Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Choices, Decisions, and Service...

Okay, it's time to admit something - when I'm leading worship, I sometimes forget that I have these pieces of steel and bronze underneath my hands that are measured in decimal points of thickness.  I just kind-of get a little happy, and start hammering away on a sliver of metal that (with a different consistency) would be used for sewing tiny stitches.  Hi, my name is Adam, and I'm a Heavy-Handed Guitar Player.  I have a tendency to lose focus on playing while I play AND sing, and my guitar tends to pay the price.

A guitar for me has always been a tool.  I'm just not the kind of guy who longs to have 'that' guitar because of the particular wood its made of, or how nice it fits, or anything else like that.  I've only recently in my life realized the importance of 'the action', or how different woods and body style cause different intonations.  I've not been real particular about the tool, just the way it works.  I am particular about some tools - my hammer, for instance.  I don't like a fiberglass handle, and I don't like a light-weight hammer, either.  A metal shaft with the right amount of rubber grip, 16oz head... and I've been using this same hammer for 8 years.  I've never had to change grips or heads, or anything else.  (Yes, dear reader, I build things sometime too.)

Over the last six weeks, I've had to change strings on my guitar five times.  I took it in 3 weeks ago and had it serviced by someone I trust.  It just doesn't seem to be able to keep a set of strings on it... so this week I went searching for a new guitar.  And I learned something about Choices, Decisions, and Service in the process.

First, choices.  Once upon a time, there was Martin, Taylor, Yamaha, and Cheap (with someone else's brand on it).  Now, everyone and their brother has a guitar out.  Brands that I've never heard of before, but very nice.  McPherson is one that I'll check out later in life (low-end guitars in that line are $3000), and I'll have it built-to-order with just the right wood, and just the right pickups, and just the right action...and then I'll probably keep it in a glass case, 'cause I won't want to play it.

Seriously, there are so many, many brands of guitar out there, how can you choose?  You can't order one of each, and play them all!  What you CAN do is the reason this falls into the domain of the Worship Geek - look it up online.

One of the things I've learned over the years can be summed up like this - if someone has a good experience with an item or store, they will tell a few close friends.  If someone has a bad experience, they will stop strangers on the street to tell them.  And so it is with reviews online.  Take them with a grain of salt - if someone has a bad experience, they get online and review the item with a rant ("this is the biggest piece of junk, and you're a loser if you buy it").  If someone has a good experience, though, and they take the time to write about it, then you know it's really good -or they're getting paid!

The best review collection I've found is at one place - Amazon.  They sell more types of items than anyone except eBay, and there's a place for reviews on all of them.  So, when you begin to choose, read reviews, and take them 'with a grain of salt'.

Now, for a guitar, the only way to make a real decision is to play it.  It deserves travel time, and some extra ears.  So for my journey, I took the most honest people I know - my kids.  They will say stuff like 'that one sounds good' or 'that one's ugly' or 'that one sounds awful, daddy!'

Thankfully, there is a store near me that allows me to play many different guitars, and see for myself.  So off we went to Tallahassee and Guitar Center to make a decision.  A decision crafted by the feel and sound, weighted with the listening of extra ears, and balanced by the reading of online reviews.  But...I found that because of the kind of service this place has, my decision doesn't have to be the final one!

I came home with a great guitar.  It sounds pretty good acoustically, and at the writing of this, I haven't plugged it in to the system in the worship center to see how it is there.  I have a rehearsal tonight that will let me get a chance at a work-out on it.  Thanks to great customer service, if I get in there and don't like the sound, I can bring it back, and trade for another one.  Now, try doing that at your local car dealer, or appliance store!  I've heard of very few appliance stores that take back a unit because someone didn't like it, and I've NEVER heard of a car dealership that would take a car or truck back because someone didn't like it!  But Guitar Center (insert shameless plug here) tells me if I don't absolutely love this guitar, they'll take it back and let me choose another to try. Cool, huh?!?

So, dear reader, Choices, Decisions, Service.  What does that teach anyone else?  Well, hopefully, from my experience, you will have learned -
1. Find what you need (tech, instrument, music, etc), and begin to narrow your choices based on the response of the marketplace.  Capitalism is alive and well, and running headlong into the future on the Internet.
2. Make a decision based on personal experience and trusted voices, trying out a few of the things you've narrowed your choices to.
3. Find a place with great service to purchase from.  There is no substitute for service, but there aren't many places that provide it these days.  Find one, and stick with them.  I've found a few, and they always get my business AND my recommendation.

