Sunday, January 24, 2016

5 TIPS on How To Write a GREAT Song

I heard this song the other day. It was on Johnny Cash’s last album, American V: A Hundred Highways. The whole album gets to you, because it’s Johnny, because we all know the story, because he’s gone. But in that moment when cut #10 started playing, I guess my thoughts were some place, and my heart was ready, and I heard the song in a way that will stay with me forever. The song was Rose of My Heart.  

It was written by Johnny Rodriguez. The song is old, but it was new to me. All due respect to both Johnny’s, I wondered, even as the tears rolled down my cheeks, why they had not crafted the song better, when the fixes would have been so easy. The rhyme scheme is quirky and amateur, the way he rhymes “heart” with “heart” in the first chorus and then doesn’t rhyme at all at the end of the second chorus. Another faux pas, changing the chorus! So the structure is odd, and some of the lines seem out of place. 

My next thought was, “Who cares?!” I was moved. I was touched. Now that song is part of my story. To change it would be like telling someone you love them in a tender moment, and just as they reach for your hand you stop and say, “Wait! I think I need to re-write that line!” That would be really sad.

Don’t you love it? So many rules of writing and no rules at all. Every writer faces a million choices, not right or wrong, just choices in crafting a song. Sure, there are industry standards, genre ideals, and communication techniques; but not every song is written for the marketing department. Every song has a place. 

Rose of My Heart follows some rules. It’s 3 minutes 17 seconds long. It lifts a little into the chorus. The chords fit the melody, which fits the lyric. Etc. Etc. Etc. But the thing that matters most is the spirit of it. It is authentic in some inexplicable way, and we all know it. We’ve all felt it, or want to feel it. We all hear it and go, “Awwwwe.” Even if you don’t know Johnny and June.

So when someone tells me they heard a GREAT song, I always notice which criteria they are following. It’s not an either/or thing. I try to craft great songs by ANY standard, but you never can get away from the magic, that mysterious something that makes a song speak.


And you know what else? You’ll never even know all the random moments when your song hits someone just right and becomes part of that person’s story. And you’ll never know which songs did that. So write what you’re given, write your best, and keep writing! 

5 REASONS To Write a GREAT Song

1. Because you care.
2. Because somebody needs to.
3. Because bad songs are ear pollution.
4. Because GREAT songs make people feel...well...GREAT.
5. Because you can!  

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Become Love

Here's a poem for you. Hope it inspires you.

I want to become love.
In word, in deed, indeed.
This will be my wholeness, my salvation, this will be yours.
For we are only human in our loving, not in our groping, our flaws, our coping with mediocrity  of the soul.
I will become love the day I stop breaking hearts, the aching part of me will trust and doubt and believe again.  And again.  And again.
I will become love the day I decide to live, to give my life, a blessing, a giving and receiving not taking. I’ve had my turn at glory. Take yours.
I will become love the moment I lay down my rightful revenge and forgive you all.
I will become love when I forgive myself, and hell’s shame fades into the bright abyss of eternal void filling and emptying with darkness and light and all belongs to Love itself.
I will become love when you forgive me, forgive and forget my sordid sins against you, and when you surrender your desire to despise me.
You will only love me for who I am, when I become love.
See me as love and I will become what you behold.
So what do you see? Because I want to become love.
I hope you know that I already am. 

©2/19/15  by Kim McLean

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Reading the Whole Bible in Less Than a Year

I read my Bible through for Lent this year, and it was so awesome I want to share some ideas with you about one way to get through it. Maybe you have some ideas to share as well??!! 

Read it through like a good book. Don’t bog down in deep study. You can do that later, or in between, but for this project, just take it in. No big analyzing. Just read.  Remind yourself that you DO have time. You might have to give up some YouTube, FB, or TV time. You have to commit to it.

Now get started: In your “regular Bible”, read 5 Psalms and 1 chapter of Proverbs every day. Make this a habit. You’ll be done with both books in a month. Don’t panic over 119. Just steal a few extra minutes that day, or make it up later.

After you read your Psalms and Proverb, read from a NT book. So each morning will be Psalms, a Proverbs chapter, and a NT reading.

