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Using Click Tracks and Backing Tracks

Using Click Tracks and Backing Tracks

6 Aug 2009
There's an interesting conversation in the forum about using click or backing tracks in worship times, here are some thoughts. --- There are a couple of different things here: firstly, using click, and secondly, using backing tracks. Our experience has been that both are a real help. Click The general idea is that the drummer, rather than having to guess the tempo for each song, and then click the whole band in, sets up a series of beat 'clicks' that give the accurate tempo for the songs. They usually work this out in the rehearsal time, and experienced drummers will keep a note of what the standard tempos for the songs we're using are (e.g. Happy Day 140 I think...) Then the drummer will programme the clicks for the setlist into either a simple drummers metronome (which has a number of instant recall buttons that they can hit for song two, three etc) or into a laptop. There are a bunch of simple programmes that do this. Then the drummer listens to click on headphones, and can also send a feed to the rest of the band (which works best if they are on personal IEM's) and even the sound desk (which allows the engineer to automatically set delays or reverb to match the tempo of the song. The advantage of running click is that it means the songs are much more likely to start at the right tempo, and the drummer/band have a solid guide to make sure the band holds together. It's not unspiritual to aim to play together as best we can. It takes quite a lot of practice on the part of the drummer to run click in a way that makes the experience smooth for the band, and my advice would be that they should practice extensively so that they are confident before trying it out with the band. We would also only use click on a selection of songs, not always on everything. Tracks Then as well as running click, a further step can be to use tracks on certain songs. This means taking certain of the parts to a song that you can't replicate live and playing them through a programme like logic that outputs to the desk and monitors with the parts that the band won't play. For instance, many songs have piano parts, organ parts, synth parts, and a string section in the mix to get the full sound we're after (e.g. Happy Day, Because of Your Love). We tend to take parts from songs we've recorded, but it's easy enough to put together the parts on a programme like Logic or Pro Tools. It's hard to expect even the best players to replicate the full soundscape we want to get, or to expect a piano player to play synth, organ and keys all at the same time. While we'd love to always have a live string section, most of the time it's just not feasible. New technologies means that what was once the preserve of the studio is now portable, and we can aim for better quality of music. We find that on certain songs, running the tracks ties everyone together and takes the song up a whole level. Most of the time there's not a whole load on there, just enough to subtly make the song sound even better. For instance at Clan Gathering, I used tracks on 'Because of Your Love' and 'Morning Star'. On Because the track had the strange synth parts, deep synths, very high BV's (which no one would sing live) and an extra 'dancy' kick drum for the choruses. For Morning Star, there are all the orchestra string parts, some programming stuff and some very high BV's. So, with both, the rest of the band are having to play everything they would play live, but the added textures give them a discipline to work to. Plus they're playing to click (the track is split into two/three sends: one is click, the other mono or stereo). The other thing that we're keen to experiment with is running visuals and graphics to click that fit with the songs. This is really easy to do on a track like 'Happy Day' where the arrangement is pretty set, and we can time the visuals to run from the same programme. So the drummer presses one button, that triggers both the click, the track and the movie! We've found that the tracks work best on the songs with set arrangements (like Happy Day) where we tend to have a set way of running the song each time. They would not work so well on songs that might be more fluid. To answer the question about being led by the Spirit, and the healthy balance between structure and spontaneity, we've found that with both click and tracks, you want to have a balance between the two extremes to allow space but also lead well. This means that we would not overload a set list and prevent there being space to respond to what God is doing. Communication is also key. We'll always try and keep looking at each other as a team, and give nods, keep eye contact to ensure we all know what we're doing. You can also ditch the click or the track at any point either by signal or by the drummer (or whoever is running stuff) pressing one button, so you are never at the mercy of the tracks! This comes from working well together as a team and learning together. So a sample 35/40 min set list might look like this, with the songs the drummer will run with a click through his ears or the bands IEM's marked (*) and the songs we'd run to tracks marked (**): BLESSED BE YOUR NAME (B)* (nice to have a click here to make sure it's strong and keeps tempo) BECAUSE OF YOUR LOVE (B)** (Track gives that dance feel) HAPPY DAY (C)** (Track gives synth lines and extra parts, makes feel massive) DANCE (C)** (Track gives the clap loop drums can't do live, makes it feel epic) MIGHTY TO SAVE (A)* (Drummer triggers click in ears, guitarist has tempo so does not need count) HOW GREAT IS OUR GOD (A) (Could go gentle and intimate, could feel like ready to go big) THE STAND (A) (Again, see what's going on, could create more space here with 'THIS IS THE AIR/) GIVE US YOUR COURAGE (A)** (as we close, big song of response, vision, epic sound, great to have the organ that starts it as a track to ensure it's smooth and feels strong). SPARE: EVERLASTING GOD (A) (Might drop this in towards the end instead of Courage is people feel like they have not quite got there yet, and we need that familiar song that will gather them together) THIS IS THE AIR I BREATHE (A) (If it feels like we need to wait for the Spirit and create space, this would work well as a spare). Anyway, there are some thoughts. We are using more and more click and track as a model, because we've found that it forces us to lock together musically and far from being a hinderance, has helped our team take things to the next level. On a week to week basis at church, about a third of the drummers use click when playing live, and we are very much encouraging the other two thirds to get into the discipline, as it is very easy to do and simple to run, even if it is just for the drummer. It also helps focus the players on being reliable with tempo, preparation and ups the level of the quality. We tend not to run tracks week on week at church, as some of the team members are still learning the songs, other don't have the gear or experience, but it is something that we are certainly aiming to get the guys doing over the next chapter. My encouragement would be to go for click as a discipline, perhaps just for a couple of the faster songs, and get your players to that place where they are committed to improving the musical quality of your offerings week by week. It's also fun playing well! I'd love to encourage you to join the existing conversation that Dave Crow has started in the Forum here http://www.worshipcentral.org/forum/topic/click-tracks-and-backing-tracks

