We end our series of extra posts this week with two songs that celebrate the risen Christ. First, Paul Baloche and then Tim Hughes.
We end our series of extra posts this week with two songs that celebrate the risen Christ. First, Paul Baloche and then Tim Hughes.
Another lifetime ago, I worked extensively with both live auditorium sound and mixing in a recording studio or television studio environment. I wrote articles to try to make that world a better place, and there’s one — this one — that I always wanted to repeat here but couldn’t find the original copy. Today that changes. These aren’t written for the sound tech guy who is employed full time in a megachurch and oversees dozens of volunteers. Rather, this is for the guy in the small to medium church who does this on weekends and has to endure the “neck crane” stares of parishioners when something goes wrong.
Mistake #1: Failing to set the monitor level first.
If the platform or stage monitors are working at all, they can be heard from the console with the main speakers turned off. While musicians and speakers will ask for these be more finely adjusted, they can be set to a respectable level and the entire system tested through the monitors before the main speakers are brought into play. A two-person team is a better minimum crew, but you can get more done from the back than you realize.
Mistake #2: Failing to use ‘middle balance’ on equipment.
Microphone and media inputs need to be calibrated with the main output level so that equipment is operating best in the middle of the range available. Levels for multiple singers should be “matched” through proper attenuation even before the monitors and main speakers are turned on. If the whole system is running too hot, levels may appear to be low. Sometimes it’s necessary to go beyond the sound board and reconsider the main amplifiers levels, which are often at the level when the system was installed. If the system is too cool, individual channels have to be turned up higher. Professional operators like to keep things around “7” (not “5”) for better fade-ins and fade-outs.
Mistake #3: Channel clipping
This was often heard back in the days soloists would sing with soundtracks. The song would have a wonderful, professionally-produced sustained chord at the end, and the soloist would replace her microphone on the stand and the pastor would get up, and the sound person, in a total panic, would just cut the track. Not even a fade. Of course sometimes, you’d get the opposite, the person whose turn was next would feel they couldn’t move until the track played out and they’d stand there like a deer caught in the headlights. The point is that channel clipping still happens, especially with increased use of video clips.
Mistake #4: Misreading the house
This error falls into one of two categories: Either the sound person is placed in a part of the auditorium that doesn’t represent the acoustics the average audience member is experiencing; or the sound levels were set in an empty room and a now full house is simply absorbing a measurable portion of the sound. (In northern states and Canadian provinces, this actually increases if people bring winter coats to their seats.)
Mistake #5: Mixing by fader only
Anyone can turn up the volume. To do the job well, one has to listen to the tonal balance and set equalization positions on each individual channel. This is where a philosophy degree is helpful. For example, let’s say the soprano singer’s voice borders on shrill. Do you try to suppress that, or do you allow the tonal filters to let through what the music director must have liked when he auditioned her? You can’t just turn down her high end so she sounds like an alto. Some people were taught you don’t touch the EQ on the channels once the program begins. I disagree. Can’t hear the words? Try turning up the high end to enhance to consonants and make word-definition clearer. Use the mid-range to bring out the vowels. Turn up the bass to add richness and rhythm. Don’t make major changes in the middle of a song or sermon, but feel free to make small adjustments. Just make sure your speakers are handling this without distortion — especially with bass — and make sure fader levels are brought down when tonal filters are opened up. Also, have the overall EQ of the room checked every 3-4 months using whichever method you prefer, a white noise generator or a spectrum analyzer.
Mistake #6: Not explaining equipment to users.
Even a well-seasoned audio guy needs to be told as if he’s never seen the equipment before. When it comes to platform participants, this doubly applies. It’s also good to go over basic care of the board and microphones, and reminding soloists not to point mics toward monitors, cup hands over mics, and not leaving mics on the floor. Do your mics have switches? Make sure they remember this. Does the pastor need to switch on his cordless mic? This often saves batteries, but so many times speakers are intent about their sermon content and forget this important step.
Mistake #7: Playing the wrong media.
Anything that needs to be inserted into a machine during the course of the program needs to be well labelled. Back in the day, tape machines had a zero-reset that could be used to cue things to the start point and avoid “dead air.” Digital media solves many of these problems, but introduces new ones. If the video isn’t going to be used until 24:00 into the service, the machine may shut down after 20:00. Furthermore, some media requires greatly different EQ-ing and balancing than other line inputs. The more video you have, unless you have a discrete channel and playback source for each, many things can mess up. I would argue you can’t do video clips in the modern church without an audio production assistant.
Mistake #8: Not balancing between singers and accompaniment.
We’re in the communication business. People need to hear what is being said, both through spoken word and through music. So you need to decide: Is the singer too quiet or is the band too loud? This is complicated often by the age and musical taste of the person doing the mix. Different generations have different ideas about what sounds right. Also, the modern church will often post the words on the screen, even for a solo. That doesn’t preclude getting the mix right.
Mistake #9: Failing to bring out the melody.
