Behind the Scenes

  • Behind the Scenes
  • Life As an AG Student

    by Serene Lim, Songwriting Student

    I didn’t know quite what to expect as I began the process of relocating back to Singapore after having lived away for more than five years. Some of the questions going through my mind were: What godly communities could I be a part of? Could I do anything about my music skills this season? What is Father God doing in Singapore and the region?

    I certainly hadn’t heard of AG while overseas. When I returned, two sisters separately shared a link to AG with me. As I pored through the AG website and watched video snippets of who and what AG was about, I felt something or Someone tug my heartstrings.

    Allow me to share three thoughts as I reflect on my journey as an AG student.

    Excellent Craftsmen

    Speaking of hunger – supper after AG with classmates discussing chord formations!

    I am both humbled and impressed by the quality of the curriculum taught at AG. Our year-long course has been interlaced with solid technical skills training, suited to various types of learning, offering plenty of space for self-discovery and expression.

    We are privileged to be taught by a group of high-calibre Mentors and guests who are successful in their careers, not holding back with sharing the highlights and ‘lowlights’ of their own journey. I’ve been touched by their hearts for God, the nations, and for us students.

    Servant Leaders

    A goofy moment with our Songwriting Mentors!

    The AG core team and Student Mentors are a truly special group. It seems like each of them was finely curated and handpicked to lead here. They teach, impart, and impact with authority and humility. And we never forget to have fun in the process; that’s important for all of us who live down-to-earth, and yet are also heaven-dwellers!

    Our leaders and Mentors have exceptionally well-honed music skills, reminding me of Proverbs 22:29: “Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before unknown men.” It is however, never primarily about the technical skills in AG, although we are not ashamed to say we pursue Excellence with every ounce in us. It is always, first about the condition of our hearts. This combination of heart and hands is rare and highly attractive.

    Dream Big

    Walking out our destiny together.

    Destiny is the theme of the AG’s 2018 cohort. By saying yes to God and AG, I feel like I have taken more steps into my God-given destiny. One phrase that has been etched in my heart: ‘Songs have the power to transform nations’. As we dare to believe in the goodness of our Father God to release through us – His little ones – new songs and new sounds, unique in the ways He has formed us, He will absolutely do more than we can ask or imagine.

    I also see all my classmates creating ripples and waves in their own spheres as the River of Life flows through us. I cherish the friendships formed amongst us, in the midst of all the joy and laughter, tears and fears. As we encourage and cheer one another on, these relationships have transcended church lines, age groups, family backgrounds, and all other differences.

    I’ve counted the cost of being a part of AG – the weekly commitment and commute after a hectic day’s work, school fees, stepping out of my comfort zone in ways more than one, the frustrations in the midst of sharpening my craft… But it has all been absolutely worth it, hands down.

    We graduate from AG in a month’s time. I was surprised to feel like I already miss my year in AG, looking back on it with much fondness.

    Week after week, we end class with our musical brain and spirit filled to the brim. I often feel there is a release of creativity and courage in our craft. We leave inspired to grow to be the very best in who we are as sons and daughters of God, and in what we do as worshippers and songwriters.

    I end with this: Sow and invest into the musical gifts God has placed in you. As we walk with the AG community, we are growing and maturing into fullness together, as a family!

  • Behind the Scenes
  • The Metronome: Blessing Or Curse?

    by Caleb Kay

    The metronome (sometimes referred to as a ‘click’)  is an often-disused piece of equipment in worship teams, and sentiments toward it run the gamut from mere disregard to extreme disdain.

    Ten years ago, I was asked to play the drums with a click, because the opening song of a special service needed to be in sync with a video. I struggled and gave lots of excuses reasons why it couldn’t be done. I’m sure some will be familiar to readers:

    • It’s so rigid!
    • It’s distracting or hard to follow.
    • I can’t worship with it (and don’t you know that’s the most important?).

    But over the last ten years, I’ve grown to learn how to play with it, and even how to appreciate the significance of its role in worship music. As with everything in life, there’s a learning curve, but I’ve grown to enjoy it, and have discovered three benefits to using it in a band setting.

    1. It’s an objective foundation.

    Ever had that experience where your band rehearses a song and at the end, someone goes, “Hmm that felt draggy,” and someone else says, “No, it was too fast”? How easily swayed we can sometimes be!

    The advantage of having a metronome is that you can always set it to the speed of the original song that the team is referencing. If the worship leader wants adjustments, tweak it from there.

    We don’t have to rigidly follow the original without budging, but at least having the click makes it objective, and not subject to feelings – unlike how I might play anywhere from 2 to 5 BPM slower after a heavy dinner.

