We’re blessed to be in an area where there are Christian professional musicians who are in ministry. I think you’ll not only get better players by paying them, but you introduce a sense of accountability. You’d get fired from your job if you did it poorly – the same applies here. The other hand is that it can be great part-time income for a player that prepares faithfully and executes with brilliance.
I’ve had a lot of different opinions and reactions to paying musicians, but I personally agree with the portion in the Old Testament where the Levites (musicians) had their living taken care (expenses) of by someone else
How do you decide how much to pay?
First, you need to get in tune with your local music scene and get a feel for what’s standard for your area. We consider the number of songs that will be performed, the number of rehearsals required and the number of performances. With that information, you then balance that with your budget.
We believe that we should pay all our players the same. It’s also incredibly unfair to pay based on position. If a bass player was paid less than the guitarist, resentment and bitterness is sure to follow.
If we count all the hours they are here, what we pay them doesn’t add up to their normal hourly rate. They come at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesdays and they’re here until 9:00 or 9:30 p.m. and we provide them dinner (part of that time is sharing a meal together). They are usually here for eight hours on Sunday mornings. We broke it down once and it ended up being about $30 an hour for the actual time we required them to be here, whether playing or simply waiting for the next service to begin. They actually perform for 15 minutes at a time, but obviously we can’t do an hourly rate for those few minutes.
We want them to feel good about their experience here with the way we treat them, the people they play with and the part they play in helping us achieve our mission. We hope they feel what they do here is more rewarding than playing secular songs in some other environment.
We feel through organization we create a good environment for music. We want the stage to be prepared, the planned music ready and for them to feel we know what we’re doing. This is our way of showing them we honor and value their time and efforts.
What if the worship leader gets creative during the song?
It can become a problem because it can stem from poor rehearsal and the band not unified on an arrangement. When the band is guessing, they’re not playing very well.
Sometimes the worship leader will forget the form of the song or just become spontaneous in the middle of the song and decide to do a double chorus instead of a single. It throws the rest of the band for a loop and can mess up the person doing lyrics on the screen. And when the words get off, everybody in the audience feels it – especially the skeptical visitor!
How do you handle it?
You talk to them afterwards and address it with them. You could say something like, “Hey, we’re all a team. We’re all in this together: the lyrics person, the band, and the producer. We’re trying to sync up the services. We need to set up each other for success.”
How do you fire players?
It’s not easy, but hopefully by that point, it’s not a surprise to them. You don’t want them to walk in and be surprised to hear, “You aren’t coming back here anymore.” If there’s a problem, you need to talk to them. If there’s something they need to work on, you need to give them the opportunity to do something about it, whether it’s musical or personal. The easiest way is to just not book them, but that doesn’t help them, does it?
How do you put set lists together?
The short answer is that we try to make a set that we, as audience members, would want to hear. There are other factors that play into it; songs we need to do, new songs we need to work in.
A more technical answer is: We usually start with something up-tempo, over 110 beats per minute or so, then to a medium tempo, and then to a slow song. We usually do three or four worship songs that are “singable.” We also try to get songs that will flow fairly easily into one another, whether it’s based on song key or a specific instrumentation.
Another criterion we use is how often we’ve done the song, or the impact it had the last time it was played. Worship leaders gravitate towards certain songs in their heart, or there may be songs they lead very well – something they feel inspired by or that fits well in their vocal range.
How do you find performance songs that enhance the message?
We talk to as many people as possible. We try to find people on staff that love music and have a large collection of various genres in their iTunes. Of course, we want a song that relates to the topic of the day, something that sets up the sermon or incorporates tension the sermon can resolve.
We have an email list of people from all walks and seasons of life. Some may be classic rock lovers or some may be hip-hop lovers. With the help of everyone, we cover the spectrum of music genres.
A great resource for small churches is the top ten iTunes downloads, or the billboard top 40. On iTunes, the radio station play lists are great resources. We live on iTunes!
When a person with authority over you suggests songs that just don’t fit in with where you’re trying to go, how do you handle that?
We try to do it gingerly. Andy will suggest songs, but he never says, “Okay, we’re going to do this song.” And there are songs that he doesn’t like that we keep doing. And he’ll say, “Well, I don’t like it, but okay.” We’re just blessed to be in an environment like that.
We hold meetings with people throughout our congregation that offer musical suggestions, but the music department makes the final decision. Andy has come back a couple of times and said, “You know, I hated that song, but it worked and I’m glad y’all did it.” He’s great about doing that.
What advice would you give someone who is not in that kind of environment, whose pastor isn’t as cooperative?
You have to get everyone on the same page, because you need everyone’s cooperation to make it work. The opposite of that is true too, in that the senior pastor sees what’s happening in other growing churches and wants to move in that direction. His music director may not have experience along those lines. That’s one thing we’re trying to do with North Point Music - to provide resources for those people to help them move along in that direction.
One thing you might want to do is examine the song that your pastor doesn’t like. See if there’s anything else you could use as an alternative, but if you can’t, plead your case.
You might say something like, “You know what? This is what the kids are listening to. These lyrics totally match up with the topic or what you’re talking about.” or, “Everybody in the audience is going to recognize this song.” The key is to approach him with a humble attitude.
How much money would someone need to start a decent music program?
For keyboards, you would need around $2,000 to buy a medium-size instrument that would solve a lot of your problems. However, you could start with Propellerhead’s Reason software (on an existing computer) and a USB controller for under $500.
We don’t own guitar amplifiers or guitars. They are such player-specific items, so players own their own guitars and amplifiers. They also bring their own pedal boards, but we do own a decent acoustic guitar in case of an emergency or for us to use in the office during the week.
We do own direct boxes for acoustic guitars and bass guitars, and we use Avalon D.I.s. All they need to show up with are their guitars and amps.
We provide the drums and cymbals, but not sticks. Stick choice is very personal to each drummer.
However, the bottom line is other than a good sound system (mics, mic cables, direct boxes and a monitoring solution) most musicians will have some kind of gear they can bring to play. But over time, you control the quality of sound by the gear you provide and who you ask to play it!
To check out more questions and answers from the music department at North Point Community Church, head over to northpointmusic.org, where you can find this and a variety of other downloadable assets, from audio clips to multitrack files!