by Catherine Miller, United Adoration Staff
Have you ever wondered what it takes to start a songwriting group? Maybe you’re longing for a local group to collaborate with even now. What do we do once we begin? Where will we find people to work with?
We collected nuggets of wisdom from leaders of songwriting groups across the United States. They sent in their tips and also shared mistakes. Here are their words of what has worked for them in their context. Thank you to everyone who contributed their advice!
Bring your desire for a local songwriting group to God in prayer. Pray about partnerships, pray about who to invite. Tallahassee songwriter Mike Manahan says, “God knows we are serious when we pray. He said he would meet all our needs, but our desires I think are negotiable. Talk to the Lord a lot about it and see what He has to say about it. He does know everything.”
2. Who should you invite?
“Start with people you know,” shared Gloria Fanchiang (Los Angeles, CA). But also, “Don’t be afraid to reach out to strangers,” shared Mike Manahan (Tallahassee, FL). “It is amazing what the Lord can do with someone you have not known for a long time. Give Him time and opportunities to shape you and others in the process.”
Your songwriting group can include people with different gifts – some people might be melodists, or have a gift for contributing jazzy chords, or they might have a talent for words. Christina Jelinek, Founder and Host of Leaven and Liturgies (Lewisville, Texas) says, “Consider inviting poets and people who love to read as helpful contributors.”
3. Build trust in your relationships
“To collaborate with integrity requires trust. Trust requires a meaningful relationship,” shared Isaac Wardell (Charlottesville, VA), Director of BiFrost Arts and co-founder of the Porter’s Gate Worship Project. “It’s better to start with relationships and let collaboration emerge naturally than to start with an assignment and hope that relationships happen incidentally.”
4. Communicate your vision
What do you desire for this group to be? What are the goals? Think through your vision so you can communicate it clearly with the leadership of your church and the prospective participants and partners. “Be clear about the purpose of the group, specifically if the goal is to write congregational songs vs. any kind of song,” shared Elise Massa (Pittsburgh, PA). “Otherwise, your feedback during sharing times may not fit the songwriter’s intention or style, which can lead to frustration and hurt.”
5. Partner with your church
Mike O’Brien is a songwriter in Atlanta who trains worship leaders. He encouraged us to “get buy in/prayer/commissioning from the senior pastor. They should be cheering us on and rejoice when original songs are led.” Elise Massa (Pittsburgh, PA) advised, “Talk to your lead pastor or someone who has a history with the church. Ask them if they know of anyone who has expressed an interest in songwriting. You’d be surprised how many songwriters are hidden in plain sight.”
6. Commit to meeting regularly
Whether you meet on the second Friday afternoon or the first Sunday after church, establish a rhythm of meeting regularly. Mary Kuckuck founded the Florida Christian Songwriters. Since they started meeting in 2010, her group has met at least once a month, sometimes more for special occasions. “Even if attendance is low from time to time, stick with it and be consistent,” she says. For small groups of 3-5, you can set the next meeting date at each meeting to ensure that everyone can participate each time.
7. Consider writing to a common theme
Christina Jellinek’s group, Leaven and Liturgies, released a collaborative album in 2020 based on Romans 8. “For us, having a theme to write around was really helpful and encouraged our group to dig deep.” Stacey Regan (Pittsburgh, PA) echoed these sentiments. “When we began the Ascension Songwriters Collaborative, we had a year-long project we were committed to following,” she wrote. “For us it was the Daily Office. We spent 3 months on Morning Prayer, 2 on Mid-Day Prayers, 3 on Evening Prayer, and 2 on Compline, then 2 months finishing the unfinished, writing them up in a common format, and creating a “Daily Office” service from what we’d written. It ended up being the closing night of a Lenten series on prayer – Singing our Prayers. Not everyone who participated during the year participated every time, but the final product included everyone who had contributed at all. Furthermore, having a clear project taught us a lot about having such a group.”
8. Make a plan to record your music
Recording is one way we can share our music with the local church. “My one regret is not capturing more video with the audio,” shared Mike O’Brien (Atlanta, GA). “After 20 years of making records in the local church, all I have is invisible mp3s with budget artwork. The visual elements and documentation are important.” Start with what you have and build from there, whether you’re sharing a live iPhone video to Instagram or curated video to YouTube.