david santistevan


Lessons Learned From 4 Great Songwriters

I’m of the belief that the best way for you to become better at what you do is to seize it. Don’t wait for a mentor to approach you, seek out your mentors. As a worship songwriter, I always observe other writing styles – what melody works, what doesn’t, what lyrics are unique, which aren’t, etc.

In this post I just wanted to outline a few worship music songwriters that I admire and what I’ve learned from them. My desire is that you use the same curiosity with the music you like and apply what you learn from them. And also, study these guys. They’re the best.


I appreciate Matt for his masterful lyricism and unique melodies. Matt can take complex theological terms and use few words to express it. His writing is deep, yet accessible. All of his albums are great, but for starters, I’d recommend his live album “Facedown” and even his most recent “We Shall Not Be Shaken” .

Lesson learned: immerse yourself in God’s Word and express its truth using as few words as possible.


I think the strength of Paul’s writing is in its accessibility. His songs are immediately singable to anyone and build masterfully in emotional strength. His songs are about one thing, easy to follow, make sense, and connect with what you want to say to God. My favorite album from Paul is “A Greater Song”.

Lesson learned: think about the comman man/woman in your songwriting. Will this make sense to them, do they want to sing this, and is it singable for the average vocal range?


Reuben Morgan writes the best melodies of anyone I listen to. If you’re not familiar with Reuben, think Hillsong. He’s written incredible songs like Mighty to Save, My Redeemer Lives, Eagles Wings, and Stronger. People love his songs because they just make sense, they are also immediately engaging, and musically innovative. He writes very simple, anthemic melodies around big truths.  I love his solo project “Everyone”, which sadly is out of print.

Lesson learned: write melodies that ‘soar’. Don’t settle on the first melody that comes to you. Tweak it until it is singable, cool, unique, and emotional.


Brian thinks deep and expresses poetically. A lot of Brian’s songs introduced me to theological concepts that weren’t ‘on my radar’ but should be. Many young songwriters simply rehash the same phrases over and over. You can tell Brian seeks God and lives his songs as he writes them. Can’t say I have a favorite album here, but check out this live record to start.

Lesson learned: Write out of your life. What is God speaking to you and your church? Think deeply about it and find fresh ways to express it.



December 29, 2010 Posted by | Songwriting | 8 Comments

A Songwriter’s Arsenal

As a guy who writes songs for my church to sing, I’m always trying to improve. Here are a few things I use that assist me in my songwriting process. Hope this helps.

  • Evernote – I’ve already talked about the beauty of Evernote. As an iPhone user, this is my preferred way to capture ideas. I’ll record a melody or type a lyric and it automatically syncs from my phone to my desktop to the world wide web. Yay.
  • A Notebook – While I do love Evernote, sometimes it helps to do it the old-fashioned way. Write it out. I find it easier to process my thoughts when I physically write.
  • An inspiring guitar – I personally play a Martin DC-16 GTE. Wonderful. If you are able, purchase a guitar (or keyboard, or pan flute, or didgeridoo) that you love to pick up. Sometimes the instrument alone can inspire new songs. A few of my friends rave about these.
  • Recording Software – I’m a raving fan of Propellerhead, a music software company from Stockholm, Sweden. I use Reason & Record. Garageband is a great, simple tool that most people have. When crafting songs, it really helps to hear it back with quality sound. I’ll usually create drum loops, add keys, bass, strings. Good recording software can help inspire your writing and take songs in unanticipated directions.
  • Bible – As a worship songwriter, this is what I go to first. The tendency in songwriting is just to write what’s on the top of your head, which is typically cheesy, cliched phrases. Dig into Scripture and find fresh ways to articulate the truth.

I’m always looking for new things to inspire. What has been helpful in your songwriting?


November 19, 2010 Posted by | Songwriting | 3 Comments

How to Write Better Worship Songs (Part 1)

Why is it that you love the songs that you do? What is it about them that is engaging? While this is rather a subjective question (different people like different songs), I think there are some tips to writing congregational worship songs that assist in their success (And by “success” I don’t necessarily mean songs that the global church is singing and make a lot of money. I’m referring to songs that really connect with a local congregation whether they are ‘discovered’ or not.)


