Tuesday, November 30, 2010

december roster

just posting this online for the team:

on my mind - Old VS New, Young VS. Old-er.

Everyone has heard the classic complaint:

'I just couldn't worship, it was like a concert! What has happen to the old way where everyone sings together? Now the music is too loud. The lights are too flashy. I don't like the worship leader's skinny jeans. It's not even worship anymore . . . ' ect, ect, repeat, repeat, repeat.

I reckon we are stuck at an interesting point in the timeline of worship music and style.

It seems to me like this - once, we worshiped from a set of hymns. 

We came together, sang the words of old favorites out of hymnals, while Mrs Jones, the local music teacher played the piano. Sometimes, when old Mrs Jones' knee was playing up, Mrs Davis would play instead, on her ancient Yamaha Electone electric organ.

No one minded. They took what they could get. It wasn't creative, but it was comfortable, and it worked.

At the youth camps, one hip young leader would bring his guitar, and they'd all sit around the campfire singing choruses and having a grand old time larking about dipping cubes of bread into the cheese fondue, before heading off for a nice cup of cocoa and bed.
Rock music was dangerous, and in church, was downright sinful.
This was how my parents grew up. Not that long ago, really. Only 40 years or so.
(According to Ancestry.com, a generation is around 30 years)

Then, change was in the air.

With the advent of MTV, tapes and the Sony Walkman taking over from record players, more and more bands putting out more and more music, home stereos and VCR's getting cheaper, and more radio shows playing new music, the atmosphere changed.

People were spoiled for choice. There was so much good stuff out there rather than just taking what they could get, people got picky. They could now carefully sort through and choose exactly what they like. There became a higher demand for quality, for creativity and most of all, for personal expression.

So into church came the guitars. After much conversation (actually, probably violent argument and impassioned debate) with church eldership and leaders, in came the drums. Modern music with guitars and drums needs a more sophisticated sound system, so after much penny pinching, that came in too.

Now, it was wonderful. Each church choose it's own songs. They were creatively expressing themselves through music! Because now there was worship bands, not just Mrs Jones and Mrs Davis, whole piles of musicians and singers got a chance to express themselves in worship.

But it didn't end there. Enter, the digital revolution! 

The CD. The Mp3. The iPod. Fast internet downloads.
Hundreds of new bands exploding into our computers and out through our speakers into our thirsty eardrums. No longer were we listeners of music - we became true consumers.
Eating through huge piles of music, and spitting it out at the other end, never really appreciating the art and effort that had gone into it.
With Protools, Sonar, and Logic, we could turn our home computer into a recording studio.
With MySpace, we could put our music online and have it available to the entire universe in just seconds.

So if went even further. Music had become such a vital and important part of people's lives, that they chose churches by what music they played. They couldn't even go for a jog with out taking 30 gigs of their favourite tunes with them. It became so ungainly running worship bands and building huge worship teams that every church had to hire a music pastor, just to keep it all running.

The sound systems got even bigger and fancier, to handle more complexity. The bands got better. Songs were written by the millions. Worship leaders became millionare rockstar types, as they sold thousands and thousands of records, toured whole countries and gathered fans like mad.
Concert style lighting became the norm, as people demanded better production standards, and a more engaging experience. Churches began to stream live on the internet, so that Alaskan Eskimos can choose to attend Texas' Lakewood church and hear Israel Houghton lead worship this sunday, if they so desire.

All that, in my parents lifetime alone. Crazy. Utterly mental.

So, back to the beginning. The complaint. 'Is it even worship anymore?'

Yes. I think it is.

Yes, it's true, hundreds, maybe thousands, maybe millions of people miss the point, and that's a great pity.

But all of the worship teams I know are led by a genuine heart to WORSHIP GOD. Sure, we have a lot to focus on, weekly arranging and writing songs, defining our churches' style, managing budgets, managing and inspiring huge teams, trying to remain current and professional in our production standard, but at the heart of it is a hunger to get CLOSER TO GOD.

If we lose that hunger, and if we start slipping into the nightmare of the production and the music being the most important thing, then we are done for. Sadly, this happens all too often.

But we need to keep pressing forward on this journey of exploration, in the western world at least.
We have to meet people WHERE THEY ARE. An 18 year old kid is going to laugh at Mrs Jones, and the old church singing hymns. He's going to laugh at our 90's worship songs and bad hair.
But if he walks into a church, and is hit with a wall of passionate sound, a great atmosphere, well written, well played, interesting music, and a room full of friendly people passionate about God in 2010, he might stick around to ask a few questions. He might accept the invite to a life group that week.

And so if I was to summerize (probably not how you are meant to spell that), I would say this:
The Christian church worships the same God, now, yesterday, tomorrow, in 1963, 1930, 1980 and so on. The style doesn't matter. The heart does.

