Evaluating Songs: Music or Lyrics First?

We are always looking for new songs (ones we don’t know). Recently I spent time with two of our worship leaders/musicians discussing a potential new song. One had chased a song on the internet he had heard on the radio and liked. After looking at the first two lines I knew we were in trouble and it didn’t improve much as the lyrics progressed. With a few word changes the song would have made a great romantic pop ballad. We discussed the song and agreed that the lyrical content did not make the cut. In this case the music was much more powerful and compelling than the message in the lyrics. I have had the same thing happen to me on songs; great music, but not a message to match it.

The latest song I introduced to the congregation most likely did not come from a top CD. I found it on a worship blog. There was a pdf leadsheet link and a mp3 link right below it in the blog entry which encouraged me to check the song out. I quickly reviewed the lyrics and determined they were something we could potentially use. So I saved the leadsheet and downloaded the mp3 to listen to later. I listened to the song multiple times during my daily walks with other songs I was considering and it went to the top. The music was fresh and different adding to the already very compelling lyrics. Note: when there is just a link to a music file, I usually pass because I don't have time to chase down a leadsheet.

Since I have limited time for song evaluation, I prefer to read lyrics before listening to songs because it’s faster (I can read a song faster than I can listen to it). It also prevents the power of the music from overwhelming and biasing my evaluation of the lyrics (assuming I can even hear the words clearly which is often not the case). Just because the lyrics are great doesn’t mean a song will make the cut; the music has to be pretty good also. However, if there is going to be a compromise it’s not going to be on the content of the song. I have noticed that often a song with strong lyrics has a tendency to grow on me the more I sing it.

The number of new songs we can introduce each year is limited. New songs are a substantial investment of time, so we are becoming quite selective. There is no room for a song without strong and solid lyrics as we seek improve the quality of our song base by adding depth and breadth.

The specifics on how I evaluate the content of a song is coming in future posts.


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