How We Write Songs, Part 1

Tyler and I often receive emails from aspiring songwriters asking how we go about writing. While we try to answer each email, it is difficult to give every one the attention it deserves. I’ve decided to address the question here.

Let me begin by saying that we definitely do not have this whole songwriting thing figured out or mastered in any way, nor will we ever. Songwriting is a craft, and the more you do it, the better you get. We frequently write songs that are duds. A lot of the songs we write are never recorded or heard by anyone but the two of us. But that’s okay. Sometimes you just need to write a song to help you process something that’s going on in your heart or help you get through a situation. It can be very healing.

With all of that in mind, I’d like to share some of the tools we use when we write.

Tyler and I have very different styles of writing and we go about the process differently. Most of the time one of us writes the majority of a song. We then bring the song to each other to finish it. It’s incredibly helpful to have an extra set of ears and eyes when writing. I’m not much of a guitar player, so I especially need Tyler’s help to make the chords in my songs interesting. I’ve said it before, but I really would write a lot of predictable country songs if it weren’t for Tyler. We’ve learned to critique each other in a healthy way. It was difficult at first. It’s hard to hear criticism from your spouse and not take it personally. We’ve learned that we have a professional relationship as well as a personal one.

I’ve kept journals since I was about 10 years old. I have each one lined up on a book shelf in our bedroom. It’s really wonderful to be able to read through them and remember what I was feeling and thinking at the time.  I try to be a faithful writer. When I’m writing a song I often flip through my current journal or one from the past year or so and look for thoughts or phrases that I think are interesting or memorable. A good example of this is the song Skyline Hill. I was flipping through my journal and noticed the line, “There are no words for this.” Originally that line was written about a very painful situation, but I didn’t feel like writing a sad song this time. I decided to flip it around and write about beauty. I started brainstorming the beautiful things in my life, and came up with creation, Tyler, and grace. I try to write very visually, so I wanted to create scenes that the listener could really see and be a part of.

I tried to write with imagery again in Little Balloon. The images in that song are meant to evoke feelings of failure – trying to catch a balloon that is just out of reach, giving up when it gets too hard to climb a tree, growing weary while running through an endless field. In the bridge I tried to communicate the idea of resting in the Lord’s hands instead of striving to do things on my own.

I tend to write lyrics and melodies at the same time. I’m not really sure how to explain this. It sort of feels like it just happens. This isn’t always the case, but I feel like my best songs are written this way.

Tyler writes very differently. He frequently has a melody or lyric stirring within him and leaves himself lots of messages on his phone. Tyler writes about relationships, his heart, our culture, books he is reading, etc. He manages to write about what he observes in the world around him in a powerful way that isn’t cliche or preachy. Tyler is really honest and often writes about the depravity of his own heart. He writes a lot of songs to his own soul, sort of the way David did in the Psalms. Abide is an example of this sort of song. He’s essentially saying, “Hey Tyler, get with it!”

Tyler also writes directly from the Bible. Tyler wrote Kingdom of Heaven and Psalm 86 on Open Your Doors – both of which come from from the Scriptures. I still remember the day he played the beginnings of Kingdom of Heaven and Fear Thou Not for me. I looked at him, amazed, and said, “Where did that come from?!”

Tyler often writes music and lyrics separately. Sometimes he writes lyrics to fit a melody, and sometimes it’s the other way around. Sometimes a melody or lyric will sit unused for quite a while. Psalm 86 is a good example of this. It took a  year to complete. Tyler wrote the chorus first and left it alone for a while. He wrote the lyrics to the verses next and then I helped him put a melody to those lyrics much later. That’s how it happens sometimes. You can’t rush a song.

Well, that’s essentially how songwriting works for us. I’m sure it works very differently for others. I will leave you with a few tips you might employ while writing. Of course their are exceptions to all of these little tips.

1. If you’re having a hard time finding a melody, try playing a chord progression over and over and humming to it. You might find something you like. Record the melody to your phone or computer immediately.

