Why Make it Beautiful?

Image courtesy of http://kevinashphotography.com

I recently happened across a discussion that was started by a pastor who was looking at the bland, white walls of their sanctuary with terrible acoustics and struggling with the why of making it look nice. Thankfully, he understood the need to fix the terrible acoustics. But he was legitimately struggling with the why of making the room look better than blank white. 

Now, as a technical artist, you might think my first thought would be to attempt to justify the need for a ton of LED lights, environmental projection and cool stage sets. And while I think there is a place for that, I didn’t go there first. My first thought was the great cathedrals of Europe. Then I thought of what the Temple of David must have looked like. I’ve seen some artist’s renderings of the temple, and it had to be amazing. 

Who Do You Worship?

Looking at those temples and cathedrals, one has to ask, “What is the motivation to create such an awe-inspiring structure?” In the case of the temple, David wanted to create a temple that was as amazing as God himself. That’s probably not possible, but he sure gave it a shot. The great architects and builders of Renaissance tried to build spaces that would put all who entered into a state of awe and wonder. They figured that since we worship a great, awesome and amazing God, the buildings where we worship should be great, awesome and amazing. 

When you enter such a building, or even see pictures of them, you can’t help but be inspired. The longer you spend in them, the more the Gospel story unfolds itself. Those architects were master story tellers and managed to tell a complete story with the building itself. And that doesn’t even begin to consider the artwork and paintings that often filled the space. 

Little White Boxes for You and Me

Fast forward to today and what do we have? White boxes. Instead of creating buildings that inspire wonder and awe, we build the cheapest, most boring church buildings we can. Well, not all of them, but many fit this description. Contrast this to the mall or the Vegas strip. If one were to evaluate what we value based on the time, energy and money we spend on the architecture, one would potentially come to the conclusion that we don’t really value our God much. 

Spend Money on Ministry!

The cry we often hear when it comes to not spending any money on the building is that we should be spending it on ministry instead. While I think spending money on ministry is a good thing, I think that argument is based on a fundamental lack of faith. The great cathedrals of Europe cost a small fortune to build, and often took a century to complete. But look at the results! Hundreds of years later, they’re still wonderful. 

Today, we live in the most prosperous nation in the world, and we scrimp and build our “houses of worship” with the lowest bidder. The Bible says God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and He’s not really concerned about finances. Yet we pinch every penny and build the most boring, uninspiring building to worship the God who created the entire universe. Does anyone else see the disconnect there? 

Strike a Balance

Now, I understand we live in a different time and place. A $100 Million cathedral might not be the best idea today. However, our buildings don’t have to be ugly and boring. I think it’s more important to be intentional about creating a space for worship than it is to spend a lot of money on it. 

I travel to a lot of different church buildings and I’ve seen the ugly white boxes and I’ve seen buildings that are incredibly cool and welcoming that didn’t cost a fortune. It’s all about creating a space that is inspiring, calming, welcoming or engaging—depending on what you’re going for. It could be as simple as a few thousand dollars worth of ultra short throw projectors on those blank white walls (they’re good for something!). Or it could be a paint and some cool found objects arranged in a way that tells a story. 

Technology is Changing

A few years ago, every church that wanted to be “relevant” (in quotes because it’s been so over used I’m not sure it’s relevant any more) put up a bunch of moving lights, fired up the hazer and tried to do a rock concert every weekend. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, unless you do a terrible job of it. Or it’s not at all the culture of your church. Some of the best worship experiences I’ve had were in very simple, but very intentional rooms. They used technology—lights, haze, video, graphics—but that wasn’t the focus. You don’t have to go crazy. But you can make it beautiful. You should make it beautiful. It should match who you are as a church. And it should reflect the God who created the universe all around us. How’s that for some inspiration!

How Do I Get My Worship Leader To...

Image courtesy of wEnDy

Image courtesy of wEnDy

Last week at SALT, I had the great opportunity to lead a panel discussion called, “The Same Kind of Different as Me.” The premise is that we have all these different creative disciplines working in the church—music, tech, media, programming and such. From the outside, those teams all get lumped together as the “creatives.” We’re all viewed as somewhat weird by the “normal” folks of the church. 

But internally, we are each a bit different. Musical and technical artists are perhaps the greatest example of this. While they are both completely dependent on each other, they can also be at odds with each other. One of the most frequent questions I receive on this subject is a variation of, “How do I get my worship leader (or tech person) to do what I want?” My answer usually surprises them; I typically ask, “When was the last time you went out to lunch with them?” 

