[Michael Hodge] I’ve been super fortunate to have so many great experiences, doing what I love with musicians more talented than myself. To start with touring, it’s true adventure almost surreal, especially after the first few shows. As a young player it’s a great entry-level job. You can end up though giving many of your best years to build and support an artist’s career. You’re not the artist and it’s always for a season that comes and goes. It’s super fun and you do learn a lot. You may be the artist’s best friend on the road, but it can change after the tour. They are often in another mode at home. Be there for them anyway when they do call. I have a saying, “blessed are the flexible for they shall not be broken”. The cheese as they say is constantly moving. You have to be smart, motivated, unbreakable, and always listening to God’s leading. I do like seeing believers on mainstream tours. It’s really hard at times to stay on track, but what a great opportunity to make a difference in your fellow musician’s lives. I’ve also had a ton of great times in the studio as a guitar player, and producer. I would say my most transforming experiences personally have ultimately been playing and leading worship. When the presence of God shows up, nothing tops it. When I focus on the words sung and see people really engaged, it brings me to tears. I’ve also got fond memories of traveling with Joyce Meyer for about five years. She is one of the most wonderful anointed and hardest working people I’ve ever known. Let me finish by saying, my whole career has been one of opportunities that came through my relationships at church.
[WM] How long have you been on staff at Lakewood, and how did you get started there?
[Michael] I was working on a number of Integrity Music records with Israel Houghton. We hit it off and he reached out to do a live album at Lakewood Church in 2005. It was a wonderful record. Killer anointed songs of course, and such a special atmosphere that night! They offered me a position on staff. It was a big move to leave Nashville. I felt deep down I should do it and I’m forever grateful to Israel. Pastor Joel and Victoria Osteen are so genuine and down to earth in person. I’ve been honored to have a part in supporting their ministry.
[Michael] It’s a good comparison actually. Both artists are musical icons in their genres. Living in Los Angeles, we were super into R&B. It’s all about feel, and musicality. At the time, I was in a fusion band with guys who already toured with her. Playing with guys like that prepared me for the level expected. So being a huge fan of Chaka’s music, I had to still make sure I knew the parts. When I showed up at the audition I was pretty prepared. I was fortunate to already have a great vibe with her band. That was huge. We connected right away, and she was amazing and inspiring to work with.
With Israel, I first met him doing a live worship album for Integrity Music. To prepare for those you might have to stay up all night going over the charts and making notes. In those situations I think of a song I know that is similar and write that title next to the title on the chart. I also write down the pedals or patches for the song. During a live recording it’s a concert and you have concentrate to be at the top of your game. We would sometimes do two live records at once. That could be 30 songs. It’s a smart budget move. The recording truck, sound & lights are already there. It’s a lot more work for the musicians, but challenging and fun too!
[Michael] For most of us, the gear we love the most is the gear we haven’t got! (laughing) When I’m not at Lakewood, I’m at the studio writing with an artist, cutting guitars, or programming film type stuff. I’m always chasing sounds I hear in my head. In the studio there are tools I’ll usually grab first: a McPherson for an acoustic part, and a Strat or Gretsch for electric. Vintage gear has a certain mojo. I like the Tube-Tech CL-1B Compressor or Distressor on Vocals & Bass. For Amps, an AC 30 and a Fender Deluxe. I use SE ribbons and Shure 57’s through an ISA-215 and an old DBX 162. Pro Tools, Cubase, Logic & Ableton are all amazing. For go to Plug-ins: UAD, Waves, and Beatskillz, for Virtual Synths: Output, Spectrasonics, Albion One for Strings, & Serum with Cthulhu for EDM. I love the UA Apollo & Antelope HD32. I’m always trying out new pedals and searching places like Sweetwater for the latest gear.
[WM] You mentioned that you have separate pedal boards for your studio, Lakewood, and touring. What are the differences between these boards, and what advice do you have for players in terms of pedal boards in general?
[Michael] Lakewood provides pedal boards for Joel and I. There’s such a big pedal board culture, most guys like to bring their own. The touring boards need less pedals since it’s a short set with tons of stems. My studio board is larger and always in transition. I’m using a Boss ES-8 switcher. I’ve also got a fly board for live or recording in Nashville. The biggest difference is size. The touring and fly boards are as compact as possible with the best stuff I can squeeze on there.
[WM] I loved the demo you did for the Boss ME-80. What advice do you have for players who are trying to choose between using a multi-effects unit vs. individual stomp boxes?
[Michael] A lot of it depends on what you already own, budget and transportation hassle. Carrying a guitar, amp and pedal board can be a pain. I can relate to that since my last church met in a school auditorium and we set up and tore down every week. The Boss ME-80 is a great option for that. It’s reasonably priced, and can sound amazing if you take some time to tweak it. It can also go direct. There are great patches to download from Boss Central. The new Boss GT 1000 just revealed at NAMM will be a game changer. I confess we are spoiled that the Lakewood boards and amps are already set up and ready to go.