Until next time...

Monday, October 10, 2011

There Is No Free Candy From The Apple Parade...

This is a continuation of a post I did on Facebook.  I felt this needed a bit more than I normally put on these things, so I reopened my blog to yell from the rooftops.  Now, this is not meant to be mean to FB Friends who have already 'shared' the link... actually, I should say thanks.  You alerted me to something to warn everyone about.  Apple is not giving away iPads in memory of Steve Jobs.

I'm sorry folks.  I think Steve Jobs was a great innovator, and re-creator.  He was able, with the help of his team at Apple Inc., to take things that were 'ok' like MP3 players and computers and make user-friendly devices that now we cannot seem to live without (AKA iPhone, and MacBooks).  He will be missed, and I for one wish I had the chance to meet him.  Hopefully, I would have had the boldness to ask about his eternal soul...

Now, to the soap-box du jour.  There are no free iPads, iPhones, MacBook Pros, MacBook Airs, etc. given away on Facebook, or by emailing everyone on your list.  Apple has a VERY strict policy governing giving away items like that.  They have to follow their own policies in this regard, too.  Even Rush Limbaugh (who I've personally heard give away about 50 iPads) has to PURCHASE the ones he gives away.

Okay, I did a quick Google Search of the site that was shared recently, and I'll break this down as simply as possible to explain what I found.

First, a little technology education: An IP address is a set of numbers you would type in if we didn't have these cool 'domain names' like "Google.com" or "Facebook.com".  They look like this:

That number is an actual IP address for Google.  Now, Google is so MASSIVE, they have 1,785 IP addresses, and when you type 'Google.com' you get sent to one of them.  Apple also has between 1500-2000 IP addresses pointing people to the right place when they type in 'apple.com' or 'iCloud.com', etc.
It would seem that major corporations have large groups of IP's, right?

So what did my Google Search tell me? Well, this 'my.ipadgiving.***' is at the same IP as: whoiskimkardashian.***, advocaredistributors.***, wheretofindjobsonline.***, emergencydentalnetwork.***,  Ipadlimit.***, hookingupsite.***, mycampingsupplies.***, and at least 17 other hosts! (None of which are owned by Apple Inc., BTW)
(oh, the *** is there because Blogger blocks the post when the URL is there because the site contains MALWARE!)

Sorry, folks.  There is an Apple Parade going on right now - The co-founder and former CEO is gone, and they're getting TONS of publicity.  The iPhone 4S sold 1 million units in about 4 hours.  But they are not throwing out any candy from this parade.  Now, if you happen to be close to where a new Apple Store is opening, get in line on opening day, and you'll get a t-shirt.  Get one for me too, okay?

Monday, May 2, 2011


Hi.  My name is Adam, and I'm a clickoholic.  I know, many folks go their entire lives (musically) without ever using the stuff, but I'm addicted to click.

Okay, so now that you, dear reader, are partially confused, let me go at this another way - I don't believe that you can have a fully successful band (of more than 3) without using a click track.  The click brings stability.  The click brings unity.  The click...oh, alright.  I'll stop with the wise-clicks...er...wise-cracks.

Seriously, a click to keep your tempo true is a great thing.  I didn't think it was necessary for a long time, though.  I should have noticed the clues all around, but I guess I'm a little thick.  Let me show you:

1) When you take piano, the teacher makes you play (once you have moved to 2-hand playing) with a METRONOME.  And what is a metronome, but an acoustic click track?  You learn to keep a steady tempo, so that later, you can learn to play with more feeling (known musically as rubato or obligato)  This applies also to drums, guitar, or any other instrument.

2) The conductor of an orchestra or choir keeps the tempo.  It's a silent click, but it's still there.  Oh, and if you take conducting (which I did, in college), you will learn to conduct to a metronome.

