As a musician, I think backing tracks can provide interesting dynamics to a song or set. They can be great for smaller churches with a limited musician pool. A small 4 piece band can sound like a much larger ensemble.
From a worship leader perspective, I think they can be too much of a show. It’s a flashy attempt to have Sunday morning look like a rock show. Do you need to have all 5 guitar parts in that Hillsong song?
Maybe you can relate to this dichotomy. You’re trying to toe the line between musical excellence and excessive show and flash.
But there is a middle ground. What if you could use backing tracks or loops in a way that boosts the musical dynamics without being showy or distracting?
You can. If you use them right.
Here are a few practical ways to use tracks and loops in your set on Sundays.
A simple soft pad (in the right key) can add enough texture to fill most bands. Pads are especially useful when you don’t have a keys player. Or if your keys player is using piano tones. When they’re kept lower in the mix they add an overall thickness to the sound.
This is actually a great way to start integrating loops and backing tracks. You don’t need a click track. You don’t even need In Ear Monitoring (IEM). The barrier of entry is really low.
You only need a few things, most of which you probably have now:
Setups can get super complicated, but using an iPad into the Auxiliary Input of your sound board is an easy way to start. You can trigger it with a Bluetooth app controller like STOMP.
Pad and guitar swell loops are available from sites like Loop Community for little or no cost.
Create Better Transitions
Pads are a perfect transition to talk about transitions. What’s really distracting to a worship set is rough transitions. Once you step into the world of backing tracks you’ll be forced to use click tracks.
A shared metronome will keep the band honest with tempo. That by itself is worth having tracks. A side benefit of the click track is better transitions. The drummer doesn’t have to remember the tempo, then check to make sure everyone is ready, then do a count in.
The track is triggered and you start.
This takes a little practice. Especially if you have musicians on your team that aren’t experienced with in ears, backing tracks, or click tracks. Start by slowly adding it to rehearsals. Once the band is ready, slowly add it on Sunday mornings.
There’s no need to go from no tracks to all tracks in one week. Give it time and see how everyone responds. Musicians and congregation.
Fill In Small Gaps
Emphasis on small.
I think we can agree that it would be cheesy to use a track for the intro riff of “Mighty To Save” by Hillsong (#tbt, #fbf, #whateverdayyoureadthis). However, Hillsong has a lot of subtle guitar parts that could be great to use. Think about the ambient tremolo parts. Or discreet rhythm parts further in the background.
MultiTracks.com offers the original stems from the recordings of the songs you’re playing.
This is a good chance to have your team participate in something that will grow their musicianship. It will also give them a sense of inclusion. Especially with newer or weaker musicians.
The overall goal of filling the gaps is to add texture. Something that’s felt more than noticed. Having an aware sound engineer is very important when using tracks. Where and how they sit in the mix is critical.
Play Stripped Down Sets
Sometimes you play stripped down sets based on musician availability. Sometimes it’s more intentional. Backing tracks and loops can fill the mix and create a good atmosphere. Musically and metaphorically.
Let’s say you only have an acoustic guitar, a cajon, and a couple vocals. Using a pad loop will fill the audio spectrum while adding nuance. Adding strings to a stripped down worship night set creates an inviting atmosphere.
The key is to accent what you’re doing. The point isn’t to take away from your instruments. But gracefully compliment them.
I talk a lot about pads if you couldn’t tell. I like to think about backing tracks and loops like recording guitar parts. It’s easy to go overboard and add a ton of layers. It’s not long before it gets out of hand and the parts hurt the song more than they help.
Moderation is key. And for the most part I like to use simple pads more than anything else for that reason. There are exceptions though...
Christmas services are a really fun way to use tracks outside of pads. Especially if you don’t have the musicians or microphones to use the actual instruments live.
The glockenspiel in Phil Wickham’s version of “The First Noel” is a great example. The glockenspiel part matches the vocal melody. It adds a nice texture but isn’t being used as a solo’d instrument.
It’s OK to get a little creative and have some fun with the Christmas tunes. This is the time to use something that borders on cheesy. Sleigh bells. Fun synths. Marimba. Have fun!
At the end of the day, tracks should be a tool. You’ll pull them out when you need or want to. Like your wah. It’s extremely easy to overuse it. But when you pull it out at the right moment, it’s a beautiful thing.
There aren’t any hard or fast rules, just general guidelines. It’s better to err on the minimalistic side though. A little goes a long way.
But experiment. Especially in rehearsals. If you use it on Sunday, record the service and see how it sounds. Is anything out of place? Does it flow seamlessly?
Use your judgement, and be open to feedback. What works for one church won't work in another.
How do you plan to use tracks for your church? Share this article and tag me @codamusictech on facebook with your plan and ideas!