What’s Wrong With Your Worship Music? By Don Chapman
The band is tight. The worship leader is sincere. The singers are on pitch. Everything is going as planned. Almost.
There’s a good sized church of a few thousand in town that I’ve heard has great preaching and lousy music. A professional drummer I know goes there for the preaching but he confessed he struggles with the music quality.
I visited this church last Sunday and sure enough, the preaching was great. I’d even say it was spectacular – the sermon seemed to be aimed right at me. (By the way, that seems to me to be a good indication of a great preacher or worship leader. Worship leaders who prayerfully plan their praise sets each week, asking “God, what do You want to hear,” will often receive comments after the service like “wow – I really needed to hear that song today.” Good preachers are likewise directed by God to speak the Truth in a way that meets the needs of their congregation.)
The music was solid – a typical volunteer praise band with an acoustic and electric guitar, keyboard, bass, drums, a male worship leader and a female backup singer. The music was played well and the leading was heartfelt and in tune.
What was NOT fine were two problems that plague the vast majority of contemporary churches: worship flow and sound quality. Fix these things and you’ll vastly improve your worship experience.
Worship flow: I’ve harped on this for years – music is the glue that holds your praise set together. DON’T stop between songs. I’ve seen this problem in both famous megachurches who should know better and tiny ministries. In the church I visited a worship song was led, then the band stopped cold while the worship leader yakked for a few minutes. Then another random song started. Then stopped.
There’s no art to this. Choose songs that fit together by theme, tempo or at least by key. Don’t leave holes of dead space between songs – quietly play a pad or noodle on the keyboard as the worship leader speaks.
Sound quality: Most ministries are stuck with their sound system. With tight budgets the last thing a tone-deaf elder or deacon will ok is an audio upgrade. But what you don’t have to be stuck with is a lousy mix. By dialing the right knobs you just might get your bland sound system to start sounding halfway decent.
When I’m working on one of my songs, step one is to record guitars and play my synthesizers to create the arrangement. Once the song is recorded it’s there but sounds flat – it lacks the “sparkle” of a professional recording. Step two is to mix the song – adding eq, reverb, delay, compression and the other tools of a mixing engineer.
While live sound needn’t be as complex as a recording, the basics still apply. At the church I visited the acoustic guitar sounded absolutely awful – flat and dull with a “woofy” tone – problems easily fixed with a little eq. The vocals weren’t compressed so quieter words would drop out. The entire mix sounded so lifeless that it was almost a chore to endure it – and remember, the musicians here were playing fine – it’s just how the audio sounded. As a musician, I understood why it wasn’t an enjoyable experience – what would a casual visitor think?
Examine your praise set for this Sunday. What tweaks can you make to create a smoother worship flow?
At rehearsal, step to the back of your room and objectively listen to your group. Do they sound lifeless or dull, or do they sound more like a professional CD? Why or why not? If need be, ask a friendly audio engineer to visit a rehearsal and offer some helpful suggestions for a better live mix.