Shepherding the Band The value of people over production

#1 Hardest Lesson learned in worship ministry: PEOPLE are more valuable than a great worship set.

If I lead a worship set that is¬†ūüĒ•ūüĒ•ūüĒ•¬†and verbally destroy sound techs, drummers and singers in the process it is a NET LOSS in the KINGDOM of God.

Pastors, if you have a high capacity/high output “get it done” kind of leader they will aim to please YOU above the commission to love and care for the people they lead.

 

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. Find out more about how I can help your worship leaders and teams HERE.

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How To Talk To Your Sound Tech

A guide for worship leaders

In many churches, communication with the sound tech is a touchy subject. Most worship leaders can rattle off a list of offenses occurred from interactions from techs they have worked alongside. Likewise, most sound techs have countless horror stories of aggressive, diva musicians committing relational and technical fouls on stage before, during and after church services.

We must own, confess and repent for our part in relational damage with church techs; going forward, worship pastors and leaders must create a culture of honor, care and respect for those serving our sound. Click To Tweet

The solutions are more relational than technical (although gear runs a close second). Below are a few ways to engage your tech and make your church culture one that honors these valuable servants:

1.  Become Their Chief Encourager  

¬†Most technical people in church only get attention when something is wrong. Many have been shamed and ridiculed from the stage when things have gone wrong. Insecure musicians and communicators will often place blame on sound and media people from the stage.¬† Stop…. Right….. Now…. and ask God to reveal any techs from your past that you might have offended. Message, text, call and make it right.

After each and every rehearsal and service I strive to pinpoint a specific expression of kudos for the sound techs.

“Thanks for always being on time, it really makes a difference for us.”

“That kick drum sounded massive today!”

“The vocals were spot on tonight – I loved how easy you made it.”

“When you took time to help Sue with her bass amp, it really helped make the rehearsal go easy.”

Brand this phrase on your leadership heart: “what is rewarded is repeated.” This one concept has guided my leadership style more than any other in creating positive and healthy relationships in worship ministry.

2.¬†¬†Ask “How Can We Help?” vs. “Give me this or that!”¬†

Instead of thinking that the sound tech is there as your servant, ask how you can help them achieve the best sound. We are ALL serving Jesus on equal ground and this IS NOT a consumer/customer retail situation. Sound techs have dozens of variables involved at any given time and you have only one or two. Inviting their input will help build trust. Teach your band this idea too. Your players should be interacting with the sound tech with honor and respect vs. yelling or demanding.

“Jim, is there anything we can do to help you get what you need out there?”

“Dave, when you get a chance do you mind turning down the kick drum in my in-ears? Thank you.”

“Julie, please tell me which setting is better for you.”

When something is not working on your end with the sound or monitors, instead of blurting out your problem, wait until the tech is ready and let them know your need in a calm, non-anxious tone.

 

3.  Learn and Speak the LANGUAGE OF SOUND 

Worship leaders that know some of the language of sound will better be able to communicate with their techs. Spend some time Not Leading Worship (volunteer for sound team) and learn your soundboard basics. Ask questions and become aware of what it takes to make a band sound good in your room. Learn their language so you can communicate clearly. There is a lifetime of knowledge to learn here, but here are some basics:

Gain – A microphone or guitar needs extra power to make the sound go from the instrument, through the cables to the speakers. This amplification is called gain. Too much gain and the sound will distort, too little gain and the sound will be weak and hard to expand. If you notice the volume of your instrument going up or down in your ears the sound tech might be adjusting your gain.

Equalization (EQ) РMost instruments/voices will benefit from raising or lowering certain frequencies on the sound spectrum. You can and should know what a good EQ curve is for your instrument(s). 

Balance РThe relationships of the instruments with one another. Can you clearly hear the different parts of the mix while enjoying the whole mix? Getting multiple guitars, keyboards, and vocals to blend well will require a good exchange between the stage and sound.

A Sampling of Language 

The following are a sampling of phrases I might communicate with a sound tech during a rehearsal:

“Is there anything you need from us?”

