If you’ve been to a concert or night of worship and heard parts you knew weren’t happening onstage, you’ve probably wondered how to utilize this for your own team – especially when you wind up with those dreaded “decline” responses on Planning Center.
I’ve spent the past few years diving into tracks and software instruments and want to share a few of the steps and resources that have been most helpful for our teams:
1: Play with a click
You absolutely must start rehearsing – both personally and as a team – with a metronome. I use an app. on my phone called Tempo. I can set up a playlist for the whole set and transition with the tap of a button.
Now this was simple for me – I’ve been playing scales on my instruments using a metronome for over 20 years. It made me a little overconfident in how easy this would be for the rest of our team.
Some will lock in quickly, but if your drummer isn’t 100% confident in playing without missing a beat, you really need to avoid using tracks until they can help the team lock in too. This is a process that could easily take months, so make sure your whole team buys in and is spending time practicing on their own.
If you’d like everyone to be able to hear the metronome during rehearsals and performances, you’ll need to use in ear monitors (something like Rolls headphone amps will work on a budget, but I’d recommend Sennheiser IEM systems if you can afford it).
2: Plan for tracks
I started out with the mindset that I wanted our band to sound like the original recording. This is a bad way to approach tracks. It can easily sound artificial and distract from the focus of a service. It’s going to be much better if you approach tracks from the ‘supportive’ perspective.
Filling out your sound sometimes means tracks with synth pads, percussion loops, or that 2nd guitar part your team is missing.
If you’ve ever been to multitracks.com, you learned quickly that there’s a lot more going on in studio recordings than you likely can pull off in a live environment. I like to pick out the meat and potato parts, learn them as a team, then find a track or two that would add spice or fullness without standing out awkwardly.
3: Starting out with tracks
There’s a ton of options today for tracks – websites, apps, computer software… but where do you start? I started with GarageBand on my laptop, recording my own audio or midi parts, then exported them to my ipod and we played them through a 3.5mm TRS plug to dual TS ¼’ cable. The reason is because you need click panned to one side while your track plays through the other side. This way you can send your click only to your monitor mix and your track to the PA.
Currently I use Reason to create my tracks and Ableton Live for ease of operation.
For audio output, I use an M-Audio fasttrack pro because it gives me the ability to have four independent outputs for my sound guy to mix (usually one-click and three tracks).
4: Who should start your tracks
Ideally, a drummer or keyboard player should have control of starting and stopping tracks. There are pedals you can buy (looptimus or Logidy UMI3) if you’re a guitar player and need hands free control. These can usually be utilized for laptops or ipods/ipads.
5: Where to get tracks
You can buy original recording parts (also called stems) from websites like multitracks or loopcommunity and aftermarket tracks from praisecharts or loopcommunity. If you’re a smaller church, building your own tracks is often the most economical approach and with some time, becomes quite simple.
GarageBand has built in instruments that you can control via a keyboard and MIDI/usb connection. I highly recommend MIDI whenever possible because you can transpose in your software for other vocalists without redoing the parts or garbling the audio.
If you’re short on time, get a decent take on the part you’re recording, then use things like midi note adjustments and quantizing to speed up the process! I’m not a piano player, but I can play synth pads and lead lines well enough to make supportive tracks. Most recording software also has percussive loops you can just drag and drop into your song.
If you’d like more tips on how to get started with tracks on a budget, feel free to ask!