Great Production Comes From Great Friendships

The best services, special events and even corporate gigs I’ve been a part of were all ones where I truly enjoyed working with everyone else on the event. When you are really good friends with your worship leader, something changes in the way worship happens. When you two don’t get along, everyone knows. They may not know that you don’t get along, but they know something is wrong. 

But when there is a deep level of friendship, mutual respect and admiration between tech and music, worship is better. That takes work, but it’s so worth it. 

It’s Not Complicated

Building a great relationship with your counterpart is not complicated, but it can be hard. Depending on how strained the relationship might be, you may need to bring in some help. But if you’re like most teams, and you’ve just never thought about it, start with food. Food makes everything better. There is something magical about breaking bread with someone that automatically deepens a relationship. That’s why so many first dates are over dinner. Food brings people together. 

If you’re struggling with some issues with your tech guy (or worship leader) go out to lunch with them. Not with an agenda to try to fix it, just go eat a great burger together. Not the same burger. That would be weird. You get the idea. Go to lunch and ask them about their family. If they don’t have one, ask them about their guitar, where they grew up, what music they like, what movies they enjoy, maybe even what sports they follow. Get to know them, you know, like you would another human being. Crazy, right?

Do this for a few months, then start talking about how you can work together to develop a better team. 

Get Out of the Booth, or Off The Stage

One of the best things you can do to build relationships is to leave your comfort zone, and meet someone in theirs. For tech guys, that means get out of the booth and be on stage when the band arrives. Ask them about their week, help them set up, and find out a little more about them. Do this for a few months and you will have a great relationship with your musicians. Music guys, get off the stage once in a while and go hang out in the booth. Ask the team there how they are doing. Get to know them. We will all serve each other better when we’re friends. 

Just Talk To Them

My friend Dave Stagl said it best one time on a podcast some years ago. We were talking about how to help drummers play to the room. A bunch of suggestions were offered then Dave piped up and said, “I don’t know, how about walking on to the stage and talking to them like they’re a human being.” In the pressure of getting a service ready, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the people there are simply filling a role. We can forget that they are human beings with feelings, struggles, hopes and dreams. When we treat them like a role, we will not get the results we want. 

But when we address them as real people, things change. Yes, this is harder and takes longer than just issuing edicts from on high. However, the results are much better and long-lasting. And besides, who doesn’t love a good burger?

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Be Honest

Image courtesy of rik-shaw

Image courtesy of rik-shaw

Last week we enjoyed the SALT conference. I’ve said before it’s probably my favorite conference of the year. In addition to the great content, there is a tremendous opportunity to rub shoulders with like-minded people. Not only did I meet some great new friends this year, I got to catch up with some old friends. One interaction in particular reminded me of something I haven’t thought about in a while; that is, the importance of having some people in your life you can be honest with. 

The Christian Lie

One of my biggest frustrations about being involved with a mid- to large-sized church is that so often we lie to each other. Now, I’m not talking about lying about things like stealing, cheating on your wife, or being habitually in sin. What I’m referring to are the little lies that are usually precipitated by the question, “How are you?” 

Now, you know what I’m talking about. There are two kinds of answers to that question—no, three kinds. I’ll come back to the third. The first answer is—of course—“Fine.” Or any variation thereof. We’re great; better than ever; busy, but good; hanging in; doing well; keeping on; whatever the phrase is in your town. To be sure, sometimes we really are great. In fact, for many of us, life really is good. Sure, there are small struggles, but overall, things are going in a positive direction and we are content. And that is truly great.

But sometimes, we’re not great. But we say we are. Correction, we lie and say we are. There is an unspoken rule in church that we need to be great, because if we’re not, there is clearly a problem with our faith. So to avoid the potential confrontation, we lie and say we’re fine. And too often, the person asking the question is also anything but fine, but they accept the lie because they don’t want to dig much below the surface.

The second way to answer the question is to start in a detailed description of every struggle in your life. We all know people like this. They have no filter. If they spilled their milk while getting their Cinnamon Toast Crunch for breakfast, you’re going to hear about it. If their husband just left them, you will know all the details. We tend to avoid people like this. The challenge with these folks is they often don’t want any resolution or improvement in their lives, they just want you to know how hard their life is. 

