Worship Musician Safari Bingo

If you’re visiting a new church this weekend, chances are you might find yourself awkwardly standing off in a corner somewhere pretending to be really busy on your phone, after the church greeters have done their obligatory greeting script of ‘what’s your name,’ ‘is this your first time,’ and, if it’s a college, ‘GenX’, Kaleo, young adult, or post-’anything’ service, ‘how’s your purity.’ (By the way, I think generation X is technically 40 years old now.) Well, stand awkwardly in the corner by the bookstore pretending to decide what coffee to order no longer! I’ve got the game for you. It’s called ‘Worship Musician Safari Bingo’, and it’s the perfect cure for awkward standing because you have to walk around purposefully to play it, and everyone knows that the best cure for awkwardness is appearing to have something to do. Hey, that’s why most of us started serving at the church anyway…so that we weren’t standing around awkwardly anymore. Stick us into a new church where we’re not ‘on staff’, and just watch the awkwardness (and a little bit of terror) immediately overtake us. ;)

So here’s how to play Worship Musician Safari Bingo. Turn your bulletin over and make yourself a little 3×3 panel of square boxes. Sometimes you don’t even have to draw one, you can just use the church’s giving chart. You place one of the following categories into each box, and then search around the church like you’re the volunteer security looking for unruly youths, all the while making check marks on your bingo sheet when you discover the following:

1. Center Square: The Keyboardist

The keyboardist goes in the center square because this member is the most difficult one to spot. It may be a male or a female, and of any age. Most often, you will not even remember having seen a keyboardist on stage. They’re like the phantom pad-holders. Sometimes, even their own fellow worship team members will not even know they exist. If the team is a young-looking, rock-sounding team that plays mostly Hillsong, Jesus Culture, and Coldplay, whether or not the songs are singable or even worship songs to begin with, you may be in luck. In these instances, the keyboardist will most likely be the hipster-est of the hipsters. You’ll need to try to search out the worship team first. They usually refer to themselves and are referred to as ‘the band’, so as you pass huddled groups of parishioners, see if you can catch conversation fragments referring to them as such. As you get closer, start looking for the trail of pastry droppings too top shelf to be the church’s own refreshment offerings. Follow the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf trail until you get to the first group of people showing an exorbitant amount of collective chest hair and shoes that look like an elf would wear them. If they are truly the worship band, their pants will usually be rolled up above the ankle so that you can read the name ‘Tom’ on their shoes. Don’t worry about what this means. Now, slowly train your eyes from that group to the nearby surrounding shadows close to the stage. If you’re lucky, you may spot the keyboardist. He will be the only one too cool for Toms shoes, instead wearing something that you think you once saw your grandfather wear to take his morning constitutional. If he is speaking (on the phone, never to anyone actually in the room), he may even use phrases like ‘morning constitutional.’ If you venture closer, you may be lucky enough to make out some of the causes printed on his seventeen bracelets. Don’t worry, he can’t see you through his hair. If you could see his eyes, they would be looking off into the distance somewhere, as he maintains his aloof yet possibly slightly wounded somewhere in the past persona. And then if he is subconsciously murmuring Mumford & Sons lyrics, or some band you’ve probably never heard of, you’ve got him.

If the worship team is a more traditional team, you may just want to go ahead and leave this square blank. The only time you’ll ever have a chance to find him, is if he is actually on the stage, playing his keyboards with none of the other band around, as this is more than likely the only time during the service that he or she has actually been able to hear themselves play.

2. The Electric Guitarist

He is usually the reason the keyboardist cannot hear himself play. The loudness of his amp is usually only matched by the loudness of his voice. If he is being quiet at the moment, simply wait for someone to mention that tone is in the hands not in the gear, and that should take care of the quietness. It is often a male, and he will usually be the most gregarious of the group, so you may be able to spot him talking with actual members of the church. If he is, look for the loudest member of any conversation pontificating on any and all subjects. There is something about knowing tone and diminished chords (or at least listening to Hammock and John Mayer) that also makes guitarists think they know everything else.

If per chance he is not in any group, merely wait for any other instrumentalist to start practicing or for the house music to come on, and then listen for sounds of an amp cranked enough to be heard in stadium, as the electric guitarist shows the 4 people waiting in the worship center that he can solo over anything.

As a last resort for filling this spot in on your bingo card, stand in the middle of a crowded area and yell, ‘The sound guy’s right! You should plug straight into the direct box!’ and then run. The man chasing you is the electric guitarist.

3. The Drummer

The drummer takes the role of comic levity in the band, whether he actually is or not. He may be sarcastic or goofy, or take turns between the two. You can find him by listening for the guy quoting off-color movies or jokingly putting down other members on the team, but then getting instantly serious and giving hour-long ‘I-know-theology’ prayers as soon as the worship leader says it’s time for the pre-service meeting. More than likely, he will be wearing a low-riding beanie, a rastafarian dread cap, or some sort of head covering.

Often times you can spot him or her wandering around the church as if lost, as they usually need new direction every 4 to 5 minutes.

