Worship Songwriting for My Church… and Your Church?

Our songs made available got me thinking

Transposable audio and chord charts for “How Glorious You Are” are now available on WorshipTeam.com! Worship directors, if you don’t use WorshipTeam.com consider using it to manage the craziness. It’s a better, more musical version of Planning Center.

It’s life-giving to lead your own church community in songs you create. It’s a gift and a wonderful feeling as an artist. I pastored the songwriters at VCC in Marietta GA for 18 years; we wrote 100’s of songs people actually liked and needed. We would press CD’s and make our songs available on the web with the hope that someone else would listen and enjoy what they heard.

If we are honest, in the worship songwriting world, the big “win” is learning that some OTHER church is singing your song… whoa! Not just listening… but teaching YOUR SONG to the drummer, putting the words you wrote in their power point, and encouraging others to sing along. It’s nice to know that we don’t just have to wait for the suits at the big Chrisitan record labels to spoonfeed us the next sugar sweet hit. This church songwriting thing is pretty life-giving and exciting. Hopefully, those songs are forming people rightly, making souls that think and act more like Christ. 


That previous sentence is the “right” answer and it took me a long time to get there. In my youth, my secret desire was to acquire a big house or more guitars with the success of my songs. At the core, what I really wanted was respect, honor, and influence. Some smart person told me I could get that stuff from other, more realizable sources! Now I’m just happy someone, anyone is listening – and maybe singing along 🙂 

Check out WorshipTeam.com for a FREE TRIALDownload, listen and sing to “How Glorious You Are” on iTunes and Spotify 

 

My name is Mike O’Brien and I am passionate about teaching and mentoring through music. My calling is to use my experience as a producer, worship leader, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist to come alongside musicians, helping them more fully worship God with their instrument and lives. Find out more how I can help your worship leaders and teams HERE.

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Designing Goals for Ministry Tech Teams

My article “Designing Goals for Ministry Tech Teams” is the cover story for Ministry Tech Magazine this month. You can view the article HERE. This is a complimentary piece to an existing article called Designing Goals for Worship Leaders. Share both of these resources with your worship leaders and ministry tech teams.

My name is Mike O’Brien and I am passionate about teaching and mentoring through music. My calling is to use my experience as a producer, worship leader, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist to come alongside musicians, helping them more fully worship God with their instrument and lives. Find out more how I can help your worship leaders and teams HERE.

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Recording as Discipleship

The Making of How Glorious You Are

FINISHING THE RECORD 

I co-wrote, produced and played on a live recording for my previous church in August 2015. Four months into production, I was let go from the church. Much of the process of finishing the album revolved around my ability to mix the songs on the cheap as an employee, so needless to say it was delayed. Working on this record after my departure felt like I was writing a love letter to an ex-girlfriend and having to mean it. Ultimately I had to finish it, because so many, including myself, had already invested so much. I want to share a little about this album and the creative community behind it to encourage churches to create record their own expressions of worship.

Creativity flourishes not in certainty but in questions. – Sue Monk Kidd

A WORSHIP TEAM WITH A NAME  

When the church planted 20 years ago we named the worship band “Poured Out Like Wine” because it sounded more sustainable than “Mike’s Praise Band”. Over that time we recorded 6 full lengths albums, 5 EP’s, and 5 singles. We built a studio in the church and trained hundreds of musicians, songwriters, and recording engineers over the years. You might call it “recording as discipleship”. We have has some limited success with royalties and labels publishing our songs, but we never had anything you could call a “hit”. No substantive reviews, nods or buzz. A long, slow, ordinary creative flow with hardly anyone noticing other than our church. This is where it gets interesting. In our little church, the worship leaders and songwriters have been saying something new for almost 20 years. With hundreds of our own songs weaved into the typical modern church liturgy, we have lived the dream week by week. Most artists would kill to have a couple hundred people in a room singing along to your song. It’s been good for all of us.

Each name on this CD jacket represents hours, months and years of discipleship. The songs have formed us, but more importantly, the hours spent creating together have formed us more into the image of Christ. 

SINGABLE VISION 

The preachers preach and the songwriters listen. We summarize the message into something memorable and singable. As the community embraces seasons of rejoicing or weeping, the songwriters are the attentive storytellers coming alongside the church to give voice.

