiful addition to the fairly sparse genre of confession songs. The title track ‘His be the victor’s name‘ is a retune of a text by Samuel W. Gandy.

My favourite track is ‘One way love’ (which is the same title as a recent book from Zac’s pastor, Tullian Tchividjian).

Once bound beneath the weight of sin You bound me to Your grace
Now freely chosen in the Son I freely choose His ways

It’s a catchy, singable set of songs, which continually brings the listener  singer-along to Christ, who achieved our salvation once and for all.

More info & song sheets here

#TwentyFourteenProject April: Your kingdom come

So, it’s time for April’s new #TwentyFourteenProject song..

Here’s a lyric video with some random footage a shot in Karlsruhe, and along the Necker around Heidelberg:

For those who get a bit motion sick, here’s just the audio:

Chord chart: Your kingdom come.

I’m happy with the result again this month; I feel like this project is paying off, in that I’m getting more disciplined about reworking and being aware of sections which don’t work so well. Forcing the song to sit for a week or so before declaring it ‘finished’ really helped, as I made a significant melodic change to the hook line of the chorus after such a ‘settling’ period. I also think I’m improving my recording and arranging.

What do you think? (i.e. where are my blind spots, / things to pay more attention to?)