The Hour Before

The hour before a worship celebration can be either the most stressful time or the most surprisingly relaxing time for us.  Our worship venue is one of three campuses of Newark Church of the Nazarene.  Ours is a video venue, so our sermons are delivered via an 8 foot screen and projector that lowers over our stage.  We are also an intergenerational venue, so we are intentional to find illustrations and media that will engage people of all ages and feel as though it is for everyone.  That said, here’s my hour before…

8:30am Sound Check Begins
By now, I’ve already  been in the building for about a half hour doing some tidying up and finalizing a few elements.  I’ve set up my MacBook on the stage for loop sequences, gotten some bottles of water out of the fridge for the band, and tuned up my guitar.  I tell my team to be ready to begin at 8:30 sharp, and I expect them to be there in time to be on the stage ready to go.

9:10am Motion Team Rehearsal
The band runs through the motion song with the motion team.  Our motion team is a team of kids that help lead worship by leading motions for one song.  We have found that this is one great way to engage kids in our worship celebration.  The handful of songs we use as motion songs have become standards at our venue, and we hear kids singing them all the time, really planting who God is in them just like “Jesus Loves Me” and other songs did for many of us as kids.  Our favorite motion songs include Happy Day; Say, Say; Sing, Sing, Sing; and Alive and Running.

9:20am Tech Meeting
I meet in the booth with the tech team and make sure they have everything they need.  I communicate some last minute details.  Our tech team is usually totally on their game, so this doesn’t take long.  Sometimes it just serves for a good time to connect with them and see how they are doing.

9:25am Live Hosts Meet
Some weeks, this time isn’t necessary, but we do several live elements each week, usually fun illustrations and games that we use to engage kids near the beginning of our worship celebration.  Sometimes it’s a full-fledged drama with a list of actors.  Whoever it is, I ask them to be there at 9:25 to have a minute to at least talk through what they are doing.

9:45am Worship Celebration Begins
Okay, so I really did The Hour-and-fifteen-minutes before, but that’s okay, right?  We typically begin our worship celebrations with an opening song, usually not a worship song.  That leads into a welcome and an illustration that sets up our felt need for the day.  Then, we usually go into a worship music set and perhaps use some other illustrations as we continue through our celebration.  Obviously, each week is a little different as we try to keep things fresh. 

Top 10 Mac Apps for Worship Leaders

1. iTunes:
You’ve got to have a place to start, and iTunes is a no brainer.  Let’s move on quickly to some other great apps.

2. Photoshop:
Every church should have someone who knows how to do some professional graphic design.  You can use photoshop to design anything that requires more than a basic Word document. This is another fairly obvious one.

3. Propellerheads Reason:
We have all tried to sit down with a fancy keyboard and lay down some tracks, even if it’s just for the experience of recording.  It usually begins with finding a cool sound, then trying to find a good drum groove, and then laying down a simple melody or progression over that groove.  The problem is, using the built-in knobs and buttons as one’s only interface for recording is a pain.  Reason 5.0 by the folks at propellerhead have got you covered.  All you need is a MIDI Controller.  Many available today have USB ports which eliminate the need for a MIDI interface.  Just hook your MIDI Controller up to your computer running Reason and you have a fully function virtual rack of instruments and sounds.  Because you have a full computer screen as your user interface, it feels like you are looking through racks of sounds and tweaking knobs all along the way.  The result is incredible flexibility and ease of use.  Many professional keyboardists are switching to software based synths, and Reason is one of the best available.

4. Ableton Live:
If you have Reason, you will find yourself wanting to produce loop sequences and backing tracks for your band.  It’s easy to record tracks in Reason, but it’s not so easy to play them back in a live situation.  That’s where Ableton Live comes in.  Originally aimed at DJs, Ableton live has the ability to warp tempos and ensure that everything stays in sync with a click track.  It’s virtually impossible to play with a preproduced loop sequence without at least the drummer having the click in their ears.  With Ableton Live, your drummer or another individual on your team can fire loops from foot switches, MIDI controllers, or drum triggers, and the loop will stay in sync with the click.  You can even create different loops for different stanzas of your songs and move around between them as you go.

5. Logic Studio:
Every good musician loves to record.  Even if you aren’t writing, you will certainly want to be able to record some ideas for new arrangements.  Logic Pro can be used with any standard audio interface and it very easy to use.  With Logic, you’ll be recording tracks in no time.

6. Evernote:
Most musicians also try their hand at writing, and any worship leader is going to have to have some place to jot down their creative ideas.  I would urge you to get a moleskine journal, but it is also nice to have a digital journal that syncs between your computers and mobile devices.  With Evernote, you can have your notes on your MacBook, your iPhone, and any other devices you could imagine needing access to.  It is not only a great tool for songwriting, but can help you keep your ToDo list managed across different places as well.