HOW GLORIOUS YOU ARE 

This slow kingdom coming peeks into the world a little today the release of “How Glorious You Are”; the title track was written in between theology classes when I realized once again the centrality of Christ in worship. JR Rund and Wilfred Cuthbert bring their country leanings on “Songs of Joy” and “The Steadfast Love of the Lord”. Lauren Kamal wrote and sang (8 months pregnant) a deep reflection on the presence of God on “We Can’t Contain You”. “Oh Jesus” was written by our sound guy turned bass player tuned songwriter, Jonathan Hicks – it’s the most ‘Vineyardy’ song on the record. “Come Holy Spirit” is my favorite worship song I’ve ever written or recorded. It just says and does all the things I want a church song to do. I wrote the first song “One True God” when a really good friend told me he had quit Christianity – it’s the wrestling of doubt and faith against a Tom Petty chord progression. This is a very vocal record with all 6 singers (worship leaders) pretty much singing all the time.

For this recording, we used ALL local church people except for the drummer and mastering engineer. We made a 20K album for 3K! So many musicians gave up time at work and rehearsed hours and days to make this happen. We labored over the songs for months before setting them free.

You can buy the record HERE

You can STREAM the record everywhere

You can download the chord charts HERE

 

My name is Mike O’Brien and I am passionate about teaching and mentoring through music. My calling is to use my experience as a producer, worship leader, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist to come alongside musicians, helping them more fully worship God with their instrument and lives. Find out more how I can help your worship leaders and teams HERE.

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Removing Obstacles to Jesus

“One of our most important tech roles is to remove barriers between the people who attend our services and the one true God. Things like microphone feedback, missed cues, sloppy transitions, and poor grammar on presentation slides can all become unnecessary obstacles.” – Mike O’Brien

Click the image below to view my recent article in Ministry Tech magazine, “Removing Obstacles to Jesus”

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10 Hidden Songs for Advent

Worship in the Waiting

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I never fully understood Advent until my wife and I experienced seven years of infertility. During those years each Christmas was more difficult than the last. Underneath the bliss of parties and cheery songs hid a deep sorrow that was only welcome in the church.

Here is a quote from my friend Ryan Flanigan about the season:

…we put ourselves in the countercultural posture of silence and waiting. We refrain from the instantaneous gratification of getting whatever we want when we want. And we allow ourselves to feel our need for a savior.

For worship leaders and planners there is a beautiful tension we can highlight in the songs, visuals and prayers we oversee. As much as I appreciate the rich legacy of our Christmas Hymns, I love to search for (and create) new expressions that highlight the happy-sad season of Advent. Here are 10 hidden gems that people can and will sing during the Advent season.

Come Lord Jesus (A Song for Advent)
Diane Thiel-Sharp – Vineyard Worship USA 

The Sun Will Rise
The Brilliance

A WORSHIP LEADER’S GUIDE: Surviving and Thriving This Christmas {VIDEO}

Ten years ago, leading into the Christmas season I had a nervous breakdown as I was frantically preparing songs, dramas, and choirs for our medium sized congregation. The pressure of making Christmas “extra-special” for everyone nearly broke me. Below is a video of my story and a few ideas of how I reclaimed the Advent season. This is a VIDEO re-post of a previous text blog from last year.

My name is Mike O’Brien and I am passionate about teaching and mentoring through music. My calling is to use my experience as a producer, worship leader, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist to come alongside musicians, helping them more fully worship God with their instrument and lives. Find out more how I can help your worship leaders and teams HERE.

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Give Thanks to Your Tech Volunteers

Several years ago during a staff meeting I proclaimed aloud that I “cherished my volunteers”. Confused, some of the staff responded with “that’s not what we’ve heard!”. I was devastated because I thought I was doing a better job than I actually was. From that moment on I committed to better care for my volunteers with specific acts of gratitude. This month, my article “Give Thanks to Your Tech Volunteers” made the cover of Ministry Tech magazine! Check it out here:

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Creative Gear for the Worship Stage

Your Backstage Inspiration

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Drums. Bass. Guitars. Piano. Vocals…. what else????

After 20 years of leading worship in the contemporary church, I have acquired various musical instruments that have helped me develop musicians, challenge bored creatives, and inspire possibilities on the worship stage. Most church backstage areas have an excess of unused gear just collecting dust. I hate this! These unused instruments could be a pathway to new inspiration and opportunity.

There is a good chance most of your teams have under-challenged musicians that could use another instrument or two to wake them from their three-chord slumber. Adding new instruments will excite the band and elevate its sound. It will also inspire the congregation as they see and hear new instruments. Adding new instruments will require your musicians to be flexible, vulnerable, and courageous, but I found most musicians appreciate the challenge.

