Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Songwriting Part 3: about "a" son / people are crazy, but they're not dumb

Around the world Clint Eastwood is most famous for his brilliant one-liners, but, believe it or not, what made his career may have actually been the things he didn’t say. As an actor, Eastwood is known for blotting entire pages of dialog out of his scripts. In an ‘85 interview with Rolling Stone he explained “In a real A picture, you let the audience think along with the movie; in a B picture you explain everything”.

The same principal can be true as a songwriter. It’s important to keep in mind that a person’s imagination is far more vivid than your language or melody will ever be. Because of this, it doesn’t necessarily help your story/message/cause to insult their intelligence with over-explanation or ultra-simplification. In my opinion, the ultimate goal is not to simply relay information, but to actually draw people into the conversation. If you explain everything away, it doesn’t give them an opportunity to think along with you, and actually limits their ability to enter into a conversation.

I’ll give you an example from my own work (I know it seems a little pretentious, but it is easy because I know my own songs better than anyone else’s)

“Dress us up in the blood of a son”

I’ve seen several people reword this line to say blood of “the” son, but that isn’t what I wrote. Simply using the word “a” instead of “the” gives the listener a chance to ask themselves some very important questions such as: “If this is a son, then was he actually someone’s son, and how did that someone feel about the blood that was drawn?” They would probably have to answer: “the same way I’d feel if it was my son”. The conclusion they would hopefully come to would be that Jesus wasn’t just the Son of Glory (insert bright lights and cheesy white-girl vocals here); Jesus was also someone’s little boy. He was also a son.

Notice all the words I just wrote in that last paragraph in an attempt to explain a thought, when the more powerful explanation is still in the simple word “a”. It gives the listeners an opportunity to ask themselves who the “son” is, and that is far more important than the precision of my information.

Monday, December 7, 2009

CANCELED: Twenty Ten : Two days of music and Conversation

Due to unforeseen events far beyond our control, the "Twenty Ten" New Years event has been canceled. We are very sorry for those of you who've made plans.

Those of you who have already registered can be refunded or roll your registration fee towards the MorningStar New Years conference.

Once again we are very sorry.

God Bless,

John Mark McMillan

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Times

Elvis brought controversial African American music to white audiences in an incredibly racist American climate, and went on to become one of the worlds first pop superstars.

Bob Marley rose from a tiny third world nation to become an international icon and he did it singing a genre of music that most people had previously never heard of.

Bob Dylan reintroduced an old and unpopular form of music to young audiences in the 60s and with what was considered an "unmarketable" voice became what many considered to be the voice of that generation.

In the 90's Kurt Cobain and Nirvana brought punk rock out of the garage with the album Nevermind, and in a single year altered the landscape of popular music.

What these guys have in common is that they took unpopular genres and musical forms and made them standards. Each of them were able to transcend the current limitations, trends, and prejudices of the day, and excel in spheres that previously had no expectation for their work.

Before each of them, it would have been difficult to believe that what they did could have ever been successful. At Colombia records, Bob Dylan was initially known as "Hammonds Folly" because so many people believed that John Hammond, a man was famous for discovering and producing legendary talent, had made a massive mistake by signing Dylan. But today it would be almost impossible to imagine what music would be like without him.

Let me say, I certainly don't believe we should ignore trends. They represent the collective forward motion of expression in community and culture. Still, my personal dream is to be able to make the kind of music that would scale the boundaries of convention and culture. I want to be able to tell a story that is restricted neither by fashion nor tradition.

My dream is to tell a story that transcends.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I'm A Slacker

I know I've been a slack blogger lately but I promise I've had good reason. Here is my explanation... sorta.

















Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Art and Propaganda... some thoughts

There is certainly no way to quantify where exactly art ends and propaganda begins. Probably all art contains some percentage of propaganda and vice versa . In the same way, aside from Jesus himself, there is probably no such thing as a 100% pure motive. It's always a mixed bag.

But, with that in mind, we could say that Propaganda, at the far end of the spectrum, exists solely for the message it carries, and Art, on the far other end of the spectrum, exists for itself. Many of your answers seemed to have political propaganda in mind but that doesn't have to be the case.

I would say: "Propaganda" is simply a means to an end as "Art" is both an end and a means unto itself.

