songwriting

Muse’s Matt Bellamy on corporate songwriting

Muse were pretty epic last night. They have a beautifully crafted stage presence that makes the songs you don’t like on their albums make a bit of sense. It’s almost as though they write their songs with the arena and not the CD player in mind… wait. That’s exactly what they do. Apparently. According to this interview anyway, which has some relevance (I think) to writing music for churches. Not that I’m an expert on the matter. But I know what songs I like singing and don’t like singing (and I have a yawn test – if I yawn while singing a song it isn’t much fun to sing).

Q: Speaking of your live show, Muse uses a lot of layers and complicated structures. As you are writing, do you three confer about how the songs will translate live.
A: The end venue, which relates to the last question, it has an impact on the writing, whether you like it or not. You’re always thinking – how is this going to be listened to. Our time is dominated mostly by touring, not by being in the studio. If we were just a studio band, we’d make one kind of album, but because we know we are going on the road, you can’t help but make music that has a relevance being in a large venue.
Using pronouns like “we” and “us”, instead of “I” – you move away from the personal and start moving to singing about more – even the whole venue will feel like it’s about them, or about all of us together in that room. It has an impact. It’s a major difference between the first album to this one, I feel the music we’re making is making a bigger effort to reach out to the people at the back of the venue. You can’t help but wanting to engage the audience.

Q: Do you miss playing small clubs?

A: I like it for different reasons. When you go into a small club, you can totally misjudge the set-list. There’s a certain type of songs which work well in a small venue and others that work well in a big venue. You can get it wrong. There’s a song from the last album called “Take A Bow”, and I imaging on this album it’ll be the track “Eurasia”, that if you played at a really small venue it would actually be crap (laughs). It just wouldn’t work. The pretensions of it, or the over-reachingness of it would be exposed.
Whereas when you go into a stadium environment, it feels perfectly relevant. The boldness of the emotion, the instrumentation of the music fits very well.

Q: So when you are writing, you are writing to the space?

A: I wouldn’t say it’s conscious. I’ve noticed it’s happening unconsciously. It might be the impact of playing in front of large audiences for a long period of time. It makes you think differently about people, it make you think differently about yourself. It’s no longer just a subjective, lonely experience.

Facing the music

Another post, another YouTube video…

As I mentioned earlier, Matt Redman, who is responsible for a few cringe worthy "worship" songs, is undergoing a bit of a Copernican revolution. He has realised that some of the soppiness in his songs can be a little bit over the top, and not quite Biblical.

I’m glad he uses the framework he does to assess his songwriting (and that of others).

"In the Bible you don’t see a lot of people coming up to Jesus and saying you’re beautiful"

Open Source Songs

An interesting discussion has been occurring over at Simone’s blog after a Sola Panel post raised her song writing hackles. It all started from a discussion about amending lyrics to make them more theologically palatable.

In my mind it’s a discussion on the “open source” nature of ministry material masquerading as a copyright debate. There’s a useful document on churches and copyright here (PDF).

I sympathise with Simone’s artistic position – as a graduate of the Creative Industries faculty at QUT I can do little else. But I don’t think our understanding of things created as ministry tools should be shaped by our understanding of “secular copyright”.

Bach famously signed off his compositions with a Latin acronym SDG (the phrase Sola Deo Gloria – meaning to the glory of God alone). His understanding was that his creative works belonged to God. At least that’s my understanding of his understanding.

If, as Simone argues, words (and music) belong to the songwriter alone – then there are some broad ethical considerations to make. Her argument opens up, in my mind, an ethical can of worms when it comes to reappropriating and retuning old hymns. It’s legal – because they are “public domain” but just because it’s legal doesn’t make it ethically right. If a song is a possession then it’s odd to argue that its intangible nature makes it somehow different from a material thing. A dead person’s belongings remain with their estate in perpetuity – and yet we’re happy to tinker with their no doubt prized works. 

My thinking – and indeed my “preference” – is for a “creative commons” approach to ministry. There are now almost 30 comments on the thread on Simone’s blog – and the majority are from me. It’s an interesting (in my mind) issue to think through. And I’m glad it has been raised.

Even going down the “Copyright” path opens up avenues where I’d suggest congregations should be free to change things. If ministry is essentially working as God’s employees (1 Corinthians 3:9) then our employer owns the copyright for works we produce – so his word should change the content. If a song is theologically wrong, but can be easily redeemed – then I say redeem it. 

I don’t know why artistic endeavours are placed on some pedestal over and above exercising other God given gifts. I sympathise. I consider myself a “creative” person. But I don’t see why writing words that glorify God in song is different to writing a recipe that glorifies God through hospitality – and you don’t see chefs jumping up and down when someone tinkers with their ingredients.

I used an argument based on writing media releases too – in the comments – which I quite liked. So I’ll reproduce it.

“I write Media Releases for a living. I agonise over every word because they’re often of a political nature or important to get right. It’s important that they communicate a truth. Just as it’s important that your songs communicate a truth about God.
I get angry if they’re misconstrued and used out of context.
But if they’re being used appropriately to communicate my organisation’s point but my words are not used verbatim (except the bits in direct quotes) then I rejoice. Because they have achieved their purpose.”

If I wrote a song – and learned people were changing it in a way I did not approve of – I’d defend my original position but I don’t think I’d die in a ditch over it.

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