|Original lyric writing for Street Corner Salvation|
I was thinking today how odd it is to keep the meaning of songs hidden. If you think back to a lot of famous songs, it's weird how many various interpretations there can be for one lyric or song. The artists rarely share these meanings, and I've always found that puzzling.
I can see if there is some really intimate subject matter for the artist, why revealing that to a general audience could make them feel a bit exposed, but in general, I love discussing my songs and my thought process. I've been working on what I will call my Worship Album lately. It's going to be at least 4 songs initially, and it's basically finished at this point, other than some professional mastering of the tracks. I've done what I can with my own limited means, so they aren't sounding too bad overall.
I'd like to explain some of my thoughts about the meanings, and ideas behind these 4 songs, to give some insight into my thought process. You can still interpret differently, and maybe your interpretation will make more sense than mine, but I'd like to at least share where I was coming from in the writing and recording of these tunes. I'm quite proud of them, and they're definitely my most produced so far.
Tools of the Trade
I've always used Garageband on Mac for it's simple interface. It's a bit limited when it comes to mastering tracks, but it has the instrument effects, and ease of use that I need when I'm ready to get an idea down. The Apple iPhone App called "Music Memos" is actually a great new way for me to get ideas down, and even hear a base/drum track with it to see how it would sound full band. It also shows my chords played, to help with transposing.
Usually, I'll start with a general idea, record it in music memos, and then flesh it out. Once fleshed out, I begin in GarageBand with a virtual drummer (I can't drum for the life of me). When I have that and a tempo I like established, I go to work with a basic piano track to get the chords down. Usually, I'll use my Midi Keyboard and actually play the parts out, since I do know how to play piano on an amateur to intermediate level. Adding Bass using my guitar (since I don't own a bass) and a basic guitar track usually follows.
I don't own professional microphones, and perhaps that is my weakness in the recordings, but with Garageband effects for echo, reverb, and others, I can usually take a pretty basic sounding vocal track and make it sound better. One of my crazy secrets is I usually just use my Apple EarPods that come with the iPhone, and the mic on them to record both the guitar (let the mic hang down in the guitar hole on an acoustic), and vocals. The immediate effect is nothing spectacular, compared to what one could do with a pro mic, but with the many effects in Garageband, it's easy to flesh it out a bit.
I recently had a chance to record one of the songs on this EP in an actual studio in Austin, TX, with a really nice mic, and it does have a warmer vocal sound than the ones I've done at home with my limited equipment. But, for the purposes of sharing with friends and family, you can still get a decent recording playing with it enough. I know my dad has said he's impressed with some of what I've done that was done just using this basic setup.
Okay, so that's a bit about my workflow/setup. Let's talk about these songs.
*Copy paste the links in your browser to access*
The Lord Reigns Forever: https://soundcloud.com/chris-byers-5/the-lord-reigns-forever
I began leading a worship team in late 2015, and had always wanted to write a good, Bible-based worship song. That was the motivation for "The Lord Reigns Forever"
I'm still surprised this one came out rocking the way it did, my initial acoustic idea for it was nowhere near as bluesy on the guitar riff. That driving riff ended up really making the song what it is.
The lyrics are quite simple, taken from Psalm 9 in the ESV Bible version, and adapted to fit the flow of a verse, chorus type of song outline. They are no less meaningful, but the concept here was something that could be sung in a worship service, so I kept the writing very close to the original Biblical text.
I made the chorus simple so a congregation could theoretically sing along. "The Lord Reigns Forever, He rules the world in righteousness" is all that the chorus really amounts to. A break down chorus of "Sing the praises of the Lord" as well. In this way, I was able to implement it into our worship service as our closing song a few times, and it went quite well. I never got a chance to do the electric guitar live as we only had acoustics, but the overall song feel was there.
This one will be the first of the 4 songs that I worked on, and the one that really showed me I could do a lot on GarageBand if I put the time in.
This song acknowledges that Christ reigns over all, and should inspire trust and assurance for those who believe. Colossians tells us Christ was the agent of creation, and holds the universe together. His reign is forever.
Gracious God - https://soundcloud.com/chris-byers-5/gracious-god-1
The next song I worked on was actually written by my mom, LeeAnn Byers, years ago. At one point, a gospel couple had recorded their own version of it. There is a live video of my mom performing it at a church service, and the organist was playing. I heard it and new I wanted a more up tempo version, but wanted that organ sound to still be prominent. View that video here: https://youtu.be/auyp84G77VE
The opening notes are played like a church organ to give the false impression you're about to hear a hymn. Then, it suddenly kicks into an almost Margaritaville style bass line, and becomes a tropical sounding song.
I really enjoy this song, and lyrically it's another that is straightforward enough for a congregation to join in. We did play this one for service a couple of times as well, though sadly without an organ/keyboard player, I had to use harmonica to give it some extra sound.
When I recorded this song, I was fresh off of recording "Lord Reigns Forever" and felt like these two song arrangements were some of my best work. The music and lyrics of "Gracious God" belong to my mom, but the arrangement was all sparked by my own exploration of the song.
This song is just a great acknowledgement that God is with those who believe in Him, even "when trouble is around, as far as I can see"
This song's verse came to me awhile back, and I always thought it made a nice song for communion. The part about taking bread and wine was written with that in mind. It's a reflection really on communion and that dynamic between Christ and us.
The chorus came a bit later, as I was just toying around with ideas, when some great theological lines came to me.
"What can I do, but worship You" is my acknowledgment that really our lives are built for the purpose of glorifying God, and really, what else can we do?
