If you’ve executed any sort of musical art on stage, you’ve certainly experienced the stress, anxiety, and utter panic that is induced by things not going as planned.
Whether it’s a pianist who’s started a song in the wrong key, a guitarist who’s broken an essential string for the upcoming solo, a vocalist who just can’t seem to remember the words or the melody, a band that has deviated from the track or loop, or one of a million other things that can quickly take a well planned element and shatter it into a million awkward pieces; disaster always seems to lurk a mere measure away at any moment. It’s not a matter of IF; it’s WHEN it will all hit the fan. You can’t prevent every mistake, but there are some ways that we’ve learned to minimize the fallout of potential catastrophe’s. Here are a couple…
- TALK-BACK MIC’S
- This has probably been the the single most helpful tool we’ve added to our musical arsenal. We always have at least one person on stage with a microphone that only the people on stage can hear; sometimes two. The two types of setups that we’ll use include (1) a wired microphone on a mic stand in front of a band leader, and/or (2) a lapel mic that a worship leader will physically clip to their shirt. The amount of times this has prevented disaster are too many to count. We no longer have to rely on awkward “musician’s eye contact” to get everyone back on the same page when they may be going in different directions. It takes time and training to know what is helpful to say and when it’s helpful to say it, but it’s well worth the effort. Our team can’t imagine not having this tool at our disposal now. Not only does it allow us to stave off musical doom, but it has actually allowed us to increase the excellence of what we do. The confidence this little tool instills in our team is immeasurable; everyone knows that if something goes wrong, we’ll all be guided back to the same page.
- BAND CUES (plus MIDI Control)
- We use a program called Ableton Live to run all of our musical tracks/loops, and our “clicks” (metronome) that hold us together. I’m a huge advocate of using loops and tracks in our worship sets; I could spend a lot of time in this post explaining why, but I can’t say it any better than Matt McCoy, worship leader and founder of Loop Community (Warning: We use that site A LOT. Many links to follow). Check out his words if you get a chance. But, with tracks and loops comes the added risk of the band getting out of sync with them, and that’s bad…bad…bad. BAD. So, we typically add “cues” to our tracks/loops that only the people on stage can hear. They’re giving very literal, spoken instructions, like “verse…1, 2, 3, 4…” or “build it up, breakdown, outro, end, etc…”. If someone on stage doesn’t know where they’re at, they can find their way home using the band cues to light their way. We use band cues that were already pre-built for Ableton by Loop Community. You can find them HERE, as well as incredibly helpful training and resources on using tracks/loops and music software in general (follow the link above). And, if things do go horribly wrong, we’ve got the talk-back mic’s (see item 1) to help!
- I want to briefly touch on MIDI Control because it’s been another invaluable tool in our arsenal. But, there’s just no possible way to get into the mechanics of MIDI in this single post, and the learning curve is initially steep; so here’s a LINK that will be helpful for the curious. Suffice it to say, if the band does deviate from a track/loop/click, or if something else goes terribly wrong, we’ve got the capability to start, stop, restart, jump to any point, and generally control every aspect of the computer running those elements remotely if we need to. There are a lot of tools that you can use to accomplish this; we currently use two: (1) the Alesis Percpad, which we position next to our drummer for basic functionality, and the (2) Looptimus Foot Controller, which we position next to a worship leader for detailed functionality. The possible uses of MIDI in your worship services are endless; I’ve simply described a couple of the ones we use. I would say it’s well worth the effort to learn how MIDI might be useful to you.
- BE PREPARED…AND THEN SOME!
- Preparation is a non-negotiable when it comes to playing music on our stage. We expect everyone to know every aspect of what they’re doing and when they should do it. But, there should be at least one person on stage who knows EVERY ASPECT of EVERYTHING that’s happening in your worship experience. These will be the people who will not only know when something goes wrong, but will then know exactly how to fix it so that it doesn’t happen again. Without this, we’re destined to repeat the same mistakes.
It’s impossible to predict everything that can and will go wrong on your stage, but the more you can do ahead of time to minimize the fallout of mistakes will not only save the moment, but will instill long-term confidence and trust in your team and your congregation. Doing what we can to ensure that everything goes as well as possible in our worship services honors our churches, and it honors God Himself. I can’t think of two better reasons to justify putting in as much effort as we can to problem solve before the problems arise.Tags: music, production, technology, worship