For instance, if no one on the planet ever heard my music, I would still write and sing. Now the fact that others do listen to it, and I make a living doing it means that at times it must be modified. This doesn't mean it has become propaganda but certain neutral changes may need to be made in order to accommodate a listener. (Here's some advice: When you have listeners, you get to sing more often.)

Propaganda doesn't have to be negative, but people generally despise it when they recognize it (as viewed here in your responses). People despise it because it isn't sincere. It isn't something you say because you "want" to say it, its something you say because you "have" to say it. Even if the motive behind it is pure, it still repulses people if they even feel that "motive behind it" behind it.

Art certainly can and should have tell a story, but if people feel that it only exists to prove a point or express a message then it turns them off. It certainly turns me off. No matter how "true" it is, I'm just not interested in it if you don't believe in it yourself. I'm not saying that we should only do what we want to do. A community expression should at least attempt to include the community. Still, I think we should create art and write songs we actually mean. Not just what we're supposed to sing.

Do you think that "church" art/music feels more like art or propaganda? Is this good? Should it change? How should it change?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Art vs Propaganda

I have a question for all of you.

What do you think the difference is in "art" and "propaganda"?



Thursday, October 8, 2009

I think I'm done...

Honestly, I started this blog to celebrate creativity, freedom, and the value of authentic artistic expression among people of faith. I wanted to help create a culture where people could talk openly about music, culture, and worship. At the same time, I wanted to answer questions that I commonly receive about songwriting etc.

Instead, I seem to spend most of my time defending these values instead of celebrating them. I can't express to you how incredibly boring that has become.

Sure, creativity, artistic expression, and innovation/experimentation in worship (or for fun) may not be the absolutely most important aspects of Christian life, (they certainly aren't the answer to every, if any, problem of the "modern day church") but they are valuable, and incredibly difficult to find among faith oriented communities. More importantly, they are what I love, and what this blog is about...

See, I'm not trying to help people write songs for every Christian on the planet to sing. I'm trying to encourage people to pursue what they are passionate about and to shake free from the ridiculous and archaic (not to mention unbiblical) expectations of traditional church culture that burden and alienate sooooooooo many people (myself included).

Please don't get me wrong. I'm not at all against traditional expressions of worship (btw I consider most "contemporary" expressions still to be incredibly traditional), but I am against the stupid idea that these expressions are any more "correct" or "Biblical". Our common expressions, even the most traditional, still look relatively nothing like those of the bible... and that's OK because "it" (whatever "it" is) seems to be more about the level of our authenticity, not the precision of our mimicry. I'm just sick of people telling me what "worship" is and isn't simply because it doesn't look or sound like what they do at their church.

So, I'm done...

...not with the blog, but with wasting time defending these values.

Love,

John Mark


Monday, October 5, 2009

One size doesn't fit all...

..And it's not supposed to.

I think very often people get "homogeny" confused with "unity". Being alike is not the same as being unified, and being too alike can actually deter real unity. Certain strengths come with certain weaknesses, and this being the case, we desperately need one another to compliment each other.

I think what happens often in every kind of music, but that is certainly more obvious in "worship" arenas, is that there is a pressure to try to make a song or experience so palatable to every kind of person that we end up striping it of any real personality. So the song becomes a little interesting to everyone but isn't very interesting to anyone.

(And yes, once again what we sing/how we worship has to mean something to us. This is because God wants an expression of authenticity. He's interested in us not just mindless religious activity.)

So, if a song doesn't work across the board in every stream of Christendom, it doesn't negate the validity of a worship song.

WE'RE NOT ALL NECASARILLY SUPPOSED TO SING THE SAME SONGS!

And furthermore, where does this one size fits all, no child left behind, least common denominator, Christianity come from? For a group of people who are largely made up of western capitalists it seems to be a bit of a communist mindset. Am I crazy? (btw nothing against capitalists or communists. I prefer to stay light years away from politics in this blog.)

The fact is the whole church only agrees on about 2 things tops. And even the top guys in each stream disagree about the details. So if you want to reach the entire Christian world you are restricted to writing about those two topics and often in the blandest of terms. Even then, you're going to lose that whole segment of people that only like things that other people don't like.

You just can't please everyone, and you're not supposed to. What you are supposed to do is serve the people you've been given with every fiber of you're being.

