First off, what’s wrong with a radio version that you would need to change it for use in worship?
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with the radio approach, but we have to understand that songs are tailored a certain way in order to make it on the radio. They have to grab and hold onto a listener’s attention and not let go. In worship, we certainly want to capture people’s attention, but not for the music or the artist. We want to use the song to direct focus toward Christ. So it’s fitting that the way we handle a song would be different in a worship setting.
For this video, I used Meredith Andrew’s song, “Only to Be Yours,” and showed three things I adjusted for use in worship. Now again, there’s nothing wrong with the record – I think it’s great, and the producers and artists got it right for commercial release and airplay. I’m talking about adapting a great song for a different purpose.
Adjust the tempo & feel
Our team at church used the radio version of this song several times, and it just always felt rushed, like we just kind of slammed through the song. One of the reasons is that the nature of the lyric is devotional. To me, it needs to feel more contemplative as we sing it.
But slower, contemplative songs don’t typically fit the radio format. Radio calls for high energy, uptempo music most of the time. So one of the ways I adapted the radio version for worship was simply to slow it down from 80 to 76 beats per minute.
Now, going from 80 to 76 is not a big difference numbers wise, but it gives the song a much different feel. To me, it doesn’t feel rushed at 76bpm.
The second thing I changed was to add more dynamics, more of a difference between loud and soft sections of the song. If you look at the waveform of the original recording, you’ll see a lot of area where the top and bottom flatten out, more or less. That means it’s staying at maximum volume.
The problem with constant loudness is that after a while, loud loses its meaning. Without the contrast of soft, loud loses its interest.
For this song, I made some of the loud parts soft, especially in the beginning. The bridge, which was one of the loudest parts in the recording, was another section I softened. It made the loud parts much more effective.
Space to breathe
The third change I made was to allow time and space to let things sink in, to listen, and just breathe. There’s a Hebrew term that pops up frequently in the Psalms: selah, which means “pause a moment, reflect, and let the gravity of what you just sang sink in.”
I attempted this through repeating the bridge. The lyrics of the bridge really capture the essence of the song, but when we just sang it once through, I felt like we missed the meaning. One effect of repetition is that it can draw more attention to what’s important. In our adapted version, each repetition builds, giving us the opportunity to sing the lyric with growing conviction, culminating in a strong, “I am Yours, Lord, only Yours.” An artist would never take that amount of time in a radio single, but it’s necessary for a worship leader.
At this point, I want to challenge you to take one of the songs in your repertoire, something you know well, and experiment with it. What can you do differently to not just play through the song the same way you’ve always done it? Try a different tempo, play a loud part really soft, add some space to it, repeat a section that captures your heart. Allow God to minister to you through the song so you can be inspired to lead others in worship.
What did I miss? What are some other ways you can take a song recording and make it more worshipful?