Thinking Out Loud

June 6, 2017

One Album: A Half Century Later

Filed under: Christianity, music — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:04 am

…He lost his life out on the street
He hadn’t noticed that the times had changed…

It was a very hastily written update of the song A Day in the Life written to be performed at our church coffee house in the wake of John Lennon’s death. Somehow I often landed the performance slot on the Friday night following some major events. The explosion of the Challenger space shuttle was another. I wish I could go back and redo those nights. I was a musician first and a youth pastor second, and it should have been the other way around. I think our friend Craig actually came up with the lines remembered above.

But all that came later. I’m getting ahead of myself…

Even though many other things that happened at that age are a bit of blur, I remember this one with great clarity. We had been to Sunday School and Church in the morning and drove directly to my Aunt Stella and Uncle Dave’s house for the afternoon. I was still in my little boy suit with the white shirt and clip-on tie. Arriving at their home, my four cousins were all in t-shirts and jeans. I had no clothes to change into.

They were older and had been to the record store to get the album. “We got the album;” people would say the next week, and you knew they meant that album. There was no other album.

When I was older and got my own copy I would listen to it through headphones with the volume turned up high. One time I didn’t realize my parents had gone out, and I sat in the basement in complete darkness and one of my friends dropped in; saw that the house was unlocked but noted the glow of the rather large VU meters on my oversize stereo system. He called my name from the door of the basement, but I didn’t hear. So he put his hands on my shoulder. I screamed like a girl. He said I jumped about a foot in the air.

But all that came later. I’m getting ahead of myself…

So there I was with my cousins, and without the benefit of headphones or anything close to what I would have considered ideal volume, the album was on continuous play all afternoon, with the exception of course of changing it from Side 1 to Side 2.  “We’re Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; we hope you will enjoy the show.”

Before I got married, I did a camp show; traveling to Christian summer camps and doing a mix of bad comedy and music.

What would do if your cow would not moo?
And your turkey refuses to gobble?
Where do you go when your rooster won’t crow?
And you can’t get your duck to waddle?

Oh, I get by with a little help from my hens.

Ah, Beatles songs. Parodied endlessly, I’m sure. The highest form of flattery, as they say.

But all that came later, I’m getting ahead of myself…

So I’m at my cousins’ house and I’m just a kid, so I’m not thinking that Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds is about drugs, but I do have a sense that somebody might have been taking something when they wrote it. I’m Fixing a Hole. When I’m Sixty-Four. Lovely Rita… I had to ask questions about the job of a “meter maid” and what is “a hogshead of real fire” and as a kid try to figure out the logic of, “It really doesn’t matter if I’m wrong I’m right.”

Later Joe Cocker would sing A Little Help from my Friends and it would be used as the introduction to The Wonder Years and we’d all be a bit older and look back and realize those really were the wonder years, but not anywhere like we’re looking back now and typing this with a tear in one eye.

But all that came later, I’m getting ahead of myself…

So I sat uncomfortably in my grey wool pants and tweed jacket and white shirt buttoned to the neck with my clip-on tie partially falling off, and the music was a soundtrack to the afternoon, to the snacks, to my Aunt Stella’s glasses of ginger ale, to my Uncle Dave stretched out on the entire sofa watching a football game with the sound turned off, while cats and dogs came and left the room and the album just playing over and over. It was the music of our times, with Wikipedia noting that one critic called She’s Leaving Home “equal to any song that Schubert ever wrote.” 

And my cousins never left the room. Taking turns holding the 12″ record’s jacket and liner and reading every word as though it imparted some supernatural or spiritual message. They passed the album cover to me and I looked at it and though my record collection at that point was more children’s music, novelty albums and hymn collections; I knew I wanted a copy. In my mind I was saying, ‘I will own you someday.’

…Music changed significantly with that album. Pop music’s unit of currency became the album, not the single. Production values increased geometrically. Songwriting for all bands of that era moved from “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah” to more complex themes with both historic and pop culture references. It matured and held out the promise of even better music tomorrow.

A splendid time was guaranteed for all.

 

April 30, 2017

A Cynic Looks at Modern Church Music

The first time I heard a bridge added to a traditional hymn was the addition of Wonderful Cross to When I Survey. I don’t know if I took to it the very first day, but I certainly grew to like it quickly, and as a worship leader, I’ve since used the Wonderful Cross section with the hymn Lead Me To Calvary, where it also works well.