This combines with the mistake above especially if there is more than one singer. The melody (the tune if you prefer) must dominate over the harmony. In a higher class of music, sometimes the melody is passed from the soprano to the the tenor. You may need more detailed cue sheets for this type of song. Or better yet, have a musician sitting next to you at the console providing visual cues. Or best, attend a rehearsal.
Mistake #10: Not paying attention.
Details, details, details! (Some would say, Coffee, coffee, coffee!) You need to be on top of your game making sure channels are opened at the right time (and also closed when they’re not needed) and to do this you need be eying the platform like a hawk. If there’s a cue you need to see and you can’t because of lighting or distance, I wouldn’t eliminate having a pair of binoculars at the console.
…Years and years later, I was amazed that these ten rules still apply. True, I took out references to tapes, but overall the problems and challenges remain consistent. I also had an additional bonus ten, but surprisingly they didn’t apply. (The piece about misuse of Dolby was fun to read; and it did remove a lot of crispness from many singers’ soundtracks.) There were however two things in that list I felt worth mentioning:
Concern #1: Keep sound consistent from week to week.
The only way to ensure this is with a decibel meter. Decide what your peak levels are going to be for music — you also don’t want it really quiet one week either — as well as the sermon. With sermons, there is a level at which the preacher is shouting and people don’t absorb what’s being said. Equally problematic however, is when the audience is straining to get the words because the level is too low. Don’t forget item #5 above as well with speakers. The high end (treble) will bring out the consonants and make the words clearer.
Concern #2: Don’t violate copyrights.
With every media source (video clips, etc.) ask, “Did we buy this?” Or, “Are we authorized to show this?” This applies with everything from short 2-minute illustrations to church movie nights. (No, you can’t always simply go to the Christian bookstore and buy the movie the day before and show it the next night.)
Concern #3: Keep the beast on a leash: The wonderful world of MIDI
Increasingly, the many pieces of your tech puzzle can interact with each other. The cardinal rule that applies here is: Everything you can control you must control.
Remember, the original document was written nearly 25 years ago. I’d love to hear from those of you who do this either as a volunteer in your church or professionally.
* And now 41,000 on Facebook, too.
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.
Recently I read somewhere that the present worship agenda for many of our churches is being set by three large churches which have produced three worship music families: Bethel Worship, Jesus Culture and Hillsong. While the word agenda may imply something rather sinister, the point is that compositions from these groups currently dominate the music used in churches which have adopted a modern worship format.
I was thinking about that this weekend as I processed a service we were attending and also seeing it comparison to a more liturgical Reformed service we had attended the week before and the thought occurred to me that these newer songs are just plain long. They were birthed in environments were the term soaking music is broadly understood and in environments where songwriters simply adopt the dominant style they are experiencing.
I’m not going to place emphasis on the length of the songs in and of itself but I want to simply point out that in the half hour we set aside for that worship time, we might have sung about ten hymns, or even about ten worship songs of an older vintage.
However, if we went with the hymns, and each one had only three verses, that might we would have sung about thirty verses and what a different thirty verses they would have been; each rich in deep theology and scripture, and each both proclaiming/declaring truth and also teaching and reminding ourselves of these truths.
I like modern worship. But I crave something deeper, more profound.
For yesterday’s Music Musing, click here.
Want an outside-the-box fresh alternative for your church? I’m not a part of the doctrinal tribe from which it originates, but consider the material Sovereign Grace Music is producing.
The Saturday Ramblings column at Internet Monk always proves interesting. It’s basically like our (occasional) Weekend Link List, but they tend to feature different types of stories.
Like everyone else, they’ve been captivated by what Adam Ford is doing at Christian fake news site, The Babylon Bee; and recently featured the item below, which sparked me to get creative. First, the article:
ISRAEL—Ancient documents uncovered by archaeologists working in the West Bank confirmed Friday that the disputed term “selah” present throughout the Psalms and Habakkuk is actually best translated “extended guitar solo.”
While many scholars had previously believed the Hebrew word referred to either a period of quiet reflection, a musical pause, or a time of heightened musical crescendo, the recent discovery of scrolls in remarkable shape lend overwhelming evidence to the theory that the term actually instructed Hebrew worship bands to shred across all six-strings in a blistering, melodic guitar solo.
“This is an astounding find—it really can’t be overstated,” biblical archaeologist Dr. Thomas Earl told reporters excitedly. “While we knew that Old Testament worshipers often incorporated instruments into their singing of the Psalms, we had no idea that biblical worship was often accompanied by a gratuitous, performance-oriented electric guitar solo.”
Other experts in Old Testament language studies have confirmed that scribbled on the back of one of the newly discovered scrolls was a piece of tablature notating a rudimentary version of famed guitarist Slash’s soulful solo from hit single “November Rain.”
“While many Christians have cautioned against excessive use of showmanship and flashy musical performances in our times of worship, well—it seems like the Scripture now confirms it’s okay to wail, if the Spirit so moves,” Dr. Earl continued.
This prompted me to leave prose behind with this free verse concoction:
The lyric screen goes blank.
The guitar solo begins.
We stand there.
And stand there.
We have heard this solo before.
It’s a copy of the one on the album.
