Before we get started I wanted to extend a big thank you for taking the time out of your day to read [WM]. As you might have heard us say before, our magazine is a ministry, and the heart of ministry for me has always been about caring for people by talking about and finding solutions to the challenges we face. Some of these challenges are personal in nature, while others impact entire teams. In this magazine, we tend to focus on the latter since we don’t have the privilege of getting to know you personally.
Each month I look forward to writing this column because as a former worship and creative arts director I’ve been right there in the trenches faced with finding the solutions to a number of the challenges so many churches face. While we feel called to serve churches looking for solutions to all too often a common set of challenges, I and we don’t take this lightly. We love to serve you and your team, and are grateful for the opportunity. We don’t take this responsibility lightly.
This past month, I shared a quote from the Bethel Worship cover story (June 2018 issue) on our social media. Although I expected the post would generate a certain number of likes, I didn’t anticipate how many people would tag a friend on their team. It became pretty clear that this topic is of great interest, hence why it became the focus of this month’s column. Here’s the larger quote of what Bethel Worship’s Steffany Gretzinger had to say about using, loving, and deciding when to turn off the click…
[WM] Do you keep a click going when you break into times of free worship?
[Steffany] Yes! Most of the time. The guys that I play with all of the time are like family at this point. We travel together and we play at home together, and they know when to turn it off for me. I have signals that I give them when we’re going into a new, creative space. If I feel like we’re going to stay in one place, they’ll leave the click in for me. But sometimes I’ll give them the signal that we’re going to create and try something new, and they’ll turn it off for me. It helps to feel like we’re taking a breath and we’re starting fresh. Then, when we find a flow, they’ll put it back in for me.
I love the click. I didn’t know that a lot of singers don’t like it, but I feel like everyone should have it in their ears. It changes everything and keeps you so connected to the band. I want to feel that connection. You’ll see me turn around, or make eye contact with various singers and musicians on stage, and that’s because we’re going somewhere together. ~
As a proponent of the click I was thrilled to hear Steffany’s comments. While I must admit that I am tempted to use them to ‘make my case’ about the click, knowing how many of us serve at smaller churches, I believe we’d all be better served by unpacking the click conversation a bit. So, before we get to addressing some of the technical challenges the click presents, let’s take a moment to unpack some of the big takeaways from Steffany’s comments.
Despite Bethel’s impact and reach, Steffany’s use of the word family is insightful. Every worship team I’ve served on, be it big or small, had a family dimension to the relationships. Like a family, a lot of our communication is done with a nod or a look.
THE CLICK DOESN’T ALWAYS HAVE TO BE ON
While I love the musical unity that the click provides, you don’t always have to keep it on. As Steffany pointed out, your team can communicate cues for when to keep it on, and when to turn it off.
SINGERS DON’T LIKE THE CLICK
Rather than chastising singers for not liking the click, I’d rather talk about why. Many singers learn to sing standing next to an accompaniment instrument… like the piano. While every sound the piano makes starts with the attack of the strings being hit, most people tend to focus on the pitch and duration of the notes and chords that follow that initial transient. The emotional response that some vocalists have to the click is that it sounds, and hence feels unmusical, which is totally understandable. However, when you start to unpack the benefits of the click many, if not most singers, can appreciate using the click like a rhythmic accompaniment instrument. Unlike the piano, the sound a lot of teams use for the click sits in the vocal register and can be a distraction. We’ll come back to this in a moment.
GOING SOMEWHERE TOGETHER
Perhaps my favorite part of what Steffany said related to using the click as a vehicle of where the team can go together. I can’t imagine that she loved the experience of hearing the click in her IEM’s (In Ear Monitors) the first time out, but over time she grew to appreciate the benefits it offered for the team as a whole.
DO WHAT THE PROS DO?
Last week I had the unique privilege of leading a TEC panel at NAMM with Kent Morris and John Mills. Collectively, their professional credits include working for Charles Stanley, Andy Stanley, Lincoln Brewster, and per this conversation Chris Tomlin. At first, I felt completely out of my league, but once we started answering audience questions, I realized that the things I learned working 80-hour weeks at a small church complemented what Kent and John had to share. Without going into the details in this column, John shared his experience of working with Chris Tomlin when they first went to IEMs. As much as IEMs and click tracks have become best practices for top Christian artists like Chris Tomlin, they too had a learning curve. Which gets us to the training part of this conversation.
THE TRAINING PROBLEM
A series of questions I asked the audience at the TEC Track confirmed a real blind spot that many churches have. After asking how many peoples’ teams used IEMs and click tracks, I asked if their churches had someone who trained musicians on how to use this technology – we’ll come back the response in a moment…
The reality is that your team has a lot more in common with Chris Tomlin than you might think. When Chris started using IEMs, he needed John Mills to give him a quick rundown not only on how to operate his personal mixer, but where to set the levels and pan for the various input sources as well. Getting back to the TEC Track panel, it probably comes as no surprise that the vast majority of the teams using IEMs and click tracks did not have anyone in charge of training people how to use them. While I pretty much expected that response, it was heartbreaking. While we all lead busy leaves, not training people on how to use something as important as IEMs is one of those things that gets under my skin. Nothing says you care for your team quite the way investing in training them does. And yes, there is a column coming on “The Training Problem!”
The church I got saved at adopted IEMs early on and the worship pastor was missional about training the team on how to use them. Although I had a lot of studio experience, dialing in IEMs was new and like everyone on the team, I benefitted greatly from that training. The drummer at the time was a click fanatic, so pretty early on in my worship experience I was using IEMs and the click.
After a few years at a massively-resourced mega church, I found myself back at my church of origin where I eventually became the worship and creative arts director. In the same way you might be thinking about adding IEMs and the click, I was responsible for on-ramping new musicians to a IEM and click-centric culture. This took heart, work, and time. I spent many Saturday mornings training a new drummer on how to use the personal monitor system and the click. The bond we formed in the process was exactly the kind of worship team family Steffany alluded to. People will never forget when you come alongside them to help them swim when they feel like they’re sinking.
As an addendum to Steffany’s point, in addition to not having the click in all the time, you can opt for having just the drummer playing to it. If your team has yet to adopt using IEMs and/or the click, this is a great first step.
CHANGE THE CLICK
My favorite click sound is the one that sounds like it is going to take my head off when turned up. At lower volumes I can still hear the transient (attack) of the click which means it doesn’t have to take my head off if I don’t want it to. If your team is using something like Ableton, you can easily change the click sound. And, with a little MIDI magic and some help from your sound techs, you can create more than one click sound for your team to choose from.
TO EVERY SEASON, TRAIN, TRAIN, TRAIN
Regardless of what you do and how you do it, find someone (or raise your hand) to train your people on how to use the click and IEMs. They will love you for it!