I have a confession: I’m a youth a pastor who’s a musical idiot. I like music. I’m just horrible at all of it. I can’t sing a note. I don’t know jack about youth culture music. I stink at name that tune. I can’t tell you any cool new up-and-coming bands. My iTunes play list is so uncool kids constantly unplug it and insert their own iPod instead during youth group. I can’t play the guitar. I tried once, and even got a guitar and a case. I took a lesson, and then at a youth group event my guitar was stolen. I decided it was a sign from God.
But this generates a huge problem. So much of my own teen years—and the teen years of my students—revolve around music. As a result, we use music a lot in our planning, messages, and as illustrations. Sure we do “worship music” and yes, it’s an all-student-led band because remember, I’m horrible at it. But what about the rest? How do I use current music in my ministry and compensate for my weakness if I can’t delegate the whole task away?
Here are some notes from a bona fide cheater:
Interview students. I don’t have to know jack squat if I just know what they know. I ask students who their favorite band or musician is, who will win American Idol, what they have on their iPod, and even grab an ear bud and give what they’re playing a listen. Ask lots of questions and take lots of notes.
Listen to their radio stations. Find out the top two or three radio stations your students listen to, and then give it a listen in your car. Your knowledge base of youth culture will instantly go up even if it’s only for a few minutes at a time.
Check out iTunes’ top 10 list. iTunes is God’s gift to the musically dumb. Go to it. Click on the store and their top 10 list. It’s an instant source for the latest, most popular music of our culture. If you visit it the week before your sermon or Bible study, you can get a quick listen and see if any of the main lyrics apply to your message subject in a way you could use. Even if you never buy a thing, it’s super helpful.
Here are some further tips and tricks:
Name That Tune game solution—So you wanna do a “name that tune” in youth group but don’t want to buy all the music. No problem. Just create a new playlist on your iTunes. Then go to the iTunes store and find the music you want. Drag it directly into your playlist. Voila. You now have pre-cued 30-second song clips for any song on iTunes for free, all you need is internet in the room you’re playing the game and you’re good to go.
Need lyrics?—Most of the time when I’m listening to the radio I have no idea who is singing. So I do two things if I think the song could be good for a talk. One option is that I scribble down some of the lyrics and then go home and Google those words, followed by the phrase “lyrics” and bammo, up comes the song I need. Secondly, I found this really ridiculously cool and free app for my iphone. It’s called “Shazam.” And if you hear a song you like on the radio or in a movie or a commercial, just ask Shazam to “tag it” and it analyzes the song and automatically tells you what song it is and even links you to iTunes if you want to buy it. Crazy I tell you. Crazy.
YouTube—I can find so much of what I need by watching a music video of a song I found on iTunes on YouTube. I’ll often find the song, watch how the artist portrayed the lyrics in the visuals they chose, and then use that song as an illustration or entry point into the culture in my sermon. Instantly I look like I’m an up-to-date musical genius and I’m really just cheating. There are even lots of places that you can go to and get the YouTube videos on your computer for free. I use www.keepvid.com, but if you search “download YouTube videos” tons of solutions will come up for you.
There you go. Don’t tell my students. It’s our little cheaters secret. ☺