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Should I learn how to use Ableton Live for worship?

Should I learn how to use Ableton Live for worship?

In this article, I share some tips to help you have the right expectations on what it take to implement this powerful software in your ministry. In a few minutes, you’ll know if Ableton is right for you. I’ll also tell you about a cool opportunity coming up to help you learn Ableton Live the quickest way possible.

The gear and software you will need to Lead Worship with Ableton

Before using Ableton Live to run a click, tracks, and lighting and lyrics automation in worship, you’re going to need some gear in place to utilize the power of this amazing software. The following is a list of hardware and software you will need. I will cover the following.

  1. Sound system requirements

  2. Recommended computer for running Ableton

  3. Media storage

  4. Which version of Ableton Live you should buy

  5. Gear and software for lyric automation ProPresenter

  6. Gear and software for lighting automation with myDMX 3.0

This may seem like a lot! If you are new to leading worship with Ableton, focus on acquiring the gear and software in steps 1-4. If you are willing to commit the time to learning Ableton for worship and you enroll in my upcoming training, you will learn everything you need to know in only a few hours and you'll become an Ableton ninja!

1. Sound System Requirements

Sound console. Have a sound console (digital or analog) with at least two available input channels for your click track and backing tracks.

In-ear monitoring. Your band members need to be able to hear the click track. You do not want to send the click track through floor wedges. At the very least, I recommend having in-ear monitoring for the drummer and worship leader. If your band does not have in-ear monitoring, do not despair. Check out this article on how to get them set up at your church even on a low budget.

How to connect your laptop (which runs Ableton) to your sound system. You’ll need a 3.5 mm TRS to Dual 1/4 inch TS Stereo Breakout Cable. The 3.5mm end goes into the headphone jack of your laptop. The dual ¼ inch end of the cable will plug into a stereo DI box (or two mono DI boxes). From the DI box, you’ll run XLR cables to your stage snake or sound console (like you would any other microphone or instrument)

2. Computer Recommendation

Use a fairly new MacBook Air or MacBook Pro. You can run Ableton Live on PC, but I recommend Mac because Ableton runs 10x better on Mac (like every other creative software) and you will be able to maximize my training. You do not need the biggest, high-performing, overpriced MacBook Pro. Make sure it’s not more than a few years old, and it meets the tech specs Ableton has on their website.

3. Multitrack and Ableton Project File Storage

You'll learn quickly that using Ableton Live to run your multitracks requires a fairly large amount of file storage and management. I highly recommend buying an external hard drive that has the sole purpose of storing your Ableton Live sessions and multitrack stems. Solid state hard drives are becoming more affordable, so buy one of those if you can. If not, a regular external hard drive (at least 500GB) will suffice.

4. Selecting the right version of Ableton Live

The exciting part is you do not need to purchase Ableton Live to begin using it. At ableton.com you can download a 30-day free trial of the Ableton Live Suite. They give you 100% functionality of the software. Personally, I recommend Ableton Live Standard because it gives you unlimited tracks. But you can still make the most out of Ableton Live for worship with the Intro version. You will just need to consolidate your tracks to 16 or less.

Those are all the gear and software requirements to get going with Ableton Live to run a click and tracks. I would master this setup before advancing to production automation described below.

Here are additional things you will need to automate lyrics in ProPresenter and lighting with MyDMX3.0. Can you automate other presentation and lighting software with Ableton Live? Yes but I have not researched or learned how to do it. This level of Ableton Live programming is pretty advanced, and I have only spent time learning how to do it with ProPresenter and MyDMX 3.0. I highly recommend these two pieces of software for any small to mid-sized church. Together they will run just under $900, but the automation capability you will have for lyrics and lighting is incredible.

5. Gear and software to automate lyrics and video

A newer Mac to run ProPresenter - ProPresenter is significantly more stable on Mac and in my training I can walk you through how to control ProPresenter from Ableton Live using a Mac-only ecosystem.

ProPresenter - As I mentioned, this is the #1 presentation software for worship. It’s not perfect, but it is super powerful and can receive MIDI commands, which is how you automate it with Ableton Live. If you do not have ProPresenter, you can download it in trial mode and try out all the features. There will be a watermark on the output screen until you purchase it.

ProPresenter MIDI module - This is an add-on to ProPresenter that allows it to accept MIDI cues. You can fully demo this add-on before purchasing. You’ll have the ProPresenter watermark on your screen until you do purchase it.

Wifi Router - You can use an existing wifi network or create a new one by purchasing an inexpensive router. You need wifi so you can network your Ableton computer to your ProPresenter and Lighting computers.

6. Gear and software to automate lighting

A newer Mac to run Lighting software - You could run your lighting software on the same computer as ProPresenter, just make sure it is a newer and powerful Mac to ensure stability. At my church, we have a 2016 15” MacBook Pro running ProPresenter and MyDMX 3.0.

