Ed Rotheram Interview
Mathew Reames: Hello Mate, (Yes I faked a british accent in typed form) Its good to connect with you again. This is definitely long overdue. For those who do not know Ed, let me do a little introduction. Ed is a worship leader from England, so by default his singing is cooler than mine. He is also a fellow member of the Allaboutworship.com team. But today, I want to discuss creativity and worship with you. Ed, as a worship leader you have access to a lot of great music, but lately you have been working on writing your own music. What brought about this shift?
Ed Rotheram: While songwriting has always been “in the mix” for me as a worship musician and leader, I always faced the argument of “if I write this, how do I deem it more suitable for a set than an established song from an established writer?”. Chris McClarney answered this question for me last year when he said in a songwriting seminar that the Lord had told him that he didn’t just want to hear songs that were already being sung, He wanted to hear the “songs of Chris”. God is desperate for intimacy with us – how do you think He feels when He hears us pour out our hearts in personal songs to Him? The Psalmist invites us to “Sing to the Lord a brand new song, in the company of those who worship Him” (Psalm 149). He wants our songs, our worship, our praise, our hearts.
MR: When it comes to your songwriting, what are some of the challenges you face?
ER: The first is making it a habit. It’s slightly (and I do mean slightly) easier to write when you have a deadline, a studio session or an event to write for. You have the inbuilt motivation and sense of urgency to do it, and therefore it occupies more of your time. At the AllAboutWorship.com “Hymnish” retreat earlier in the year, Tony Wood (staff writer at Integrity) came out with a great quote: “Don’t wait until you’re inspired to write; write until you’re inspired”. If you consider yourself a songwriter: write – make it a habit. It’s tough at the start, but just do it. Marathon runners don’t wake up in the morning and cheerily think “I may just go for a run today” – they’re running before they’ve thought about what they do – it’s inbuilt into their mentality as runners. We writers should be the same.
Secondly – know when a song is finished (and also when it’s not). To me, a song is finished when it has said all it needs to. If the song you’re writing tells a story, or follows a timeline (think the verses to Matt Redman’s “10,000 Reasons”), it’s almost certainly going to need 2-3 verses. Songs like Marie Barnett’s “Breathe” say all they need to about the subject of the song in 1 verse, then have a chorus. This is also ok. Be analytical about what you write – has it said enough, not enough, or even too much? Does it have a clear subject? Does it need another section? Best way of testing this is to play it out or record it, then listen back to it. Are you left wanting more? Is there too much information?
MR: When writing with others, how do you balance between contributing your own thoughts whilst not overriding the contributions of those writing with you?
ER: This is a really good question – one I’ve only really had experience of this year. My best advice is to always bring something to the table. When you come into a writing session, you want to make sure you’re on equal terms. To give you an example, I’ve been in 2 writing sessions this year (one face-to-face and the other Skype), where I’ve brought an unfinished song to the table. One was a good idea as far as I was concerned, but the song needed structure – all the elements were there but it needed someone else to appraise and finish it. The other was a song that had a verse, pre-chorus and chorus, but needed a bridge – somewhere else for the song to go. I left this one with the other writer and they wrote me a simple yet highly effective bridge that finished the song.
Key to this: know what you’re good at. Are you a storyteller, or someone who can write catchy hooks? Are you a starter, or a finisher? Are you a melody or lyrics person? Where do you start and where do you need help? If you can answer any or all of these questions, you’re half way to great co-writing. Find someone who complements you.
Lastly, on this subject (and to get to the point of the question) – honour those who you write with – they are there for a reason too. If you have ever watched Paul Baloche’s Worship Workshop DVDs (and if you haven’t – DO IT!), he talks about a worship band being like a pizza – cut into equal slices for an equal share between members. Songwriting is no different – each person on the co-write should have just as much entitlement to an opinion as another. In the examples listed above, this might seem an odd thing when I brought a near finished song to the table – it only needed a bridge – which may in practice only have been 20-25% of the song – why give the other writer a 50% cut in it? My advice to you is NEVER to think like that – If a song’s unfinished, it’s unfinished. Without that other writer it would never have been finished – hence a 50/50 split.
MR: Ok, lets discuss some scripture for a moment. As a worship leader, and a Christian in general its important to study the word, pray, and seek God. As you have been doing this, what has God been speaking to you and revealing?
ER: I seem to have been around grace and redemption a lot recently. So much of what the world contributes to our daily existence is rubbish that needs to be filtered out. I don’t know whether I’m alone, but my mind is prone to wandering to questions I shouldn’t be asking, guilt and shame I shouldn’t be harbouring – and God keeps tapping me on the shoulder and reminding me that there’s grace for that. All this stuff was left at the foot of the cross when Jesus’ blood was spilled for me. Paul says in Romans that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. He wants US. He knows about our stuff – he knows we’ll screw up, but He also knows we’ll come back to Him. Songs about grace and redemption serve as good reminders of who we are in Him, how we can rest sure in His unfailing love – knowing that He is for us and with us until the ends of the earth.
As an additional thing: I tend to go well by things I’ve experienced – talks that have resonated, spontaneous songs I’ve sung in worship, and powerful encounters with the Holy Spirit. This year, God has moved me towards the idea of surrendering myself to Him in worship – forgetting about what I bring, and more about what He reveals and how I respond to that. Herein lies another tip for songwriters – you know those talks you were in that you can’t forget and quote to anyone who’ll listen? You know those experiences you had where God knocked you eight ways from Sunday in the Spirit that keep you excited for a year? Write about them – God stirs us up in these encounters, releases more of His vision, His plan and His revelation to us in them, and GIVES US SOMETHING REAL THAT WE CAN SHARE. This is an amazing privilege as songwriters – use it.
MR: Ok, one last question. Are there any resources that you would recommend people check out? Books, Music, Podcasts, videos, movies?
ER: My best advice here is to try things until you find something that gets you going. You said yourself right at the start – there’s a bunch of amazing music to choose from to get inspiration from at the moment. My advice would be to delve into some of it – then get into the stories. Get into All Sons and Daughters and find out a bit about how they write songs if you want something real – their philosophy for the past 18 months or so has been to look at their church, see what they’re going through, and write songs that reflect that. Remember Jesus – “I only do what I see the Father doing…”? (John 5:19)
On a practical level – if these 3 books aren’t in your collection buy them: Paul Baloche (with Jimmy & Carol Owens): God Songs; Brian Doerksen: Make Love, Make War; and Bob Kauflin’s “Worship Matters”. All three have great things to offer the worship leaders/songwriters out there.
MR: Well I appreciate you taking the time to share your heart with us. It’s really great to hear how everyday people are experiencing the power and presence of God. I love how you help facilitate that. If anyone wants to know more about Ed, follow him on twitter @EdRotheram