Our drummer sassy (Andrew Massey) has put up a short video to show you what he's doing in 'Fairest Lord Jesus'.
Tuesday, 27 March 2012
Wednesday, 21 March 2012
I can't enthuse enough about the wonderful work that our friend Bren is doing at St Paul's Castle Hill. Smaller churches like mine rely so much on bigger churches to produce resources and send out workers - one great way that St Paul's blesses us all is by organising Shine Music Conference.
This year they have Robert Fergusson from Hillsong speaking as well as St Paul's own John Gray, with Trevor Hodge and others helping out with workshops. Don't miss it!
Date:Saturday, 16th June 2012
Time:9:30am til 5:00pm (Day Session) 7:00pm til 8:30pm (Night Session)
Location:St Paul’s Church 421 Old Northern Rd Castle Hill, NSW 2154
Cost: Early bird before May 28th ADULT - $50 GROUP 5+ - $40 H/S STUDENT - $25
Thursday, 15 March 2012
A dear friend asked me today whether I could put together some thoughts on positioning the band off the stage (lowering the altitude) in order to stop people giving them too much attention.
I’m aware that at many churches there has been a push to shove the band off stage – out of sight, out of the limelight, thus reminding the crowd (and, I suspect more pointedly) the musicians that it’s not about them. I think this comes from a beautiful desire for equality in the gathering – not wanting to exalt guitar playing members of the band above punters in the pews. In my time as a church musician I’ve been moved to the side of stage, moved to the back of the stage, moved behind the stage, moved below the stage, moved to the side of the crowd, and (even!) moved to the back of the auditorium. ‘It’s not a rock concert!’ was the rationale. Sure. I guess that’s true.
I’ve always dutifully complied with these requests from those over me in the Lord, and if you’re a musician and you’re told to go, and you can’t gently persuade your leaders otherwise, then there is no question: you should go. However I think the idea is practically and pastorally misguided, for a couple of reasons.
First, out of sight means the band is unable to lead the congregation effectively. I’ve never heard anyone suggest that the preacher should preach from behind the crowd, for the simple reason that people look to the people up front for leadership and communication, something which is hard to do without the possibility of eye contact. It’s no different in music – through body language, verbal cues, attitude, and movement every member of the band who stands up front is a leader. The choices are lead well or lead badly; not leading is not an option.
Paul encourages the Corinthians to imitate him, and to learn from him via Timothy of his good way of life. (1 Cor 4:16-17). Therefore if you love your church then put good role models on stage!
Second, if the attitude of the musicians is a problem (i.e. if they really are getting a big head because they’re up the front) then you should address their attitude. Spend the time actually pastoring your musicians, rather than trying to train them like you would a puppy (‘outside! Outside!’). If they are egotistical maniacs, then you’ll need more than a stage layout to fix that. You don’t solve the problem of an egotistical preacher, bible reader or prayer by making them preach in funny positions. If leading singing is a word ministry (and I hope our message is getting through on this...it is!) then Godly character should be a pre-requisite for service.
(But it’s worth adding that in my experience musicians are rarely the egotistical stage-hogging maniacs that non-musicians project onto them – more often I find they are perfectionistic, sensitive, depressive personality types, who are easily wounded by criticism and tragically often have a low sense of self worth. But you don’t know that unless you actually bother to know them and care for them as people.)
If after getting to know your musicians you're still worried about their vainglory, then (rather than trying to make an upfront job into a behind the scenes job), why not give them a truly behind the scenes job (like cleaning, filing music, doing sound, etc)?
Third, messing about with stage layout creates a challenging musical environment which is beyond most of us. Teaching musicians to communicate with each other through eye contact and signals is hard enough without shoving them all into awkward positions. A number of times in church band training we’ve helped the rhythm section lock in more tightly simply by fixing their positioning on stage, only to be told that when Sunday comes they’ll have to go back to square one.
