WHY I DON’T USE TRACKS

multi-track-2Multi-tracks” are popular among worship teams these days. I’ll confess that I’ve never used them, but I think I get the concept.

Essentially, complete songs are provided with changeable “tracks” for each component of the song (drums, strings, guitars, etc.) and many churches use them to beef up the live sound and provide the specific hooks and turnarounds.

I don’t get the allure of these things. Is it helpful to worship bands or is it just one more way we’re striving to sound like songs on the radio? I honestly don’t know.

But I know my reasons for avoiding them and I think churches should be a bit more cautious about them. If you use them in your church, I’d love to know the “whys and hows” and what multi-tracks do for your team.

PRIORITY OF PERFORMANCE
Some songs are defined pieces – they have a pre-determined arrangement, run a specific time period and then they’re done. But I think it’s dangerous when songs can’t be modified or adjusted. If we’re called to serve the congregation, that may mean repeating a chorus one week or doing a shorter version. (Or – GASP – even cutting the song!) But when a song is off-limits as a performance piece, we’ve elevated that as having more importance than all the other parts of the service. And that feels like idolatry. We don’t need more things making our worship services like concerts.

MUSICAL GROWTH
The worship music industry consistently produces music that’s impossible to reproduce in a live setting, but that’s not to say we can’t aim for excellence. I stay away from multi-tracks because I want to see if our band can learn those hooks instead of letting my laptop do them! Maybe we can find a way to add size even though we don’t have a string section! I’ve got great musicians and I want them to keep getting better!

WHO IS THIS FOR?
My question for the “tracks” crowd is who benefits from all this production? I don’t believe a specific guitar riff or programmed drum loop are vital for worship to happen and I think most worship leaders would agree. So what is it? Are we buying this stuff to make ourselves feel accomplished as worship leaders? Are we doing so the band can feel like they “nailed it”?

Some of you out there have experience with this stuff. Why do you use tracks? What does it accomplish? And most importantly – what do tracks provide that doesn’t happen with normal instruments?

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14 comments

  1. Kelly Perkins

    I have attended several of Paul Baloche’s Worship Workshops and his team will actually use their own tracks from their albums, but only as intros…Ben Gowell, Paul’s guitarist, has a Mac laptop on the side and he triggers them…

  2. johnnydrummer

    I can see some use for them, but in an extremely limited way. For example, I’d use harmony vocals in a situation in which I had no singers and the congregation sang parts. I’ve used a piano track when there was no pianist available for just that reason–the hymnal parts. But I would say I’m mostly anti.

  3. Anthony

    Hi Todd,
    For me, it is NOT about not using or using the “multi-tracks” for worship. My deepest concern is that if the communication/message that God wants to speak to us, His people, through these art forms (sounds, songs, lights, images, lyrics, and etc.) is clear, appropriate, and understood. To be “multi-tracks” or not to be “multi-tracks” is not really a love/hate relationship but rather be one of the tools used for glorying God. Psalms 33:3 speaks in volume when it comes to using everything we are and everything we have to appropriately(play skillfully) worship Him. I generally treat “multi-tracks” like one of the instrument(s) and it will be used if it’s needed.

    • toddwright

      That’s a good point, but the fact is that we – as worship leaders – do deal in specifics. You make an interesting point and it brings up a question…do musical tracks actually help communicate God’s “speaking” to us?

      • Johnny Simmons

        And, are worship songs even ABOUT God speaking to us? Seems like it’s the other way around. If we’re edified by them I’d likely see that as a by-product.

      • toddwright

        Yeah, I thought that probably worth digging into but didn’t want to try to argue with worship leaders on two different themes.

  4. Jeff Q

    We’ve toyed with the idea of using a track when a musician is out (drums or bass usually.). In the end we stay away from it because it seems like it would limit our spontaneity. Not to mention the technical aspects…who triggers them, what happens if someone speeds up but the track doesn’t…etc. I had to break myself of trying to sound like the recordings a few years ago. Obviously they have 6-figure production/gear/post-production that I’ll never have access to. What you hear on the recording isn’t even real….try searching for Passion Livestream on YouTube. Sour notes, out of breath/strained vocals…the real stuff. My point is that we should focus on the people we’re leading instead of trying to replicate something that isn’t even ‘real.’

