Archives For October 2011

The generally accepted definition of a “Worship Band” has seen a drastic change over the last 50 years.  What began as piano and organ has transitioned to a full band complete with moving lights and pre-programmed loops, tracks, and even videos to create the ‘worship experience’. We have indeed made huge leaps forward in the area of musical worship. The addition of pre-programmed tracks in both large and small churches was, for the most part, only an afterthought for most church music directors several years ago.

A Foundation

First, it is important for every band-leader to understand the musicality of their players whether they be volunteers or paid, amateurs or professionals. Many churches that exclusively rely on volunteers will sometimes find that the talent pool can be all too shallow. Introducing a moderate or beginner musician to a click track can be a daunting task and then the addition of a loop or track along with it can exacerbate the problem. Encouragement and patience will become your best friends in this process. Be sure that the musician doesn’t feel inadequate, but rather that this is an expansion of their skills, not a deficiency. Through my years of working with many different church musicians, I have always found that playing to a click (even if you are not using a track) is a great way to build musicianship.  Using a standard click is an easy first step if you are looking to move into loops and tracks. Having a solid foundation will be pivotal to growing you and your teams musicality, while also providing a platform to help musicians grow and develop their skills.

Tracks Types: Full Loop Tracks vs Loops Elements

I’m finding that the incorporation of some type of track or loop element is an every week occurrence. What isn’t consistent though is the degree to which they are integrated. There are several different types of tracks and loops. The loop discussion seems to be focused on two distinct types of tracks: the shorter loops that can be cut on and off throughout a song to provide small pieces of musical flair or the full blown tracks that provide anything from drum kits to symphonic orchestras.

Loop Elements (Shorter Loops)

Individual loops or short, programmed, segments are great ways to add a little ear candy to any song. This could be just a simple drum beat or a shaker sample that loops over and over continuously until stopped.  Utilizing some of the new technologies that have sprung up in the most recent years has been a great way for smaller churches or worship leaders to add sounds without having to pack 20 people on stage. With the development of synth, and electronic sounds the possibilities have become almost infinite in what can be reproduced from a simple laptop computer.  Even taking a simple song like “Hosanna” by Paul Baloche and inserting a simple drum loop can take the song to a different level or sound.  Being able to build on that dynamic can really help a musician “feel” the song better and your band will start playing together rather that just next to each other.

Full Loop Tracks

Tracks, on the other hand, are a great way to provide band members with a consistent way to play a song. They are created to fit full arrangements of the song.  You can also use multi-effects in tracks that may not be possible with shortened loops. This is because you can have more than one loop element playing at the same time. Using tracks can also help a programmer build a verse or chorus differently.  One example of a track I am building is the song “Manifesto” by The City Harmonic.  After the bridge interlude the last chorus just explodes with sound creating a huge final chorus of singing at the top of your lungs.  Having a full track for this song has allowed us to do more musically than we could have without it.  Almost every part of the song had some sort of special effect or dynamic change that would have required a lot of special attention while playing the song.  One missed cue could produce a train wreck since we are committed to a specific arrangement.

You might also want to add another backing melody just for the second chorus or just the last chorus after a bridge for an extra dynamic for the end of the song. This can be done with short loops but it can be quite difficult to manage, unless using a program such as Ableton Live. Most full loop tracks from Loop Community come with vocal cues, which act as a band director and guide the band through the song (verse, 1, 2, 3, 4).

The downside of full loops comes in when there are times as worship leaders you want to add an additional chorus because the congregation seems to be engaging in a different way on one specific Sunday morning.  This can be frustrating if you’re only using a full track arrangement because you are locked into a specific pattern for a song. Software like Ableton Live can alleviate this problem and give you the flexibility of short loops in a full length format.

So Who Wins?

In the end, I don’t believe that one option is better than the other.  I think a lot of factors can influence the ultimate decision.  We must consider the flow of the song, the community response, and several other factors. Your team may play better with short and simple loop elements, while the worship team down the street thrives alongside the full tracks. The number of available players and instrumentation will always be a factor. Always remember that as leaders, we need to encourage our band members to continue to practice and improve individually.  That personal time will flow into the band and the overall improvement of the team.  This will help create an enjoyable environment for musicians to enjoy creating music and using the talent God has given them to glorify His name, which is the ultimate goal for every worship team.

 

About the author: Anthony Kidd is a band leader at People of Mars Hill in Mobile, AL. Describing himself and his work he says: “I love creating music. Hearing something in my head and being able to create makes me happy. I am simple but I love complex. I try to create a simple complexity in all of my tracks……does that make me weird? I am weird. I also am greatly humbled that people would be willing to invest something into music that bounces in my head all day.” Be sure to check out some of his tracks on his contributor page here.

What is a Vocal Cue?

