Technology in worship is here whether you like it or not
It’s amazing how much technology drives and redefines the very sounds of the music we make. From electric guitars to sound on sound recording, then synthesisers, decks, loops and now recorded elements being integrated into live music, all these new technologies serve as the paint brush to create new sounds, which changes the very music we make, whether we like it or not.
And when it comes to live and particularly live worship music, the introduction of the drummer’s click track a few years ago has had a massive effect on the sound of worship songs. But now again the wheel has turned and backing and multi tracks used alongside live worship bands is becoming a reality for more and more churches.
Even churches with lots of musicians are using backing tracks
Of course it’s not just churches with missing musicians that use tracks to fill out the sound, there are plenty of larger churches with full compliments of musicians using tracks to produce more of an ‘original album’ sound that simply can’t be recreated with a 5 or 6 piece band.
Wherever you stand on the merits of production verses participation in live worship, there are a number of things to consider before launching a track on an unsuspecting congregation (or even band)!
Three things to avoid making mistakes with backing tracks
Firstly, treat playing to tracks like learning new instrument. Playing in time to a click track is actually quite difficult if you’re not used to it so practice it together as a team A LOT before you introduce it into a live church setting. If your track has a click track element do make sure it’s loud enough to be easily heard over the live instruments. If it doesn’t have a click try to crank up the treble frequencies so that the snare, hi-hats and other rhythmic elements can be picked out. You’ll soon discover which team members unintentionally speed up or slow down and they’ll need to invest some hard work into improving their timing. Being frank, if you do have musicians who simply can’t play in time you’ll either have to abandon working with tracks for the time being or ask them to take and break and get some lessons to develop this fundamental core skill.
The next difficulty is following the arrangement. If your backing tracks have mixable vocals then do add them into the monitor mixes at low level so everyone, including vocalists, have sung cues to follow. Conversely trying to follow a vocal-less track can lead to awkward moments getting lost somewhere in the song structure. If that’s true for your tracks do make copious notes to map out the structure; making special note of odd length chorus repeats, number of intro link sections bars etc. You’ll be surprised how many things can catch you out. We’ve found plenty of strong vocalists missing where they need to come in when they are using backing tracks karaoke-style but without the benefit of the bouncing ball!Once you’ve learned your song structure well, be demonstrative in communicating that to the rest of the band as you move through the song. Use eye and body movements and spoken word vocal cues to keep everyone together and try to communicate what’s happening at least two bars ahead – not as it’s happening! Don’t get stuck in your notes or chord charts. Look up, look around. Don’t be five individuals who happen to be playing the same song at the same time. Listen to each other. As long as you stay in time there’s plenty of scope to play off each other’s parts interact and inject meaning to make your worship music come alive!
Lastly, get to know the software you’re playing the tracks on. Whether it be Ableton, Mainstage one of the proprietary worship band focused players like our own Worship Backing Band, get to know it inside out. If you’re the lead musician learn how to control it yourself rather than leaving it to another musician or sound tech. Think of it like an orchestra you conduct and learn how to make it follow you and your leading, not the other way around!