Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Less Cowbell, Please

Today’s guest post is from Todd Elliott. Todd is the Technical Arts Director at Willow Creek Community Church. Not only is he the TD of one of the largest churches in the country, he also has a big heart for the local church tech. I highly recommend you follow his writtings on his own blog, First In, Last Out and keep up with him on Twitter (@_ToddElliott). Todd is a friend, and I’m honored to have him guest-posting today.

It is very rare that I would prefer less cowbell.  However, we had a service a couple of weeks ago at Willow where I was on the verge of wishing for much less.

It was the Father’s Day service, and the creative idea was to have dads come up from the audience to participate in leading worship from the stage.  We gave each one a drum stick and something to hit with it.  Most of them were playing on a drum of some kind, but there it was…the cowbell.  Some lucky dad had the prescription to cure someone’s fever.

From a musical stand point, and more importantly from a production standpoint, the mix was horrendous.  There was a  cacophony of noise coming from our stage that couldn’t be fixed by any plug in.  Back in the booth, we had a few conversations about how to make the mix come together with that awful noise.

In reality, this was one of those times when the perfect mix didn’t matter; one of those times when technical excellence is way down the list of things that are important; when whether the dads had enough rehearsal is even a part of the discussion.

This idea was about engaging people in our congregation in new ways.  It is about celebrating dads.  It is about how hilarious it is to watch a bunch of middle aged dudes with no rhythm try to connect a drum stick with a cowbell.  It is a moment in the service that people will talk about, that made our mega church feel like something more normal sized.  In spite of it not being technically excellent, it was an amazing part of our service.

This example might be extreme, and therefore making it a little too obvious that what matters for production isn’t always the most important thing.  However, after this particular weekend, I  have wondered quite a bit about the other instances that aren’t as obvious.  Am I holding up the value of production higher than it needs to be?

I think there are moments that get missed because we could have rehearsed more or been better prepared.  If we had 20 guys on stage every week that sounded that bad, I think we would have a problem where the value of excellence needs to be raised up a little higher.  But are there moments in our services that should be happening and aren’t because I am worried about technical excellence above all else? 

There is a never ending tug-of-war between having enough rehearsal time and flying by the seat of your pants; between planning everything so it can be executed flawlessly versus being spontaneous; between the perfect mix and too much cowbell.

How are you walking the tightrope? 

Are things always landing on the side of technical excellence or are you able to see the big picture so that you know when to lower your value for the sake of the service? 

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8 Comments

  1. benji@benjiyork.com

    Am I holding up the value of production higher than it needs to be?

    I have a feeling that you were thinking of a few particular instances when you wrote that. I am curious what they are.

  2. benji@benjiyork.com

    Am I holding up the value of production higher than it needs to be?

    I have a feeling that you were thinking of a few particular instances when you wrote that. I am curious what they are.

  3. telliott@toddelliott.net

    Great question Benji. I think that anytime something compromises the ideal production scenario, my first reaction is to care more for my own issues that what is best for the service. In the cowbell example, the mix fell apart the minute all those dads started playing, yet it was the exact right thing for the service. I think this happens in more subtle ways every week.

    Not sure I answered the question, but there are probably too many situations to even keep track.

  4. telliott@toddelliott.net

    Great question Benji. I think that anytime something compromises the ideal production scenario, my first reaction is to care more for my own issues that what is best for the service. In the cowbell example, the mix fell apart the minute all those dads started playing, yet it was the exact right thing for the service. I think this happens in more subtle ways every week.

    Not sure I answered the question, but there are probably too many situations to even keep track.

  5. jliechty200@gmail.com

    This comes up with shocking regularity in the mostly traditional church in which I serve. While we don't have rhythm-less cowbell players on stage every week, we do have that old fashioned part of the service known as "special music." Some of our performers have rather, um, creative intonation. Despite how this grates on my ears (and when they're acappella, you can't turn them down in the mix!), I've heard many congregants say how much so-and-so's music was a blessing to them. Given my own feelings, I wonder if this is a turn off to other young adults (we have been and are remaining a predominantly older congregation), but since our leadership is content with things as they are, I try to do what I can with what's coming in the other side of the mic.

  6. jliechty200@gmail.com

    This comes up with shocking regularity in the mostly traditional church in which I serve. While we don't have rhythm-less cowbell players on stage every week, we do have that old fashioned part of the service known as "special music." Some of our performers have rather, um, creative intonation. Despite how this grates on my ears (and when they're acappella, you can't turn them down in the mix!), I've heard many congregants say how much so-and-so's music was a blessing to them. Given my own feelings, I wonder if this is a turn off to other young adults (we have been and are remaining a predominantly older congregation), but since our leadership is content with things as they are, I try to do what I can with what's coming in the other side of the mic.

  7. benji@benjiyork.com

    Josh, I think you have the right attitude when you "try to do what I can with what [you are given]". On the other hand, I worry about churches comitting slow suicide by sticking with less-than-modern approaches to worship. My experience has been that it takes vision and strength on the part of those in leadership positions to make worship modernization work.

  8. benji@benjiyork.com

    Josh, I think you have the right attitude when you "try to do what I can with what [you are given]". On the other hand, I worry about churches comitting slow suicide by sticking with less-than-modern approaches to worship. My experience has been that it takes vision and strength on the part of those in leadership positions to make worship modernization work.

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