2. Focus on variety/contrast. You probably don’t want the chorus and verses to start on the same note. Think about dynamics. Songs that stay the same throughout – even with an awesome melody – can get boring.

3. Think about time signatures. See The Conqueror from Open Your Doors began in 4/4 and was changed to 6/8. I think 6/8 makes the song much more powerful.

4. Rhythm is really important. Don’t strum the guitar the same way on every song. You might switch up the strum pattern on the verses and chorus within a song.

5. If your bridge doesn’t say something new or add to the song in a powerful way, don’t use it. There are quite a few songs on Open Your Doors that do not have bridges. A bridge didn’t seem to fit Kingdom of Heaven. On Fear Thou Not we kept the bridge instrumental – it serves as more of an interlude. Do not feel like you have to write verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus. Feel free to explore. However, if you feel that the song really needs a bridge, work until you get it right. We wrote 5 bridges for Little Balloon before settling on the right one.

6. Study your favorite songs. What do you like about them? How do they make you feel? Think about the form and structure of those songs. How many notes are in the melodies? How much repetition is used? Obviously you do not want to copy the songs, but its okay to use them as a guide.

We hope this is helpful. Tyler plans to write more of a music theory approach to songwriting within the next week or so. Stay tuned!

July!

Well the theme of July has been “family vacation!” I am not at all complaining. I love my family, and I love Tyler’s too. I am very happy to be a Somers.

We spent a week in TX with my family to celebrate my parents’ 30th wedding anniversary. My parents decided to renew their vows this year. In addition to saying traditional vows they wrote words from their hearts to share with one another and those in attendance. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. I’ve only seen my dad cry once – when his dad came to know Jesus. My family is actually from western New York, so my grandpa called my dad to tell him the good news. I remember him talking on the phone to my grandpa, telling him that he loved him, hanging up, and bursting into tears. It was a beautiful moment. My grandpa died shortly after that. It is truly amazing how the Lord works in and through people.

My dad cried again while reading the words he wrote for my mom. It is such a blessing to have parents who still love each other and are in love with one another. I know that their marriage hasn’t always been easy, what marriage is? But they give me hope that with the Lord all things are possible.

My sweet parents:

I was able to spend time with my sister down in Texas too. I am incredibly fortunate to have a sister who is also my best friend. We didn’t grow up fighting or stealing each other’s clothes. We had the same friends.

When I was 16 I spent two weeks of my summer marching with the Mississippi All State band. For those of you who don’t know, I am a band nerd. I LOVE band. Seriously. I spent one week marching in the heat and humidity of the Mississippi delta. I lost 10 lbs at camp because the food was so bad and we marched miles everyday. The next week we traveled to San Antonio, TX to march in a huge 4th of July parade. It rained the entire time we were there, so much that the parade was canceled. Somehow the band leaders managed to find a tiny town outside of San Antonio that was hosting a small parade and they took us there to march and perform our street show. We wore wool uniforms in 100 degree weather. I still remember the band directors walking with us saying, “Just one more!” over and over again. It was never “just one more.”

I returned from that trip and was scheduled to leave immediately for drum major camp two days later. Karen and I had already spent two weeks apart. We couldn’t stand it. So Karen came to drum major camp too! She wasn’t even a drum major! We spent a week living in a dorm at USM in Hattiesburg, MS, conducting to recorded music during the day, and singing songs with each other at night. Karen is a natural guitar player and has a beautiful voice. Unfortunately she doesn’t really like to sing. For some reason that week she did. We even entered the talent show together and sang Blues Traveler’s “All for You.” We came in 3rd. The boy who won did an interpretive dance (with sticks!) to a Point of Grace song. It was hilarious.

My sister lives in California now, so anytime I get to see her is a good time. I cried for nearly a half hour after she boarded her plane to go home. I didn’t see it coming. I just don’t think sisters are meant to live apart.

My beautiful sister:

Now we are finishing up our vacation with Tyler’s parents in Avalon, NJ. It has been SO fun. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Jersey Shore, forget everything MTV has told you. Avalon is classy and beautiful. We love it so much that we were married here! The water is warm and the air is perfect this week.