“Sam, my voice just jumped in volume, are you adjusting gain, or is that something on my end?”¬†

“Jim, it sounds really good from up here, thank you!”¬†

“How’s the stage volume from back there, if we turn up will it be ok?”¬†¬†

“How well are the drums sitting in the mix from the congregation?”¬†

“How’s the vocal balance out there, is Jenny cutting though?”

MY BEST ADVICE

If you spend more time encouraging your tech than correcting them, you will build trust for the journey which will allow for excellence to flourish. Would love to hear any other tips or ideas you have on sound tech communication; how do you honor your techs in how you talk to them?

Training Opportunity for your sound techs: USE CODE SS15 for 15% off the Vineyard School of Worship Sound Summit in Columbus OH January 31-Feb 2, 2019.

Check out How to Talk To Your Drummer HERE

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. Find out more about how I can help your worship leaders and teams HERE.

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How to Talk to Your Drummer

A Guide for Worship Leaders

For many worship leaders communicating with your fellow musicians is a huge challenge. It can be very intimidating to give an opinion about an instrument you don’t play.

Since the drummer and the drumset play such a critical role in the overall sound of our bands, here are here are several ideas of how you can talk to your drummer.

1.  Learn the Names of Drums and Cymbals 

Throne – The stool the drummer sits on is called a “throne” – and no that’s not a joke! Most drum thrones are adjustable and you might suggest raising or lowering the throne if you have a new drummer or someone unfamiliar¬†with your church kit.

Kick Drum (aka Bass Drum) – This is usually the biggest drum on the drumset. It is hit with a pedal that has a beater attached. This drum has the lowest frequency of the drumset. It is a very important part of the overall sound. The bass guitar should interplay with this drum.

“Let’s really lay into that kick drum on this song.”¬†¬†

“Don’t play the kick at all during the first verse.”¬†

Snare – Equally as important as the kick, the snare drum is commonly what plays the backbeat (where you want to clap). Snare drums can be tuned high or low. Snare drums can be struck in the center and on the edge of the head for different tones. You can turn the snares (the metal strings that line the bottom snare head) on or off and they can be adjusted to rattle more or less. You can hit just the rim of this drum for a muted click sound that can be pleasing (this is technically called a “cross-stick” although some mistakenly call it a “rimshot” which is something else).

“Play the snare really loose on this section.”¬†¬†

“Maybe try a cross stick rim thing on this part?”¬†¬†

Hi-Hats – These two cymbals join together on a specialized stand that is hit with a stick or “chicked” by simply depressing the pedal with your foot. If your foot is pressed down hard these will have a quick, tight sound when struck,¬† the more you lift your foot the louder and more wild they become when struck. How “open” the hi-hats are when hit will DRASTICALLY alter the volume and perceived volume of the drumset.

“Can you close the hi-hats a bit more?”¬†

“What would it sound like if we just keep the hi-hat going during the chorus instead of ride?”¬†

Tom(s) – These drums are powerful for creating transitions between song parts. They are the most melodic elements of the drumset and can create pleasing (or irritating) rhythmic patterns.

“Let’s do a tom fill going into that outro.”¬†

“Lay off on the toms to open up space under that guitar solo.”¬†

Floor Tom(s) – This is the larger of the toms and can be used to create low-end power and energy. If you have subwoofers in your sound system then should be rocking when this drum is hit.

“Can you play eighth notes on the floor tom instead of the hi-hat?”¬†

Crash Cymbal(s) – These typically have shorter sustain and add an accent to song sections or transitions.

“I like that bigger crash on that intro.”¬†

Ride Cymbal – This is a complex cymbal that can have a “ping” sound or “washy” sound. The sound changes depending on where you hit it.

“Maybe a little more wash on this part and less ping?”¬†

Splash Cymbal – These cymbals are super small and provide a very high pitched and short sustaining accent.

“Can you take the splash cymbal home and never bring it back?”¬†

Chime Tree, Tambourine, and Shaker – Random percussion can add pleasing elements to the song selections. It’s common for a drummer to use a shaker for a verse section or for the whole song. You could use a tambourine laying on a floor tom for accents.