[WM] At the 6:30 mark in the Fishman Tripleplay video you hear a number of synth sounds that are great for church. Given the impact EDM has had on modern Praise and Worship, are you surprised more players aren’t taking advantage of this technology?
[Michael] Well, a lot of guys are still just learning about Tripleplay. If you are at a small church you could have great results as a second guitar player with Tripleplay instead of a keyboard player. It tracks fantastic and comes with killer sounds. I’m an EDM fan so it’s a no brainer. You can also lead on acoustic and just set it up to play a nice pad underneath.
[WM] Given how massive Lakewood is venue wise, did you have to change anything about your playing and gear to make sure it translates to the front of house?
[Michael] We’re on in-ears and have the cabinets under the stage. There are tons of singers, stems, choir and musicians. We try to keep it musical. It takes discipline to not over play. We fight that all the time. We do have fun sneaking in little funny riffs between the players. It actually keeps us paying attention & listening to each other. Kind of like a musical subliminal High-Five between us.
[WM] Regardless of the size of church, what tone tips do you have for players who want to make sure their guitar parts are heard front of house?
[Michael] First respect and love the FOH guys. They are your friend. When they ask you to turn down, don’t fight it. Do figure out a creative way to get your sound as good as possible. Try getting a separate cab off stage, and turn your amp away from the singers and FOH. Also possibly cut back a bit on delays & reverb. It may sound amazing by itself but might be too washy out front. Lastly check to see if your crunch tone is too bright out front. If the top end sticks out too much it will be tiny in the mix. When your friends tell you they can’t hear you, choose your battles. Jesus still heard you just fine! Try to focus on entering into worship even more, and yet not play the martyr or victim.
[WM] In reading through the notes you sent me from the workshops you did in Korea, I was taken by the fact that pretty much every session started with you’re saying that you can’t take the congregation someplace you haven’t been. What advice do you have for how grow your spiritual chops as much as your musical ones?
[Michael] The challenge we have as church musicians, is to keep the main thing the main thing. We can depend too much on the worship leaders to do the heavy lifting in leading the congregation and following the Holy Spirit. I’m talking to myself since I often have to repent for being so easily distracted. When we enter into worship as a team 100%, there will be a real change in the atmosphere. In Isaiah 6:3-4 It says: And one called out to another, saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is filled with His glory.”4 And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, and the temple was filling with smoke. So as the angels call out while looking at each other and in total agreement in their beliefs and descriptions of God… the place goes crazy. I think we all long for that kind of manifestation. Yet it’s also an individual thing. I’ve seen one person totally undone by the Holy Spirit, and then someone next to them just taking it all in. Memo to self: I want to be undone.
[WM] What are some of the specific ways having a degree in music has benefitted you as a worship musician, as well as professionally?
[Michael] Understanding music theory, ear training and reading have helped a lot. If you understand the mechanics, you can almost do anything. It makes writing and arranging so much easier.
[WM] You’ve done a ton of studio work for Integrity and Maranatha. How did you break into doing that and what are some of the specific things you did that made you a ‘go to’ session player for them?
[Michael] As a studio musician, I try to be as creative as possible. I like to free flow in the studio. I’m never at a loss for ideas. The downside is I don’t remember exactly what I play, so we record everything, and then find the best parts. Secondly, I try to have the right instrument that’s in tune, and be able to dial up a great tone quickly that speaks in the track. I try to stay current with what is happening in mainstream music. It’s essential to be
[WM] Be it as a musician, session player, or engineer, what do you do to stay on top of new and emerging trends in music?
[Michael] I’m always listening to new stuff on Spotify and reading and researching new gear.
[Michael] I’m following a number of amazing players like Mateus on YouTube & Instagram. I have a guitar and amp next to my couch and learn new stuff all the time. Sometimes you can force it into something you are currently doing. It may not fit exactly but after a while you make it your own and add it to your arsenal of licks. I like to take the time with any new lick to deconstruct it and I find that super inspiring.
[WM] What practical suggestions do you have for leaders and teams for raising up the next generation of worship musicians?
[Michael] If the church uses a young volunteer band, set them up to win. Help them with their gear. Build relationship and mentor them. If they need lessons, help them find a teacher or do it yourself. If they can’t afford one, consider sponsoring them or bringing in someone for group lessons once a week at church. Culture is key. More is caught than taught. Be available, love on them, and do little things to encourage their walk with the Lord. Take ‘em out for coffee & food! I started a musician’s gathering a few years back at church. I think it made a difference. Most of those guys are in important positions now at Lakewood.
[WM] Thanks so much for taking the time Michael! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
[Michael] At the end of the day, it’s always an honor to serve our Lord’s church. It’s our family. Big or small, we’re all playing for an audience of One. Stay thirsty my friends and keep learning!