Modern worship music has been greatly influenced by popular songs. Whereas a hymn generally just has either stanzas, or follows a verse-and-chorus format; modern worship will use introductions, bridges, codas, etc., and is often more prone to key changes.

Amazing Grace is another example. My Chains are Gone is certainly a suitable addition, I don’t challenge the musical or lyrical integrity of it by itself, or its fit with the time-honored verses that precede it.

To make the bridge stand out — or I prefer to say break out — musically, some of the chord changes in When I Survey or Amazing Grace are made more minimalist so that the declaration in the bridge introduces a powerful, triumphant transition. “Oh, the Wonderful Cross!” “My chains are gone, I’ve been set free!”

If I had a similar idea a few years ago, I would have positioned my finished work as a medley, not a new arrangement, but the chord changes necessitate the piece to be considered a re-write. And the original composers aren’t around to protest.

So it was only a couple years back when someone more cynical than me — yes, it’s possible — suggested that perhaps the motivation for doing this was financial. Then it was more than one person. Freshly re-minted songs that were formerly public domain can be performed with mechanical royalties (album and print music sales) and performance royalties (concerts, radio, television and even CCLI playlists your church submits) flowing to the composer. Nice work if you can get it.

I remembered something from years ago when I was working in Christian television. Unlike radio which used random station logs as representative samples, TV royalties were based on all logs from all stations all the time. When the ministry organization in question received some rather meager royalty checks for some tunes they had written, a situation emerged where (and this is a fairly direct quote from someone close to the process), “People who had never written a song in their entire lives suddenly found songs pouring out of them on a regular basis.” He was highly skeptical.

So economics can indeed be a wonderful motivator. I’m sure that the person who decides to modify an existing hymn or do a fresh arrangement takes time to study the lyrics and I’m not saying that some of these people don’t do this prayerfully, both before and after the process. 

Yes, I’m a cynic when it comes to such things. But you have to admire the ingenuity of finding a way to get royalties from songs heretofore part of Public Domain. A combination of total disdain and ‘Why didn’t I think of it?’

Occasionally these improvements to existing hymns simply don’t work. They involve a change in lyrical theme or rhythm or melody so as to constitute an unwelcome intruder. Like the guy who brings his accordion to worship team practice. Or the guy who wears a Hawaiian shirt to a funeral. 

Other times I fear that a generation of church musicians is being raised up to assume that this is how it’s done, and that adding bridges to existing hymn literature is the modus operandi of worship song composition.

But honestly, sometimes these new hymn versions can be the gift that keeps on giving. If the revenue is being plowed back into ministry, that’s great. Scripture tells us that we shouldn’t “judge the servant of another,” though honestly, I now find the cynicism was, in my case, somewhat contagious. But I’ll continue to “believe the best” that the starting place for adding a bridge or changing the chord structure of a song isn’t motivated by economics.

I hope you’ll do the same.

HCSB Prov 16:2 All a man’s ways seem right to him,
but the Lord evaluates the motives.

April 20, 2017

How Do You Spell Determination?

There’s an audio clip at the end of this post which may or may not interest some of you. What I want to focus on is not only what’s on that 16-minute audio but also how it came to be there.

The bookstore my wife and I own inadvertently sponsored a YouTube channel. I mean that in the sense that we wanted to call it “The Lost Song Collection” and post songs from the Jesus Music era, a term referencing the days before CCM was called Contemporary Christian Music. Things nobody else had posted. Things sourced from vinyl records. But before we knew what we were doing, the channel had been named after the bookstore and it was too much of a hassle to change it.

One of the things we posted there was a demo of a Christian radio show from that time period, “A Joyful Noise” by Frank Edmondson under the on-air name Paul Baker. But I also wanted to include another I owned, “The Rock That Never Rolls” with Dale Yancy aka Brother Dale.

This was a demo of a Christian radio show from the ’70s that would be scheduled on non-Christian radio stations which at the time had obligations to include public service or religious content, but didn’t want to lose their regular listeners with programming that was uncool. Program demos like this did not include songs, or if they did, the songs were “telescoped” to allow station Program Directors to hear a variety of content in a short time. The show originated in Burlington, VT.