MEANWHILE:  Buy an inexpensive Bible on Begin the OT in this format, with Genesis. Listen while you drive, while you work out, whenever. Listen as time permits, but EVERY DAY.  Genesis begins the Pentateuch. After Genesis will be Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The story will continue with Joshua and Judges, and then Ruth slips in there like a glorious commercial break. Then back to our story with I and ii Samuel, I and II Kings, I and II Chronicles. Chronicles is a different writer, and honestly, my least favorite, but it does have the infamous “If my people..” passage. Ezra and Nehemiah used to be one book, so read them in order. Esther is another commercial break, (this story brought to you by a God who cares), but ironically, it is the ONLY book in the Bible that never mentions God. Job is profound and sad.

For the NT, start with Jude.
It’s short, and has a groovy name.
Then go to Pauline Epistles:
Philemon - also short.
Now you’re off and running. Make the New Testament books your morning reading. 
Read: I Thessalonians one morning, II Thessalonians the next, Titus after that, I Timothy the next, and then ii Timothy.

Then one per morning:
Galatians - fruits of the Spirit.
Ephesians - helps with identity crisis.
Philippians - good attitude.
Colossians - delicious. 

Now buck up and read:
I,ii  Corinthians
Try dividing each into two days. For example, Romans is 16 chapters, so read 8 one day, and then 9-16 the next day. Painless.

Now, one per day:
Hebrews - two days if needed for this one. Its deep.
I, ii Peter 

Now the Gospels. Read them in the order they were likely written:

Read Acts next because it used to be part of Luke and was written by the same guy.

Now read the Johannine literature. Well worth the wait.
I, ii, iii, John
The three Johns are so short God could have texted them to us. 

Also among the Johannine writings…the not so scary after all…

By now you’ve probably finished the OT up to Psalms on audible. Read Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon manually, because they are poetic and beautiful.

Back to audible, you’re ready for the major prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, who wrote Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel

These start to feel a little long, but don’t give up!

Now, you’ve got 12 books left, all short. The minor prophets. Motifs will pop out if you listen on audible. Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

Ta dah!!! You did it!! 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Finding Your Life's True Direction

Ever read a book that is so insightful and brilliantly written that it makes your mouth drop open with every page? I felt that way about the Anais Nin Diaries, and, I should say I feel that way about the Bible in a broad sense. And Rilke’s Book of Hours slays me. Oh, and Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water. Well, now there’s another, My Bright Abyss, by Christian Wiman. It is poetic prose, sub-titled, Meditation of a Modern Believer. This book makes me think, makes me feel, makes me want to write.

I looked him up. He is a poet. Has taught at Stanford; has many more books which I will check out. As I was reading about Wiman, I came across this:  

In a 2009 interview with Bookslut editor Jessa Crispin, discussing what he hopes readers might take from his work, Wiman stated, “I have no illusions about adding to sophisticated theological thinking. But I think there are a ton of people out there who are what you might call unbelieving believers, people whose consciousness is completely modern and yet who have this strong spiritual hunger in them. I would like to say something helpful to those people.”

Reminds me of the verse in Mark’s Gospel, chapter 9, verse 24: “I believe; help Thou my unbelief.”

So, I’ll share a poem with you by Wiman, the lines that preface the book:

My God my bright abyss
into which all my longing will not go
once more I come to the edge of all I know
and believing nothing believe in this:

Every time I read those lines, I find another nuance. So I read on. Check this out: 

 “There is nothing more difficult to outgrow than anxieties that have become useful to us [  ] as explanations for a life that never quite finds its true force or direction [ ].”  (p 10) 

 Seems like most days I am in conversations about how to live a life that “finds its true force.” You know, that feeling that you’re on the planet for a reason which only you can quite fill? And the subsequent feeling that you’re not quite filling it?

Belief and unbelief go hand in hand when it comes to living your life's purpose, too. 

I don’t guess I’d ever thought of the way anxieties are the excuse for not “making it.” Anxiety is easily cloaked, buried even deeper than the infamous “fear of failure/fear of success” syndrome.  Anxiety over bills, anxiety over rejection, anxiety over anxiety.

Which reminds me, I left a great book off the “wow” list:  The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. Same idea about finding your true direction and the myriad ways we resist finding it.

Just some thoughts. 

Hope you enjoy.   