A Better Option

The better option is to be able to answer honestly, with the right amount of details for the level of relationship. Last week, an old friend, one who I spent a some time with in an encouragement group some years back asked me how I was doing. I was able to tell him of some of the joys and struggles of the last 12 months. While I didn’t go into all the details, we have enough of a relationship that I could share enough to get the point across. That prompted a very sincere and heartfelt prayer, right there in the lobby. Those kind of interactions are priceless. 

Who Can You Be Honest With?

This brings me to my point; who can you truly be honest with? I have about 8-10 guys in my life that I can be really honest with. They know not only the good stuff I’ve experienced in the last 12 months, but the really hard stuff as well. When they ask me how I am, I can tell them honestly. And they get it because I can do the same for them. 

We say this all the time, that it all comes down to relationships, but it really does. Working in a church can be one of the loneliest jobs because people assume that because you’re on a church staff, you have it all together. Most people never see the tears that happen just behind the veil. It is imperative that you find someone you can be honest with. Someone other than your spouse. You should be honest with them, but you need someone else, too. And it doesn’t matter if your on staff or not. We all need someone in our lives we can be honest with.


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Better Sounding Video, Pt. 2

As I mentioned last time, in honor of my SALT class on getting better audio for video, I’ve dug up some of the very first posts I wrote for ChurchTechaArts, way back in 2007. The previous post focused on the reason for close-mic’ing your talent, and how to use handheld and shotgun mic’s for that purpose. Today, we’ll consider a few other options. 

Wired Lavaliere

My second favorite way to mic interviews (after a shotgun mic), is the wired lavaliere. I have used these extensively professionally with great results. You don't have to worry about interference and the sound quality is excellent. For wired mics, I really like Sony's ECM-77, though the ECM-66 and 55 are pretty good too. The 77 is great because it is tiny, can be hidden almost anywhere and sounds terrific. If you can’t find those, the Countryman B3 or Tram TR50 are great options. DPA also makes some fantastic (and fantastically small) lavs, though they are spendy. 

Wireless Lavaliers

Ideally, you would use a wireless mic that has a camera mount receiver, such as the Shure FP series. The wireless option gives you the most flexibility because you have no wires to connect you to the talent. As long as you stay in range, and choose a clear frequency, things work great. Be wary of cheapo wireless mics, however. If a camera mounted receiver and body pack combo doesn't cost $400-500 at least, keep looking.

The other big downside to wireless is the simple fact that the RF spectrum is shrinking as the Federal government keeps selling it off. We already lost the entire 700 Mhz band, and it looks like we have about 3 years to vacate the 600 Mhz band. When you use a wireless mic, you’re competing with everything else in the area for clear spectrum, and that’s going to become harder. My rule of thumb is that if the talent isn’t moving, there’s not reason to not wire them. 

Another Wireless Option

A final option is to use a wireless mic that you would use in a live sound application. I used to do this a lot at church because we didn’t have a camera mount wireless system. I’d just take one of the Shure ULX-P (back in the day) mics, set the receiver on the floor next to my tripod, and strap the transmitter on the talent. It works great, though it is a bit of a pain every time I move the camera.

Plugging It All In

All of the applications are assuming your camera has XLR inputs to work with (though the camera mounted receivers usually come with an 1/8" cable). Each of these mics are professional grade solutions for prosumer cameras and above. If your camera has only a 1/8" mic jack, all is not lost. You might be tempted to make up an adapter to take XLR to 1/8". Don't do it. The pre-amps on consumer grade equipment will not function well with these types of microphones.

The better solution is to use an adapter box made just for this purpose, such as the ones from BeachTek. They have a variety of solutions that include phantom power, metering and variable gain. They are well worth the investment (as low as $199).

Now that many people are shooting with DSLRs, a better solution is to buy a small recorder from Zoom or Tascam and capture your audio that way. I’ve shot quite a few trade shows with a Tascam DR-40, and it works great. I have a headphone Y-cable on the headphone output jack and take one side to the mic input on my DSLR (for later audio synchronization) and use the other for monitoring.

Listen Live 

Finally, when you are recording, plug some headphones in and listen to what you are recording. I am amazed and confused when I see people recording audio, but not monitoring it (and I've seen it with professionals as much as non-professionals!). When you listen in, you can hear trouble before it is too late. Make sure you use good headphones that provide good isolation. I've been burned before using cheap "walkman" type headphones and thinking I was hearing clean audio, when what I was really hearing was the person talking in the room.

Hopefully you've found this helpful and you will be on your way to making better, more effective videos that will tell the story without being distracting.

Today's post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.