    • toddwright

      Yeah, I think folks would be really be surprised by the Passion live stream videos. Further proves my point – LIVE RECORDS AIN’T LIVE!

  5. Dave

    I use have used and created tracks for years for a couple reasons:

    1. When I don’t have a musician. This mostly happens with keyboard parts, strings, or perc parts like tambourine and shaker.

    2. When I want to achieve a sound that can’t be reproduced live. A great example of this is drum programming in general, particularly a sound that is achieved by manipulating waveforms (i.e., the reversed kick drum at the beginning of Christy Nockels’ “A Mighty Fortress.”)

    I’m with the commenter above who views multi-tracks just as another instrument. I also agree that tracks shouldn’t be an excuse for my players to not learn the song. Like any technological advancement it can either be used as an expression of musical excellence or as a replacement for musical excellence. Hopefully I land in the former category instead of the latter.

    But I don’t think you can ask “is this really necessary for worship to happen?” when you’re talking about methodology or instrumentation or equipment. It’s the right question, but the wrong category. Nothing that we do could stand up under that question, because no single methodology, instrument, or piece of equipment is “necessary” to worship. That question has to be asked about the heart.

    “Who benefits?” That’s also not a great question to ask in this situation. Who benefits when you get a new guitar pedal, or change the heads on your drums or add a real B3 instead of a Reason sample? All I know is it sounds better! Again, it’s the right question applied to the wrong category.

    At the end of the day it’s a heart issue. It’s too easy to point to ancillary issues that differentiate us from others when they make us feel better about ourselves, but we can’t escape the fact that it’s not really about that stuff. It’s about your heart. I hope that my motivation is using every ounce of my gifting for the sake of the extension of God’s kingdom and the exaltation of His glory. If I can get my heart in line with that then I become a true worshipper and everyone around me benefits, whether I use multi-tracks or not.

    • toddwright

      Thanks for your thoughts, Dave. But in my church, I’ve got to ask these questions. In fact, I ask them about any addition to what we do in worship.

      While methodology and equipment and instrumentation may be neutral, that doesn’t mean they can’t distract worship leaders and teams or cause them to prioritize the wrong thing.

      • Aaron Nickerson

        At our church, we use tracks to supplement the band, not replace pieces of it. We don’t purchase them, we make them ourselves. Making them also frees us up to adjust the songs week-to-week. We can do longer or shorter versions, adjust it however our service requires. And then during the service, we can easily add a chorus or whatever at the end, or dump the track entirely and go completely off script if we are so led.

        We don’t have the key pieces of the music in the track, we use it mainly for pads, and auxiliary percussion. Even if we are missing a piece of the band, we don’t replace them with a track, but we do adjust the track to fill in some of that sonic space.

        Tracks are defiantly not essential for worship, but they free the band up to focus on their parts. It is nice to be able to add a little extra rhythm on a big bridge with a tambourine or shaker, without having the drummer stop playing his part, or to have a synth pad that frees our pianist up to play the piano, instead of just pads. We have also found that it really helps smooth out our transitions between songs. We have also used it to bring new life to some of the congregations favorite songs. Last week, we played a favorite song, but we added a little bell line that complimented the lead guitar line, that simple addition seemed to bring new life to the song.

        Is it necessary for worship? Definitely not. But if that is our only criteria, we might as well sell our guitars, drums, sound system, lights, and building, and everything else, because none of that is necessary either. The most intimate and amazing worship experience I have ever had was in a one room house on a mission trip with no microphones and no instruments. None of the tools we use on a weekly basis are actually necessary.

        The question is: does it add to the worship experience or detract from it. I think tracks have the potential to do either (or both). And I think the answer to that question varies drastically depending on the individual congregation, and how the track is implemented.

        We could have this same discussion about a thousand other things. Do electric guitars add to or distract from worship? choirs? skits? electric or acoustic drum kits? pews or chairs? A worship leader who plays guitar, or just sings? Singing or padding during communion? And for each of these questions, the answers vary based on the individual congregation. Tracks are no different. In our experience in our church, they seem to add to the worship. In other churches they definitely would not. We all have to do what is best for our congregation. And that looks drastically different from church to church.