Fourth, messing about with stage layout is a disaster for acoustics. Unless you have a state of the art foldback system and you’re playing in a football stadium, chances are most of the sound is being generated by acoustic instruments and on-stage amps, with reinforcement from the PA for the vocals and piano and acoustic guitar. Strewn all over the room, the sound is coming from multiple sources, with uneven balance, making it impossible to create a good mix for the crowd. You might as well give up trying to teach musicians to manage their on stage volume to create a good stage sound, because you’ve made the stage environment so unnecessarily complicated.
So please if you think you have an attitude problem in your crowd, or (worse) in your band, leave the altitude alone - and focus on the attitude. Good leading, from a humble heart, in full view of everyone will build up your church far more than bad leading, from a proud heart, somewhere to the side of stage. But whatever you do, whether in full view or out of sight, do it all for the glory of God (1Cor 10:31).
Wednesday, 14 March 2012
So Greg and I got together this morning for a little bit of songwriting. It was pretty productive - we wrote three songs we're really happy with (not complete songs - most with only scratch lyrics, but melody and general gist in place).
New for us was writing with a vintage Wurlitzer electric piano: we found all sorts of new directions being inspired off this beautiful instrument.
Our normal process is that we jam until we come up with something we like, all the time recording on our laptop or phone to make sure we don't miss anything. Then we try to fit other ideas around it until the shape of a song comes into being. We listened to some CDs for inspiration (Meshell Ndegeocello, Neil Finn's Pajama Club), drank some coffee, and chatted about where we wanted these songs to go. Not sure if anything from today will end up on an album - there's still a lot of work to do: refining melodies, fine tuning lyrics, trying to make the song as a whole sit together. But it was good to get the creative juices flowing. We find it's good not to be too editorial at this stage - we can come back later and work out which bits are stronger than others.
Monday, 12 March 2012
An apology - I while back I promised to post about recording and mixing our latest album 'Unity' and I let it slide... but here it is! (Surely the phrase 'better late than never' still carries some weight, right?!).
Many of you were there and saw the recording! We did two nights of live recording that were open to the public, and one that was not, just to ensure we had 3 takes of everything. Nothing was re-recorded or added in the studio after those live recordings - what you saw (and heard!) is what you got!
Next came mixing. Mixing involves taking all of the recorded sounds and balancing them. With bands like ours, it means balancing the drums and bass against the guitars and keyboards, and then balancing the overall band sound against the vocals. It wouldn't be much use, for instance, if the snare drum was way louder than the lead vocal!
In my view, the mixing process can either make or break a project. It doesn't matter how good the recorded instruments sound on their own - if it's not carefully mixed, the listener will not enjoy the end product. It's the studio equivalent of mixing the front of house sound at a gig.
We had the privilege of once again having multiple ARIA-award winner David Nicholas mix this album (he also mixed our last album). He has worked with artists including Sting, Elton John, Midnight Oil and Delta Goodrem, so we knew we were in good hands! But every band has a distinct sound, and every song has a distinct sound too. So it's important that the band works closely with the mix engineer to achieve the desired result.
David, Trent and I headed down to Sing Sing Studios in Melbourne where David mixed the album over a 5 day period. (It was an awesome studio to work at - tonnes of great Aussie albums have been made there).
As David mixed, Trent and I would provide feedback. It's a gruelling process, with back to back 12-13 hours days. Overnight we'd review the mixes (with helpful feedback from the band members in Sydney too), then head back to the studio the following morning to do a revised mix of each song. We'd then review the revised mixes that night, and so on.
It's quite a surreal experience, sitting in a studio all day listening to very particular aspects of each song (it's not uncommon to listen to only drums for an hour at a time!). But it's great fun immersing yourself in something you've worked hard to bring this far - I remember sitting in a café one morning listening to a version of the mixes on headphones and taking notes, entirely oblivious to what was going on in reality around me...the music was all that mattered.
