Question: have you every complained about worship music?
I’m guessing you have. I’m guessing you have because I know I have. In fact, most people I know who are involved with worship music have complained about worship music at some point.
The complaint I usually hear from musicians is a musical one. Worship music is unoriginal, bland and uninspiring. It’s the same thing over and over again.
When you have played in churches for a while, you start to pick up on some formulas. In fact, the formulas are obvious people have made funny videos explaining the formulas. Check it out if you haven’t already.
Let’s call this sound P&W 1.0. It’s the 80’s U2 sounds over Nashville-style song writing with singable melodies; Edge like guitars and simple chord progressions. This has been the sound ever since Hillsong United’s United We Stand and Passion’s Better Is One Day albums.
Although P&W 1.0 has served us well, it’s time for an upgrade.
What’s exciting is that even though this formula is becoming out of date, a new formula is being being created. Or should I say formulas.
Where’s My Banjo
The first new (or at least newish) sound we’ll call P&W 2.0 or Folk Worship. It is inspired by the bluegrass sounds of artist and bands like Mumford & Sons.
It still follows the same type of chord structure and singable melodies that P&W 1.0 gave us but trades the electric guitar leads for banjos, mandolins and the occasional lap steel guitar. Drum sets can be adapted for P&W 2.0 but can also be traded for creative auxiliary percussion and a kick drum. It’s a great sound that provides a sonic landscape for flannel and overgrown beards.
This allows for very “organic” worship experiences. Every instrument the worshiper hears is real and old. There is a sense and aesthetic of history in the sound.
P&W 2.0 reminds the worshiper that God is an ancient God. He has no beginning. Thousands of years ago he spoke to Abraham and Moses and promised a messiah we know to be Jesus Christ.
The “organic” and “real” nature P&W 2.0 will allow songwriters and worship leaders to explore more sober subjects, like suffering and loss, in a way that is meaningful and hopeful. Not only can P&W 2.0 celebrate, but it can creates an intimate and safe aesthetic from which to address more sensitive issues in a way shows the triumph of God even in hard times.
P&W 2.0 doesn’t need an elaborate monitor set up. It can be easily executed with old school monitor wedges, or for smaller settings, none at all. This makes it particularly appealing for church plants that may start out in a school auditorium. Y0u won’t need to spend a lot of money on a sound system to provide a full and complete (and dare I say hip) worship experience.
We are already seeing the beginning of P&W 2.0. Click here to hear Matt Redman’s Your Grace Finds Me. Click here to listen to a live version of John Mark McMillan’s Future/Past.
Worship Top 40 With Ryan Seacrest
But it doesn’t stop with just P&W 2.0. There is also P&W 2.0x.
Built from the framework of P&W 1.0, P&W 2.0 draws from the past, but P&W 2.0x looks to the future.
Same chord structure as P&W 1.0, P&W 2.0x gives the iconic guitar leads to synthesizers, makes drummers play disco beats, and adds more blips and synth layers then any human could play…so we don’t.
The cool thing to do during the P&W 1.0 era was to play with a click, but during P&W 2.0x, the cool thing is to play with a click, guide and tracks, usually powered by a Mac. This provides extra layers of music that have always made recordings but have never made live performances. Until now.
To say it is influenced by dance music isn’t entirely accurate. To be more specific, it is influenced by Top 40 pop music. The same beats and sounds have been prevalent radio are finally making there way into our churches.
The strength of P&W 2.0x is its ability to celebrate. It is enthusiastic, energetic and infectious. It provides the worshiper a fun worship experience fill of joy and vibrancy. We have a lot of reasons to celebrate and P&W 2.0x will give us that vehicle.
This will require a good in-ear monitor system. For well established churches who already play with a click, there won’t be much more to add on except a Mac Book Pro with Ableton Live, Logic, Reason (I could go on). That will be the easy part. Learning to use the software, on the other hand…For help with that check out the guys at multitracks.com and loopcommunity.com.
P&W 2.0x has already begun. Click here to listen to Hillsong Young & Free’s Alive. Click here to listen to Bethel’s Chasing You.
What’s A Guitarist To Do?
We have to be what we have always had to be, musicians before guitarists. The guitar isn’t going anywhere, but it will change and adapt.
In P&W 2.0, electric guitars will have to make room for some new elements, such as mandolin, banjo, lap steel, etc. Pulling back the dotted eighth delays and in exchange for a more clean guitar tone should do just the trick. Acoustic guitars will have the time of their lives.
With P&W 2.0x we will give lead lines to the keyboards or the Apple products. We will learn to mimic synth sounds with our guitars, but that isn’t really anything new. Above all, we will have to be more disciplined. It will be easier for us to learn the parts of the songs, but it will also be more necessary. We will have to make room for extra layers of synth and keys, but the layers and parts we will have will be more creative than what we have been playing.
Ironically, in P&W 1.0 we were always taking ques from the Edge of U2, that is the Edge from the 80’s. In the 90’s U2 made a dramatic shift; part of that shift was adding dance elements and playing with tracks live in concert. We will still be taking ques from the Edge, but now we will sound like Achtung Baby instead of The Joshua Tree.
What Kind Of Service Is Your Church?
Currently we have a simple church landscape. There are traditional services and contemporary services.
During P&W 1.0, if someone described a service as contemporary, everyone would understand what that service would sound like, or at the very least, what it was trying to sound like. But what if that changes?
We are currently seeing two different sounds emerge. What if they continue to coexist and two sounds become prevalent in the consciousness of mainstream protestant Christianity? It is possible that the label of “contemporary” won’t be specific enough.
The labels P&W 2.0 and 2.0x probably won’t catch on, but perhaps we will soon ask if a contemporary service is acoustic or electric, folk or pop, bluegrass or dance? We could be seeing the start of a more diverse worship experience.
For some churches and communities it will make sense to blend both 2.0 and 2.0x under the umbrella of a single contemporary service. Others will choose one end of the spectrum over the other.
What is interesting is that churches will have choices of how to artistically express the stories and sounds of their local communities while still being able to connect to the greater culture at large. In a world that is so well connected, this could be an ideal blend of local expression and universal relevance that we haven’t seen before.
As listeners (and consumers) of worship music, we have complained about modern worship music largely because it was the only mainstream option. Much of our complaining stemmed from boredom. Chris Tomlin is great, but after practicing, rehearsing, and leading Christ Tomlin songs in multiple services for the last decade, it’s easy to itch for something else.
Sure there were unique artist who were themselves alternatives to the mainstream, but there wasn’t room in our cultural consciousness of P&W 1.0. We were all listening to them and talking to other people who were listening to them, but when it came time to crafting our worship sets, the majority of our songs were still the time tested songs that have shaped P&W 1.0.
Looking forward, our options for sounds and styles could double. If two sounds can coexist in our cultural consciousness, we won’t just have individual artists to bring relief from the mainstream, we will have an entire sub-genre.
It feels like every 10 to 15 years there are dramatic shifts in music and culture. Musical essentials in the 80’s became taboo in the 90’s. In Praise and Worship, we are seeing the beginning of another shift.
This shift may expand and diversify our expressions of worship, bringing a richer sense of aesthetics and art to the meaningful message of our churches and communities.
Will we complain less about Praise & Worship in the future? Probably not. As humans we are pretty resourceful in that area. But when the dust finally does settle and the next expression(s) of worship emerges, we will look at it and be able to sincerely call it an upgrade.