Some of my deepest growth as a songwriter has come from taking a great song and dissecting it. Today, that's what we're going to do. Even though this isn't a congregational worship song, it's so well-crafted I couldn't resist unpacking it to find some hidden songwriting treasures.
Let's dive in. Fear Is A Liar, by Jason Ingram, Jonathan Smith, and Zach Williams.
It's not often that a title sums up a humongous truth so perfectly. When you discover a big truth in five words or less, you have found gold. Write it down. Store it in a safe. Catalog it on your iPhone. Guard it and steward it with your life! Be a collector of these big, concise truths. Our God is limitless, and we will never run out of big ideas. Let's steward them well.
I'm not sure I've ever heard fear personified in this way where "fear" is actually like a person, or an entity. It's a great truth with a new angle of looking at it.
Lyric tip #1: Start with a huge truth. Get that big truth anchored into your spirit so you write from a place of authority. It is truth that sets us free, not clever rhymes or incredible production. It is truth that actually breaks people out of their mental prisons. Anything less than truth will leave people less than free. So, Brave worshippers, let's get into the Word, and find the deep truths that can actually change someone's life. Start there.
Lyric tip #2: Make a list in your verses. In this song, the verse lists invite people in. Every human being can find themselves in at least one of these phrases. Did you resonate with one? The verses are specific. They list details about what fear tells us.
Lists give us a great way to organize our details so that the listener comes along for the ride.
Many times we assume our listeners know what we were thinking when we were writing the song. But listeners don't always get the back-story, and they are not mind-readers. In fact, 99.9% of listeners (I just made up that statistic) are never going to read your lyrics. Our words have to make sense when listeners hear it. Does this song make sense without any explanation? Absolutely.
Lyric tip #3: Use lyrical devices. Because songs are heard, the use of alliteration, rhyme, and internal rhyme or assonance (similar, repeating vowel sounds) make your songs go further into your listener's ear canal.
Did you notice, "stop you in your steps," "rob you of your rest," or "fear into the fire?" Those are wonderful uses of alliteration, and they make the lyric more memorable.
Additionally, every time I hear the line, "Stop you in your _______," I expect to hear the word "tracks." That's the cliché. But instead of using the cliché, they upped the ante with alliteration and pushed the cliché into something fresh. Do that. If you're tempted to use a cliché, dig deeper into what that cliché means and say it with a zesty twist. Then use a musical device to spice it up. The extra time and attention to these kinds of devices separate the good songs from the great ones.
Did you notice they use the word, "told" six times in the first verse? That's called parallel language, and it makes it simpler for the listener to understand the lyrics.
Poetic language can be beautiful, but you might lose your listener if you're not careful. You want to get your listener to your intended destination. Say what you mean. Be conversational. Be clear. Be unafraid to use parallel language. See what I did there?
Melody tip #1: Don't just write a melody, build one. Did you notice how the melody lines rise by one note in each phrase in the verses? This creates a sense of "build" within the melody. That's good! Not all songs do this, but it really moves it forward.
Melody tip #2: Save your biggest note for the chorus. The top of the chorus and your hook line are prime real estate in your songs. If possible, save that melodic piece of land for the most important lyric of your chorus. Avoid going too high in your verses. If you don't, you may steal the thunder out of your chorus. In general, try to have at least one new, higher note in your chorus to draw your listener in. It creates melodic payoff.
Melody tip #3: Think melodic pattern and symmetry. The verses have two sets of four lines. Those four lines are basically the melodic template for all the verses.
Melodies work better when they are in a pattern. In order to create a pattern, you need repetition. Notice, they don't change up their pattern until the last line of verse 2. They establish the pattern first through repetition, then break their rule on the last line of verse 2 to create intensity. You can't create a memorable template or pattern if you meander aimlessly. Don't meander your melodies.
This is especially true for congregational worship songs. If you use your melodies to establish patterns that the ear can recognize, you'll create memorable songs that your congregations can learn quickly. Almost every single Chris Tomlin song does this extremely well. There's a reason so many congregations are singing his songs.
Have you ever gotten a song stuck in your head for a week? It's because the melody most likely has hooky patterns and symmetry within it.
Try these tips on. Listen critically to great songs. There are no rigid rules in songwriting, but if you incorporate some of these tips, you'll start writing stronger songs. And it's satisfying to overhear someone singing your song while they're doing dishes in the kitchen.
What do you think? What other noteworthy tips do you notice in this song?
Rachel Barrentine is a Songwriter/Speaker who ignites fresh faith through music, speaking, writing & laughter. She is also a 20-year Lyme Disease survivor, RN, and founder of Start Feeling Awesome, a movement to help women regain health: body, mind, and soul.