“You can only rake the chime tree only two times in this song… thank you.”¬†

“Let’s do a tambo hit on 2 and 4 instead of the snare for this section.”¬†

2. Learn and Speak the LANGUAGE OF RHYTHM for Drummers 

Kick, hi-hat, and ride cymbal rhythms are vital to the feel of the song sections. You might simply ask the drummer to “play busier” or “play simpler”, but if you know a more specific language, it would be helpful.

A Worship Leader’s Guide to Cleaning Toilets

From worship star to janitor in one day

“Learn the lesson that, if you are to do the work of a prophet,
what you need is not a scepter but a hoe.‚ÄĚ
Bernard of Clairvaux

There is a deep transformation that happens when cleaning up the waste of those you are leading in worship. This is my story of going from worship star to janitor in one day.

My story of going from worship star to janitor in one day. Click To Tweet

A couple of years ago, when I was about to finish up my prestigious¬†Master’s degree in Worship Studies, I got word that our church was making some cuts and had to let the cleaning company go and they¬†put me in charge of all church janitor duties. 15,000 square feet of carpet to vacuum, tile to¬†mop, walls to¬†dust, 20 trash cans to empty, and yes, 11 toilets¬†to clean. I thought for sure I would have written a hit worship song by now or maybe have an assistant¬†after all these years, but nope… I’m a 40-year-old¬†janitor/worship leader for a resource-strapped church. Sweet. Dream come true.

6 Strumming Tips for the Acoustic Guitar

The acoustic guitar is a wonderfully complex instrument with countless harmonic and rhythmic variables that can affect the overall mix of your band. Having played with over 30 worship teams in the past year, there is perhaps no greater musical dysfunction than the overplaying acoustic guitar player. If you play acoustic guitar in the worship band this video is for you:

 

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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My 12 Go To Apps for Worship Leading

Increasingly, I find myself pulling my phone out before, during and after worship gatherings. Not so much to update my social media, but for reference and support as a worship leader. Here are 12 helpful apps (admittedly, some of these are only shortcuts to websites that I save to my home screen) that I am using consistently in worship ministry.

1. ESV Bible

As worship leaders, we need to keep the word of God close to us. The ESV is the version of the Bible my church uses, so I keep this app handy. This particular app is free, well designed and functional. Some traditions might discourage reading from a phone on the stage, but I have found that it’s nice to have an illuminated screen and reading from a device models a great use of technology. Additionally, it models what real life might look like.

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

A Worship Leader’s Guide to Not Leading Worship

5 Big Ideas

ON STAGE

Whether you are a volunteer or paid worship leader, your influence within the¬†community is operating both on and off stage. What you choose to do and don’t do will impact your teams, future leaders, and your own family. Let’s consider a wider realm of influence¬†for our key leaders, one that takes into account more than just the “worship leading” role, which is vital. Leaders, consider these questions:

  • Do your teams get a chance to see you follow or are you always the boss?
  • Do you intentionally plan time away from the stage?
  • Does your church culture reward rest and simply being present?
  • When was the last time you took communion or received prayer at the altar? Are you always playing music or fixing issues?

NOTE: Although, this article is worship leader focused, these concepts can work across the board in kids ministry, preaching teams, and any conceivable team in the church.

Here are 5 PLACES you can lead, by not “leading”:

1. On the Stage, co-leading 

This is all about developing those around you. Train others to do everything you do. You could ask up and coming leader to run the rehearsal, lead the opening prayer, or facilitate the communion invitation. If you are interested in growth and discipleship, there should be several weeks throughout the year when you are simply supporting someone else who is leading. If music is your thing, form disciples as you make it!

BIG IDEA: Always be training someone to do everything you do. 

A Worship Leader’s Guide to Surviving and Thriving this Christmas

From Grinch to Glory

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As the Christmas season approaches the demands for those overseeing the worship experience in our faith communities multiplies exponentially. Just like others, our calendars fill up with parties, pageants, and family gatherings but unlike everyone else, as musicians, we are responsible for adding the soundtrack to the season. That means recruiting more volunteers, more prep time, more rehearsals, and more stress. If you are like me, EVERY Christmas in memory (since I was 5 years old) has some sort of production attached to the season. Every. Single. Year. This yearly rhythm can steal our joy and get us into a mode of just surviving the season.