Select South East Show Dates

We're only playing a few select cities for the rest of the year. Most of them are listed but look for details for these cities in the near future:
Selma, AL - Nov. 22
Charlotte, NC - New Years Eve
Knoxville, TN - Jan. 9


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Monday, September 21, 2009

Live From Bright City Vol. 1


John Mark McMillan - Skeleton Bones from john mark mcmillan on Vimeo.

Here is a live performance of the song "Skeleton Bones" filmed and directed by the Calnin Brothers at Bright City Studios.

I love the way the Calnin's were able to capture the community aspect of what we do. I love to create with my friends. I think that's the way music is supposed to happen. I don't care how good you are as a musician or a producer; I don't want to work with you if you aren't at least somewhat emotionally invested in what we're doing.

Be sure to view more of the Calnin's work at www.vimeo.com/calninmedia

Get the Chords and Lyrics to "Skeleton Bones" here.


Credits:
Nathaniel and Chris Calnin - video direction
John Mark McMillan - acoustic guitar/lead vocals
James Duke - electric guitar
Andrew Williams - electric piano/backing vocals
Lee Worely - percussion
Shae Wooten - bass guitar
Sarah McMillan, David Valier, Austin Forbes - backing vocals
Joel Willis - sound engineer

Monday, September 14, 2009

How He Loves, David Crowder, and Sloppy Wet Kisses...

I honestly kind of hate that I even have to write this blog.

I have realized that the song “How He Loves” has become very personal to many people, and it honestly doesn’t really belong to me, or Kim Walker, or David Crowder. It belongs to them. I would like to say I’m sorry if I let you down by allowing the words to be changed in David’s version. My version and Kim’s will always be the same. David contacted me and very sincerely asked if it would be cool to change a couple words in his version, because he knew that there are literally thousands of people who would never hear the song the way it was. After a couple weeks of thought I decided to go ahead with it. Mostly because I knew it was only a matter of time before someone recorded a version with a different line, and honestly, I was glad for David to be the one to do it.

I have tons of respect for David. He’s super sweet, humble, talented, and a very intelligent guy. I’m certainly flattered that people would be so passionate about my original version of the song, but I feel bad that David’s taken so much flack over this whole deal. Especially since he went out of his way to include me in the whole process. Not to mention, he has given me WAY more credit than most songwriters ever receive from a performer who covers their song. David has told the story of the song and given me full credit on countless radio interviews and press releases. This is actually pretty unheard of. In case you don't know, most songs on the radio are covers. When's last time you heard an artist reference the writer of a song?

All this to say, I don’t have a problem with David changing the line because he knows the people he is serving, and that line would have isolated the song from those people.

What I do have a problem with though, is that the condition of greater Christianity would be as such that he would even have to change it. I think the fact that a line like “Sloppy wet kiss” could be controversial is ridiculous. Are we in kindergarten? Has any one out there not had or at least expected to some day, engage in a sloppy wet kiss? Have Christians decided to stop procreating and let Islamic extremists populate the whole earth?

Some folks are genuinely sad because a song so personal to them seems to have been messed with, and others seem to be glad that you can now sing this song in church with your grandparents. I understand both of those sentiments, and don’t have an issue with either. Still many of the people, on both ends, who seem to be making a big deal out of it, have both seemed to misunderstand the lyric. It seems that people either hate it or love it because they think I’m some how talking about kissing God. Please folks, I never ever, ever, ever, thought of this line as though it was talking about kissing God. Please read the words.

“HEAVEN meets EARTH like a sloppy wet kiss”

The idea behind the lyric is that the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of earth converge in a way that is both beautiful and awkwardly messy. Think about the birth of a child, or even the death of Jesus himself. These miracles are both incredibly beautiful and incredibly sloppy ("gory" may be more realistic, but “Heaven meets earth like a gory mess” didn’t seem to have the same ring). Why does the church have such a problem with things being sloppy? Do we really think we’re fooling anyone on Sunday morning, especially God? Are we going to offend him? I mean, he’s seen us naked in the shower all week and knows our worst thoughts, and still thinks we’re awesome. What if we took all the energy we spent faking and used that energy to enjoy the Lord instead? That could be revolutionary!

