The Future is here, although I’m sure it’s not the future we all imagined. I’m personally still waiting on my overboard. But the things we’re able to do with “simple” technology that’s used everyday is remarkable. When a church takes note of that technology and begins to integrate it into their services, the results can be pretty incredible. Production value is increasing while often time the work load is decreasing. That is, if it’s incorporated properly. This year I was apart of a “technology integration” that did just that.
I’m an instructor at Ocean’s Edge School of Worship in Fort Lauderdale Florida. Twice a year the students put on a large scale production in our theater. Right before Christmas break every year we put on a production called “Not So Silent Night.” It’s a show that consist of worship music and christmas carols and always with something really exciting thrown in! The students get a chance to showcase their musical abilities and their worship leading ability.
Each year our shows tend to get more involved technically. More lights, more videos, more drum sets -we had 5 on stage last year for a song! It can easily become one of those moments where technology doesn’t enhance our time-it makes us more stressed and we’re working a lot more! The tricky thing for most of the instructors invovoled is that we don’t’ simply just work on the show for a few weeks. We’re still leading worship at our campuses, teaching classes, and doing our normal weekly tasks on top of a large performance! With all that tech involved it can easily become too much.
This year we used Ableton Live has our “Master Control” for the show. We controlled all our lights, lyrics, clicks, loops, and motion video backgrounds all from Ableton Live. It gave us the ability to have one of our second year students simply “run” the show when not all the staff was there. He was able to trigger songs in Ableton and all our lyrics, lights and videos followed along. It allowed us to simply set back and relax during the show-knowing it was going to work and everything would be right on cue. Our lighting guy even mentioned that he was able to walk over from finishing up service and get to the performance 10 minutes before and wasn’t worried about hitting cues.
Here’s how we did it. We created “Reference mp3’s” in Ableton Live that were synced to our click in Live and acted as a point of reference for us during the creation and tech-rehearsal stage. We then created a lighting MIDI cues track in Ableton live that we used to send MIDI notes to Bome’s MIDI Translator and then converted those MIDI notes to MIDI Show Control (a format our lighting board could receive) and then send that out a USB-MIDI interface to our lighting board. This allowed us to call up cues and subs on our light board.
We used the MIDI Control Module for Pro Presenter to send MIDI notes via a track in Ableton over an Ethernet cable to our router then to our Pro Presenter computer. We we’re able to then use specific MIDI clips to call up slides for that song i.e. slide 1 was Verse 1, slide 3 was Chorus 1. etc. We also had a MIDI clip track that was sending MIDI over the same ethernet cable to our router and eventually to our Pro Video Player computer, which controlled what background (if any) would be shown on our backdrop.
Since everything was run out of Ableton we we’re able to follow the worship team perfectly. There were a few times where we would repeat a chorus and we were able to follow right along, as did all our lighting cues, lyrics, and motion backgrounds.
It worked incredibly well and allowed us to consistently execute a high production value show with a very small amount of stress. And it allowed us way more flexibility then we’ve ever had before. Everything was following our band and where they went.
Before you think you can fire your lighting team and Pro Presenter volunteers and get rid of your light board and use Ableton for everything, I want to leave you with a few thoughts. My approach in creating and programming this solution was to allow Ableton to do what it did well-allow us completely freedom and flexibility during our show. I didn’t want to run lyrics from Ableton (although I could have) and didn’t want to “program” lights within Ableton. I wanted Ableton to control what typically does that job. For one-our CPU isn’t all within one computer, it’s spread out and we’re using the best tool for each job. Now with some great plugins currently available it would be possible to program lights within Live. This would be a great solution for a smaller show or church with simple lights, and a few simple looks.
For our needs, we still need a Lighting Designer. We still someone to use their creativity to listen to the songs and program looks accordingly. It takes someone who knows how to best use lights to communicate a message to create those looks per song. Then we used the computer to change those looks-so that they happen exactly when they need to, right on time.
You can automate specific areas of your show using tech like we did, but obviously it still involves creativity and a human with emotion to create meaningful content that communicates exactly what you want.
The beauty of using tech in this way is it allows even a small church with minimal gear to allow their worship leader to plan and prepare before hand content and set it up so you really only need one or two volunteers to press play. Imagine a church with multiple campuses having the ability to create a Master Set for Sunday with all the cues and sending out their live set with the cues to the campuses and allowing the worship team to run it all from stage.
The future really is here, and when the church take advantage of the advancements the results are incredible.