Many worship ministries today are using the powerful combination of Ableton Live and MultiTracks to enhance the level of excellence in their worship.
In this article, I will offer a variety of ways these technologies are proving to be a welcomed complement to the overall sonic experience of congregational worship.
Our Journey as a Church
When I came on staff at Covenant Church in 2015, the worship team members were already using an in-ear monitoring system (Aviom), but they were not yet utilizing MultiTracks. During the summer of 2016, after various conversations, website advertisements, and my experience at a previous church, I began to explore using Ableton Live and MultiTracks in worship with our team.
It is important to note that several key factors were already in place for us to adequately navigate the learning curve of this new technology:
- The worship team was accustomed to using in-ear monitors.
- My drummer was able to play along with a click track.
- I was accustomed to playing with a click track from my recording studio experience.
Because of these factors, we were able to adapt fairly well to this new experience of leading worship songs. Now, playing to the click feels very second nature, and most of the time I don’t even realize it is there. As a worship leader in the local church, I am so grateful for all of the benefits of utilizing MultiTracks.
4 Benefits of Using MultiTracks in Worship Leading
Depending on your own setting, you may have some questions about the use of this technology. If so, here are four benefits to using MultiTracks in worship:
Benefit #1 – Playing to a Click Will Tighten up Your Worship Team
Playing with a click gives everyone on the worship team more direction, focus, and intentionality. As a player, you’re either off or you’re on. This level of precision can seem daunting at first, but it actually becomes quite liberating with time and practice. After playing to a click for a while, most musicians feel very comfortable with it.
Benefit #2 – Multitracks in Worship Will Enhance Overall Sound
One powerful aspect of MultiTracks is that they are able to fill out the overall sound of your worship team. A typical worship team may have from six to ten live musicians. Depending on the limitations of the music software, there is the ability to offer six or more additional instruments to the overall mix.
For example, in addition to live instruments (e.g., keys, percussion, electric guitars, acoustic guitars, bass guitar, etc.) the sound is complemented with pre-recorded tracks that might include additional percussion tracks, keyboard pads, electric guitar parts, acoustic guitar parts, piano, organ, mandolin, etc. The additional parts do not feel out of place but enhance the overall mix.
Benefit #3 – Musical Arrangements are Clear, Intentional, and Reproducible
When playing along with MultiTracks in worship, a “guide” voice lets the musician know (one bar ahead of time) when a given section of a song is about to be played: intro, verse, chorus, bridge, etc. The worship team members follow their chart as well as listen to the guide voice. This guide factor adds another level of direction within the arrangement of a given song.
In addition, the worship leader does not have to re-create an arrangement each time a given song is played – it is laid out through the multitrack arrangement. However, there is still flexibility within this structure. There are ways to alter the purchased multitrack arrangement for a given song, and there is always room for spontaneity after the MultiTracks have stopped.
Benefit #4 – Key Parts for Songs are Not Lost Due to Lack of Skill or Lack of Personnel
Some songs have a signature part during the intro section or after the chorus. However, not all worship teams are able to perform those parts in church. A worship team may not have a musician skilled enough on the electric guitar or piano to play those signature parts. Or, if the talent is there, sometimes team members have scheduling conflicts.
As a leader, what do you do at that point? Still, in another scenario, a team may have a player who is skilled enough to play the part, but he or she didn’t have time to rehearse at home. With MultiTracks, those scenarios do not have to keep you from executing those key parts within a song.
For a team without the skill, the track itself can capture that signature part. If a key member is on vacation the week a worship leader has chosen to play “This is Amazing Grace,” the track can fill the part for that Sunday. If the key musician didn’t learn the part, he or she can learn it by playing along to the track during rehearsal and then double it during the service.
The four key points above will enhance the overall excellence of your worship. I have experienced these benefits first hand at my own local church, and I am grateful for this technology.
MultiTracks Technical Basics
To define our terms, MultiTracks are the original tracks from a recording session (amateur or professional) and they usually have one “element” per track. For example, a lead guitar part, an acoustic guitar part, etc. These MultiTracks can be purchased or leased as a collection through websites such as MultiTracks or Loop Community.