If you are a one who doesn't like the 'new' style, talk to your pastor and worship leaders. Let them know you concerns. But don't criticize them just because you don't like that style. After all, there are dozen of churches to choose from. Why attend one you don't like? But take the time to understand the heart of the leaders. Take the time to hear from them what they are all about. You may hate the music, but love the leader's heart. You can support them, even if you have to wear earplugs to church.
We do this stuff to try and reach our city with Gods' message of hope, love and grace.

and that is a thinking type thought that i have been thinking of with my thinking brain thing.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In-Ear Monitors

For those who don't know what I'm talking about, IEM's (In Ear Monitors) are a whole new approach for live sound monitoring.

So the old school way works like this: 

I'm standing, on stage, next to a drumkit, blasting away at full volume.

I'm playing electric guitar, and of course, the electric guitar makes no sound at all without an amplifier.
So I put my amp on a stand to get it up close to my ears, then I crank it up to an equal volume level as the drum kit, so I can hear it.

To complicate things more, I'm singing.
Obviously, next to a drum kit blasting away, and my guitar amp being a noisy noisy loud thing, I cannot hear myself sing, at all. So I need yet another sound source, a monitor speaker on the stage in front of me, with my voice fed to it, cranked up to an equal level as the drums.

It gets worse. For one song, I'm singing, but not playing guitar at all. For that song, I am singing solo with just backing from a keyboard.

I need to hear the keyboard, so I can sing (A) in tune and (B) in time, so that is fed into my monitor, and cranked up to an equal volume as my vocals. That all adds up to a lot of sound coming at me.

I've just painted a fairly bleak picture, but it gets even worse. On any standard Sunday, we have 8+ singers and musicians on stage, all with the same problems, all with blaring loud amps and stage monitors.

So what we have is a bunch of noise on stage. Everything has to be turned up LOUD, just so I can hear the bare minimum things that I need to hear to get my job as a worship leader done.

This is a thing we techos call (not very cleverly) 'Stage Volume' or 'Stage Wash'.

Now, stage volume doesn't sound good. The congregation hears it, but not directly, as the monitor speakers are pointing away from them.
By the time it gets to their ears, it's bounced off the roof and walls.
It sounds bassy, muddy, flat and just plain nasty. But still LOUD.

Now we introduce another element, our friend the FOH mixer or sound man/lady.
They have to create a mix for the congregation to hear clearly, but GLORY BE! the room is already filled with muddy, nasty stage sound bouncing around.

So they do the only thing they can do - turn the house sound up LOUDER. That way, the nice clear direct house sound covers up or masks the muddy stage sound. It sounds OK out front - but it is louder than it needs to be. This creates complaints from some people. And if you bring the volume down, it just sounds terrible. The vocals become soo muddy, you can't even tell what the words are half the time.
Just what we want in church, right?

WOW, you say. 'Ben, that is depressing. Is that really what you have to deal with as a sound tech?'

Yes. At. Every. Single. Gig. I've. Ever. Done.

But, thankfully, technology moves on. Enter, our savior, the IEM system!

The IEM system has three parts.

1) Transmitter. This bad boy takes a feed from the sound desk and converts it into radio waves
2) Receiver. This is a pack-of-cards sized, battery powered bodypack that you wear on your belt. It receives the radio signal from the transmitter
3) Ear Buds. These are tiny speakers that plug into your bodypack to play the music.
You can use cheap iPod headphones, good quality ones, or even have custom earpieces made up.

So that's how it works. Imagine everyone on stage has their own system. Now there are no monitor speakers or amplifiers on stage at all. If guitarists still want to use an amp, it can be side stage in a sound proofed box. All the musicians and singers can hear themselves in total clarity.

Because their is no speakers on stage, the stage noise is reduced to drums, vocals and acoustic guitar. Electric guitar, bass and keyboards, are all silent - except for in the muso's IEM.

Now the FOH soundie can breathe a sigh of relief - he/she no longer has to worry about all the mud and sloppy stage noise. They can build a nice simple, clean audio mix, at a MUCH LOWER volume, and everyone is happy. Heck, the congregation can even hear themselves sing over the ruckus now!

But there are other benefits as well.

So, returning back to my first illustration - let's take a look at those sound levels, shall we?

Standing next to a drumkit?  Approx 76 dB

+ loud guitar amp = Approx 82 dB

+ loud vocal microphone = Approx  88 dB

+ loud keyboard = Approx 94 dB

According to http://www.dangerousdecibels.org, 94dB can cause permanent hearing damage in an astonishing 60 minutes.
These audio levels are very normal on stages playing amplified church music. And we do hours on end!
Rock concerts can easily break 110 dB. So can a really loud ipod.
Yes, we are murdering our hearing week after week, hour after hour.