A vocal cue is a recorded vocal track that gives clear direction to your band when using loops or playing to a click track.  For example “Verse, in 1,2,3,4,” then you are into the verse.  Vocal cues allow each band member to know what part of the song is coming next and when it starts. Some of you reading this post haven’t thought much about vocal cues, but I challenge each person who is using loops live to enter into this conversation.  Though this post is geared towards worship leaders using loops, vocal cues are beneficial for all bands and musicians.

 

 What are some benefits of using vocal cues? 

1. Vocal Cues cause you to be prepared to lead.
When taking the time to create a vocal cue you have to study the song you are going to lead. You will have to layout the arrangement and compile all your parts into a cue. This has helped me to be prepared for my rehearsal times and ultimately a successful worship time.  We need to take the time when we are building loops and arranging songs to ask the Holy Spirit to speak through us in our preparation. I believe God is honored and can use our preparation greatly in a worship experience.  So many orchestras and other music groups have scored out music that is telling each musician exactly what they are supposed to play and when to play it.  This is a similar concept of what a vocal cue is accomplishing.  A set arrangement of where the band is going each time we play each particular song.  On the other hand I see that sometimes the worship set can go in a different direction than we expected.  So I create my loops and cues with the ability to go into a tag or repeat a chorus at the end of the song.  I run a swelling pad through ableton live in the key of the song and control it with a volume pedal.  This allows me the freedom to bring a pad in at the end of a song if I don’t have a keyboard player or even if I do. Think about it… Leave a comment or question.

2. Vocal Cues help direct the band.
I have experienced this first hand when introducing the song “Go” by Hillsong United.  This was the first time playing through a brand new song (with a loop) and feeling good about it because we had the direction of the vocal cues.  I stress to the musicians not be dependent upon the vocal cue, but to use the vocal cue as a tool to help them focus on the part they are playing and not be worried about what part comes next.  I hate the feeling of playing through a song and guessing where the worship leader is taking us next.  Using a vocal cue in the introduction of a new song will help the band in their preparation for rehearsal and help the rehearsal run smoothly.


3. Vocal Cues are another step we take towards EXCELLENCE.
Striving for excellence should be on the forefront of each worship team or Band.  Using vocal cues forces your band to play to a click, if you are not playing to a click you should.  This will push your band to the next level and also make you sound a lot tighter.  Countless times I have gone back and reviewed worship sets where we didn’t use a click and you can here the drastic difference from when we did play with a click.  Using a click and vocal cues leave less opportunity for error or distraction in your worship experience. If you are just venturing into using loops, start out by implementing vocal cues and you will save yourself tons of trouble introducing a new loop to your band.  People are more willing to play new music if it is clearly laid out and they know exactly where to go. If you do not clearly communicate to the band they may get lost in a loop, which can cause an easy train wreck.


Where do you find great vocal cues?

 I have spent ample amount of time setting up my gear going through my songs and recording my vocal cues with a nice condenser mic and…they were alright.  Honestly the best vocal cues that are out there are right here on loop community. If you are a contributor to the site, you can get them for free in the resource center. They are very easy to work with.  I just got done putting vocal cues on my “How He Loves” loop and the time I saved using the vocal cues from loop community was very beneficial.  You can get these cues in a reason file or Ableton files.  They are easy to drop into your Ableton session and use automation (this link helped me understand Automation and AIC drivers http://vimeo.com/8303676 ) to set the song to trigger its self when recording to a split file.  So now open up Ableton live and spend all night putting vocal cues on your loops and share them with the world through Loop Community!  If you have questions or comments about anything in this post, please continue the conversation.

 

About the author: Jake Sterno is a worship leader and songwriter from Rockford, IL. Check out his music here: http://www.inallthingslove.com

Loop Community is privileged to have many talented musicians and music programmers contributing to the community. One of those people is Ben Worcester.
I asked Ben a few questions and wanted to share our discussion.

MM: What do you use to create your loops?

BW: I use Reason 5.0. We use it in the live setting as well.

MM: What advice can you give those who are interested in making Loops?

BW: As advice for loop writers, invest time in studying how others create unique sounds. Consume others’ creations to develop your own. In addition, save your favorite sounds/patches so that you can implement them in any other file quickly.

MM: What instruments do you play?

BW: I play keys, generally, but I am also semi-pro trumpet player.

MM: Are you serving somewhere in your church? If so, where / whats your role?

BW: I’m on staff at University Christian Church in Manhattan, KS as the Contemporary Service Coordinator. My role is to oversee musical and technical aspects of those services.

MM: What made you want to start using loops in worship?

BW: One of biggest reasons is to implement synthesized sounds at the heart of our music. This makes it easy to have these extra instruments that fill out the sound. I also think that by using loops live, a band solves a lot of problems quickly. Two examples would be starting/ending songs and tempo issues. Loops can help with those transitions and make things more seamless.

