Phrasing Song Lyrics

I’m going to talk about one of my pet peeves when I visit churches; poor phrasing of song lyrics on the screen. What do I mean by poor phrasing? I consider phrasing the way the lyrics are formatted on the screen. I’m not talking about font selection, color, backgrounds or animations and transitions (those will probably all be other posts someday). I want to talk about how the lines of lyrics are presented. 

I ran into this a while back when visiting a church. The phrasing of the lyrics was pretty random—in fact, I’d guess they simply copied the lyrics and used the “Import Copied Text” feature of ProPresenter and hit save. While that will get lyrics on the screen, it doesn’t make the song easy to sing. 

Songs have Phrases

Almost all songs, and certainly most worship songs are written in phrases. 

Give me faith

To trust what you say

That you’re good

And your love is great

When you see that on the screen, you know how to sing it. However, if the phrasing is messed up, it makes it really hard to sing—especially if it’s a new-to-you song. Think about it; when you have a new song in worship, the congregation is not only trying to figure out the melody, but the phrasing. You can make it easier to figure out the phrasing by putting the words on screen the way they are written to be sung. Let me give you an example.

Bad Phrasing

Here is the song Give Me Faith from Elevation Worship. Click through the slides below and see if you can figure out how the song is supposed to be sung. I created these using the aforementioned method; I copied the lyric sheet and used Import Copied Text. However the lines broke based on available space is how the slides ended up. No other formatting was done. Click on the image to advance the slides. 

See how hard that is? Unless you really know the song, you have no idea where the pauses and breaths are. Without any visual indication, you’re left mumbling the lyrics hoping not to make too loud a mistake. In contrast, look at this.

Good Phrasing

Same song, same lyrics, but I spent about 1 minute tweaking the line breaks. Look at how much easier it is to know where to pause and breathe. Click on the image to advance.

Hopefully it’s pretty obvious how much better this is from an audience standpoint. I only added two slides, but it's a lot easier to track with what's going on. 

If you're not familiar with the song, here is a version from Elevation with lyrics. Note that for the most part, the lyrics are laid out the same way I did them, but not exactly. This just goes to show there is some leeway in how you do it. I don't disagree with how they did it, it's just a bit different than how I did. I didn't look at theirs before I did mine. 

Quick Tips

ProPresenter makes it really easy to format text this way. By opening up the Editor, you can simply place line breaks in the lines of lyrics where they fall in the song. Sometimes, when you start breaking up lyrics, you end up with more lines than are optimal. To quickly move text to a new slide, place your insertion bar where you want to create a new slide and press Option-Return. That will take all text to the right of the insertion bar and put it onto a new slide. Slick—thanks, guys! 

I generally try to keep my slides to 4 lines or less. More than that and it’s easy to get lost. That’s not a hard rule, however. If the verse ends up as 5, I usually won’t split it into a 2 and a 3. Too many slide changes can be as hard to sing as bad phrasing. On the other hand, if we hit 6 lines, I’ll usually break it up into a 3 and 3, or a 2 and 4. This is not a random choice, however; it’s based on the phrasing of the song. Sometimes phrases end up being two lines long, so don’t break a phrase in the middle and put the second half on another slide. 

Put your line and slide changes in natural breath and pause points in the song and everyone will have an easier time. It’s better for the congregation and for the operator. And it takes just a few minutes, thanks to some great software.


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Better than Starting From Last Week--Baseline Show Files

Last time, I told you about my problems with starting this week off with the mixer settings from last week. Aside encouraging lazy mixing, it leads to setting creep and inconsistent sound. As you might expect, I think there is a better way. Now, this process can really only happen with digital consoles. I suppose you could do it with an analog console, but it’s going to be tedious. If you have an analog desk, wait until you upgrade to digital before doing this.

What is the Baseline?

Depending on your console, the amount of time you have and how detailed, the baseline can be anything from a simple starting point to a comprehensive place to start that’s actually good enough to mix on if you had to. But I think there are a few common elements that should exist in any kind of baseline. They are (not necessarily in any order):

  • All patching and routing
  • Output processing
  • Starting gain settings
  • Starting EQ settings
  • Channel names
  • VCA assignments

Now, if you’re going all out, you could also consider the following:

  • Starting compressor & gate settings
  • Starting effects settings
  • Group routing
  • Parallel compression patching
  • Standard snapshots

    As you work your way through that list, you can get it pretty dialed. How you do it depends on your console. 

