3 Tips for Working with Backing Tracks in Worship
Using backing tracks and click tracks does take some practice and dedication to master the new “instrument.” Follow these three tips to make the most of your experience integrating backing tracks into worship.
Churches use backing tracks for multiple reasons. Some have no musicians, so backing tracks (whether the simpler Split Tracks or the multi-functional MultiTracks) mean their congregations get to enjoy contemporary worship music even if they don’t have a worship band.
Other churches use them to fill in for missing musicians. So if you are without a drummer or perhaps no one to sing harmonies, then MultiTracks can be used to stand in for those musicians while the rest of your team play live.
Increasingly, even churches with a full band use tracks to enhance their sound. Backing tracks are effectively like having a bunch of pro musicians playing alongside you—they help you stay in time and add texture and depth to your music—particularly useful if your band is perhaps on the amateur end of the scale.
Worship Backing Band was one of the first MultiTrack producers in the Christian market and we’ve had our tracks and live worship software used in thousands of churches across the world. Here are our three tips for working with backing tracks in a worship setting.
1. Treat playing to tracks like learning a new instrument.
Playing in time to a click track is initially tricky, so practice playing with tracks together as a team A LOT before you introduce it to a live church setting.
Do make sure the click track is loud enough to be easily heard over the live instruments. You don’t need in-ears for this—just ensure that it is loud enough in foldback for everyone to hear.
If your backing track 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 work into improving their timing.
2. Next, learn to follow the arrangement.
If your 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 of getting lost somewhere in the song structure. We’ve found even strong vocalists miss where they need to come in when they are using tracks karaoke-style but without the benefit of the bouncing ball! If you’ve ever tried to follow a track without vocals you’ll know that it is not easy even if you are an experienced worship leader.
Worship Backing Band’s MultiTracks include lead and background vocals, but those from Loop Community, MultiTracks.com and others are generally without a vocal stem. So if you are using those 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.
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.
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!
3. Get to know the software you’re playing the tracks on.
Whether it be Ableton, Mainstage, or 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.
You want your laptop or iPad on the music stand in front of you rather than under the control of the sound guy at the back of the room. Think of it like an orchestra you conduct and learn how to make it follow you and your leading, not the other way around.
Most of the MultiTrack players have options for hands-free control using foot pedals. These are great for multi-taskers but can be another element to learn (and mess up) so do get confident with the other controls too. And whilst it’s great to repeat song sections live, know that you don’t have to. As you learn to use tracks it is absolutely fine to have the track play through from start to finish as you had programmed it in rehearsal—that way your band knows what to expect, too.
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