Last night we did experience a bit of the Jersey shore stereotype. We went to Wildwood and walked the boardwalk! I’d never been to Wildwood and Tyler’s parents are selling their beach house, so it’s likely that we won’t have the opportunity to vacation here much anymore. Wildwood was awesome. We got our picture taken in a photo booth and rode this incredible ferris wheel. We were stopped at the top for what felt like 5 whole minutes (it was probably 1 or 2) and I was actually really nervous. The view was beautiful.

Photo booth!

Ferris Wheel:

The view from the top:

Today is our last day at the beach. Tomorrow we’re headed to Brooklyn to spend some time with Tyler’s brother, his wife, and our 3 nephews. They are ridiculously cute.

I hope you are having a wonderful summer. We start playing shows again in August and are looking forward to seeing many of you out on the road.

A little story of how we became The Somers

I met Tyler in August of 2004 at the University of Delaware. I was 18 and a freshman at the time. I didn’t expect to go to college and meet my husband. I wanted to, but I didn’t expect it. I certainly didn’t think it would happen a few days after moving into my dorm room.

Laura Hoffmann was my roommate freshman (and sophomore) year at UD. We met when we were in 7th grade. My family was living in Dover, DE at the time and the school bus picked the kids in our neighborhood up in front of Laura’s house. Miss Maybe was our bus driver and she was about 100 years old. She used to run over curbs all the time and all of the kids would join together and yell “CURB!!!” as the bus rounded street corners.

I was the new kid in 7th grade and Laura was the first girl to befriend me. She asked me to sit with her and her friends at lunch and she would call and ask me to spend the night or go to the movies. The first few times that she called I was so shy that I made up excuses for why I couldn’t come over. But Laura continued to pursue me. She was and is a true friend.

Six years later, after I’d moved and spent 3 years in Mississippi, Laura and I were still friends and found ourselves living together. Laura had a friend at UD who knew of a local church that sent a bus to campus to pick students up on Sundays and take them to church. We decided to give it a try. We woke up early and walked to the bus stop. And that is when I saw Tyler for the first time.

He was standing at the bus stop, talking enthusiastically to everyone. He was wearing khaki shorts and an olive green t-shirt. He even had highlights in his hair. Highlights were sort of popular then and Tyler spent his entire summer surfing in Avalon, NJ, so they were natural. Or so he says. :) He was smiling all the time, and it seemed like everyone he talked to loved him.

I know it sounds cheesy, but I thought he was amazing. He seemed so kind and warm, and unlike anyone I had ever met. I boarded the bus and sat behind him with my friend Joel. Before I knew it Tyler turned around and introduced himself. We talked for a few minutes and then we arrived at church and went our separate ways.

The following Tuesday I went to the Baptist Student Ministry’s large group meeting. Tyler was there leading worship. As I watched him lead a group of 50 students in worship that seemed to come directly from his heart, I thought, “Now that is a man.” I’d never met anyone who so obviously reflected the love of Christ and seemed so in tune with the Spirit of God. I stood in the crowd utterly amazed.

That night I told Laura that I was definitely going to date Tyler. I’d only really met him once, but I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I could love him and that I might love him already.

I saw Tyler in the dining hall a couple of times that week. I used to hope that I would see him everyday. The first couple of times he didn’t remember my name, but in time he came to know who I was. I started helping him lead worship for BSM and soon enough we were hanging out all the time, writing songs, and playing music together.

One night Tyler called and asked if I wanted to get together. I had a group meeting for my international relations class (somehow I thought I might go into politics at the time…that seems crazy now!), so sadly, I declined. The meeting ran much shorter than I thought it would. Within 20 minutes I called him back and asked if the invitation was still good. He came and met me at the student center and we had one of the most intense, honest conversations I’ve ever had. We felt so comfortable together, and we shared from the depths of our souls that evening. Tyler told me later that after he called me the first time and I couldn’t hang out he’d been praying and asking the Lord for wisdom and discernment about our relationship. He told me that when I called back he felt like it was truly an answer to prayer.

