Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Worship Wednesdays - 7 Key Steps Before You Head Into The Studio...

Last week, I shared that we're working on a new CD! There are so many wonderful things about being a musician, and recording is one of our favourites. Including my first EP, this will be our 6th recording project! It's been 2 years since our debut Infinitely More CD, and we're just itching to get into the studio.

Over the next few months, I want to share our recording process. If you've never recorded a CD before, I'm hoping these posts will give you information and a behind-the-scenes peek at the process. If you have lots of recording experience, I hope you'll leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments section for other readers to enjoy.

Infinitely More is an indie band, 
so what does that mean when it comes to recording?

Basically, it means we are responsible for our own recording process. We decide when we're ready to record, and what we want the album to sound like. We're responsible for all funding, either through fundraising, grants, or our own credit cards. In our case, we write and arrange our own songs. We choose our production team, and when the CD is finally completed, we're responsible for getting it out into the world.

The words "we're going into the studio" can be seductive to any musician. The right studio with the right team is an incredibly creative place. But it's important to remember that those days can be very expensive, and unless you've got a superstar budget, it's important to make the most of every minute. There are too many horror stories of artists investing months of work and thousands of dollars into a recording, only to end up unhappy with the final results.

The key - Pre-Production!

We'll assume that you have some awesome songs you've been writing and performing, and you've now made the decision to record. Here are 7 things you can do before entering the studio that will help you make the most of your time and resources:

1. Find The CD's Purpose
These are the things you want the CD to accomplish. What is the message of your music? Why are you recording this CD? What is your artistic vision? How do you want the music to affect the listener?

2. Choose Goals for the CD
These are the things you want to accomplish with the CD. How can this CD help with your career and ministry? Do you want to expand your audience reach? Do you want to submit the songs for awards or radio consideration? Are you hoping to break into a new market or demographic?

3. Be Realistic
What is my budget? Where am I getting my funding? What is my timeline? What am I able to do myself? Who will I need to hire?

4. Seek Advice
Who do I know personally that has a great CD? Can I take them to lunch or hire them to consult on my CD?

5. Research 
Read the liner notes on CDs you love to find out who made them and the size and shape of their instrumentation. Research studios in your area and ask how they work with indie musicians. Many studios will also have recording advice on their sites.

6. Write Things Down
You'll have lots of paperwork, receipts, and notes. Start a new file on your laptop or create a binder for hard copies.

7. Find Your Team
Should you record yourself, ask a favour of a friend, or hire a professional? Can you play your own instruments and sing harmonies, or should you hire musicians? Who can help you with photography, graphics, and manufacturing?

If you start with the Purpose and Goals, you'll have a great foundation for the other decisions in your process. In our experience, it takes a village to raise an album. Don't be afraid to ask for lots of help, share your story on social media, and ask friends and family for lots of prayers and encouragement.

Next week, I'll talk about our favourite, and most challenging, part of the process: 
Choosing The Songs!

Worship Wednesdays is a weekly series to encourage and equip worship leaders and songwriters. Bookmark this page & visit us every Wednesday! 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Worship Wednesdays - The Evolution of a Song

There's a myth in the general population that songs are born whole, complete, and radio-ready. 

Those who write songs know differently.

There's the way the song starts in our head, the way it first comes out, the many rewrites, and the various arrangements it takes before it's finally recorded. And even then, if that song becomes a standard piece in your repertoire, it can change forms through concerts, recordings, and covers.

To help illustrate this point, I thought we would look at our Easter song, 
There's A Light At The End Of The Tomb.

Gerald was inspired to write this song last year, when a church staff member brought this image to an Easter planning meeting:

The twist on the classic "light at the end of the tunnel" hit him immediately. In finding the idea, Gerald writes, "Substituting the word 'tomb,' in the oft used phrase, for the word "tunnel" gave it a deep feeling of possibility… the sense that after the darkest of times that there is an ending and a mercy and grace in this life and the next."

From there, we began writing, as Gerald shared with us last year. We knew we had only a few weeks to both write the song and prepare its performance for two Easter services.

We decided to each take a solo verse, and sing harmony on the chorus and bridge section. Gerald wrote the first verse and I wrote the second, so our original plan was to sing the verse we each wrote. But as we rehearsed, we each felt drawn to the opposite verses, so we ended up singing each other's writing - an unusual choice for us.

It was written on guitar, so we knew that would be the central instrument. We debated scoring it for the band and choir, but time was working against us. Still, this is Easter, and a big song, so to help give us a larger performance, we added in a few extra singers to give us full 4-part harmony on the chorus. We had vocal echoes during the boisterous "Let there be light" section. After singing the huge choruses, we brought it down to a gentle, reverent ending.