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Brain Surgery

from the May issue of Power Source Magazine, UnCommon Sense by Kim McLean

Alright, so you’ve learned the importance of a hook. The hook is the title. It should be “hook-y” which means it “hooks” the listener, the consumer of music, during drive-time, with safely buckled children fussing in the back seat, and to-do lists insisting through Mom’s mind. And yes, they say it’s the women who buy most of the music. Maybe so. But come up with hooks that everybody understands and can wrap around while multi-tasking.

You have a great hook, a great concept and story line. Now you need great verses.

That’s a lot of greatness. Push pause and let me say something about greatness. More than once in my career I’ve been told that a writer should not expect every song to be great. The saying goes this way: “About every tenth song will be killer; the other nine may be good, but they can’t all be great.” Hmmm. Well. I’m glad they don’t expect the same of brain surgeons.

Song writing is not brain surgery. It is art. There is a song for every place and time. Each one can be great in it’s own context. If you finish a song and it does not seem great to you, work on it until it is. Just keep in mind that “great” and “hit” are not synonymous.

That said, let’s talk about the rest of the song. Don’t cop out on the verses. No laziness allowed. Your verses should set up the hook, and your hook should pay off the verses. I know you know what I mean, and if you don’t, write a hundred more songs and figure it out. Practice makes perfect.

Take time to get online and search out what I’m saying. Study some lyrics from several genres and see how these rules apply. Study great songs. Study copyrights. Do you know what I mean by that? One of my great publishers taught me this. A copyright is a song that stands the test of time, a song that matters to the next generation. Copyrights  are not trendy. They tap into that part of humanity that we all have in common. Everybody has a broken heart. Everybody needs love. Everybody relates to a great song. I guess my favorite example is Dolly’s I Will Always Love You or, let’s see, any Bill and Gloria song.

Not every song you write will be, or need be, a copyright (as I am using that term). That does not mean they are not all great, it just means that every song has a place and time. Copyrights cover a broad spectrum. Yes, you’ll need some bell-bottom songs, too. The secret is in the intentionality.

Now, about those verses: stop and read your lyric as you write. Think of the story line. Ask yourself where it’s heading and why. Sometimes I think of it like a conversation, and I read it out loud to see if it makes sense. Would I tell it this way? Does it matter that I’m even telling it? Is it believable?

Though a great chorus may actually stand alone and make sense even without verses, the verses get you there, so MAKE EVERY WORD COUNT; every definite article, every conjunction, and especially every verb and noun. You have a very short time in a verse to develop plot and characters, but the slightest turn of a phrase or choice of a word can do wonders.

A note about worship songs: it is God’s character you are developing in these, so as the Psalmist says, “ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.” (29:1) 

Well, that’s it for this issue. Hope you’re having a creative summer! May your songs be filled with oceans and sandy beaches – and I strongly advise some on-site research!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Choices - With Cliffs Notes

Okay, in case you don't sit around reading Rilke's Book of Hours or The Collected Poems of Sara Teasdale, I thought I'd give a frame of reference for this poem. (I recommend both those books, though, if you like poetry).

It is the season of Lent on my liturgical calendar of faith, and I love this as a time of soul-searching and preparing my heart for the message of the Cross and Resurrection. Before new life, comes death. In Matthew 16:24-25, Jesus said, "If any want to become my follower, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."

There seem to be two equations at play for the human condition: life-death-death, and life-death-life. It all swirls around in physical-metaphysical realities, but if we choose the kind of death Jesus mentions (and you can look up many more scriptures that express this), we get life. If we choose death by depression, fear, anger, poor habits, bad attitudes, or laziness, we get death.

Death by surrender, death by love...this is a spiritual principal, a paradox about real life. It's the Jesus story.

This poem has something to do with all of that, but if I detail it out much more, it won't be poetry!

Love to all of you. Spread the word about this blog! And please share your comments. I love hearing from you.

Have a creative day,


Death comes in many jaded forms,
     Sometimes in fury, sometimes reborn
But tyranny's grip, it's talons steel
     Rips through; the heart will be revealed
So choose your angel, dark or light
     To satiate our Maker's right
For death will come; death always wins
     I've died a thousand times again.
I am alive, my soul flies free
     I feed the rivers, bend the trees
I need the darkness veiled in fear
      The icy breath that hovers near
I  dance within the mystery
      That I chose life, and death chose me.

By Kim McLean
© 3/8/14