We were still just friends for a couple of months after that evening. One day I was reading on a blanket outside of my dorm. It was a gorgeous fall day. Tyler lived in a building not far away and I was hoping that he might stumble upon me. He did. He had some reading to do too, so he sat down with me. After a while he looked at me and said, “I think I like you, Jenny Appel.” I said, “I like you too.” He told me that he wanted to spend more time with me and get to know me better. I was so happy that I couldn’t concentrate on reading after that and kept reading the same pages over and over.

A few weeks later we were singing together in the stairwells of the student center. The acoustics were incredible. It was nearing midnight when Tyler spoke to me honestly and openly about his past. He was ashamed at first, but my own battle wounds had brought me to a place of knowing that no sin is too big for the blood of Christ. I used to be shocked when I heard about a cheating wife or husband, or learned that someone I knew had a drug addiction. But I’d learned that sin is sin, and none of us are above committing even the worst offenses. That night I told Tyler that it was okay, and that he had been forgiven. We learned to trust each other. A few hours later we decided that we should date (we already were in a way). In hindsight I think it’s pretty crazy that we shared so deeply with each other so quickly. I don’t know that I would recommend that to someone who isn’t in a fairly committed relationship, but somehow it worked for us. We never had secrets. And when we began dating we knew that our intention was marriage. Neither one of us was looking for a casual or temporary relationship.

A year later Tyler asked my dad for permission to marry me. It was a bit premature as we were still very young and didn’t intend to get engaged right away. A year after that he asked me to marry him. He knelt in a puddle (yes, that really happened) outside of the BSM house and told me that I was the one for him. Eight months later we were married on the beach in Avalon, NJ. Again, I know this is cliche, but it really was a perfect day.

I have to admit that our marriage hasn’t always been easy. I had one more semester of school after we got married, so in a way it felt like we were playing house for a while. It was incredibly fun. We didn’t have any money, but it didn’t matter. Tyler worked three jobs and I had one job and class, but somehow we managed to play music 3 or 4 nights a week and felt like we were doing what we were made to do.

The Lord has brought us such a long way. When we met and even when we were married I never would have imagined that we would make music for a living and travel the country. It’s a difficult road at times, but it’s ridiculously fun and life giving at the same time.

I bet some of you didn’t know that our last name is Somers (pronounced like the season, “summer”). I’ve always said that if I had to trade my maiden name, Appel (pronounced like the fruit, “apple”) then Somers is an adequate alternative. Just recently we found out something pretty awesome about my last name. Avalon, the town where we were married, is named for an island referenced in the tales of King Arthur and means, “isle of apples.” It almost feels like our worlds collided long before we ever met. I feel at home in Avalon with Tyler’s family.

This has been a very abbreviated version of how we became Tyler and Jenny: The Somers.

Happy Fourth of July!

The fourth of July may not be the best day to blog. Most of you are probably outside swimming in pools, grilling, and being with family. But we have an 11 hour drive to Texas, so I’ve got time to kill. Maybe late tonight when you’re recovering from eating all of that food and applying aloe to your sun burnt shoulders you’ll take a moment to read this little blog. One can hope, right?

I thought I’d share a bit of one of my best Fourth of July memories.

When I was 16 I took a trip up to Delaware (I was living in MS at the time) to visit a couple of my friends from junior high. I stayed for the Fourth of July and we decided to drive over to Maryland and take the metro into DC. It was one of the most beautiful days I’ve ever experienced. People of all walks of life flooded the national mall. There were so many different ethnicities there and as we walked around the mall we heard dozens of languages being spoken. But somehow, despite our differences, there was a great sense of unity among us. Even my 16 year old self felt it. It was as if we all understood each other as Americans that day.

The fireworks over the Washington memorial were incredible. And sharing the day with my best friends (they still are my best friends…how did I get so lucky?!) is something I’ll never forget.

On a side note – it took 3 hours for us to get from the mall down to the metro platform after the fireworks. I guess that’s what happens when there are thousands of people trying to get through one metro entrance. But we didn’t care. We talked to the people around us. We played games and asked each other questions. Silly questions like, “what’s your favorite movie?” or “what’s your favorite restaurant?” We were all in it together.