MM: How do you run loops live during worship?

BW: We use Reason to fire all of the loops. We have an M-Audio 1814 FireWire interface that sends the stereo loop to the house (and monitors) and sends the click to the monitors. I usually fire them from my spot on stage behind the piano. Before the service, we load all of the loops in reverse order. Then, at the completion of the song, I (quickly) close the window and fire the next one.

 

Everyone has their own way of making music and playing it live. It’s always interesting for me to hear how people implement loops and programming into their worship sets. It can spark a new idea or teach me something new. Thanks for sharing Ben!

Check out Ben Worcester’s Loop page at Loop Community!

Why Small Churches Need Loops

EJ Gauna —  October 10, 2011 — 2 Comments

There are countless blogs and websites out on the inter-web right now spreading the gospel of loops, their benefits and why you should use them now.  I’m in that club but many of these blogs and lessons are geared towards the larger church.  I’m a worship leader in a plant church and have been at several other small churches and have learned quite a few lessons in introducing loops to your team and implementing them in your service.  Here are my reasons why loops and the worship leader of a small church, specifically a mobile church, should be best friends.

“We talkin’ ‘bout practice”

Who has time to sit down and practice at home?  Loops offer the benefit of playing with the exact same track, arrangement and feeling at home.  Our rhythm section can try new things, become familiar with our arrangement, which might be different than the recording, and mess up where only their cat will hear.  Our rehearsals are more efficient when we’re rehearsing not teaching.  This becomes even more important in the small church where sometimes there isn’t a space available to rehearse during the week and the only option is early Sunday morning.

Prepare The Vocals

Sometimes we’ll do a song with complicated harmonies or vocal parts and the hour and a half (most of the time much less) we have to rehearse before service isn’t sufficient for everyone to be comfortable with their parts.  With loops our vocalists can have the same  benefits as the rhythm section has with the added benefit of their vocal part exaggerated on the track.  They will hear the melody along with their harmony which will be a little bit louder. By listening to that throughout the week their harmony will be burned into their brain (hopefully) and we can work more on blending than teaching parts.

Time is Tickin’

Nothing can derail a rehearsal, or set for that matter, than time fluctuations.  Even if your drummer is still getting used to playing with a click and/or loop, the benefit of at least starting a song at the right tempo can save a ton of time and frustration.  Nothing will tighten up your rhythm section and gel your sound like everyone playing together in time.  The pocket gets deeper, rhythms get tighter, and your guitarist’s dotted 8th delay will sound like The Edge instead of like he’s falling over it.

“If I had…”

Every worship leader lends themselves to mediocrity when they allow themselves to fall into the “If I had” mentality.  It’s easy to look at the bigger church down the street and think, “If I had all that, I could do that too.”  They don’t see the work and effort it took to get to that position.  One thing we’ve had to learn at our plant church is that God sends and brings and gives exactly what we’re meant to have at this point in time.  Loops won’t necessarily grow your ministry but it does allow you to be more adventurous in what you can do right now.  If your team is small or your talent is limited, you and loops should get to know each other.  When I started at Freedom Chapel there was a drummer…and that’s it.  So we started producing full tracks with keys, synths, percussion loops, etc to fill out the sound so we weren’t limited to doing a candle lit unplugged set every week.  It transformed our thinking from, “We can’t do until we get more.” to “We can do and believe God will send more.” (Matt. 25:14-30)

It’s Not The Same!

Loops will never replace the energy and feel of a live human being playing an instrument, but they can add to your team and make your time together more efficient.  Think of some areas in your team, rehearsals, or practice time that you or your people struggle with.  What are they?  Loops may not be the end all solution but they can probably help put you on the right path.

Loop Community was selected as one of Worship Leader magazine’s Best of the Best in not one, but two categories! Yearly, Worship Leader surveys worship leaders and media teams around the world, sifting through a myriad of suggestions from the leaders in worship and worship technology to come up with 7 groupings, 38 categories with 5 -15 items in each list.

Worship Leader’s eagerly awaited guide to the best of the best in the world of worship will be available October 7, 2011 by subscription, at newsstands, and for download. The “Best of the Best” is a vital directory of everything from the best music resources, software, visual presentation technology, worship training resources, musical instruments, apps, sound/recording equipment, books, lighting, stage equipment, and much more!

This is the first year that LoopCommunity has earned a slot in Worship Leader’s “Best of the Best” directory of worship resources. We were recognized in both the Social Network and Community Software, and the Song Finding categories. We attribute this wonderful recognition to those who make up the Community. We are grateful for the excellent daily contributions that are made to the Community by the users. We made LC to be a site for the worship community at large and because you have embraced our vision you have made LC yours. This is your site. This is your reward.

Thank you!
The LoopCommunity Team