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Best Practices for Lyrics

FaithTools Blog - by - August 26, 2009 - 20:16 America/New_York - 2 Comments

Twitter started another great conversation today among several church production guys. This time Chris Huff asked, “… is it better for song lyrics to be in order, or to jump back and forth within software?”.

Graphics Operator

SFCC’s Production Assistant setting up MediaShout during the week.

First off, let me say this: Chris writes some amazing articles on the ins and outs of being a sound engineer. If you have anything to do with running sound, then you need to keep up with BehindTheMixer.com. Period.

So let me bring you up to speed with the Twitter conversation. You’ve already read the first tweet from Chris. Here’s is a paraphrased recap of the massive amount of replies, “Put the song lyrics in order”.

I said it was paraphrased.

My tweet was, “We always work 2 get the lyrics, announcements, msg notes in exact order. Sometimes it changes, but it’s usually minor.”

I loved Mike Sessler’s comment, “…My goal is to just keep hitting the space bar.”

The underlying concept here is that order is better than chaos. You’ve heard it a million times on the FaithTools podcast and blog posts and from every Tech Arts Director you have ever met: do everything possible to not create a distraction. This applies directly when you are setting up the Graphics Station by creating the script, cues or slides (exact language depends on the software you are using) for the service.

Currently at Salem Fields, we use MediaShout on a week to week basis (although we do use ProPresentor on occasion). Our Worship Director sends us the songs by Wednesday and we will pop them into a new script. MediaShout (as well as most worship presentation applications worth their salt) has a built in song database, so unless we are doing a brand new song, this only take a couple of minutes.

We always enter the verses, choruses, bridges, blanks slides for instrumentals into the song exactly as they intend to be performed. So a given song might be set up something like this:

  • blank (song intro)
  • verse 1
  • verse 2
  • chorus
  • blank (interlude)
  • verse 3
  • verse 4
  • chorus
  • chorus
  • blank (guitar solo)
  • bridge
  • bridge
  • chorus
  • chorus
  • ending
  • blank (song outro)

The goal is, as Mike put it, for the Graphics Op to “just keep hitting the spacebar”.

Rabbit Trail: My Worship Song Text Formatting Preference

I like big, bold, sans-serif font with a 2-5 pixel outline (no drop shadows). And preferably with only two lines of text per slide, although sometimes you just have to have more. If the song is more of a performance (and not corporate worship where the audience is to sing along), we may get more creative with the font formatting.

End Rabbit Trail.

Now the above song outline does assume that you do have a service order in place before the venue starts. I know there are some churches out there where the worship leader makes up the song order on the fly. I can only say, may God be with you.

There will always be the occasion where something unexpected will happen and the Graphics Op will need to make a quick adjustment as the band/speaker zigged when you thought they were going to zag. This IS going to happen so the Graphics Op needs to be well trained so that they can redirect quickly.

This is where my Graphics Op Golden Rule comes into play…
When in doubt, bail to a blank (or logo).

If a song takes an unexpected turn, do NOT, I repeat, DO NOT go on a wild goose chase firing off random phrases from which ever verse or pre-chorus is the closest. Fire a blank slide within the song (so that the background video or image remains the same), then quickly find the wayward section and fire the next phrase when appropriate.

If something is being said during the announcement or message that does not have a slide, then bail to the logo.

In both situations, if you don’t panic, bail to blank/logo, and only fire the newly found slide when the timing is right, there is a very good chance that the audience may not even notice the glitch.

We also require that the Graphics Op be present to run the lyrics during the pre-venue band rehearsals. This accomplishes two goals.

  1. The Graphics Op will get a feel for the songs, lyric timing, and potential problem spots.
  2. If any typos exist, they have time to fix them.

Back to the initial idea of setting up the graphics station. For most churches this is a volunteer position. And a high stress, highly visible position at that. When things are going badly, emotions can run wild and feelings can be hurt. Volunteers are our most valuable resource as Tech Directors and as such we want to make sure that we are protecting and investing in them as they serve. For me, I can not think of a better way to serve my volunteer team than to do everything I can to eliminate their chances of failure.

By working with the worship and teaching teams earlier in the week, we can set up the graphics station in such a way that the majority of guess work has been removed and contingency plans are put in place. This will not only make for a more joyful volunteer, but more importantly it will go a long way to eliminating potential hiccups that will distract the audience from worship or hearing the message God has for them.

Related Articles:

If you are interested in lyric timing for the Graphics Op, Mike has a couple great posts about that on his blog with accompanying videos:

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    » 2 Comments

    1. Daniel says:

      We use “SongPro” here, which is good enough, although buggy and with many stupid things. Frequently we don’t have a graphics op, so FOH is also running lyrics. When you’re doing that, you NEED to have the song parts in order. Well, OK… so there are always issues when musos decide to add in extra verses or jump back to a previous song chorus or something. And then there are the music leaders who when they come to check through all the songs say “yes, that’s right!” but don’t notice that their version of the song has 3 different verses, or that they’re going to change the song to say “we” not “I” and don’t tell us…

      When everything is working, and you’re totally on top of lyrics, and the mix is really sweet, and you’re getting all your cues, and people are really into it, man, you just fly. It’s a great feeling.

      When things go wrong, and the band are all waving at you and the mics stop working, and it’s a different version of the song, and the amplifiers die and you have 3 people all trying to give you memory sticks with PPT files… well. Different story.

    2. Chris Huff says:

      Wonderful post! I’ll be posting a blog link to this article! Thanks for the ever-so-kind mention of my site, too.

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