At the time this was produced, the show was airing in Chicago, Montreal, San Diego, Raleigh, Tulsa, Cincinnati, Dallas, Nashville and Honolulu. The show included interviews, comedy, music and mock commercials. It was sent to me back in the day because we were hoping to find a way to bring the show to Ontario. I really wish there were more shows like this today, though Brant Hansen’s work comes to mind.

I looked high and low for my copy of this. It had been sent to me on a five-inch reel-to-reel in a box with a bright green sticker, but I couldn’t locate it, and wasn’t sure what I would do anyway, since the R2R machine has been sitting under my desk unused for 25+ years.

But I knew I had a cassette of it, which, thanks to a flooded basement, we found last week. The problem was, the cassette was jammed and then broke. Fortunately, my wife is very determined.

First, she tried to loosen up the tape in the cassette housing, and when that didn’t work she broke the tape free of the plastic case. At that point I thought the project was doomed. Then she tried to spool the tape off so she could load it into another case, but it kept sticking. So she soaked the tape in water to loosen it up and then spooled the cassette tape on to an empty film canister, and then reloaded into the other housing, sealed the case and placed it in a cassette player and converted it to digital. There are some skips where part of the new cassette continued to jam, but the overall sound quality is surprisingly good for something which survived a flood.

There are probably archaeologists who haven’t gone to as much trouble to reconstruct a relic as Ruth did to restore this. Or crime scene investigators. (Please do not start mailing us your problem cassettes.) I wish we’d taken some pictures.

My wife hates to back down from a fight. And she knew it meant a lot to me. That’s the main thing; she knew it would make me happy. So she took a half day to attempt what I considered impossible. And she knew that if I thought the radio show was all that interesting, someone else might as well. 

I guess radio shows like this really mattered to me back then. While radio isn’t a force in either evangelism or introducing new music as it once was, this represented a golden age for what was then Jesus Music. You never knew who was listening and stories abounded of people who credit their life turnaround to randomly tuning the AM or FM dial.

So how do I spell determination? R-u-t-h. She pulled it off after all. I should never have doubted!

Sit back and travel back in time and enjoy, The Rock That Never Rolls: The Sound of Eternity…

The video ends with some classic KYMS radio jingles which were on the end of the cassette.

February 3, 2017

Review: The Worship Pastor by Zac Hicks

Zac Hicks should write a novel. In his book The Worship Pastor: A Call to Ministry for Worship Leaders and Teams (Zondervan) he proves himself as a master of analogy. Not one or two, but more than a dozen comparisons between the person you might see on the stage at weekend services leading us sung and spoken worship, and other ministry and non-ministry occupations with which you are familiar.

the-worship-pastorThe need for these comparisons is simple: Worship leaders wear many hats. Those who are paid full-time to do this vocationally at larger churches are definitely multi-tasking, but even in smaller congregations, the task of directing us, as well as leading the worship team itself, is multi-faceted.

For that reason, I would argue that for those who perform this function, this is a book that will be referred to on a constant, ongoing basis. The Worship Pastor is basically an encyclopedia of everything related to the responsibility of planning and executing what is, in many of our churches, up to if not more than half of the total service time.

The author has been writing at his blog, ZacHicks.com since May of 2009. His bio notes that he “grew up in Hawaii, studied music in Los Angeles, trained in Philosophy and Biblical Studies at Denver Seminary, and his current doctoral work is in the theology and worship of the English Reformation. Zac’s passions include exploring the intersection of old and new in worship and thinking through the pastoral dimensions of worship leading.”

Indeed, the brilliance of the book is his ability to speak to two vastly different audiences: Those leading in a traditional, liturgical setting, and those serving in a modern, free worship environment. In both cases those leading have more in common in than they realize, and face many of the same challenges.