3) Now to the geek side - when you record your first MIDI instrument, you find this neat little tool called Quantization (or Quantize, depending on the software).  What quantize does is this: it moves the notes played to the nearest beat division you select.  For instance, if you played a rhythm that contains 8th's and 16th's, you would select '16th notes' as your beat division, so it moves to the 8ths and 16ths.  I know I'm going a little fast for the MIDI novices, but I promise I'll address MIDI in a later post.  (I can give you much more information about MIDI than you could possibly use)

But guess what?  Quantization requires one simple thing to work properly - a click track! Or, more accurately, you to play with a click track when laying that rhythm down.  If you don't use a click to play in your part (be it drums, keyboards, etc), then it's kind-of like throwing Scrabble(TM) tiles at the game board and hoping to get a triple word score with a 'Z' in it.  It just won't work.

Now all of these things I have done, and more, but just those three should have clued me in.  But the thing that convinced me was this: I saw professionals use them.

"B-b-b-but, Pastor Adam, aren't YOU a professional?!?"  (yes, I can read your mind!)
"But, Pastor Adam, you shouldn't copy those guys." (yes, I can read yours too!)
(nope. not going there.)

Okay, here's the short story - I went to a songwriter's conference in Santa Cruz, CA.  BTW, it is a beautiful place... but I'll get to that another time.  I noticed that everyone, not just the 'pop-rock' worship leaders were using a click.  Even Don Moen used a click track!  Now, not everyone used loops, or backing stuff, but they all used a click to keep the band 'tight'.  Then, later on, I got to see another version of this - using clicks and LOOPS.

Israel Houghton is a phenomenal song writer, in my opinion.  The things he is able to put together, not just lyrically, but musically, are just fantastic.  I had the opportunity to see him live in Tallahassee, Florida, some years ago, and I learned another thing about the click - it relieves your players of some repetitive playing.  You see, in the song "Not Forgotten", there is a really intricate drum/percussion beat.  I was really impressed with the drummer's ability to play, before I saw them live.  While I am STILL impressed the the drummer's ability, I was equally impressed by how relaxed he was in that song - they used a drum/percussion loop to play the more intricate parts.  That was when I lost my previous inhibitions about using live and pre-recorded players on stage in a worship setting.

I won't go in to detail on this post about using loops and tracks in a live worship setting, but I will tell you this: much of the improvement in the band at my church I owe to making us use a click.  Not every player has that in their monitor/headphones.  But the foundational players - Bass, Drums, and Worship Leader (Acoustic Rhythm Guitar) have that click in their headphones.  And it keeps us together even when the click fails or drops out!

I've had younger players/leaders ask me things like "don't you feel that it constricts your freedom to worship?"  On the contrary - I believe that this enhances my ability to worship.  You see, the Worship Leader cannot, by virtue of their position, get 'lost in worship'.  (If the leader gets lost, where do the sheep end up?)  So we have to be concerned with things like parts sung correctly, players on the right chord, and, of course, tempo.  With a click, that is one less thing to concentrate on, and just allow it to work.  You can set all these before your service, and have a few in reserve in case you need to change songs mid-stream.  It just works.

I've even had some players who have gone on to bigger and better things come back later to say 'you know that click thing - everybody here (where they are now) is using it.  I'm so glad you convinced me to use a click'.  I'm glad, too.

So, now you know.  I am a click addict...nah.  I'm a click advocate.  As the Word says, use it in moderation - there are times to NOT use a click.  But don't be afraid of it.  It will make you a better musician, and a more relaxed leader.

Until next time...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Sometimes, you just gotta go with it...

Wow, what a great Easter Sunday!  The sun came up, I was breathing, my kids behaved well...oh, but this is my Tech Blog.  Sorry, that was one of those rambling thoughts...

Well, MOST things went well in the Tech Spectrum at church yesterday.  A few things glitched, but overall, I have to say it was the most RELAXED I have been about an Easter Sunday in years.

This is not a place I have come to overnight.  This is DEFINITELY NOT a relaxation that comes from weeks of planning, either.  This is a place that took years to get to.  The right people in the right place, and more of them than you need. THAT is how I got here.

