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Christian musicians raise voices for the poor

How many songwriters does it take to write a hit? A group of big names from the Christian recording industry is hoping it's a lucky 13.
/ Source: The Associated Press

How many songwriters does it take to write a hit? A group of big names from the Christian recording industry is hoping it's a lucky 13.

Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Chris Tomlin and others are scheduled to gather for a retreat Jan. 7-11 in Perthshire, Scotland, with a plan to collectively write 10 to 12 songs for charity. Any money the tunes generate is designated to help the poor for as long as the songs are around.

"All those names on the list at some stage have written with each other over the last five years," Martin Smith, lead singer for the British-based group Delirius?, said during a recent phone interview. "We thought 'Hey, let's all get together for a week and see what we can all do together on a creative level, and why don't we give the songs away before they're written?'"

The 37-year-old singer-songwriter is organizing the retreat. He said the project has drawn some attention from the secular music world, and he would welcome their involvement, too.

'A "We Are The World" vibe'
"It has a 'We Are The World' vibe," Martin Smith said, referring to the star-studded 1985 effort to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia.

All proceeds from the songs will be donated directly to the poor: Half will go to the songwriters' charity of choice, and the other half to a yet-to-be-determined charitable program agreed on by all the writers.

"This is a slightly different model in that the actual charities will own the copyright," Smith explained. "That way, we can bypass the publishers, the managers, the agents, ASCAP, BMI. One hundred percent of the money comes directly to the copyright holder."

The copyright holder in this case will be Compassionart, an organization that Smith created as a conduit to the charities.

Besides Martin Smith, Michael W. Smith, Curtis Chapman and Tomlin, participating songwriters are Darlene Zschech, Matt and Beth Redman, Tim Hughes, Paul Baloche, Israel Houghton, Graham Kendrick, Andy Park and Stu Garrard.

Among them, they've sold at least 42 million albums and had 82 No. 1 songs on the Christian music charts.

Michael W. Smith said the cause for the retreat "so resonates with my heart."

‘Reach out do the downtrodden'
"Isaiah 58 is the passage that I go to now more than any other, knowing that if we feed the poor, satisfy the needs of the oppressed and reach out to the downtrodden, the Lord will indeed make his face shine upon us," he said.

While all the artists have co-written songs before, they've probably never done it in this kind of setting, with a dozen other writers. The plan is to break into small groups of three and see what happens over the five days.

"We've all tried to sit down and write a hit and failed. The ones that get out are the ones you never expect to," Martin Smith said. "I think we'll just have to get in there and see what comes of it."

The music will likely be recorded by the artists for a compilation CD, but beyond that, Smith said, they could be recorded by other artists or used in other formats. They say the only certainty is that for as long as the songs survive, the money they make will help the poor.

"At the end of the day, it's people giving up a week of their time and giving their songs away. I think it's amazing that we all agreed to do that," Martin Smith said.