The road we were supposed to take home was closed for some reason that evening. It was interesting finding our way home as we didn’t have a map with us and that was before smart phones with built in gps. But we made it. I think it took about 6 hours to get home – more than twice what it should have – but again, we were so happy to be together that we didn’t mind.

I hope that you have a very lovely Fourth of July. We are so blessed to have freedoms than many people in other nations do not. Our government isn’t perfect, but most things aren’t. And a special thank you to those who have served or are serving to protect our freedom. You are so brave.

What a friend we have in Jesus.

I was the new kid a lot growing up. My dad was a pilot in the Air Force for 24 years. He retired a couple of years ago and makes guitars and mandolins now. Quite the change, I know. Due to his job we moved about every 3 years. I was born in NY state, moved to Ohio, Japan, Delaware, Illinois, Delaware again, Mississippi, and ended up in Maryland while attending the University of Delaware. It was a different sort of life, but I’m thankful for it. I had the opportunity to experience the distinctly different cultures of the mid-west, deep south, east coast, and even Japan. Most people don’t get to do that.

I was a bashful kid. I won the senior superlative for “frendliest” down in MS and I have no idea how that happened. You might think that being the new kid would get easier after you do it a couple of times, but that’s not the case. It never gets easier.

I think that part of the reason it feels so hard is because deep down I have a desperate need for people to like me. In third grade I spent recess reading novels (I LOVED the Redwall series. Anyone else?) and didn’t have many friends. In fifth grade I met Meghan Benear and things began to change.

“We’re all going to see I Know What You Did Last Summer, you should come.” Meghan said. We were eleven. Meghan’s parents didn’t seem to care about what sort of movies she went to, but mine did and I knew they wouldn’t let me go to a rated R movie with my friends.

“I can’t,” I said. “My mom won’t let me.”

“Well then don’t tell her,” Meghan reasoned.

“How am I supposed to do that?”

“Just tell her we’re seeing something else and get her to drop you off.”

I’d always been a tender-hearted girl. I was that little kid who always wanted to do the right thing. Most of my memories are of moments when I felt like I’d screwed up. When I was about six I had a friend named Rebekah whose mom was white and dad was African American. One day when we were playing at my house I asked her if she was half black and half white. She said yes. Later my mom told me that I never should’ve asked that and that I needed to apologize to Rebekah. I was so worried that I’d hurt my friend’s feeling that I sobbed uncontrollably. Looking back at the moment it’s clear that I was just a six year old little girl who was curious about her friend, nothing more. Back to my conversation with Meghan:

“I really can’t do that, Meghan,” I insisted. In addition to knowing that I couldn’t lie to my parents I really didn’t want to see the movie. I scare easily, but my middle-school self didn’t want to admit that to Meghan.

“Gosh Jenny, you’re such a baby. I don’t know why I even hang out with you,” Meghan slammed the phone. I felt hurt and alone again.

But as with most adolescent friendships things were better the next day. Later that year Meghan called for a different reason.

“If you could choose between three ice cream flavors: vanilla, chocolate, and chocolate chip, which would you pick?” Meghan asked.

“Chocolate,” I replied. I thought it was a funny question because we weren’t going to eat ice cream. I also realized that anyone who knew me knew that I have a deep love for chocolate.

“Ok, cool. Are you still good to sleep over on Friday?”

“Yup,” I said.

“See ya tomorrow,” Meghan said and hung up the phone.

Friday night I went to Meghan’s and found her and our other friend Caitie waiting with a birthday cake and balloons.

“Surprise!!!” They shouted. I huge grin came across my face. The like me, they really like me, I thought. I felt so much value in that moment. I was so happy.

Later that night we laid our sleeping bags out on Meghan’s living room floor and cozied up to watch a movie together. Meghan and Caitie wanted to watch Striking Distance, a movie starring Bruce Willis. It was rated R. I told them I didn’t want to see it, but they insisted. Before I knew it the screen was filled with dead bodies and a river, and a creepy song about Red Riding Hood was coming through the TV speakers. I was horrified and left the room. Meghan and Caitie didn’t seem to care.

