Wednesday, August 30, 2006

what about the poor?

Whilst this is a little off the theme of band stuff, it is very much to do with worship!

Tre Sheppherd was over last night, and was talking to us about the AIDS stuff he and Tori are involved in over in South Africa. I really thought it would be great to highlight it to you guys too.

He has set up a website with a great deal of info on it, and simple ways to get involved and make a difference. It's - please check it out, it's a wonderful thing these guys are doing!!!

Monday, August 28, 2006

BAND STUFF: working with PA guys

I was asked a brilliant Q yesterday by a friend of mine who is a sound engineer. He wrote - "I'd be very interested in your thoughts about the role of sound and the sound system operator as part of the group and what you, as a leader, are looking for. What makes life easier - and what makes things more difficult?"

From a worship leader's perspective, the sound guy (or girl :) is just as important as any member of the band - no matter how hard we have worked as a band to get the songs right, if the mix is bad, or the overall volume is too loud, or whatever it might be, the congregation can't engage. If our job is to help people connect with God, then we've got to make sure that nothing is a distraction - and sound is a huge part of that!!!

Attitude is really important too. I'll never forget singing in Nashville once, and the sound guy was possibly the meanest person I think I've ever met - he didn't care at all what the foldback was like, and was yelling at the musicians on the stage!! It made it almost impossible to do our job of leading worship. I know that none of you will be like that in the slightest, but it makes the point. If, as a sound engineer, you realise that what you bring to the table really, really matters, and that the way you are with the musicians can help put them at ease so that they can lead well, then you are going to do a brilliant job. Being aware (especially with musos who can sometimes be a little on the sensitive side :) is a wonderful helpful.

BAND STUFF: finding your fit

I got a brilliant comment on the postings about band stuff that I wanted to highlight. Neil is my bass player in the band that I play with on Sunday mornings - here's what he said that I think you might find really helpful...

"I think a big part about playing in a worship band is your mental attitude. Of course your character and ability are pre-runners but you need to have a mental and spiritual realisation of what you are there to do. You need to see where you fit on the team and then carry out that task to the best of your ability and give it back to God.

A good illustration of this is the bass, its what I know best so I will stick to it!! The bass player's role is to provide the platform along with the drums that all the other instruments can work off. They tie the whole thing together. Now it can be a very effective instrument for playing a nice riff or coming up front now and again but unless it continues to form the platform then it loses its purpose.

When you are first starting to play your instrument in worship bands it is so important to learn your role. Initially as a younger player we all want to be noticed (maybe that was just me) and therefore we wanted to be louder or play the coolest part but we know that isnt the heart God wants nor does it make for good band dynamics.

Once you have defined your role on your instrument it is such a fulfilling feeling to know you are playing your part on the team."

This is a great insight from someone who is playing regularly, and has really caught the heart of what being on a band is all about. Hope it helps :)

Sunday, August 27, 2006

LEADING WORSHIP: passion & restraint

When I was learning with Brian Doerksen, one of the things he encouraged us to do was to look at how much we did spontaneous times in worship. Whilst musicians really love having times of 'free worship' because they are comfortable with improvising - non musicians find it really hard, and so they tend to disengage - in other words, it can really hinder their response in worship.

To be honest, I wasn't sure at the time if this was the right way forward - but I tried it out just in case Brian was right :) Almost immediately in our church at home, the worship times went from about 60% of people really connecting with God, to maybe 90%!! It was such a marked difference! I remember looking at people completely lost in worship who previously had just stood and looked at me - I had thought they weren't interested in worship!, but it turned out they just couldn't access all the spontaneous stuff.

What I've found out as I've gone along since then is that this is about context. On a Sunday morning, there's such a mixture of people that you have to walk the line between 'passion & restraint' - not avoiding times of free expression, but keeping it fairly short so that it doesn't get in the way of people trying to worship. On the other hand, if you are leading at a night of worship - the majority of people there are going to be really into music, and so you can get away with a lot more.

It all boils down to that first question you ask when you lead - 'who am I leading, and how can I help them connect'.