    2. It’s a foundation that frees.

    In my early years of using the click in a worship band setting, I found it so hard to play freely because I was so focused on following its timing. But there was a day when we went into spontaneous worship, and in our debrief after the set, all the musicians remarked that the click had “disappeared”!

    It was really still playing, but what actually happened was that, as we all got better at following the click, it ‘disappeared’ because we were playing precisely in time. It takes practice, but eventually, your internal clock gets better at playing at a constant tempo.

    It might seem counterintuitive, but having the click eventually liberates your team to express yourselves; because you’re less focused on keeping time with each other, the metronome becomes a solid foundation for your band to express more creatively – together!

    (A question that might come up: “Don’t the band and all the singers need to be able to hear the click? What if not everyone hears it?” In such cases, the metronome can still be used as a guide for what tempo to start the song in, at the very least. It should also be used in personal practice time, when you’re working out your own instrument or vocal parts at home.)

    3. Craft and heart go hand in hand.

    “It doesn’t matter if I can’t play or sing in time; what’s most important is my heart! I simply can’t worship with the click so take it away!”

    I think that this may be the cry of every worship musician at some point of our journey (myself included), but we must understand that as musicians on platforms leading others in worship, our craft is just as much a part of our worship as our hearts’ postures. They are not mutually exclusive. As a congregation member, it is easier to follow the leadership of a worship band that plays in time, rather than one that doesn’t.

    So keep stewarding that heart of worship, because it starts from a heart that loves Jesus. But get better at your craft, too, because that expression is the overflow of what’s within, and to grow in it is to better serve the communities we lead in worship.

    It takes humility to honestly assess ourselves – perhaps our craft has not caught up with our heart – and take steps to ensure both are growing in tandem.

    I hope this article inspires you to not only consider using the metronome in your teams, but also hone yourselves to become better musicians. I can safely say I’ve seen the hard-earned fruit when teams collectively work towards improving their craft, specifically in the area of timekeeping. Strive towards greater excellence – because Jesus is worthy of that!

    AG is excited to share that we are kicking off a pilot Drums Stream for our 2019 cohort, and it is now open for applications. If you’d like to apply or find out more, do email [email protected]!

  • Behind the Scenes
  • Spiritual Family: What Does It Look Like?

    by Calvin Hong & Shawn Wong

    From the beginning of humanity, God showed that His design of Family was something special. He thoroughly enjoyed the company of Adam and Eve and they enjoyed His presence. There was no shame, nothing to hide, and in fact, were without clothes! They were completely vulnerable.

    But because of sin, a separation occurred. The natural instinct of Man since then has been to cover ourselves up; to protect and defend ourselves. However, in God’s original design of Family, there was no need to be ashamed of anything – because He is a God of covering.

    When Adam and Eve sinned, it was because they chose not to trust God when He instructed them to not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Instead, they chose to listen to another voice. They did not believe that God did not mean them harm, nor that He knows and wants the best for them. They didn’t have a Family mindset.

    But God fights for Family.  He could have chosen to wash His hands off of humanity and restart creation. But ‘He who began a good work will be faithful to complete it.’ (Phil 1:6) In order for sin to not have a hold on mankind, the spilling of the blood of an animal was required as atonement. He then spilled the blood of His Son Jesus to permanently reconcile all of humanity to Himself. He is a God who covers. He calls us Family, and He values Family.

    We all need a spiritual family – a community of people who genuinely love and care for us, who point out the veggie leaves in our teeth (literally and figuratively), and who are unafraid to say what’s needed to see us step into our destinies. Here are 4 truths about building healthy relationships within a culture of family that I learnt from my friend, Victoria Jeffs from Day2 International. These points sum up how we can relate to each other in a healthy way and display God’s original idea of Family to our brothers and sisters in Christ:

    1. “I mean you no harm.” It means you only have good intentions for your family members – to see them prosper and succeed. It means wanting to bless them and to be a key part of a their lives. When they’re convinced of this, they become more honest and vulnerable, and more willing to allow you a place of influence in their lives.
    2. “What matters to you matters to me.” There are important things that we are all after. Ask yourself: How can I as a family member help guide and build you so you can fulfil your purposes and dreams? Each of us has different needs. However, though we try to do what’s humanly possible for them, we don’t try to become the Holy Spirit – for it is God who actually makes the change and transformation in their lives.

    3. “I only want what’s best for you.” It means seeing the gold in someone, instead of stumbling over their shortcomings. It’s about looking out for each other. There’s no competition within Family – it’s about helping each other climb our ladders, to be the best that we can be.

