"As a songwriter I can tell you that the greatest moment of encouragement comes not from awards or high numbers on some soon-to-be-forgotten chart but from the singing of a new song for the very first time."
While I was packing gear for a week-long hike in the Ozarks, my friend Bill said, "You gotta hear somethin'." He popped a cassette (a clue as to how long ago this was) into his tape player and I was introduced to the music of Michael Card. I knew I was hearing the voice of a kindred spirit.
Michael Card has penned dozens of books and articles, more than 31 albums (selling over 4 million copies, with more than 19 #1 hits) and has shared his words and music in conferences and concerts around the world. Recently he shared some of his thoughts with me.
Did you write or play an instrument as a child?
Yes, I did. Growing up in Nashville it was hard to escape. I was in prom bands and bluegrass bands pretty much all thru high school.
What would you say has influenced your writing the most?
The desire to engage with the Bible. That is what excites me the most; saying something differently, that draws someone in.
You have seen the music industry transition from vinyl to digital download. How has time affected the way you perform and record?
I would say that the only thing that ever changed over time was the configuration we took out on the road. Bigger crowds allow for bigger bands. We had sections, a black gospel choir, an irish band, etc. I still like performing alone the best.
I have heard several writers discuss the process of the craft. How does a song 'come about' for you?
That is something I have never been able to easily express. It is difficult, it gets harder with every record. The most I can say is that writing music is like prayer, in that it involves listening. The right notes or words are out there in the ether, it's just a matter of being still enough to hear them.
When did you realize that writing and performing would provide your livelihood?
Just out of college I recorded a couple of songs to help a friend who was starting a production company. When they were shopping the songs, trying to get jobs for themselves as producers, one company said, "We will hire you as producers if you'll produce the person on the demos." That is when I thought I might make a living at this.
What is the most challenging project you have undertaken?
I would say the lament record was the hardest so far. It is impossible to fake writing a lament. You have to go thru the experience to be able to write about it believably. That was no fun.
What does the ideal concert setting look like for you?
Playing for a college crowd, anywhere. They are my favorite age to play for because I believe that in general you become whatever it is you will be in college. I love feeling like I am helping in that process.
Do you ever sit with friends and play songs together?
Often, your albums will have an accompanying book. Which usually comes first?
At first the songs came first. Now it's the books, which really works better, since I can do all the research and have it there for the songwriting process. Also, after you have written 200 pages on a given subject, you have pretty well worked thru most of the angles in your mind.
What advice would you give to a high school student who says ,”I think God is calling me to be a songwriter?"
First and foremost, allow your community to become a part of the process of determining your call. I can't express that enough. The people in your community know you. They know what your gifts are. They can help you find your calling, you are not supposed to do that by yourself. Next you need to equip yourself with a good education. No matter what the call is, you need to have biblical understanding.
To find out more about Michael Card, including concert schedules, click here.