4. The Background Vocalist

This is the only member of the worship team who will predominantly be female on the majority of teams. This bingo spot is almost worth double if it’s a younger team. On these teams, if you find the background vocalist, you will almost always find one or more male members of the team in her presence. She will be the prize of all the unmarried members. Just look for the young girl wearing a scarf no matter the outside temperature next to guys also wearing scarves and/or mustaches doing the worst job in the world of trying to be near her will still acting aloof. This is the most fun to look for.

If it is an older, more mature-aged worship team, this can be one of the most difficult bingo card positions to fill, as she will more than likely be involved with conversations with others from the congregation due to the fact that the rest of the male musicians have no idea how to include someone in a conversation who isn’t interested in the lack of artistry in current Christian music, the best boutique oil for their car, or their early days touring with White Snake.

5. The Bassist

Many have tried. Few have succeeded. He may be the peering eyes from behind the door to the church kitchen. He may be hidden behind a giant stack of speakers bigger than him. He may even be posing as the guy handing you your coffee. You’ll never notice when he’s there, but should he leave, you will suddenly feel a lacking in the overall presence of the room, and everyone else will start to feel slightly emptier. He is the phantom, the hero, the presence…he is the bass player.

6. The Worship Leader

The worship leader can be a difficult one to spot. Worship leaders may be male or female. They may be up in the sound booth discussing their need for more high end reverb on their vocal channel with the sound guy, because they developed a slight feeling of discomfort in their throat the night before. They may be in the church kitchen, asking a volunteer to warm up some water to 83.5 degrees for their voice. They are often on what they describe as ‘the front lines’ of the battle for people’s souls. You might look for this front line of the battle by looking for someone talking with people about their real life issues, or out front serving coffee and smiles to people who may not have had one all week, or serving in children’s ministry. But you would be wrong. The worship leader is on the front line of playing their guitar in their office, preparing for the service to start. You may be able to be tipped off to them by looking for the person with in-ear heaphones dangling from their shoulders, or a wireless guitar pack in their back pocket. They will often have a very somber look on their face that you might recall seeing on the faces of bands in Rolling Stone magazine who believe that the charity to which they donate is changing the world due to their music. The logic doesn’t make sense, but that’s okay. They are the one member of the team who you can be sure is somewhere around the church, due to their facebook artist upcoming show page listing them as having a gig at this church, at this time.

Find the guy or gal who looks as if the have worked very hard at dressing to make it look like they have not worked very hard at dressing, and you may have found your worship leader. If their eyes look like they could break into calculated Sunday stage tears at any moment, you can just go ahead and check the box right then and there. (And no, I’ve never fake cried while playing worship; but I have thought to myself how nice it would be if some tears were to happen to fall at this moment. ;) )

7. The ‘Electric Guitarist 2′

‘Electric Guitarist 2′ is supposed to mean the same thing as ‘Electric Guitarist.’ But everyone knows better. The ‘Electric Guiatrist 2′ is the guy who gets stuck with all the rhythm parts to support ‘Electric Guitar 1.’ This member can usually be found by following the sound of soft crying into one of the bathroom stalls. Quietly check your bingo card and move on.

8. The Sound Guy

Long hair. New Balance cross-trainers. Aerosmith t-shirt. Bingo.

9. Acoustic Guitarist

Just follow the smile. This is the one guy or gal who really isn’t sure why they’re there, as the worship leader never, ever, ever, stops strumming their own acoustic. But they’re happy to be there nonetheless. So happy sometimes, especially for no one hearing them, that you have to wonder whether they know something the worship leader doesn’t. As in, the pastor has assigned them to shadow the worship leader and learn all the names of everyone on the team so that he is able to step in when the current worship pastor is…uh…’led in another direction.’ Because every lead pastor can only take so much hair gel and worship songs ‘off my latest cd.’ But by the time the worship leader has been ‘called to another ministry’, rest assured that the acoustic guitarist has spent so much time shadowing him that on that first Sunday, in steps a Toms-clad, Brewster fo-hawked, Taylor-playing new worship leader who leads off the set with a song from his just recently recorded album. And so the cycle continues.

————

The point, of course, is that the cycle doesn’t have to continue. This is an exaggerated, and unfortunately sometimes not-so-exaggerated, version of my experiences playing at various churches over the last 7 or 8 years. This is not necessarily indicative of any one church or any one person. I hope we’re all able to have a sense of humour about ourselves, find a little piece of ourselves in here, and hopefully then use that mirror to clean some stuff up. I’ve seen these folks, I’ve been these folks, I am these folks. But we don’t have to be. Church can be more than a stage with people like us who believe themselves to be there simply to serve God and serve the congregation, but if we’re honest with ourselves, would be mortified if the pastor or elder board ever let us know that the church would be taking a year off from worship bands and instead singing accapella hymns led by no one. Mortified, or maybe we’d be at a different church within the year. Church can be, and should be, more than just a worship band and a preacher. Those things are fine and good and often times necessary; but they can become the focus. Our only focus. And God is more than that.

Splendid.
Karl.