I'd love to hear if you've been walking this tension too, and how you've found it.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

LEADING WORSHIP: picking a set

I get asked this all the time - how do you pick a set?

There are a couple of things I keep in mind when I'm doing this. The first is 'who am I leading in worship'. Basically, because our job is to serve the people we are leading, the first question I'm asking is 'how am I going to help THESE people worship'. Sometimes I get it right, and others I really don't - but that's where having someone to give you feedback is SO helpful!!

Secondly, I'm thinking through how this fits in the overall picture of everthing that's happening in that meeting. If we can choose songs based on the other things that are going to be happening - the speaking, or a drama, or a particular theme - it makes it easier for people to connect with God through those songs. We are literally 'giving voice' to people's expression of worship.

After that, I'm thinking about how long I have - usually you're aiming for 1 song per 5 mins (sometimes shorter if they are fast songs). I think it's a wonderful thing to stay within the time frame you've been given.

Don't use too many new songs - people can't access the worship time if they don't the songs... I've learnt this the hard way :) Because our church is growing quite fast, there are always people with us that are not going to know the latest new song that we've just taught, and so I'm really trying to include a hymn every set, and work with some older choruses too that I'm pretty sure people will know - we just give them a freshen up through the arrangements - actually, it's wonderful fun, and really creative!!

Friday, August 25, 2006

BAND STUFF: being part of the band

Yesterday I jotted down a couple of thoughts about being a worship leader, and so I was thinking it might be good to write a little about being part of the band - when you're not the leader... what is your role?
Again, I honestly think that the way you choose to live your life is way more important than the gifts you bring to the table. Brian Doerksen always used to tell us that 'gifting gets you places, but character keeps you there' - that's a sound piece of advise.

We are servants - everything we do, from the way we turn up to rehearsals, to the musical excellence we strive for, to the actual leading of congregations in worship - everything is service. With that in mind, it's good to remember that we have to make the way we play all about people being able to connect with God. Sometimes we have creative ideas to make a song super fresh, but it doesn't really help people to connect - maybe because it's just too different, or maybe because it's just too flashy :) I think if an idea helps to make a song 'sing' again, but doesn't draw so much attention to the music that we miss Jesus, then it's probably a goer!

When we are playing together in bands, even though the worship leader is the boss, we are all in the same team, and so there is lots of room for us to bring our ideas and suggestions. Band members are key in making the whole thing work!!!

I've enjoyed playing in lots of bands over the last 15 or 16 years - it's something I got involved in long before I learned how to lead - and yet, even though I didn't think it at the time - I was 'worship leading' when I was playing piano or singing backing vocals. Whatever your part is in the band, the same is true for you!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

BAND STUFF: how do you lead?

I've been asked this question a lot over the last few years. When you are the worship leader in charge of a band, how do you actually lead - what is your role? So, here are a few thoughts that might be helpful...
Your first role is to lead worship through the way you live your life. There really is nothing more important than this!
Secondly, if you are leading worship in church, your role is to remember that you are part of something bigger. Nothing in church happens by accident, there is a whole vision being worked out - and as worship leaders, we play an integral part in that. Make sure you hook up with your pastor (or the person who is your point of contact) to talk about whether what you are doing is connecting with the vision and with the congregation. Ask questions about your song choice, the way you lead, the time frame you are using, and all of that sort of stuff, just to make sure that you are on track. We are servants first - sometimes with the whole music thing, we can be tempted to think it's about music and not ministry :)
Thirdly, we are there to lead our band. In the band, everyone has a level playing field - everyone can make suggestions on arrangements, everyone gets to bring their creativity - but, as the leader, your job is to take the lead - or in other words, to have the final say. It's a little like a captain in a football team - they are the boss on the pitch, whilst under the authority of the coach, the boss overseeing the game (or the pastor in our case).
That's it in a nutshell, but if you have some more questions on this, or you are facing a particular situation that you're not sure about please feel free to ask, and I'll write some more about it...

