Song Discovery Creative Conference – “God Still Speaks”

This past week, I attended the Song Discovery Creative Conference in Nashville, put on the by the good folks at Worship Leader Magazine.  This is the first time they have held this type of conference, expanding the Song Discovery in the Round conference to include tracks for authors and visual artists the year. Since I’ve been writing more CD reviews and articles recently, I focused on the track for authors, although some of my workshops were from the songwriting and visual artist track.  I found this conference to be very  purposeful, worthwhile and real. Here’s just a few of the highlights.

Thursday Morning Worship and General Session

Darrell Harris – The conference started in a way I didn’t expect, although was a welcome change. Instead of starting with an upbeat song or video, Darrell started off with a short devotional on how we are to imitate Christ in our imagining and creating.

Cindy Morgan – Cindy led us in a time of worship with her band, which consisted of Cindy on keys/guitar, along with percussion, mandolin, violin, and banjouke (I think that’s what she called it!)

Chuck Fromm – Chuck is on staff at Worship Leader, and introduced the theme for the conference, which is “God Still Speaks”, which you can see in the banner on top!

Ian Morgan Cron – Ian is an Episcopal priest and author, and his talk was definitely “interesting”.  He started by taking us through a prayer of sound and silence, chanting “Shalom” in unison, then harmony, then silence.  It was quite awkward, and not my favorite part of the conference. But, I understood what he was trying to do.  He talked about how God speaks to us in the silence, and the importance of going deeper with our relationship with the Lord by listening to Him in the silence to discover our real selves. If we want to create good art, it needs to come out of that place of silence with the Lord, and not out of all the noise around us.

Thursday General Author Session

Pete Wilson – Pete is the pastor of Cross Point Church in Nashville, and spoke to the authors about some things he’s learned in his experience as an author.

  • If you have writer’s block, think of it more as being “empty” than being “blocked”
    • Find things that fill you up (movies, playing with kids, etc) and do that, then go back and try again
  • Write in such a way that opens closed doors
  • Write in community
    • God uses community to push us
  • Don’t write for the critics
    • Don’t confuse who you are with what you create
    • Don’t look to your accomplishments to get your self-worth
    • Our value is not based on performance, and doesn’t decline as we fail
    • To protect against that, visualize the people you are writing for and write for them
  • Create for His glory, not your approval
    • Our writing is an act of worship, not something we do to gain approval

Thursday Afternoon Workshops

“Above the Fold – Writing for Mass Media”Jeremy Armstrong
Jeremy is the managing editor for Worship Leader Magazine, and in this workshop he talked about writing for magazines. He gave tips, as an editor, about how to increase the chances of having your submission considered, and not just deleted from the inbox.

  • Things to avoid
    • Cutesy, too eloquent
    • Insporational pieces, over-personalized stories, poorly crafted blog entries, scholarly pieces, sloppy work
  • What to submit
    • The word “submission” in the subject line
    • Articles that are exclusive to you that would be helpful to others
    • How-to articles
    • Check his editorial schedule, and submit things on a topic of an upcoming article

“Inspiring Creativity” – Jennie Lee Riddle

Songwriter Jennie Lee Riddle shared some of her thoughts with other songwriters on how to inspire your creativity. Some interesting things she mentioned:

  • She rarely listens to music.  To avoid the chance of copying someone else, she rarely listens to music in her genre.
  • Push yourself, write lyrics outside your genre, work on your craft, practice and write with metronome
  • People inspire her – she writes about what and who God directs her to see with her eyes.
  • Our creativity should be a servant for the church, not for ourselves

Thursday evening Night of Worship
Definitely another highlight of the conference, the Worship Night on Thursday was a wonderful time of celebration and praise.  Michael W. Smith hosted the evening with performances by Michael Farren, Jennie Lee Riddle, All Sons & Daughters, Meredith Andrews, Tommy Walker and more.

Revelation Song
Jennie Lee Riddle singing "Revelation Song" with Michael Farren on guitar and Michael W. Smith on piano

Friday Morning General Session

Steve McPherson – Steve is the head of the publishing department at Hillsong Church.  He had a fascinating story of how he got involved with the worship department at Hillsong.

  • Power of knowing the purpose of your art
    • “Art is to make clear the beautiful” – to bring the beauty of God into clear view for people to see and worship
  • Power of knowing the direction of your art
    • We are uniquely gifted to write songs for our church at this time.
    • If we’re going to write songs for the church, we need to direct our art with the church in mind. Know who God has called you to serve
  • Power of surrendering your art
    • Our desire for Him needs to be greater than our desire for art
    • Serve your local church without thinking of career path
    • Your lifestyle offstage is more important to your relevancy than what you wear on stage
  • Power of combining your art
    • Bring your unique voice and art and combine it with others at your church for greater impact
  • The Stewardship of our Art
  • Mentoring

Friday Afternoon Workshops

“Improving Your Voice”Chance Scoggins – Chance is a vocal instructor and professional singer in Nashville, and he gave a very helpful workshop on how a good singer can become a great singer.