Sixteen of the Simplest Ways Ever to Have Great Worship Music

I’m in no way an authority on this, but here’s a few things that I’ve learned, observed, and failed at, over the last decade or so. (My dad always told me…watch out for when you start measuring things in decades. lol) All pertaining to the small to mid-size churches in which most of us participate. We all usually take our worship leading cues from the big guys, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Except that you have to remember that playing to a group of 200 casual church attenders on a Sunday morning is worlds different in its application than playing to 4,000 people stoked to hear the preacher they’ve heard on the webcast so many times, and now finally having got to the church early enough to sit up close and be part of the worship pit of which they have a cd in their car.

And worship leading is not really a doctoral science, although we’d like to make it that way. We’d all like to think that leading worship and creating a worship experience of God through music is something difficult and almost unattainable because then that makes us feel like as worship leaders, we are professionals in our field, doing something that the ‘general public’, ‘congregation’, or ‘civilians’ cannot do. Subsequently, we can then sell books on the subject, and…uh…write blogs. ;) So, take these and use them, modify them, lose some of them, or what-not. Whatever helps your church in the adoration of God through that tiny little musical portion we call ‘worship.’ It’s a very general list, and not all will apply to everyone. But some will, and for some, all of them will.

And fair warning: most of these will probably help people worship God while at the same time decreasing your rockstar status. If you’re more concerned with being ‘a worship leader’, or whatever entity church culture has made that phrase to mean, these will probably do more harm to that than help. These aren’t cool, cutting edge, or even new ideas in any sense. In fact, most of them can be summed up in Lewis’ character Uncle Diggory’s lament of ‘Why don’t they teach logic at these schools.’ They’re just to try to help the people who don’t happen to be on stage at the time, to connect with God.

1. Click Track

Tempo is one of the most important and yet overlooked factors. It can take a so-so band, and make them sound professional. In every studio I’ve ever worked in, the click track ruled all. No one cared how well you played or even if you could play at all; as long as you could follow a tempo. I can almost guarantee you that after two months of playing with a click track, you won’t even recognize the sound coming from your team. It’s one of those subtle things where you can instantly tell a professional team from a non-professional one. You just know which is which, even though you can’t say why.

You can use a click track even if your church does not have in-ear monitors. Get a couple of cheap headphone preamps, run wires to your band members, and ask them to bring their ipod headphones for one ear only. A little ghetto, but it will work. Or, just run them to yourself and the drummer, and anyone else who may be starting a song. At the very least, practice with the click track in the monitors, and then have just the drummer on it for the service. It will take some getting used to, and you will probably have to practice with it a few weeks before using it live. But every band I’ve ever introduced this for has hated it for about two months, and then suddenly shifted to hate playing without it.

Once it’s there, you don’t have to be a psycho about it; certain songs can go without it, and if you start to pull away from it, shut it off. It’s just a tool…but a great one.

2. Choose Songs People Like

Seems super simple. But you’d be surprised how few worship leaders do this. Instead, songs are chosen according to how cool they are, how new they are, how good they sound, how technically challenging they are for the band, where the worship leader feels God is leading that week (inexplicably usually to a setlist of 5 songs off his newly released Tunecore album), or a myriad other reasons. And most of those can be valid reasons for choosing certain songs. But as any touring band will tell you, the easiest way to get people to sing? Choose songs they like. Imagine that. I see so many worship teams pounding laboriously away week after week on the latest Hillsong 12-minute ‘epic’, because it’s new, or they saw on a blog (that was probably embellished) that it ‘went off’ at some other church, or because they themselves like it, and then stress day and night over why people aren’t worshiping. But every time the pastor asks for ‘Open the Eyes of My Heart’, everyone sings like their life depends on it.

There are a ton of different and differing reasons for why people sing to some songs and not to others. And those reasons make for a fascinating study. But in the midst of that study, don’t ignore the pertinent facts staring you in the face right at the present moment. Those facts being, ‘I don’t know why they sing to this song, but they do.’ And if, in fact, one of the main purposes for you to lead worship is to have people sing out and worship with you, then logic says that a good portion of your setlists should include that song. Like it or not, understand it or not. We’re servants up there, not rockstars. It’s like if the hospitality crew found a certain type of coffee that everyone raved over, but kept buying different coffee because they themselves liked it better, or because the hospitality team was tired of the same coffee, or because Mars Hill blogged about this coffee being the number one factor in church growth. No, just buy the coffee people like. You’re a servant, at most a shepherd. Never a super gifted musician, orator, or leader that the church population is just lucky to have.

I mean, in reality, if you find songs people worship to every time? Yikes, that makes your job super easy and super fun! Go for it and worship. To this day, there is a song that I absolutely love and worship so deeply to every single time. Yet every time I’ve done it in a church setting…blank stares. Every time, any congregation. And yet Everlasting God? That I was over 5 years ago? Singing. Worship. Passion. Everyone. Every time. So…Everlasting God.


