Check out this interview with Matt McCoy, founder of Loop Community. It's all about getting started with a click and backing tracks in worship.
I led worship for years without using a click track or backing tracks.
I used to think things like:
“It limits musical freedom.”
“Our band members are not skilled enough to play with a click.”
“It sounds too ‘produced’”
“I do not have time in my weekly preparation for a click and tracks.”
Those were some of the thoughts and objections that ran through my head as I considered whether or not it was worth implementing a click and backing tracks with my worship band.
Then I finally arrived at a place where I felt like I was stagnating as a worship leader and I wanted to challenge myself and my band. That’s when I started doing some research to learn what type of equipment and knowledge I would need to begin using a click and backing tracks in worship. I knew I was going to need in-ear monitoring, and I heard of software like Ableton Live, but it all seemed intimidating. How was I ever going to convince my band, which consisted mostly of people 20 years older than me, to play with backing tracks, let alone start using in-ear monitors?
Whelp, both of those things happened. It was not easy and did not occur overnight, but in a couple of months I had my whole band on in-ear monitors, playing with a click and backing tracks, and I even began automating ProPresenter and lighting. My only regret is that I did not learn to do these things sooner!
A lot of worship leaders struggle with “staying fresh.” Playing mostly the same songs every week in the same venue for the same people can get creatively stale. I also have a firm conviction that the local church should be a wellspring of excellent and inspiring creativity that makes a powerful impact on the unchurched. When I learned how to use a click and backing tracks in worship, it opened so many doors of creativity and drastically increased the excellence of our worship experience.
But getting started was tough. That’s why I want to share my journey with you and provide you with a clear roadmap of how to begin using a click and backing tracks in worship. This is what I wish I could go back in time a couple of years and teach myself to save hours of research and headache.
Here are the three steps of the process I am going to cover.
1. The gear
2. The software
2. Advanced techniques
1. The Gear
First, let’s talk about the gear you are going to need. Here is a simple diagram of everything that needs to happen to use a click and backing tracks in worship. First, you are going to need a device that is going to play your click and backing tracks. If you are a beginner, the simplest device to use is an Apple iPhone or iPad. Sorry Android users, the app I’m going to show you later does not support Android. If you do not have access to an Apple device, keep watching this video, and I’ll show you towards the end how to get up and running with Ableton Live on a Mac or Windows computer for free.
As you can see in this diagram, we need the signal to get from your smartphone to split into a stereo feed with the click on the left and the backing tracks on the right. This is important because at our front of house mixer we need to have separate control of the click track and backing tracks. The click track and backing tracks are both sent to your band’s monitors, but we want only the backing tracks to come through the house speakers. Your congregation does not want to hear a click and cues. The cheapest piece of gear to split the signal coming from your phone, tablet, or laptop, is this 3.5mm TRS to dual quarter inch cable you’ll find on Amazon for five bucks. You’ll plug the 3.5mm TRS end into your device and then plug the red and black quarter ends inch into two separate channels on your mixer. The Red will be the right channel containing the backing tracks, and the Black will be the left channel containing the click. If you would rather have your phone on stage, then you will need a stereo DI box which you can plug the dual quarter inch ends into, and then out of the box you will have two XLR cables that run to your stage snake and then to your soundboard.
Now that the signal from the smartphone is at the soundboard, you need to send the click and backing tracks to your musician's monitors. This is why it is important to have in-ear monitors. You do not want the click track to come through floor wedges. If you do not have in-ear monitors, I recommend checking out another article linked below in which I cover what monitors to get based on your budget. At the very least, you need to have your drummer and worship leader using in-ears. That’s what I did when our church could not afford to buy enough in-ear monitors at once. This worked great, and I highly recommend going this route if budget is an issue. Now your church audio engineer will be able to mix in the backing tracks to the main mix in the house as well as send your band the levels they need for the click track.
That is all you need for gear to run backing tracks. Assuming you have a smartphone or tablet, you can get up and running with a click and backing tracks for less than $5 worth of gear.
2. The software
On your smartphone go to the Apple App Store and download Playback by Multitracks.com. Open up the app and sign up for a Multitracks.com account. Multitracks.com will soon become your best friend. In my opinion, they are the best resource for downloading high quality, and original backing track stems from bands like Hillsong, Elevation, and Chris Tomlin, just to name a few. They are not paying me tell you this. This is just my honest opinion that they are a great company with amazing products for worship leading.
Once you are in the app, take some time to get acquainted with it and its features. Click the gear icon in the upper right and then select “manual” for a walk through. The capability of this app is astounding, and I cannot think of a better way to start using a click and backing tracks. By default, you will be using the free intro version, but you can upgrade for some more advanced features.
In the Playback app, download the free Play of the Week so you can start using the app and testing it with your sound system. Make sure auto-pan is enabled in settings so your click track and backing tracks are separated into left and right channels. I’m not going to explain all of the ins and outs of Playback here because Multitracks already has a bunch of helpful and detailed tutorials on Youtube.
Now that you have the gear and software for running a click and backing tracks, it’s time for implementation with your worship band. Here is what I recommend doing to transition a worship band that has never used a click and backing tracks to using the setup we have just discussed on a weekly basis.
First, communicate your intentions and the reasoning for using a click and backing tracks. You could explain how it’s going to give the band a fuller sound and it is going to increase the quality of their musicianship. Next, spend one-on-one time practicing with the click track with your drummer. He or she will be the most important musician to make sure they can play with the click. Once you know your drummer is going to be comfortable, allot extra rehearsal time with the full band to introduce the click and backing tracks. Let the band know ahead of time that you are going to first try using the setup only in rehearsal and then implement it on the weekend once you know everyone is comfortable.
A lot of volunteer musicians get nervous when they hear you want to implement technology like this because they worry they are not skilled enough to keep up. I think playing with a click and backing tracks is one of the best remedies for poor musicianship and a sloppy band because it provides an extra sense of guidance while at the same time forces everyone to play on tempo, making the band tighter. The key for implementation is to take it slow and not overwhelm your band.
4. Advanced Techniques
Once your band is used to playing with the Playback app, here is what you can do to continue to challenge yourself as a worship leader and bring production quality to the next level. First, learn how to build your multitrack sessions in Ableton Live. This software is a digital audio workstation that will open up a lot more potential for improving your worship production and creativity. You can still download backing tracks from Multitracks.com, but assembling them in Ableton is a bit advanced. I have a video on how to do this.
Once you are familiar with how to use Ableton Live to run your click and backing tracks, I recommend learning how to control ProPresenter from Ableton. Imagine if you never had late lyric or background cues in worship ever again? That’s what you can do by automating ProPresenter with Ableton Live. I have a video on how to do this as well.
That's how to get started with a click and backing tracks for your worship band. I hope this saves you some time and gives you the confidence to implement these tools at your church. I believe any worship leader at any skill level and with nearly any budget can accomplish this. If you have not started using a click and backing tracks, what's keeping you from doing so? Share your love and opinions in the comments below and let me know if you have any questions.