Worship & Songwriting: An Interview with Dan McCollam
Dan McCollam empowers worshippers worldwide to understand and release the transformational effect of worship on individuals, families, cities, and nations. As director of Sounds of the Nations, he trains thousands around the world to write and record worship songs using their own ethnic sounds, styles, languages, and instruments. Awaken Generation has had the honour of hosting him at Singapore’s first-ever Sounds of the Nations conference in 2017. Dan plays over 40 instruments and is a director and teacher at The Mission School of Supernatural in Vacaville, California. He also serves on the teaching faculty of Bethel School of the Prophets and Bethel School of Supernatural Worship in Redding, California. Dan and his wife, Regina, have been married for over 30 years and have four children.
AG: For someone whose life and ministry involves a lot of music, what kind of music do you personally listen to?
Dan: For pleasure I mostly listening to World Ethnic music. Also, I like a lot of nice acoustic guitar or piano pieces. It’s usually original melody instrumental pieces. I like bands that combine electronic sounds with earthy, acoustic, ethnic instruments. But we always have worship music on in our home. Honestly, we love the Bethel and Jesus Culture stuff because the message reinforces our values. So I really like that.
AG: We heard you have a supernatural grace to pick up any stringed instrument and play it immediately, do you have any favourites?
Dan: My favourite instruments to play, as far as ethnic instruments, are the Chinese instruments. And that’s because they’re tuned to the pentatonic scale, and so you can’t hit a wrong note, which is really cool because then the creativity that flows out of that is just super. Like the ‘ruan’ - the round banjo - and the ‘guzheng’. So I play those and I really, really enjoy playing them. So the pentatonic instruments are some of my favourites. They just immediately take me somewhere.
AG: Okay, onto some questions about worship! During the Sounds of the Nations conference, you were talking about releasing the atmosphere of an attribute of God that you’ve gotten a revelation about. Some people may be new to this concept, so what does this look like?
Dan: Before you can change an atmosphere, you have to carry one. So if you wanna release peace in the room, then go to the hardest place there is for you to have peace, and retain your peace; keep your peace. And you do that, again, by just tapping into the presence of the Lord, acknowledging Him as the Prince of Peace, letting the peace of God rule and reign in your heart and mind.
A lot of people try to start changing atmospheres before they really become a carrier of an atmosphere, so it’s really practical first to meditate on that attribute and then embody that atmosphere. Let the word become flesh in you. Let that song that is focusing on that attribute take you there. Get really accustomed to that level of personal breakthrough, and then you can start pushing it out into the room.
AG: And this will happen naturally?
Dan: It will, but intention is really important. So that’s the other thing. You know, there’s really only four scriptures in the New Testament on worship:
- John 4:23 – the Father is seeking worshippers,
- Colossians 3:16 – teaching one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,
- Ephesians 5:19-20 – being filled with the Spirit, then speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, and
- Revelation 4, where we see the four living creatures around the throne.
Two of those are about singing over other people, or creating atmosphere over other people. And I think it’s a real missing gem; a real missing understanding in worship. Obviously, singing over one another is creating an atmosphere of encounter.
So you see this in the Old Testament – Samuel said, “Listen, Saul, when you come into the atmosphere of these prophets who are prophesying on their instruments, your heart will be changed into another man. The spirit of prophecy will come on you.” Then later in 1 Samuel 19, where Saul is trying to capture David, and he sends the armies to Naioth, the whole armies come under the influence of the atmosphere that these prophets are creating. So we see that people are creating atmospheres through their worship.
AG: Which starts from a place of meditation and cultivation in the secret place.
Dan: Yes. And we parallel it again to the Isaiah passage, that God sends forth His word to accomplish His purpose. So He doesn’t just speak it; He sends it to accomplish a specific thing. In the same way, when you start singing atmospherically, you’re not just singing the song; you’re sending the song to accomplish a kingdom purpose.
AG: Do you believe that everyone who is musical has the potential or grace for songwriting?
Dan: I actually believe that everyone on earth should write a song, and the reason is: Scripture repeatedly says, “Sing a new song to the Lord, all the earth”; “Sing a new song to the Lord, all the people”. And some people take that as, “Everybody, sing the new song.” In Psalm 40, David said, “He pulled me out of the miry clay, He set my feet on the rock, He established my goings and put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise. Many will see it and fear and trust in the Lord.” I feel like God actually gives everyone a new song when they’re born again, and that song doesn’t always manifest as a song, you know what I mean? But He re-tunes us; He changes the song in us; He changes the heartbeat in us, so to speak. And I think out of that place of encounter, that everybody can create and sing something original.
I think the spiritual song is, in a way, creating or songwriting, and I think that’s very, very important – putting your own vocabulary to your worship.
AG: I think that gives a lot of people hope and encouragement. So what would your advice be to people who are new in their journey of songwriting in general?
Dan: When I first started writing my songwriting books, there weren’t any out there for worship. There were none. And as soon as I put my first book out, three other famous people put books out on worship writing – Matt Redman, Paul Baloche, and different ones. At first I was really frustrated, like, “God, why did you have me write this? These guys were gonna do it anyway!” And He’s like, “No, I need a lot of voices for what’s about to happen. I don’t just need one voice.” But there are good tools out there for songwriting.
Take a class in Awaken Generation! Yeah, really! Seriously. Because you're getting songwriting plus song-mentoring... I know a lot of people who have read songwriting books but what they’re crying out for is some critique on their songs. And having a song mentor like that who can critique your songs? Man, that’s worth a fortune!