    4. “It must pass the test of seasons.” How can we build a relationship with someone unless we’re willing to spend time with them, be vulnerable, or willing to invest in them? Doing all that takes time, patience, understanding, and grace. Seasons involve ups and downs, and Family lasts regardless of them.

    We all make mistakes. That’s why God in His grace covers our lack. Likewise, that’s the example we must follow. Let’s all ask: Do we cover each other despite our failings, or do we openly reprimand and shame? Do we pray for each other, or cast judgmental looks and express disgust in subtle ways? May we grow in love and be living testimonies who rightly display God’s original design of Family.

    Many thanks to Day2 International for the 4 Truths. Do visit their website at www.findyourday2.org!

  • Behind the Scenes
  • 3 Keys To Better Church Sound

    by Caleb Chan

    This wasn’t an easy article to come up with. When I was asked by the team to write this, I felt it was tough to narrow everything down into pointers that were concise, yet informative and applicable.

    Here are some things (technical and practical) to think about as you plan for growth for yourself or your ministry team!

    Clarity

    This should be a no-brainer! One of the most important factors in a good mix is clarity. Our congregation needs to be able to clearly hear what is spoken, sung, and played on stage. We have to ensure that anything communicated is done so with as few hindrances as possible!

    Surprisingly, I still find that many churches face the issue of muffled or boomy vocals, especially during sermons (and quite a number of them seem to have accepted this as the norm).

    Sound Tip!
    Remove what you don’t want! If your sound is muffled, there are frequencies responsible for that. So before you go ahead and boost the high frequencies hoping to bring out the clarity, remove the lower frequencies that are muffling your sound!

    Balance

    When you cook or bake, the ingredients used are usually measured out in order to achieve a certain combination – or balance – of flavours. Too much of one flavour can throw off an entire dish.

    Similarly, when we talk about mixing in sound, balance is vital. Too much of an instrument or too little of the song leader throws the mix out of balance.

    I talk about 2 types of balances whenever I teach/train: Volume Balance and Frequency Balance.

    Volume balance does not mean every instrument and singer is set to the same volume. Good volume balance is ensuring that what needs to be heard can be heard.

    For example: The songleader needs to be most prominently heard in a mix (even if the electric guitarist is playing an amazing, face-melting riff).

    Frequency balance is about creating balance along the entire frequency spectrum; Low-Mid-High. Again, this may differ from church to church, and even between services within a church.

    For example: A youth service may require (or perhaps, ‘desire’) more heart-pumping low frequencies, but this wouldn’t work in a more conservative or traditional service.

    Sound Tip!
    Music has dynamics and is always ‘moving’; it takes listeners on a journey. Therefore, your balance should always be ‘moving’ with the band. If you like to just set initial levels and leave them, I highly encourage and challenge you to take it a step further – start moving the faders together with your band!

    Awareness

    Awareness is not something commonly talked about, especially in the context of sound. However, it is something that really sets good sound operators apart!

    Even if you’re able to EQ a mic to sound amazing, but unable to un-mute it in time for when the Pastor picks it up and speaks into it, you already risk causing a distraction, even if just a tiny one.

    Another common scenario is when the band or a musician on stage has an issue and is frantically trying to get our attention. But our eyes are buried deep in the mixer, or worse – we’re not even there!

    As sound crew, it’s key that we do our utmost to ensure the service runs smoothly and seamlessly in the area of sound. Yes, sounding good is important, but so is ensuring mics and instruments are muted and un-muted at the right time.

    Some areas to prepare:

    • When will the service anchor / Pastor come up on stage (either to open the service or takeover from the band)?
    • Which mic will the pastor be using (especially if your church has multiple wireless mics)?
    • Will any of your musicians be connecting/disconnecting their instruments?
    • Is there going to be a video played that requires audio?

    Sound Tip!
    Yes, there may be lots to keep a lookout for, on top of having to focus on mixing, and yes, there may be unforeseen and sudden appearances on stage that may catch you unawares. If these are some of your concerns, work in pairs! Have more than one pair of eyes (and sometimes ears). There are many roles besides mixing, such as passing the right mics to the right people, or having someone position themselves near the stage, ready to assist the band. Some things to think about!


    Click here for more information and to apply to our Sound Stream, where students will immerse themselves in a practical course focused on developing their technical ability and training their ears to achieve an effective sound unique to their church. Students can expect to grow in their understanding of how the effective use of a technical area like sound can greatly affect, build, and enhance the atmosphere of worship.

