Using Multitracks in Your Worship Mix

"Uhh, when did we get a big band? And why don't I see them on stage?" Multitracks are a great way to beef up the worship team with extra players that you heard on the record but maybe you don't have the band to pull off that arrangement. Today let’s talk about the approach I use when mixing multitracks and the preferences that I have for working them within the arrangement so that it doesn't sound like karaoke.

Hey! If you're new here, my name is James and I help worship leaders and sound techs help eliminate the mystery and frustration around sound at church so that you can have a great service without having to think about the sound system.

What Are Multitracks?

If you're not familiar, multitracks are a way that you can play along with the original multitrack recording. This lets you add synth parts, lead parts, electric guitar parts, or even drums and bass that you might not have on your worship team. The worship team plays along to a guide track that tells them what section is coming and has a metronome so that everybody stays together in time. (At least that's the plan. Sometimes things can go horribly wrong.)

Usually, there's a tablet, a laptop, or a phone that's running these tracks. And there are at least two outputs, one for the music and one for the guide track. If you want to get fancy, you can route the different instruments to different outputs on a multichannel interface. Or if you want to get really crazy, you could use Dante to go straight from the laptop to the soundboard.

How to Group and Arrange Multitracks

Now, let’s imagine we had a bunch of tracks and you want to split them all up. How would you group and arrange all of those multitracks coming in? Let me show you what I would do if I had eight tracks, for example.

Video transcription: "So I would start with percussion left and right on everything that's kind of something that gets hit, either shakers or drum parts or whatever. I want those to be separate. I want to have my pads left and right, those are things that are going to be more sustained, that aren't going to have a lot of dynamic contrast. Although there might be tonal contrast in between. Then I’m going to get my keys and guitar parts together, they're going to tend to behave about the same within the multitracks. And then I'm going to have my bass separate and then separate click of course."

If you're just using one or two outputs for the music, you mix the levels of the different tracks or mute them entirely on the platform itself. I always prefer that these get run from the stage, not back at the soundbooth. At the soundbooth, it's hard to take cues or instructions on when things need to get shut off or “Yes, I'm ready to go on to the next song”, things like that. Yes, it would be more convenient to be able to make level changes, but I want the band to be the band and I want to have the view of making it connect to the congregation. So that's why I prefer that it's run from on stage.

When it comes to the mix in the arrangement, I prefer to mute the things that you already have on stage. So if you've got electric guitar playing or playing a rhythm electric guitar, you don't need all the rhythm electric guitar parts. Or if there are multiple parts, you can leave in the ones that they're not playing. I mean, I like a lot of low end, but we only need one bass player at a time. Right? Unless...

If your guitar and keyboard players can nail the hooks that are in the song, I prefer that they play them even if they're doubled by the multitracks. That way I can push that up on an individual fader to get it up where it needs to be in the gaps between the singing.

To keep things from sounding like karaoke, I try to make the band on stage sound as big as possible because things do fail from time to time. So if you're relying on all of your tone coming from multitracks and that goes down, you can have a very small sounding mix all of a sudden. Now when it does go down or they go to something spontaneous, or the pastor comes up and says, “I love that song, let's go back into that section again” and they don't have it all cued up for it, you still want your band to sound as big as possible. So yes, it's going to sound smaller, but you don't want it to sound too much smaller.

Four Things to Keep in Mind When Mixing with Multitracks

Next, let's go over four more things that I think about when I'm mixing with multitracks. Even if you mute the bass on the multitracks, sometimes there can be a low synth part or a sub bass part that doesn't get muted. If you've got a bass player, in that case, go ahead and roll up the high pass filter on these tracks or use a low shelf to bring it down just a little bit. This can make room for the bass guitar you have on stage and not muddy things up. There are other times when a surprise shaker part comes in and I'll use a high shelf to bring that down, but still keep the other rhythmic parts of the tracks in place.

Now, I haven't personally used the background vocals coming from multitracks, but just be careful that it doesn't make it sound too big or giant, so you get this feeling of a giant choir, but you only see two singers on stage. That might confuse people. Remember, we're trying to keep people from disconnecting by eliminating sound distractions. And if that's you go ahead and check out some of my other blog posts because that's what I'm here to do: help you eliminate sound distractions at church.

The fourth thing to look out for is that the further you stray from the original key, the more the audio is going to degrade. Yes, these pitch shifters work well, but they're not perfect, so don't be surprised if it sounds a little bit funny. And again, try to make your input sound as big as you can from the live band on stage, not relying on the track so much.

One more secret benefit to having multitracks is that you get to listen to what great sound sounded like that made it on the record. A lot of times you don't realize how much distortion is actually on the bass or how bright it actually is. Or you don't notice what all the different layers of the different parts are that go into making that sound. So if you can borrow the multitracks unit and listen to the different inputs that made it onto the record. You'll be surprised at all the things that you can discover by being able to piece out each section. Then when you're on the soundboard and you're moving your faders into the right spot, you know what should be there. And half the battle of running sound is knowing what it should sound like in the first place. Also, you might notice that some instruments don't sound great by themselves, but they play a role in the bigger mix. That way, the next time you're pushing up a fader and going to EQ it, it doesn't have to sound big and giant by itself. It can sound kind of crummy on its own, but still play a great role in the bigger picture of the mix.

That’s all I have for today’s discussion. I hope these tips have been helpful! And remember: it’s all about the low end, avoid the sound tech solo, and nobody leaves humming the kick drum! We’ll see you back here next time.

Lead your sound team with clarity!

Sign up for your FREE guide - How to Lead Your Church Sound Team. Clarify the vision for your team, build your team, and create a clear path toward making every worship mix enjoyable.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.