Back to the analogies. At the book’s website, these are spelled out and it helps you understand the book best to restate them here:

Chapter 1: The Worship Pastor as Church Lover
Chapter 2: The Worship Pastor as Corporate Mystic
Chapter 3: The Worship Pastor as Doxological Philosopher
Chapter 4: The Worship Pastor as Disciple Maker
Chapter 5: The Worship Pastor as Prayer Leader
Chapter 6: The Worship Pastor as Theological Dietician
Chapter 7: The Worship Pastor as War General
Chapter 8: The Worship Pastor as Watchful Prophet
Chapter 9: The Worship Pastor as Missionary
Chapter 10: The Worship Pastor as Artist Chaplain
Chapter 11: The Worship Pastor as Caregiver
Chapter 12: The Worship Pastor as Mortician
Chapter 13: The Worship Pastor as Emotional Shepherd
Chapter 14: The Worship Pastor as Liturgical Architect
Chapter 15: The Worship Pastor as Curator
Chapter 16: The Worship Pastor as Tour Guide

The title of the book (reiterated in each chapter) also deserves a second look. Hicks clearly sees the job as pastoral and would have those who serve in this capacity see it as nothing less. For those of us who have been criticized by pastors who felt their toes were being stepped on by a music director wanting to express this type of role in the statements, readings, and off-the-cuff remarks on a Sunday morning, this book grants them the authority to pursue their calling as a pastoral role. 

I couldn’t help but note that for a book written by a musician, this one definitely builds to a crescendo in its later sections. 

Wondering about that 12th chapter? “Death is the unspoken anxiety of North American culture…Our people bring all those fears right into the services we plan and lead. Each week, death is the biggest elephant in the sanctuary.” That one was fun reading. (Full disclosure, the chapter also deals with worship directors called upon to assist with funerals.)

Chapter 14 is actually a high point in the book and one that is anticipated throughout earlier sections. We’re presented with a worship flow (my word, not his) which then maps onto various liturgical and contemporary church service models, from Vineyard to Anglican.

But what about choosing some songs? Hicks doesn’t get around to anything as pedestrian as song selection until Chapter 15, and he does it in a rather unique way: By calling on the various ‘people’ in the previous models he is basically asking us to consider what songs ‘they’ would choose. (As a practitioner, I once commented that a longtime worship leader has heard about 5,000 compositions, but song selection isn’t about the five songs you choose, but the 4,995 you have to leave out.) He applies this also to choosing prayers (and how they are worded) and considering transitional segments.

Through the use of illustrations from the author’s experience, this book is accessible to all, however having said that, I believe it is also written at a somewhat academic level, thus I would expect The Worship Pastor to appear in textbook lists for worship courses. For those who want to go deeper, the footnotes represent a vast array of literature which sadly ended up on the cutting room floor. I would love to see Hicks explore those writers in greater detail. (The Worship Pastor: Director’s Cut, perhaps?)

My recommendation? This should be required reading for both worship leaders, singers, musicians, and senior pastors.


zac-hicksThanks to Miranda at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for an opportunity to read The Worship Pastor. Any physical resemblance between Zac Hicks (pictured here) and Steven Curtis Chapman is purely coincidental.

January 6, 2017

Nothing But the Blood

Virtual Choir Video with International Participants

Yesterday we had a eight-hour internet outage. Up to that point, I had been working on this afternoon’s devotional for Christianity 201, in which I wanted to share the following video and then find a Bible study based on this traditional hymn. Everything was almost ready to go, but then I needed the link for the video itself, and not wanting to overtax the temporary internet my wife rigged up through her phone, I decided just to copy and paste the link from here at Thinking Out Loud.

And that’s when I discovered it.

What, I haven’t yet posted this here? How could I not? (The answer is simple; sometimes when you’ve put something on other platforms, you think you’ve covered them all.)

Previously, I introduced you to David Wesley’s music and his album, Basement Praise. Then later, I helped spread the word about his seasonal album, Simply Christmas. I’m also positive we’ve shared with you his YouTube channel in various link lists.

But this project was different. The virtual choir video was produced, as the saying goes, right in my own backyard with participants in Australia, Germany, India, The Dominican, South Africa, Northern Ireland, Netherlands, Greece and the U.S. and Canada.

We got to hear this arrangement performed last spring with a worship team combining with a Salvation Army band in three packed joint services with nine different churches participating. Since this video released, I’ve listened to it over and over and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I have.

