“The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” – James Garfield
In 1966, Brian Wilson did seventeen recording studio sessions at four separate recording studios, and recorded 90 hours of takes, retakes and overdubs to record one song–the Beach Boys’ ‘Good Vibrations’. The cost was over $50,000, an almost unheard of amount of money to record a single. The song was a huge hit, and continues to sell today, almost 50 years later.
But there was a problem. The song was nearly unreproducible in a live setting, at least with the instrumentation the Beach Boys toured with at the time. Nevertheless, they debuted the song at a live concert in Ann Arbor the same year. I’ve heard the recording. Two things happened that night that I’d like to bring to your attention.
First, their live performance of Good Vibrations that night was, in a word…lukewarm. Without the double-tracked vocals and the multi-layered back-up track, it was something far less than the recorded version. It was, in fact, downright lame.
They played the song poorly because it simply wasn’t possible to reproduce that song live, at least not with their touring band. They would have needed another eight or ten people, which would have eaten up their profit. I think they eventually worked out a pretty good way of playing it live, but not that first night.
So the Beach Boys couldn’t get it right the first time, and they were the ones who recorded it! Of course, they finally did work up a pretty good live version, after months on the road.
But you don’t have that luxury.
The Beach Boys had a set list of about 25 or 30 songs on any one tour. Some of them, most of them, they’d done for years. You, on the other hand, have a huge set of songs you’re expected to know–the whole hymnal, every song in the praise chorus book, every song on the new Hillsongs CD, every new Chris Tomlin song…And two hours at a midweek rehearsal to practice three or four of them, plus a performance number you’ve never played. And you don’t play with the same people every week. You likely rotate band members, at least to a certain degree. And sometimes your drummer gets sick, and he’s the only drummer you have.
The Beach Boys played to a different crowd every night. You, on the other hand, play to exactly the same people every week. Same people, same tastes, same expectations. And the Beach Boys had nothing to do except rehearse, all day long. You get a two hour rehearsal on a Wednesday or a Thursday night, with musicians whose real jobs are running businesses, driving trucks, cutting hair, taking care of families….what chance do you have of replicating what you hear on a CD?
Here you are, charged with the task not of just entertaining people, but of inspiring people, leading them, through music, to experience the Creator of the Universe, to feel, to be inspired to change, and to glorify God.
An important task, to be taken seriously, and you get two hours at a midweek rehearsal to put it all together. There’s the weight of church musical history pushing you from behind, there’s the big national Praise & Worship bands pulling you into the future.
So here’s the truth, and I hope this sets you free:
You can’t compete with the national acts, or even the church down the street, for that matter. You’re not them. And professionally recorded CD’s? You thought that with your band of weekend warriors, with your lousy two hours rehearsal, you could compete with a band of professional musicians who spent weeks or maybe months in the recording studio and travel for a living playing music and are positively oozing with talent? Listen: not even THEY can reproduce what’s on the CD. Not exactly, anyway. They routinely bring background tracks to supplement their sound.
So relax! Rejoice! You’re off the hook! Besides, why would you imitate when you could make your own music, with your own people, for your own people?