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Uniqueness in a Culture of Reproduction

Guest Post by Harry Walls IV

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. Maybe it’s because I’m not able to keep up anymore. Maybe it’s because I’ve been doing this for awhile and have witness quite a bit in this industry. I don’t know what it is, but it seems that the church musician is losing it’s unique stamp. It seems that we have found our mold and year after year we continue to print out new ones. I am not talking about the superstar level, although I feel it there a little bit as well, but I’m speaking more at the local church level. Let me explain.

Newest and Greatest

It seems that the local church is on a never ending quest to find the right person or song or sound or style that will connect with the people in the church. Depending on the involvement of the team you are working with, you may even have pressure to present the newest songs before they’ve even hit everyone’s ears yet. There’s this push to be the first to introduce the latest hit. There’s pressure to have the full sound that you hear on the album or have the energy that is portrayed in someone’s concert video.

You may not be getting that pressure from your team or staff, but you read forums and Facebook groups and everyone is talking about how to get the right sounds or right equipment. There are companies big and small that are benefitting from people wanting to have the most authentic sounds and tones. We are pursuing all of these things—and in the end we mostly sound the same in churches all over the place because eventually we are all getting our resources from the same places.

Everyone is talking about how to get the right sounds or right equipment.

I am not sitting in the seat of a judge because I have a well used Multitracks subscription among others. My Ableton and MainStage gets used weekly. For my own reasons, I have fallen into the trap of trying to fill out my sounds with loops and tracks just like the next church or leader. They can be very helpful and can work wonders in a pinch. For instance, just a month or so ago I ran into a situation where most of my band was either sick or out of town and I ended up alone on stage. So I clicked a couple buttons and I had some virtual help on the stage and we kept rolling. I have no problem with the accessibility of these resources that allow us to create sound in places where it wasn’t before.

Modern Worship Keyboards

Losing Yourself

My struggle and my observation is this. In our push to have this certain sound we may be losing ourselves just a little.I recently attended a concert where there were four popular bands. It was a dynamic show and it was quite the worship experience. As a concertgoer and someone who enjoys live events, it was awesome. As a musician, I found myself sort of bored. Four different bands took the stage, and I’m convinced that they all could have played each other’s music at any time. Lyrically, there was some separation. However, instrumentally, there was a sense of rinse and repeat.

In our push to have this certain sound we may be losing ourselves just a little.

A long time ago on my own blog I had written an article about how accessible worship music had become and how that was good and bad. I feel like we have hit the peak of the bad in the sense that it doesn’t take much musicianship to learn what is being played and produced by some of our major groups that we follow. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t musicians and aren’t talented or great at what they do. But in writing for the church and for our genre, I feel a lack of stretching occurring as we settle into this place that feels good and continues to reach the masses.

As I write this I realize that a lot of this is being written to me. Maybe this doesn’t apply to you as much as I would hope. However, I imagine that it just might to some degree. I write this knowing that I have more than 4-5 chords in my arsenal. I went to school to study music and I didn’t need four theory classes to play what I play on a weekly basis. That doesn’t mean that the music is wrong or bad. But it does mean that I may be settling and laying down the gifts and talents I have gained and was born with on the altar of production and the newest, hottest song. For me, that means that I am cheating my congregation out of the ability to hear me be who God has created me to be. It means that I’m cheating myself out of using what I have spent so much time and money to earn for the sake of getting it done. In a lot of ways, I’ve lost me. I’ve lost the musician that I am and have always been.

I am cheating my congregation out of the ability to hear me be who God has created me to be

Finding Yourself

You might be reading this and saying “I don’t have all that training.” You may be one that grabbed a guitar and a capo and learned just enough chords to make it through a Sunday morning (by the way, that’s about my level of guitar playing). You may have gotten yourself just far enough to be able to play with the tracks that your church uses every week. For what you are a part of, that may be just enough. However, I would challenge us all to ask ourselves is that really enough? Are we satisfied with being products of what’s being placed in front of us? Are we satisfied with learning everyone else’s lines or riffs and being glad that we conquered it? Or is there something more that we can do to better ourselves? Maybe there is something you have wanted to try or a song in your heart that you haven’t sat down to write yet. Maybe there is a possible way to play a song that still allows some of the amazing lyrics that are out now to shine outside of the electric guitars and famous vocals. Maybe you want to try more than 1 2 4 5 and 6. Maybe you are realizing that you want to find your voice.

Are we satisfied with being products of what’s being placed in front of us?

Maybe you’re like me and have squelched your own voice because you don’t have time to explore it like you want to and what is already there gets the job done and you have 15 other jobs to do. Or maybe you just don’t feel like it will work in your current situation. Here’s what I know, God has created each and every one of us to be unique. It doesn’t mean that you have to go out and try to be the complete opposite of everything around you. We do have the ability to put our stamp on this world. It’s already inside of you, but it’s on you to get in there and find it.

About the Author

Harry Walls IV is the Worship Pastor at Bridges Community Church in Fremont, CA. Harry has a passion for the local church and to see people connect with Christ through music. He is husband to Eva and father to Kahmylia, Brisa, Quint and Xavier.


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