You are a song. Your life and your DNA are singing a song that tells the world a story of who you are. Trying to find your song and your voice can be like exploring rooms of your heart that you’ve never been into before—it’s uncomfortable at first. Antonio Marin is a cello player and songwriter who travels around the world for Christian music tours and is featured on several Bethel Music albums. Antonio has a passion for fathering songwriters and artists, teaching them how to create from a place of knowing who they are. Read more to learn more about finding your own story and unique song that is different from everyone else’s on the planet.
Often times I hear people say “I want to be a songwriter,” “I want to write songs that impact culture,” or “I want to write a hit song.” I’m so excited to hear these things! It’s a good day when a generation feels the desire to act upon their calling to influence the world for the better.
It’s so important to dream with God and aim for something bigger than yourself, but sometimes big dreams can become burdens if we don’t have a strategy or a way to make them realized. After years of being a musician, songwriter, and professor, I have learned a lot through trial and error, experimentation, and studying other people’s stories. I would humbly like to share some thoughts from my own journey with you about the relationship between songs and people.
I once heard an executive from a record label talk about how their goal is to “steward” songs. As I reflected on that, this thought popped into my mind:
To steward songs, you also have to steward people; because people are songs.
You: The Song
You are a song! Your life is a song, your experiences are a song, your very DNA is a song. Every part that forms who you are is the song in you waiting to be let out as a melody, as a sound. Your sound. We can’t separate the song from the person—a song comes from a person—a person is a song. The question is, what do you sound like? Who is your song?
Let’s start with the beat. When you are in your mother’s womb, her heartbeat is the first sound you hear. You listen to her heartbeat 24 hours a day for nine months straight. Her heart is your heart, and the sound of it literally forms you. Her heartbeat forms your heartbeat. You feel her heartbeat speed up or slow down depending on the emotions that she is feeling and you start associating the heartbeat with emotion, experiences, and rhythm.
Your mother’s heartbeat teaches you about rhythm, and this is where your connection with “the beat” starts.
Your Heart: The Beat
Do you know what the average heartbeat of a person that sits at rest is? Between 60 and 90 beats per minute, and if you split the average between those two numbers it’s 75. Guess what the average worship song’s “heartbeat” or bpm is? Between 72 and 75 beats per minute.
When you write a song, the first thing you need to establish is your tempo (the speed of your beat) and how fast or how slow your song is going to be. Why not start with your own heartbeat? Place your hand on your heart and listen to your heartbeat at the moment you are about to write a song. Measure your pulse, and write it down, then start strumming, or playing your instrument around tempo. In doing so you are aligning your song with yourself and your song’s beat with your heartbeat.
Be constant, both in music and life.
Here’s a tip: It’s important that your tempo is constant. If your tempo isn’t constant you’ll need a metronome: somebody in your life that has a constant tempo, to teach you how to be steady.
Next, start building a rhythm on top of the beat. Rhythm is simply filling the silence between beats with sound. In other words, rhythm is just an opportunity realized. Staring at the vast space that stands between two beats and filling that with other sounds is opportunity and accountability realized.
Your Heartstrings: The Chords
After that, choose your chords. Have you ever heard the term “heartstrings”? You might recognize it from phrases like, “he or she plays my heartstrings.” Meaning, that person touched your heart in a special way that caused you to respond to them. If your heart had strings, they would be tuned to the same song that person was singing with their life, and the summary of who they are aligns with the summary of who you are. You’re both in sync—you harmonize.
When finding chords for your song, don’t choose them, let the chords choose you.
Basically, the chords need to play your heartstrings. Let the chords do the job. You don’t play the chords, you let the chords play you. Play the chords until one chord plays you, and then you know you are on the right track. Try different keys: on a rainy day your heartstrings might have less tension than on a sunny day. On a happy or sad day, your heart will be tuned differently because you are affected by your environment.
When we play chords we let our hearts tell us about its tune through a musical instrument.
Your Story: The Chord Progression
After finding one chord that plays you, find multiple chords and create what’s called a cadence: a progression of chords that tell a story. If the chords are your heartstrings, the chord progression is your breath—the tension of taking in the air and the relaxation of exhaling. This tension leads to life and sustains your story. So what is the story that your heart and breath are telling you at this moment? Tell a story of tension and relaxation, of joy and sadness of heart and breath. Let the tension of your heartstrings resonate with the strings of your instrument.
Your Name: The Lyrics
After building a foundation of sound, it’s time to find lyrics. They need to align with your name—with who you are. If someone asked what my name was and I said Brian Johnson, I’d be lying to myself, Brian and you. Your name is simply your story, and no one else can live your story as you do. I can’t write songs like Brian’s, because I am not Brian. I can learn from Brian, but I am not him. To assume that your story isn’t interesting and worthy of being told is almost like telling God that He made a mistake when He made you.
Lyrics are codes contained in a finite time and space, footprints of the eternal journey of your truest name.
Your soul is a person of its own. Sometimes we give ourselves permission to strip our soul from its personhood, and we think we’re just a body. This is not so.
Each letter, each word is a step of our soul on its eternal journey, materialized through the ink of our pen. If words are codes, the ink becomes a concrete code in our earthly dimension of time and space that everyone gets to decipher. Our lyrics then become a portal to re-present the journey of our essence into an earthly format. These words are not static, they’re like codes that everyone gets to unlock for themselves—finding the combination that releases the impartation. Your job is to represent your truest identity on this journey through eternity.
Discover your name, and call yourself by it. Let your name tell its story, not someone else’s story… for it can only tell one story with honesty, its own.
Learn to love your story, and others will love it too.
Songwriting is about writing yourself. You are your first listener, and if you don’t listen to yourself, you cannot write yourself into a song. For others to listen to you, you have to first listen to yourself.
Your life is a song, and this song is the one you are supposed to sing. No one else can sing your song until you sing it first. Find yourself, because finding yourself is finding your song.