MyDMX 3.0 Controller and Software - This is hands down my favorite way to run lights in a church setting. The controller is a small USB to DMX interface. The lite version of the software comes free with the controller.

MyDMX 3.0 Software Upgrade - To utilize the MIDI functionality on MyDMX 3.0 you must purchase the FULL version of the software.

Wifi Router - You can use an existing wifi network or create a new one by purchasing an inexpensive router. You need wifi so you can network your Ableton computer to your ProPresenter and Lighting computers.

That is all of the gear I use to run Ableton Live for worship. That may seem like a lot at first, and it can be a bit overwhelming if you are new to this setup. I would encourage you to start first with the click and tracks set up. Once you feel like you’ve mastered that, then up your game with production automation.

Do you want to know exactly how much this will cost? You’ll want to download my Lead Worship with Ableton Toolkit for just that. It’s a detailed spreadsheet that will give you estimated totals for all of this software and gear. It also includes links to the best place to purchase them. It will save you a ton of time making sure you have everything you need to get going with Ableton Live.

Click the button below, complete the form, and I’ll send you instant access to the Lead Worship with Ableton Toolkit.

In-Ear Monitor Solutions for Worship Bands

Advantages of in-ear monitoring for worship bands

In-ear monitoring for bands has been around for a few decades now. This type of monitoring has several advantages. Musicians can hear themselves much better, making it easier to sing or play one’s instrument with excellence. Stage noise is drastically reduced, making it much easier for the sound guy to produce a clean mix. In-ears allow bands to play with a click track without the audience hearing an annoying metronome sound. Of all of the advantages of using in-ear monitoring, using a click track is by far the greatest advantage offered by this technology. When the band plays in perfect time together with a click track, they can begin to utilize backing tracks that bring the musical experience to a whole new level. Almost all new worship songs produced today rely heavily on backing tracks. Just listen to the latest albums by Hillsong United, Elevation Worship, and Red Rocks Worship. Backing tracks allow worship bands at small to mid-sized church utilize these same sounds. You can download these tracks at multitracks.com or loopcommunity.com. Using software like Ableton Live to run your click and backing tracks also gives worship bands the capability to automate their lighting and video systems.

I share all of these advantages to using in-ear monitors to give you a glimpse of the possibilities they provide for improving your worship ministry. You do not need to be a professional musician or have a multi-million dollar church budget to get started with in-ear monitoring. In my opinion, in-ear monitoring can help the struggling worship band on a tight budget make drastic improvements to their sound without breaking the bank. Here are three options for building a wireless in-ear monitor system for your church. This guide assumes you already have the basics of a sound system such as loudspeakers for your congregation and at least a 16-channel mixer. In this example, I am going to use the Behringer X32 to demonstrate in-ear monitor setup. This board has dominated the market of affordable digital boards the past few years and is a popular choice for smaller churches on a budget.


Option #1 - Headphone Amp
Low Budget (<$500)

The Gear

  1. Headphone Amp 

  2. Headphone Extension Cables

  3. Cheap in ear headphones  

The Setup

It is the most affordable in-ear monitor setup. It’s important to note that it is NOT wireless. The downside is your musicians can only move around on stage as far as the headphone extension cable will allow them. The upside is you never need to worry about batteries and wireless packs. Here is how this setup works.

Route your monitor mixes from the mix bus or auxiliary outputs on your mixer to the stage. This will look different depending on how you route signals to the stage from your soundboard. For some people, this may be the most tricky part of this setup. In some cases, you made need a separate snake or adaptors to convert your cables to the proper type. For example, I would need to convert the XLR outputs of the X32 to a quarter inch connection so I can connect my mix bus outputs to the headphone amp I will show you in a few minutes. It would cost me about $100 for an eight channel ¼” snake and the adaptors to plug into the Mixbus outputs on the X32. Or I could put my monitor mixes from the ¼” auxiliary outputs on the back of the X32.

Once those signals are on the stage, find a location for a headphone amp. I recommend a headphone amp like the Behringer HA8000. It is only $150 and has eight channels, which will allow up to 8 separate monitor mixes from your front of house board.

To get the signal from your musicians to their in-ear headphones, you will need some long headphone extension cables. Twenty-five-foot extension cables should work for most stages. If your band was using the X32 or a similar digital board, each musician could control their monitor mix with the X32 app.

That completes this first setup for in-ear monitoring for your worship band. It is by far the least expensive, but it does require a bit more cabling work. It also requires that your mixer has as many outputs for monitors as you would need for individual mixes. If you only have 2 or 4 auxiliary sends, the same setup would work, but your musicians would not be able to have individual mixes.


