“Video killed the worship song” – why we’re not singing along any more

Today someone forwarded me an insightful article, nine reasons people aren’t singing in worship.  I’ve read similar posts before, but this one goes to great depth and explores a number of reasons that your congregation may not be singing along as much as you may like.

This lead me to think:

Have we simply got too many songs?

Because we use lyrics and projection, is it too easy for us to build up a huge repertoire of songs?  If we have too many songs in our library, perhaps these songs become less known to the congregation at large – and this would make it harder for them to sing along.  In our church we have in excess of 200 songs on our MindMyMinistry database, but I know that quite a number of those are infrequently used in services.

Perhaps it is time to start culling away to make a shorter and more manageable list of congregational worship songs?  The trick here would be to avoid making the list too short and repetitive.

Worship music vs. Church music

Of the modern worship music that we listen to every day, many of the songs are actually quite hard to sing for your average church-goer.  I am not a singer, and I do struggle with a few of the newer songs.  This is because worship music is a different thing to church singing.  We may not all like the old hymns – but think about how predictable those songs are – they all have simple rhythms and easy-to-sing melodies.

I was in a church service not so long ago where the only accompaniment was the pastor’s wife playing the piano – and the worship was absolutely brilliant!  Don’t get me wrong – I love modern worship music too, but it was an eye opener to see how well the less modern songs worked for congregational singing.  Maybe we should all take a step back and take a cue from the older tunes?

Blame the sound guy!  (or not)

Sound levels are an unexpected source of problems.  You need to have that “butter zone” where the sound is not too loud that you can’t hear the people around you singing, but also not too quiet so that the congregation becomes self-conscious.  To all the sound guys out there – the key thing to keep in mind is that we are only reinforcing sound – nothing more.  This means our job as sound guys is to only amplify the sound to a point where the congregation can easily hear and understand what is going on – no more.  We’re not mixing for a rock concert (or at least not when you want the congregation to sing along!)

Bring on the pyrotechnics!  (or video and intelligent lighting)

I wonder how lighting and video adds to this?  Are we creating more of a “show” environment by adding intelligent lighting and moving backgrounds to our videos?  Does the congregation know that they are expected/encouraged to sing along?  Maybe the worship leaders should step up, explicitly asking the congregation to sing along?

Making the melody obvious

Harmonies can be great when you have multiple vocals on stage – but they can be very confusing too.  I have had this happen to me where I’m no longer certain, as a member of the audience, where the melody goes – the result is that I completely stop singing until I can figure it out.  In my opinion isolating the lead vocal is the front-of-house engineer’s job.  From my years doing FOH engineering I can offer these tips:

  • Make sure your lead vocal is louder than all the others!
  • Ensure that you ‘follow’ the lead around – some of your worship songs may have different leads, so you have to stay on top of this.
  • Often it can help putting a tap delay on the lead vocal (200-400ms single echo) – this can help bring the lead “forward” more.
  • Conversely if you put a reverb on the backing vocals, they tend to sound “further away”, focusing more attention on the lead.

Think outside the box… or off the stage

An interesting trend that has happened recently in our congregation is that some of our backing vocalists actually stand in the audience while singing.  Some will think this is a strange thing to do – but is it really?  What are your reasons for being up on the stage?

 

4 tips for challenges faced by portable churches

Let’s face it – finding a venue is tough.

For many churches around the world the prospect of sharing a community or school hall is a reality every week. Offering church services of a specific standard when in a shared venue has all sorts of challenges – here are a few that the author has experienced in a number of churches in the area.  These range from the simple to the highly techical – hopefully there is a useful bite in here for you.

Pack-in, soundcheck and pack-out takes time

Setting up for a church service can take a tremendous amount of equipment, from the mundane (like chairs) to the technical (sound desk, snakes) to the unwieldy (drum risers, curtains etc).  All of this takes a lot of time from your volunteers and staff members (if any).  MindMyMinistry can make volunteer scheduling a lot easier because everyone will automatically be reminded when they are rostered on to help at a service.