    Click here for more information on our Sound Training Packages, specifically catered for churches who want to invest in the training of their Sound & Audio Teams for their worship services. Our Sound Consultant will train and mentor your sound teams to grow in their technical and practical knowledge of creating ideal environments for the worship context.

  • Behind the Scenes
  • Breaking Out of the ‘Pai-seh’ Culture

    By Sabrina Ng

    We’ve all been there before, that dreaded ‘Who wants to lead the prayer?’, and in almost telepathic unison, pairs of shifty eyes start darting downwards and bodies start sliding down in their chairs towards the floor.

    I may exaggerate but I’m sure we all know it to be true in one way or another. And if you’re wondering what I’m trying to get at with that illustration; in our local Singaporean lexicon, we call it ‘pai-seh’.

    In proper English, to feel pai-seh is to experience feelings of shyness and/or embarrassment. It is perfectly normal to encounter situations where we can’t help feeling that way − but to be pai-seh regarding our faith and calling, this stems from something much deeper.

     

    The Fear of Man

    What exactly is this pai-seh that is so rampant in our society, and what does the Bible say about it? Essentially, the ‘spirit’ of pai-seh is the fear of man. Pai-seh is not biblical, and will hinder us from fulfilling our destinies.

    ‘For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?
    Or am I trying to please man?
    If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.’
    – Galatians 1:10

    In church, many shy away when asked to lead a prayer, a song in worship, or take up a leadership role, thinking that they’re not good enough, that they would be judged by the level of their skill; this is pai-seh at play.

    When we allow this fear to take precedence in our lives, we succumb to thoughts of intimidation, insecurity, inferiority, and inadequacy. And if we let negative thoughts and fears consume us, we hinder ourselves from fulfilling all that God has called us to be, and robbing ourselves of the blessings we could otherwise have.

    Who are we trying to please? As Christians, we need to be more concerned about God’s business than other people’s opinions (including our own!) Remember, we are created in God’s image for His glory and to glorify Him. And being created in His image, we have been predestined as sons and daughters, called according to His purpose – there is no excuse to say that we are not worthy.

    ‘Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God.
    Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves,
    but our competence comes from God.’
    – 2 Corinthians 3:4-5

    Through Jesus Christ, we have already been given the confidence to walk in the calling that God has for each one of us. So what if we don’t have the best singing voice or are only able to pray five sentences? It has never been about being the best; God looks at the heart – at our sincerity and authenticity. Practice will make perfect, but ultimately, God is more concerned with our progress than our perfection.

     

    A PK’s Journey

    No one is exempt from the spirit of pai-seh and I’ve come a long way in my own journey of overcoming it. In my teens, I became acutely aware of the weight of expectation placed on me as a PK (pastor’s kid). Though I liked singing, I shied away from the spotlight, preferring to fade into the background (literally hidden behind a pillar) as a keyboardist on the worship team.

    As the years went by, the need for worship leaders in my church arose and I reluctantly agreed to step in to fill the gap. The initial period was challenging and I frequently questioned my own abilities. I was much happier just serving Him behind the piano; there were many people more spiritually mature, more musically talented than me who could probably do a better job, why would God make my life so difficult? Why would He set me up (the pastor’s daughter, no less!) to fail in front of so many people?

    Yet, in spite of my self-doubt and regret, there were occasions when I experienced glimmers of joy while leading worship, and they shone like diamonds in the darkness. God was impressing upon me the call He placed on my life, assuring me of the gifts He has given me to fulfil it. Slowly but surely, I began to walk in confidence and into the fullness of all that God had prepared for me.

    Throughout my journey, and even today, I am still learning that I needn’t be shy about what God has gifted me with and placed in my heart to do, because there is no competition in the Kingdom. God has given each of us gifts, not to bury and hide away, but to edify the body of Christ. We may not be the best, but let us be the best that we can be in our pursuit of God! He has something in store for each one of us in our journey of faith, so let us press forth, no need to pai-seh!

  • Behind the Scenes
  • Coping with Despair: The Importance of Emotional Health

    By August Lai

    A number of years ago, I was diagnosed with a chronic auto-immune disease. At that time, I had been living what I considered a full life. I had a job which I found meaningful, was actively serving in church, plugged into a life group, and had just participated in a major musical production. I felt good about myself and excited for the future. Then one morning I awoke with severe double vision. It persisted, so I sought treatment for it. After weeks of doctors and tests, I was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis.

    In the initial weeks following my diagnosis, I propped up a brave front for everyone around me but behind that sat a bubbling cauldron of despair, anger, and sadness. I started avoiding my friends, withdrawing from my family, and I couldn’t concentrate at work.

