Ableton Live. Chances are you’ve heard those words if you’re a worship leader who is interested in using multitracks in worship. Even though Ableton Live has been around for almost 20 years, it’s increasingly become a buzzword in the worship leading world. To break it down, “Ableton” is the name of a German company who makes software called “Live”. Live is an extremely powerful software application that worship leaders use to run multitracks. Multitracks are similar to backing or accompaniment tracks, but fully customizable. Worship leaders also use Ableton Live to run click tracks, videos, and even automate lyrics and lighting. Interestingly, Ableton Live was not designed with churches in mind. You’ll find a computer running Ableton Live on stages of all sizes – from stadium pop concerts to the band at your cousin’s wedding. Music producers use it to record in the studio and electronic musicians use it to perform live. Worship leaders have found creative ways to use Ableton Live to raise the bar of weekend services.
My first exposure to Ableton Live was in 2004 while on staff at a church in Cincinnati. On a weekend I wasn’t leading I wandered into the auditorium during worship practice. The worship leader had a MacBook sitting at his feet along with a foot controller. As the band ended a song, I saw the worship leader press a button with his foot and, all of a sudden, an electronic drum beat came on. The drummer swelled in and the entire band started to play along to the intro of the next song. The band sounded more full and huge than I’d ever heard. My mind was blown and raced with questions. How is the band staying in perfect time? What is the computer doing? What is that foot controller?
At the time, I didn’t realize what kind of impact this experience would have on the rest of my worship leading life. Not to be dramatic, but looking back now I could say that moment changed my life forever. Not only did Ableton Live completely change the way that I would lead worship for the next 15 years, but my entire career has been built around making worship technology simple. It’s the reason I started LoopCommunity.com.
While there are many benefits to using Ableton Live in worship, there are a few foundations. The most important thing you can do to enhance the sound of your band is to get everyone to play along at the same tempo. Using a click (metronome) in Ableton Live will ensure that everyone is in time with each other. Ableton Live also allows you to use tracks to enhance the sound of your band. If you’ve ever wondered how popular worship bands sound so massive, it’s probably because they are playing along with tracks. If you look closely, I bet you’ll see a computer somewhere on stage running Ableton Live. It allows you to add instruments that you don’t have in your band or parts that are hard to replicate live – like a synth or percussion. It also allows you to replace a musician that is missing. If your bass player doesn’t show up, you can play along with a bass track that weekend.
Some worship leaders won’t even consider using Ableton Live in worship because they feel it will be distracting. However, like most things, distractions can be eliminated by working on your craft. Just as a drummer who hasn’t practiced, or an out of tune guitar, can be distracting, technology can be distracting if you don’t take the time to learn, practice and become a master at it. Learning anything new can feel daunting, but the reward afterward is well worth the effort. The benefits that Ableton Live will bring to your worship leading will far outweigh your initial learning curve to get started. Ableton Live is much easier to use than most people think at first. Although it can look a little scary initially, you can fully understand the basics in under an hour. I’ve seen hundreds of my students go from not understanding anything about Ableton Live, to programming their entire services with it.
If you’re interested in learning more, don’t feel pressure to have it all figured out at once. It’s important to just jump in and get started. Take it one small step at a time. You will sound great using tracks in worship and I’ll be here to help you along the way. A good starting point is to take an Ableton Live class. I teach a free 1-hour beginners course designed specifically for worship leaders. To sign up, visit AbletonInWorship.com.
You won’t look back – I can guarantee it.
Matt McCoy – Loop Community Founder, Ableton Live Certified Trainer