Last week I had the pleasure of songwriting with one of the most prolific writers in Christian music – Chris Eaton. Chris has had songs recorded by many top Christian artist as well as secular artists like Janet Jackson and Keith Urban. You probably sing one of his most popular songs every Christmas: Breath of Heaven. See his extensive song catalog at his website.
The guy is a songwriting genius and I learned more from him in two hours than I have in the past two years. For those of you interested in songwriting, here are some of the steps we took to create our new song Most Holy One which you can hear at the end of this article.
First, we chatted about music for about an hour. Even though he’s had both secular and CCM hits, his heart is worship music – especially the modern hymn genre made popular by Keith and Kristyn Getty’s In Christ Alone. I also love those deeper, richer worship songs so we decided we’d try to write one.
Chris and I both compose at the keyboard so we took turns. He started improvising and came up with a rough chord structure and melody. As the song took shape it appeared like we had a chorus so next we started on the verse. I sat down at the keyboard and felt like the first phrase of the verse needed repeating. We debated this for a few minutes.
Once we came to a consensus on the basic format of the music for the verse and chorus, Chris again sat down at the keyboard and lyrics started to flow. We’d kind of hum the melody and words would pop out here and there. Soon the chorus took shape:
Most Holy One,
Your will be done,
My precious Jesus, my Savior, I come.
With the chorus complete it was easier to decide what the verses should say. The idea of “wilderness” came up and formed the basis for the first verse. Halfway through the verse we decided we liked the one word phrases of “softly” and “tenderly” and wanted to do something similar and parallel with the other verses.
At one point a line was in question. I don’t remember it, but it was simplistic and Chris said it sounded “cheap.” I asked what he meant by that and he said the phrase was too common and overused. In a minute he came up with a line that had a slight twist and was stronger. When songwriting, always push a little harder to make every line fresh.
The third verse originally had more of a heaven theme but we decided it didn’t feel right. The first two verses start with a focus on what Jesus does for us and the third is our response.
So that’s how songwriting goes with a master songwriter. Words and phrases pop out, jell, rhymes and lines are discussed and in two hours you have a new, modern hymn. I’ve never seen a songwriter explode with such great ideas as Chris did, and so quickly. I honestly just felt like I was along for the ride.
Right before Chris recorded the demo we debated the word “truth.” You’d expect to hear the phrase “comfort and peace,” which we discussed, but… truth? We decided it did, in fact, make sense – Jesus whispers comfort to us in trying times, but He also whispers the truth that He is God and is in control. Unexpected twists like that makes for stronger songwriting.
When we agreed the song was complete Chris recorded a simple piano track, sang a quick vocal (he’s also a fine vocalist and has sung BGVs on numerous recordings as well as his own solo projects) and we had a rough demo.
Please leave your comments below – let me know if you like the song and I’ll take the next step by creating chord charts, sheet music and a fully produced demo.