    It was in the midst of this that I gave up trying to make sense of the disease. I was adrift in a storm at sea and I realised I was trying to control the weather! I could only turn to God. After weeks of wrangling, I was challenged to release all the control and plans I had over my life. It was as if every bit of control I gave up to God would be exchanged for a small piece of supernatural peace. Months passed before I could honestly declare to myself that my life truly belonged to God.

    In retrospect, one of the most challenging aspects was how this emotional roller-coaster affected my life. When my emotions were ragged and frayed, it was difficult to connect with others, rest well, make good decisions, and be rational. Emotional health is not a state in which there is a lack of stress or problems; rather it enables one to cope well when life unexpectedly takes a turn for the worse. Here are two lessons I learnt which I will hold close to my heart for the rest of my life.

    Community

    In times of crisis, we need others who are willing to come alongside us to share the burden for a season. That’s when friends and family with whom we have strong relationships will rise up in prayer and support; trusted leaders can offer sound counsel when we are too exhausted to make good decisions. Without a supportive network, even a small one, I would be mired all alone in my irrational thoughts and fears. An engaged community can encourage you to anchor daily upon the truth of God rather than despair. Proverbs 24:6 tells us, ‘For by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory.’ Do not underestimate nor forsake the power and safety that comes with community!

    Identity

    Prior to the diagnosis, I had never seriously considered what it meant to be a child of God. I was not living from a position of surrender, so I would try to fix every problem I encountered with my own wisdom. Eventually I ran into a problem that all my wisdom could not fathom nor resolve, and I was forced to turn to the One higher than I. He then taught me about the heart of an Abba Father and I learnt how to be His child. I love this quote which goes like this: ‘God never promised us a storm-free, life but a storm-proof one.’ Within our relationship with Him can be found all we need to weather the storms of life – and it starts with knowing who we are in God! Isn’t that amazing? When we are assured about our God-given identity, we can then do what Hebrews 4:16 encourages us to: ‘Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.’

    By God’s grace, I was eventually healed from my condition. I am grateful not only for my health but also for my purpose which He continues to uncover for my life. There is great value in tending to your inner life, ensuring that you are emotionally stable and secure in who you are. I pray that you will be blessed in your season and discover renewed strength from the revelation of His great love for you!

  • Behind the Scenes
  • Assembling Your Guitar Pedalboard

    Pedals, pedalboards – words that perk up the ears and quicken the pulse of almost every guitar gear junkie guitarist around.

    We all dream of having our ‘ultimate dream rig’ – whether it’s our favourite Boost and Drive pedals (even Fuzz, for those who are of that inclination?), or the ultimate Modulation pedal for a divine ethereal effect, and of course our various time-based pedals like Delays and Reverbs.

    And who can ignore the ‘packaging’? Choosing a board to accentuate the look on the pedals, LED lights for aesthetics, and so on… It’s a rabbit hole, and it’s bottomless

    Nevertheless, here are some thoughts that I have put together based on my own personal journey to share. It is by no means conclusive, and definitely not the gold standard of guitar pedalboard set-ups, but rather some of the thoughts and experiences that I have collected as I have walked my musical journey.

    Tone is king!

    Before we even talk about a board, we have to understand that TONE is everything. What tones and sounds are you looking to craft and get out of your pedals?

    Knowing what tone you want will help you in decision-making when it comes to purchasing pedals. But how do we understand the tones that we want?

    Listen, listen, listen. Keep listening broadly and make a note of guitarists you enjoy listening to, and the tone they produce. After you do that, do research – see what fellow musicians think in terms of assembling gear to achieve those tones. Then, don’t just take people’s word for it, but try it out for yourself. YouTube is great, but inconclusive; always play-test the product in person so see if it sits well with your ears. We are all wired differently and we all listen to music differently, so it’s important that you like what you’re listening to as you’re playing.

    Building the components of the board.

    With that said, here are some basic principles that I always consider when building my board, starting with signal flow.

    Boost pedals -> Drive pedals -> Modulation EFX – > time-based EFX
    (
    We’re going to leave out the Volume or Wah pedals for the time being)

    As a general rule, we always put our Boost and Drive pedals right at the front of the chain, before any Modulation or time-based pedals. The rationale for this is simple: Boosts and Drives affect our tone directly. It’s what we want to fix and determine first, before sending that tone through Modulation, Delay or Reverb. 

    If we get our tone right, Modulation and time-based EFX help to bring it from good to great, but poor tone cannot be fixed/covered up by anything that follows.

