It’s not uncommon these days to see a computer onstage during worship. If you look closely, you’ll probably even see an iPad or iPhone. Many worship leaders are using these devices to read chord charts, process guitar effects and run backing tracks – sometimes all from the same device! A friend in Nashville once told me that your mobile device has more power than the computer that put a man on the moon! Technology has made leading worship easier on so many levels, but slightly more complicated as well. The days of rolling in last minute with just an acoustic guitar, bongo and overhead transparencies are rare, if not over. There is more to prepare for ahead of time. Using tracks in worship has been one of the greatest advancements in cultivating the modern worship sound. It has made complicated song arrangements and modern sounds much more attainable for worship ministries of all sizes and talent levels. I’ve been using tracks in worship for over 10 years and have spent the past 5 years running a company that creates track products for churches. Here are some common concerns worship leaders have before they take the plunge into the world of tracks.
Loop Community: Tracks in Worship
Don’t let Tracks control you when you can control the Tracks
The main concern I hear from worship leaders who are considering using tracks in worship is that the freedom and flow of worship will be hindered. Growing up as a Vineyard worship leader, I know very well the desire to be spontaneous and flow in worship. You want the freedom to play another chorus ten times if needed. When tracks first started becoming popular in worship, there weren’t many ways to be spontaneous. Your band would play along to a single audio track until the song was over. There was no way to deviate from the arrangement. The good news is that as technology has advanced over the past few years, spontaneity and tracks go hand in hand. Loop Community has developed an app called “PRIME” to play back all of your multitracks on an iPhone or iPad. It’s incredibly easy to use, and best of all it’s completely free. With PRIME, you can customize the arrangement of the song ahead of time. If you know you want to start with a bridge, then you can simply tap and drag the bridge section to the beginning of the song. PRIME also allows you to be spontaneous in the moment. If you want to repeat the chorus again while you’re leading, you can tap on the chorus and it will automatically repeat the chorus for you. You can also control PRIME using a foot controller for a hands-free experience. The capability of being spontaneous and customizing your own song arrangements makes using tracks a powerful tool for any worship leader.
Sound like YOU
Another concern I hear from worship leaders is that tracks might take away any sort of creative expression that your worship team may have. Your team may feel like they are playing to a backing track instead of playing an instrument themselves. Some band members may feel this is disingenuous or cheating. If you’ve used tracks before, you know that awkward moment after you press play on a key-heavy track and your piano player looks at you like “so what am I supposed to play?” I try to only use tracks for instruments that I don’t have on stage with me. This way, the tracks are enhancing what my band is already doing. I also create a lot of my own tracks to add my own creativity to the song. I personally think there is too much pressure and marketing to “sound like the original”. If original means “the original you”, then I’m all for it. Sadly though, “the original” usually means play this song exactly as the artist recorded it and in fact, instead of playing it yourselves, use the original recording so it sounds like you are playing it. Since day one at Loop Community, we have always made it our mission to promote creativity in the church. The majority of our track catalog comes from worship leaders who unleashed their own creativity and created tracks that sound like them. Each one is unique and special. I do believe there are times when the original recording is what you need to get the sound you want, but I want to get away from the idea that you have to always sound like the original. God gave you a unique voice, talent and sound. Use your creativity and don’t be afraid to sound like YOU by customizing the arrangement, the mix, and the sounds.
People are more important than Tracks
Let’s be clear – Tracks are an incredible tool for churches that are lacking musicians. If you don’t have a bass player, or your keyboard player doesn’t show up, you can use a track to fill in that missing person. I grew up in a church plant, and when we didn’t have musicians, we simply didn’t have a band. That isn’t the case anymore with the number of amazing resources out there providing tracks. Technology has made this possible! There is no reason to not have a full sounding band anymore, if that’s what you’re aiming for. That being said, I don’t personally believe tracks should ever be viewed as a permanent replacement of real people. We need to always remember that people are the most important part of our worship ministries. Instead of using technology to replace people, we can utilize technology to train, prepare and educate our teams. It can be easy to get lazy and use a bass track instead of teaching someone to play bass. We need to keep pouring into the people that God has placed in our ministry. If you have a full band, tracks can still be an amazing asset. A simple shaker, tambourine or pad/synth track can help fill in and enhance what your band is already doing. Tracks can also be a great training tool for your band. Your team can solo out their instrument and learn to play better. Tracks can provide training-wheels for the entire band. But at some point, those training wheels can (and probably should) come off.
Getting started with Tracks in worship can feel very intimidating and scary, especially if you’re not very tech-savvy. However, don’t be afraid! The good news is that there have been major advancements in the past year that have made using tracks incredibly easy for anyone. A great way to get started is by downloading PRIME, a free app by Loop Community. I guarantee that once you start using tracks to enhance your worship service, you won’t ever go back. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at 312.LOOP.312. We are always here to help. For the largest collection of Tracks for worship, be sure to check out LoopCommunity.com
Matt McCoy is a worship leader and songwriter from Chicago, IL. He has served as worship leader with Willow Creek Community Church and Vertical Church Band, and is also the founder of LoopCommunity.com He is an Ableton Certified Trainer and travels the country teaching churches and worship leaders about using technology in worship. Matt has been using Loops, MultiTracks, and Ableton Live in worship since 2002.