Isn’t this MY party? I thought. And in that moment I knew that they didn’t really care about me that much. They weren’t real friends.

I think that most people will let you down at some point or another. That’s why living for and putting my hope in people is futile and ultimately disappointing. It’s also exhausting. Caring about what people think takes a lot of time and effort. I think that wanting to live for people instead of the Lord is still one of my biggest struggles. I think that comes, in part, from living such a performance based life – which I think most of us do in different ways. I get so focused on what I’m doing that I forget who I am – a daughter of the King. When I find my identity in Him I can rest there, and those thoughts of what people think of me begin to fade.

As they say in this classic hymn: “What a friend we have in Jesus.”

Encouragement

I was informed at our show last weekend that I have been a bad blogger. Upon hearing this two thoughts came to mind: 1. Wow, someone reads this blog. 2. I’m sorry.

With those two thoughts in mind, I’ve decided to blog today. If I’m not feeling particularly inspired, I struggle to find something interesting to write. Today I asked Tyler what I should write about and he simply said, “encouragement.” It seems like a good place to start.

When we started playing music together back in 2005 we were teenagers writing fairly bad songs (we thought they were great at the time). As our music progressed we found ourselves asking a very important question, “Should we write music that obviously reflects our faith and would be labeled as ‘Christian music’ or should we allow our music to be influenced by our faith without coming right out and saying words like ‘Jesus’ or ‘God.'” We really wrestled with these questions. We didn’t want to be boxed up or labeled. But I think people like labels and will label you regardless of what you do.

For a while we were very intentional about writing music that wouldn’t be labeled as “Christian.” We really wanted our music to be accessible to everyone and while we certainly wrote songs inspired by our relationship with God, we didn’t really want that relationship to be at the forefront of the songs. I think that is often a good place for musicians to be, but I don’t think it was the right place for us. The songs lacked a bit of sincerity. We were so focused on what we didn’t want to say that we lost sight of what we really wanted to communicate. I think that the songs were a bit confusing really.

When we were writing for Faint Not we decided to write songs that reflected what we were going through, both in our relationship with God and our relationship with each other. It’s not that our previous work didn’t reflect our relationship with God, but I think we approached Faint Not with a slightly different motto: write what you write. Don’t try to change it, or box it up, or label it. Just write. It was very liberating, and I think that Faint Not was truly a step forward. I think we found ourselves as songwriters and musicians.

When we were writing for our latest release, Open Your Doors, we took the same approach. We decided to be as genuine and honest as possible in our songwriting. We hoped to create really beautiful art, and we wanted it to be directly from our hearts. In some ways Open Your Doors feels like it came straight from our journals. And I really like it that way.

Through all of this we’ve put our finger on what our purpose is as musicians. We feel that we’re called to write for the church and encourage believers. That’s not to say that we don’t hope to attract people who don’t believe. We do desire to point people to Christ – whether they know him our not. But we’ve found ourselves in a place that we initially ran away from – communicating the gospel in an explicit way.

And through our call to encourage we’ve found ourselves receiving so much in return. We pour out a bit of ourselves every night at shows and find our souls full again after talking with many of you after our performance. Last night a woman told us that the show had “changed her.” She said that she was recovering from a divorce and felt like she could never be loved again until she sat at the show and let the Lord fill her through our music. It was beautiful. We received a letter from a young lady who took 5 sleeping pills one night and was planning to take more when she heard our song Carry Me playing through her Ipod headphones. She said that the words of the Lord, “I have never left you, nor will I ever leave, child believe, child believe.” made her want to live. And we’ve heard so many stories like these from so many of you. What an encouragement!

It’s such a privilege to play music. We truly feel like the Lord inspires and gives us songs, and it’s an incredible joy to see Him working through the songs to change people and mend their hearts. And to think we tried to distance ourselves from making distinctively gospel centered music a few years ago. The Lord is taking us on an amazing journey and changing us so much. I feel honored having watched my husband grow from the 19 year old boy I met back in college to a man of great integrity, faith, and character.

