Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Tips for solo musicians, duos or worship leaders. Increase your sound!

Not enough sound coming from just your voice and acoustic? Want to add more sound or instrumentation to your sound? Here we'll look at seven ideas - Pads, BeatBuddy, Stomp Box and tambourine, multi-instruments, vocal harmonisers, OnSong, FCB1010, backing tracks, pads with beats...

One of the things that happens when you play or lead worship on your own or perhaps with just a couple of you, is that you may find the sound isn't as full as it can be. This happens with myself and a friend who play acoustic together. This is where pads can sit in the mix underneath your playing.

Here are some options to increase your soundscape....

1. Pads

These sit 'under' your mix and are not he root / tonic note. They can be a plain synth sound or have a variety of arpeggiations / pentatonic notes to add to the variety. I make some for free - visit https://www.youtube.com/user/zerofourzulu/videos and generally have them at around 25mins per track.

2. BeatBuddy

You can use the BeatBuddy to add beats for your songs. This is one thing I do. I've set up 'worship patches' on my Beat Buddy using the associated software.

The advantage is that you can programme to play different parts of each song. Disadvantage is that you need to programme it using the computer - and then work it (correctly!) when using live. This takes practice but adds a lot as it plays back real drum samples. Just practice, practice, practice and buy a separate foot pedal to trigger play back etc.

3. Stomp Drum / Tambourine

You can use a stomp box / stomp drum (same thing). I use one from Beat Root (off ebay) which is OK but needs some serious sub bass and EQ-ing to get a good sound. My friend uses a slightly bigger and better one from Acoustim8 off Amazon which is physically bigger and produces a better thump for sure. A professional musician friend uses an even better one from Logjam (the Logarhythm).

The advantage is that you can play it and choose when to come in. You can get different sounds depending on where you stomp down. The disadvantage is that it's only one sound (a 'kick drum') and it can get tiring on the foot / leg playing it, especially when standing! You may also need to tie it down as it can often move meaning you're dragging it back towards you mid song!

To go to the next level of this idea, one worship leader once had a kick drum as the main beat and got the bass player to play a tambourine on the floor (mic'd up with a condenser mic and a ton of reverb) as the 'snare'. It worked well.

4. Multi-instruments Simultaneously

Idea 1 - I have one friend who manages (brilliantly) to play a keyboard with one hand playing the basic melody line or the chords - and a cajon with the other hand. This provides a great extra bit of sound with two sound sources. He also sometimes uses a Novation Mininova in the background as a 'pads' sound, or jumps between his keys and the Mininova.

Idea 2 - Another friend has used a Novation MiniNova as a bass sound with one hand (sometimes holding down the sustain pedal to keep the bass note), while using his electric guitar (with a ton of reverb) using the other hand. A capo helps him to play in the right key.

Idea 3 - I have often done a combo of playing pads on a MIDI keyboard using MainStage (Worship Essentials by Abel Mendoza), using the sustain pedal or using the Drone Pad tonic note pad within Worship Essentials - while playing acoustic guitar.

Idea 4 - On a more limited level, you can use more than one sound source for pads. For example using two iPads playing back sounds or samples or triggering Garage Band. Or using pads on an iPad and playing a synth. Or you could run a MIDI pad triggering drum samples and pads.

The advantage of this is having two sounds. The disadvantage is that you need to be able to do this well and it may prove too much for some. Can be tricky to sing at the same time too!

5. Vocals - using a Harmonizer

For vocals I also use a TC Helicon Play Acoustic and run the vocals through this. You will also need to run your acoustic guitar through this so the Play Acoustic picks up which key you're in. If you're playing a single key, then you can programme the Play Acoustic with this key.

I use the harmony sparingly and sensitively, with a relatively low db (volume level) so it doesn't sound too fake or too over-done. But this is a way of having harmony with your vocals and an encouragement to nail the notes every time - otherwise the harmony sounds terrible!

6. Triggering a MIDI synth / chords with a foot pedal and MainStage

Warning, this is a long and involved procedure but if you follow all the instructions and especially use the videos linked to, you'll find a way through! The Behringer FCB1010 doesn't have a MIDI to USB output built-in so you'll need to purchase a MIDI-USB adapter. Don't skimp!

However... If you intend to use the programme iFCB to edit the Behringer FCB1010,  you will need a USB-MIDI adapter or unit that is capable of transmitting MIDI SysEx. Many adaptors don't work with this including expensive and cheap ones. So find one that definitely will allow SysEx. The FCB forums here give some examples - http://www.wabbitwanch.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=18&t=6

If you're using OS Mojave then it's possible iFCB won't work (at the time of writing this, October 2018) as iFCB is only a 32 bit app. It may work but I've yet to test it.

