How to build a worship song library

In this article, you’ll learn how to build a quality worship song library in an efficient way that will save you hours of worship prep down the road.

As I begin my worship ministry at Mission Lakewood church, I have the opportunity to start from scratch with my worship song library. As you can see here, my Planning Center account library is completely empty.

An organized and accurate song library has two primary benefits.

  1. Weekly worship planning time is drastically reduced.
  2. My band will always have the best resources for practice and rehearsal.

Once the ministry and church is up and running, I do not want to spend hours every week creating new charts, tracks, lyric slides, etc. I much rather spend a few days batch processing these things ahead of time and creating an uber-organized workflow that will save me hours (even days) of prep down the road.

In the rest of this articler, I want to give you a broad overview of what I’m doing to build our worship song library from scratch.

In order for a song to be adequately prepared for the library, it needs the following 5 things.

  1. An accurate chord chart created in Planning Center’s lyrics and chord editor
  2. Attached MP3 of the songs original key and arrangement
  3. ProPresenter document containing lyric slides
  4. Ableton Live multitrack project
  5. Attached MP3 of the custom key and arrangement with click and cues

The grunt work in this process will consist of preparing those elements. But once it’s done the first time, I’ll never have to do it again. My weekly planning will consist of a few seconds of adding the song to my Planning Center Plan, ProPresenter playlist, and Ableton Live set list.

Is doing all this prep work fun? Of course not! But the reward of having amazing resources for my band and a bunch of saved time down the road is worth it.

Here are the tools I need to get the job done.

  • Laptop - I’ve got my overpriced 15” MacBook Pro.
  • External Hard Drive - I store all of my Ableton Live media on a dedicated hard drive, keeping it organized and independent of any one laptop.
  • Planning Center Services App - This software is the hub where I store all of my songs and music resources like charts and mp3 files.
  • ProPresenter - For a lone worship leader with no production staff, worship prep is not done until lyric slides are made for all songs. I’m going to include lyric creation in ProPresenter as part of this process.
  • Dropbox - While ProPresenter has cloud capability, I prefer using Dropbox to store and sync ProPresenter documents across multiple machines.
  • Ableton Live - This is the software I use to prep tracks and ProPresenter cues.

Now I want to take you through my process of adequately preparing a song for my worship library. Since this article is a broad overview of the process, I don’t have time to get into the nitty gritty of each of these steps. I’ve already made detailed tutorials on most of what I’m going to covered. Click the links for detailed instructions.

Step 1 - Add the song to Planning Center

Find the song you want and add it to the Planning Center library. Planning Center automatically links the song to CCLI, which keeps track of reporting for licensing purposes. Include any other details you would like about the song for categorization. I usually import lyrics from CCLI but not the chord charts. CCLI chord charts are garbage.

Step 2 - Buy the original song MP3

Purchase the original arrangement of the song in Apple Music or any other online music store. Once the song is downloaded, create an MP3 version of the song. This creates a smaller file size that is easier for sharing. Upload the file to Planning Center as a default arrangement attachment. Please note this is only legal if you church subscribes to the CCLI Rehearsal License.

Step 3 - Make a Chord Chart

Create the most amazing chord chart in the world using Planning Center’s lyrics and chord editor. I prefer creating my own charts. I will sometimes use CCLI’s chord chart as a starting point so I don’t have to do it all completely by ear. A quicker way to do it is purchase the chord chart from PraiseCharts.com. I recommend using the Chord Pro format. Copy the Chord Pro text from PraiseCharts and paste it into Planning Center. Then make sure the formatting is perfect.

Check out my detailed tutorial on creating worship charts in Planning Center.

Step 4 - Create lyrics

Create a ProPresenter document for the song lyrics. Import the song into ProPresenter directly from the CCLI search integration. Leverage templates to save you time creating new documents consistent with your style. I prefer two lines of text on each slide. I also label all the sections of the songs. My master arrangement of the song in ProPresenter is what I sync with Ableton Live. You’ll notice in ProPresenter, I do not repeat sections of the song like the chorus. Automating ProPresenter gives me the ability to skip around to the right slides. I also create an arrangement of the song if the need arises for manual operation.

Step 5 - Prepare multitracks

Create the Ableton Live project for the song. Using LoopCommunity.com or Multitracks.com, purchase and download tracks. Optimize the Ableton Live session file so that all you need to do is drag and drop it into future setlists. I also prefer creating my lyric cues for a song in this step. Once it is done once, I don’t ever have to worry about it again.

Check out my detailed tutorial on creating a Multitracks session for Ableton Live.

Step 6 - Create a custom MP3 file

Export and upload the MP3 file of the Ableton Live session containing the click and and cues and proper key. Upload the file to the proper key attachment in Planning Center.

I know that sounds like a lot of work, but once these six steps are complete, the song is adequately prepared for the library. As I already mentioned, the weekly prep will merely consist of dragging and dropping. I want most of my weekly prep time to be spent on picking the right songs from the library and working on other creative service elements, not creating charts, lyric documents, and tracks. I hope this overview of how I build my worship library gives you some ideas for building your own in an efficient and time-saving manner.

If you are building a new worship ministry or if you’re looking to improve an existing one, check out my free guide, The Ultimate Worship Ministry Toolkit. This ever-evolving and improving document is a spreadsheet that acts as your quick reference to all the worship leading tools I refer to in posts like this one and many others on Churchfront.com. It can be overwhelming trying to find the right software and gear for your ministry. This guide will quickly point you in the right direction.