I always find it helpful to listen back to the mixes closely on headphones, but also on a few different stereo systems (car stereo, lounge room stereo etc) just to work out which elements of the mix are being affected by the different system you play it back on, and which elements are consistent across the systems. It's then important to let the mix sit for a while, returning to it later with fresh ears, so you can have some perspective on it.
Getting a mix to sound 'right' is a hugely subjective thing. But for this album, there were some things to bear in mind:- Our music is seeking to help people reflect on God's Word as we seek to let the Word dwell richly within us (Colossians 3:16). So the lyrics must be clearly audible above the band sound, and the band sound must support those lyrics.
- There were musical points of interest and certain elements in a song that were unique to that song. It was important to identify these things early on and ensure they came through well in the mix (in 'Fairest Lord' for example, the offbeat acoustic guitar part carries the rhythm of the song, but is also a unique flavour in that song.)
- We wanted the voices of the congregation and the choir who sang at the live recordings to feature on each track. This not only offered a guide as to how the song could be sung congregationally, it also added a beautiful ambience to the overall sound.
Recently I was in the studio working on a mix for another project and was reminded of one of the most important ingredients in the mixing process: patience - both for you as the artist, and also the mix engineer. You've written the songs, you've recorded them, and you just want people to be able to hear them! But you can't expect to get the mix right instantly - lots of revisions will be required. But when you get the sound you've been imagining in your head all along, it's thoroughly rewarding. We hope you like the sound of 'Unity' as much as we do!
Thursday, 8 March 2012
I love playing keyboards - and one of the reasons is that it gives you so many options for different sounds. From the classic acoustic grand to the comforting grit of a WurliTzer to the retro strings of a Mellotron, the possibilities are endless.
Each sound, however, does require a different playing style to go with it. This can be a bit intimidating. Here's a video of me quickly going through the sounds on a typical electric piano:
Thursday, 1 March 2012
Okay, work with me here on this analogy. I recently got my bath fixed which is great news for everybody. I'm reminded that there's an art to running a bath - not too hot, not too cold. The temptation when you realise that the bath is going to be too cold is to slam on the hot water, but of course that just makes the opposite problem. Getting the optimal temperature requires small adjustments, not over-reactions.
By analogy, it seems that improving worship music is an exercise in balance. Usually when something goes wrong in church, it's not that people have set out trying to be destructive. It's usually that we were trying to improve in another area, and just got things out of balance. Perhaps we wanted to bring in new songs to keep our repertoire from being stale, but brought in too many too quickly and now people can't sing along. Perhaps we wanted to raise the quality of our music to the Glory of God. But instead we put too heavy a load on our already busy musicians. It's all about balance.
But so often when we realise something is wrong, we express it in terms of absolute criticisms, not relative criticisms.
Karl Barth, one of my favourite German theologians, writes about this in relation to the subjective/objective question in worship. He describes how people responded to the overly subjective wishy washy hymns which started dominating in some protestant circles in the 17th century. They criticised 'I-hymns' as being overly subjective, and insisted on 'we-hymns' or 'he-hymns'. They made absolute their criticism. But as Barth writes 'it is obvious from the presence of the I-Psalms in the Bible...[that this] can only be a relative and not an absolute criticism. It cannot try to eliminate or suppress altogether either the I-hymns or the I-piety' (Church Dogmatics, IV.63.I p755). You can't eliminate 'I' from our worship, because the wonder of the gospel is that what God did he did for me.
I think there are many areas of contemporary thinking about church life that need us to be more relative and less absolute - in many areas it's a question of balance, not blanket statements.
So the challenge (for me) is to try to approach disagreements about how to do church music as if we're running a bath. If I think that a church service is getting too cold, before turning off the tap completely I need to ask whether the way I intend on going is going to get too hot if we're not careful. This helps too when taking criticism - normally when someone raises a criticism they are not just being nasty - there is so longing or desire behind their complaint. If they hate contemporary music, then what is it about hymns that they love - perhaps I can learn to share their love as well, and we can run a more balanced bath?