With IEM, the earbuds give you physical hearing protection against all the ambient noise, and you can have just what you need at a lower volume, right in your ears. You can easily get the noise down to 80ish dB - or even less.

I've noticed my hearing getting worse recently - I have to get people to repeat themselves occasionally. 
I'm hearing a constant high pitched ring in bed or very quiet places. 
After a full Sunday, playing 3 services + 2 rehearsals = total of 6ish hours of amplified music, my ears are sore, and the ringing is noticeable.

I've been playing amplified rock-style church music now for 10 years. 
I've been careful with my hearing, often wearing good quality earplugs, but clearly not careful enough. 
I'm 24 years old, an musician and sound engineer, and I'm already suffering hearing loss!

So I shelled out for a IEM system, on my own buck. Man, it has made a difference! 
After a full day of worship services on IEM, my ears don't feel trashed. They aren't ringing anywhere near as badly as they were before. And I've never heard my voice so loud and clear before. 
I'm singing more in tune, and I'm feeling more connected with the music while playing as well.
(The unit I brought is a Sennheiser IEM300 G2, if your interested) 

So, my mission is to share my knowledge. If you are gigging, please use hearing protection. 
If you can possibly afford IEM for yourself, do it. You won't regret it. 

And worship team family, you'll be glad to know, I'm working on a proposal for us here at EIC that will get the band on IEM, ASAP.




Monday, November 15, 2010

Chris Tomlin - boring?NO/Why we need to stop begging God for stuff, and praise Him more.

Sorry. I'm very far behind on blogs. Been busy!

This Sunday at EIC, we're going to introduce a new-ish Chris Tomlin song, 'Our God'.

I find Chris T an interesting phenomenon. The thing is, he's a little bit boring. (IMO only!)
The Hillsong and Planetshakers and Jesus Cultures and Israel H's of this world seem to be creating cooler, more energetic, more passionate music.

But every time we do a Tomlin song in our AM services, BANG, it just connects with people. The young ones, the middle aged ones, and even the young-in-heart-not-body ones.

I think it comes down to two factors.

1. Lyrics.
This guy's lyrics are pretty cliche. They aren't usually very clever. But they are always, always right. He constantly hits the same theme, song after song. His theme is GOD'S GREATNESS.

In todays world, half the worship songs seem to be inwards focused and almost a little bit selfish. (i.e. Holy Spirit Fill ME, touch ME give stuff to ME)
There is nothing wrong with that; Jabez asked for God's blessing, and he got it.  (1 Chronicles 4.10)
But I believe that our asking God for stuff has to be well balanced with our relationship with him.

X-rated I know, but if I suggest an intimate moment with my wife on a friday night, but haven't spent time time with her all week, haven't told her daily that I love her, haven't helped around the house, haven't listened to her problems, haven't prayed with her about tough situations in life ect, she will say a resounding NO WAY. And right she is.

Intimacy is a reaction and a reward for successful relationship.

So if we want intimacy with God (and who doesn't!) We need to work on our relationship with him first. Chris Tomlin clearly understands this.
And his lyrics totally reflect his remarkable attitude and focus on GOD.

His lyrics are love songs to God. Here are some snippets:

Indescribable, Uncontainable,
You set the stars in the sky and you know them by name,
You are amazing, God
Incomparable, Unchangeable,
You see the depths of my heart and You love me the same
You are amazing, God

Name above all Names
You are worthy of my praise
My heart will sing
How Great is Our God

Water you turned into wine
Opened the eyes of the blind
There's no one like You, God
There's none like You

You are the everlasting God
the everlasting God
You will not faint,
You won't grow weary

Song after song, it's straight up love songs to the Savior.
And these are the songs that build relationship with God.
We tell Him we love him. He starts working in our lives. Intimacy is achieved.
Our lives are changed from the inside out.

2. Music

E's a clever lad, Tomlin.

His music is a little boring. To me.
To Stan and June, honorary elders at our church, from a very different generation from me, his music seems very forward, and out there.
To our African and Samoan congregation members, his songs feel very lacking in groove.
To some of us white folks, we find they have a nice touch of groove.

So his music sits nicely in the middle. It won't offend anyone. It won't alienate anyone. Everyone can sing along, in unity. It might not be your favorite style, but I have yet to hear complaints about it.

So to sum up -

Chris Tomlin is writing really great worship music. We shouldn't write him off, just because he may not totally cutting edge.

And, most importantly, nothing to do with Chris Tomlin, we need to build relationship with God, before we can expect intimacy with Him.
We should also be careful to provide a sound that doesn't offend the majority of church goers.

Songs we choose on Sunday should reflect that.

Thanks to the Coach for his help pushing me and sharing his years of experience with me.