The problem faced by many involved in music and worship in churches is how to make sure everyone is singing off of the same page, whilst enabling the flexibility of a dynamic worship set rather than being restricted to a fixed song list. Oakwood Church, in Taunton, Somerset, UK is using some unique technology solve this common problem.
The head of worship in Oakwood Church is an experienced software designer/developer and has used his many years of experience in both software and worship to create a unique product which benefits the whole church.
Most worship sessions will start with preparation. This used to involve flicking through folders or books of songs, writing lists and finally finding all the song sheets for the band – a very time consuming process. With the Song Leader module this becomes a very easy task using a simple layout which adapts well to both windowed and fullscreen applications.
There are a number of actions buttons across the top and a song list to the left. Songs can be quickly added by selecting from the database or from a file. Songs can then be quickly re-ordered by dragging or via the keyboard, making ordering of the worship set an effortless task. There are on-screen buttons and keyboard shortcuts for transposing and capo settings as well as other functions. Finally the worship set is saved to a file.
It is only when leading worship or a practice session that you begin to see the real power of the system at work. At Oakwood Church most of the musicians have their own laptop or computer, though the singers and drummer use a slave screens fed from the keyboard player’s computer. All the computers are linked together using the church’s in-house network, mostly via wireless connections. The worship leader runs the SongLeader module whereas the rest of the band run either SongFollower or SongSlave modules depending on their requirements.
As soon as the worship leader loads his or her worship set it is immediately distributed to the entire team. Thus the entire team are all using the same words and the same chords, without exception. If the worship leader transposes the song to a new key the rest of the team instantly follows. If they insert a new song, re-order the list, delete or even edit a song the changes replicate throughout the team. This allows the worship to be truly dynamic in a way not possible before. Songs can (and are) inserted as the as the worship leader feels led even during the service. This means that the worship leader can be confident that the team have all the music to hand as soon as he/she selects the song and the band members do not have to go scrabbling through music folders to find the song the leader has just started playing.
One of the powerful features of the software is its ease of transposing the key of a song. Many modern worship songs are often pitched quite high or are both low and high, which may suit the recording artist but make it harder for the average congregation to cope with. The easy transposing facility allows a song to be quickly and easily transposed to suit the band and the congregation during preparation or practice. Likewise the capo and local transpose facilities allows the guitarist and keyboard player to play in a key which suits them using the technology available to them such as the transpose button on a keyboard.
One of the problems faced when preparing songs for a band using paper or fixed formats like PDF files or word documents is that every band member wants something different. The keyboard and bass player want the chords in the correct key, the guitarists may or may not want to adjust for capo. The singers don’t want to see the chords, they just want the words. Before we used the SwiftTec software the worship leader would have to print different sheets according to the needs of each band member – a time consuming process and a lot of printing paper and ink.
The Song Manager software uses the concept of having a single song file which contains all the information needed (words, chords, keys, tempo, etc) which is shared across for the entire band and uses multiple display profiles to determine how to display the song to the individual band member. Potentially each band member could have their own personal profile, though in practice at Oakwood we use three common ones.
There is a profile editor which comes as standard with the software. It allows profiles to be created and edited. Attributes that can be controlled include:
- Fonts and colours
- Chord display
- Auto transpose and capo settings
- Key and chord names
Any church that allows a dynamic (not pre-determined) worship set faces the problem of how to keep the congregation in step with the musicians. Before the introduction of the SwiftTec song presenter software at Oakwood Church operating the word projection software was always stressful for the operator because they never knew for certain what song was going to be sung next, assuming of course that it was even in the pre-prepared list. This factor alone put potential volunteers off the role as they didn’t want the stress of not being able to show the correct words.
The SwiftTec song presenter software has basically solved a number of problems for the church. Firstly the fact that the presenter software automatically loads the song list from the leader means the preparation time is cut to almost nothing. Secondly the fact the software shows what song the worship leader has currently got selected means that the laptop operator can quickly select the song without worry about having to find the song from the database or work out which song in the current set the leader has just selected.
One of the benefits of this system is that now potential projection volunteers are less likely to be put off by the pressure of finding the right song, so volunteers are easier to come by. Secondly it facilitates our style of worship in that it allows the worship leader to be very dynamic in selecting new songs during the live worship set having the confidence that the congregation will not be singing without words.
Use in Housegroups and Small Groups
One bonus that the software brings to the church is that the software can also be used in a small group setting such as a cell group, house group or small meeting. Using a single computer or laptop with a second output directed to a large TV or portable projector, a single musician can use a combination of the song leader and song slave software to show songs words to a small group whilst still having the chords or the operating screeen. As the software is sold as a site licence to a church this function is included in the cost of the licence.
Overall the Song Management system has greatly benefitted both the worship band and the congregation by using technology to aid our worship in preparation, practice, performance and projection. All the team members love to use the software and none of us want to go back to paper!
The software does not require high-performance hardware so this makes the software very cost-effective. In fact most of the computers used by Oakwood Church are older computers that have been recycled just to run the song software.