On most Sundays, my worship band consists of only four members. I sing and play acoustic. My assistant worship leader is on vocals, and we have a keyboardist and drummer. No bassist. No electric guitars. No background vocals. Even with a small ensemble, we manage to achieve a big sound in worship. In this article, I’ll tell you all about how we do it and watch to the end because I tell you about my #1 software recommendation for achieving a full sound in worship.
The question of the day: What is your opinion on using backing tracks in worship? Does your band use tracks? Let me know in the comments below.
There are two common challenges worship leaders face. First, we have to build a team of musicians. Since most of us have zero budget to pay musicians, that means we have to recruit volunteers who may or may not show up to rehearsal and may or may not show up prepared. The second challenge we face is achieving a full sound. Even if you do have a five or six piece band, most modern worship music has more instrumentation than what is available at your church. I’m pretty sure Hillsong Worship has about 25 electric guitar parts on their albums. It sounds phenomenal but how can we at smaller churches emulate that sound in worship
At the small church plant lead worship at, we have a limited amount of manpower. I only have four musicians in my band. We would never have a full sound if it weren’t for one crucial tool we use every week: backing tracks.
Backing tracks are a collection of audio files you play alongside your band. Usually, these audio files consist of the master recordings from the worship artist’s album. For example, if you wanted to have the same synth or guitar sounds that Hillsong, Tomlin, or Elevation Worship use on their record, you can purchase the multitrack audio files (also known as stems) for any of their songs, and then you load the stems into a software to play them back during worship.
Backing tracks are ideal to use for sounds produced by electric guitars, bass guitar, synthesizers, and percussive beats. I do not recommend using backing tracks for a drum set, acoustic guitar, piano, or background vocals. There’s a fine line between using tracks tastefully and relying too heavily on them.
Using tracks has been such a game-changer for my small worship band. We have a massive sound despite being a little ensemble. Every week I mix in the bass guitar track, synthesizers, electric guitars and any other sounds we couldn’t achieve on our own. Would I prefer to have a bass guitarist and electric guitarist? Of course! But at the early phases of building the team at my church plant, I’m more concerned about the quality of members over quantity. I’d rather have a bass track and electric guitar track rather than recruiting half-committed musicians in these positions. I want to maintain a high standard of excellence in the band so that it attracts like-minded musicians.
When I look at the future of worship music, it is only going to become more electronic. I have nothing against acoustic instruments, but when you look around, most major worship bands are a hybrid of acoustic and electric instruments. It’s simply the style of music that our culture connects with, and we as the church need to make sure we are not clinging to a previous genre of music for worship. If you are in worship ministry for the long haul, you need to learn how to incorporate new tools like backing tracks into your ministry.
There are multiple ways to incorporate backing tracks into your worship ministry. You can use an iPad app like Playback and Prime. Those apps are produced by Multitracks.com and Loopcommunity.com, two great websites where I purchase multitrack stems.
A more advanced way to use tracks in worship is to learn how to play tracks in Ableton Live. Ableton is the #1 digital audio workstation for playing back audio files in a live music situation. I use this software every week at my church to run our click track, backing tracks, lyrics, video, and lighting. It’s not as quick to learn as the apps I mentioned, but it has a significantly more creative capability. I recommend learning Ableton if you are serious about implementing tracks in worship and you want to have almost limitless potential to customize tracks and automate lyrics, video, and lighting in worship.
The best way to get started with Ableton Live is to download my “Lead Worship with Ableton Toolkit” linked below. It’s a quick guide to help you find the software and hardware you need to get started with Ableton in worship as well as a budget for the cost of these tools.
Let me know in the comments if you use backing tracks for your worship band. Explain why you love them or why you hate them.