7. GoodSync:
You’ve all heard of DropBox by now.  GoodSync is the big brother of DropBox.  Our church is multi-site, so we have three unique venues where we utilize video clips, live music, and several other forms of media.  We also have three worship leaders, campus pastors, and several other people who generate content that needs to be distributed to others or to our sites.  The old way of doing it was through email and USB Keys.  Later, we found drop box, but 2.0 GB filled up quickly, so we kept searching and found GoodSync.  This program allows each person who generates content to sync certain folders to our local server.  We can also pull files from the server onto our own laptops or to our venues.  For example, our video guy, Shawn, edits a clip.  He saves it in his complete projects folder.  GoodSync sees the file change and syncs that folder to a folder on our server.  Every few hours, my laptop checks the server for changes, and syncs it to whatever folders I have set up on my own computer.  It isn’t limited to one folder like Dropbox is, and it is only limited by the amount of drive space on our server.  I can’t tell you how much time we all save now that our files are being distributed for us automatically.

8. Handbrake:
If you ever use a clip from a DVD, you need Handbrake.  Make sure you have the proper licensing for showing videos in a public place.  Handbrake can take any DVD and create a file that you can then edit as needed.

9. Final Cut Pro:
If you use video, you need something to edit it with.  Final Cut Pro is widely accepted as the standard for video editing.  Everyone is familiar with the “I’m a Mac” commercials, right?  Are you familiar with the “I’m a PC” commercials that Microsoft put out?  Well, those were all about how regular people use PCs, and they don’t have to look like the PC guy in the Apple commercial… I don’t remember the source, but I read somewhere that those Microsoft commercials were edited on an Apple Mac Pro with Final Cut Studio.

10. ProPresenter:
Renewed Vision has led the pack for several years now as the premier lyric and video projection software.  It now runs on Mac and PC platforms, although we run it on an iMac and it is very reliable.  It’s very easy to use and flexible, and does a great job seamlessly transitioning between media elements within our worship celebrations.

Electric Guitar Rig

I thought I’d give you all a glimpse of my electric guitar rig. Everyone has different tastes, but I’ve researched a ton at The Gear Page and some other places, and I’ve tried out a small handful of boutique dirt boxes, so this is where I am right now.

Fender American Standard Stratocaster > Skreddy Screwdriver > Catalinbread DLS > Paul Cochrane TIM > Line6 M9 Stompbox Modeler > Fender Tweed Special Edition Blues Junior

I bought the guitar and amp long before my ear developed for tone, but I was lucky to heed advice from friends who knew good gear.  My guitar and amp are great, especially considering I purchased the guitar for 700 bones brand new from a guitar store manager with bad math skills.  I bought the amp new for around 500, which isn’t a great deal, since it’s worth about 350 used.  Regardless, this is a great sounding rig on a bit of a budget.

Let me tell you about the pedals:

Skreddy Screwdriver
The Screwdriver is the most versatile pedal I’ve ever heard.  It can sound like a very dynamic overdrive or a vintage fuzz, with controls for gain, volume, sharpness, brightness, and brilliance.  You can make this thing sound like just about anything that has an aggressive edge to the clipping.  I am still finding a bunch of great sounds in this pedal, although it takes a while to get to know it, since two of the controls are via trimpots (accessible from the outside using a Screwdriver—also, there is a deluxe version with all top mounted knobs).

Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret
This is my favorite rhythm pedal.  I have it on all the time.  It makes my amp sound much bigger and fixes any EQ problems in the Blues Jr.  It has great dynamics.  Pick softly and it’s almost squeaky clean.  Lay into it and it’s got a great Marshall grind.  I keep mine set on Rock mode (rather than Rawk mode) with the gain up around 2:00 and the tone around 1:00.  Great. Tone.

This was my first “boutique” pedal purchase.  I’ll never get rid of this pedal.  At first, I kept it on all the time as my light dirt rhythm pedal, then clicked on the boost for leads.  It did this well, but when I found the DLS, the TIM was repurposed for leads only, which it excels at.  The great thing about the TIM is it’s transparency and EQ.  It is perfect for boosting your rhythm sound into lead territory while adding enough gain to smooth things out a bit and cut some treble and bass to help it sit better in the front of the mix.  Having the boost side is great for those times when my leads just need a little more.  Love it.

Line6 M9
Everybody loves the DL4, but with the reliability issues I’ve heard from it, I never thought I’d own a Line6.  Well, they fixed all those issues and any other issues they may have had and created the M series.  This is my swiss army knife.  Anything I don’t have that I need I can find in there.  Tons of versatility, great tone.