Monday, August 21, 2006

BAND STUFF: when you have to let people go

This is one of the hardest things I know when it comes to leading a team. There are times when circumstances change, and you need to ask people to step down - or when people are struggling with sin stuff that means they really need to take time out. It doesn't matter what the reason, it still feels awful to sit down and talk to the people involved...But, it's part of what we are called to do when God asks us to take leading a team on.
Remembering that we are there to serve, and then reminding the guys we are talking to that they are there to serve is very helpful. It's not a personal thing - and it's really important to communicate that!
On the whole when I've done this in the past, the people involved have really caught that I'm not angry with them, or trying to side step them - but that's because they really got what their role was about. Having said that, we are all human, and there's an emotional reaction that happens either inwardly or outwardly depending on our personalities.
If you are a leader who has just had to step someone down, remember that a reaction isn't always the final outcome - don't be afraid to have the grace to wait and see where they land with the whole thing.
If you are someone who has been asked to sit it out for a while - don't forget that God is watching your heart more than your hands (your character more than your gifting) - that you get to worship him with the way you work this through... and that He has an amazing habit of opening doors when we yield ourselves to him!!
God bless you in this, I know it's hard...


We just got back from four days in Berlin - what a wonderful place!! We were there with 38 other Vineyard pastors from all over Europe. During the time together we spent a lot of time worshipping and praying for each other - it's amazing how connected you feel when you get to spend time with others who are doing the same thing as you! One of the things I love about serving Jesus is that no matter where you meet people, no matter what your cultural differences, or upbringings are like, there is incredible common ground in Him - we truly are the body of Christ together - we really do find family - true family - with others who belong to Him. Here's to the journey together!!!

Monday, August 14, 2006

BAND STUFF: getting the best from your guys

As a worship leader it's really important to remember that your job isn't only musical - it's also to build a team that is comfortable enough together to be creative, and secure enough to share ideas. To be honest, a lot of this is intuitive, but it can help to have a couple of pointers along the way.

Watch out for the outsiders - everybody in a band brings insecurity to the table (as leaders, how much do we know that!!) - and so I think it's vital to keep your eye out for the one or two that might be struggling a little to overcome that, and deliberately bring them into play.

Be intentionally constructive. After we've played something through, I love to tell each of the guys specifically what I loved about how they played - I'm honest too... if I didn't like something, I'll say that I"m not sure about that bar, or that motive, and I'd like them to try something else, but I loved the way they came up with that harmony there, or the rhythm idea they had there. It is so easy to build someone up, and it's such a wonderful way to see them flourish!

Don't be afraid to ask difficult questions. If someone's attitude just isn't right in rehearsal I wait until after practice (I don't think it's fair to do this in front of others), and just ask them what is going on for them right now? Are they still happy being a part of the band? Did they realise that they really weren't in a great mood that night? And then I encourage them not to be like that again, just because it affects everyone else so much. I've only had to do this a couple of times, and every time the people involved have responded beautifully - it's made subsequent rehearsals great too!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

BAND STUFF: what to do with BVs

BVs (or BGVs in the States) are a wonderful tool in enhancing a song sonically, and in helping to lead worship. You have one or two singers right there with you (or more depending on the style of things in your church), not only singing, but modelling worship to the congregation (in a sense, giving the congregation 'permission' to respond).

Just like every instrument though, background singers shouldn't be singing all the time through every song. What I usually ask my singers to do is to come in with harmonies in the choruses. Sometimes I'll ask them to highlight the odd line through a verse, or to bring in one harmony on the pre-chorus, and then add another in the chorus and so on.

It can be awesome to sometimes strip the song back, and only have harmonies - cutting out all the other instruments to hear the voices.

During the song, if the singers aren't singing their part yet, I encourage my guys to sing anyway, but to do it 'off mic' - that way they still get to worship without putting too much into the arrangement.

Backing singers can tend to feel the most left out of the musicians in the band - as leaders, we need to try and remember this so we can stay inclusive - and as backing singers, we need to remember that we're using our voices like instruments, so we don't need to feel hurt if we're asked not to sing at a certain part of the song.