The Scene Method

Many consoles offer scenes to work with. Yamaha is probably the best known example. While you can load an entire show in every week, I suspect the way most people are going to use those consoles is to have a starting scene. At the beginning of the weekend, you recall that scene, then build everything based on it. As you create—or overwrite—new scenes for this weekend, they are all based on the initial scene with changes that you’ve made. 

This is not a bad way to go. It is simple to understand and easy for volunteers to implement. The one thing you’re going to have to be very aware of is the recall scope and recall safe. You want to be sure you are recalling the things you want to recall, and setting the things you don’t to safe. For the baseline scene to be truly effective, you should probably recall just about everything. Subsequent scenes may want to have a less recall. This is tricky, however.

The recall settings carry forward from scene to scene—so if your starting scene is all recall, the next scenes will be, too. The way around that is to create a baseline with all recall, recall it at the beginning of a weekend, then scroll down to a scene with more limited recall settings and immediately save over it. That puts the console into the state you want for the weekend, and the new scenes will have the limited recall of the second scene. Like I said, it’s a bit tricky, and it’s why I prefer another tack.

The Show File Method

The other way to go is to load a complete show file. Some consoles, Avid & Digico for example, are really geared for simply loading an entire show file on them. In the show file is every parameter of the console and every setting, all the way down to most user set up functions. It’s a great way to go as it completely resets the console every week. No matter what anyone did last week, the console is always back to the correct starting point each week. 

This was my approach at Coast Hills. Each weekend, we loaded the latest baseline version (more on that in a moment) and immediately saved a new, weekend show. 

This method has several advantages. First, it’s a complete reset of the console. So that’s good. Second, you can re-load an earlier weekend to see how you did something, for virtual soundcheck training or practice, or just to copy a cool effect. Third, it’s easy to make subtle changes to the baseline and version it like software. If you find a better setting for a vocal, or a musician buys a new guitar, you can load those settings into a new version of the baseline and start using that. If things start to go awry, you can go back to an earlier version. 

I’ve written about my method for baseline show files before, so if you really want to geek out, check it out here and here. Hopefully this gives you some ideas on this and will improve your process week to week.

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Starting From Last Week

Image courtesy of Mike

Image courtesy of Mike

A while back, I had an opportunity to mix at a church I had not mixed before. As per my custom, I asked a ton of questions and was prepared to do a lot of work to make sure everything was set up and ready. What I found when I got there however, was that they were planning on just picking up from last week’s settings. What I found odd about this was that they had a digital console. In my opinion, there is a better way. But first, here’s what I don’t like about starting from last week:

Lazy Mixing

Some might argue that once the mixer is set up and sounding good that we should leave it alone. This case gets made a lot in churches with less experienced sound guys. While I appreciate this concept, I think there is a better way to do it. First, training needs to happen so that those running the board actually know what they’re doing. Second, and we’ll get to this next time, I would suggest a baseline show file is better than simply “leaving it alone.” 

I’ve seen pictures of mixers with big “DON’T TOUCH KNOBS” signs all over them. Again, I understand the premise, I just think it’s wrong. If you don’t have people who know what they are dong behind the board, train them so they do. The reality is, there is no one perfect EQ that will work all the time. You can get close, but most of the time, in order to really get things sounding good, you’re going to need to tweak. 

Setting Creep

One of the things I see over and over as I go into churches to help out is settings start to creep. And by that I mean that at one point an extra 2 dB of 4kHz was needed, but after starting with last week for a few months, it ends up as 10 dB. Monitor mixes that were once dialed in very well end up with all channels sending +12, with nowhere to go.

One church hired me to help with their system and when I got there every single EQ knob was turned fully counter-clockwise. There’s not much you can do with that—except flatten it all and start over again. When you start with last week, you’re starting with whatever worked then and making changes for this week. Over time, those changes become cumulative and it’s rarely good. 

Inconsistent Sound

Of course, one of the natural consequences of setting creep is inconsistent sound. As the settings start to creep over time, the sound will change. The problem is, no one knows what the starting settings should be anymore, so it’s hard to get back. All those little changes become big changes over time and things start sounding bad. 

And if anyone decides to take it back, there is going to be a big swing the week it all goes back to where it should go. I’m convinced that one of the things that triggers those awkward conversations about the sound is inconsistency. Why did it sound so different this week? It seemed louder. It seemed softer. I couldn’t hear the vocals. 

If that sounds familiar, maybe you need to consider how you’re running your console. Again, some might argue for the “set it and don’t touch it” approach. I think there is a better way. And next time, we’ll talk about baseline show files


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