(Yes, leadership is lonely. Ya, especially if you make it that way. ‘I just don’t understand why people don’t sing. It’s a spiritual battle, man. True leadership is just lonely.’ No, it’s lonely because the melody to your super-epic MuteMath song is unsingable, Db is for Phil Wickham only, and people checked out mentally 37 choruses ago, right when your self-indulgence checked in. ;) )

3. Get Vocal Lessons

If you’re like me, you need them. There are those out there that just naturally have these amazing voices. But 90% of us leading worship have…decent voices. We can hold a tune, we can match pitch, we can find pitch, and we can hear when a note is too high for us (most of the time ;) ). So, out of the lack of a better singer on-hand who also played guitar, seemed to love God, and had some extra time on their hands, we were asked to lead worship. (Sorry to be so real about it, but…I can think of about a dozen people just within my area who, if they were attending my church and had some time on their hands when I was first asked to lead worship, I never would have been.) And what is pretty much the one core thing that we as worship leaders are asked to do? Get people to ‘sing with us.’ And if we’re slipping off-pitch, running out of breath at the ends of phrases, going on crazy runs that don’t quite work, singing with awkward tones, breathing in awkward places, logic states that it will be difficult for people to sing with us.

I didn’t take vocal lessons for years because I was too prideful. And once I finally did, I wished I had done it so much earlier. They can only help.

4. Practice, Learn the Music, and Get Rid of the Music Stand

So many, so many, so many, so many worship leaders (myself included at times) do not run through the music on their own before the services. I think most of the time it’s because we’ve done the songs so many times that we assume we know them by heart. Practice them. Run through them. Just this last weekend, I had to take myself out of worshiping mode, because I couldn’t remember the chord progression to a song I’ve done a hundred times. Why? Because I didn’t run through it that week, because I assumed I knew it perfectly.

Right along with that is learning the lyrics. This one cracks me up. Not that I always learn the lyrics perfectly, but I have played with multiple worship leaders complaining about how the lyrics on screen distract from the worship, and how people should totally know this song by heart already. All the while, they’re reading the lyrics off their chord chart (or iPad if they’re super cool). Don’t expect the congregation, who hears the song one time for every ten times you hear and play it, to learn a song if you haven’t.

And then hopefully you can get rid of your music stand. It’s a subtle message that no one really thinks about, but subconsciously it gets through. That the guy or gal asking us to ‘take these songs to heart’ and ‘make this your prayer’ has actually done so himself or herself, so much so that they aren’t reading the songs. Last year, when I was auditioning for worship leader spots, I had a few different churches who wanted me for this one simple fact. How I longed for it to be for my incredible guitar skills, or my awesome voice, or how my very manner just exuded leadership. Nope. Their literal words were, ‘You don’t use a music stand, and you look at the congregation.’ Ya, not so rockstar. haha Not at all what I wanted them to say. But it’s effective.


(Because without a music stand, you too can look like this. Which is of course the point. ;) )

5. Play to the Strengths of Your Team

Your schedule this week tells you that you’ve got a ’70′s rocker lead guitarist and an ex-metal drummer? Play something upbeat and with a flatted 7th in the scale. Don’t force a song that relies on dotted 8th delay into a band where you know for a fact that the guitarist doesn’t own a delay pedal. Sure, there’s a time and a place for training people and teaching them new musical techniques. But if you want the best possible worship music in that moment, get a quick read on who you have playing that week, what they’re good at, and if possible, tailor the setlist a bit to their skills.

Normally this opportunity presents itself in a much less pronounced manner. There have been times when I’ve just felt that I was being led to play The Time Has Come, when I had a drummer scheduled who had only been playing for six months. It did not work out so well. And I was left wondering, why in the world didn’t I just play Blessed Be Your Name, and do Time Has Come with the experienced drummer the next week.


(This guy’s on your team? Yep, play to his strengths. And yes, I think I am the only person ever to actually like this movie. Hey, it was hilarious and there was music!)

6. Practice So You Can Fill in the Gaps

There will be deficiencies in your worship team. For most of us, our teams are made up of volunteers working 60 hours a week. For a lot of us, that’s us working those weeks too. Nevertheless, we’re the ones with the responsibility. I know that intro is piano, but if you really want to do that song, you need to learn that intro or something comparably workable, on your guitar as well. There is a good chance he will not have had the time to learn it, and in the end, the music is your responsibility.

I’m not saying you should go this far, but something that has helped me immensely, is having the mindset that I should be able to give a decent worship experience to the congregation even if everyone canceled but me, and a great worship experience even if it were just me, bass, and drums. (And sometimes, we know, that happens! haha) That does mean practicing extra hard, learning extra parts, and learning alternate arrangements. And most of the time, nothing this drastic is called for. But what it does help with is training people. If you can handle 90% of the tune by yourself, you can schedule a guitarist who’s not quite there yet, and ask him to play the solo’s, or start the song. And if he doesn’t get it quite right, you know the song backwards and forwards and can either take the solo’s and starts, or variate what you’re playing to compensate. Even if you’re on acoustic or keys.