BAND STUFF: practice makes perfect

Once you've got the band together, and you've started working on arrangements, the next thing to take it all forward is practice!! This is true whether you're in a worship team, or putting a band together to do gigs - you've got to get used to playing with each other to make it sound great!

When I put a new band together I usually spend at least one full day practicing four or five songs to get us started. The arrangement part normally takes quite a while, and then you need to play it through another couple of times to make sure it's in the bag. Once you've settled on the arrangement, take a moment and have everyone in the band write down notes on their music so that they remember what they have to do, and when they have to do it! - that way, when you come to play that song again, you already have the main things in place.

After that initial time of intense practicing (we would usually go to two practices a week for about a month after the day's lock in - before going to once a week on the weeks we are playing in church) - keep your practices short. Two hours is plently of time to work up four songs (unless they are all new!). If your practices go on longer than this, people start to lose interest (and spouses waiting at home with kids get a little lonely :) Plus, it forces you as the leader to keep things focussed. Believe me, you can still have a lot of fun, but it's way more productive.

BAND STUFF: less is hard

The aim of a band is to play as 'one'. If it sounds like there's a lot of different instruments (including voices) doing their own thing, it's not great to listen to! The old adage 'less is more' is really helpful, but it's pretty hard. So, here are some ideas - if there are 5 people in the band, make it a rough rule that everyone plays a fifth. Listen to each other. Play complimentary parts - if the electric is playing a riff, maybe the piano can mirror it, or play a harmony with it for example. Don't be tempted to clutter things up. If in doubt, have someone listen and give you some feedback - or you could do a rough recording of yourselves, and then listen back to get some ideas. It's a learning curve, but it's something that you do get better at. Let me know how you get on...

Friday, August 11, 2006

BAND STUFF: teaming up

I love leading worship! And I especially love playing in a band!!!! I know a lot of you are involved in leading teams and working through the dynamics that come with it - so I thought it might be helpful to put some thoughts together on some aspects of being a leader with a band.

I have two main filters when it comes to 'teaming up' - who I choose is based almost solely on these questions: what is their character like? (do they love Jesus, are they working their stuff through, are they committed to church, are they open to correction, are they a team player - you don't always get to see the team player thing until you start the band which is why it's useful if they are open to be corrected :) The second thing I'm looking for is excellence in musicianship. They don't have to be incredible on their own - but they do have to bring something incredible to the team - in other words, if they play bass, I'm not looking for someone who can do a lot of really fancy stuff, but I'm looking for someone who is solid timing wise, who has an ear for what the drummer is doing and can compliment that, who can think a little outside the box maybe with motives or riffs that work like highlights in the overall sound, but won't clutter things up.

After that, you've got to try it out. Chemistry with the rest of the band will tell you if it's a good fit. If that isn't there, I try to move my musician to another band where they'll gel better. When it does click though - wow, it's one of the best things ever!!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

when it's a disappointing day...

From time to time, dreams that we had, hopes that we held, people we trusted, things we thought, don't quite turn out the way we thought they would. When it's a disappointing day, what I'm learning to do is come back to the cross again. It's there that I remember that God knows the power of pain; the burn of betrayal - it's there I can so clearly see that He understands the brokeness of dreams shattered, that His grip on reality in all it's harshness is firmer than mine. And it's there that the promise of redemption, of resurrection, of a sure outcome breaks in. We serve a God who chose brokeness to demonstrate His great love for us - who has walked the road before us - who has the power to change the most disappointing days into the most glorious tomorrows.

Friday, August 04, 2006

SONGWRITING: legally speaking

When you write a song that gets published, there are some legal things that kick in - for any of you who are exploring this, I thought this post might be helpful.

Normally in Christian publishing circles, the publisher gets 50% and the writer(s) gets 50% of the writer royalties. If you have co-written with someone, you need to sit down together and decide which split you'll get each. I have a friend who is a wonderful writer, and his policy is that when he's invited someone into the co-write, he always gives them a 50/50 split - no matter how much or little that person has helped. You can do this too, or you can decide based on how much input the other person has given. I also have another friend who was stuck on one line of a song that's become very famous. One of his buddies was round, heard the song, and came up with the key line. She was given a small percentage of ownership - because it was only one line - this is a great way to do it too.