To go beyond the normal 'pads' use of things, I created the following setup:

Unless you're in the States / Canada and can easily by the Looptimus foot pedal (which has pads already assigned to its foot pedal as one of its options), you will need a foot pedal MIDI controller that plays back MIDI notes. Trying to find this isn't easy and basically as of the time of writing (October 2018), your only options are the Behringer FCB1010 (the cheapest option) or the Roland FC-200 or FC-300, which I believe can play back MIDI notes. The Behringer FCB1010 definitely can.

So you'll likely need to first organise a set list in the same key - or in two different keys maximum. The reason for this is that we're going to use the FCB1010 to trigger not just notes, but chords from Apple MainStage. The FCB1010 has 10 available foot pedals for this use, so you can assign for example the top row of 5 pedals to play back chords in the key of E and the bottom row to play back chords in the key of C.

Using two keys will only work if the songs you're playing back don't have more than five chords in them. So I set up my FCB1010 to play back chords: 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 generally.

In order to do this, you will need to do two things. Firstly, you'll need to set up a concert in MainStage that plays back chords. Secondly, you'll need to set up the FCB1010 to play back MIDI notes and then assign the foot pedals within MainStage to the notes / chords you want to play back from MainStage.

Make sure you connect your FCB1010 and either follow the manual's instructions to set this up to send / receive MIDI note messages. Or visit https://mountainutilities.eu/fcb1010 and try their editor. Or pay $20 and get the editor from Rabbit Watch - http://www.wabbitwanch.com/iFCB.html or get it through the App Store.

Then follow this instruction video here to set up mapping the FCB1010 to MainStage if using iFCB:

If not using iFCB and you're up for the 'pedal dance' option of sorting yourself, this video may prove helpful instead:

I warned it was a little complex....!

Within MainStage, create a new drum pad concert, delete everything. Then from within the Layout tab and Panel Controls section at the bottom of the screen, drag on to the window ten drum pads in two rows of five. You can then label the channel strip as wanted in the Layout menu.

In the Edit tab, go to the mixer and replace the 'Ultrabeat' input with a pad of your choosing and rename - I used the Alchemy synth and navigated to the 'Hotel Endless' preset.

You can remove any of the other (musical) channel strips by deleting them. I then renamed the channel strip to 'Pad'.

Then still working in the channel strip, click on "MIDI FX' and select 'Chord Trigger'. Then the 'Instrument (Pad)' window pops up. This is where your notes will become your chords. But you will need to set this up. To do this, follow this video below (not done by me). You will need to follow the instructions but set up the chords however you need them to be. In the video, he uses a keyboard to assign the notes.

Note - you will be using the same principles (and notes displayed on the Layout and Edit tabs) to assign the chords to the relevant notes - e.g. C1, C#1 etc. These will need to be the same notes already assigned to each pedal from within the Behringer FCB1010 setup. You can change them in the FCB1010 easily if not the same.

To test if this is working, you can manually click while in the Edit or Perform tab of MainStage and see if these play back the correct chords.

Your next task once you've set this up is to assign the pads within your Layout window to the pedals on the FCB1010 (click assign, press the FCB1010 pedal, then click assign again). Do this for each pedal and you *should* be good to go. Save your concert in MainStage!

Now when playing live, you should be able to use your FCB1010 on the floor, connect up to MainStage and by clicking on a pedal you'll be able to play back chords from MainStage as you play them on the guitar. Now you're playing guitar and keys...

7. Pads with strings, sounds, and beats

One final idea that I use is to use my pads sounds from Logic but also add in a beat at a fixed tempo. I then organise a worship set with songs in a certain key and with the same kinds of tempos. The sound is then played back from the iPad in OnSong, triggered by the IK Multimedia Blue Rig foot pedal (you'll need to download and pay for the MIDI add-on within OnSong).

So as one example I did pads in E and put together a beat in Logic at 75bpm. I then used this to play back a few songs with similar tempos in the key of E - for example '10,000 Reasons' and 'What A Beautiful Name' and 'This Is Our God' and 'King Of My Heart' then 'When I Survey' (Tim Hughes version).

I have also done some specific timed songs - such as Reckless Love (Cory Asbury) or Guardian (Ben Cantelon). They are intentionally very minimalist as designed solely to be used by a single or duo set of acoustics for a specific song!

There is also a backing track for the KXC song 'Sing It Out (He's Alive)'.

To this end, I put some of my backing tracks like this onto Youtube in case they could be useful for anyone else. You can find them below...