We take a deep breath to sing the next line.
He’s going for another eight bars.
An older woman sits down.
A small child follows.
They’re dropping like flies.
The computer guy puts the next verse up in anticipation.
I’ve lost the worship vibe completely.
Now I just want the song to end.
This isn’t right.
In the sidebar at Christianity 201, there are a number of worship songs linked with devotional articles we’ve done there. Many of these would be recognizable to those of you who feature modern worship in your church or listen to Christian radio, but I thought today we would include some which are a good fit here at Thinking Out Loud which may be know to some of you, but not others.
A few years back I was sitting in the large auditorium on the grounds of a denominational campground. We were just coming up to the message, and the person chairing the service remarked about the great acoustics in the place and suggested we stand and sing the simple, one-word chorus, “Hallelujah” acapella. I was looking forward to this.
He started us off, but then, instead of going off-microphone, like you do in these situations, he just kept wailing into the mic, with the result that while we got to hear a little bit of what it might sound like if it was just the sound of our voices, we mostly got to hear the sound of his voice.
I should say that this a very, very personality-driven denomination, and one in which the parishioners play into the leader-driven culture by not doing anything unless their pastor tells them to do it. So while it’s a bit of an exaggeration, it’s entirely possible that the second he appeared to stop singing, they would have all stopped. That would be funny.
(The solution to that, by the way involves leading with your arms. The rhythmic one-two-three-four type of hand waving you often see done in older churches is actually orchestral conducting, what you really want to do is accent the sung syllables, which is closer to choral conducting, which is also visually more worshipful.)
Anyway, I told all this to my wife a few days later — this actually happened several times, involving How Great is Our God and one other song — and she very accurately said, “that is so very dumb and so totally self-centered.”
Self-centered. Ah, there’s the problem. The secret of church leadership, no matter what your role, is to know when to get out of the way. By that I don’t mean knowing when to retire (although that’s important, too) but knowing when not to take center stage, when to let things just take place organically; when to let things be congregation-led and not top-down.
In a modern church culture that is saturated with rhythm sections (drums, bass, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, keyboards, etc.) singing acapella is a refreshing change. But the entire point of the exercise is to allow the congregation to hear the sound of their own voices in a single blend. The smallest measure of musical instincts would tell you to set the microphone aside and if absolutely necessary, lead with your hands only.
That didn’t happen. It’s why it didn’t happen that concerns me. It betrays an ego so incredibly large that it affects the quality of the ministry taking place. It’s an obstruction a time in a worship service where you want to minimize distractions. Granted, I suppose you need a bit of ego to want to be on the stage, or want to write the book, or want to go on Christian television. Introverts don’t gravitate to those positions.
However, let me go on record as saying that introverts probably make the best worship leaders. Choosing a worship staff member for your church? Pick the person who exhibits the greatest humility.
We are the sons
We are the daughters of God
I get the sentiment, which is appropriate to the times we live in. But as someone recently pointed out, in Bible times a son had an inheritance, which a daughter did not. Perhaps it would better, even if female, to be able to say you are a son, having full rights and privileges. However, I will defer to those just trying to be politically correct.
We love to shout your name, O Lord
This one really grates on me because the Lord’s name in this form was generally not pronounced, let alone shouted. A Wikipedia article (on YWYH, the Tetragrammaton) mentions Philo’s teaching that “…it is lawful for those only whose ears and tongues are purified by wisdom to hear and utter it in a holy place…” and “He who pronounces the Name with its own letters has no part in the world to come!” Such is the prohibition of pronouncing the Name as written that it is sometimes called the ‘Ineffable’, ‘Unutterable’, or ‘Distinctive Name.'”
Our God is greater
Our God is stronger
There’s nothing wrong with the lyric per se, the issue is where the emphasis (accent) falls musically: OUR God is greater, OUR God is stronger. It sounds like a moment in an apologetics debate where the discussion got reduced to a schoolyard level. ‘Oh yeah? My God is bigger than your God.’
Oh, I feel like dancing
It’s foolishness I know
A song bridge best left out, in my opinion. I can never say that anytime in the last two decades where I’ve sung this song that I felt like dancing. But I sometimes sung the words anyway. (Which is foolishness, I know.)
I want to touch you
I want to feel you more
I always wonder what visitors think when hearing this song for the first time. I’ve heard the expression, ‘prayers that touch the heart of God,’ but this one is a little less clear even in context of the rest of the lyrics.
My sin, oh the bliss
Of this glorious thought
I just wanted to be fair; it’s not just modern worship that has awkward lyrics. I would place the offending line in parenthesis, or use em-dashes, just to be clear.
He is jealous for me
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree
So much has already been written on the “sloppy wet kiss” line that I hesitate to mention it at all. The goal in leading worship should be to minimize distractions, yet this one has distraction built in. But the opening line begs you to stop and say, “I want to see where this going before I continue singing.” Yes, God is described as a jealous God. But if these are the opening lines, I want to read it over before I sign the contract, so to speak. And I can say that because I am a tree.
After writing most of this, I came across these articles: