OK, I admit, maybe “MUST HAVE” is a bit overstated, but I will tell you as a worship pastor, there are 5 worship technologies that I use practically every day/week and I don’t know how I did without them. If you’re a rookie in the worship leading profession or you’ve been at this for awhile but are still using old school methods, I strongly urge you to read on (AND even if you’re someone who uses and likes worship technologies, you should read on too, because I just might have something here you haven’t tried yet but probably need to)!
MUST HAVE Worship Technology #1: Planning Center Online: Services.
This is at the top of my list for a good reason, because is it THE must have technology. If you’re not on it yet, I may have to ask you to turn in your “Worship Leader Card.” Or I may stoop to pleading and begging with you to stop doing what you’re doing right now and GO GET IT. This is the most significant technology to come along for worship leaders since the printed hymnal. No, I am not on their payroll (but maybe I should be). These are just a few of the things that PCO can do for you:
- Worship Planning. PCO allows you to plan ALL of your services, including services from different ministries within your church. You can put into your service flow everything you’ll need your worship and tech team to see: service elements with times, AVL (audio, video, & lighting) cues, songs for your worship team (more about that feature in a moment), and so much more.
- Worship Team Scheduling. This feature will save you hours. You can schedule your entire team with the click of a button, no more group emails or phone calls. Team members can block dates in the system so you can know when they’re available or not.
- Song Distribution. Want your worship team to be well prepared with mp3s, charts, and instructions about the songs you are playing? No problem, PCO allows you to have a full database of songs that you can organize according to category, tempo, key, etc. It will even automatically transpose any song into the key you need it in.
And that’s just the tip of PCO iceberg. There are many more handy features for worship leaders, but even more for those other people on your church staff. There are apps that manage your church’s membership database, giving, groups, children’s check in and well you get the idea. It’s crazy how much this software does, pretty much everything short of washing the coffee mugs in the church kitchen. Don’t worry though, they’ll probably come up with an app for that soon too.
Sounds complicated and expensive, right? On the latter point you would be wrong. It’s as little as $14 a month for the Services Application. That’s $168 per year. Even the smallest church budgets should be able to handle that. At a larger $50 packages, it’s still only $600 annually. Complicated? Well that’s a matter of opinion but there are so many online tutorials and support that you will learn how to use it in a short period of time. Is there a learning curve? Yes of course, but that’s true of anything worth learning and this one is worth the investment of your time. They are always coming up with new versions so there’s always new features to discover and since its all cloud based, there’s no updates you have to download.
MUST HAVE Worship Technology #2: SongSelect by CCLI.
Yes this one is #2 on my list because I use it almost as often as PCO. Here are some great reasons to add this one to your “MUST HAVE” list:
- Great source for most of your sheet music, all in one place. This is a great one stop shop because you can download pretty much as much music as you want for one annual price ($149/year). This site has at least 90% of new and older worship songs that your church is probably already singing or soon will be. You have the option of downloading lead sheets, chord charts, lyrics, and even vocal sheets (for a little more – $189/year) in any key and transposable an octave up or down.
- Another great feature of SongSelect is that it integrates with other programs like ProPresenter and Planning Center. This makes it really easy to import your song lyrics into your lyrics projection software and to import charts for uploading into Planning Center.
- Last but not least, SongSelect is a great resource to find new worship songs. You can see what songs are trending in the church and around the globe so you can decide if they might connect with your congregation.
OK just three more to go, and so far we’ve only spent a max of $789 per year! You can tell your church treasurer that’s just $2.16 per day. S/he will be impressed with your math skills. You’re welcome.
MUST HAVE Worship Technology #3: ProPresenter. Version 6 is available on MAC, and V. 5 on PC. I would recommend 6 if you have the MAC and can do it for the additional features.
My apologies, I know there’s differences of opinion out there about which media presentation software is the best. I am not going to tell you which one is the best. I’m just going to tell you which one I am using right now and why. I have used those other media presentation software platforms and I will tell you that I think ProPresenter strikes the right balance between volunteer-friendly and professional grade features. Here’s some features I think you might like:
- As I said before, it easily integrates with SongSelect, so downloading lyrics is easy. Also the editor is pretty simple and easy to use.
- It plays a lot of different media file types. This versatility is wonderfully adaptive.
- It has scads of features that scale up or down depending upon the complexity of your worship space. In other words, it has headroom to grow and adapt to your church’s growth needs. These include but are not limited to video layering, the ability to output to multiple displays simultaneously, and allowing your pastor/presenter wireless control of your presentation from a wireless device like a smartphone or tablet.
Pricing? Yeah this one will cost you more, but it’s worth it. It’s $399 for a single license and $799 for a campus license. Remember this is a one-time purchase until you upgrade the software, not an annual cost. If your church has multiple ministries that use presentation software (i.e., kids and youth programs), I’d recommend the campus license so you’ll have the ability to add on more machines without the additional cost.
OK so now let’s revisit the cost we’ve incurred so far: $789 per year and a one time outlay of $799. Not too bad so far if you ask me. Bang for the buck-wise, you’re still way ahead of the game. Let’s move on to the big ticket items…
MUST HAVE Worship Technology #4: Digital Sound Console.
As someone who went digital 9 years ago, my only regret is that I didn’t do it earlier. Digital consoles (when used correctly and properly maintained) are the greatest gift to your productivity, saving your volunteers’ time, and minimizing sound problems that I can conceive of. Imagine this scenario: walking into your facility (and this is even more the case with churches meeting in schools or other temporary spaces where your gear spends the week in the closet), turning on your console, and VOILA! Everything is exactly as you left it last time you set up. All of your monitor mixes, gains, effects, and house mix are exactly like you crafted them, even though you put the console away or that other ministry came in and did an event in the same room between the time of your last rehearsal and your services. What a great idea! Rather than starting off with a raw mix every time you meet for rehearsal or services, our team can often start off with a mix from a previous weekend or event which saves a great deal of time when building a mix. Also, your sound engineers will love the “scene” feature because they can easily control what is on and what is not during certain portions of your service (which comes in handy when your worship leader decides to visit the bathroom with his wireless microphone still on).
I recently visited a large church in my city that is doing multiple services, live streaming, post production audio/video, & multi-site services with a rather large worship team using a (CHOKE) gigantic ANALOG console. Rack upon rack of effects, gate, compression, and other outboard units were also present to pull off all the functions necessary. As I stared at this massive array of 80’s technology I thought to myself, “I would NOT want to be THAT sound guy.” I can’t imagine what migraines are triggered trying to stay on top of all those dials, knobs, switches, and faders that no one can program to remember anything. Now mind you, I have nothing against analog mixing consoles…for very lightweight applications that require no programming or memory. I can understand why churches, after having expended thousands of dollars to acquire expensive gear over a period of many years would be reluctant to make the switch to digital. But trust me, the investment is worth it. You will gain back so much time lost building mixes and setting levels. You gain much greater control over your worship environment. You will get back most of your sound booth real estate. And you will no longer have to pay your sound engineers therapy bills.
OK so what type of digital console should you buy? That depends upon your needs, your space, and your budget. We use the Yamaha M7CL48. Great console. It was the standard 9 years ago but it’s still going strong and suits our needs just fine. Designed by house of worship sound engineers, it has proven to be quite user-friendly. Many groups tour with these boards even today which says a lot about their durability and ease of use. That being said, there are many great options that have come out in recent years, such as the Behringer X32, the Midas M32, or the Roland M-5000. They vary of course in features, pricing, and capabilities. If you do decide to go digital, make sure you do your homework, talk to as many experts as you can, and make sure your console will do everything you need it to for your space before you buy. What will you spend? Again, that depends upon what you buy. I spent about $25K on mine 9 years ago. You probably won’t have to spend nearly as much to get as many features now. The Behringer offers a lot for not a lot of cash, just $1500 for the X32 Producer model, so you might start with that one. Presonus also offers a great and affordable line of Studiolive mixers, but these have some limitations (not all models have motorized faders, and a different interface than most other digital consoles).
AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST (drum roll please)…
MUST HAVE Worship Technology #5: In ear monitors (with a personal mixer feature).
These things take some getting used to if you’re new to them, but there are some major advantages to using IEM’s. First and foremost, if you’ve been using live amps and floor wedges on stage, your sound engineer will love the fact that, once put in place, there’s very little stage noise to compete with in your room. In many portable/smaller church applications, this can make a huge difference in your overall clarity because now the only thing competing in your space with your mains will be the drums (with acoustic kits) and amps (which can be mostly eliminated). Singers and musicians can adjust their own mixes, so building a mix is much simpler and everyone can adjust according to their own preferences.
Our team made the jump to IEM’s within the past year and we love the difference it has made in our worship rehearsals and our stage. We used to set up amps and floor monitors at every position plus all the needed connections, which of course took a great deal of time and chiropractor visits. Now we simply set up one “paddle” (personal mixer) for each player and add a headphone extender. That has made our stage much more aesthetically appealing and has saved my tech team a great deal of time on our stage flips. I am also finding that my team is not spending nearly as much time as we used to when we had to build a mix using floor wedges. We also decided to purchase some decent earbuds and have encouraged our team members to purchase their own if they choose to. We went with the Livemix Duo system by Digital Audio Labs, which unlike most other systems actually allows two users per “paddle.” The paddles can also be used with powered monitors, over-the-ear style headphones, or even wireless bodypack transmitter units. The system also has great features, like a built in ambient mic, on board effects, EQ & compression, even a metronome. Even with their headphones in, my team members can still talk to each other using the system’s intercom feature or their ambient mics. The digital touch screen is a feature my worship team members find easy to use. Even my non-techie worship team members find it to be not so intimidating!
Systems vary widely in terms of features and pricing. On the low cost end of the spectrum, you could choose something like the Behringer P16-M (which sacrifices features but costs only $250 per personal mixer). And while the big boy systems from AVIOM and others are certainly great, they are pricey and do not offer the touchscreen features of the LiveMix system. So if you have the budget to move into something more professional, I would urge you to demo this LiveMix system. You can read more at http://www.digitalaudio.com/livemix-personal-monitors/.
OK so “MUST HAVE”s? In all seriousness, you don’t NEED these tools for worship to happen, but I will tell you they will make your life a lot easier and hopefully free up your time to do other more important things that God has called you to do in your ministry. Like have another piece of pie at the next church potluck!