Thursday, 4 January 2018

OnSong, Pads, iRig BlueBoard Case, Review of Sony SRS-XB40 bluetooth speaker, XB40 case

I recently replaced my old 'computer speakers' (Gigaworks T20s) with a bluetooth speaker.

How does this relate to worship, you ask?

Well, I lead in some small venues for groups, small churches and small events. Understandably, we don't want to set up a full band for these situations.

I've learned to be incredibly flexible in these situations being faced with people who don't understand sound, those who do PA but get flustered so need help, times where there is no PA or they need me to deliver PA, times where space is very small or there's no time to set anything up!

Over time I've learned to bring extras of pretty much everything! Spare leads, plugs, accessories, strings, about 7 types of spare batteries, power, iPad, nail clippers, the list goes on...

Back to the bluetooth speaker... I commonly use pads, beats and backing tracks (or have them loaded into OnSong). Where the PA allows, we use pads quite commonly in band at church and I regularly use the pads when I'm out in the smaller venues as well.

If you don't use pads, they add a huge amount of atmosphere to the sound and can help you transition between tracks.

I've also started using pads in combination with looped beats (up to 25mins in time) so that if you want to play a couple of songs together and have a beat around the same tempo, I've got that option. Unlike say using the BeatBuddy, you don't have the options to jump to a chorus or another part of the song but you do have more flexibility.

But what if there's no PA or no time to hook into the PA or you just need a quieter sound in a smaller room? This is where the portable speakers come in handy...

Cue the Sony SRS XB-40 and a powerful and bass sound with a smallish footprint (about 30cm by 10cm by 10cm to be relatively precise!)

To trigger the pads and sounds from the iPad, I use the bluetooth-triggered iRig Blueboard. This requires you to open the iRig BlueBoard app on the iPad and then swipe to open OnSong without closing the BlueBoard app.

Previously when leading in smaller venues,  I'd set up my mini speakers in the room and run a wire from the iPad to output the pads or other audio from those speakers. But now they are defunct, would I be able to trigger OnSong gestures and audio via the iRig BlueBoard and simultaneously send those sounds to the bluetooth speaker?

The answer is a resounding yes. Yes, you can simultaneously use the iRig Blueboard and output audio from an iPad (from any app such as Music, OnSong) to a bluetooth speaker.

So now the setup has the potential to be: guitar (sometimes into a PA, sometimes not), iRig BlueBoard pedal, iPad on iPad stand and bluetooth speaker playing back the pads. Ideal and fewer wires too!

As for the sound of the Sony SRS-XBO, I'm glad I spent a bit more money and got a physically larger bluetooth speaker and one with more bass. Out of the box, the sound isn't at all bad and you can control the EQ by downloading a Sony app to your device. The speaker flashes in time to the music by default but holding down the extra bass button for 3 seconds turns it off. You can also turn off the extra bass feature.

For what it's worth, the sound is phenomenal and will fill a small room without any problems. Very highly recommended. The speaker was used in an 18th century church which is probably around 30m by 15m and another 30m upwards and the sound was great.

I tested out various other speakers from JBL, Ultimate Ears, Bose and some cheaper ones that seemed to have good reviews but were not worth the money. The Sony SRS-XB40 stood out for me and was bought when it was on offer from Currys! The closest competition for price was the JBL Charge 3 but I felt the Sony had the edge in what I needed and was looking for. It also has an audio input in case you want to go wired. Very glad I didn't get a physically smaller speaker otherwise bass would have been compromised!

Sony SRS-XB40 Case

The Sony SRS-XB40 has purpose made cases available for it on Amazon and ebay which retail (currently) for around £15. It's made of a solid EVA material and fits the speaker like a glove. There is a section for the plug which is slightly small but fits fine. I bought this one - no affiliation so I don't get money if you click the link - https://www.amazon.co.uk/SRS-XB40-Powerful-Portable-Wireless-Khanka/dp/B073RF7377/

iRig Blueboard Case / Bag

I also spent a lot of time looking for a basic case for the iRig Blueboard. Who would think that finding a case for the Blueboard would be such a palaver! Absolutely nothing around. So in the end it called for some creative thinking. What about a drum stick bag? Or a flute case bag? Or a 'tupperware' type container? Any of these were possible but in the end I started looking at pencil cases. The perfect fit came from a WHSmith pencil case. Not really padded but fits really well - https://www.whsmith.co.uk/products/whsmith-black-textured-neoprene-long-pencil-case/37714208

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

'Best' worship songs from 2017? (Songs that worked!)