    Boosts

    There are various boosts or pre-amp pedals out there, and it is really up to your individual taste (again coming back to the idea of tone). There are some extremely clean boosts like the RC Booster, that gives a nice, clean jump in volume, before sending the signal to other boosters to fatten up the sound. Some people even use some drive pedals, turn the gain real low to give a semi-dirty boost. This fattens up the tone before going to the drive pedals.

    Drives

    Different people have different tastes when it comes to drives. Drive pedals come in varied versions, from high-gain sounds to fully distorted or even fuzz sounds. Some of us have a combination of 2 or 3 drive pedals to have various stages of overdrive or distortion. In most cases, I would have a lower gain pedal followed by a higher gain pedal to increase the ‘dirt’ in the tone. Also, I could add a final piece which would be a fuzz, but that said, fuzz pedals aren’t as versatile and are seen as an ‘acquired taste’.

    Modulation

    In recent years, Modulation pedals have come back in a strong way. Such has been the emphasis on atmospheric sounds, especially in worship music, that these effects (and reverbs) have come to the fore for the guitar player. My personal preference is that modulation should be subtle (too much and it may end up like bad KTV sound). I mainly use these sounds in conjunction with reverbs. The Strymon brand has been really popular in the last few years for such effects, and using various combinations can really push the boundaries of the audio spectrum. The only limit is your imagination and creativity!

    Time-Based EFX

    Delays! Everyone loves delays…ha! Some purists dig the analog, tape-sounding type of delay. However, the trade-off in getting that coveted analog delay tone is the inability to digitally control the time or tempo of the delay (imagine manually trying to turn the knobs to set the tempo to the bpm – while playing!)

    On the other end of the spectrum are the digital delays where there is the very-necessary ‘tap tempo’, and various presets and even MIDI information to be explored.

    Again there is no right or wrong answer to which end of the spectrum to use. You have to find the delay pedal that suits your needs in terms of sound as well as ease-of-use. Strymon, Eventide and TC Electronic have proven to be very popular in recent years.

    Volume

    To round it off, some of us like to use a volume pedal. Do bear in mind that a volume pedal ‘sucks tone’ out of your sound. It really depends on your intended application, and how crucial is it to your playing. That said, there are workarounds and pedals that help to preserve as much of the tone as possible, if you still prefer using a volume pedal. For instance, JHS has provided a solution for that in terms of a modified Ernie Ball volume pedal.

    Putting it all together. 

    After choosing your pedals, you have to assemble your board. There are ready-made boards available (like PedalTrain) commercially, or you could look for carpenters to make custom boards. It really depends on your budget and what you are looking for.

    One final component – wiring or cabling, which is just as important as choosing your pedals. Good cables can enhance your signal, reduce noise, and hence improve your tone. It is also important to keep wiring tight and tidy, as it then makes it operating the board easier.

    With that, your board will be ready to go!

    Even after saying that, there is no end to the search and quest for perfection. There are always better effects, better cables, and nicer pedal boards; your musical and tonal preferences may even change over the years…

    The most important thing is to keep listening and keep experimenting, as music is very dynamic; it’s always evolving. Keep experimenting, budget well, and remember, it’s all in the quest for ‘great tone’.

     

  • Behind the Scenes
  • Learning to Celebrate the Success of Others

    One of the most exciting events the Awaken Generation Team has the privilege of hosting every year is our annual ‘Mid-Year Showcase’ – where a few of our songwriters, together with the musicians from other streams get to work together to arrange and present the original songs they have been working on throughout Semester One. It is definitely a huge highlight for us as Mentors to see our students get the opportunity to share their creative work in front of an audience, and ultimately revealing an aspect of the Father through their testimony and sharing. One of my greater highlights though is actually witnessing a beautiful culture emerge amongst my songwriting class – a culture that celebrates the gifts and successes of their peers.

    No doubt that creatives or humans, in general, will be confronted with an uncomfortable feeling that arises from insecurity one time or another – a feeling of discomfort when you see someone else succeed (especially in your area of gifting) leaving you feeling inadequate, insufficient, and left behind.

    God is in the business of breaking off this spirit of jealousy, envy, and ‘kiasu-ism’ from our lives. I believe God wants to rewire our ways of thinking (Romans 12:2 – ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind’) in this area, to set you free so that you can rejoice and celebrate with those who succeed around you.

     

    Here are 3 truths I’ve learned to start walking in freedom in this area:

    1. Know that God is a God of ‘More Than Enough’!

    If God chooses to bless someone, that does not mean He now has less to bless you with!  Our God is Jehovah Jireh, a God of unlimited resource and of abundance. If someone else gets blessed or receives a breakthrough, learn to get excited instead, because if God can do it for him/her, He’ll be able to do it for you! Meditate on the truth that He is MORE than enough for you.