Attn: Electric Guitar Players [Buffer Time]

The following question came up on a forum that I am a member of, and I thought that putting some information on buffers on my blog would be helpful for anyone who may read it.  Hopefully this can serve as a “Buffers for Dummies, when it comes to impedance (not to be confused with impotence)”

Here was the question that was posted:

“Ive been trying to understand impedance and buffers for while now, and while ive learned a lot, i still have questions. i know that impedance is a kind of resistance that sucks the highs out of your tone. i know that buffers lower the impedance and repair your tone. i know that buffers at the end of your chain will help boost the signal into your amp. 

but if buffers just lower impedance, how does a bad buffer after a good buffer negate the effect of the good buffer? shouldnt it just lower the impedance a little less than the good one? i dont understand how it would make it worse… also, do all pedals have buffers of some sort? even true bypass? true bypass seems redundant if the buffer in the pedal isnt consistantly affecting the signal…

oh, and how do you pronounce impedance? stress on the i or the e? ive only seen it used on the internet…”

And my response:

I’m no expert, but this is what I’ve come to understand:

1. When a pedal is on, it is buffering the signal, except for passive pedals (volume is the only thing I think of).

2. The most important buffering position is first in your chain. If you have a load of TB drives going into a digital buffered delay, your clean signal (with no drives on) will suffer, but as soon as you click on a pedal earlier in the chain, the signal strengthens.

3. There are tons of variables that can affect your signal. Pedals also have a specific input impedance. For instance, the SHO or Katana boast a high input impedance, therefore, they are able to take a very weak signal and give it strength. For example, if you put an SHO first, on your board and keep it on all the time, you might get away with having a 50 foot instrument cable from your guitar to your board. Typically, you want to stay under 25 feet, but the right front end buffer can change that.

So, one common application is Boss pedals… If your first thing is a Boss pedal, you are more likely to suffer signal loss, since the input impedance isn’t good. The fact that it has a buffered bypass means that the pedal will drive the signal when it’s off, but if the input impedance sucks, so does your tone.

The remedy, put an SHO, Katana, or similar high input impedance clean boost *ahem, Dan* up front.

One exception: Some fuzzes (Germanium Fuzz Faces in particular) require a weak signal to sound good, so you might need to put it ahead of the front end buffer.

If you have a buffered signal going into the TU2, you may not notice any signal degradation just placing it in the chain like any other box. Just try it out. I ran my TU2 for a long time right after the Nova Delay with great success. Chances are, if you are running the Katana first and keeping it on all the time, you won’t notice a difference no matter what you put after it.

Whether you are a fan of John Mayer or not, there is a reason that EVERY picture of his rig online shows a Katana first. He can run a 50 foot instrument cable in front of it and it still renews his original tone. He uses mostly low output guitars, too. And you will usually see another Katana in the rack, which was probably for solos (although he has been using a Klon lately).

The first buffer is the most important because it is receiving the weakest signal. The signal coming out of passive magnetic pickups is incredibly weak. This is why electric players obsess over cable while acoustic players and keyboardists couldn’t care less. A pedal with high input impedance can take a weak signal and boost it. The buffers after it don’t matter as much because they are receiving a much stronger signal.

Say you have a chain like this:


Let’s say that the signal out of your guitar is a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10 in regard to strength. The SHO can take a 2 and make it a 10. Then, the TU2 only has to make the 10 a 10.

If the TU2 were first, it could probably only bring the 2 to a 6. The problem is, the signal loss ahead of that buffer is lost forever. The buffers after it can never get it back up to anything better than 6.

Keep in mind, you will notice the problem more with weaker pickups. A strat may pit out a 2 where a LP might put out a 10.

The impedance is independent from the volume. So, if you put a Katana first in line, set at unity gain, always on, it will act as a buffer for your signal. You don’t need any volume boost to take advantage of a better signal.


I’ve finally been getting into some songwriting. It took me forever to work up the courage to try it. All the songs I wrote in high school were really cheesey, so I gave it up for the next decade. I’ve been in some seminars with some successful songwriters lately, though, and I’m learning that songwriting is a craft that takes an investment of time. Every morning (unless I’m late for an appointment) I’ve been spending 30-90 minutes on writing. Who knows if I’ll ever produce a song that people like, but I’m going to at least pretend to be a songwriter for now…

All About Worship Concert

Tonight was a concert of worship with Darrell Evans (Trading My Sorrows, Your Love is Extravagant), Jared Anderson (Amazed, Rescue), Tommy Walker (He Knows My Name, Only A God Like You), and Michael Farren (from Pocket Full of Rocks).  It was such an amazing experience, getting to hear some really familiar songs that I’ve used to lead others in worship, only being led by the men who wrote them.  The whole weekend has been very stripped down, just acoustic or keyboard.  I’ve been challenged to lead worship with less breadth and more depth.


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