Final thoughts:

I applaud David for changing the line to serve his people, and at the same time I boo the machinery that would cause him to have to do so.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Songwriting Part 2.5: Words

I recently responded to a blog comment and so many people told me to post it as an actual blog that I've decided to do just that. If you want the total context of the response check it out here but you don't necessarily need it. I've edited/expanded it slightly to help it make more sense on its own.

Also I'd like to say that the person I responded to seems to be a very intelligent person and had several interesting points. I don't want anyone to think that this is knock against him in any way. His comment just got me thinking about what makes me so passionate about this subject.

Words:

God didn't choose these words. Men did. The Bible wasn't even written in English. So someone else had to choose the way these words would be translated. There are actually 7 different words in the old testament that someone decided to translate as the single english word "praise" and several other words that someone decided to translate into the single word "worship". My personal favorite means "to kiss, like a dog licking it's master". Look it up.

There is nothing "holy" about the letters "h" "o" "l" "y". Words are just letters and sounds that represent meaning. And when we use the same phrases they lose their association with the powerful meanings behind them. The truth has not lost power, just the words we use to tell it. That’s why we need new words. If we never changed the way we say things we would only be able to worship in Hebrew and Greek, which would mean nothing to us.

These words must mean something to us otherwise worship is little more than a base ritual, not unlike any other religion, sect, or cult.

As far as singing “about” God as apposed to singing “to” him (of which I like to do both), one way to show affection to someone is to speak or sing about them in their presence. It’s the same thing as speaking or singing to them, only sometimes it’s even more meaningful. Besides this, they do it in the Psalms and even the angels in revelation sang “about” him, not to him. “Holy is” not “Holy you are”.

Final thoughts:

I think we need to repent for making the beautiful expression of this divinely mysterious romance, that we so crudely have interpreted “worship”, into some dead ritualistic obligation. God is a real person, not some brain in the sky, not letters on a page, not a fairy tale.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Who Is Glen Yoder?


I mentioned this guy in a blog the other week. Well it turns out he has just put some new music out this week!

Who is he? His Myspace says...

"Born in an amish community that his family left during his childhood, Glen Yoder was raised in the hills of Kentucky and came of age on the streets of the world. Yoder's formative years were spent somewhere between his amish roots, the folk music of his home in the hills and the indie-rock soundtrack of the streets of Lexington, KY. From Central America to South Africa, Glen traveled with his friends to far-flung corners, settling in the heart of Kentucky to write songs tinged with sadness and outlined with hope.

Having grown as an artist for the last few years, Glen has been recording his brand of folk/rock/radio music with producer Joel Khouri of Bright City Studios in Charlotte, NC. With the fall 2009 release of singles "When the World Was Young" and "Hollywood," expectation is growing for Yoder's upcoming ep in 2010."

Both tracks, an 80s rock radio anthem called "When The World Was Young" and a dreamy introspective pop song, "Hollywood", are super fresh. Enjoy these tracks and be sure to look for more from this guy.



Download a free track here glenyoder.bandcamp.com

Glen on iTunes Glen Yoder

Glen on myspace

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Context Part 2: "Town Criers"

Continued from: Aug 31

In Jesus day the common way to receive news was by way of a “town crier". Actually, this is where we get the word “preach”. Preach means to “cry aloud” and gospel means “good news”. This, however, is no longer the way we receive news. Furthermore, it hasn’t been in over a hundred years. Still when we imagine the evangelist, we see he/she on the corner of some street shouting at people.

Just like the violinist in my previous blog, this archaic method is largely ineffective because people are not in the mindset to hear what we’re saying. We are out of “context”. Preaching is still a beautiful art form and is still incredibly relevant and essential in the right place. But to hear someone “crying aloud” on the street corner today is likely more of a repulsion than a draw.

Let me make it clear though, this blog isn’t about preaching. It's about how we do whatever it is we do. This is just an example of how I think we’ve been misunderstood. The story of the gospel is beautiful and deserves to be told with real sophistication, mystery, and beauty.

The buzzword of the day seems to be “permissive marketing”. I’m not necessarily saying that what we need is some new marketing strategy. However, the heart of real marketing is the telling of a story and we certainly have a story to tell. Because of the progress of culture we have to gain permission of the listener in order to tell this story. I for one don’t think it’s such a bad thing.

The issue here is that you can’t really tell someone a story anymore until you have won the right to tell it. People must give you permission into their world if they’re going to hear you.