     

    2. Develop a heart of a spiritual father/mother/mentor

    Brothers compete with one another, but a father’s desire is to see their children’s successes surpass them in every way. Grow in your mindset as a disciple-maker, and know that your greater purpose is to sow into and raise up effective leaders in the Kingdom of God who will go further than you. We are part of the same team and want to see the bigger vision of God’s kingdom established on earth, and we need one another to achieve that!

     

    3. Trust that God has a unique plan in your life that only YOU can fulfil  

    Look at your thumbprint – no one else in the world has the same thumbprint as you do! I believe this is an external expression of your inner destiny that is in the same way, completely and utterly unique. Psalm 139:14 says that you are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’. As much as I would like to, I am simply not able to reach the same people as you, because I’m not you; I don’t have the exact same gift mix, personality, culture, DNA, spheres of influence, calling, and position as you. No one else can fulfil your destiny, except you! So, choose to break off the spirit of comparison, and learn to steward what God entrusted specifically to you and steward it well for yourself, not comparing yourself to others.

    My prayer is that the Lord will make you a CHAMPION for others. May God give you grace to be an encourager – just as Barnabas was to Paul. Allow God to take you into the fullness of the destiny He has for you, and know that it is His desire to promote and prosper you in every way.

  • Behind the Scenes
  • 5 Things That Make for Awesome Lyric-Writing

     “It’s only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away.”
    (‘Words’, The Bee Gees)

    Music has always been a big part of my life – there’s usually a tune of some kind in my head no matter the time of day. But melody aside, it’s the lyrics of any song that really sticks with me even for years. Whatever the mood of the day, there’s always a good lyric to express and bring clarity to what’s really going on in our hearts, and this is all the more so when it comes to songs of praise and adoration unto God.

    So, for all you aspiring songwriters/wordsmiths, here’s a list of ‘5 things/steps’ you can take to hone your craft and make your lyrics awesome: 

    (1) What’s the Big Idea?

    As with all things, perspective is important. With each line or completed verse, ask yourself how it addresses, contributes to, or propels the main message/idea of the song. Each lyric is like a brush of paint on a canvas – how does it add to the picture you are painting? If there is one image or phrase that you want to leave your listeners with by the end of the song, what would it be?

    If you find yourself struggling to answer these questions in a sentence or two, chances are that you might need to spend a little more time reflecting on what you are really trying to say.

    (2) Go Back to the Source

    When you seem to have hit a roadblock with what you are trying to say through your lyrics, go back to the source of inspiration what was it that caught your attention and inspired you in the first place? Whether a picture, phrase, passage of scripture or moment of revelation, return to it and take the time to unpack your thoughts slowly. Linger there and invite God in, asking Him: “Where are You in this?”

    Chances are, no one is really pushing you to finish your song (unless it’s an #AwakenGen Songwriting assignment!), so converse with God over it and listen in closely. What is it that you have heard from the heart of the Father and what is it that you really want to say in response? I do believe that God is speaking to us all the time, but we need the discipline of slowing down to listen closely with intent (“Speak, for your servant is listening.” – 1 Sam 3:7-11). 

    (3) Write Relationally

    Once you’ve sorted out your big idea, put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and write. Write down everything that comes to mind first – there’s always time to edit it later, so don’t curb your creative expression by pre-judging yourself and cutting off the flow.

    I find that it helps tremendously to also be clear who you are writing to. As you write the verses, chorus, bridge, bear in mind: who is this really directed to? (check out Deuteronomy 31:19-22 for a great example) Be specific – it is for the Church? The broken and hurting people? Is it a reminder to yourself, or perhaps, a love note to God? If it is a prophetic word that’s meant to be like a wellspring to dry bones, who should it be channeled to (Isaiah 50:4)?

    We write to express ourselves and have that desire for expression only because we are made to be relational. Understanding who you are speaking to/writing for will help shape the words you choose, and the way you structure them.

    (4) Metaphorically Speaking (Show, Don’t Tell)

    Now, for the nitty-gritty. Once you’ve got a working draft down (remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect!), examine each line closely and consider whether there is a better way to express it. A fantastic rule I’ve learnt from AG Songwriting mentor Ian Chew, is “Show, don’t tell”.

    There are myriad tools you can use to achieve this purpose – alliteration, contrasts, rhyming, symbols, metaphors, description of sensory experiences, wordplay, etc. Experiment, and don’t be afraid to try new methods that are out of your comfort zone; get into the habit of re-examining your creative inclinations/idiosyncrasies and challenge yourself to express things in a fresh way. One of my favorite things to do is write down a sentence and flip the keys words in that sentence to explore if they somehow bring a different angle to what I’m saying. For instance: “Do you know who I really am?” vsDo you really know who I am?

