FAQ about leading worship with Ableton Live

I recently asked the Churchfront Community what questions they have about using Ableton Live in worship. Here are the 15 most frequently asked questions out of the hundreds I received. Do you have questions not listed here? Leave your question in the comments below!

How do I get started with Ableton on a budget (not spend a bunch of money on tracks)?

A lot of people assume they need to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to get started using Ableton Live and backing tracks. If you are on a super tight budget but want to start using the full capability of Ableton Live, here’s what I recommend. Purchase the Intro version of Ableton Live for $99 and purchase Band Cues from loopcommunity.com for $5. Then download free worship pads at churchfrontpads.com. Using Ableton’s internal click, the band cues from Loop Community, and free pads from Churchfront, you can get up and running with Ableton Live for $104.

How do I control ProPresenter and lighting with Ableton Live?

You can control ProPresenter and lighting software with Ableton Live by sending MIDI cues over wifi. Since you are playing with a click track, your timing is always consistent as you play with Ableton Live. Therefore you can create MIDI cues at certain times in a song or set list to trigger actions in other production software. For example, at the start of the worship service I lead, when I press play for the first song in Ableton (using my foot controller), it immediately sends cues to ProPresenter to clear our pre-service countdown video and music, and it triggers the first slide of the first song. At the same time, it also triggers MyDMX 3.0 to change the house lights to a dim scene for worship and I it turns on whatever stage lights I want. All of this happens precisely at the right moments, so our slide changes and lighting cues are always perfectly timed. It sounds pretty complicated, but you can quickly learn how to do this in my upcoming training.

How do I control Ableton during worship services?

There are a few ways to control Ableton. First, you can control it directly from the laptop running the software. You can easily add keyboard commands to trigger different songs. For example, I would assign numbers 1 through 5 to the five songs in our worship set. Since it’s hard for a worship leader to control a laptop in the service, I would recommend having your drummer trigger the key commands on your computer.

Another way to control Ableton is by using a MIDI foot controller. I recommend Looptimus by LoopCommunity.com. As a worship leader, I use Looptimus to control Ableton with my feet.

Is it better to use session view or arrangement view?

I highly recommend using arrangement view. In my opinion, it’s way more flexible for creating transitions, programming flexibility in your set, and creating production automation cues.

How do I create smooth transitions?

Ableton Live arrangement view gives you the ultimate flexibility to crossfade songs. Sometimes I will create quick transitions that are seamless. But sometimes I like to add a bit of space between songs and I’ll through a pad sound between them if they are in the same key.

How much prep time does it take?

Prep time varies for everyone. When I’m building a new song library in a new worship ministry, it takes anywhere from 2-4 hours a week. There is a lot of grunt work to get done when you add a new song to your Ableton library. Once your list of Ableton songs is built up and your not creating five new song sets a week, then the weekly work becomes just dragging and dropping them into a set list. That usually takes me an hour or less.

Learn Ableton is like learning a new language. The more you practice and put up with the initial learning curve, the more fluent you become.

How do you build in flexibility for spontaneous worship?

Ableton makes it easy to program flexibility in your worship set for  spontaneous moments. At the end of songs, you can use MIDI cues to trigger a looping pad to keep playing in case if you want to pray or repeat a part of the song. I do this a lot. With a powerful foot controller like Looptimus, you can assign different sections of the song to different buttons on your controller. When you cue up a section, Ableton will wait to complete the measure it’s on before switching to the section you trigger. This is a bit of an art form in itself, but it IS possible. If you want to constantly change up the order of your songs during a worship set, it honestly may be too cumbersome to program into Ableton. Personally, I like just having a pad and click playing at the end of songs to give my band flexibility.

What version of Ableton should I buy?

If you are on a tight budget, purchase the Intro version of Ableton Live. If your church has the money, buy the standard version.

How hard is it to learn?

I was super intimidated and frustrated with Ableton when I first started to learn it. There are a bunch of tutorials online, but none of them did a great job taking me by the hand to prepare Ableton sets for worship. If I’m teaching you, Ableton Live only takes a few hours to learn and a few days to become an expert. If you try to teach yourself with Youtube videos, it’s going to take a long time.

How do you convince a worship team to use a click and tracks?

First, you need to know the software and equipment to get this functioning. Your band will quickly get fed up if you spend half of the rehearsal troubleshooting Ableton Live and in-ear monitoring.

Second, you need to cast a vision for them to see how much it will improve the sound and make them better musicians. Tell them ALL professional worship groups (Hillsong, Tomlin, etc.) use a click and tracks. You are less professional without them.

Third, tell them that using Ableton will give you the ability to automate lighting and lyrics, making your worship services more excellent and decreasing distractions during worship.

Can it work for other media programs?

Yes, it can work with other presentation software and lighting software that receive MIDI commands. It does not work with all media programs. My expertise is automating ProPresenter (lyrics) and MyDMX 3.0. If you want to make the most of my training on Ableton automation, I would recommend those programs which are great for any church context.

What is the equipment I need to get started?

You need a 3.5mm TRS to dual ¼” cable to plug your laptop running Ableton into a stereo DI box which then goes to your sound console. Make sure your console has two available channels for a click track and your backing tracks. You also need in-ear monitors for your click track. I have a much more extensive article on the gear you will need on my blog.

What do I do with volunteers if they are not running lights and slides?

Be creative and find other ways for them to contribute to your church’s ministry. I would recommend having someone still be present to look over lights and ProPresenter in the case of a malfunction. They could have more of a service producer role, helping make sure other elements of the service flow smoothly.

How do you organize content in Ableton?

I store all of my Ableton media on an external hard drive. In that hard drive, I have a master folder called Ableton. Inside that folder, I have a folder for every individual song session. I have another folder labeled “1. Sunday Set Lists” that contains all of the setlists I’ve assembled. My training gets much more in-depth, but in a nutshell, find what works for you and stick with it. I started building my library three years ago, and I’m so glad I went with my current system of organization.

How do I get started with Ableton Live?

Enroll in my upcoming training, Lead Worship with Ableton: the step-by-step guide for non-techie worship leaders. I strongly believe that Ableton Live will radically transform the quality of your church’s worship gatherings. But I know getting started with Ableton is super intimidating. It took me a full work week to program my first worship set list, and I still had it only barely figured out. It doesn’t have to be this way. I want to help you get up and running with Ableton as quickly as possible. Lead Worship with Ableton is going to show you how to fully utilize the power of Ableton Live at your church.