Storage space on-site (or not)

During the week all your equipment has to reside somewhere secure – tens of thousands of dollars worth of “stuff” can’t just be lying around!  If you are lucky you may have secured a venue that offers on-site secure storage, but in the case of school halls and many other places, this situation can be rare.

An alternative to on-site storage can be a large furniture trailer which can be put in a secure lock-up storage yard.  For sensitive electronics such as your sound desk, projector, amps and other AV equipment, it is recommended to get a lock-up garage so that the trailer is not out in the sun all day.

Venue equipment reliability

Let’s say it’s the morning of your service – you arrive on site, pull down the projection screen, and the projector just doesn’t work.  The author has seen this situation all too frequently – ranging in venues from school halls to even lecture theatres!  If you have the budget for it, it would be useful to keep a small spare projector handy, otherwise things can become pretty challenging, not to mention the stress it puts on your volunteers.

Wear and tear

An aspect often overlooked is protecting the gear.  Speakers, amps, cables and even your mixing console can take quite a lot of punishment when being packed in and out every week.  For this reason many churches opt to go for heavy duty road cases on wheels.

For analog sound desks you can even get a multi-pin connector on the outside of your road case to avoid having to plug and unplug 32 XLR connectors (or whatever size your desk is) – saving time and wear on the equipment.  For the lucky ones among us you may even have a digital desk that uses a CAT5 snake and a single connector.

Wireless microphones (and even wireless in-ear monitor systems) can be a great help here, reducing the number of cables on stage and between stage and mix position.

Finally, get insurance!  You never know when it might rain into your trailer, or someone drops a road case while unloading – these events can be extremely expensive.

 

MindMyMinistry feature update!

MindMyMinistry has been growing by leaps and bounds over the last few months, gaining a number of customers and heaps of new features.

Here are a few of the most requested features we have implemented in the last little while:

  • Like / Dislike Songs
    Even better than the popular social media system, we allow you to “Like” as well as “Dislike” any song on MindMyMinistry.  Combined with some reporting you can now easily gauge opinion on how popular a song is within your team.
  • Song Play Tracking
    Automatically keeps statistics on how many times each of your songs are used in services.  This, combined with the “Like” functionality above, gives you a clear view on which songs make the grade, and which songs may need a little rest…  There is also a CCLI No. field on songs, so you can easily gather the info you need to submit your CCLI reports.
  • Team Noticeboard
    Anyone in your team can now leave messages for others to view.  Help your team communicate better!
  • Faster Rostering with the People Grid
    Rostering a person on for a given service is now as quick as a single click or tap.  Have a look at the new people grid under Events!
  • Quick-add Guests
    You can now add guests (eg guest speakers or band members) to your services by simply entering the name.  No need to add them into your people list.

We’ve also improved the sign-up process – so now it’s only a single form with a few simple questions – it hardly takes 30 seconds to get your hands on a free 1-month.  Try out our user friendly worship planning system today!

 

What can we learn from this drummer?

As an instrumentalist (keys, bass, acoustic, electric and even drums) playing in a worship band, it is very important to listen to what is going on around you.  This means listening to the people serving with you and working with them, not trying to play over the top of them.

Perhaps this is illustrated with a clip that I’ve recently seen on the Internet:

Take a moment to critically analyse the content of this clip.  You can notice a few things:

  • The lead vocal is great, and so is the piano part she is playing.
  • The sound mix is not great, and there is clipping (which may be the camera mic used here).
  • Come on, admit it, the drummer is technically quite good – but he is not listening to the song.

Now, let’s go listen to the original Oceans track from Hillsong:

Notice how the drum part is very similar to the first track?  You can tell the drummer is trying to emulate this, but the mix (and the fact that he is playing a harshly set up electronic kit) is letting him down.

Food for thought, and maybe this wasn’t as big a failure on the drummer’s part as one might think.

Always listen to the people serving with you – make sure you “feel” the song.  Be open for the Spirit to take the lead.  Quite often less is more even if you are struggling with other elements like the mix, monitors or a lack of instruments.