My dream has been to tell stories through music with a level of artistic integrity that could win the trust of a listener. I realize that I certainly have not arrived, but I’m excited about the progress I’ve made.

My question for you is this:

What story are you telling people? Do people hear the heart behind you, or do they hear something else?

What we say is not as important as what they hear.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Context Part 1: "Pearls Before Breakfast"

A while ago I read an article in the Washington Post called Pearls Before Breakfast. This article was about an experiment.

A professional violinist would stand in the Washington DC metro posing as a street musician and serenade DC commuters on there way to work. But it wouldn’t be just any violinist. It would be Joshua Bell “one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made”. The purpose would be to see how differently people would respond to him as opposed to the average street musician.

What they found was pretty striking: Of the thousands of people traveling to work that day, ALMOST NO ONE PAID HIM ANY ATTENTION. In fact only one woman stopped to listen and that was because she recognized his face from a concert three weeks before. “Here he was, the international virtuoso, sawing away, begging for money. She had no idea what the heck was going on, but whatever it was, she wasn't about to miss it.”

"It was the most astonishing thing I've ever seen in Washington," The woman says. "Joshua Bell was standing there playing at rush hour, and people were not stopping, and not even looking, and some were flipping quarters at him! Quarters! I wouldn't do that to anybody. I was thinking, Omigosh, what kind of a city do I live in that this could happen?"

My point is this: Sometimes it doesn’t matter how good you are, how correct you are, how smart you are, how creative you are or how passionate you are. If you are in the wrong place, at the wrong time, or doing it the wrong way, then you could very well be wasting your time. The key word here is “context”.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Independents Day

Need good new music? Here is some killer stuff you may have never heard about. All these folks are personal friends of mine and I wouldn't recommend them if they weren't all over my iPod right now.

The Embers Some of Kentucky's best worship music.

Mark Mathis Songwriter from my home town. He also has anew FREE EP.

Glen Yoder Great young songwriter from central Kentucky.

Public Radio One of the best bands out of Charlotte, NC right now.

Flagship Brigade Some of these guys used to be in my band. They're probably gonna be huge.

Aaron Strumple Great songwriting. Just released a sic new EP.

Agents of Future Pretty much the most creative worship music I've ever heard.

Please listen/enjoy/buy their music/ give them some love from JMM.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Songwriting Part 2

Last time I wrote a little bit about how overused or common phrases tend to lose power or potency. To this discussion I would like to add that any moron can tell you what's wrong with something, but few can tell you how to make it better, and even fewer have the commitment to actually do it. Let me just say I don't want to be that moron. Writing a song is hard. The easy part of this process is recognizing "dead" wording. The difficult part is finding new ways to say things that don't just make sense but actually impact the listener.

I recently had a five-minute conversation about songwriting with one of my songwriting heroes, Kevin Prosch. (Kevin may be the greatest unsung hero of the worship movement. In my opinion he could be the most influential worship leader of the last 20 years. Pick any successful modern worship band and, 9 times out of 10, I can trace what they do back to Kevin. )

Kevin told me that whenever he sees a sentence, or any group of words weather it be on a sign, in a book, or on a magazine cover he’ll reorder them in as many ways possible to see how many new lines he can make with the same words.

This is a great exercise as a songwriter and is a good way to experiment with new ways to say things in a lyric or song. If your lyrics are boring, flip them around a little. See how many things you can say with some of the same words.

Want to see how a master does it? Watch Bob Dylan in this video.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Songwriting Part 1

A note about lyric:

Words lose potency with overuse.

My rule of thumb is if you’ve heard a term or phrase before, then don’t use it. Never use clich├ęs, “dead” words, or tired metaphors.

A line doesn’t have to be especially clever or extreme to deliver an impact. It just has to be “heard”.

Here is a line from the chorus of my song “Skeleton Bones”:

“Oh let us adore the son of glory dressed in love”

There is nothing innovative or revolutionary about this line whatsoever. The idea isn’t new. I didn’t use any big words, and it isn’t difficult to understand. But as far as I can tell, it’s not been said before exactly like this.

I don’t think the specific term “Son of Glory” is used in the Bible at all and that’s exactly why I used it/possibly invented it. At the same time it isn’t at all unbiblical either. Christ in you is the “hope of Glory” and Jesus is known as the “son of man”, “the son of God” , the “son of David “ etc… so Jesus could easily and biblically be described as “the Son of Glory”.

