Hillsongs’ What a Beautiful Name (Ligertwood/Fielding) has taken the worship world by storm. We sing it a lot at our church and I bet you do, too, because it’s way up on CCLI’s Top 100 chart (#11) and that means this song is being used by a lot of believers right now. It’s just one of “those” songs that seem to burst into the church unannounced like a hailstorm cropping up on a scorching West Texas summer day.
Of course, songwriters Brooke Fraser Ligertwood and Ben Fielding are no strangers to anyone following Hillsong Worship, with Brooke’s credits just starting with Desert Song, Lead Me to the Cross, Hosanna, and You’ll Come. Ben Fielding is a monster songwriter, as well, with songs like Mighty to Save, This I Believe, Stronger, God Is Able, Anchor, and many more, solidifying his place as an important worship writer in this generation.
Obviously, when you pair these guys up, the results are massive.
What a Beautiful Name has had over 79, 780,145 views on Youtube alone, not counting all of the shares and likes and repostings of this song worldwide by worshipers who are finding tremendous value in this new “classic.” I talk a lot about “successful Christian songwriting” and this is a glimmering example of that whole idea because it’s obviously hitting home with millions of people and it’s only been out about a year. Very impressive.
So what can we learn from a song like this?
I think there are three things that we can learn from it, even without dissecting it like a frog to inspect its inward parts. Some things are just obvious and it doesn’t take a lot to identify just why this is working so well for them and for us. (Worship songwriting MUST be a mutual pursuit by both writers and worshipers to make a song work as well as this one, but we’ll save that discussion for another post.)
First, this is an exquisite hook/phrase that every Jesus-worshiper on the planet is happy to utter. “What a beautiful name it is” is one of those composite phrases that fuses classic titles like There’s Just Something About That Name (Wm. J. and Gloria Gaither) and How Beautiful (Twila Paris), or Beautiful One (Tim Hughes) and Your Name (Glenn Packiam and Paul Baloche). I’m not saying the writers did this on purpose, but, however it happened, their blending of these phrases put one of the freshest and most endearing worship phrases into the mouths of worshipers worldwide, capturing the very essence of our heart’s desire to express such a thing.
So, this is a hint for all aspiring songwriters. Research hymns and every song title you can find to look for fresh combinations of phrases. Be sure to listen to what worshipers around you are saying and see if you can fashion those phrases into song titles and hooks. Read a lot of worship-driven materials like devotionals (old and new) and thumb through old hymnals to look for ideas that could be lifted to make something modern and fresh (think Tomlin’s Amazing Grace/Chains Are Gone here).
Second, these writers kept it simple. Simplicity is one the greatest keys and most difficult challenges to “hit” songwriting. For me, a “hit” is something that connects with the greatest number of listeners/users, regardless of the genre. In worship music, that means people want to sing this song over and over again in their churches. In Christ Alone (Townend/Getty) is a hit. How Great is Our God (Tomlin, Cash, Reeves) is a hit. 10,000 Reasons (Redman/Myrin) is a hit, too, but none of these just because they were promoted by big record companies or were played on the radio.
These songs connect with the greatest number of worshipers because the writers kept the songs deceptively simple in a way that helps you want to sing them.
There’s more than art to this. This stuff doesn’t just happen and it’s rare that classics fall on your head like ripe apples off a tree. Songwriters study and practice this stuff and learn how to do it well for maximum results.
Yes, being on a global platform like Hillsong is an advantage, but you still have to have great songs like this one to be on it. You can’t just crank out bad songs because you have a huge platform. And you don’t get a spot on a platform like that if you don’t have what it takes. Ben and Brooke have proven themselves time and again and seriously belong on the Hillsong roster.
We’re all blessed and thankful that these writers took the time to learn how to write great songs and have provided us with tremendous opportunities to express our hearts to God through their words and melodies. They deserve the financial rewards they get and its unbiblical to think otherwise (remember the Proverb about “not muzzling the ox”?).
Third, the sheer singability of this song makes it immediately accessible to everyone. This means that they didn’t make the range of the song out of reach for the average worshiper, keeping it pretty much in a six-note range throughout, which is quite comfortable for most people.
Along with range is the quite memorable, worshipful, and emotional chorus melody coupled so beautifully with the lyric. In songwriting language this is called “prosody” and has to do with the marriage of the lyric and melody. If it’s a great marriage, it’s probably a great song. Sometimes a song can have a great lyric and a less-than-great melody or vice versa and it tanks the whole thing. You want great prosody and these guys certainly captured it in this song.
If you can find a phrase as beautiful, worshipful, and universally applicable to worshipers as “What a Beautiful Name It Is,” for goodness’ sake, keep it simple and singable. Don’t overthink it or complicate it just to show how crafty you can be in your songwriting. Keep the range easy for the average guy and make sure the melody and lyric have a blissful marriage and you’ll be on your way to blessing a whole lot of people.
I don’t know about you, but I’d be pretty happy with just one-million views on one of my songs and probably go into a coma if I had 79 million and climbing. Ligertwood and Fielding deserve the accolades and the royalties. They’ve given us a lasting song that lifts our hearts into such a beautiful place of worship and that work deserves rewards in heaven and on this earth.
GREAT SONGWRITING TIPS FROM HIT SONGWRITER, AARON SHUST ON THE SONG REVOLUTION PODCAST!
In this episode, John Chisum connects with the authentic Shust on family, songs, touring, and how to keep life real in the midst of success as a Contemporary Christian Artist and popular worship leader.