So you want to get started with worship backing tracks or MultiTracks, also called ‘virtual bands’.
There is no shortage of advice and recommendations out there. A lot of it is from software vendors or worship backing track providers, or is just written about a single worship accompaniment tracks software or solution. While this can be helpful, most of these articles really don’t start where they should, which is with your ministry and your situation.
So here’s what you should be starting with: What are you hoping to get out of MultiTracks?
I’ll leave the debates about whether you should do MultiTracks to others. Instead, let’s focus on what these worship tracks can do for you.
The first thing to keep in mind is this: MultiTracks (or any steps you take in worship) should be used to help your ministry find its best expression for your church body. They should help you find your sound and grow your abilities, and they should help you serve. This is not to say that your sound can’t benefit from using someone else’s sound. It may well do so. But, if you’re using worship music accompaniment tracks to take on a sound that is not yours, and doesn’t relate to your body, it will not take you where you want to go.
So, with the right goals in mind, what can these worship tracks systems do for you? Many times, worship musicians think about only the performance aspect of MultiTracks. But there are several ways this technology can be used in addition to live performance:
Worship backing tracks can enhance your sound
They can add instruments you may not have, or may not have for a specific service. They can provide skilled worship music accompaniment tracks such as pads, rhythm lines, or strings or synths. They can also reinforce what you do have by adding strength or solidity—kind of like how a strong choir member can help the weaker ones sing better. They can do this either with pre-recorded music (worship song tracks of artists’ studio originals) or with your own recorded music—helping you to create your own sound in a repeatable manner.
Worship song tracks can help you automate things to reduce human error or tedious work
Some MultiTrack systems can automate lyric or chord presentation. Some can automate lighting commands. Some can automate playing pads between songs. Using the structure of a worship backing tracks system can help you establish and share set lists, and help musicians arrive ready to go, with everything well-planned in advance. With some systems, this can include chord charts and planned arrangements as well. Some worship accompaniment tracks systems have built-in ‘band mix’ features, creating a simplified version of a full mixer board out of a standard stereo jack for churches with limited resources.
Worship tracks can help your team get better
Learning to play to a click is helpful for most musicians in worship settings, and will help to keep the band together. MultiTracks and custom mixes can be used for rehearsal and practice by team members. Some worship song tracks systems can duplicate the performance environment at home, helping musicians be familiar with the set and ready to play.
There are also some negative things MultiTracks can do. They are computer automation, and they can fail to work. A computer may crash. The automation may cause confusion, similar to an airplane cockpit when things go wrong. The band may get off the click. The sound may not work for your church body. Like anything else in your service, having a plan for these situations is a good thing.
More useful tips when starting out
You also should consider hardware—both for performance, and for individual rehearsal. How will you control the tracks? Will the system also be handling lyrics? Chords? How will this setup work? How will the audio work in your sound system?
With all the possibilities for MultiTracks, you should definitely view using them as a journey. What you do with worship accompaniment tracks may grow as you learn to use them. If you think your usage will grow, then your investments—in software, in tracks, in hardware, and time—should be made with growth in mind. If you are not sure, your best bet is to invest little at first, and also to start simple.
You can start, for instance, with just using pads in a simple player app or program. You can start with a system designed to add only minimal accompaniment at low cost, such as the iSingWorship app. Some apps such as Worship Backing Band, LoopCommunity Prime, and MultiTracks Playback give you a consistent framework and content experience, but at a higher track cost. Some use content you own (and can therefore use as you grow into other systems), and some trade this flexibility of track ownership for lower cost.
If your goals are to use MultiTracks to the max, you can start by exploring a full featured system like Worshipsong Band, FlyWorship, or even Ableton Live. You will definitely spend more time learning, but you can end up achieving more goals in the end with these systems. They key is growth. Before you invest, try to envision where you might want to be in a year or two, and plan your investments accordingly.
If you are read this expecting a cookbook approach to how to employ MultiTracks, please don’t leave disappointed. If you open up the cookbook without an idea of the meal you want, you will end up eating something you didn’t intend. Take the time to set your goals, decide what trade-offs you want to make on the way to achieve them, then embark. There is plenty of detailed information available. You can get it directly from worship tracks system providers you are interested in, or, if you want to survey the choices, check out these resources dedicated to covering these topics in depth:
About the Author
This is a guest post by Mark Snyder—a songwriter, worship leader, and software developer active in resourcing churches with new technologies for musicians and bands. Click here to read more of his writing.