I know this particular line obviously won’t “make” or “break” a song, but if you apply the idea to a whole song, then you could end up with something that sounds more original and authentic.

Just think of how boring it would have been if I had written:

“Come praise God, He’s so Holy, His name is lifted up”

The line is true. Just nobody will ever know how true it is because they won't ever hear it. It will slip right by them. It will be true and silent.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

29

29

In November I turn 30. No big deal. Actually it does freak me out a little. Not that 30 is old (30 isn’t really “old” at all), but it is the first mile-marker to signify the reality that ”this train don’t stop”. Meaning nothing on this planet is permanent. At least that is what it’s been for me and it’s caused quite a bit of commotion amongst many of my internal conversations this year.

In the midst of these conversations I’ve realized something: I don’t really want to be young again. I was going to write a blog about it, but this is so much better.

Enjoy.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Hard To Get

I remember seeing a news program that was reporting on infant mortality in a certain African nation.  The focus of this segment was on an organization that was taking measures to prevent the death of newborns in the poorest of villages by handing out “birthing packets”.  These birthing packets contained little more than a plastic sheet and a sterile knife, but the villages where these packets were handed out saw a massive decrease in infant mortality.  Interestingly enough, in the villages where the packets were SOLD, as opposed to given away, the number of infant deaths decreased significantly further.  So in areas where they made it just a little more difficult to receive help, the people actually received greater benefit from the birthing packet.

The psychology behind this is that when something is too easy to get, it often possesses little value to the receiver and is more easily misplaced or overlooked. When people had something invested in the packets, their children were more likely to live.  There was nothing actually wrong with the free packets, it’s just that they may have been too easy to get.

Similarly, the same psychology comes in to play when you are talking about information. Do you ever think we can devalue a message by making it too easy, too obvious, or oversimplified?  In the same way that the birthing packets that were easy to “get” had less of an effect on the community, could a message that is too easy to “get” also lack influence?  Do you think that sometimes it helps a message if people have to invest a bit of thought into it?

Personally, I believe it’s for this very reason that Paul called the gospel a “mystery”.  If this is true, then I want to know why we seem to be so afraid of any kind of mystery in our modern faith? Why do we feel like we always have to have the answers?

Jesus had a fascinating mystery about him.  Mathew said he always delivered his message in the fashion of a story (Matt 13:34).  He often said things that even his own disciples didn’t understand. In fact, because of one such message in John 6 he lost many of his followers including some of his innermost circle.  The interesting thing is that they didn’t leave because they disagreed with him. They left because they didn’t understand.  And even more interesting is the fact that Jesus knew they misunderstood and never attempted to explain.  Jesus obviously knew what he was doing.  His 3-year campaign has probably had greater affect on mankind than any other event in history.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

As cliche as it sounds, nothing is cooler than being a dad!


Jude turns 1 year old today.  I can't believe it's already been a year.  This morning I went back and read my blog post from the week he was born.  

Here's a portion of it:

"On July 23, 2008 at 1:07 PM a new praise (Jude means praise), weighing in at just under 9 pounds and stretching just under 22 inches, was indeed born to Sarah and I! Significantly enough the first sound that little Jude heard on earth was the chorus of Kevin Prosch's anthem "Praise the Lord Oh My Soul". This was only one song of a large mix that I created the day before. We brought the music in to help the mood during the possible hours of labor. I had no clue what exact song would be playing when Jude made his grand entrance (or exit depending on how you look at it). It just blows me away that the first words a boy named "praise" hears as he enters the world is "praise the Lord oh my soul, praise the Lord"! I can hardly contain myself when I think about it!"

As cliche as this is going to sound I still have to say that nothing is cooler than being a dad.  I've been to almost every state in the US and sang songs for thousands of people on multiple continents.  I've had songs translated into 10+ languages and heard tens of thousands of people sing my lyrics at one time.  It's all pretty cool, but none of it comes close to being a dad.    

As an artist I thrive on the creative process.  Few things feel as good as seeing or hearing something from my own heart manifest in reality. Writing a song or witnessing the creation of something beautiful by the hands of a human being is exhilarating. I pretty much live for those kinds of things. But the day Jude was born it was almost like God said "Let me show you how it's done.  Let me show you what it's like when I write a song.  Let me show you what it's like when I put something together."  It pretty much made my work look pathetic. 