Sound guy vs the band – conquering the great divide, part 1

When in a smaller church situation (and frankly this extends to the outside world too) there is often a great divide between the front-of-house engineer and the band on stage.  If you are a bigger church you may even have a few different sound guys, and even types of sound guys (FOH versus monitor etc).

In this multiple part series I’ll be looking at a number different issues experienced, and some ways to address them.  Working as a team is an absolute key requirement if everything is to run smoothly in your services.

“I know you want more of yourself in that monitor, but the stage is already too loud!”

This must be the #1 request of all time, and probably the one that band members get most upset with.  In a church environment the sound levels are normally subdued, we don’t hit the kind of levels that you’ll find at rock concerts.  Because of this, the stage volume can often influence the sound heard by the congregation.  Also, rather unfortunately, the bass frequencies are non-directional so they travel in all directions, while treble is only heard in front of the monitors.  So the monitor spill the congregation will be hearing will be muffled – not great.

There are two possible solutions to the problem – the first is to turn the stage volume down, and the second is to turn the house volume up.  There is obviously a limit to the house volume because at some point the congregation will feel it is too loud, ruining their experience.  When this limit is hit, the stage volume has to come down, there is no real other way.

Some of the volume from the stage is also not under the control of the sound guy – such as acoustic drums and electric guitar amps.  With drums, acoustic treatment may be necessary.  Electric guitar amps may need to be turned down.  Remember, the FOH technician is only asking you to turn down your amp because the front of house sound is suffering.  When the sound is well controlled and equalised, the sound guy can often get better tone through a mic via the house speakers than your amp will output directly to the congregation.

The same thing counts for drums.  A well EQ-d close mic-ed acoustic kit will sound great over the PA, while a loud kit with no mics will just sound loud and have no “fatness” to the kick and snare.

The holidays are upon us… and no-one to lead worship!

In a small church like ours we often have the situation over the Christmas holidays where everyone is away on vacation and there are very few individuals available to serve in our worship team.

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Try and get everyone to put their leave into your worship planning system (which should be MindMyMinistry!) so you have  an idea of who is available, and when.
  2. As a music director or worship leader, think about the essential elements in your worship band – do you really need a keyboard player, guitarist, drummer or bassist to make things sound good?  Could you cut down and have a purely acoustic set?
  3. Adjust the songs on your setlist – many songs can be done with only a few instruments and still sound great, but others can be a disaster.
  4. Talk to your community!  Often there are other churches nearby who have “spare” musicians who don’t mind to play in neighbouring churches.  Talk to your band members, they may “know a guy who knows a guy”.

 

When gear breaks – averting disaster in a worship set

Some of us have been here – it’s the third song in the set, there is an atmosphere, people are deep in worship, and suddenly the main vocal monitor gives a hiss and a pop and vanishes from the aural landscape…

Luckily in our case the example above occurred in the rehearsal before the service, but here are some quick ideas for how a worship set could be rescued by thinking on your feet.  Feel free to comment on your own disasters and how you managed to pull through!

Breaking a guitar string

I’m not a guitarist, but apparently if you do break a string in the middle of a set, your best bet is often to stop playing altogether as the change in tension on the guitar will usually affect the tuning of the other strings.  Having a backup guitar is great, but not always an option in a worship setting.

Loss of monitoring/front-of-house sound

With sound, quite a lot can go wrong.  Cables can have intermittent faults, amplifiers can overheat and shut down, your sound guy might be having a bad day… The list goes on.  Normally loss of monitors would mean loss of front-of-house sound too, unless the problem is between the mixing desk and the monitors (or amplifiers).  In my experience (I’ve done church sound for a few years), most problems happen before they even hit the mixing desk – and unfortunately that means you’ve got no sound at all, monitoring or otherwise.

If it’s a vocal mic that has failed, you could swap mics so that your lead singer has a working mic.  A dead mic for a backing vocal may not be a huge problem.  A dead DI box or cables failing for guitars or the bass may be a problem – but depending on the situation you could just keep playing and very few people would notice.

