Not all backing track services are created equal, as they all offer a range of functions, prices, and subscriptions. When deciding which service to use, consider carefully what options are most important in your church setting.
The worship multitrack environment is awash with different providers, software applications, and a range of somewhat confusing pricing options.
Making the decision on which to use is considerable, especially because most come with their own proprietary software. Once you’ve invested in one system, making the switch to another can be expensive. I’ve heard this called the “Drug Dealer Model!”
What to expect from MultiTrack software functionality
The worship multitrack software options available are generally simplified versions of Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) such as Ableton or Mainstage. What separates the worship specialists is that their software has been developed for live worship and with a limited suite of simple-to-use functions. DAWs were designed more for music recording and production and are really more the domain of the recording engineer than the average worship leader.
So assuming you are looking to use one of the worship specialist products, what should you expect by way of basic functionality?
Most will include the following functions:
- Looping song sections
- Jumping to verse, chorus, bridge
- Change key
- Change tempo
- Foot pedal option
- Dynamic fade between songs
- Plug and play songs from the relevant backing track provider (see Drug Dealer Model above)
- Importing of third party songs from other providers (these will not be plug and play—you will need to do some basic coding, for instance to tell the software where the junction points of the song are)
What to expect from the tracks
MultiTracks are collections of individual instrument “stems.” You will have a stem for acoustic guitar, a stem for electric guitar, a stem for bass, another for drums and so on.
The job of the software is to enable you to adjust the individual volumes of each of these stems. If, for instance, you already have a bass player you can mute the bass on the MultiTrack.
Worship Backing Band is the only provider (to our knowledge) to incorporate lead and backing vocals with all of our tracks. We find this absolutely essential for smaller churches or those with less confident musicians.
Some providers include lyrics and chords within the app, but many churches prefer to use software such as EasyWorship for lyric projection from a separate device. Generally, the more functionality the multitrack software has the more complex it is to use. There is a lot to be said for keeping it simple.
You may also find that chord charts that exactly follow the MultiTrack are also available.
Original recordings or not?
We find that people often “think” they want the original album version of a song, perceiving that to be the best. But these tracks are recorded in a key that best suits the singer (typically a male tenor) which leaves most congregations needing to sing in the key of dolphin to reach those high notes.
Original tracks also often feature lengthy intros and endings, ad libs (which can be very weird as backing tracks) and repeats that all sound great when played on the radio or a conference stadium but would not be done in a live worship context—particularly in a small local church setting.
The price of original recordings MultiTracks is generally a lot higher than purpose-recorded tracks. And rest assured that with all the main providers of worship backing tracks, the musicians are still top quality. Many are the self-same session musicians that work with Matt Redman, Stuart Townsend, and co. anyway.
What about cost?
Pricing varies hugely. Subscription services are a tempting option but can require considerable investment in the long term. MultiTracks.com would cost $1,200 for a year to access x30 songs a month, whereas lifetime access to 50 tracks from Worship Backing Band would be just $500.
Your choice will likely depend on answers to the following questions:
- How deep are your pockets?
And do you have an ongoing budget for a subscription service?
Prices vary widely, with multitrack subscription services at $60 to $100 a month for a limited number of song rentals, and lifelong purchases between $17 and $30 per song.
- How many songs do you really use?
CCLI says most churches use just 77 each year. Do bear this in mind when looking at pricing structures. The lifelong purchase option may well be cheaper in the long run than a subscription that ties you in.
- How technically competent are your musicians?
Worship Backing Band is arguably the simplest to use (can be learned in minutes), but at the other end of the spectrum there is the full (and highly complex) functionality of Ableton (designed for studio engineers).
- How many bells and whistles do you need?
Some of the apps contain a lot more functionality than the list shown above, but this all adds to complexity. Choose carefully with technical competence firmly in mind.
- Do you want lead and background vocals?
We find that most smaller churches really benefit from lead vocals (even if they simply play in the band’s foldback mix as a guide to singers and musicians). Not all multitracks include vocals.
- Do you want access to master recordings?
For some, the option to have the song exactly as the Chris Tomlin version was recorded (tight pants an essential for the congregation to reach those high notes), then MultiTracks.com and Loop Community include original recordings, albeit at a higher price.
But do think hard about the suitability of these for your own local smaller church context. You’re not performing in a stadium—it’s you, your scratch band and the congregation you know and love.
- What platform are you using?
Not all the apps are available in iOS, Mac, PC, iPad, or Android, and some charge more if you purchase the song in more than one format.
- Do you want to download the tracks or just have access via the cloud?
With subscription options and some app based options (such as Loop’s Prime and MultiTrack.com’s Playback) you don’t get to download or “own” the tracks—they are held in the cloud rather than downloaded and only available for the length of your subscription. This means you can’t work on them in a DAW but are tied into the proprietary app.
What about Split Tracks instead?
For some churches, particularly those with very limited budgets or without (m)any musicians there is an alternative to MultiTracks. Split Tracks, albeit with limited functionality, are simpler to use and much cheaper.
Split Tracks provide on-screen lyrics that move in time with the music and optional vocals. They are more of a “karaoke” solution but work well for churches that simply want to enjoy contemporary worship but don’t have the musicians or budget to achieve it another way.
Worship Backing Band’s Split Tracks are less than a third of the price of MultiTracks with even lower prices when purchased on compilation DVDs. Worship Backing Band’s 8-pack of DVDs provides 280 tracks at just $1.14 per track.
Not all backing track providers offer Split Tracks. MultiTracks.com offer Accompaniment Tracks for $8 which are a little similar to Worship Backing Band’s $5 Split Tracks.