OK so I hate the word 'best' or 'greatest' because all God-focused worship is powerful and meaningful - and various songs work in various places. I also recognise that worship is about our response to God, our heart attitude and not simply about a song or words!

This title is more of a 'catchy' title to look at which songs really seemed to have an anointing on them in my experience leading and playing across various places in the South West of the UK in 2017.

There is no real rank to these, there is nothing to say this is 'right' but we all understand that some songs have a real anointing on them. They may work for a season or they may become 'classics'. If a song isn't on the list, add it in the comments and why you think it worked.

And let's continue to pursue God in music, in writing, in singing, in playing and give God our best in everything, doing all we do for God's glory.

- 10,000 Reasons - Matt Redman - still going and still loved

- Good, Good Father - Housefires - a cry from the depths of hearts as to who God is

- King of My Heart - John Mark and Sarah McMillan (but popularised at Bethel) - like 'Good Good Father' a testimony of God's heart and goodness

- Build My Life - Housefires - if any song lifted people's hearts and the roof it was this and...

- What A Beautiful Name - Hillsong - so powerful it's unbelievable. The bridge is probably one of the best and most passionately sung, heartfelt cry of God's power I've ever sung.

- Cornerstone - Hillsong - still going and still powerful. Faithful God even through hard times

- O Praise The Name (Anastasis) - Hillsong - often using just the hook

- The Lion and The Lamb - Leeland - a cry and declaration of God's power

- Guardian - Ben Cantelon - an older and not always used song. But a cry of God as defender

- Yes and Amen - Housefires - God is faithful and his promises are true

- Take Courage - Kristene DiMarco (Bethel) - such a powerful journey and testimony. Sung this in 3 places within a week and people were in tears each time.

- Reckless Love - Cory Asbury - crazily good song. God's extreme love for us

- Get Your Hopes Up - Josh Baldwin - lifting our faith, lifting our eyes, lifting our hearts

- Catch The Wind - Jonathan & Melissa Helser - personally this was a powerful uplifting song

- Great Are You Lord - All Sons and Daughters - been around a bit but a declaration of who God is and a powerful God focused bridge

- This Is Amazing Grace - almost been over-done as so few 'bangers' (anthems) in worship music but this still has a power and testimony to it

- Praises (Be Lifted Up) - Josh Baldwin - just praising God.

- The Weight Of Your Presence - Kelley Warren Augi and Robert Augi - these guys are just so humble and kind and full of God's life and so is this song with a nice break out of key too

- Worthy Of It All (Day and Night) - David Brymer/Ryan Hall (iHop at the time) - a song that hasn't gone that much mainstream traction since it was released a few years back but very powerful

- So Will I (100 Billion X) - Hillsong - absolute monster of a song. The heart behind this is to be like Christ and it's amazing. It will work in church but maybe not every church. I know some people have issue with the 'evolving' line but if it matters to you, just change it to say 'adapting' :)

Over to you... What songs worked??

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

More Free Worship Pads on Youtube in most keys!

I recently posted up the 'bass worship pads' that I created in Logic Pro X on YouTube.

These have a bit more bass than other pads but still have that slightly epic sound - well hopefully!

I'm not someone who likes to promote myself as I want to point people to God, but I really believe these pads are of high quality and will add a lot of depth and character to your worship sound. I pray they do anyway!

I've posted an example pad below in G for you to listen to and as an example.

Direct Link - https://youtu.be/2Jk54CXi0w8

There are pads in the keys of E, F, G, A, B, Bb, C and D

Link to the Youtube channel - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCM_5fM5dA9HdXDF_cAt4t_Q

These can also be downloaded - link is in the YouTube video.

I am considering whether to create pads for sale because these do take a lot of time. While I love to give good God-things away, I'm also aware that it's good to honour each other.

So stay tuned - but don't worry, I'll keep the freebies coming as well by God's grace and goodness :)

Monday, 6 November 2017

When people reject songs due to theology issues

When people reject songs due to theology issues

The context for this is a YouTube tutorial video for a song called 'Reckless Love' by Cory Asbury. The person doing the video has gone to a huge amount of trouble to put together a brilliant tutorial.

In the comments section, there is a response from someone who states they aren't doing songs from Bethel or from Hillsong any more due to the theology from the churches.

In the specific instance of this song, the commenter also didn't approve of the word 'Reckless' as thinking about God, or the undertones of romantic love in the song.

So why do people dislike some songs?

Often there are people that may have a good point theologically. Other times someone may just have a personal issue or grudge that has built in their mind. Sometimes people focus too much on theology that they lose sight of the wider picture. Others become so tunnel visioned on what's 'right' that they can lose their love and actually become 'wrong'. Sometimes it's a simple misunderstanding of the meaning of words. Other times people want their way or feel frustrated. And there are times where people simply don't like songs.