Great, great stuff. Funny that for me a 35/40 min set would be like 4 or 5 songs. :O)
We use click and loops extensively. Typically I build loops (tracks) weekly depending on the feel I want to give the song, and the availability of players to make that happen. The system that works best for us- When I produce a fresh loop I pan the click to the left and run the loop through the right channel sending both signals from the drums to the house via ipod. Then our techs feed both channels back to the band/singers as required in the IEM system. Some like more click, some like no click and more loop. Complete flexibility. Peace -S
Peace -S
this is a great blog post, cheers Al! Click tracks can be so helpful in Worship times. Thank you for the example set list and information with each song, very helpful! Tom Cross
Thanks Al. I've posted a reply to the forum.. Still struggling with the backing track thing... It's a bit lengthy and i apologise! Blessings, Dave
----- Seeing people reach their potential in worship...
We use a click on almost everything an dhave the drummer program the set into his metronome. We use also using backing trax a lot - mostly for ambient stuff (e.g. lower-octave pads). One of the secrets to using a track, we've found, is making sure that it's not too foundational to the song (i.e. you oculd play the song without it). I would encourage everyone to use backing trax sparingly so that in the event of equipment failure, the set's not lost! Great technology, though... Jeff T.
Jeff T.
We also use click tracks, but more for connecting all of the elements that tie into the particular song. Our drummers never program bpm, but our media team is involved alot with our clicks. We use clicks more to tie everything together EXAMPLE: Pre Service 1) Tracks are created by our worship team with click PAN to Left and Right 2) Then given to our media team who creates a visual or video elements to tie into a particular song 3) Next to our lighting director who then creates cues and transitions to tie into all visual elements 4) last it reaches the production room who loads and cast the click. !All clicks are made to fail. Meaning if something goes wrong with the click audio everything else can still run smoothly vice-versea.
Great new Podcaste ...Bens new songs FAb. Here is a note from Honolulu Hawaii....hope to win the contest ....Thanks again for worship central in California...so encouraging and strengthening!spreading the word about worship central here in Honolulu! Aloha and MAhalo Nui Loa........Brooke
Good to see some support for clicks. I know so many people are very quite to criticise Churches that use clicks and backing tracks for not being 'spirit led'. I think its dead right that you say we should aim to play together as best we can.
_________ Guitarist and Bassist at The Beacon Camberley Bassist for Ins Kino (facebook.com/weareinskino) Digital Marketing Executive for Andertons Music Company (www.andertons.co.uk)
Hey guys - just weighing in on the conversation. We LOVE using tracks in our worship services. We make our own tracks, usually using Reason, and we also sometimes purchase them - I produce click tracks for praisecharts.com so we'll often use those tracks to enhance what we're doing. We find that using these tracks really hold the band together and the sequences (or tracks) really add some sonic 'glue' to the overall sound. Kind of filling in some of the gaps...it's also cool to have some electronic loops and arpeggiators in the mix. In my mind, using tracks helps us in one of our goals: to reflect the beauty of God.
I love this post! We (my wife and I are worship leaders) use click and tracks extensively in our worship and find that it totally supplements our music. I use Pro Tools and spend plenty of time each week making supplemental tracks for the songs we are doing (if they are songs we have not done before) At this point we have a long list of songs that we have made tracks for. I have no shame, and supplement anything that I think needs supplementing, especially including myself...lol. I am a guitarist and it's great to layer my parts. I also love the fact that my delays are always in perfect time. Bottom-line it's all about using technology to improve our sound and help us be the best we can be. I'm quite sure God is all for that. In spite of what some may think, using a click and tracks does not mean musicians are less talented, nor does it mean that the worship can't have any flexibility. We do leave times for free times in our worship, but on songs that we know the structure is set, we use a click and tracks. If you're thinking of doing this, you may hear some complaints, musicians who feel they are not needed because one of their parts is on a track; Try and communicate with your band and singers that this is for supplementing, not replacing. As Dave explained very well, instruments and vocals are often layered on most modern songs and it's impossible to duplicate live without a little help from our technology friend. Great post Dave and to all those who commented! Steve