Happy Birthday Jude!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Vinyl = The New Digital?

Plastic discs are still 80% of the "market" or so they say.  Still, between iTunes and pirating, the CD is finding shelf space to be increasingly difficult real estate to occupy.  No one would argue that the CD is basically on its way out.  But what industry insiders are saying is that even the days of the iPod are already numbered.  They expect in the next season that streaming and subscriptions will replace all these formats.    

I certainly enjoy all the convenience of our technology but lately I've been finding that I miss a physical product. 

 For starters I've realized that I'm much more likely to listen to a physical product than a digital one.  A digital product can get lost on my hard drive. Not misplaced necessarily but often I forget to ever listen to it. This happens especially when I purchase lots of music at one time.  The physical product is actually in my house/car and requires that I take notice of it.  

Also I've noticed that I enjoy the music on a physical record more. This is because I actually have to pay attention to it.  When the side is done I have to flip it over.  This automatically requires more participation on my part. When you pay more attention you hear more and notice more of what is going on.  

Beyond that, I like to feel like I have a piece of something. Especially when I really love a band.  I'm the kind of guy who buys even albums he doesn't like if they're by one of my favorite artists just to own their whole body of work.  Song "A" becomes more important when observed in the context of song "B, C and D".  Besides, some of my favorite songs are songs I didn't like the first, second or third time I heard them.    

I guess what I'm realizing is if I'm going to go with a physical product for all the above reasons, nothing is better than good old vinyl.  Don't get me wrong vinyl will never replace the new technologies in a commercial sense but it is making a comeback and I, for one couldn't be more excited.

So 2 things for you:

1.  Records vs Digital.  Who's king in your opinion?
2. What is the name of your favorite record store? I want to check it out when I'm in your hometown.



Sunday, July 19, 2009

Why Do I Love Sad Songs?

I'm not sure exactly why, but I sure do.  In fact, a really good heartbreaker is my favorite kind of song.  I guess they just make me feel like a person.  Which is great because that makes me feel alive and I'm pretty glad to be alive.  Maybe sometimes it can be comforting when I'm in a difficult situation to listen to someone else who's in a difficult situation too.  Maybe it brings things into perspective to realize that there are other people in the universe and they don't all feel exactly the way I do.   

I don't know.  What I do know is that songs like "How Do You Keep Love Alive" and "Say Hello Goodbye" never get old to me.  

If I think hard enough about it, I would probably have to say that the reason I seem to be so drawn to these songs may be because sad songs are probably the most authentic songs written.  Love songs are just so dang marketable. That's why there's a billion of them and many of them seem cheap and fake.  You just never hear an A and R guy telling his artist  "man there's just not enough pain in these tunes bro".  Heartbreak is not flattering.  So it seems more likely that someone willing to sing about it may actually be heartbroken.  And though I'm not apposed to fiction, I still want to feel like I'm hearing a person and not just what someone feels like they're supposed to say.

Once again, I don't know. I just love' em.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Should Christians Be More Worldly?

How can John (in 1 John 2) say: “ If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him,” when John himself explicitly reported (in John 3) that the "love of the Father" is a love of “the world”?

In one sense, don’t you think Christians should be more worldly?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Jesus and Cigarettes

I recently read a couple of interesting statistics about cigarette smoking. (Don’t worry guys. This post is in no way shape or form a commentary on smoking or nicotine addiction. I’m just using these statistics to make a point. So whether you smoke or not, please stick with me for a sec).  The first observation is this: More people know about the dangers of smoking today, than ever before in history. I don’t think anyone would argue with that. The second observation was this: more people smoke, today, than ever before in history. No one would argue with that statement either. 

So the obvious question would have to be: If people know more about the dangers of smoking, then why in the world do more people smoke today than ever in the history of smoking?

World famous writer and sociologist Malcolm Gladwell says this: For a huge percentage of people, the initial attraction to smoking is actually the danger associated with it.  The fact that the whole world is telling people not to smoke is actually the very reason people often start. The element of danger is the “tipping point”. 