December 11, 2016

When Down is Up: There is No Higher Calling Than to Kneel at His Feet

Over the course of the seven years I’ve been doing Christianity 201, we’ve often included a worship song which ties in to a particular devotional. Often, after much time has passed, I’ll notice that search engines are sending considerable traffic to particular items there, and the comments often indicate it’s because of the song.

That’s the case here. I originally knew the song connected to Lenny LeBlanc, but didn’t know it had been recorded by Maranatha! Music.

The actual title is “No Higher Calling,” but you may remember it as “Down At Your Feet, Oh Lord.”

Down at Your feet oh Lord
Is the most high place
In Your presence Lord
I seek Your face
I seek Your face

There is no higher calling
No greater honor
Than to bow and kneel before Your throne

I’m amazed at Your glory
Embraced by Your mercy
Oh Lord I live to worship You

Greg Gulley & Lenny LeBlanc
© 1989, 1999 Doulos Publishing (Maranatha! Music [Admin. by Music Services])

The video version here is a little more “polished” than I remember this song; I appreciate worship that is a little more “raw” than this. But it’s a great song worthy of some updated exposure.

“I’m amazed at your glory; embraced by your mercy…”

Do you have a worship song which especially resonates with you? One that was especially meaningful at a particular season of your life? A song that you just haven’t heard in a long, long time and it suddenly turns up on a playlist?

►►Bonus video: Here’s another version of No Higher Calling.

December 8, 2016

Worldwide Shortage of Christian Book Titles Continues

Other customers also got confused:

Lynette Eason’s Without Warning is the second book in a series and released a few weeks ago. Joel Roseberg’s Without Warning is coming in March, 2017.

without-warning-books

This sort of thing happens a lot.  In 2013 it was two music releases:

But 2016 has been a particularly rough year, especially this fall:

unashamed2

However, it’s clear that some Christian musicians didn’t quite grasp how to play the game:

where-the-light-gets-in-and-shines-through

Personally, I’m guessing the light gets in through the same hole it gets out (or shines through.)

So why or how did I discover the forthcoming Joel Rosenberg release? Because they were using the same hashtag on Twitter at the same time this week. Does nobody check these things? Where are the social media savvy types who are supposed to know what they’re doing? 

Let us know if you spot any Christian publishing or music sources of confusion.

November 18, 2016

Indie Music Doesn’t Come Cheap: A Balance Sheet by Recording Artist jj heller

Christian music artist jj heller (usually not written using capital letters) has just produced a Christmas album, Unto Us (nothing but capital letters when she types it.) Many of you know her music, but instead of talking about the songs, she posted the following on Facebook which gives readers such as you and I some insights into the costs of making an album independently. If you’ve ever helped crowd-fund a project like this and wondered where the money goes, this might help. (In fairness, Facebook doesn’t offer italics!)


As you may or may not have seen, this past Friday (11/11/16) was the fruition of months of hard work on my new Christmas album, UNTO US (my 10th full-length record of my nearly 13-year career as a full-time musician). I have an incredible network of fans who are willing to support my music, and over 2,000 Kickstarter backers helped fund the making of UNTO US this summer.

Even though I’m an independent artist, I can still make a record of the same quality as a signed artist. I tracked in the same studios and hired the same producers, musicians and studio engineers a record label would hire. But, because I don’t have a label I’m responsible to pay all of these talented people. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love the freedom this allows me, and this arrangement lets me create music and recordings which are consistent with who I am as an artist and a person.

The $81,000 pledged this summer made UNTO US one of Nashville’s top 25 most-funded Kickstarter campaigns to date, and I definitely count it as a success. However, just like most things in life, there’s more complexity beneath the surface. So before you picture my husband, Dave, and me counting our piles of money like Scrooge McDuck, let me pull back the curtain as we look at the breakdown of the expenses associated with the making of UNTO US.

THE NUMBERS BEHIND A SUCCESSFUL CAMPAIGN

$81,071 in pledges looks very impressive doesn’t it? I think so too.

Of course, Kickstarter needs to make money to keep their lights on, their staff paid and their website up and running. KICKSTARTER’S FEE = $4,023.

Kickstarter doesn’t process the credit card payments. They hire another company to do that. THE FEE FOR PAYMENT PROCESSING = $2,827.

