How to co-write worship songs with multiple songwriters

Writing worship songs can be hard. Co-writing worship songs can be even harder. Especially if you’re new to songwriting, or your church wants to start a songwriting ministry. It can be difficult to get a diverse group of people writing worship songs together (also known as co-writing). In this bonus episode (taken from our live, private academy Q&A) Stephen Duncan shares some gold nuggets about how to co-write worship songs effectively as a group.

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Alex | (00:00)

Hey, one of the perks of being part of the Academy is that you get to join me live as I interview some of the world’s brightest minds in the worship space. During our podcast interviews, you get to submit your own questions and ask them directly to our guests, and you get to get their expert advice applied to your specific context. And if you’d like that, if you feel like that would be helpful to you, you can join us inside the Academy by going to worshipministrytraining. Com and try your $1 trial to get 15 days. We have podcast interviews at least once a month, sometimes twice a month, and you get to join me and then you get to ask your own questions at the end in a special bonus segment. And this video snippet you’re about to watch is from one of our live Q&A sessions with Steven Duncan, who won Publisher of the Year and who travels around the USA with his wife, helping churches start songwriting ministries in their local context. One of our academy members asked Steven, How do I co write a song? How do we do group writing? Do you have any tips?

Alex | (00:58)

Here is an expert’s advice on how to do group writing. And if you’d like to join us in these live Q&A s, please join the academy. I’d love to see you inside. Enjoy this snippet from our Q&A session. Caleb has a question. It says, what is the best way to write songs with a group of people? I think there’s a lot of directions you can go with that, so I’ll let you take it wherever you want. But I mean, even to the point of like, how many is too many? So go for it.

Stephen Duncan | (01:25)

Yeah, I would say four is the max amount for a co write. Even though you see groups like Elevation, Bethel, Hillsong, all the big groups, they’ll have 10 people’s names on it. It’s because at first it started in a room full of four people, and then one of those people took it to another room of four people, and it just kept going until 10 people ended up on it, producers and things like that. So I would do three. Three is great. Four is great depending on the dynamic. Make sure the dynamic of your room, there’s somebody who’s focused on, again, know your role, somebody who’s focused on the lyric, even if they’re good at both lyric and melody, somebody’s focused on the lyric. Somebody else is focused on the melody and presentation rhythm of it. Maybe the third person is just the idea, throw things against the wall, see what sticks. And maybe the fourth person is just making sure that the room continues to have momentum and nobody fixates on the line so much that it stops the creative process. That’s the best way in a group of four to have somebody that plays a different role.

Stephen Duncan | (02:34)

Even though everybody can speak into all parts of the song, each person needs to have a role as to what they’re really focusing on. Make sure that you’re all in agreement, we call it a unified yes, on which lie you’re trying to banish, what Scripture is the actual truth that banishes that lie? Because some of those are references, but they’re not the heart of the subject and the truth. So make sure you’re picking the scripture that best represents the truth that needs to be established. Make sure that you give each other then first time to pray and worship in the room and then go into burst writing each one of you for 10 minutes. After you prayed, worshiped, you know the scripture, you know the lie that you’re addressing and the truth that you’re establishing. After you’ve worshiped and prayed, everybody needs to process it in their own way. Then create an outline like a term paper. Create an outline of the song. First verse, write a sentence that qualifies what the first verse is going to say. Second verse, a sentence that qualifies the second verse. Chorist, what’s it going to say? Bridge, what’s it going to say?

Stephen Duncan | (03:49)

You go all the way through that, make sure everybody agrees on how that song is going to unfold. Then out of your burst writing, take some of those lines and throw that into your outline. This is great as a group. This is great as an individual. Both of those work. Then as you’re starting to listen to some lines that other people are throwing out and some melody s and some ideas, once you get a good thing going, stop for a second, just long enough to go on Spotify, find a soundalike song, listen to it, go, I really like the language of this or like the melody of this or whatever, throw around some songs, all agree to a sound and a language that you can listen to and reference back on Spotify and then go back into it. Always try to go for the unified yes. Try not to go for compromise. I know that sounds weird, but try not to go for just conceding something to concede something. Make sure it brings everybody closer to the throne of God. Make sure it brings everybody closer to the image of being in the image of Christ.