If the Church is the hope of the world and we are tasked with sharing that gospel of hope through music, why should our instrumentation be so limited? Here are some creative gear ideas that might already be hiding backstage:

IN YOUR BACKSTAGE AREA

  • Tambourines and Shakers – Extra percussion is a great tool to have for modern worship. Often times I will employ a horn/string player to use percussion on a song if it doesn’t call for their “normal” instrument. Background singers can also help out by adding percussion to a song. If you can clap in time, then you can play hand percussion. 
  • Hot Rods, Brushes + Mallets – Many times newbie drummers or folks that play with only one style of music will not have alternate sticks. I have found that in most 4-6 song sets could benefit from one or more stick changes depending on the song. Encourage all your drummers to have a variety of sticks, but the church should have some on hand. 

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  • Accordion – This is not a joke. I have lent out the church accordion to MANY keyboard players over the years. I encourage  them to search youtube for lessons and play along to a slow song using the keyboard (not the button) side. It’s a fun and life-giving musical tool to use for a song or two. Can sound like a pad or cello, not always polka. 
  • Ukulele and/or Mandolin If you have more than one  guitar player, often times I will ask one of those players to learn mandolin or ukulele and use it in a song or two. 
  • Cajon or Any Hand DrumI have trained up many drummers starting on hand percussion. They play along with the main drummer. As they get better I eventually have them trade seats with the drummer for the slow song. All of a sudden, I have more drummers! Check out Monk Drums, a very cool drum company that makes affordable custom cajon’s.
  • MelodicaIn Germany, they use this instrument to teach kids music. It’s a fun little piano that just about anyone can play. Don’t use it for every song or every week, but you can pull it out for a little inspiration. Keep the alcohol wipes handy.
  • Glockenspiel or Bell KitThese instruments add a loud and significant punch to melody or riffs on vamps. They get a workout at Christmas time! 

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  • Baritone and Hi-strung Guitars. Baritone guitars are tuned super low and sound in between a guitar and bass. They are fun and can work on some songs. High-strung or Nashville tuning is a way to string your guitar to make it sound “chimey“. If you have extra guitars hanging around the church, consider making one of them hi-strung.
  • Extra Snare Drums and CymbalsSince the snare drum and cymbals are so critical to the overall sound it’s nice to have some extra high-quality options for drummers to choose from. If you have better drums and options at church you will suddenly have more drummers! 
  • A Midi Keyboard Controller and Old LaptopI lent out an $99 midi keyboard and an old church laptop (with Reason and Garageband loaded) to a 10th grade homeschooler. She came back to church with pads, Rhodes, and all kinds of sounds loaded up ready to play. This stuff is no longer rocket science. CPU>USB Cable>Old Laptop>1/8″ cable>DI Box>Sound System. 
  • A Real Fender Rhodes Electric PianoThis is a popular sound that you hear on recordings and many keyboards already have a “Rhodes” sound built in. I have found it to be inspiriting to actually have the real thing on stage. They require some maintenance but really add to the overall expression of sound. You can usually find them on craigslist for $600-1000. 

NEW INSTRUMENTS IN PRACTICE 

  • Lead your drummer to use mallets on the cymbals for the slow part of the song to create dark orchestral swells to add emotion.
  • Ask your bass player to play the glockenspiel for a song that doesn’t need bass.
  • Instruct your drummer to use brushes on a slow 6/8 song to help create a softer element in a song.
  • Have your acoustic guitar player play the tambourine on their thigh like they are clapping.
  • Lend out your Cajon to a youth who has good rhythm, invite them to play the next week.
  • Strip down the stage to acoustic guitar, hi-strung acoustic guitar, accordion cajon and Fender Rhodes.

My name is Mike O’Brien and I am passionate about teaching and mentoring worship leaders and teams. My calling is to use my experience as a producer, worship leader, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist to come alongside musicians, helping them more fully worship God with their instrument and lives. Contact me to talk about how we can raise the bar through virtual or on-site training for your worship ministry.

Mike O'Brien - Worship Team Training and Development

Planning Silence in Worship {VIDEO}

Planning Silence

As we gather to worship consider adding a time of intentionally led silence. This practice is both historical and Biblical; silence could be one of the most “cutting edge” tools for modern worship in our sonically saturated culture. Check out the quick video below.

“Solitude and silence are not self-indulgent exercises for times when an overcrowded soul needs a little time to itself. Rather, they are concrete ways of opening to the presence of God beyond human effort and beyond the human constructs that cannot fully contain the Divine” –Ruth Haley Barton

My name is Mike O’Brien and I am passionate about teaching and mentoring worship leaders and teams. My calling is to use my experience as a producer, worship leader, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist to come alongside musicians, helping them more fully worship God with their instrument and lives. Contact me to talk about how we can raise the bar through virtual or on-site training for your worship ministry.

Mike O'Brien - Worship Team Training and Development