By Steven Reed
While conducting training sessions across the U.S. and the world we have found that most worship teams’ solitary musical goal is to be able play the song just like the CD. While there are many great things you can take from a recording to help you lead your congregation – there are an equal amount of things that should just be left at your stereo. Here are 5 thoughts to keep in mind as you are preparing new music.
1. CD’s are for CD players
Each song for a CD must stand-alone and meet certain time restraints for radio consideration. Catchy musical intros, thundering guitar solos, and well orchestrated outros sound great on an album; however, when your goal is to get people to worship with you, these instrumental sections often turn willing participants into spectators simply because the congregation must wait for you to finish playing so they can be a part. When you add up how much time is spent on intros, solos, and outros it can add up to several minutes per song—over the course of a worship set that’s a lot of time spent working against yourself.
2. You’re you
Most worship teams do not have four electric guitar players, two keyboard players, and two vocalists like there is on the recording. Most teams have one of each instrument and many vocalists, yet that’s not how CD’s are put together. When a single guitar player tries to cover four different guitar parts and eight voices try to sing two parts – sonic chaos ensues. Many churches are trying their hardest to sound like someone else every week instead of simply sounding like who they are—themselves.
3. You’re not perfect and neither are they
CD’s must withstand the test of time—it’s listened to over and over for years and years and thus recordings are made to be perfect. Through the use of computers the drums are adjusted to be perfectly on beat, vocals are meticulously tuned to be on pitch, and the parts are performed repeatedly until they are exactly right—even “live” CDs are fixed and enhanced after the performance. There are so many adjustments being made that the people who you’re supposedly listening to are even unable to replicate the recording on their own. Small human deviations in tempo and timing can and often do add up to a big sonic mess when you are trying to mimic the complicated and very rhythmic computer enhanced parts that only sound good on the recording. Select parts that work for a group of humans—instead of machines.
4. The tools are not the same
Recordings are meticulously mixed by professional sound engineers over long periods of time and with multiple revisions. These engineers also have tools at their disposal that do not work for a live setting. On a recording instruments can be panned (placed) right to left to add clarity—if this same practice is done in an auditorium those on the left side would sound completely different to those on the right. The method for equalization on a CD is done by chopping out sections of the sound on each instrument to add clarity and the settings are all made just for that song. This method fails in a live setting because church services contain multiple songs with shifting instrumentations that demand a constant EQ. The result is that if you try to play the parts that sound great on a recording it will only sound cluttered simply because on the recording so much is being done to add clarity later.
5. Dressed to impress
Groups and/or individuals are not chosen by record labels because they are the best at leading people into the presence of God—they are chosen because they sell a lot of CDs. It’s an unfortunate reality of the Christian music business, but it’s something you have to keep in mind because recordings are put together to impress you. They often use showy instrumental parts and nonsensical words that sound awesome but when a church tries to emulate a recording that was never designed to be played live in the first place, the songs end up coming across as performance for performance’s sake, which may work well for personal devotion, but it looses some authenticity in a congregational setting.
Worship CDs are awesome and can be a great tool, but we need to know our goals and objectives for our services when looking at what to pull from recordings. Do we want background music as we welcome people or encourage them? Then play as much of the intro as you need in order to accomplish your purpose—don’t just do it because that’s how it is on the CD. Does the instrumental section take the people into a higher place of worship? If it does then by all means play it, but if it doesn’t—cut it. Is the only part of the song your congregation responds to the bridge? Then maybe just do that part.
Use the music as a tool to lead your people with your team. The funny things is, if you are successful at leading people into the presence of God, no one will care what it sounds like.
Steve and his wife, Shawn, travel full time to serve the body of Christ in the area of worship. They lead worship, compose and record, provide personalized on-site training for teams and churches, and teach on the subject of worship in English and Spanish.
www.steveandshawn.com – English
www.steveandshawn.com/es – Español