If you are part of the growing community of worship leaders, there is a good chance that you are at least mildly acquainted with loops. Loops have, to varying degrees, become an important tool to many modern worship leaders. From simple drum loops to full-song sequences, artists such as Steve Fee, Chris Tomlin and the David Crowder Band have integrated loops into their songs.
From the standpoint of a worship band, loops can be very useful as they can be used to compensate for a lack of musicians (a very real and prominent issue in many churches). This can mean recording in a real instrument (such as a lead guitar part) or sequencing out an instrument using any one of a number of virtual instruments (such as those found in Reason or Kontakt). Using these tools will also allow for the use of non-traditional instruments such as vintage synths, a glockenspiel or various types of percussive instruments.
Further, the use of loops allows a worship band to more accurately perform another artist’s song – some songs, like Steve Fee’s “We Shine” would likely sound lackluster without a loop behind it.
Many worship leaders avoid the use of loops for a number of reasons, one being the perception that running loops requires sophisticated know-how and equipment. The reality is, running loops is relatively simple and specialized equipment is not necessarily required. If need be, loops can easily be played from an iPod, for instance. While many loops must be set to a click track to be used (therefore requiring in-ear monitoring and a metronome), most percussive loops do not require a click track to be used, and can be monitored using a stage monitor.
Writing loops, however, requires a greater investment of both time and money. The worship music community has latched onto two particular programs to serve their loop writing needs: Ableton Live and Propellerheads’ Reason. Both are capable of loop-creation, but have their own strengths and weaknesses.
Ableton Live, as the name suggests, shines through in the live situation – it is stable and efficient in its ability to trigger loops, trigger the metronome and running softsynths live. Ableton Live 7 has a strong set of instruments and effects, giving the user a relatively large set of tools to write and perform with.
Reason, on the other hand, is more finely-tuned as a writing and sequencing environment. Not only does it have a large selection of instruments, but its advanced instrument and effect routing allows for the creation of very unique sounds. Reason, in contrast to Ableton Live, provides very few provisions to those wanting to run loops and sequences in a live situation.
As an emerging trend, we are beginning to see loops and sequences finding their way into modern worship. Not only are loops able to enhance the sound of most worship bands, but they are able to give smaller, struggling worship bands the kind of relief and assistance they are looking for.