Stephen Duncan | (05:02)

It’s worth fighting for. Set expectations of how long the right is going to be. Make sure that you have expectations of when you’re going to get together again before you leave that room to finish the song and how long it should take to finish the song. Be flexible too. If you say we’re going to finish this song in 30 days and you make a great effort but still something’s not quite right, then set it out for another 30 days and keep going. Don’t just leave it open ended either and just be lazy about it. Try to find that sweet spot where you’re trying to finish the song but if you don’t, it’s okay. Don’t put so much pressure on it that it stops the process. Then once the song is actually finished, make sure everyone has a role in what happens next with the song. Maybe a few of you are going to lead the song. Maybe one of you is going to go demo the song. Maybe one of you has a lot of friends that you can play the song for and other worship pastors that can also then lead that song. For me, because I’m a publisher too, lots of times I’m the publisher in the room.

Stephen Duncan | (06:10)

So once we’re done with the song, now I take on a new role as I’m the publisher, I’m going to pitch this to as many artists or get it to as many churches as possible. Whereas somebody else is recording it, somebody else might help fundraise for a demo or for a master. Somebody might be going out and writing a chord chart for it. Divvy up the responsibilities of what happens after the song is done. I think that’s probably in a group setting the most frustrating if you don’t clarify those expectations from the beginning, what happens after the song is done. If you don’t talk about that before the song starts, it’s like group papers. One person ends up doing the majority of the work and everybody gets credit for it. And that just is no fun at all. And so make sure everybody knows not only the role in the room, but after the song is done. And then I would just encourage you, if you’ve got a group of songwriters that would be interested in the devotional that we wrote, go through it together and answer some of those writing prompts together and see what other people are saying.

Alex | (07:19)

Yeah, thank you. And should people come into the room with nothing or with a chorus or a melody or what’s the starting… What is it called? The flint that starts.

Stephen Duncan | (07:29)

The fire. Yeah, bring a gift to the party. Don’t expect that transformation is going to happen in the room. These burst writing times, these times where you’re on your own in Scripture, allowing God to refine you, make sure you’re journaling that burst, writing it out. Make sure you’re taking time to write an outline to a song, a potential song. You can bring a chorus. I tend to say don’t bring a whole song and then expect people to want to work on it, but do hash out a lot of the ideas. Know what the transformation looks and smells like before you bring it into the room and then bring it into the room. I say I typically on any day, have 10 ideas that I’ve journaled about, that God has been teaching me about. I’ve got a short melody and maybe a hook line, which is typically what the title is, or that one line at the end of the chorus that really lands the entire idea. Typically, I’ve worked out that last line and the second to last line to make sure that it lands the hardest it possibly can. Then I’ll outline the song and have a bunch of burst writing on it, and that’s what I’ll come into the room with, 10 of those.

Stephen Duncan | (08:51)

But you know you’ve done the deeper work personally leading up to the room. So you can be confident that even though you’re expected to finish the song in three or four hours, that you’ve already done the heavy lifting, the heavy soul care that it takes to get the idea right, then as people are throwing in and out ideas, it’s actually quite easy to go, Actually, it’s not quite like that. I was writing a song with somebody the other day about God’s providence, and we were writing some lyrics that made it sound like God’s providence is all just like sprinters and whipped cream on the top of ice cream. One of my co writers said, Actually, I think God’s providence is that when you look back on the anxieties that you’ve had in life, you now see that God was putting them to rest. I was like, Wow, yes, that is the fullness of what God’s providence is. It’s not us just seeing things as roses, but it’s actually looking back on the hardest things in our life and realizing that God was already working it for good. And so he helped me because he had been spending months thinking about providence and allowing God to work that in him.

Stephen Duncan | (10:10)

That when I through out some lines, he was like, No, no, no, no, no, no. Yes, providence is like that, but it’s more like this, and he laid it out on the table. That’s why a lot of the soul care and the work needs to happen before going into the right, so that when you get into the right, you have something established in you that then you can hold the room to rather than just going, That’s a really cool line. We should put that in there. Even if it’s the coolest of lines, the most creative of lines, if it doesn’t speak to the truth that you know that has been spoken into you, then you go, That’s really cool. Maybe that’s for another song. But today’s song, that doesn’t work because it doesn’t smell, taste, look like the truth.

Alex | (10:54)

All right. I hope you were encouraged by this short bonus video. And if you want to join us in the academy, you can try it for just $1 for 15 days by going to worshipministry training. Com. Or we do have a free segment. The Q&A sessions are not included in that, but you can at least be around other worship leaders who are taking their craft seriously. You can go to worshipministry training. Com free to join the free portion of our academy. Get into the community and start to make friends and start to get support and encouragement and learn new things and share ideas. I would love to see you inside either way. God bless you.