  • Say something old in a fresh way – there’s nothing new under the sun. As worship songwriters we’re not trying to write about new ideologies and revelations. We are looking to shine a spotlight on the revealed truth of God in a way that connects with a modern listener.
  • Keep it singable – I understand your voice sounds great singing those high G’s and A’s but the average churchgoers eyes are popping out as they attempt to sing it. Keep it in a singable range and keep your phrasing  out of the ‘rap music’ category if you want people to sing along.
  • Avoid cliches and too much rhyming – Example: “God, we call on your name, and give you all the praise, and love all your ways, you never cease to amaze, God, take away this haze.” Yuck. Sometimes it sounds better not to rhyme or use half-rhymes.
  • Know your congregation – what is God doing in the midst of your people? What are they experiencing? What is your pastor preaching on? Write to that. You want to give voice to what is in their hearts.
  • Don’t depend on melodies and arrangement…until later. If you have a killer voice, great melody, impeccable arrangement, but an awful song, it’s not a success. Work on your lyrics so they express exactly what you want to say.
  • Write and rewrite and rewrite again…and again – Don’t fall for the “God gave me this song just as it is. I’m not changing it” speech. Don’t blame God for your lack of hard work. I like what Brian Doerksen says, “God doesn’t give songs…he gives seeds. It’s our responsibility to grow the seed.”

Allow me to leave you with a song that I love. I’ve posted this before but still love it. Matt beautifully articulates a great theme and takes you on a journey that culminates with a fantastic bridge. Beautiful lyrics, melody, and a consistent theme throughout. Notice this song is about one thing – God’s saving power. Get’s me every time.

October 29, 2010 Posted by | Songwriting | 5 Comments

Songwriting for Worship – Brian Doerksen

The past few days I had the privilege of attending Integrity’s Seminars for Worship with my worship team. I so appreciate the experience and humility that Paul Baloche, Brian Doerksen, and Kathryn Scott bring to the table. I wanted to share some songwriting thoughts that I gleaned from Brian’s session on “songwriting for worship”

  • Our world is crazy about the visual – the God of the scriptures continues to invite us with his written and whispered words.
  • Never use a song publicly that doesn’t move you to worship privately.
  • Write for the ‘gap’ – don’t imitate others. Look for where a certain truth or style is missing.
  • Worship music involves writing for the church & self-expression, clear lyrics (meaning then sound), and simple, creative music.
  • Recording artist writing involves self-expression, unclear lyrics (sound then meaning), and creative music.
  • How does the songwriting process actually work? – seeds of inspiration; days of perspiration.
  • People have the misconception that God gives songs. He actually gives seeds. It is our job to cultivate the soil and grow the song.
  • People need 2  things to sing your song – Reason (they want to say what your song says) and Affection (they need to love the song).

October 6, 2010 Posted by | Songwriting | 1 Comment

Songwriter Stagnation

Ever go through long periods of not writing anything? And even when you try it is so terrible that you feel you have lost your songwriting gift? Out of desperation you listen a top 40 song and and copy its form. Still, it sucks.

Been there?

I want to encourage you songwriters here for a few moments. That is absolutely normal. Consider these songwriting helps. They may just save you from prolonged songwriter stagnation:

  • Lots of bad songs need to be written before you ever write a truly good one.
  • Don’t try and write a hit song. Just pour out your heart. Make sure what you are saying is worth saying anyway.
  • Go for a walk (away from people) and sing melodies apart from your musical instrument. Believe me, it works.
  • Listen to a musical style that you aren’t naturally inclined to. Try and mimic the chord progressions. It will stretch you out of your current ‘box’.
  • Go buy Future of Forestry music. Get inspired.
  • Co-write with someone who is better than you. Learn how they work.
  • Read this great book. Not just for worship leaders, by the way.
  • Take time to pray. Ask God to clarify what He is doing in your heart.
  • Journal. Write for the purpose of getting your heart on page, not for a song.
  • Learn a new instrument (I want a banjo and a ukelele and anything else I don’t currently own). Sometimes new tones can inspire new songs.
  • Do a spontaneity session. Play your instrument. Sing random melodies out of the Psalms or whatever. Persevere with this and don’t give up when it’s terrible.
  • Ask trusted professionals to critique your work. Honestly. Take to heart what they say.
  • Be fully present in the ‘moment’. Don’t be stuck in the past and overly concerned with the future. Learn from the circumstances, people, and places you are currently in. The best songs come from people who are fully present in the ‘now’.

October 8, 2009 Posted by | Songwriting | 3 Comments

Two More Music Observations…

  1. A great melody with weak lyrics sounds cheesy and pointless, but will probably still be a top 40 hit.
  2. A poor melody with great lyrics is better, but will not get many listens.

February 13, 2009 Posted by | Music, Songwriting | Leave a comment

New Brian Doerksen Songwriting DVD


I love the songwriting and worship ministry of Brian Doerksen. One of my biggest influences. I’m really looking forward to his new songwriting DVD.

January 9, 2009 Posted by | Songwriting, Worship | Leave a comment

Great Songwriting Thought

“Write with the door closed and rewrite with the door open”

How does this strike you?

January 9, 2009 Posted by | Songwriting | 1 Comment


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