We also needed to make sure the campaign was seen by lots of my fans over the course of the month of the campaign. THE FEE FOR FACEBOOK ADS $6,300

When it came time to charge the credit/debit cards of Kickstarter backers, there are often failed transactions and this resulted in $605 in lost revenue from PLEDGES THAT COULDN’T BE FULFILLED BY BACKERS.

Add all these deductions up and the fees come to -$13,756.

unto-us-jj-hellerTOTAL LEFT FOR THE MAKING OF UNTO US = $67,315

Making the record over the course of several months meant paying for the time of producers, engineers, studios, and musicians.
COST OF EVERYTHING YOU HEAR ON UNTO US = $49,400

I really want my records to look good, and this means paying for graphic design, photography, styling, clothing, hair, makeup and nails.
COST OF ALL DESIGN EXPENSES = $6,000

CDs and booklets were printed and assembled, then shipped to us. The album was also submitted to digital distributors (iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, etc.).
COST OF MANUFACTURING/DISTRIBUTION EXPENSES = $8,570

Kickstarter rewards needed to be sent to backers in bubble mailers or boxes. Additional rewards needed to be designed as well. Plane tickets, rental car, hotels were purchased for two Kickstarter reward concerts.
COST OF KICKSTARTER REWARDS FULFILLMENT = $8,600

Promotion for the album included the creation of four lyric videos, the purchase of stock footage, video editing, location fees, website placements, publicist, more Facebook ads, and radio promotion.
COST OF PROMOTION EXPENSES SO FAR = $11,550

TOTAL EXPENSES FOR “UNTO US” = $84,120

If you’re keeping score, this leaves a deficit of $16,805 of additional expenses which we paid from our own pocket.

Keep in mind, Dave and I spent hours songwriting and discussing which popular Christmas songs should go on the record. We met with our producers to discuss how the project should eventually sound. I haven’t factored any of our time off the road making the album, or the cost of childcare into these calculations.

IT’S STILL WORTH IT

I didn’t make this tally to make anyone feel sorry for me. I get to make music for a living, and I love it! I just want to show whoever reads this post that making a professional-sounding record is a VERY EXPENSIVE endeavor. As digital streaming makes listening to music INCREASINGLY LESS EXPENSIVE for the listener, independent artists like me are depending on our fans more than ever.

This career is something I’m called to. It’s fulfilling, hard, rewarding and scary sometimes, but I can’t see myself doing anything else right now. UNTO US was a labor of love. I’m so proud of the musical moments we created in the studio, and I love imagining thousands of families creating Christmas memories with my music as a soundtrack.

My hope in breaking these figures down is that it provides a small window into the creation of the music we often take for granted. Buying a digital album for $10 is the equivalent of streaming one song over 2,000 times (over 116 hours of listening!). On behalf of all artists, especially those of us who are independent, we hope you will choose to invest in music you believe in.

*jj and dave heller

October 1, 2016

Three Christian Songs Which Impacted The UK Charts

Filed under: Christianity, music — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:55 am

When a Christian artist in England goes public, it has a much greater impact on the general music market than anything sometimes termed crossover does in the U.S. Name your favorite Christian artist here — Casting Crowns, Chris Tomlin, Third Day, etc. — and you’re sure to find people outside the capital ‘C’ Church who’ve never heard of them. But in England it’s been a different story.

Here are three songs that would have been on the radar of any British music buyer in the era in which they were released, starting with a personal favorite from one of my favorite bands, After the Fire (ATF). The ultimate post-modern apologetic, except it was written years before.

For Cliff Richard, I was tempted to include Millennium Prayer, because it went to #1, but decided Christmas is close enough for Little Town, which made it to #11 in 1982. But at the last minute, I switched to Savior’s Day, which is less known in the U.S.

And then there’s U2, Ireland’s best known musical export that we don’t usually think of as a Christian band, but there’s no denying their scriptural content.

What about more recent songs? Do Christian artists in the UK still enjoy the same impact? If anyone has some suggestions for three more songs for next Saturday, I’d like to include them.

September 4, 2016

CCM: Where it All Began

Next time you’re in the music department of a Christian bookstore, or listening to 20 The Countdown Magazine, realize you’re seeing/hearing the after effects of a movement which goes back a couple of generations. Today’s featured videos are all from the same YouTube user channel, Donald Gordon, Jr.











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