7. Don’t be Afraid to be Honest with Yourself

If a song isn’t working in practice, and you’ve gone through it a few times, and you can tell that this is quite obviously going to be a sub-par moment in the service, then cut it. There’s no need to force anything, although quite often we inexplicably try to do just that. If it’s not working, cut it and do something that will. In that moment, you have the choice to decide whether that part of the service will be good or bad.

8. Don’t Fight the Pastor

People only have about a 5 minute attention span. Don’t think the pastor’s theme was bad and so introduce 18 of your own. Catch the vibe of what he’s trying to get across and go with it. Maybe he’s wrong…maybe if they’d just listen to you, with your of course ordained position of artist/leader/creative/world-shaker, the church would explode to 4,000 people in two weeks. But that’s not your position, and all kidding aside, even if you unequivocally know that that is ‘your calling’, take a lesson from David in the Old Testament and humbly know your place until God makes that happen.

Your pastor is not perfect; but the time to bring up constructive arguments is staff meeting the next week or a phone call the following evening. When it’s two minutes before service and the pastor says, ‘Let’s do this song instead’, raise one objection, if he overrules it, then play that song. Since you’re also not a perfect person, 50% of the time you’re wrong anyway. And the other 50% of the time, maybe you’re not wrong, but the pastor is going for something different. Either way, petty skirmishes 2 seconds before the service starts are probably the most ridiculous and hilarious of all church-running nuances, and should be avoided at almost all costs.

9. Think Big Picture

It’s not just about worship this weekend, but next weekend too. And the weekend after that. So sometimes, that means not doing the great new song this weekend, because it’ll go better with the message next weekend, and will lose its power if done two weekends in a row. More often than that, it means planning out different approaches on different weekends. An ‘epic’ set five weekends in a row becomes decidedly less ‘epic’ the fourth and fifth weekends. But throw in an acoustic set, and suddenly a regular set the weekend after becomes fantastic. Just as if you don’t want to just map out how one song goes, but all five songs, you also don’t want to map out how just one service goes. Map out many weekends, which sometimes means taking away from some weekends for the good of the overall month, or even year.


(This scene is actually an amazing portrait of how we can lose the forest for the trees.)

10. Get the Band the Songs Early and Correctly

Team gets the songs Saturday night. Sheet music is in the wrong keys, songs are in a format requiring the worship leader’s iTunes password, and half the team doesn’t get the email because the leader inexplicably still has their old email address that they’ve reminded him 7 times is the wrong one. Everyone shows up on Sunday morning, and said worship leader is appalled that no one knows the songs.

No.

Absolutely not. Make it easy on your team. You want them to play the songs right? Give them the chance to do so! Take the time to find the right versions of the songs, convert them into mp3′s, and email them properly. Actually look at the sheet music to make sure it’s the correct versions before you send it. And anything later than 2 days before the service is completely unacceptable. You may as well just go acoustic or tell the team you’ll arrange at rehearsal and switch all the songs to 4-chorders. Even 2 days is pushing it. Now, if you don’t care if the team plays what you want or plays the song the way it’s recorded, then just disregard this one. But for the love of U2 (and that’s a lot of love), don’t send an un-open-able copy of a Shane & Shane cell phone recording of a live song they improvised once at one concert, and then act all surprised when your team doesn’t know it.

11. Learn Sound

I have a theory that I will be expounding upon more in later posts, that the difference between a church people enjoy and a church they don’t is the sound tech. 95% of the service, both musically and teaching-wise, relies on the auditory senses. And we leave that to the volunteer we can’t relate to and don’t really even want to. We spend hours upon hours getting the music right, and then in the end are completely at the mercy of this one person, because he or she is the only one who understands how to make sounds come out of the speakers. So either put out a craigslist ad for a professional sound tech who loves God and also is proficient at an instrument and be prepared to pay them close to what your pastor makes, or learn it yourself and train people. I cannot stress the importance of this enough. I’ve done it myself, and it has done wonders. And recently, I just played with a worship leader friend of mine who has since done it, and it has done wonders for him as well. It’s a lot of work. Do it.

12. No Silence

Ever. Anything you have to do to make no silence, do it. Download my pads for free. Arrange the songs in the same key. Work out transitions so the drummer knows he has the freedom to start the next song while the chord of the prior song is fading out. Anything. Because here’s the thing: you get people to a certain emotional point with a song, and then the song ends. And that ensuing silence, even if only for a couple seconds, feels like an eternity to the congregation. If there’s one thing people can’t stand more than anything else, it’s feeling awkward. And silence between songs is super awkward. And then you’ve in an instant reduced that emotional level back to zero. A good rule of thumb is to multiply every second of silence by 10. So 3 seconds of silence literally feels like 30. So do what it takes to make silence happen only when it is planned.

13. No Insecurity

When we get insecure, usually because the awesome new song we chose just doesn’t go off and people are staring at us blankly, don’t panic. Just relax. People pick up on the vibe when you’re forcing it. Plus, your voice tends to take on an ‘I’m cool anyway’ forcing it tone, and it’s awkward. You start to play a little stronger, and that ruins the tone. All in all, it makes it worse when you’re insecure. In that moment, you just have to remind yourself to mull on it afterwards, but in the moment, own it. I know it’s hard. I suck at this.

