Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Listen To The Music

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?

5 Comments

  1. ncromer3@gmail.com

    I'm a presentation operator for the most part at my church. Listening to the music is the number 1 thing I do that makes me good at what I do. For the most part I could probably run the songs blindfolded, not that I would want to because sometimes I make mistakes of course. Just last night in practice the band went a little long on an intro but. I had the words up there at the right time they realized they had done it wrong when the track started messing up.
    At this point it's so second nature even if I haven't heard the song before I can usually get it 80 to 90% right.
    Also if you Do another post like this it should be called "turn off your cell phone", that's the number 2 thing I do that makes me good at what I do. I've seen so many people miss cues because they were texting or whatever.

  2. ncromer3@gmail.com

    I'm a presentation operator for the most part at my church. Listening to the music is the number 1 thing I do that makes me good at what I do. For the most part I could probably run the songs blindfolded, not that I would want to because sometimes I make mistakes of course. Just last night in practice the band went a little long on an intro but. I had the words up there at the right time they realized they had done it wrong when the track started messing up.
    At this point it's so second nature even if I haven't heard the song before I can usually get it 80 to 90% right.
    Also if you Do another post like this it should be called "turn off your cell phone", that's the number 2 thing I do that makes me good at what I do. I've seen so many people miss cues because they were texting or whatever.

  3. Glen Farrell

    I spend a fair amount of time listening to the way we did the songs the last time. I also tend to listen on near fields at home, and in car for a few days afterwards.

    One thing I've found extremely helpful is to make not only a board mix recording, but record a microphone pair at the mix position(I use a 4 track SD card recorder with a built-in mic pair). The microphones provide a good complement to the traditional board tape, and I also can better judge the overall mix and make corrections on Sun morning.
    I don't pretend that the mic pair actually captures the way it sounds 100%, but I find it gives me a closer representation of the actual mix. And it tends to factor in the acoustic drums and the guitar amps into the equation.

    I now have a fairly substantial library of songs "the way we do them" that I can refer to, as usually at minimum 4/5 are songs we've done before and while players vary, usually the parts don't vary as much.

  4. hook@ps139.com

    Very good points, Mike. One thing I'll add to the presentation side is something I learned just recently. We have some deaf people coming to our church on a regular basis now, and we have an interpreter who signs, including the music. Our projection folks have been really good about hitting their cues. But, for the interpreter, getting the 'next' set of words on the screens a second or two quicker than our 'norm' really helps them. Even though the interpreter knows the songs fairly well, giving her an extra second or two to quickly see the words before having to sign them is a huge benefit to her. If anyone has an interpreter for their service, touch base with them and see if they have any input on the speed of the lyrics…you may be able to help them with their ministry!

  5. hook@ps139.com

    Very good points, Mike. One thing I'll add to the presentation side is something I learned just recently. We have some deaf people coming to our church on a regular basis now, and we have an interpreter who signs, including the music. Our projection folks have been really good about hitting their cues. But, for the interpreter, getting the 'next' set of words on the screens a second or two quicker than our 'norm' really helps them. Even though the interpreter knows the songs fairly well, giving her an extra second or two to quickly see the words before having to sign them is a huge benefit to her. If anyone has an interpreter for their service, touch base with them and see if they have any input on the speed of the lyrics…you may be able to help them with their ministry!

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