My Experiences of people rejecting songs

A few years ago, I was at a church that I felt moved away from seeing a wide picture of worship to focusing on some very minor and trivial issues that became so magnified that it started to lose sight of what worship was in a macro sense - songs helping us engage with God, worship him.

This is the same church that (wrongly and actually not even Biblically) felt we did too many songs having the words 'I' and 'me' and not enough saying 'us' and 'we'.

One of the issues that one person had was with the words of 'Consuming Fire' by Matt Redman. In this person's view, they didn't like the lyric, 'There must be more than this...' In their view, this was saying that there must be more to what God will do which seemed to be against the fact that what Jesus did on the Cross is complete.

In this instance, the complaint wasn't right because the song is not saying Jesus hasn't finished his work but a cry from the heart that 'God there must be more to you than what I'm experiencing' with the writer inviting God to breathe within him and waiting on God to do a work in him.

At the same church another week, someone giving a talk made a big song and dance about a song from Ben Cantelon called 'Guardian.' The complaint on this occasion was that the song talked about God as a 'guardian' with the speaker very vocally stating that God isn't our 'guardian' but our Father.

Again, the speaker was completely wrong and he had quite an aggressive attitude about the whole thing! The song is talking about God as our protector and not as a guardian that you'd have to manage a trust fund for an under-18 (which is what the speaker believed the song was saying).

Another person also mentioned their frustration with the lyrics of the song, 'Our God' by Chris Tomlin. In this instance I can't recall what the issues were specifically but a reading of the song shows a strong and Biblical framework.

In the case of 'Reckless Love' on YouTube, I also feel the commenter was wrong to suggest that the song writer was meaning that God was 'reckless' as in 'unconcerned.' This is not what the song is saying. Instead, it is saying that God's love is a love that is daring, adventurous and one that goes beyond what we would do.

The comment about the song being too romantic, is not one that stands up to any scrutiny either. Instead, this song is about God's passionate pursuit of people to show himself as God, as well as his pursuit of his people to make them fully his. A cursory (and for some uncomfortable, even reckless) look at Song of Songs shows both a romantic love and a picture of Christ's love for his bride, the church.

In a more recent case, some people have taken issue with the Hillsong track, 'So Will I (100 Billion X')' which they mainly disapprove of or have questioned due to the use of the lyrics, 'A hundred billion creatures catch your breath, evolving in pursuit of what you said.'

Those who believe in creation in 6 days and reject evolution (but not adaptation) question whether this is a song that promotes an evolutionary worldview (and indeed one where there must have been sin and death before Adam and Eve). The question here is whether the songwriters meant 'adaptation' (within species) as opposed to evolution (between species and something that has not ever been found). Then the question is 'if they meant evolution' then should we reject the song?

Should We Reject Songs due to theology?

This is perhaps at the root of some of the comments made. Their cases are specific, but the general point is about whether we reject songs due to their theology? Or whether we reject songs if we don't like a particular artist, ministry, church.

One question revolves around Biblical interpretation: how do we understand and read the Bible? If we take the Bible literally then we have to literally do all the things the Bible says. But this can never be the correct way to read the Bible and it also reduces the Bible down to only what we read (so it can never comment on things that aren't in the Bible).

Instead, the Bible needs to be read as God intended it to be read when he moved on people by the Holy Spirit to write it. This honours God and the Bible in the highest and greatest possible way and is our model for living. As followers of Jesus, we are mini-christs, reflecting his glory and carrying his light, life and presence.

Reading the Bible in this correct way, it helps give principles as well as specifics about issues of every area of life, death and eternity. We see what God gives us to see, feel what he gives us to feel and do what he says we should do.

Theologically, we also know (from Scripture) and common sense, that not everything about God is in the Bible. The Bible is God's true word to us that he knows that we need. The Bible is not a complete overview of God, his character, nature, history etc. God's Word makes it clear that God is above and beyond our understanding. The way we approach him is to seek him for revelation into what we do know revealed in the Word. Sometimes he reveals what we don't know and other times he doesn't, knowing that we couldn't understand or deal with things. He is God, we are not!

We also know that not everything Jesus did, said, thought is in the Bible - the Bible testifies to this in John 21:25. So conversely, we know that Jesus did things and said things that were of God (because he is God) but that aren't in the Bible.