Loss of lyrics/projection

Projectors can fail, PC’s can crash… Windows can install automatic updates without being asked…  When your lyric display goes away, the congregation will have trouble following along unless your set is filled with many well known songs.  Sometimes some prompts by the worship leader can help the congregation follow along – eg. in the lead-up before a verse or a chorus the worship leader could just call out the first few words of the verse or chorus – this will help many churchgoers back into the groove of the song.  If you are able, a quick change of the setlist may help a lot, substituting more well known songs (perhaps swapping around the order of the songs hoping that the projection comes alive again).

 

With a few people around that can think on their feet, even a major disaster in the middle of a set may not end up causing disruption to a church service.  Be creative, smile, and move on!

 

Keeping a uniform sound – how to keep multiple bands in sync

Often the case in churches, there are 2 or more bands in the worship team which rotate from service to service.

Churches all have different worship styles which normally stem from the roots of your church.  Some are conservative and some are more charismatic. For example, our church doesn’t have a specific denomination, so we sing a variety of songs – some traditional and some more modern. In our church, we have 2 bands in our worship team and even though we sing the same songs, each band has their own style. Each band also interprets different songs in different ways.

But how do you keep a uniform sounds so that the congregation doesn’t feel as if they are in a different church every week?

MindMyMinistry has a pretty good solution. It shows past and future events which all team members can access. The worship leader of any band in the team can have a look at the songs done by the other band(s) and also the songs that will be done in future events and use that information when drawing up a new set list for the band. In your song list, there are columns indicating how often songs have been played. This helps a lot to keep track of songs that might have been slightly over-played and others that might have been forgotten and need some dusting off.

Another tip that helps to get  a uniform sound is to have combined band practices every once in a while, so that the band members can work on new songs together as a worship team. This helps the team to stay connected and to grow as a unit in Christ to lead your church in praise and worship.

Don’t practice at your band rehearsal!

When having band rehearsal for a church service, one of the basic things that one must get right is the difference between a “practice” and a “rehearsal”.

In a nutshell, practice means perfecting a technique, whether it be playing an instrument or singing a melody, on your own.  Practicing something really focuses on perfection – you’re trying to execute something flawlessly.  That’s why you typically practice on your own – so you can repeat things ad infinitum without annoying anyone!

Rehearsals are group events where everyone (having practiced their individual tasks/parts) puts everything together to make a set.  In our church rehearsals are often the place where we make changes to the order of songs, but we don’t normally change which songs are done.  Most people have been practicing those songs at home before the rehearsal – so you can’t go changing songs at the rehearsal.

Saying practice sessions are limited to a single person is not always the case.  Sections of the band can arrange to do practice sessions – for example the drummer and bassist (maybe also electric guitar) can meet up somewhere for an hour to practice and nail some tricky bits.  Vocals and the piano player can do the same.  When they subsequently show up at rehearsal the songs in question will just flow.

Of course a system like MindMyMinistry makes practicing and rehearsals much easier, because songs are available for everyone to see weeks before the actual service.  Rehearsals are also scheduled right on each event (service), so everyone knows when and where they are expected to attend.

Long story short – don’t practice at rehearsal.  Rehearsals are meant to glue everything together – nothing more.

Introducing a new song at church – Part 3

As a worship band it is often easy to overlook the fact that the congregation has to be able to sing the songs too.  This means (at least according to my research) that you should stick to D (maybe Eb) to upper A for the melody line. Obviously there are exceptions, but this could be used as a rule of thumb.

As musicians the worship team normally enjoys playing the more difficult songs (both in terms of tonal range but also in terms of rhythm – syncopated beats being one of the issues)  Modern worship music seems to have this very problem – the songs are quite complex and the tonal range of the melody is often out of range for the average singer.  These types of songs, when executed the same way as they are on the album, will lead to poor congregational participation – unfortunately this means the worship team is just performing, and no longer leading people in worship.

To combat this problem, songs should be transposed into keys where they are easy for the congregation to sing.   This is not a solution for all songs, especially those with very wide ranges – but taking the song into a more suitable key can help the situation.  It is interesting to note how hymns were designed for congregational singing; their melody lines are right within the comfortable range for average singers, and also the rhythms are kept very simple and easy to follow.  Food for thought!