Songwriting Tips from Journey’s Jonathan Cain

Jonathan Cain of Journey (Photo credit Michael Cairns)

The piano intro of Journey’s mega-hit Don’t Stop Believin’, co-written and performed by Jonathan Cain, stands as one of the most iconic musical motifs in all of rock ‘n roll history. Cain’s own journey through over 40 years of music to date is epic, too, having written monster hits like “Faithfully,” “Who’s Crying Now (Cain/Perry),” “Open Arms (Cain/Perry),” and with “Don’t Stop Believin’” being iTunes #1 rock catalog tune of all time. And, if that’s not enough success for one guy, Cain was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017 and is still packing out arenas around the world with this classic rock band.

I had a chance to interview Jonathan recently for The Song Revolution Podcast and was blown away with his humility, friendliness, and deep sense of gratitude for what he’s been able to do in his life and music career. 

There’s a deeply spiritual side to Cain’s life. As he explains in this podcast, he received “prophetic words” from a pastor when he was only ten-years old that music would be his life, words echoed through the prayers of his own father,

the one who uttered the words “Don’t stop believin,’” those words destined to become the hook of one of the most recognized and loved songs on the planet, and most recently by well-known prophetic voices in the country of Ghana speaking blessing and truth over his life. Cain has been guided and blessed through these words, for sure, though life as a rock superstar hasn’t always been easy.

After two failed marriages, his band breaking apart, and doors to the music industry starting to close, Jonathan found himself lost—literally and figuratively–on a stretch of road in Florida and eventually cried out to his Heavenly Father.

“I was so empty I no longer recognized myself,” Jonathan says. “But that’s what God wants—to empty you out so you can return to him.”

After some honest sharing about the hardships of his life, we turned to songwriting in our talk and I wanted to take a minute here to highlight a few content bombs Jonathan dropped on me from this podcast, great insights and tips into his own songwriting journey (pun intentional). 

“Most of my songs begin with titles, and a concept, something I might know in a profound way, something I want to make a unique observation on,” Cain says. This approach is reflected in the mega hits of his career, as well as in the new work on his 2016 CCM recording, What God Wants to Hear

Further, Jonathan states that he is a “cinematic songwriter in the way I look for the atmosphere, so musically, I try to get myself in that atmosphere whether it’s major or minor or upbeat or ballad.” After reviewing last year’s recording and previewing  Unsung Noel, Cain’s first collection of ten new seasonal songs, it’s obvious that the cinematic approach works for him with the sweeping atmospheric settings and broad sonic fabrics of these songs. The listener experiences exactly what Cain set out to do with his compositions. 

Produced and arranged by Cain and recorded at his state-of-the-art Addiction Sound Studios in Nashville, the 14-track Unsung Noel will take listeners on a journey through classics like “Angels We Have Heard On High,” “Oh Holy Night” and “Do You Hear What I Hear” alongside Matt Redman’s “Light Of The World” and 10 brand new songs written by Cain. A video trailer of the new album can be seen now on Cain’s Facebook page.

“The music came to me over the course of two recent Journey tours, and I recorded the entire album during a 10-day break this spring,” reveals Cain. “I wrote and arranged most of this album on the road in hotel rooms as we traveled from city to city.

“I was hearing bold music that would lift up the birth of Jesus,” he continues. “This album is dedicated to the coming of Christ and the events in scripture that is the core of our Christian belief.”

“Many times the lyrics presents themselves first, I mean, I wrote Faithfully like that… God gave me Faithfully in thirty minutes…. the Lord showed me [the lyrics]… it was probably the most supernatural songwriting experience…” Cain reflects. Reinventing himself after Steve Perry’s departure from Journey, Jonathan learned to trust God to become the lead writer of the band and to experience even greater success in the years that followed.

Cowriting with the likes of Steve Perry, Michael Bolton, Peter Frampton, Heart, Gregg Allmann and many more, it’s obvious that Cain’s gift has made room for him on a global platform. His encouragement to all aspiring songwriters is, “Embrace the unique person that God made you. Embrace your uniqueness, stay true to who you are and don’t follow the pack… stick to what your strengths are and you’ll be a success, that’s all.” 

You can access this podcast with Jonathan Cain on our site HERE, as well as on iTunes, SoundCloud, and Youtube

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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. CJ Rooney

    Powerful interview– I got goosebumps! Such an interesting perspective of the journey of songwriting for him. It brings new meaning to the song “Don’t Stop Believin’ now. I also liked learning about his songwriting process and how his ideas come about. Great post!

  2. Journey fan

    This article fails to mention that Neal Schon, Steve Perry, AND Jon Cain wrote “Don’t Stop Believing”. Also it doesn’t mention that Steve Perry AND Jon Cain wrote “Who’s Crying Now”.. There’s been a recent trend where in a lot of Jon Cain articles/interviews, it sounds as if he’s the sole writer of some of Journey’s biggest hits. That’s simply not the case as ANY Journey fan knows. “Faithfully” was all him, but many others were not. While Jon’s a monster songwriter, and a killer musician, that opening paragraph made it sound like 3 of Journey’s biggest hits was all his doing. Even though the band appears to be fracturing at the moment, it’d be nice to see the credit given to the other writers too.

    1. John Chisum

      Thanks for pointing this out @Journeyfan… as a frequent co-writer, I value crediting all the writers and apologize for this oversight. I’ve corrected it in our copy and will watch out for this in the future.

  3. Robert Holden

    Jon is, indeed, an awesome songwriter and Arnel Pineda may have a fine voice like Perry, but the songwriting team of Cain and Perry was very formidable. “Faith in the Heartland” was another excellent song Jon wrote or co-wrote.

    1. Robert Holden

      I meant to add “and is really what modern-day Journey has been missing on their recordings.”

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