“I ‘Just’ Write the Words”

Over at her WAJ blog, the songwriter Sue C. Smith has been posting installments of an extended reflection on discovering her particular gifts as a writer (in her case, it was realizing she was a lyricist and not necessarily a musical composer). This is not just a wonderfully told series of anecdotes about coming up through the ranks in the songwriting world. It’s also a very readable primer on the operative realities of the songwriting business. Smith has a gift for connecting the jargon (i.e. what’s a “hold”) and the psychodynamics of songwriting (the uses and limits of grief over creative failures or rejection) with the big-headed stuff (“the calling”) and making sense of it all as a unified whole. For example:  

The song Dave and Don and I wrote (around 1985) was “What Does He Have To Do.” Its journey from writing to getting cut was quite an adventure. Not long after we wrote it, our publisher had it demo’d and started pitching it, and wonder of wonders, it was put on hold for Sandi Patti. I was thrilled and amazed. Those were the days when I didn’t understand how the whole hold system works.  The song was on hold for over a year. In the meantime, at least one other artist… a major one… wanted to cut it. But we said no, it was on hold for Sandi. Then the time came for her to record her new project, and our song got dropped in the end. Now today, I would of course be disappointed, but not surprised. More often than not, a hold means basically nothing, and it seems to me that the longer a song is on hold, the greater the chance that it won’t get cut. My guess now is that Sandi may have never even heard the song. My guess is that they had dozens of songs on hold for her. Those were the days when a Sandi cut was the ultimate achievement.  When I got the call from my publisher that Sandi had “passed” on the song I was at home, I allowed myself to cry for about an hour and John comforted me.

Obviously she moved on. And you really should read them all. Sum of the parts and all that.

Reading what’s there so far (I can’t tell if there will be more) made me think that Smith’s individual entries would work wonderfully as one long story-essay on the art and economies of Christian songwriting. I’m not sure the Singing News would publish it, or that it really belongs there, but Christianity Today or Today’s Christian Woman might be interested. At least if I were an editor at one of these places, I’d want to print it (Smith even has visual aids!). So I hope Smith considers doing something more with all this, not least of all because the creative dimension of the Christian music bidness is too little understood outside the writing closets and obsurity in which most writers toil. In the meantime, you can say you saw it first in the blogosphere.

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  1. GospelMusicFan wrote:

    “made me think”
    Those words is a confirmation that this blog is a thinking person type of blog.
    Thank you for make me think throughout the year even though I might disagree with you none of the time, some of the time, most of the time or all the time.

  2. Alan wrote:

    I agree with GMF above. This was a fairly esoteric post from Avery, and also from Sue Smith. More than likely, this will mostly (only?) appeal to those who love making words fit and work together. I’m convinced that the vast majority only either like the finished product, or don’t, rarely thinking of the process that brought a seed of thought to reality. Songwriters are often the least-appreciated part of the creative process of bringing a song to disc; but, you don’t have to think about it for very long before it dawns on you that without them, we wouldn’t have songs to sing. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude, and reads like these serve to remind us of the cost of creativity. Happy thanksgiving to all! Despite our differences, personal opinions, and all, we have so much to be thankful for.

  3. GospelMusicFan wrote:

    This is for you:

  4. Faith wrote:

    “She writes the notes that make the whole world sing…She writes the songs, she writes the songs…”

    Nobody probably got that…

  5. Alan wrote:

    Well, I got it, Faith! I just hope that Sue C. Smith’s political views are around 180 degrees opposite of Barry Manilow’s!

  6. art wrote:

    So what do anybody’s political views have to do with their ability to write gospel songs?

  7. TLN wrote:

    Faith, sometimes I feel like “I’ve been alive forever…”

    Those same “nobody’s” probably didn’t get that…

  8. TLW wrote:

    So far out of all things I’ve read on this site, this has been the most enjoyable thing I’ve read. I find this very interesting. It’s wonderful to be able to sing a song, but to be alble to write the words someone sings, well that is a talent.

  9. RT wrote:



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