There are few contemporary composers who have impacted the Christian music soundscape more than Robert Sterling. Through his original songs, anthems, arrangements, and musicals he has touched millions with his craft. Gold albums and Dove awards are a regular feature for this industry giant, and his heart remains committed to elevating the communicative impact of church music ministries. His musical excellence has earned him the respect of his colleagues and music industry insiders, and his teaching and mentorship is continuing to inspire a new generation of sacred song-writer. His instructional tome, “THE CRAFT OF CHRISTIAN SONGWRITING,” is standard reading for any serious student of the genre. Robert took time to answer our usual cadre of composer questions with his typical straightforward manner. Make sure you click through at the end to connect with some of Robert’s new and best-selling publications.
Composer Spotlight Q&A
What was the music of your youth?
My mother listened to Andy Williams. My father listened to Tennessee Ernie Ford. My big sister adored the Beatles. I gravitated toward Blood, Sweat & Tears. We all sang hymns in church.
If the music in our home was a multiple-choice question, the answer was “all of the above.”
Tell us about your background and how that inspired you to pursue music as a career?
I was raised as a Texas Baptist in the 1960s. Enough said.
My work ethic came from my dad, who put in twelve hours a day, six days a week, his entire life. Any musical talent I have came from my mom, who was a very good singer and a more than decent songwriter.
For as long as I can remember, melodies invaded my brain. But in early high school, music began to take over my life. I studied music education at North Texas State University and at Baylor (as a percussionist). But my dream was to be a studio drummer and a pop music arranger, even though I had no clue as to what either of those jobs actually entailed.
Essentially, my career evolved as I followed one opportunity to the next. Before long, I was living in Dallas, producing radio and TV jingles, writing songs, and arranging church music. A decade later, I was in Nashville, working in Christian music full time.
What music do you listen to now?
These days, my exposure to music comes mostly from television and films. Like most in my generation, there is very little new music on the radio that interests me. I still listen to the music that bounces around in my brain. If it’s any good at all, I attempt to write it down.
Tell us about your faith journey, and how it influences your musical choices.
I made a profession of faith at a very young age and have been in the process of figuring that out ever since. If anyone was ever bored enough to study my catalog, they would see I am still to this day working my faith out in the music I write or choose to arrange.
Also, as I explained in my book, The Craft of Christian Songwriting, I think it is very important that Christian songwriters, composers and arrangers be masters of their craft, and not settle for second-rate music. We should never conceal flimsy technique or unimaginative work behind the veil of “ministry.”
What projects are currently on your horizon?
These days I am focusing my energies on the boutique line of downloadable choral music available at my website: robertsterlingmusic.com. It is simultaneously exciting and terrifying.
When are you most creative?
When there is a deadline looming.
There is no particular time of day I find to be more creative than others. Because I have to wear so many hats these days, I go through periods of intense creative writing, followed by days filled with the more mundane tasks of editing, programming, and recording.
Which composers/arrangers inspire you?
I’ve been awestruck by a wide variety of songwriters, from Willie Nelson to Stephen Sondheim. As for arrangers, I’ve attempted to emulate the genius of Henry Mancini, Nelson Riddle, and Ronn Huff, among others. And every time I hear music from Debussy or Holst I find myself wondering, “How did he come up with that?”
There is really no end to the music that impresses me and makes me want to be better at what I do.
Where do you see church music going in the future? Are there trends you think are important in the current culture of sanctuary music?
I will leave the prognosticating to others. But as is clear from my website venture, I’ve reached the conclusion that online downloadable music is here to stay.
Creatively, I remain committed to writing music that is substantive rather than trendy. These days, I focus on the basics of part writing, voice leading, and song form more than ever before. One of these days, I may finally get it right. And if I ever do, then maybe I can retire.
What is your #1 tip for aspiring writers?
Always be improving your skills. In the long run, “perspiration” matters more than “inspiration.”