(Any excuse to play ‘Don’t Panic’. And think about Garden State. Whoa! No joke…I literally just typed this, and ‘Don’t Panic’ came on in Coffee Bean. I feel…oddly powerful. And yes, I am in a coffee shop blogging on my laptop. Hi, I’m the cliche from 2006.)

14. No Sermonettes

I’m not exactly sure how to say this, so I’m just going to say it. If your gift was preaching, teaching, or even talking in front of people in general, you’d be asked to preach the sermon a lot more often than you are.

15. Thank Your Team

This seems small, but it goes a huge, huge, huge, huge, huge way. Like, kinda huge. When I go play at churches, I am about 200% more likely to play there again when someone says ‘Thanks, really appreciate your being here’, than when we close the last song, I pack up my stuff, and awkwardly leave in silence without anyone saying anything to me. I know this has happened to you guys, and if you’re a worship leader only, you can guarantee it’s happened to your team. And then we wonder why people flake out the next week and decide to go to the river that weekend instead of playing their scheduled weekend.

And if you’re just an amazing person, take it a step further and pick out something that they did during the service that was good, and call attention to it. This can take some work with musicians you’re working with or training, but there’s always something they did that is worthy of praise. And actually, this is hardest with the incredible musicians. Because everything they do is good, and so it’s difficult to pick out just one thing. And then you end up saying, ‘Wow, great job! Amazing, as usual.’ Which, although true, starts to sound to those people as if it’s just the stock thing you say to everyone. But when you take the time to say, ‘Wow, great job! Amazing as usual. When you hit that high register bass riff in the intro of Cannons, I just smiled. Most people don’t even hear that, let alone learn it and are able to play it.’ It just validates what they do, and the hard work they put into learning the song…usually because you asked them to.

16. Love God

It shows. When you’re up there out of sheer love for God, and when you’re up there because it’s Sunday again and you didn’t really think anything of it, it shows. When you’re up there believing every lyric you sing, and when you’re up there thinking about chord changes, it shows. I know we think it doesn’t and that we can put on a show, but people are so much more intelligent than we give them credit for. You know when you go to that concert and there’s that ‘it’ factor? Like, you can’t put your finger on the vibe, but you know it was incredible? That’s them purposefully hitting each note and believing each lyric. And for worship? Man, that should make it just that much easier for us. It’s a pretty rad God we’re doing this for. There’s this odd push in churches right now to ‘be authentic.’ Well, you either are or you’re not. Love God, love others, (Jesus mentions this, I believe), and the authenticity takes care of itself. And that’s infectious, and comes through off that stage more than anything musically that we could possibly do.

And finally guys, don’t be afraid of the nuts and bolts. I know worship leading is supposed to be a spiritual thing, but let’s face it. As long as we’ve got a guitar up there and a team of people, there’s a human element to it. We don’t have to do it this way, but we do. So let’s work hard to do it right. Or as right as humanly possible. ;) And when we mess up, we thank God for grace, and try again. We don’t say, ‘Thanks for the grace in the midst of my effort, God. So, this next time, I’m just gonna go without the effort.’ Rely on grace, and balance that with loving God with all you are through action and responsibility for helping create an atmosphere where people can let go and worship God. Because in the end, all that really is, is loving people. Love God, love people, and there’s your worship.

Splendid.
Karl.

How to Convince the World You’re a Rockstar

As the holidays approach, we sometimes have to struggle to maintain keeping focus on the right thing. Which is of course, namely, winning the obligatory and inherently competitive ‘How’s work’ question amongst relatives you only see twice a year. You know it’s true. And as my show of thanks on this holiday to you, loyal friends, musicians, and blog-readers, I have included a comprehensive guide to winning that merciless game masqueraded under pleasantries. And in so doing, convincing both them, and the world, that you’re a rockstar.

It seems like a daunting task. But that’s because you’re not thinking about it in the right way. Just last night, as I was driving home, I saw a billboard for a musician playing at a casino. I have never heard of said musician. But yet the billboard described him as ‘legendary.’ And I wondered if that were true. Are there really actual tales of folklore around the country about this musician? No, of course not. But it’s one of those brilliant words that sounds instantly fantastic, but is impossible to measure. It was then that I realized that I needed a billboard. If you ever want to make it in this industry, you must have something published about yourself. Luckily, as billboards turn out to be more expensive than you’d think (I called), we have the internet. Where anyone can publish anything they like anytime they like saying anything they like, and in the end, it is still ‘published.’