Praise the Lord for his goodness and grace. And thank you for being a part of our journey.

Little Balloon Caption Contest!

Friends! We are so excited to tell you about our Little Balloon Caption Contest. We know that many of you are creative and want to give you the opportunity to put those talents to good use. And you can win prizes too!

Here are the details:

How to enter:

1. Take a screen shot of a moment in the Little Balloon video and write a caption. Imagine yourself as the balloon. What are you thinking? If you could talk, what would you say? Be creative. Your caption can be funny, witty, thought-provoking, emotional, etc.

You can check out a couple examples over at our Facebook page: http://on.fb.me/jtlittleballoon

2. Share the Little Balloon music video with a friend on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter. Take a screen shot of the post, pin, or tweet.

3. Send the screen shots and caption to: jtballooncontest@gmail.com. Allow up to 12 hours for us to approve your photo and caption. We will upload it to a special photo album on our Jenny & Tyler Facebook page and send you a direct link to your photo and caption.

We will post the caption and video screen shot in an album on the Jenny & Tyler Facebook page. Users that like our page will vote for their favorite photo and caption  by clicking the “like” button next to the photo. You can like as many captions as you please. You can use the direct link to your photo and caption to encourage your friends to vote for you! There will be two winners: the photo with the most likes and our personal favorite.

Win a Little Ballon Party! This includes:

1. One dozen cupcakes from Sweet & Sassy Cupcakes in Newark, DE. Newark is our hometown and Sweet & Sassy makes our favorite cupcakes! The cupcakes will be shipped to your home (US only).

2. A 30-minute Skype concert with us! We will set up a Skype date for you and as many friends as you please. You make the set list.

3. An autographed copy of Open Your Doors.

4. A pack of little red balloons.

We are so excited to read your captions! The contest runs from today through June 20th. We will announce the winners on June 22nd.

Visit the official contest site here: http://www.jennyandtylermusic.com/balloon/ Happy captioning!

Weekend update and our CMT experience.

Good morning! We just returned from a weekend of shows in DE, MD, and NJ. What an amazing time we had! It’s always fun to see family, but the shows were ridiculously fun too. We had the privilege of opening for Matt Maher in DE and I was so encouraged by him. Honestly, I’ve been a bit critical when it comes to CCM radio and the industry in general. I’ve complained a lot about how it’s so driven by worship songs (as in songs for congregational worship rather than storytelling or songs with metaphors) that sound the same. I’ve also complained about Christian radio and how it’s so geared towards one specific demographic – women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. But being at the concert really opened my eyes to why this sort of music is important. It really does minister to people. Matt Maher was incredibly humble and gracious to us and he was very genuine in his interaction with the audience. I thoroughly enjoyed it. While I do wish there was more room in Christian radio for singers-songwriters like Sandra McCracken and bands like Gungor, I think I have a better appreciation for some of the popular, radio friendly music out there.

Here are a few photos from our trip:

Packing the night before. Don’t worry there are socks in there, nothing more.

 

 

 

In flight reading:

 

 

A rainy day in Newark, DE where we met:

 

 

Matt Maher in Greenwood, DE:

 

 

Sparta, NJ:

 

 

Beauty in NJ:

 

 

Bakery in NJ:

 

 

 

So good.

In other news, Tyler and I attended the CMT Awards last night. CMT stands for Country Music Television. My mom is in town and has a friend who gave us free tickets so we said, “why not?” It was definitely one of the most interesting experiences we’ve had in a while. The theme of the night was drinking beer. A guy who won for one of the categories threw his camouflage underwear into the crowd, and Kenny Chesney premiered a music video that was essentially a steamy sex scene between him and girl half his age. So bizarre. One of the funniest moments happened at the beginning of the night. An opening segment (pre-recorded) included President Obama and Mitt Romney voting for who should host the show. When President Obama was on the screen no one cheered. Seriously, not a single person. Mitt Romney appeared and the crowd erupted in applause. I don’t want to get into politics here, but I literally laughed out loud in that moment. So many stereotypes about country music were affirmed last night. I will say that there were some great performances and that from what I could tell every artist was singing live and did a great job. And seriously, when will we go to an awards show again? It was a great cultural experience.