Option #2 - Digital Personal Mixer
Mid-range Budget ($1500-$3000)

The Gear

  1. Digital Personal Mixers
  2. Ethernet Cables
  3. Mid Range Headphones

The Setup

Thanks to the drop in the price of digital mixing technology, Digital Personal Mixers have become an attractive solution for worship band in-ear monitors. Here’s how the concept works. From the digital board like the X32, you can send a digital signal containing 16 channels of your band over a single networking cable to Digital Personal Mixers on stage. These personal mixers can be daisy chained with the network cable and every musician with his or own mixer can create a unique mix. These personal mixers are easy for anyone to use.

While the setup of this monitoring system is simple and it allows for unlimited personal mixes, it does have a few downsides. First, the cost may be prohibitive for many churches. These digital mixers cost $300 each, totaling up to $1500-$2000 for your average five to seven person worship band. Another downside is the fact your musicians are tethered to these personal mixers with a headphone cable, unless if you spend the extra money for some wireless in-ear transmitters, you can connect to these personal mixers. For most band members, being tethered is not a problem. But it can be a pain for worship leaders and vocalists. The other downside is you have additional gear on stage. I cannot stand the look of digital personal mixers on stage, especially if they are not hidden.

While digital personal mixers have a few advantages, this is probably my least favorite setup. If you were to purchase these, I would recommend using them for your drummer and keyboardist. Those musicians do not move around the stage, and it is easy to hide the personal mixer somewhere behind their instrument. If I had to choose between Digital Personal Mixers and the budget solution of a Headphone Amplifier, I would definitely choose the headphone amp. I would much rather control my monitor mix wirelessly with my phone than with a digital personal mixer.


Option #3 - Wireless In-Ear Monitor Systems
High Budget - ($4000-$5000)

The Gear

  1. Transmitters

  2. Receivers

  3. High end headphones

The Setup

This setup is my favorite form of in-ear monitoring. Unfortunately, it also costs the most. Here is how it works.

If you are using a soundboard like the X32, setting up wireless in-ear monitors is simple. First, find a wireless in-ear monitor system you will use. You can expect to pay anywhere between five to six hundred dollars per individual monitor mix. One way to save money is to put two separate mixes on a stereo wireless system. You would buy two wireless receivers for every transmitter. The transmitter can take two channels of audio from your mixer. Usually, this is to give your musician a stereo mix. That is unnecessary for worship band musicians. What you can do is send the left channel to one receiver and the right channel to the other receiver. Make sure those receivers are in mono mode and panned to either left or right depending on which mix that musician needs to hear. You’ll save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars by doing this.

Your band members can control their mixes by using your sound board’s monitor app on their mobile device. They are also free to move about the stage without being tethered to a headphone extension cable or digital personal mixers. There are a couple of downsides to using wireless monitors. First, you must worry about having fresh batteries. I recommend finding some reliable rechargeable batteries and replacing them every other year. The second downside is wireless interference and signal drops. If your system is not setup properly or it is cheap, there is a good chance you will experience wireless issues. If you are going the wireless monitor route, spend the money for proper gear and a professional install.


I hope this gives you some clear direction and ideas for building an in-ear monitor system for your worship band. This setup will look different for all churches. I think you’ll see that any band can have in-ear monitoring even on a small budget.  If you have any questions, let me know in the comments.

4 Reasons Why I Use Ableton Live in Worship

Because it can do this...

Reasons why I use Ableton Live in Worship

1. Playing with a click and backing tracks makes our band better.

When I began leading worship with Ableton, that was also the first time I began having my band play with a click track. I always thought it would feel "too rigid" or be "too limiting." Yet once you use a click track, you never go back. Our band has never been tighter and our sound has never been fuller. It has also enhanced my worship leading in that I am 100 times more relaxed when we play with a click because I don't have to stress out about my drummer rushing or dragging the tempo if I stop strumming to raise my hands or pray.

2. Lyric cues are perfect.

As long as I have been using Ableton to advance lyrics in ProPresenter, we have had 0% error rate in cuing lyrics, which means there is 0 distraction for the congregation in following along. Nothing is more annoying than late lyrics when you are trying to sing with the band.

3. Utilizing meaningful video footage makes for more compelling worship.

The ability to cue different video clips for different songs and at different times in those songs is fabulous. I'm a videographer so I'm pretty much sold on the effectiveness of video to communicate a message and make an emotional impact on hearts. After attending Hillsong London a few months ago and seeing their use of footage in worship songs and how powerful it was, I knew I had to do the same. Ableton Live gives me the ability to do this and do it well.

4. Smooth and distraction-free service flow.

We rarely have hiccups in the flow of our service due to the automation power of Ableton. If you want less awkward moments in your service, Ableton is the way to go.