In terms of song-writing, songs directly from the Bible should be at the heart of what we do. It is good when songs are taken completely from Scripture. The International House of Prayer in Kansas City do this in a great way. But if we always do this for every song, we're sometimes forced to compress words into spaces that don't fit, or we can lose a poetic rhythm, lyric or timing that God may give us.

So along with songs straight from the Bible, songs that capture the essence of the Bible, of God, of Jesus, of his Kingdom should also be part of what we sing. To not do this is a denial of the fullness of God, who he has released us to be (creators, creating in the image and for the glory of the creator) and of songwriting potential.

It is good to use words that we maybe can't find in the Bible but that reflect God's heart - or even modern ways of saying things, or even new words.

Remember that God's Word was written outside of time (by God, although in time by man inspired by him) for the whole of time - but was written for every tribe, race, tongue and generation - and we're all different. We all say things different ways, express ourselves differently. As another example, the English language (as one example) doesn't have the words for something that the Greek language does, so obviously using different words is a good thing.

Ultimately it all boils down to whether something glorifies God. All of our life should do this. We can sing a theologically correct song and read the Bible in church but if our life isn't being transformed into his likeness and we're not loving God and others, then our words are empty.

In terms of the rejection of songs from places or people we may not agree with, it's a slightly more tricky or personal choice. My own view is that we can lose something if we become incredibly limiting in what we sing. And the question is: you may not like something or a church (like Bethel) for example. But are they glorifying God? Is God using them? And be really, really honest with yourself - what's the real reason you have an issue?

I personally have no issues with Bethel or anyone else and unless a church is completely off the Biblical grid I don't consider these to be issues when choosing worship songs. Remember that David was a mess and yet his Psalms have been used in millions of songs through history. Are we to reject David because he had views we don't agree with or did wrong things? Can we even deny the redeeming power of God in we become so choosy? Are we placing our personal preference over what we sing? Is it about control? Maybe it's not, but it's worth considering.

I often find those with the biggest issues with things like worship or songs are often people who are deeply frustrated within themselves and even struggling.

And maybe you need to be challenged about what you believe. Maybe it's you that's limiting God. Sometimes our fear of being wrong in something can actually hinder a work of God that regularly (in the Bible and in the life of God's church) does things that confound, confuse and offend. As someone famously wrote, 'God often offends our minds to reveal our hearts.'

So maybe a question for all of us is that when we feel offence rise, maybe this is God's challenge to us and not for us to judge others with a standard may or may not be right. Don't miss out on something of God because you don't fully understand it. God did great things in the Bible that people would have missed out on had they been offended! He is still doing that today.

Worship is Powerful and Transformational

Finally, worship is about God's presence and it is transformational. When I sing a song, in my heart I'm asking the question, 'is this anointed?' Is this a worship song that is God-breathed, reveals something about God, does something in my heart or in the heart of others?

The answer most times is yes.

Reckless Love, So Will I, Our God, Guardian, Consuming Fire have all lit fires in the hearts of people that I have worshipped with. They have breathed life, fuel, God's encouragement, a passion for God, a desire for the nations, for prayer, for a life that honours God into hundreds, maybe even thousands of people that I've known and seen.

It is absolutely right to want to honour God and his Word and the pursuit of this is what we're all after. But...

At the heart of worship songs for me are these questions: does it have God and his Kingdom, his Holy Spirit, his love, his power, his glory all over it? If it does and it's got a good tune (!) then I want to use it. At my heart I don't want to miss anything of God that he has for me.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

BeatBuddy, worship, MIDI tracks, Logic ProX and bass sounds

The BeatBuddy is a great device for playing back your beats and managing / creating your own MIDI beats to play back. New features are being implemented all the time with firmware updates from the manufacturer, Singular Sound. Some of these updates have come from user suggestions or even hacks.

An overall guide to creating beats for BeatBuddy - http://forum.mybeatbuddy.com/index.php?threads/create-your-own-songs-for-dummies.4898/

One of the hacks to the BeatBuddy has been the implementation of other instruments into the BeatBuddy so that it plays back not only beats, but bass and even piano and synth.

To do this, you need to download a 'with bass' kit. There are a couple available over on the mybeatbuddy forums but it's good practice to buy a beat from Singular Sound first and then ask contributors for the 'with bass' beats.

In order to get the 'with bass' kits to work, you need to export the MIDI files from the BB Software (this is the information that the kits within the BeatBuddy plays back). The MIDI files then need to be imported into a MIDI editor, edited, re-exported and then imported back into the BB Manager software.

The ability to export and manipulate the MIDI also means you are able to create your own beats via MIDI then implement them into BeatBuddy. Within the BB Manager software you can add your own beats, replace beats, update beats and change the order of the song.

