5 Recommendations For Matt Redman
OK, let's not be negative. Instead, let's be constructive.
If, in some bizarro world worship leader and songwriter Matt Redman came to me as a consultant asking my insights into his career and where I believe he should be headed next, this is what I would tell him.
This article isn't exactly a critique of Matt Redman so much as an exhortation to more excellence and variety. Along with that, my words could apply to any of a number of contemporary worship artists who regularly put out music, and not just Redman.
I've been posting about Redman a lot lately, with one essay more critical and another more laudatory. The present article falls somewhere in between. You can view those other articles here:
Why I Don't Sing Matt Redman's '10,000 Reasons' at My Church
The 10 Best Matt Redman Song You (Probably) Don't Sing At Your Church
5 Recommendations for Matt Redman (assuming he would even ask):
1. Go back to more quiet and intimate songs: there was a time in Redman's career when he let quiet songs remain quiet songs, but now it seems like he feels the need to make (nearly) every song epic with a soaring bridge of some sorts. So songs like "I Will Offer Up My Life" or "The Heart of Worship" stayed quiet and small and intimate. The songs did not require a big sound and they (Redman, his producer Andy Piercy, and the studio musicians) were wise to not make them so. Now though he will take a song that starts off slow and is to be sung during Communion (which is usually a quieter more reflective section during worship) like "Remembrance (Communion Song)" and ramp things up for the bridge. Of course to do so is his choice as an artist but he seems to be doing it more often than not these days when it comes to the quieter songs and I don't think it is wise. By no means should he stop writing the bigger stadium anthems, but variety is the key to creating an enduring legacy.
My advice: juxtapose the bigger sounding songs with quieter songs and don't be afraid to let them stay quiet.
2. Keep making live albums but the next one should be in a more intimate setting: I love the fact that Redman has released 4 live albums of completely new music. To me this is a bold step as an artist on a couple of levels in that the recording of the music is risky without the safety of the studio (although I know there are over-dubs on his live albums) and that the songs he sends to Christian labels will not necessarily have a studio polished sound (although he has made a studio version of "10,000 Reasons" and "Your Grace Finds Me"). However, there is a certain amount of pressure he has to put on himself due to the venue(s) and events where he chooses to record his live albums, which are these somewhat large worship pastor's conferences.
My advice: next time record with a smaller gathering of 20-40 people in a smaller venue, much like what Aaron Keyes did with his In the Living Room album. I believe one of Redman's greatest strengths is to lead people in spontaneous worship, to freely singing a new song to the Lord, and while he has had a number of those kinds of moments during his live albums I believe they have all felt a little more forced then he would have liked, simply because the larger venue and type of event warranted it. So, my recommendation is to go with a more intimate recording, get into a space of unencumbered freedom and capture something like he did with "Prayers of the Saints" and "Let My Words Be Few".
3. Immerse yourself in great music again: To me Redman's music (the actual music of his songs and not the lyrics) has seemed rather stale as of late (although his latest album is his strongest collection of the past few albums). I have no idea if his well has just run dry musically speaking, if changes in producers have affected how his songs are crafted, or if he gets pressure from record executives to make his songs sound a certain way (that is, generic and radio-friendly), but his music just hasn't been as solid to me since 2004's Facedown or the years he worked with producer (and worship leader and teacher) Andy Piercy. I remember reading an interview with Redman when The Father's Heart came out where he said he was listening to a lot of The Beatles and that he was learning a lot of different harmonic sounds and different ways to play guitar chords. All that listening found its way into the music, most notably with "Let My Words Be Few" which utilizes an augmented chord and a major 7th chord, which are rare in worship music.
My advice: put the songwriting on hold for several months and go off an listen to a variety of the world's greatest music from the past and present (including hymn tunes, classical music, and music from different cultures and genres). Become musically literate again. Learn crazy new chords again. Immerse yourself in different sounds so much that next time you sit down to write it just comes out of you unconsciously.
4. It's time to make a hymns album or a concept album: Actually, I'm surprised Redman hasn't done this yet. If you've ever had a chance to hear him speak or teach it's pretty evident the guy's got a great knowledge of the Church's hymns and the Bible, and he has put out a few songs that really draw from established hymns ("Nothing But the Blood") or songs with rare subjects like "Lord Let Your Glory Fall" and "Rejoice With Trembling". I know the past ten years or so have seen a flood of re-tuned hymns projects, so I know the first idea isn't unique. Still, I very much would like to hear Redman's take on the whole revamping of hymns type project or in making a concept album with a theme of his choosing.
My advice: For a hymns album: 1.) find a number of relatively obscure hymns that are your favorites, 2.) pick a couple of hymns that are already pretty well known (but PLEASE no "Amazing Grace", "Come Thou Fount", or "Be Thou My Vision"), and 3.) write some new music to be paired with a hymn text. Even challenge yourself by writing your own version of a hymn with no chorus or (soaring) bridge but just the verses.
For a concept album: Pick a great concept or theme and build an album that progresses from song to song and builds a narrative arc of some sort. Do something "classical" like a modern version of an oratorio (think Handel's Messiah). Walk us through Advent and Christmas, Lent and Holy Week, or the whole salvation narrative from creation, to Christ, the the mission of the Church. Do an album based off of the Psalms. Do an album based off of the Israelite feasts and how they parallel to the New Testament. There are so many options and I would love to hear any of them from Redman.
5. Do not worry about following trends and don't be afraid to be an artist: I am not exactly sure all that Matt Redman and his songwriting partners think about when it comes to writing worship songs, but something that was really disparaging to me from his latest album Your Grace Finds Me was "This Beating Heart", a song so obviously crafted to sound like a Mumford and Sons ripoff (this is something I address in this article). Redman has written SO MANY worship songs already that are sung the world over, why now does he feel he needs to write songs "the way the kids want to hear it"? Is he feeling old?
My advice: assuming you've put my recommendation #3 in practice (see above), just be confident in who you already are as an artist. Simply write knowing that what comes out will be what it needs to be and doesn't need to be manipulated to ride on the tails of the zeitgeist. Also, since you've given us so many congregational worship songs already, don't be afraid to take risks as an artist. Explore some aspects of music that you never have before. Work on a project that might seem unconventional. Go off and dream and allow God to take you somewhere new. We'll be excited to see what you come up with when you get back.
You can read my review on Matt Redman's latest album Unbroken Praise here. (where he apparently didn't listen to me too much. ho hum.)
Why I've Never Sung Matt Redman's '10,000 Reasons' At My Church
Music Matters: Two Versions of Aaron Keys "Sovereign Over Us"
4 Things I Learned About Worship By Being on a Podcast
Dear CCLI: Here are 5 ways you can become better