Here I am with my mom before the show. She’s so pretty:

 

 

Abe Lincoln?

 

 

With Tyler before the show. We had great seats!

 

 

Well there you have it.

Little Balloon – Story behind the song

In January of 2011 my dad and grandpa came to Nashville to help my brother build a studio apartment in his basement. Tyler and I currently rent that apartment and we were recruited to help with the build. I learned quickly that I am no whiz with a hammer, so I retreated upstairs to bake cookies.

While the cookies were in the oven I picked up my brother’s guitar and fiddled around a bit. I’ve been very inspired by Sandra McCracken over the past couple of years. She has the ability to tell a story in a clear, concise way, and truly paints a vivid picture for the listener. I’d just written Skyline Hill a few weeks earlier, and was really focusing on using imagery in my songwriting.

I had a vision of a girl chasing a red balloon down a dirt path. (I think that most of us visualize red balloons rather than blue or orange or green, etc. It’s rather intriguing.) The balloon was soaring faster and higher, and try as she might the girl couldn’t catch it. I’ve been dealing a lot with issues of failure over the past few years. I’ve been working so hard to be in a right relationship with God and people. I focus so much on what I can do to please God — I can never do enough. My journals are filled with the line, “When will I change?” I’ll decide that I want things to be different and I’ll do something like read my Bible everyday for a couple of weeks, thinking that having consistent time with the Lord is the best way to please God. Don’t hear what I’m not saying – I absolutely think that spending time in the scriptures is an important aspect of our faith. But I was putting my hope in the habit – not the word. Inevitably I’d miss a day or two and feel like a failure all over again. It was like I was running after a balloon that I could never quite reach.

I started thinking of other images that express my feelings of failure. My dad was in the Air Force for 25 years and when I was little we lived in Japan. We lived in a house on the air base and there was a big open space behind some of the houses where the kids in the neighborhood would meet up and play whiffle ball or tag. There was a big evergreen tree (at least it seemed big to my 5 year old eyes) that overlooked the space and I tried to climb it a few times. For some reason I had a fascination with climbing evergreen trees (I tried to climb one in the side yard of a house where we lived in Delaware too). I felt hidden inside the trees — It was my own secret place. Sometimes I would make it to the top of the tree, but most of the time I gave up after a while. It was just too big and I would grow weary in the climb.

That’s truly how I felt about my relationship with the Lord. I was trying so hard and ultimately growing weary. Songwriting is a way that I process my life and in that moment of writing I realized that I was going about things the wrong way. I was focusing so much on striving that I was losing sight of something important – abiding in Christ. I wasn’t resting in his love and grace, and in not doing so I was really living a self centered life. I was only thinking about myself and what I could do instead of the Lord and what he has already done. I realized while I was trying to hold on to the Lord’s hand he was holding onto me. It took a few months for Tyler and I to write the bridge to the song, “no one is able to steal what is in Your hands.” I think in part because it took me a while to actually believe it.

With the help of our friends at Yeah Yeah Creative we made a music video to Little Balloon. (YYC really did all of the work.) The video follows the journey of a balloon through the city of Nashville. He leaves a birthday party all alone and treks through the city, across the Cumberland River, through the rain and ultimately to a field filled with other balloons. He goes from a life of loneliness and despair — nearly deflating during a storm — to a place of fellowship and contentment. When the guys at Yeah Yeah Creative suggested the concept I thought it was a beautiful interpretation of the song. Tyler and I are so pleased with the result:

When Tyler came up from the basement that day I played him what I’d written. The song was a bit different then – the chorus ended differently and I’d inserted a few oh’s that really weren’t necessary. But we knew it had potential so I spent a good bit of time working on it for the rest of the week. I guess not being a talented builder was for the best.