When I was in Junior High School, the Doobie Brothers had a hit entitled, Listen To The Music. That sentence gives you two bits of information; first that I’m an old guy, and second, today we’re talking about listening to the music.
I’ve written about this before, but wanted to go into a little more detail this time. If you are a tech working on a service, I believe it’s pretty important for you to know the music almost as well as the band does (or depending on your band, better). If you’re a presentation tech or camera operator, you might think this only applies to the FOH guy (or girl); but that’s not accurate. Every tech on the crew for the weekend needs to know the songs. What you need to know about the songs will be different, but everyone needs to know them.
The video team needs to know the song so they know who will start it, who will sing it and who will take the solo after the second chorus. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the video team camping out on the piano during a guitar solo. I think, “Guys, did you not listen to the songs? The guitar solo is in the same place every time…” If you’re a camera op, you shouldn’t need to be told that there is a piano fill coming up after this verse; you should know that and be ready to get over there. Directors shouldn’t be reacting to the song as it’s unfolding; when you know the song, you know what’s coming next.
The lighting team also needs to know the song. Listening to the song during the week will help you think about what color the song is. Is it a huge, upbeat song demanding lots of energy, or a quiet reflective one that requires subtlety? Knowing the music will make it easy to hit cues on time. Is that a 4-bar bridge or an 8-bar one? Know it in advance.
Presentation people obviously need to know the song. Their life is hitting cues, and knowing the song makes it easy to get the words on the screen at exactly the right time (which is to say a little early—I even made a several videos demonstrating this…here and here). If you know the songs by heart, you’ll know where the lyric lines break, and you won’t have to spend as much time paying attention to the screen; cuing will be second nature.
Finally, the FOH guys really need to know the song. Whenever I’m mixing, I like to listen through the song set a few times during the week—even for the songs we do regularly (meaning I’ve mixed them dozens of times). I want to know a few things about each song: What instrument(s) is(are) leading the song. What is the rest of the instrumentation like? What kind of vocal effects were used? Are the vocals way out front or set deeper in the mix? Who is taking the solos?
What you need to know will depend on how your band interprets the recording. Our band goes for a pretty close version of the CD. So I try to make it sound as much as possible like that. Of course, we don’t always have the same orchestration the band on the CD did, so I have to make some adaptations. Sometimes we have a sax player who will take guitar solos. We don’t often have two guitars, so I have to consider how I’ll augment our single one. Some weekends, we have percussion so I need to figure out where that’s going to go.
Coming into the service really knowing the music makes all of this a lot easier. Most of the time, I know each line of each instrument (especially if it’s one we’ve done more often). A few weeks ago, we were rehearsing a song, and as we arrived at the bridge, I instinctively pushed up the piano for the fill, only it wasn’t there. Sure enough the worship leader stopped and reminded the piano player about the fill.
If we are going to take our roles as “part of the worship team” seriously, we need to know the music as well as the band. And when we get it right, the entire experience is enhanced for everyone.
How much time do you spend getting to know the music for the weekend?