10 years and counting. Looking back and looking forward.

Andy did an interview recently for CCLI’s Discover magazine. We thought you might like to read what he said:

Musicademy celebrate their 10th anniversary this month and this seemed like the perfect time to catch up with founder Andy Chamberlain about their first decade and what the future holds.

Andy, congratulations! Tell us about Musicademy, how you started and what do you do?
In those days I was a guitarist who playing for Matt Redman, Tim Hughes, Vicky Beeching and a bunch of other worship leaders. At that time there was a lot of theological training about why we worship but really not much out there of more of a nuts and bolts practical application of how we integrate those ideas into playing music together as part of a worship team.

Also my day job was as a guitar teacher but I had too many students and not enough hours in the day to teach. So I had an idea about training those musicians in groups and together with Marie Page (whose son I was teaching guitar to at the time) I initially set Musicademy up as a local music college. We started off with beginner and intermediate guitar lessons – either worship courses for church musicians or the same ideas applied to rock & pop for all the other local teenagers and adults.

We soon added vocals, keys, drums and bass to the repertoire and at one stage had about 250 students on courses. This experience really helped us hone our skills as specialist music educators and laid the foundations of a comprehensive curriculum in contemporary worship music teaching.

Before long we had enquiries from all over the world from people wanting to access our courses and one of those people asked us if we had any material on video. So almost by accident we began to explore diversification into DVDs and online learning. After much head scratching, trial and error in 2004 we filmed our first worship guitar DVDs. To be honest, we’ve come a long way over the years in terms of the professionalism of the lighting and camerawork but those early DVDs did the job and we now have a portfolio of about 60 titles in guitar, bass, keys, vocals, drums, orchestral instruments and playing by ear at levels from beginner and intermediate through to some pretty advanced instruction.

Alongside the DVDs we’ve developed a huge set of free resources in the Musicademy website and blog. These range from articles and interviews to practical guides, top tips and free training videos.

We still do the odd bit of live teaching and have a couple of training days for church musicians coming up in Chislehurst and Portsmouth. This is open to anyone – go to the website for more information.

How has worship music changed in the last ten years?
There’s been much talk in recent decades of worship music being more credible to people outside the church. We’ve seen that, but that’s also meant our style of music has become much more “produced” with tight arrangements becoming part of the song itself. So whilst that has opened up a whole genre of musical exploration we may have lost something in terms of accessible participation where a congregation has more local ownership of simpler songs where the framework of the arrangement can easily change to help ‘reflect’ the expression of the congregation in that moment. The sound has become more “professional” and that’s a challenge for the average worship team that may only be Madge on the piano, Dave on guitar and a rag tag of orchestral instrumentalists wedded to the melody line.

What do you think will be the key developments in church worship over the next decade?
I think we’re already starting to see a shift to towards hymns and hymn re writes possibly because people are again looking for fresh themes and expressions in song and to move away from some of the lyrical ideas that have turned into cliché over the last few years. Personally I’d also like to see deeper creative exploration in the methods by which we worship that would allow the congregation to be more of an active participant and less of an afterthought. From the bits between songs, to creative prayer, to reinvented liturgies, to poetry, to meditation, to guided discussion, to offering meaningful comment. Anything that encourages more people to grow by stepping up, take ownership and move worship away from becoming a spectator sport

But picking up on my earlier point about how worship music has developed I recent years, I can see the use of backing tracks and loops becoming far more common. Many of the bigger bands such as Worship Central (and many of the larger American churches) are running tracks to supplement their live band sound. It may appear live from the congregation, but in fact certain elements are pre recorded.

I think the whole concept of ‘live music’ across the board is rapidly changing due to the technology freely available and it will and is changing the way many worship teams approach playing together. Somebody was recently telling me that Taylor Swift runs up to 100 tracks of audio on stage to augment her live band! This might seem shocking, but with advances in PA concert audiences have such high expectations these days of hearing an album reproduced perfectly live and a 5 or 6 piece band simply can’t play all the parts. So if you run tracks to fatten the sound up there’s less margin for error and the audience often doesn’t know the difference.

And you’ve been using that technology at Musicademy to help smaller churches haven’t you? Tells us about that?

Yes, since we’ve been making the instructional DVDs we’ve had the same question come up from lots of customers “We’re a small church but we haven’t got a full band. Can you do anything to help us right now without having to wait two years to train up drummers/guitarists/bass players etc. etc.?”

Where running tracks can help small churches is that if you’ve only got a couple musicians but want to use some of those big anthemic songs in worship, there’s now the technology to be able to add in the parts you can’t create live to make up for missing band members.  If I mention the words “backing tracks” many people will immediately recoil, especially if their only experience is of nasty midi files with cheesy sounds and a flute carrying the melody line; basically bad Karaoke.

Some of the resistance to using backing tracks in worship are that they don’t sound like real musicians, or they are in the wrong key or at the wrong speed or you can’t take out the musicians you already have playing live, or most importantly to some is that arrangements are set, so that you can’t repeat a verse or chorus or change the arrangement as you feel led in the moment. Essentially people want a virtual band that sounds like a real band that is completely flexible but crucially you don’t have to follow the track, it follows you.

We’ve tried to address all of those things and invested a big chunk of time and resource in recent years to a range of credible backing track options which have culminated in the Worship Backing Band MultiTrack Pro Wav Player.

As well as the development of a really simple and low cost software player (if you can use a TV remote control you’ll have no problems), we created a library of worship song backing tracks, played skilfully and sensitively by some of the best known studio musicians along with worship leaders like Ben Cantelon, Marc James and Cathy Burton.

Worship Backing Band is perfect for churches with a handful of musicians who want a full band sound. So you can mix, mute or solo any instrument part, and because the Player is totally flexible, just like real musicians you can repeat a chorus, change the key, speed up and slow down all on the fly. So you aren’t ruled by the player, the player follows you and the way you sense the Holy Spirit is wanting to go. You can even use simple foot pedals so it’s totally hands free if you happen to be playing guitar or another instrument.

We’ve certainly met some resistance along the way. People are still put off by what they see as “karaoke worship”, but it’s not about replacing real people either, just augmenting what you have until real, skilled, live players become available. And as with all technology in worship, you don’t have to use it all the time just because you have it available. We are encouraged by stories from people who have actually used the Player though. One customer emailed to say that she had a reputation as a “worship snob” because she held out for live worship when they lost their worship leader. Having fired up Worship Backing Band, however, they have not looked back. Their congregation has genuinely encountered God in their worship services, and once singing, most people don’t even notice there isn’t a band up front. It’s very different from singing along to midi files or CDs.

So how will Musicademy be celebrating their 10th anniversary?

On a work level we’ve decided to give something back to the many people who have supported us in our first 10 years with competitions, prizes and product discounts. So we’re doing reductions of up to 50% on ten of our flagship DVDs and we’re also running a big prize draw for customers and their friends. You can get all the details here https://www.musicademy.com/prizedraw////

On the day itself, we’ll no doubt be in the office dealing with orders, emails and recording backing tracks as usual but we might well get out for a good celebratory lunch…

Musicademy The Early Years - live lessons

You may have noticed we have a few extra special things happening this month as part of our anniversary celebrations. If you’ve not yet done so, please enter the prize draw. And if you have, but haven’t told anyone about it then please click through again and recommend some friends to us (it’s really easy). Not only will you increase your chances of winning, but you’ll also tell your worship musician friends all about Musicademy’s reources.

And please don’t miss out on our 10 big discounts. We’ve reduced 10 of our flagship DVDs by up to 50%. It’s for September only so have a click through to see what bargains you and your worship team can pick up.