I don’t know if you guys have figured it out yet, but this concept applies to much more than smoking. I would go as far to say that Rock’ N’ Roll isn’t even about music. It’s about danger too. It represents everything unpredictable, unexpected, and unrestrained.  At least it’s supposed to.  (These days I guess the appearance of these qualities is more common than the real thing, but you get my point.) People are attracted to it because of the danger.

All this led me to another conclusion. Jesus isn’t exactly so safe himself…

He might spit in your eyes (Mark 8:23), he might call you a dog (Matt 15:26), he may ask you to do things that you can’t do (Matt 14:29), he might bring 120 gallons of wine to a party where people have been drinking all day (John 2), he may lead you to open sea in a storm (Mark 4:37), he might change your life then ask you not to tell any one (Luke 8:56), he and his friends might get arrested (John 18:12), he might offend your friends (John 6:66), he might insult the “righteous” people (Matt 23:27), he might let guilty people off the hook (John 8:10-11), he might offend his own family members (Luke 8:19-21, 14:26), he might hang out with people you don’t like (Luke 19:7), he might start a riot (John 2:15), he might use toilet speak to support a spiritual principle (Mark 7:20), he might tell you that what you’ve believed your whole life is wrong (John 3), he might use offensive language at the dinner table (Luke 11).

The way I see it, Jesus is anything but safe, but he’s never boring… And isn’t that what we really want? 

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Worship and Song Part 2: Bring It Home?

I’m certainly no authority on songwritting. However, I’ve written a hand full of songs and people seem to ask me often about songwriting.

The greatest songwriting lesson I’ve ever heard came from the movie Walk The Line. Listen to the sound clip called "bring it home" on moviesoundscentral.com (scroll down to: "bring it home" it's 4th from the top) or just read this excerpt from the script:  


[after record producer Sam Phillips stops Cash's band a couple of verses into their audition]


Sam Phillips: We've already heard that song a hundred times. Just like that. Just... like... how... you... sing it.


Johnny Cash: Well you didn't let us bring it home.


Sam Phillips: Bring... bring it home? Alright, let's bring it home. If you was hit by a truck and you were lying out there in that gutter dying, and you had time to sing one song. Huh? One song that people would remember before you're dirt. One song that would let God know how you felt about your time here on Earth. One song that would sum you up. You're telling me that's the song you sing. That same Jimmy Davis tune we hear on the radio, all day. About your peace within, and how it's real, and how you're gonna shout it? Or... would you sing something different. Something real. Something you felt. Cause I'm telling you right now, that's the kind of song people want to hear. That's the kind of song that truly saves people. It ain't got nothin to do with believin' in God, Mr. Cash. It has to do with believin' in yourself.

- Walk The Line, 2005, 20th Century Fox

 

Something worth singing about originates from your “gut”. That means it’s not something you know as much as it’s something you feel. Furthermore, it’s something you feel strongly about. It’s not always correct or even accurate, but it is how you feel at the time.

In my opinion, it seems like too many songs I hear sound more like they’ve been written from a place of obligation or pressure as opposed to any sense of real urgency. (Pressure meaning to appease a specific audience, culture, or a time crunch.) Often the result if this kind of writing is that the words might be “true”, but they just don’t sound like “the truth”.

Quick note:  Have you ever wondered why bands often put out an incredible first album, then release very average second and third projects? It’s probably due to a major label production schedule. They spent 3 years writing the first album (before they got signed) and about 6 months writing the second and third.  

All this to say the writers who really touch me are the ones who are brave enough and honest enough to tap into that dangerous place in their hearts and sing about something they really feel. Not just something they think they’re supposed to feel.

So lets bring this home:

“If you was hit by a truck and you were lying out there in that gutter dying, and you had time to sing one song..that people would remember before you're dirt….that would let God know how you felt about your time here on Earth. You're telling me that's the song you sing…. Or would you sing something different. Something real. Something you felt. “

How do you really feel about life, yourself and the world around you? Do you really believe your words that your singing? Are these the words you would sing if nobody was around? What makes you cry? What makes you laugh? Do your own words and melodies move you or are you writing the things that you feel people like you ‘aught to write? Are you singing the words and phrases because they mean something to you or because you’ve heard them before?

Don’t give me the “side hug” folks. Write music from your gut, not out of obligation.  I want the grit. I want the hard truth. Otherwise your just buzzing like the fridge. We all hear ya, we just don’t notice anymore.

 

-JM