Case studies: Christian songwriters
We meet two up-and-coming UK songwriters whose songs are about a lot more than just fast cars and fast women
eople write songs for many reasons. To express their love for someone else, or their pain when that someone else has gone; to vent their rage at the state of world and society; to make you laugh, cry or think; perhaps just as an outlet for their creativity, perhaps because they dream of rock stardom and all the trappings that go with it.
And some people write songs as an expression of their religious faith. In English-speaking countries such as the USA, the UK and Australia, this primarily means the Christian religion (though we’re sure there are many songwriters of other faiths out there and, if so, we’d love to hear from you!)… and Christian music can take many forms.
There’s music written for churches that is entirely devotional in nature – gospel is the obvious example here but not the entire story. There’s the commercial ‘Christian rock’ market, which emerged out of the ‘Jesus music’ scene in California at the tail-end of the hippy movement; 1980s hair metal band Stryper were perhaps the most successful and best-known of such artists but it’s a market that’s still big business today, especially in the US. And in certain sub-genres of house music, lyrics praising the Lord are, if not the norm, then by no means hard to find.
Plus, of course, there are the many mainstream artists, from Cliff Richard to U2 to Evanescence, whose songs are largely ‘secular’ but who make no secret of their Christian beliefs, not to mention countless soul and R&B artists who started out singing gospel songs in church at a very young age – Aretha and Whitney to name but two.
It’s been amply demonstrated, then, that God and rock ‘n’ roll needn’t be mutually exclusive! But how does a Christian songwriter go about getting his or her music heard? Are there any specific hurdles to overcome? Are there any specific resources available that they can draw on?
To find out, in this first in an occasional series of Case Studies featuring aspiring songwriters from all over the world, we meet two very different Christian songwriters from the UK: Bristol’s AD Gold and London-based rapper Faith Child.
Adrian ‘AD’ Gold is a 43-year-old Bristolian songwriter. He’s been making music since he was a teenager, but only began writing faith-based music ten years ago. He cites Nat King Cole, Burt Bacharach, Prince and “a lot of old bluesmen, Leadbelly, people like that” as his inspirations and says his dream would be to have someone like Joss Stone or Mariah Carey perform his songs.
How did you start writing Christian music?
My brother died, and after the funeral I wrote a song called The Other Side about how I was feeling. And it got sung in the local church, and from there I met a guy called Everton Bailey, who really got me started. He was quite active in the church so through him I made a lot of contacts that helped me get a foot in the door.
Do you write music specifically for church/worship purposes?
Not so much now… I was then for a while, but now it’s more normal, everyday songs but from a Christian viewpoint. I’m open-minded, really I just like writing songs and having people perform them, whether those people are Christians themselves or not.
I still do more specifically Christian material as well, like I wrote a track called Song Of Hope that was performed by a gospel choir at St Paul’s Carnival. But mostly… it’s songs that come from a Christian perspective, sure, but they’re not necessarily going to be songs about Christianity or about God. I’m quite middle-of-the-road really, I’m writing songs for the mainstream market.
What can you tell us about the Christian music scene in the UK?
It’s big in London. They have lots of songwriting competitions and ‘battle of the bands’ contests for singers, stuff like that, so there’s an infrastructure there. Not so much here in Bristol… and obviously, even London doesn’t compare to the US, where Christian music is massive.
It’s a hard thing to get into, though, and you’ve really got to be in the church yourself. You can’t just turn up with a bunch of songs and expect a choir to want to sing them, you’ve got to be involved in that community. You’ve got to be there in church every Sunday.
Tell us a little bit about the songwriting process, and how that works for you?
I do a lot of my writing at night – I keep a pen and paper by the bed and quite often an idea will come to me at 3am! It’s almost always a title that comes to me first, a phrase I’ve heard or a line I’ve read in a book… then the lyrics, and then I’ll put a beat and a melody under it. Or, because I used to do soundsystem battles and that’s sort of in my blood, if I hear a song I like I’ll try and go one up on it! I’ll think, I could do better than that… so I’ll take that topic and make it my own.
So what are you up to right now, and where do you see things heading?
Well, a couple of years ago things were going really well, I had Joss Stone interested in one of my songs, I had Sony interested in a couple of songs. But it didn’t quite happen, and then ‘life’ took over a bit! But now I’m back in the studio and back on it. Right now, I’ve been working with a young local rapper called Kompozure, so watch this space…
I’d love to work with some other people, too. When I was younger I was a bit more like, nah, this is my thing… these days I’m more open, because I’ve learned that when someone else comes along, they bring their own ideas to the table and you can end up with something very different but something much better! So if anyone’s interested in collaborating, get in touch…
Do you find putting your ideas into song helps reaffirm or strengthen your faith?
Definitely. It’s like a release valve, it helps you get the emotion out and work through things. And it can make you stronger, and help you reaffirm to yourself how you’re dealing with things.
If you want to know more about AD Gold’s work, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Faith Child – real name Michael Ayo – is a Christian rapper based in London. He started writing songs in 2000 and has been doing it professionally since 2005.
Do you write songs mostly for yourself to perform, or for other people?
For myself, mostly, but sometimes for others. When people send me their music to listen to I often change some of the words and pockets in order to create a form of structure.
Would you describe your songs as specifically faith-based, or not?
Not always directly, but music is also written from the writer’s point of view, and with being a Christian, my faith and beliefs will always be reflected in my writing. So if I’m writing a song about love, for instance, I would write about it being heterosexual, leaning towards marriage and monogamy.
How did you first get started making music and writing songs?
Like a lot of people, it was singing in church first of all. That was from the age of about 11, and from the church it was youth clubs. Then I got the chance to go on a UK tour featuring a bunch of Christian rap and garage artists, and everything just went from there, really.
We know you write lyrics, rap and sing… do you do anything else?
Well, I work with about half a dozen different producers but I co-produce all the tracks, and I do some of the drumming and the vocal production too. So I’m not a one-man band, but I do know my way around a recording studio!
What have been the highlights of your career to date?
Headlining at the 02 was definitely one of them! I was talking to a couple of guys I work with, Guvna B and Vic Tizzle, and we started talking about putting on a three-man show, and then one of them came up with the idea of doing it at the Indigo 02. I was like, naah, but six months later there we were. That got us a lot of attention, like it was on NBC in America and Kele Le Roc heard about it and came down, so that really helped raise, not just our profile hopefully but also the profile of UK gospel/Christian music generally.
Also, having my album nominated for a MOBO Award and being invited for tea by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, as recognition of my musical work.
The Prime Minister! How did that come about?
I don’t actually know… I just got an email one day from 10 Downing Street. I thought it was a hoax at first! But no, I went along and there was me, and half a dozen other UK Christian artists, and then a whole bunch of MPs and archbishops and people like that, for this two-hour Easter reception. All very strange but definitely an experience to remember!
Are there any resources you’ve found helpful as a Christian songwriter?
To be honest, I’ve learned most of what I know along the way, as a result of trial and error. However, sites like UKGospel.com, M-Briomusic.com and Rapzilla.com tend to have articles useful for those in and trying to get into the Christian/Gospel industry.
Do you find putting your ideas into song helps reaffirm or strengthen your faith?
Yes it does. Many times I find myself being encouraged and strengthened by my own songs. I once got a letter from a fan that had suffered a miscarriage, heard one of my songs based around the scripture ‘I am fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalms 139:14) and it enabled her to get back on her feet and go back to work. Such testimonials brighten the bleak days.
You can hear Faith Child’s music at http://faithchildmusic.com/
NOTE: The views expressed in these interviews are those of the artists involved, and not necessarily those of Songwritingmagazine.co.uk