Careful with the Cues Chuck!…Tips for not overdoing Vocal Cues

Featuring Loops In Worship Posted on June 7, 2010

I‘ve heard so many loops from people loaded with vocal cues. The entire track is full of them “reminding” their band what to play where.  With so many worship bands using in-ears now its not uncommon to see “talkback” mics on stage.  This gives the music director, or worship leader the ability to talk to the band in their ears without being in the house.  This is accomplished by using a separate mic or an A/B switch splitting the mic into two different outputs.

Using a talkback mic can be very useful to communicate quickly with your band.  I’ve seen it best used in a situation where the MD (music director) turns around after getting “the look” from the worship leader and says “We’re going to do How Great is our God in A.  Start low then go big”.  And with that you’re into a new song.  I have seen it overused though which provides for a very distracting and unenjoyable environment.

Vocal cues in a loop are a similar concept.  They provide you with a “count-in”, typically a “1,2,3,4” before the band starts.  This can be very helpful when you’re ending a song and the band is ringing out and you need to start your next tune.  It helps to hear “1” in your click and to make sure the band is coming in all together.  Although just like “Mr Overdoit” talkback mic guy..too many vocal cues can be a bad thing.  Here’s why: our players become dependent on our guidance,

Our players become worship robots that can only play a song with our help.  If we don’t tell them when to start they won’t know where to come in.  If we don’t tell them when to start the click they won’t.  An under-appreciated skill to learn is the ability to know when to start a click and when to end the click.  Some people start a click too early, i.e. the worship leader still has two minutes worth of talking to do, while others don’t know when to kill the click if the band is getting off of it.

In a way this comes down to our leadership ability.  Are we building up programs and situations that are fully dependent on us and just using people as “workerbees” to accomplish our task, or are we developing leaders as we build up strong programs?  If you walked away from your band today would they be able to function without you?  Sure, I’m a huge fan of working your butt off and making yourself a Linchpin (If you haven’t read this book, you should!) but don’t create followers; develop leaders.  Mold your bandmembers into leaders and develop their abilities and skills.
We don’t expect this when we aren’t using loops.

Think of how life would be if every time we played any music we had a guy whispering in our ear, “Okay start the click, 1,2,3,go..Okay here’s our verse, kinda soft, slowly fade in, go BIG.. okay guitar solo, BIGGER!!”.. Lets just stop there and say.. It wouldn’t be cool.  Your band members would have to make their way through some pretty good anger management classes if that was the way you managed your band!  Just because we have the ability to do vocal cues doesn’t mean we should overdo it. If you’re going to use vocal cues with your loops, use them sparingly and only when they are super-effective.  When you do use them here are a few things to keep in mind: use a good vocal mic.

Don’t use your Macbook Pro’s built in mic.  Yeah I’m talking to you guy, sitting in Starbucks reading a Francis Chan book, watching a Mark Driscoll Sermon..(No offense to the 95% of you doing that currently!)  Although that mic is suitable for iChat and quick scratch demo recordings, you’re going to want to use something of a bit more quality.  It doesn’t even have to be anything fancy, just something that isn’t going to grab a ton of ambient noise and will give a good well-balanced sound.  While we’re on the subject.. record your cues in a quiet room and be careful for the “s’s” and the “pop’s”.. you’ll probably want to get a cheap pop filter, or at the very least one of those stylish mic windscreens from the 90’s.  Yep I’m talking old school color-coded mic windscreens (okay maybe not the colors..but you get the point!) Use them only when you really need them.

If you’re doing a song that switches tempos or time signatures, it might be a good time for a few vocal cues.  If it’s a tune that your band always forgets the double chorus you may want to record a quick vocal cue to remind them. If your band is continually messing up a song you may want to re-evaluate whether your band is ready for the song, instead of filling it with tons of vocal cues.  In the long run they will learn more spending the time on the tune to get it right then just layering your loop with tons of vocal cues.  Develop your non-verbal communication.

This is an essential skill to learn for any band that wants to be able to play “on the fly” and wants to improve transitions.  Create hand signals for verse, chorus, repeats, key change etc.  If you’re up for the challenge learn to communicate chords with hand signals (using the Nashville number system) and keys as well (number of sharps/flats).  With a few hand signals you could tell me our key has 3 sharps and the progression is 1-5-6-4.  I would then know to play an A-E-F#m-D.  Sure it will take you knowing a bit of music theory but if you don’t know your flats and sharps already you should!  Your elementary school piano teacher would be ashamed of you!

Vocal cues have the ability to limit us to our pre-recorded arrangements.  We have to start now, and have to do the chorus now, etc.  If there is anything I preach continually on the blog is that you should play  WITH your loops, not TO them.  Using loops shouldn’t be restrictive but freeing. It should add to your sound, create new layers, fill out our sound but should never hinder our freedom in our worship services.

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