  6. Pingback: I’M OKAY, YOU’RE OKAY | SONGS ARE FOR SINGING
  7. Jason

    I agree mostly with Aaron and Dave’s replies. None of our instruments singled out is necessary for worship. We used tracks pretty solidly for about two years. We are a small church and for quite some time our only keys player was a man whose wife was chronically ill. Sometimes at the last minute, he couldn’t make it. I might not have replaced a full on keys part, but at least with tracks, I had a little something extra to fill out the sound when we had practiced the song a certain way in preparation. That said, now days, we rarely use tracks. Sort of the tool-in-the-box mentality that we don’t often use but we will if there’s a song that really needs that strings part or whatever. We’ll use a loop from time to time still. I will say that when we use tracks I have a fade down setting on my floor pedal so that if I need to ditch the track to go a different direction, I can do so musically. Also, there have been times when I’ve set up midi markers on the chorus, verse, etc in order to be able to skip back to a certain point and repeat a section, even with the track.
    All of that said, Todd, to your point, I think it became a distraction for me. I found myself preparing more on the technical side of things and less on the spiritual side. One day I hit a “wall” and quit using them.
    I don’t think they’re wrong, or bad. In fact, I think they can add to the overall music. (To the question of who it’s for, it’s all for God. However, we still do things to make it sound better for the congregation- the most basic of which is to hit the right chord or sing in tune, etc. To me, the addition of a strings part or a shaker is just a further picket in that same fence. And I DO think the worship music, while primarily FOR God, should edify the Church.) Perhaps if your church has more people available to program the tracks to the point that it’s not loading down the worship leader in technical preparation, it would remain a good choice for you.
    For me, I needed simpler, most of the time. But I still have the creative option of using them when I feel it would be beneficial and when I can do so with balance.
    One more thought, Todd, to your question of a song becoming so that you can’t cut it because of a track? I may have misunderstood your line of thought there, but tracks are all trigger-able however you set them up, by song or whatever. Nothing about tracks makes it where you cannot cut a song. Just throwing that in.
    One thing we did gain from using tracks was that we learned to play with a click. That has been most valuable and I’ll probably never want to get away from that. Songs always start and stay at the right tempo. 🙂
    Hope this post wasn’t too jumbled. I see points on either side. Like a lot of things, tracks aren’t inherently bad, but have the possibility of becoming so if you find yourself relying on them more than God or using them to stroke your ego. But used for the glory of God, they can be good.
    Ok, I’m finished.

  8. Jason

    You wrote: “My question for the “tracks” crowd is who benefits from all this production? I don’t believe a specific guitar riff or programmed drum loop are vital for worship to happen and I think most worship leaders would agree. So what is it? Are we buying this stuff to make ourselves feel accomplished as worship leaders? Are we doing so the band can feel like they “nailed it”?”

    As though my first comment wasn’t long enough… 🙂

    I would say that this same question of “who benefits” could be asked about anything we do in a musical worship time. Why do we bother to sing the right notes? Well that one’s easy- so that others can engage and sing along. But how bout tempo? If a song is supposed to go 114bpm, why don’t we take it at 95? People could still sing to it, right? If a song has a guitar hook, do we bother to learn it? If so, why? If a song has a snare beat on 2 and 4, why don’t we put the snare on 1 and 3? If a song is piano led on an album, why do we usually try and have it led by piano when we play it in church? (I realize we don’t always.) My point here is that there are a whole lot of reasons why someone would try and copy what happens on the album cut that wouldn’t necessarily fall under the category of making the worship leaders feel accomplished or the band feel they nailed it. The nuts and bolts of a song are more than the melody line. Could we worship with only the melody line and nothing else? Absolutely. Then why do we add to it? Because it’s musical, it’s edifying, it’s glorifying, it’s the “right” way to do it for the song, etc. It’s good to be excellent as possible in what we do and to give our best for God in worship. Programming loops and tracks, while not a live instrument skill is a skill none-the-less and when done with the goal of the glory of God in mind is not a lot different in purpose from strumming a guitar live.

    Refer to my prior comment for the balance to this comment. 🙂

    Now I’ve met a lot of people who recoil at the idea of backing tracks from more of a purist musical perspective, but since the post wasn’t framed that way, I won’t go there.

    Jason

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