So, when Uncle-I-Am-A-District-Manager-People-Are-Scared-Of-Me asks you, ‘How’s work’, you can simply take him to the website you created and say, ‘See what MusicianUniverse.wordpress.com had to say about me?’ (Which is an available website domain…I checked.) And it’s not a lie, if you run that website and say something about yourself. And then it can say something like this:

“Renowned guitarist Karl Verkade has recently been captivating audiences around the globe* with his emotional and ground-breaking new breed of ambient liturgical post-surf prog-fusion. His music has the nation in a frenzy the world has never before seen.** Since breaking onto the scene with his stirring and revolutionary debut Los Angeles performance***, Karl has continued to be hailed by fans and critics alike as the nation’s next great guitar player.**** He has shared the stage with artists such as Van Morrison, 30 Seconds to Mars, Nirvana, and David Bowie*****, has given tonal advice to John Mayer******, and is close personal friends with The Edge.******* Karl Verkade may just go down in history as the guitarist who gave music her heart back. If you have never heard his music, you owe it to yourself to listen in awe as sound and love intertwine and become one.”

(* Youtube is global.
** Frenzy may be defined in many ways, real or implied.
*** Karl Verkade has played in Los Angeles, California.
**** Karl is both a fan and a critic of his music.
***** Provided the Roxy has not renovated its stage since opening in 1973.
****** John Mayer is a member on The Gear Page message board, and Karl has posted public tone advice on afore-mentioned message board.
******* Friendship is defined by the amount of love in said friendship, not necessarily by the knowledge either party may or may not have of said friendship.)

It’s the beauty of a society in which no one cares about the fine print. You too can be famous. Just make yourself that way. Lots of usage of the word ‘legendary’ and all its synonyms therein. Remember, there are no half-truth’s. Only truth’s told in a creative way. hehe ;)

Splendid.
Karl.

P.S. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone. And in all seriousness, pretenses are dumb. And I’m the worst at setting them up around myself for some odd false semblance of a reality I’d rather have. But in actuality, it’s really, really easy to say something about yourself, whether it’s actually true or whether you can make yourself believe it to be true. It’s a lot harder to come to grips with who you are, and be comfortable enough in your own smallness to start paying real, tangible love and attention to those around you.

You Know You're a Worship Leader When…

Alright. It’s time. And remember, as always, ‘if you can’t have a sense of humour (British spelling…because I’m cool and indie and oh so Brit…just look at my jacket) about yourself, your life is going to seem a lot longer than you’d like it to be.’ I give you……you know you’re a worship leader when…

  • when you schedule a bass player on the team each weekend because all the cool worship bands have a bass player; but you’re not entirely sure what it is a bass player does
  • when you don’t wear shoes, because the stage is ‘holy ground’
  • when you insist on having reverb in your monitor
  • when you don’t know what type of guitar you play, because you just walked into Guitar Center and said, ‘I want the worship leader guitar’, and the sales guy handed you one. (And just so you know, you play a Taylor.)
  • when you insist on being cranked in everyone’s monitor, and insist on playing your acoustic during the bass solo, and then can’t figure out why the drummer can’t follow the bass player over your acoustic ‘filling in the dead space’
  • when your current style of hair is directly concurrent to Lincoln Brewster’s current style of hair
  • and if you’re really on the edge, it’s Jon Foreman’s style of hair
  • when you refuse to say Switchfoot, and must refer to their singer as Jon Foreman
  • when you’ve already watched the youtube clips of the opening night of the U2 360 tour, and are seriously thinking about putting the worship team in the middle of the sanctuary this weekend
  • when you don’t bring an mp3 of the new song you threw into the set that morning, but are insistent that the drummer will be able to tell from your words, ‘The intro goes like, da da DA, do da-da-da DA!’
  • when you have an effects board because your lead guitarist has one and he looks really cool with it, but you’re not exactly sure what to do with it, and your electric guitarist ends up plugging it in for you each week
  • when you bring sheet music in G, and then say, ‘We’re going to capo this on 3,4,5, or 6…I’m not sure yet’
  • and when your bass player looks at you with the ‘there’s no way you seriously just said that’ look, you say, ‘What, you can’t transpose?’
  • when you sing the lyrics to ‘With or Without You’ during the ‘Majesty’ chorus because you just heard the brand new and ultra-hip band Third Day do it
  • when you sing the ‘With or Without You’ lyrics wrong
  • when you get ticked off at the computer person for not being able to follow you on the slides and backgrounds when you sang said ‘With or Without You’ lyrics…wrongly
  • when you can literally make an argument in your head for how ‘With or Without You’ can actually have a Christian meaning
  • when you can’t literally make an argument in your head for how ‘With or Without You’ can actually have a Christian meaning, but you still want to sing it anyway, so you change the lyrics to, ‘I can live……with or wi-i-ith You’
  • when you don’t run a tuner on stage for your guitar, but then always look at everyone else when something sounds out of tune
  • when you ask the guitarist to play ‘that crunchy space-sounding thing that ‘Dave’ who played last weekend did on this song’
  • when all your ‘gigs’ listed on your myspace music homepage are all curiously listed at 10 AM on Sunday, at the same location each week
  • when you ask the keyboardist if he’s sure he’s in tune
  • when you cycle through 27 background vocalists because no one ‘blends well’ with you, before thinking that maybe you’re the one off-key
  • when the keyboardist asks if the F#m you wrote on the sheet music might actually be a D/F#, and you say, ‘Same thing.’
  • when you raise the key on Phil Wickham songs
  • when you insist on the drummer being on a click track, but don’t like one in your ears, but then still want to start every song yourself
  • when you play the 17 minute epic rock-opera Mutemath song that no one’s ever heard, start it ambient and a-tempo, don’t play ‘exactly’ in tempo with the backing loop, repeat the ending chorus 33.5 times of accapella, and then when the congregation gives you the blank stare instead of singing, you say, ‘They just don’t understand worship.’
  • when you choose your worship setlists in accordance with what will look the coolest on your blog
  • when you’ve desperately searched everywhere for the last 10 years to try to find a definition of ‘post-modern’ because you’ve heard every worship leader in existence talk about it, but you’ve never really heard what it actually means and how to be it
  • when you finally realize that all you have to do to be post-modern is to describe yourself as such……oh, and to think that Lifehouse is still edgy and relevant