This is a quick look at the process within Logic Pro X on a Mac.

You can also find help on the forums such as here - http://forum.mybeatbuddy.com/index.php?threads/how-to-create-with-bass-bb-songs-on-a-mac.4896/

MIDI isn't the same as audio. MIDI is information and includes a number of different pieces of information within it - such as velocity etc (meaning the same track can produce different sounds etc). MIDI has a range of numbers and BeatBuddy has to have MIDI information in certain numbers in order for it to play back. So any MIDI file created by you (or edited by you) will need to be set up to play back within BeatBuddy and need to have various numbers to play back the drums. Those numbers can depend on the drum kit within BeatBuddy, so you just need to check, test and test again!

When creating a new track, you can do one of 3 or so things. Firstly you can find a MIDI track online, save it and import into Logic Pro to edit (or direct into BB Manager only if the MIDI files have already been prepared for the BeatBuddy). Secondly, you can create your own MIDI track. Thirdly you can export a MIDI track out of BB Manager into Logic, edit it and then import it back to BB Manager.

More information here - http://forum.mybeatbuddy.com/index.php?threads/import-midi-files.6942/

To be certain you're using the right MIDI notes and everything is in the right place, the best way can be to export a MIDI file from the BB Manager. Select it, right click and 'export as MIDI'. Save somewhere you'll remember (I created a folder called MIDI in the BB Manager folder and in the user_lib folder).

Then you'll need to open this within Logic.

The MIDI track as a software instrument 
If you click the waveform editor in the top left of Logic (the pair of scissors), it will open up the MIDI editor.

The MIDI editor (the colours represent different velocities / sounds)

In this instance, I imported a file from the Blues 6/8 file and then slightly re-arranged some of the sounds to suit the Cory Asbury song 'Reckless Love' (without really getting into copying the beat, which I have done within another MIDi file).

If you were simply using the beats, you can then simply export the song from Logic (File > Export Selection as MIDI file).

If you want to export the file back with bass, then you'll need to know the MIDI location for the notes on the keyboard. I've got the 'Standard Pro with bass' kit which I got off the BeatBuddy forum after buying the Standard Pro drum kit. So for this kit the bass notes need to go above C3 on the MIDI keyboard as you can see in my example below.

Next I simply drew some MIDI notes (or you can play them) on one track and then simply added them into the original beat MIDI track in the correct location (above C3) as below. The alternative is to add the 'bass' track within Logic as a software instrument, then combine the two tracks (beat and bass tracks) via Cmd-J.

Then the song is exported and then imported into BB Manager and onto the BeatBuddy by saving and synchronising.

With other drum kit files (ones that add synth and bass or piano etc. check the creator's information for where you need to place information to be played back accurately for that individual beat!)

The MIDI information on the MIDI keyboard within Logic's editor


Re-reading this, it may not be the simplest tutorial ever done! But hope it helps someone. When I started trying to create my own MIDI files I was a bit nervous but this is my workaround.

Just remember that if you want to edit a song within BB Manager, it's worth exporting it first, then re-importing it, re-naming it and then saving it first. This avoids editing original files!

Once you've got the hang of this you can create / replicate song beats and bass within BeatBuddy and then have a more flexible, dynamic and accurate drum pattern than simply an audio backing track!

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

TC Helicon Play Acoustic Review

The Play Acoustic is a great sounding, compact and high quality vocal harmoniser and guitar effects pedal that gives you great value for money, including both a looper, an effect to give your guitar a richer sound and a built-in DI.

I've been using the Zoom G3X for acoustic guitar for a while. It's been great and is still great but I often play on my own in worship and at events, so in order to boost the overall sound I thought it would be interesting to get a harmoniser pedal as an experiment. I also play at places where they don't have a PA person or effects such as reverb on the channels, meaning that the ability to have your own reverb and other options is useful. (I also play where I do PA and worship so that can get interesting!)

Play Acoustic

Seeing that the TC Electronics Harmoniser pedal alone costs around £175 or more and that the harmoniser from TC Helicon (the sister company) was around £200, I thought I'd pay a bit more and try the Play Acoustic which offers vocal and acoustic guitar effects and options!

The Play Acoustic in the words of TC Helicon... 

  • - Professional vocal effects and tone
  • - Natural sounding vocal harmonies guided by your guitar
  • - Guitar FX styles from TC Electronic®
  • - BodyRez™ Filtering and Onboard EQ and DI for impeccable acoustic guitar tone
  • - Version 1.2 Firmware offers a TC guitar delay plus per preset Guitar FX storage

How does all this promotional prose stack up in the real world?