    I believe that good songwriting is oftentimes about laying hints and teasing a listener into exploring and unfolding the mystery themselves. Like a cat with a ball of yarn, release just enough so that the listeners pull on it and unravels the rest on their own. And guess what? It’s totally biblical! Jesus was always speaking in parables. For instance, in Matthew 20:1, Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is “like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers” – what on earth does that mean??

    He’s always leaving some kind of mystery for us to discover. If the most Creative Being in the universe adopts these methods, count me in. 

    (5) There’s Always Time for Rhythm and Rhyme

    At different points of the writing process, stop – look through what you’ve written and read it out loud. Songs are meant to be auditory so don’t just look at it on a piece of paper or laptop.

    Does it flow well, or does it somehow feel choppy and misaligned? You will have a sense of it somehow. While our lyrics don’t always need to have rhymes, it should carry an inherent rhythm (or meter). The internal rhythm of the words that we write and the flow of our expression is very much the heartbeat of the song, and this especially true whenever we endeavor to write lyrics from the heart.

    It’s like the principle of ‘Selah’ in the Psalms: Pause. Listen. Realign.

    Lastly, (‘bonus’ point, yay!), our input almost always equals our output. I find that the more widely I read and listen, the more inspired I am to write. Build into your life the discipline of writing and create space to do it. The pen is not just mightier than the sword – it is a different kind of sword that requires sharpening as well.

    As you write, keep your ears, minds, and hearts open to how God might be moving all around us. It’s a great discipline to have a notebook at hand, just to make sure we don’t fail to capture the things that God is showing us. He’s always speaking – even singing – around us, and I believe that our role as songwriters is merely to listen in and be a scribe to the songs that He’s hidden all around us.

    The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue,
    to know the word that sustains the weary.
    He wakens me morning by morning,
    wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.”
    (Isaiah 50:4)

    Click here to find out more about Awaken Generation’s Songwriting stream!

  • Behind the Scenes
  • Developing a Pastoral Heart as a Worship Leader

    By Trisha Khoo

    As you read the title of this blog post, you may wonder why a worship leader would need a pastoral heart. Wouldn’t that be the pre-requisite for someone with the title of “Pastor” rather than a worship leader? I used to shudder whenever I heard the term “pastor” used in the context of worship leading, or worse, if someone used it on me. The pressure was almost crippling. But as I further understood the role of a worship leader and what it meant for the congregation I led each Sunday, I was gradually convicted that to steward my call well, I needed to develop a pastoral heart.

    The English word ‘pastor’ comes from the Latin word pastor, which means ‘shepherd’. And the primary role of a shepherd is to care for, lead, guide and protect his sheep and anyone who fulfils these functions serves as a shepherd. As worship leaders, we may not occupy the office of a pastor, but we have the most awesome task of putting scripture, prayer and faith-filled declarations on the lips of our congregation members weekly. The very songs we lead in corporate worship can be used by God to encourage, convict, align and draw people to Himself. This is especially powerful when it is coupled with a unified message brought from the pulpit. So what is necessary for developing a pastoral heart? Let me give you 3 points to ponder over.

    First, we need to realise that Jesus is the ultimate Shepherd. In John 10, He declares Himself as the true and good shepherd and exemplifies what a shepherd is and does. Psalm 95:7 says “For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.” When we lead in corporate worship, we serve the function of under-shepherds to the True Shepherd. We operate under His authority. As He has called us to lead, He will empower us as we step out in faith to shepherd His sheep. Now, that’s liberating!

    Second, understand that our task is to lead our congregation to Jesus, not to ourselves. It is important for us to intimately know and be known by our Shepherd. Put simply, if our hearts are aligned to Jesus, we will lead and shepherd from a place of revelation; and our congregations will follow us because we lead them to the very One we follow ourselves. And that’s powerful!

    Finally, we care for our sheep and learn to put their needs above our own. Here’s where practical issues like song choice and style preferences need to be considered. For example, the latest Bethel song would sound amazing and the band will do a superb job with it. But if it’s going to distract, or worse… hinder others from encountering Jesus in the time of corporate worship, we miss our mark. Or if we choose songs that have questionable theology, we also do our congregation a disservice. We need to know the people we lead, care for them and be responsible in our roles as worship leaders.

    So be encouraged. As you invest in developing a pastoral heart, you will serve your congregations well, and the True Shepherd will be glorified!