Q & A with musician Keith Elder: “Songwriting is cheaper than a therapist”

8 May

Keith Elder will be speaking at the 2018 Southern Christian Writers Conference on songwriting. His experience will inspire and inform any attendees who are songwriters–or who may have an interest in learning more about this creative endeavor.

Keith is a full-time United Methodist minister who has more than 30 years of experience writing and performing for concerts, conferences, and church events. Along with music for his albums, he has written many theme songs for service organizations and special events and also has written and produced several small-scale musicals. He also leads and participates in songwriting workshops and symposiums.

I can’t wait for all of you to meet Keith–and be inspired by his music!

Question: When did you get started songwriting?

Answer: Early on, I was pretty good with words—loved word games like Scrabble, crossword puzzles, etc. There was always music in our home—Mom played piano and organ, and Dad sang. I was a teen in the late Sixties and early Seventies and resonated with James Taylor and John Denver and a dozen other folk/rock/pop artists. And, I guess, one day I gave the songwriting a shot. I remember having to write poems for classes (one 100-line epic for an eighth grade English class.) I honestly cannot remember the first song.

Q: Did it evolve from your playing music?

A: It definitely evolved with my playing music. I started guitar when I was fifteen—mimicking all of my folk heroes—and as off Spring, 2020, I will have played guitar 50 years! Cannot believe it! But it is still fresh and interesting. It’s a rare day that I do not play. I work on songs daily as well. I probably have fifty “song bits” in my phone right now—and at least that many on my laptop.

Q: For anyone who wants to be a songwriter, what are some of your important pieces of advice?

A: Listen to great songs and ask yourself, “What made that so moving?” Write toward a feeling—not a concept. Show me, don’t tell me—that is, paint word pictures. Think details in the verses and big ideas and emotional hook in the chorus. Write something every day! It may just be working on the right word or phrase or verse in a song. You don’t have to finish the song every day or even every week, but write something EVERYDAY.

Write what you know—that is, draw from your own experience.

Q: Tell me a little bit about the processes you do/teach at songwriting seminars, sessions? What can people expect at the SCWC?

A: We’ll start by seeing where people are—experience-wise. I’ll share a dozen or so basic songwriter tips that apply to most any genre.  I’m sure I’ll share songs or bits of songs for illustration’s sake. We’ll brainstorm song possibilities and pick one to work with for remnant of time. I’ll share some resources that will help them on their songwriting journey.

Q: How do you balance being a pastor and a songwriter/musician?

A: New songs are like misbehaving children—you can’t keep them down. You just work on them whenever you have pockets of time. And you have a set time each day that you write. At least, that’s what the pros do. Builders build. Preachers preach. Songwriters write songs.

As for balance, I see and treat my pastoral duties like a do-list. The songwriting fills in the rest of the time like water fill as the space between rocks in a gallon jar.

Q: What does music “do” for you? How does it enrich your life?

A: I jokingly say that songwriting is cheaper than a therapist. Being a song crafter, I get a general sketch and then work out what I think, believe, feel, want. Finishing a song and then sharing it is, perhaps, the most gratifying thing I do. I think, because it was something I was meant to do.

Learn more about Keith’s music at his website–KeithElder.com.

And check him out on Youtube–


We hope to see you at the Southern Christian Writers Conference. For more information, visit the SCWC website.

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