Real & Resonant: The Music of Mark Schultz
by Matt Conner
If it’s real, it resonates.
Mark Schultz learned that valuable lesson early in his career, and it’s served as the rudder for his story-driven songwriting ever since. For nearly 20 years, Schultz has captivated audiences with melodies grounded in the lived-out narratives of the songwriter himself or those closest to him.
The stories are real and, because of that, they’ve resonated.
“When I first moved to Nashville, I remember having good melodies but the lyrics weren’t always cohesive,” says Schultz. “They didn’t make sense. When I first moved to town right after college, I played my songs for a music executive. He’d listen to half of a song and then say, ‘Go on to the next one.’ I thought, ‘Either this is really great news or really bad news!’ He said, ‘Lyrically, it’s just not catching me. I get hooked in for a second, but then you lose me.’”
The cure for Schultz’s lyrical woes came from an unexpected place: a book entitled How To Write A Hit Song. Schultz himself admits “it sounds like a joke but it’s true” but over the course of two days, he read the entire book and took its lessons about vulnerability and clarity to heart.
“I learned two primary things,” says Schultz. “The book said to write about what’s real, because what’s real resonates. Then it also said to make your lyrics like a traffic sign on the highway. If people are driving while listening to your songs on the radio, the kids will be screaming in the backseat, the driver will be drinking coffee or having a conversation and somehow you have to cut through all of that. Make them as clear as a traffic sign.”
The results were immediate. Schultz said he played at a mainstream music festival with a side stage for Christian music shortly thereafter and everyone immediately took to the song he’d written since reading the book.
“I sang a song I wrote called “He’s My Son,” which is about a dad praying over his son who has cancer,” says Schultz. “I thought the only people who will want to listen to this song are the people in my church who I wrote the song about, you know? It was their story. But I noticed when I sang that song, people who were walking to other stages stopped and just stared. I thought, ‘This is it. This is how you do it. You write about what’s real and it resonates whether you’re into that genre or not.’”
Schultz recently released his latest album, Follow, a loaded live set that features a handful of fan favorites along with 9 new tracks—all of which follow the same instructions he learned after first moving to Music City. Schultz said they decided to record the album live because stories resonate even more when there’s an immediate audience for them.
“What I find that happens sometimes when I write a song that’s really special is the hairs on the back of my neck stand up or tears run down my face. Then when you play the song live and you’re sitting close to people, the best gift I can give people is to get as close to that original feeling that I had and give it to them. The best gift they can give back to me is that they feel and sense it. You know they’re on the same page.”