It’s an exciting time to be a creative worship leader. There is so much technology around, and it’s very accessible. What used to require hundreds of thousands of dollars can now be accomplished with a $200 recording program and a laptop. Computers are very powerful and versatile, but with so many software options, how do you know what will fit your workflow? For what it’s worth, here are some of the computer programs I use in creating, playing, and communicating music. We’ll look at three main categories. (If you don’t like to read, you can watch the video demonstration here!)
1) Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) – this is your primary recording application. I use mine for recording demos of new songs, part demos that highlight a certain vocal or instrumental part of the rest to facilitate learning, and of course recording for my own and our church’s albums.
What I use: Apple Logic Pro (about $200 from Apple’s App Store).
Pros: Full professional features, great instruments and effects, low cost (if you have a Mac), no copyright protection key (dongle)
My second choice would be: Pro Tools (Mac/PC) because it’s the industry standard. Also check out Cockos Reaper – you can get it for your church for only $60!
2) Live performance – Laptops are now found onstage for many worship groups, used for backing tracks, live sound processing, and more.
What I use: Ableton Live (about $500, Mac/PC).
Pros: Live is in a class by itself. It is made specifically for playing loops and backing tracks and changing them on the fly if necessary.
My second choice would be: Apple Mainstage (about $30 in the App Store, Mac). It also allows you to shift gears on the fly, but without all the individual track and clip control of Live. That said, for…
Live sound processing
What I use: Apple Mainstage (Mac)
Pros: it has all of Logic’s instruments and effects available for use in a live platform. Loads of synth and keyboard patches, guitar amp simulation, you could even run your vocals through for processing.
2nd choice: ?
3) Communication – this could go in so many directions, including worship planning software, lyric projection software, etc., but for now I’ll stick with programs that help us figure out how to play songs and communicate them to others.
What I use: Make Music Finale (Mac/PC, $350 church pricing, or Finale PrintMusic for $120)
Pros: extremely powerful, quick to use once you have perfected your workflow. Very professional-looking results.
My 2nd choice: Avid Sibelius (or their “Sibelius First” program for $130, both are Mac/PC). Both Finale and Sibelius have steep learning curves, but the consensus says that Sibelius is easier to start on (I started using Finale before Sibelius really came on the scene, so I couldn’t say which is easier to learn).
What I use: Seventh String’s Transcribe (Mac/PC)
Pros: affordable, good tools for figuring out songs in one application
My 2nd choice: Logic, or your DAW of choice, can do most of the same things that Transcribe can do, it just takes more work to get there.
There are loads of good programs out there, so this list isn’t meant to be definitive, or exhaustive, or anything official. The point is to dig in, get your hands dirty, and use every resource to make His praise glorious!