As I said in my comments about this blog, one of the elements I'll talk (write) about here is Team-Building.  The reason I was able to relax and 'just go with it', even when tech stuff didn't work was my team.  My wonderful, fabulous, Technical Arts Team.  They are not always confident in themselves; sometimes they make mistakes; sometimes their equipment fails and makes them look bad.  They very rarely get praise when stuff works right, they always get dirty looks when things go wrong.  But they keep on coming back, and working hard to make our worship services great from the first announcement slide to the last 'Amen'

Let me tell you a little about how I got to this place:  Once upon a time, I thought it was best to have someone who knew as little about the system as possible.  "Just get someone who has little interest, and doesn't want to twist knobs" was my way of thinking.  Then, I had a gentleman volunteer who really took a keen interest in the sound.  He was already an electronics guy - a Ham Radio operator, of all things, too.  He took enough of an interest in the operation to read the manuals!  And what he did was not just run the sound system, he took a burden off of my shoulders.

BTW, for those waiting for my typical bit of useless trivial information: it is not a 'sound system'.  It is a "Sound Reinforcement System".
>SNIP< (And back to my rambling)

This was not without (virtual) kicking and screaming on my part.  I am, if nothing else, a control freak.  I like things done my way, and it's that or the highway, if you know what I mean.  But occasionally, I am...dare I say it...wr-wr-wrong!  This is something a musician should learn early.  If you do a recording, and you play all the instruments and you sing all the vocals, the whole thing sounds like you.  It's kind-of like water soup.  It may be good for a moment, but then you wonder where the flavor is.  What I learned here is that sometimes, it's good to let go, and let someone else add their 'flavor' to the mix (see that pun?!?)

Alright, enough rambling...get to the point!

So, what I am trying to say, dear reader, is that a Worship Leader cannot play an instrument AND sing AND run the projector AND mix the sound AND AND AND... it takes a team of people who are committed not only to the post they are in, but to the overall goal of drawing people's attention to Jesus.  AND, they at least like the Worship Leader.

It is technologically possible to do all of those things, especially today.  With the right software-hardware combination, one guy (or girl) can lead, sing backup vocals, play every instrument, fire-off the lyrics on a projector, and change the lighting.  It will be technically precise, everything work, and you can do it all from an iPad.  But no-one else gets involved in ministry.  Even Michael W. Smith, who has been writing music as long as many young worship leaders today have been alive, and is quite capable of pulling off a solo concert has a STAGE FULL of people with him.  Why?  Well, I don't really know why he does it, but I do it this way because the Holy Spirit, flowing through me, comes through in a different flavor that He does flowing through you.  And when those flavors are blended with several more, we find a great savory worship experience that we can enjoy, and (hopefully) blesses the LORD.

Oh, did I mention that you have to let someone else be in charge? At least in the Tech Team.  I have a Tech Director who's primary goal is to make sure everyone has what they need to do their job. Especially me, the worship leader.  Without this person, I can't relax and lead worship.  Without this director, I still have to be concerned about the tech of a worship service.  Now, being the control freak that I am, I am still concerned with Tech, but I don't have to be distracted by Tech.  And, the fact that we have just enough volunteers for a little redundancy helps too.

NOTE: If you go to River of Life and are reading this, and you aren't involved with another ministry - you should talk to me about joining the Technical Arts Team!

My advice, dear reader, is that if you have  a young worship leader that you are close to, have them read this, and posts to follow about team-building.  There are few joys greater than to be relaxed on the biggest Sunday of the year, see people saved and baptized, the largest crowd our church has seen, and to know that even if something doesn't go as planned, you can just go with it, and know that GOD is in control.

See you next time...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What's this all about?

Yeah - what is this all about?  Well, you see, as a singer and musician (and yes, I do use those terms loosely), I find that I am afflicted with brain-mouth disease.  No, it's not the same one my daughter has where she says what she thinks; it's the one where I get home and say, "oh, yeah - I should have said it that way!" or "Man, I wish I hadn't said that!"

Some of us are simply better writers than speakers.  I am a classic example of this.  So, a blog is a way for me to put down all the thoughts I have concerning the topics I know best: Worship and Technology.  Of course, as the father of 11 kids, sometimes it will be about that, too.  And all of it will be tempered through the looking-glass of more than 25 years of experience in leading church music of all different varieties.  Oh, and 12 of those years have been spent at the same church.

Why now?  Well, I've been thinking about this for a couple of years, but just keep putting it off.  Then, I was on FaceBook yesterday, and my friend Karolyn had written her first blog about adoption (a subject she knows well, too).  BTW, you should check out her blog - imreallynotthatsmart.blogspot.com

So, who knows what will be on these pages?  Only God, at this point. 

Stay tuned, boys and girls.  It's gonna be fun!