And that was the debut.
But where has the song gone from there?

We now sing There's A Light At The End Of The Tomb at the end of every concert. Singing it so often, we've made tweaks in the arrangement to help us better communicate the story and emotion of the song.

In this video, recorded during our St. Andrews Musical Residency this winter, you can hear how we've removed the echoes to give "Let there be light" a more deliberate and declamatory presence. We've also changed the gentle ending to a victorious, harmonic cry. We felt this better carried the passion of the song right to the final note.

"There's a Light At The End Of The Tomb"
As performed on Artisans, CHCO-TV

In recent performances, we've made yet another change: we now sing the verses we wrote! Gerald sings the opening verse about the tomb, and I sing Mary's story in the second verse. Technically, we could sing either one, but for us, we feel there's a better balance of the voices with the current arrangement.

Next month, we'll go into the studio to start working on our new CD! There's A Light At The End Of the Tomb will be one of the biggest tracks. Gerald's guitar will still be central, but we want a triumphant full band sound. We'll debate adding more harmony to the chorus to give it a choral quality. And we'll be open to the ideas of our producer and musicians - who knows what their creativity will bring to the song?

I love that songs are living, breathing pieces of creation. They can stretch and change as our circumstances, talents, and creativity shift and grow. We're constantly revisiting our songs to tweak a lyric, add a new harmony line, or find a new instrumental riff. We want to keep our music interesting, but more than that, we want every word and note to expressively serve the message of the song. 

We can't wait to hear how There's A Light At The End Of The Tomb will sound in the hands of Nashville session players! Stay tuned for the next chapter...

Worship Wednesdays is a weekly series to encourage and equip worship leaders and songwriters. Bookmark this page & visit us every Wednesday!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Happy Easter!!!!

There's a light at the end of the tomb
The risen Saviour breaks the bonds of an empty room 
Every face will be amazed
And God's glory we will praise
As the Son of God is lifted from His doom
There's a light at the end of the tomb

Wishing you a blessed and joyful Easter!!!!!

There's A Light At The End Of The Tomb
By Allison Lynn & Gerald Flemming (c)2013

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Worship Wednesdays - "Heaven Is For Real" Movie Review

Just a few days after we returned from our St. Andrews Musical Residency, we had the opportunity to attend a prescreening of the film Heaven Is For Real. Today, I share the thoughts I wrote that afternoon...

Heaven Is For Real

This morning, I gathered with 100 bloggers, pastors, and journalists to watch a pre-screening of the movie Heaven Is For Real. It was about a year ago that I reluctantly read the book. I’m a person of faith, but I can be cynical of miracle stories, so I entered the book with some trepidation. My logic brain could write some of it off, but there were moments that I just could not wrap my head around. For that reason, this book became a story of faith for me.

If you haven’t read the book yet, here’s the crux of the story: Todd and Sonja Burpo are two young parents struggling to make ends meet, but otherwise living a pretty happy life. On a family trip, their 4-year-old son Colton becomes deathly ill. After surviving emergency surgery, Colton tells his family that he visited heaven.

The story is set in small town Nebraska (shot in Manitoba), and the landscape almost becomes a character in the film. The lush, sweeping shots of big skies and bright fields are a constant reminder that we’re dealing with issues that are larger than ourselves, and that perhaps we see glimpses of heaven every day.

The Burpos (at least as characters) are the kind of Christians we rarely see portrayed on film. They’re not pious snobs, nor are they God-hates-you-Sinner caricatures. This a normal, fun, loving family, who are also people of faith. The parishioners that we meet are level-headed, decent people - the kind of church folks we meet every week in our Infinitely More travels. Colton’s stories about heaven unfold with greater and more profound detail. He knows things that he shouldn’t know, such as recognizing a young photo of the grandfather he never met. For some, this is a sign of faith. For others, it’s the hallucinations of a sick boy. Through his parents and the church, we see the full range of human emotions enflamed by this phenomenon, and the genuine struggles of faith, doubt, and logic that should be explored by this topic.

I attended the screening with my family (my Dad has written the review for the Anglican Journal) and we spent the whole day talking about the film and our ideas of heaven. And that's why this film is important. For years, Hollywood avoided Christian story lines because they were seen as unprofitable. As a result, they were generally low budget, ugly, and completely unentertaining. In recent years, we’re seeing more stories of faith inspiring big budget films. Although there will always be groups who attack these stories on the perfection of their theology, I do think we need to celebrate and support this movement of film making. Stories of faith need to be told, and we need to discuss, debate, and think about the issues they share. So grab a few friends - people of faith or not - and go see Heaven Is For Real. Will it make you a believer? I don’t know. Is heaven for real? One of these days we’ll find out for sure, so let’s chat about it while we have the time.

