5 Ways to Improve Relationships with your Musicians

“Musicians are SO needy aren’t they?”

This is the general attitude I get when talking to techs from other churches, whether it is said explicitly or implied. Conversely, it seems to be a sentiment shared by musicians towards the tech guys/gals as well.

Hostility towards one another ALWAYS leads to a less than ideal performance on both sides of the stage. Figuring out how to communicate and work together is essential to leading a congregation in worship.  

I pray also for those who will believe in me through their [the disciples] message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.
— John 17:20-21 (NIV)

“This sounds great, Josh, but how do I actually get along with those noisemakers?”

I’m glad you asked! Here are some simple things you can do that will help you build a relationship with your musicians and earn their trust.

1. Say “Hi”

First, let’s admit that us techs are not always the easiest to approach. We can sometimes come off as uninterested, angry, or prideful...maybe we are.

Improving your relationship with anyone requires effort.

Most of the time, we are too preoccupied solving a problem to slow down and introduce ourselves to the new piano player or ask the drummer how their new job is, but that brief conversation can change the atmosphere of the rest of the day.

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I am convinced that humanity was created with one overarching desire: to know and to be known.

Giving a minute of your time to know more about someone will allow you to work as a team rather than as conflicting forces. Ask how their family is doing. Ask how the new house is working out. Go out of your way to be a friend to them.

“Wait, what do I do about those 52.5 things that I have to get done before rehearsal can start?”

Come in early. Come in on a different day. If neither of those are an option, talk to them after service(s). Invite the music and tech teams over for a BBQ. Go to lunch after service.

The first step to having a better relationship with your musicians is by actually having a relationship with your musicians.

2. Have everything ready for them

This is a really simple and easy way to make everyone comfortable and build trust between teams. Have things ready for the musicians BEFORE they get there.

Take time to notice preferences for different players. I have two specific drummers that use music stands to hold their different brushes, mallets, and drumsticks. Every time they are scheduled there will be a music stand out in the spot they prefer for when they arrive.

One keyboard player uses a microphone stand base to hold the sustain pedal in place. When she arrives for rehearsal, that microphone base is always in place.

Over the summer, I had some time off which meant that someone else set up the stage while I was gone. He wasn’t used to my preparation process and accidentally forgot to have the Aviom labels printed ahead of time or set out ¼” cables for the guitar players. One of the musicians told me later that they appreciated the amount of work I put in to make sure they can just walk in and play.

Look for ways to serve your musicians better all the time. We noticed that people were asking for some water every once in awhile, so we started setting out water bottles at all the instruments.

My personal goal is for musicians to walk in with their gear, go to their spot on stage, and have everything they need ready for them.

Little things go a long way when trying to build a relationship with your musicians.

3. Ask how you can help

As people arrive for rehearsal, ask how you can help. Can you help bring in the guitar amp? Maybe a new person is on stage who needs direction, go out of your way to make sure everyone is comfortable and has what they need.

A lot of times you can knock this one out with step 2 by having cables set out, but every once in awhile you can help in some way which will show that you care.

4. Check in on their monitor mix

Everyone uses some form of personal monitoring whether it is an aviom, wedge, or IEM pack. Musicians tend to play better when they can hear themselves (Who wouldda thought??). Most musicians are scared to ask for changes with their mix for any number of reasons; even when they can’t really hear themselves. So take a second and ask them.

You can read some more about what musicians need to hear in their monitors here.

Most of us run monitors and the FOH mix from the same board which makes people more afraid to ask for changes to their monitors.

Even when I have been running a separate desk for monitors, some people are still afraid to ask for changes. Most people become more comfortable with asking for changes when their opinion is requested.

Why should you care about their monitor mixes? Like I said earlier, musicians play A LOT better when they can hear themselves. Try singing on pitch when you can only hear drums and someone shredding the electric part to Mighty to Save, doesn’t work out too well.

When musicians can hear themselves, they play better. When musicians play better, we can mix better. When we mix better, people can worship with less distractions. Therefore, one of our goals should be to help musicians hear themselves.

If you’re dealing with wedges and guitar amps though, it can be a little more tricky to reduce stage noise and help musicians hear themselves. You can read more about that here.

5. Ask Strategically

What if Johnny keyboard player is playing some really cool synth line, but you really just need a pad to fill out the mix? Here is where all of your relationship building work comes in handy.

Now that you are friends with Johnny, you can walk up to him in between songs and say something like, “Hey Johnny! I love that synth line you’re playing, but for verse 1 of Great Are You Lord, I think it could sound better if you just played a pad the synth at the bridge.”

Since you are friends with Johnny, he trusts your ear for the mix and agrees to change what he is playing to better fit the rest of the band. The key to asking for changes successfully is providing vision behind the request.

Look at these two approaches and see which might be better:

“Hey Johnny, could you play a pad instead at Verse 1?”

“Hey Johnny, I love what you came up with. I think that would sound great at the bridge of the song, but the beginning of the song doesn’t have much going on. You could really help us out by playing a pad to fill some of the open space and then switch to the synth at the bridge.”

The extra two sentences now leave Johnny with a compelling reason to switch what he is playing. Now the mix sounds fuller, and Johnny knows that he is a greater contributor to the energy of the song. In addition, he now begins to trust your ear for the room as you help him serve more effectively.

To Sum it all Up

Building a relationship with your musicians starts with you. As you begin to do things for them like preparing equipment, labeling, and catching up on their lives, they will begin to trust you and your abilities. As trust is built on both sides of the stage, the congregation will gain a more fulfilling worship atmosphere