Splendid.
Karl.

Honestly…

This is a blog of honesty. I don’t know why…it just happened that way. Somehow, this site became a way for me to pretend I’m not prideful by admitting mistakes that I know others will not hold against me because they find them humourous. (Ooh. That’s the honesty I’m talking about. I probably shouldn’t write stuff like that.) However, at the same time, I think laughing at oneself is a good motif to get into. It keeps us musicians from having that ever-intriguing inflated view of ourselves, who (let’s face it) think that we literally changed the world last weekend with our Gilmour-esque solo, or our Brian Eno synth run, or our ‘Spirit-inspired’ chorus repeat. (Sorry guys, the honesty is just happening today. I understand that God ‘told’ you to run ‘How Great is our God’ into ‘How Great Thou Art’ because it’s edgy and post-modern to rockify a hymn even though you heard Tomlin do it on a live recording six years ago…it’s cool, you’re still post-modern in my book…and then He ‘told’ you to move into minor chords (even though they don’t really work) while you tag the ‘how great Thou art’ line exactly 23 times. Even if your congregation doesn’t understand that God ‘told’ you to do that……I do. I gotcha. I’m right there in it with ya. ;) He ‘told’ me the same thing…even though in the back of my mind, I was thinking that there were only 2 hands raised, and if I were to get the ‘worship was kind of mediocre’ talk at staff meeting this week, I’d need to see at least 9.5 hands up (the quick hand sway at chest level counts as the .5) to make my argument that no, worship was actually, in fact, both monumental and life-changing. Hence, we sing the chorus again.) So this is to keep me humble. And I really, really hope you can find at least a little piece of yourself in the above paragraph to chuckle about. It’s not meant to stir up feelings of bitterness because ‘the church’ and ‘worship leaders’ aren’t perfect. (Shocker.) Once we get over the fact that we’re just a bunch of losers doing the blasted best we can to be used by God, but that at least half the time we fail, and God somehow accomplishes His purpose anyway, picks us up, and tells us to try again to jump on board with Him again tomorrow……I think then, the more God can use us. And taking ourselves just a bit less seriously, might be a good motif. As it is also fun……

  • I plugged in my direct box during practice even though I knew it would pop and even though I get angry at my team when they do this. But our sound guy was so far away and I needed to save my voice instead of yelling back to ask him to mute the channel…
  • I tuned my guitar to drop D for the last song of the first set, and then forgot about that while playing the last set……four times……and the last set is just 1 song.
  • I forgot that my team is a bunch of volunteers doing their best to serve, and I got quite noticeably frustrated and indignant during practice that the sound of the band was not what I wanted it to be.
  • I typed different lyrics on the song sheet than I did on the background screens, realized it, and then sang the words on the screen and totally hung our background vocalist out to dry.
  • I chose to get the right tone out of a pedal…for 15 minutes…rather than listen to my team.
  • When I finally did listen, I was still thinking about my pedal.
  • I got off the click track, but then quickly found something else wrong with the song so that we had to stop it and start over, so as not to admit that I was the reason we needed to start over.
  • I missed a lighting cue while looking for a Landgraff on Gear Page in the tech boothe.
  • I strummed my acoustic like an electric, hitting the big D chord, and then rocking the guitar around for ‘sustain’; and completely succeeding in looking like ‘I really wish I was a rockstar, but I guess the church will have to do for now.’
  • I pretended not to hear an idea from our drummer, and then five minutes later ‘amazingly’ came up with the same idea.
  • I borrowed a friend’s Taylor acoustic to play. It sounded fantastic. That’s not the bad part. The bad part is that I literally asked someone 4 years ago to shoot me in the eye if I ever played ‘the worship leader guitar.’ I’m glad he had the weekend off. No, I don’t think he literally would have shot my eye out (hehe, good movie), but I would’ve had to eat some serious crow (such an odd phrase) when I told him that I quite enjoyed the sound of the ‘sellout’ guitar.
  • Some people in the congregation didn’t seem into worship, and my literal first thought was that I might need to switch to EA cables from Lava.

And there you have it. I am not…how do you say it…oh ya!……not good. However, I do feel much more humble now, and of course, the true test of being really humble is when you know you are. ;)

Splendid.
Karl.