This weekend, I wrote my 1000th blog post! 
You can read it HERE.

Worship Wednesdays is a weekly series to encourage and equip worship leaders and songwriters. Bookmark this page & visit us every Wednesday!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

My 1000th Blog Post!!!

You read that correctly - 1000 blog posts!

When I first started this blog, I had no idea where it would lead. It was 2005 and I was heading to Nashville for the first time to attend Ben Speer's Stamps Baxter School of Music. Gerald (my then-fiance) was watching Tech TV, and they started talking about blogging. "Perfect", I thought, "I can write on this blog thing, and then the family and everyone at church can keep up with my Nashville adventure."

So I started writing. Now even though, technically, I knew my blog was on the internet, it didn't even occur to me that anyone else would or, even could, read it. Halfway through the school, people started asking me for my blog link. "How bizarre," I thought. I then found out that other blogs were sharing my link! That's when the action started. Suddenly, my 'private' stories to friends and family became a public buffet. Musicians, songwriters, publishers, and lovers of Gospel music started to follow my Adventures, and many of them reached out to me. Friendships, support, and wonderful meetings followed...

Another amazing thing happened on that trip. 
On the final night of the school, after months of praying for direction, 
I had my calling into full-time music ministry. 

Through this blog, I've been able to capture and share my creative journey. I've written posts in hotel rooms, cyber cafes, libraries, and restaurants. I've always tried to be transparent and authentic in both the joys and challenges of this kind of life. I've also tried to share a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the art of music making and worship leading.

As I've changed, my blog as changed as well. In 2005, I was a newly-engaged, actor/musician who had just received this calling as a solo Gospel music artist. Now, Gerald and I have been married 8 years and we've lived in 2 countries and 5 different homes. We've gone from individual musicians to our shared passion of Infinitely More, a full-time, nationally touring ministry. We've written hundreds of songs, performed in all kinds of venues, and have been blessed to work with amazing musicians and songwriters. Our 4 CDs have garnered 5 national award nominations, and we start work on our next CD this summer. But more than any of that, I am now someone who has a greater knowledge and appreciation of what it is to follow God's calling on my life. I want to use all my talents and skills to draw people closer to God, so they can know His love and grace in their lives. I pray this is always reflected in my writing...

This weekend, my family is celebrating this 1000 post milestone, so I thought I'd bring the celebration online. In January, I was invited to share the story of my calling with the folks of All Saints Church. I recorded it, simply to share it with Mom and Dad. But in the spirit of this blog, and of all that has happened since my first post, I want to share that story with you today:

Thank you to each person who has joined in this Adventure so far, 
and to each of you who will join us in the steps ahead.

Here's to the next 1000...

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Worship Wednesdays - An Astronaut's Guide to Worship Leading - Part 2

Today we wrap up my 2-part post inspired by Commander Chris Hadfield's book, "An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth."

As I mentioned in Part 1, I don't know anything Chris's personal beliefs, nor do I mean to imply anything about them by these posts. I'm just sharing my own thoughts, inspirations, and applications gleaned from his writing.

There are so many great lessons in this book about preparation, leadership, and contributing to a larger whole. But one of my favourite themes is a definition of success.

Early on, Chris adopted this attitude:

"Throughout all this I never felt that I'd be a failure in life 
if I didn't get to space."

Wow. I didn't even realize you could be an astronaut if you didn't go into space. And how happy can an Earth-bound astronaut be?

In music, we love the great successes - the hit song, the huge publishing deal, the national award. Even in worship music, we've developed a culture of music hits and superstars. We create our music for God and God's people, but let's be honest - who doesn't want their song to become a worship hit? Who doesn't want to hear their song on the radio and see it rise to the top of the CCLI charts? Only a few musicians will ever have any kind of superstar success, but all career musicians will have those highs - the moments when we feel like we're in space. It you stick around in this business, you'll have an amazing performance, or a television appearance, or some other accomplishment that makes you go, "Wow, this is the best life ever!!"

"Still, I also know that most people, including me, tend to applaud the wrong things: the showy, dramatic record-setting sprint rather than the years of dogged preparation or the unwavering grace displayed during a string of losses. Applause, then, never bore much relation to the reality of my life as an astronaut, which was not all about, or even mostly about, flying around in space. 
It was really abut making the most of my time here on Earth."