"What can I say that would take my sin away" - A plea if there ever was one, but an acknowledgment within that that there is nothing we can say, it's only by trusting in Christ's sacrifice that we can have our sins washed clean and renewed fellowship with our Creator.
"It's by your power, I can believe in you" -- This is a bit controversial, and is a bit Calvinist in its theology. I'm saying, it's only by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, the power of God, that anyone can believe in Jesus to begin with. As I've studied theology more, this is where my belief lands. Eternal security for those believing in Christ, because if we were not one of his sheep, we would never trust in Him to begin with. This is a good line on assurance of salvation too, something I used to struggle with quite a bit. If we are not prompted by God's Holy spirit and his calling on our lives, we would not turn to him to begin with, so if we feel that calling to believe and trust in him, and that desire for Christ, then we can know for certain we are his ("I am yours, You are mine" - line from the verse).
"Here I am, on my knees again" - What else can one do after the lines that preceded it but bow down in awe and praise of this great gift of salvation that is bestowed upon us.
This song started as something discussing the act of communion, and morphed into a song with harmonies and trumpets sounding. I have it at the end of the album right now because that final trumpet blow to end the song, is a great call to the scriptures where trumpets sounding are referenced.
I'd still like to do this one for worship sometime, but maybe more of the original acoustic version I wrote, without as much production. Though, I like how it turned out with all the instrumentation.
For anyone wondering, I don't have a brass section in my house to record. I use the technology that exists now to play notes on a keyboard that I can then transform into a brass sound. My rule for myself is this though, if I could not find someone to play it live, or play it myself live, I don't want to add it. Every instrument and note in here, I could play on keyboard, or have someone easily play on a brass instrument, so I'm happy with it being part of the recording.
Street Corner Salvation- https://soundcloud.com/chris-byers-5/street-corner-salvation-1
The title/line "Street Corner Salvation" has been with me for awhile now. I've always thought it would make a great Christian band name, or album title.
It actually first came about when I was playing on street corners in college and after, singing for people passing by. Being a Christian, I took the term salvation and applied it to these Street Corner sessions.
When the time came to write the song, I must say it came together much faster than I would have expected. As my newest original tune, I just told myself I wanted this as a title track, and needed to write it. One day during some free time, the lyrics just began to pour out of me. And, a mental picture that I will share shortly, formed, and helped define what this song brings to my mind.
"It's not just a prayer to pray, repentance and turning away from sin, is where salvation will begin' -
I'm proud of this line, I'll just admit it. It fits nice theology into a long phrasing, but I like the rhyme structure it has. And, repentance and genuine sorrow plus turning away from our sin is really what salvation is about. It's not just saying a prayer once and walking an aisle. It's a changed heart, a changed life from the inside out. We still fail and sin, as we are fallen creatures, but once we have put our full trust in Christ, and sought t remove ourselves from sin as best we are able, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse of from unrighteousness.
"We sanctify daily then, until such a time as when..."
We are to sanctify ourselves, so that we may mature in our belief and grow closer to living a Christ-like life. Sanctification is the ongoing process after initial salvation, in which the believer matures and grows in their faith, seeking to put off past sin, and live on as a new creation in Christ.
"Out on the street we try to get buy, long ago forgotten by our nation"
My first thought writing this was of a homeless believer, who looks forward to their heavenly reward, even though their earthly life may not be the best. They are holding onto their salvation as God's promise of better things to come. They are often on the streets, so a Street Corner Salvation in this context is coming to faith in Christ while in the midst of living on the street, forgotten by most (the nation).
A secondary thought occurred to me though. Perhaps, these are Christians after a time when Christianity is rooted out of the culture. It's already unpopular culturally, so maybe these are Christians who have been pushed to the streets because of their faith. They're also faithful and holding on for the promise of something more. This imagery works in sort of a premillenial end times mind set too, as Christians are pushed underground more and more, they hold onto that salvation.
"What we've got everybody needs, it ain't about religious creeds..."
Another controversial line for me, as I do believe it is necessary for the maturing believer to have weekly or semi frequent fellowship with other believers. People tend to find the institution of the church as overly religious, but really believers in Christ are themselves the church. So, religious creeds can be valuable in certain scenarios, but it's basically saying don't get hung up on trying to earn your salvation with religion, it's about trust in Christ. Theology and church are important, but it's not about a religion- but a relationship (cliche to say, but true).
This song had my vocals and guitars recorded in studio in Austin, so it's technically my first professional recording. My cousin Jesse LaFave did the lead resonator guitar fills, and I built my keyboard and organ part around that. The keyboard riff is meant as a response to Jesse's main fill in the song.
This song came together very fast, as I had only written it around 2 weeks before I ended up recording it in studio. I was fighting a sinus infection, but didn't want to lose my studio time slot, so I am a bit more nasally than usual on it. But, my voice is naturally gravelly, so it fits alright.
I had a crowd review of anonymous users thoughts on it, and a few commented on my voice negatively. But, if anyone knows me, I've always had that unique vocal quality, and I'd never claim to be a choir singer. I own it, and it's my thing. So, not everyone will like it, but that's alright. Those that do, tend to find it much different than what is out there.
So, with my 4 songs analyzed a bit, I hope I've given some interesting insights into the process that went into this album. I've certainly not had room here to cover all my thoughts on it, but I've given the basics. Feel free to ask if anyone ever has other questions about it.
You can listen to all 4 songs on my SoundCloud playlist here: https://soundcloud.com/chris-byers-5/sets/worship-song-trio
Current plan for track order is:
2.The Lord Reigns Forever
3.Street Corner Salvation