Jim Mathis

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Music Wars

The Music Wars have claimed another casualty. The music minister at our church resigned this week amid some controversy. Whether he was in the wrong position for his gifts or didn’t have thick enough skin, the situation remains troubling. He has talent by the bushel, so that is certainly not it.

We regularly put gifted singers, songwriters, musicians, and all around great worship leaders in high positions of responsibility in the church and then nag at them until they leave with their tails between their legs.

The basic problem is that people don’t like change and music is always changing. People get stuck with the music of their youth and refuse to listen to anything else. A healthy church body is by definition multi-generational, so conflicts about style are inevitable.

Healthy churches also have on-going dialog to help people through change and help people understand that the church is or should be adapting its style to the community of people which it serves. That doesn’t mean the message changes - God never changes – but the language, music, and culture are always changing whether we like it or not.

On several occasions the Apostle Paul said to praise God and encourage one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. It is not clear what the differences between psalms and hymns and spiritual songs were to Paul, but it is clear that he used that phrase to mean all kinds of music. I would paraphrase Paul by saying, “Sing traditional hymns, contemporary praise songs, blues, country, rock, gospel, and anything else you can think off with thanksgiving in your hearts to God.”

Another basic problem is that musicians are always looking for a new sound and audiences always want to hear the old stuff. This applies to popular secular music as well as Christian music. But the Bible says to sing with a new song and we know that God is a creative God; therefore I believe that God would have us look for new ways and new songs to praise Him.

I have heard that there are two types of people: creatives and critics. I know which group I want to be in.

The ideal music minister would chart a well-rounded program with a variety of music, and then stay focused without being strayed or discouraged by those who complain about everything that doesn’t suite their taste.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Techies vs Musicians

We had an eight hour seminar at our church this weekend about sound reinforcement. Two consultants from out of town came to help us out.

As expected, the technical information they presented was right-on, but some of us had a different philosophy concerning who is responsible for the sound quality. In fact they would probably object to my term “sound reinforcement.” Sound reinforcement implies helping the sound that is already there, not recreating all new sound. It all comes down to who is in control – the performers or the sound people.

I have been involved in music for over fifty years. I am sixty and I started playing when I was eight. Those fifty years have been has roughly divided in half as running sound and performing, a years of one and then a few years of the other, or mixed up, so I believe I have a balanced view. I believe that whoever is on stage is responsible for what they sound like. The sound people are there to help and advice. If your name is on the marquis and the ticket stubs, you are ultimately responsible for everything from the quality of the sound to whether the T-shirts shrink. Leading worship is not that much different. If you are up front, you are responsible for your sound.

The consultants we heard from strongly suggested that 1. the sound person is in a better place to hear (possibly) and 2. the musicians don’t know what they are doing anyway (not likely.)

They would want 100% of the control of the sound to be from the sound booth. This would involve eliminating all acoustic instruments such as drums and grand piano, and eliminating all amplifiers from the stage. The bass, guitars, keyboard, electronic drums would all go directly into the house mix and everything would be controlled from the back.

I would suggest that if the musicians have no control over the sound, the next step is to just play tracks. This would certainly make the sound person’s job easier.

I played for years with the mixer on the stage so the members of the band could reach it. (We seldom needed to.) I am thinking of going back to that system. If we play in a large venue, we could just give the sound tech one line out and we would keep all of the control on the stage. I have played at large festivals where every band sounded bad because of incompetent sound people, but nobody (musicians) was willing to do anything about it.

When my band plays a large venue (over 500 people) where a sound person might be necessary, I always tell them to set the stage monitors so we are hearing exactly what the audience is hearing. I then ask them to give us four microphones, all alike and set the same so that we can use them interchangeably. After a short sound check, leave everything alone so we can tell what we are doing. For smaller venues, we only mike the vocals. I know this is old school, but new ways aren’t always better.

I realize that this is a minority view and most sound techs would never give up the control they think they need.

One common mistake that artists make is giving up control of all sorts of stuff. They might hire a manger, get a record deal, hire a tech crew, etc. In each case, they are losing control of the product – the music, and themselves. Avoid this as much as possible.

Two different approaches to sound. Which is right and which is wrong? This is my opinion.

What do you think?