Well first of all, here's how it works. You plug your mic (via XLR) and your guitar (via jack) into the Play Acoustic. It then has an output for each channel to your desk via XLR with the guitar output effectively acting as a DI.

Back of the Play Acoustic

The Play Acoustic picks up the key of the song via the guitar input, meaning that before you use the vocal harmonies, you'll need to at least strum a bit on the root chord - unless you pre set the key of the song within the Play Acoustic guitar FX menu beforehand.

With the latest firmware installed (via USB), both the guitar and the vocal effects can have various presets applied by scrolling through - or you can manually edit most of the settings within the 'Vocal FX' and the 'Guitar FX' menus. You can also create your own presets.

You can also assign controls via an external foot switch (any appropriate one is fine - I bought the Digitech FSX3). By default this controls things like setting the key, scrolling, delay on and off and guitar 'boost' mode. You can change what the pedal is assigned to within the Setup menu options.

The guitar presets are around reverb, delay and 'mod' effects like chorus or flange. Again, there are varying types of reverbs included and you can set the amounts, which is highly useful.

The guitar also has a 'BodyRez' option which gives the guitar a 'fuller body' sound. Again, you can turn this on and off and set the level and type, so if you don't like it or prefer a true bypass output, this is also possible.

There is also a Looper (recently had its time limit extended so don't go by early reviews saying the loop time is too short). This is accessed by pressing the 'up' and 'down' foot switches at the front of the Play Acoustic. You can use the external foot switch to control the looper (at least you can with TC Helicon's Switch-3 pedal so I'm sure it's the same for any external foot switch). You can loop guitar, vocals or both depending on how you setup the looper. It's a fairly basic one so it's not going to allow you to bring parts in and out like a dedicated looper, but it's a great option and one I use to strum basic chord progressions and then play over during 'ministry' times.

The vocal effects presets are wide, varied and are a slightly motley mix from 'high' harmonies to 'low and high' harmonies, to radio sounding presets and others that you'll only use if you're messing around. In fact, I'd say that the majority of the presets are very unlikely to be used. You aren't able to change the pitch of the harmonies which is a minor irritation but have to stick with the various presets. For example if you normally harmonise above on the 3rd, you can't specifically change the Play Acoustic to harmonise above on the 5th etc. But you can at least find workarounds and use the presets to suit your needs.

One of the vocal FX presets - use the arrows to scroll through options and buttons to access submenus

The vocal FX come with various types and varied levels of delay, reverb and more. Each of these is useful to tweak your settings and to get the right types of sounds you like. I turned down the level of the overall harmonies on mine so the harmonies didn't overload the vocal mix generally.

The vocal harmonies have the reverb on all the time (again you can adjust the levels) so just be aware of this.

To use the vocal harmonies, you click on the front left foot switch labelled 'Hit'. Click again to switch off the harmony selected. If you hold your foot on the 'hit' foot switch it will bypass all the effects and give you a straight flat signal. This is useful during the times you want to talk!

Hit me baby one more time...

Yes, yes but what does it sound like?

Play Acoustic with the BeatBuddy. Space at front for iRig Blueboard to trigger pads from OnSong

In short the Play Acoustic is brilliant. The BodyRez bit on the acoustic can really lift your guitar. I've got a built-in tube amp on my Takamine, but it even gives that sound a real boost. It really does work in giving the acoustic a fuller and richer tone.

The vocal FX are also pretty good but I would use them very sparingly and minimally. I only use the higher harmonies generally and have turned down the harmony level - but it is useful and gives you another voice (albeit your own at a higher pitch!) Now you can set it to an autotune type 'Cher' sound but it's optional and otherwise doesn't sound too fake.

However (and this is a big one), it only tracks what you sing so if you're out of tune, your harmonies are out of tune. It really has helped me 'up my game' in terms of singing in tune!

Overall, I use the Play Acoustic and may start to phase out using the Zoom G3X. However that does have a volume pedal (sometimes sporadically working) but that would be a useful addition to a mini pedal board. The argument (conversely) is that without a volume pedal, you won't forget to turn your guitar up (as I have done with the Z3X!)

Using this with BeatBuddy (and programming in MIDI beats with bass and/or synths/piano) plus triggering Pads from OnSong via the iRig Blueboard, you've got some serious thinking, foot tapping and band sounding potential at your finger and foot tips...

A good solid investment if you're looking to get a harmoniser and guitar effects unit. Boss do the VE-8 which is their competitor in this market and this also has many good reviews. Go online, go to Youtube and ignore the snide comments you often see and decide which one works for you. Better still, thank the guys doing Youtube reviews for their time and efforts!