  • A good singer knows his voice; a great singer will take the opportunity to take his voice and stretch it
    • Find the brightest part of your voice, and the darkest part of your voice; where does your voice sound best?
    • Smile when you sing – it will immediately make your voice sound better
    • Find the most important word in each phrase, and emphasize it
  • A good singer sings with phrases; a great singer intentionally starts and ends phrases
    • Don’t sing the chorus, then the verse, etc..; sing this word, then the next word, then the next…
  • A good singer expresses the heart of the lyric; a great singer expresses the lyrics from their own heart
  • A good singer communicates with their voice; a great singer communicates with their voice, mind and body
  • A good singer conveys confidence; a great singer is confident
    • Be confident in your calling
  • A good singer does their very best; a great singer understands that it will take work to be excellent

“Writing for the Web” – Jeremy Armstrong
In this session, Jeremy focused on writing for the web, instead of in magazines.

  • Decide your strategy – will your site by a dynamic place of action, or an online brochure for events
  • Understand the goal of online reader – to find useful information as quick as possible
  • Highlighted words, different size fonts, action-oriented, meaningful headings and sub-headings, bulleted lists, 1 idea per paragraph

Friday Afternoon Closing Session

Israel Houghton – Israel Houghton closed out the conference with an encouraging talk to us as creatives. A few key points:

  • Good production is not worship
  • If a cake is really, really good, you don’t even need the icing. Cameras, lights, etc… are icing. It’s not about the icing.
  • The more time we spend worshipping alone off the stage, the better we will be as worshippers on the stage
  • We always should remember we “get to” lead worship, not “got to”.
  • Keep our focus on pleasing the King, not the people

Overall, this was an excellent conference! It was great to see so many people that I’ve met either online or at previous conferences. It’s always good to be challenged, stretched, renewed and reminded of why we do what we do.  Thanks to Suzie and all the others who worked so hard to organize it!

“Love God. Love People.” by Israel Houghton – A Review

I had the privilege of listening to “Love God. Love People.”, the new release by Israel Houghton set to release on August 31st, to review for All About Worship.  I have been anxiously awaiting his next release, following “The Power of One”, which was hugely successful, garnering a Grammy for the Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel album earlier this year.  This new album was such a joy to listen to! It did not disappoint in any way!

As the title indicates, this new project “is a return to a simple, foundational Gospel command: Love the Lord with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself,” says Israel. The album was recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in  London, and features Israel and the New Breed along with a group of outstanding guest artists, including Kirk Franklin’s vocals on “Mercies”, Fred Hammond on the bass guitar and smooth vocals in “Surprises”, and half of the Take 6 group on the beautiful “Hosanna (Be Lifted Higher)”, one of my favorite tracks on the whole album!

It’s hard to describe the style of this new album, with much of it having the all-familiar Israel Houghton gospel style, which is so wonderful! But, there is also a mix of rock, funk, pop, reggae, and a few more surprises thrown in, including The London Session Orchestra, and Israel’s version of the the recent Passion song “Our God”.

From the first few seconds of opening title track, I knew this album would be a lot of fun to listen to! I put on my headphones, turned up the volume, sat back and enjoyed a captivating musical journey filled with exciting moments of upbeat gospel praise, excellent tight vocal harmonies, outstanding musicians, and plenty of surprises along the way. I had to take off my “worship-leader-looking-for-new-songs” hat that I usually wear when listening to new albums, because although there are a couple songs I can see introducing to our church (“You Hold My World” and “Hosanna (Be Lifted Higher)”), I thoroughly enjoyed just listening to this album, appreciating all of the outstanding, excellent musicians using their amazing talents to praise God!

Some of the stand-out tracks for me I’ve already mentioned, including “You Hold My World”, a great song that could easily be adapted for churches; “You Won’t Let Go”, which fuses Reggae, Rock and that huge horn section into a contagious mix of sounds that I just had to play over and over again; and “Hosanna (Be Lifted Higher)”,  mixing the beautiful string sounds of the London Session Orchestra, a pure sound of a boys choir, the tight vocal harmonies of Take 6, and Israel and the New Breed’s vocals into a powerful worship song that builds and builds to an amazing climax of worship. The perfect way to close out this powerful project!

You will definitely want to pick this CD up when it comes out the end of August. You will not want to miss it!!

Barry Westman
All About Worship

(Note: You can also read this review on the All About Worship website.