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Michael McLean celebrates 25 years of songwriting

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A songwriter writes a song, and people like it. So, he writes another and another, and pretty soon, he has enough for an album. So he keeps writing.There is another album and another. Somewhere along the line, the musician realizes that music is paying his bills and may send his kids to college, but still it is an uncertain world.Then, one day, he wakes up and realizes he has been making music for a quarter of a century. "How can that be?" he wonders. It has all gone by — from one song to the next — so quickly.That's the story of Michael McLean's career.There's much more to fill it out, of course. Not only songs, but musicals and books, trips to off-Broadway, movies, television shows, a popular ongoing Christmas production, all mixed in with personal and professional struggles as well as triumphs.But right now, the songs are garnering attention. In honor of the 25th anniversary of McLean's first song, "You're Not Alone," which was written for a Women's Conference in 1983, Deseret Book has released a boxed-set collection of his works.It's not quite the typical greatest-hits set, however, in that it features 15 or 16 new songs sprinkled throughout the six-disc offering. Nor is it simply collected works that are arranged chronologically. Each disc is structured around a theme: "Hope Hiding," "Tender Mercies," "The Other Side of Sorrow," "It's Not Love 'Til It's Been Through A Storm," "Changed" and "See Us Shine."Each disc stands alone, and is, in fact, also sold separately.What it is, McLean says, is a celebration of what was, a celebration of what is and maybe a celebration of what's going to be. "A lot of these songs are now out of print, but we wanted to kind of redefine the way we shared them with listeners, give them a new way to revisit old songs."A booklet is included that shares his feeling about each of the themes. "That's actually one of my favorite parts," McLean said.He's very pleased with the way it all turned out, even if it did require a "writing frenzy" there at the end to get the new material done."It's really a bit of a miracle, the way it came together," McLean said. "I'm as excited as can be."McLean, who now lives in California, was in the middle of putting together last season's "Forgotten Carols" when the idea of an anniversary collection was first proposed. To make it come out in a timely fashion to kick off the 25th anniversary, "we looked at what had to happen when," he said. "I was going to be in places all over the country, so I didn't think it could possibly happen. But technology is so amazing. We put it all together while I was on the road, with the help of a lot of other talented and generous people."But that's the way it's always been, he says; those talented people have been there for him."It's a staggering feeling to think I've been doing this for 25 years," he said. "It amazes me that people have actually bought my records. I hope that I've been able to give back in some way."His songs have always imparted hopeful, uplifting, inspiring messages. But he doesn't claim special powers in those areas."The songs are incredible gifts," McLean said. "I don't own them. I simply hear them first and pass them on. I'm convinced that God made me a songwriter."Especially, he says, since he's not exactly a singer. Of the 26 CDs he's done, he did actually sing the songs on one of them. But it worked much better to have other people sing them, he says. "Luckily, I have friends who sing really well."When he was first starting out, McLean, as do many musicians, dreamed of getting the lucrative record deal and going off to Los Angeles or New York."Now, I look back and wonder what would have happened to me," McLean said.His songs would have been earthier, sexier, he speculates, of the "love me, love me, ooh baby" variety. "A lot of people in the business tell you that's what people want to hear," he said.Instead, he wanted to write songs that touch people's lives. He wanted to write songs that bring hope."Hope is such a precious thing," McLean said. "If you look around, you see a lot of hope-killers in this world. You have to protect yourself from those. And sometimes it's tough."There have been times that he's had his own doubts and struggles, among them being diagnosed with clinical depression. So, he knows about the need for hope and help. And he knows about the power of music to bring it.McLean doesn't regret that he didn't become another Billy Joel or have hit-after-hit records. He doesn't regret that he didn't write a "Hey, Jude" or "What The World Needs Now.""When I was a kid I dreamed of that," he said. "But if that had happened, then would these other kinds of songs have come along?"He's happy with where he is. It's pretty fun, he says, "being an old guy in a young man's business." What's most important, though is that "people have let my music be part of their lives."I'm very humbled by that," he said. "I've been blessed to be able to tell stories and sing songs for a living."