These purchased MultiTracks are then downloaded and inserted into a scene in some form of music software such as Ableton Live. The software is run from a computer which is connected to a soundboard. This connection is typically made through a direct box with at least two inputs/outputs: (1) one for the click and guide and (2) one for the loop. The loop contains all the various tracks: electric guitar, acoustic guitar, percussion, keys, etc.
The loop can contain a range of different tracks depending on the version of Ableton Live (or other music software) your church is using. For example, the Intro version of Ableton Live 10 limits the playback to only eight tracks at once. Therefore, two tracks are for the click and the guide, leaving six tracks available for other instruments. Other versions of Ableton Live do not have a limit on the number of tracks that can be played back at the same time.
The reason the click/guide are routed separately from the loop is so that they can be controlled separately at the board. The click and guide should not be coming through the main mix for the congregation to hear. Only the worship team members need to hear the click and guide tracks. Only the loop should be heard through the main mix.
Below is a screenshot of a project in Ableton Live. A new project can be created for each worship service. Within each project, there are a number of scenes (mentioned above). Each song within a given worship set has its own scene and is often color-coded for visual differentiation.
Within each scene are the various tracks that were purchased, downloaded, and stored in a library in Ableton Live.
Each scene can be initiated or played from any number of sources. It is common for the drummer to initiate each new scene within a worship set. In our setting, we have our MacBook in the sound loft and our technical arts coordinator initiates each new scene after a head nod cue from me. There are different ways to initiate the tracks. Each worship team can decide the most appropriate scenario for their given situation.
Once the scene is initiated, the click track will start and a guide voice will begin to count down the beats, one bar before a new section of the song (e.g., intro, verse, chorus, etc.). It is common to hear the following countdown, “Intro, 2, 3, 4… “ The guide verbally cues the worship team and gives direction on when to enter the song.
Click on the following songs to preview some MultiTracks and to view the songs in a live setting. Wide Awake (original worship song). Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (classic hymn). With this basic knowledge of the technical aspects of using Ableton Live and MultiTracks, we can now explore the various components involved in the setup as well as the cost factors.
MultiTracks in Worship Setup and Cost
For your church to begin to implement this technology you will need to purchase the following basic products:
In-Ear Monitoring System
- Aviom is a popular monitoring system.
- The cost of purchasing an Aviom system with four personal mixers through Reverb is approximately $1,350.
- Shure makes quality and affordable in-ear monitors. The cost of purchasing a set of in-ear monitors (e.g., SE315s) is about $179.00 (although there are cheaper and lesser quality in-ears available).
Ableton Live (or some other form of music software)
- Ableton Live a very popular option for music software.
- The cost for purchasing the Intro version of Ableton Live is $99.00
- Two of the more popular websites for purchasing and downloading MultiTracks are: (1) MultiTracks and (2) Loop Community
- The cost of purchasing MultiTracks for one song can be up to $39.00; or, buy credits in bulk and save.
Mac or PC
- A Mac or PC can run Ableton Live.
- The cost for a MacBook Air is about $1,000. There are advantages to running Ableton Live from a Mac, however, a PC can function well also.
Getting Started with MultiTracks
A given worship ministry may be able to learn the technical aspects of Ableton Live and MultiTracks and have the funds to purchase all of the technology. However, another key factor is a worship leader and/or drummer who can play along with a click track with proficiency. Before you purchase all of the equipment, evaluate your available worship leader pool of volunteers and determine a reasonable starting point.
As I mentioned earlier in this article, the worship team at my church had a few key factors in place already which allowed us to adapt fairly quickly to the learning curve of using Ableton Live and MultiTracks. Each worship team needs to evaluate their overall skill and potential.
After an evaluation, begin to take baby steps.
If your team is not currently using them, start with purchasing and using in-ear monitors. If your team is not currently playing to a click track, start using one during rehearsal. Take intentional steps to prepare yourself as a team to be able to use technology to its fullest potential. Above all, keep in mind that facilitating the worship of God and the robust singing of your congregation are the primary goals. The use of technology should serve to enhance these goals not detract from them. A caution would be not to implement this technology too soon. Be wise and prudent. Pray and discern the proper timing.
The landscape of worship is ever-evolving.
As worship leaders, pastors, and leaders, may we seek to embrace the best of the old and the best of the new, enjoying the innovation and excellence that technology can bring to worship.