When you are inviting someone to critique - that's not the same as having someone actually help you write the song! They are offering their ideas as to where the song works, and where it doesn't quite yet - then you go away and do the work on it by yourself. But as soon as you invite someone to write the song with you, it's a different ball game. At that point you need to remember that they have to have their share too - it's only fair :)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

SONGWRITING: two heads are better than one

It's only relatively recently that I've started co-writing. Actually, it's way more fun than at first it might seem. I used be worried about someone else hearing the first stages of a song (you know the bit where it's pretty embarrassing 'cos it's nowhere near ready yet!). But, I've discovered that if you just go for it, it can be amazingly productive. There are a number of ways of doing this - you can sit in a room together and see what ideas start to form; you can try an idea by yourself, and then invite someone else into the process; you can write the first draft and then send a recording to a friend for them to take it to the next stage. I've tried all of these methods, and they all work pretty well. It's amazing how differently someone else 'hears' the song in their head, and the contribution that they then make - way better than I could ever do just by myself!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

SONGWRITING: what's in a name

In the UK we don't really 'do' titles very well :) We tend to stick to the first line of the song. It can be really useful though to think through what you are going to call your song - titles can be pretty hooky too - and therefore, helpful in people remembering what they've heard.

Recently my Mum and I wrote a song called 'I Belong' - the first line is 'Not angels, nor demons...' (it goes on to talk about how nothing can separate us from God because we belong to him). It wouldn't work too great to call it 'Not angels' (although it might get people talking :) - but calling it a name like 'I Belong' is much more helpful because it's the premise of the song - it's what the song is really all about.

Sometimes it can be harder to decide on the title - when I wrote 'Hungry', everyone called it 'that falling on my knees song' - and so, when I was working on the title, I added 'Falling on my knees' after the 'Hungry' part so that people would be able to recognise it better.

Part of our job as worship writers is to give strong sign posts in what we write - to the Lord; to the expression that others are desperate to give; and to the 'remembering hooks' that help people engage. Titles are part of that. I'd love to hear how you've worked this through in some of your songs.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

SONGWRITING: a word to the wise

Words count. The lyrics we write, especially as worship writers, have to make sense and be clear, otherwise the worshippers who are going to use others' songs as their own expression to God, won't choose what we've written. Because we don't get the chance to explain what we meant by a certain line or phrase at the end of the song, we need to be careful to craft our words well. We need to stick the point - a good song only says one thing. We need to think of a hook lyrically as well as melodically - something that people remember and come back to - think of songs like 'How great is our God': this is an amazing song that says just one thing - that God is great. Then, it unfolds why He is so wonderful in the verses, returning again to that awesome chorus with the hook line 'How great is our God'. Your hook line 'says it all' - everything else in the song points towards that and stems from it.

Lyrics are still the part that I find the hardest - and yet, they are also the place where I find the most fulfilment in writing. Here's to the journey!

SONGWRITING: making it stick

What is it about a song that lingers? What is it that catches the listener's ear, and hangs around in their heart? Making it stick is about writing good hooks. A hook is that melody that won't let you go once you've heard it - it's simple, but it's so good that you can't stop singing it, and you want to hear it over and over again. You need something hooky enough melodically in the verse that keeps people listening until the chorus - and then you want something so significantly hooky in the chorus, that people will come back to it time and again. Have a think about the songs that you love the most, and then listen to them as a writer - ask yourself what notes they are using, how are they using rhythm, where are putting the accents? As you listen, you'll start to see some patterns in your favourite parts of the songs - it might be the use of octave leaps, a motive that mirrors another part of the song (maybe a three note motive in the verse that comes back in the chorus only a third or fifth higher) - there'll be all sorts of different things that you can spot and then adapt; taking the pattern as a blueprint, and putting your own melodies to it. Why not try it out with something you're working on today and see what happens - I'd love to hear how you get on!