What is your life in music truly about? If it's about the hit song or the big win, quit now and go back to singing in the shower. We personally know several musicians for whom that is their driving force and you know what? They're miserable. They are never satisfied. They live with a constant sense of entitlement and disappointment.

If your goal is to make music for God and for God's people, then do that. Make music. Experience the joy and fulfilment of creating a song that didn't exist before your hand hit the guitar. Have a rehearsal where you take an old song and find a fresh new way to play it. Feel the frustration of that one riff you just can't nail. Wrestle with rejection. Sing for a group of people who need your message. Hear their stories, and let that inform your music. Wake up the next day and do it all over again.

Along the way, you'll have successes of various sizes, 
but let them punctuate your life and not define it. 

Enjoy each step of the journey, and love your musical life here on Earth....

My next post will be my 1000th blog post!!
Come back this weekend as I celebrate this milestone...

Worship Wednesdays is a weekly series to encourage and equip worship leaders and songwriters. Bookmark this page & visit us every Wednesday!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Worship Wednesdays - Most Things to Most People

For today's Worship Wednesdays, please welcome my better half in life and music, Gerald Flemming!

Most Things To Most People
Guest Post by Gerald Flemming

The advantages of a personal touring ministry are many. We are constantly brought into people’s lives and get to hear the stories that are foundational for their congregation and faith walk.  This extends even further as we play in different denominational settings or, as we had established in St. Andrew’s, an ecumenical service. Here we witnessed Christians worshiping. We weren’t Anglicans, Catholics, Presbyterians or any sect of Christianity. We were just Christians who were seeking the most practical Biblical choices we can make with our lives in modern times.  It was an honor to witness teachers and a congregation in pure joyous teaching worship.

Wednesday Worship at St. Andrews, NB

This was the Wednesday evening service that we started in St. Andrews. It was predicated on the paradigm that we started with Rev. Drew MacDonald at St. John’s York Mills, called the Gathering.  It was a simplified service that was teaching and music based. In St. Andrews, it was less dialogue driven and more teaching driven which suited the people there a little better. Within a few weeks of starting the service, it was one of, if not the best attended services within the local townships. As much as I’d secretly like to believe that it was because of the music, I really don’t think it was.  Between the tremendous meal and conversations that happened prior to the service, and the ideal that it was an all inclusive service, there was created a sense of community almost instantaneously.  There was a vibrant need that seemingly wasn’t being satisfied by any of the Sunday morning services for these people. I think on some level they felt as if they were helping to create and shape a worship that served them more directly and idiosyncratically.

Let me say first and foremost, I am in no way against liturgically based services. I think they are the backbone of our faith and have an intellectual veracity that is both necessary and edifying.  And even the best worship band would be hard pressed if they were up against an amazing choir doing Mozart’s Requiem. However, there are often times an enormous gap between this service and the moral and spiritual countenance of our everyday life.  Where do we test our ideals and the quandaries of everyday living?  Where can we as individuals admit defeat, exhaustion, pain, horror…and feel relatively safe?

Is it possible that we could have a conversation around the idea that both of these worship services are necessary for a well-rounded spiritual life? 

I realize that I’m touting an ideal here. It’s just an interesting experience seeing the different pieces of the spiritual pie doled out to different people with varied needs. And instead of there being the unfortunate and unnecessary culture war that can often take place in churches, you could have a bonded sense of dual purpose intended on serving the whole soul, instead of just prioritized pieces.

There are churches all over that are experimenting with this idea, and the interesting outcome is that they are, by and large, flourishing. They have, on average, a higher attendance rate as well as a higher rate of personal ministry involvement. The offshoot of this, of course, is that they end up with more resources that feeds back into the community creating many different types of momentum.

There are many people out there who, on some level, feel that this approach defiles tradition  That it is in some way an affront to the purity of what Church has been and should continue to be. And I know I have a personal agenda, but I question this calcification of approach, as something that could conceivably turn young people away from the church to more digestible forms of worship. I’ve heard people and priests use the adage, ‘You can’t please everyone.’ And it’s absolutely true, particularly with limited resources, but within those frameworks it might be time to start a Wednesday night service, where the food is great, the conversation is meaningful, the teaching has an immediate and practical relevancy…and the music isn’t bad either  ;)

Next week, Worship Wednesdays returns with Part 2 of 

Worship Wednesdays is a weekly series to encourage and equip worship leaders and songwriters. Bookmark this page & visit us every Wednesday!