Matt McCoy on Creative Track Use

Podcast Episode #168

Loop Community founder Matt McCoy joins the podcast to discuss using tracks creatively, who tracks are really for and how a little help can make a huge difference.

On what tracks actually are, and how to use them

The word “tracks” has had a lot of different meanings over time. But in 2022, when someone says they are using “tracks” they are using a really fancy new version of backing tracks. Back in the day, and even still today, people sing to a recorded accompaniment. Maybe they are a singer and don’t have any musicians so they need the instrumentation to perform. What worship leaders mean today is they are using individual tracks to help supplement and enhance the sound of their band.

So let’s say you're a worship leader at a small church and you don’t have a bass player. You’re a scrappy team of just a few people and nobody knows how to play bass. You can use a bass track that’s playing underneath the band so in a sense, the band is playing along with the bass track. It fills in for that missing musician.

If you don’t have an electric guitar player you can get an electric guitar track. Drums, even background vocals. Let’s say you have a full band but you want to fill out your sound, you can add supplemental tracks. Shakers, tambourines or cool synths can all help elevate the quality of the sound. You can really use it like an additional musician.

It’s not just worship music either. Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, even U2 are all using tracks. It’s amazing what an in-time tambourine track will add to a song.

If you’ve ever wondered how a small band can sound so huge, chances are the secret sauce is the tracks they are adding.

A lot of people think it’s cheating, but it’s a different frame of mind. I don’t look at it as cheating. It’s not like I’m there pretending to play a guitar that isn’t plugged in, you don’t use tracks for instruments you have–that’s not the idea. I’m not using a drum track if I have a drummer, nobody is lip syncing. Essentially your computer is an extra instrument adding that little bit extra.

The place tracks go wrong is when worship leaders try and add tracks of instruments they already have. It undermines the players on the team and makes them feel unimportant. You should never do that, it’s pointless.

On what size church can use tracks

I think a common misconception is that tracks are designed for large churches, but I think they really shine with small churches. We actually started Loop Community because I came out of church plants where you're only working with a few people, and it’s just amazing how much a track can enhance the sound and help the musicians get into what they are playing.

This week I’m leading worship at a church of about 50 people. They have no band so I’m going to use some enhancement tracks like a kick drum and a light shaker, or light arpeggiator to add a little more energy. Sometimes when you’re leading on your own in a big room it can just feel really dead. 

On staying flexible in worship while using tracks

There was a day when you couldn’t be flexible. Instead of you playing with the track, the track is playing with you; you are in control.

One way you can do that is with our free app called Loop Community Prime. You can customize everything, change the key, change the tempo and you can still be very spontaneous. You can literally hit a button to force a section to repeat. So if you are playing the bridge and you want to do it again, you can hit the repeat button anytime in that bridge and it will repeat when it gets to the end. You can also jump to different sections of the song at anytime.

On who should be running the tracks

For me personally, as the worship leader, I want to be the one running the track. Maybe I’m a control freak but the last thing I want to happen is me signaling to the music director to go back into the chorus but they don’t hit the button so I go into the chorus but that track goes into the verse–that freaks me out.

A lot of churches that have a music director are really following that person so in that scenario having the MD run the track and cueing the band makes sense. For the typical worship leader though, I would get a foot pedal. It doesn’t take that much thinking and guitar players and keyboardists are used to using their feet.  

The key with making tracks useful is to make them easy to use. I’ve pretty much been using them since they came out  and they used to be so hard to use. I saw how helpful tracks were to my ministry but it was prohibitively difficult. So everything we’ve created at Loop Community is about making it easier to use tracks. That’s where the app came from. We took everything the worship leader needs and kept out everything they don’t. It’s the only thing I use.

On where do tracks come from

When we started Loop Community, “Loop” was the word people used to describe tracks. Now we have all these different words: loops, tracks, stems, multitrack–it’s all the same thing.

The community aspect of our site is that worship leaders from around the world are creating their own tracks to songs and uploading them. Some are meant to sound like the record but others have a different feel so you have a choice of the tracks you want to work with and the creators have an opportunity to get paid for the work they did. We also sell tracks from the record labels that we call master tracks which are the actual tracks from the recording.

As long as your church has a CCLI license, we license all the rest so the moment you purchase the track you are licensed to use it in your church. We try and make it really easy that way. With Covid, a lot of churches started streaming online so CCLI put together a streaming license that also covers streaming tracks, so if you’ve got that you’re covered there as well.

On Worship Innovators

As a business owner in the worship space, I found myself feeling a little lonely. There are a lot of great companies doing awesome things resourcing worship leaders. Some of them are even competitors, but from a Christian perspective we’re in it for the same reason. We want to resource the Church and build the Kingdom of God. Why can’t we work together and support each other? Build bridges instead of walls.

We started bringing together businesses to get us all talking. It’s created this really open hand mentality: there’s plenty of room at the table for everybody. Nobody is afraid or has a scarcity mentality–it’s awesome. Now we’re taking it a step further with the Worship Innovators Conference. We’ve got all these people who are experts in their field. Let’s all get together and give worship leaders practical training to help them lead their people well.

Follow Matt McCoy and Loop Community on Instagram.

Listen to the podcast on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Jason Houtsma is the co-founder and guitar teacher at Worship Artistry, where he is helping musicians of every level answer the call to worship with passion and confidence. Jason has been leading worship and writing music since he was 15 years old and currently serves as Worship Pastor for Mosaic Church in Bellingham, WA. He is husband to Alli and father to Bjorn and Asher.

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