We recently sat down with Pastor Mark Harris, a Dove Award–winning and Grammy-nominated songwriter who also happens to be Gateway’s associate senior pastor of worship, and picked his brain about techniques, tools, and the how-tos of songwriting. And boy, did he deliver. Whether he’s leading worship from Gateway’s platform or encouraging young songwriters in writing sessions, Pastor Mark has bucketloads of wisdom to share. Check out some of the knowledge we gleaned from one of Gateway’s masters of song.

  1. Writers are listeners. “The best writers are the best listeners. You can’t write something unless you know what to write about! If I’m going to write a worship song, I usually first spend time praying, reading Scripture or a book, or worshipping, so I can hear what the Lord might want me to write. You have to stop long enough to hear what needs to be sung!”
  2. Melody is king.“Most of the time, when someone hears a song, what they remember most is the melody. Even if you have a great idea and beautiful lyrics, the melody is usually what captures and hooks a person. To give your song the best chance of being remembered, make sure your melody is strong and easily singable.”
  3. Know your audience.“Worship song lyrics are typically ‘vertical,’ meaning they are addressed from you to God. Although some worship songs express something about God and His attributes, most are directed toward Him.”
  4. Work it. “I don’t think a lot of great songwriters start out as great songwriters. Some of it is natural ability, but I think a lot of it is hard work and perseverance. So find a space to get inspired, get out a pen and paper, and try brainstorming. For instance, if I want to write a song about grace, I write out everything I think about ‘grace.’ Sometimes it’s good to not take your pen off the paper until you fill the whole page, even if it’s nonsense. I also like to ask why, when, where, and what questions. So if I’m writing about God’s greatness, I ask myself,‘Why is God great? What makes Him great?’ and go from there.”
  5. The scary part. “Song writing includes an editing process, and editing often means taking away, not adding more. Sometimes I really like the first version, but if I’m flexible and have an open mind, it can become even better. Get feedback from people you trust and can be vulnerable with. I’m a big fan of cowriting. Collaboration often makes a song stronger, and an outside perspective is always so helpful.”
  6. Let it go. “Sometimes it’s hard to know when a song is ‘done.’ You can get so caught up in the editing and revising process and not realize you’re stuck there. Then you might miss out on other songs that God might lead you to write. At times, the best thing I can do is move on.”
  7. Don’t be discouraged. “Not all songs will go worldwide. Some songs may be just for you and God to share. There are songs that God lets me write just to get to the next song, and I’ve written many things that nobody has heard but were created to express the overflow of my heart. I believe a song will have its day if it’s supposed to have its day. The goal is to keep writing and keep worshipping.”

 

You can hear some great new songs on GATEWAY’s new Monuments album, available at Gateway Bookstore or on iTunes.