Three Common Lyric Slide Mistakes

While I may be an audio guy at heart, I got my start in this business doing large-scale speaker support presentations for very large companies like Stouffer Foods and Nestlé USA. Those years of having to get text formatted correctly on screen—which back then meant getting it right on the 35mm slide—formed the basis for how I treat all lyric support to this day. 

Perhaps because so few people are actually educated on this topic (yes, educated; it’s different from being “trained”), I see a lot of mistakes when it comes to laying out lyric slides. Today, I’m going to hit the top three I see all the time. Each is very simple to fix and requires almost no extra time to do correctly. 

Drifting Baselines

 Notice the text on the right is just a little higher?

Notice the text on the right is just a little higher?

This one really drives me nuts. The baseline is the line at the bottom of a line of text. The base of the line. Get it? I see a few different problems here. The first one is very common, and it’s a mistake that happens when you import a block of copied text. Let’s say you have two four-line slides for the verse. The first is fine, but after the last line of the second slide, there is an extra return. ProPresenter sees that return and raises the text by one line. Well, not technically one line in this case, because the text is centered vertically in the block, so it's like a half-line. Which is actually worse. This will cause the second slide of text to be higher than the first. If you were cutting between slides, it might not be as noticeable, but most people dissolve, and you’ll clearly see the text step up. The fix is easy; remove the extra return and the text returns to normal. 

 Here's what you see during the dissolve. Note the text stepping up. 

Here's what you see during the dissolve. Note the text stepping up. 

The other issue I see is when people start moving the text blocks around in the text editor. Don’t do this; stick with the templates unless you’re going for a specific moving line of text effect. After you build a song for the first time, it doesn’t hurt to select all the slides and apply the template to them to make sure everything is where it’s supposed to be. 

Splitting Phrases

This also really drives me nuts. Most worship songs are written in singable phrases. There is a bit of a trend in some newer music to be more free-form, but we’ll ignore those for now. Take the song, None But Jesus. The verse of this song is made up of three phrases. However, the phrases are not of equal length. But this is how it is to be sung. See the example below:

However, sometimes an edict gets sent down from on high that all slides shall have four lines on them unless it’s the end of a section. And that can lead to a very unfortunate formatting issue as we see below. 

This is just hard to sing that way. And I can almost guarantee your lyrics operator will have a tough time trying to figure out when to advance. Listen to the song while you build the lyrics, figure out where the natural phrasing breaks are and break the slides there. Your congregation and your song words operator will thank you. 

Dumb Quotes

I’m probably showing my age here now, I remember when we actually cared about typography and making words look good. I’ve asked Renewed Vision for an automatic smart quotes correction option, but I got blank stares when I did. Maybe it’s not a big deal to most, but as my friend Andrew Stone says, it’s the details that take us from good to great. 

What’s a smart quote and what’s a dumb quote? Look at the example below.

As you can see, smart quotes actually open and close the quotation. The quotes will look different depending on the typeface selected, but you can see how much better they look than the dumb quotes. Reading a slide with dumb quotes is like singing a song with a 1 second burst of square wave thrown in every so often. It’s jarring and ugly. 

So how do you get smart quotes? Well, you either take advantage of the programming library Apple has thoughtfully included and simply turn them on, or in the case of applications that don’t have that, you can use the following key sequences for both single and double quotes. Don’t forget to use them for apostrophes, too. 

This issue for me is a bigger deal at Christmas when more people use older typefaces to set the mood. Dumb quotes are really jarring in a lovely block of text set in Baskerville Old Style. 

So there you go. Three of my most commonly seen lyric slide mistakes. To be fair, these happen in Easy Worship, Media Show, Proclaim or PowerPoint. Though if you use Keynote, you can turn on smart quotes. Boom. Let’s get another 5-10% better this Christmas season, OK?

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Training ProPresenter Ops

 Image courtesy of  Renewed Vision.

Image courtesy of Renewed Vision.

A few weeks back, I mentioned the ProPresenter operators I had while I was TD at Coast Hills. We had a great team and as much as I visited other churches, would put them up against lyric operators anywhere. It was a rare occasion that they got lost or behind on lyrics and did a great job staying ahead of the song—we’re leading worship, remember, not trailing it. Someone asked how we got the team to that point. It wasn’t really that hard; I just fired all the bad people.

Seriously, our process was pretty simple. When I arrived there, we had a part-time graphics person. She was running Keynote on two machines (one for confidence and one for main screen) and was quite good at it. She left for a new gig a few months after I got there and we switched to ProPresenter. The woman I hired was also very good at it and she was very receptive to training volunteers. So that’s what we did. She trained and I encouraged. It was pretty much that simple.

Times Change

Over time, we had to cut budgets and my part-time graphics position was eliminated. So that left me to continue to build that team. Part of the reason for the power of that team was that we carefully selected people to do it. Not everyone can run lyrics. Read that again. I know it looks simple—just press the space bar. In reality, it’s one of the hardest jobs in the tech booth. The operator has to stay focused 100% of the time. That is, unless they know the songs cold. So, we carefully chose people that knew music. We always posted the songs to Planning Center every weekend and I strongly encouraged the team to listen to the songs and get to know them before showing up for rehearsal.

Know The Music

We spent way more time teaching the team how to cue slides in time with the music than we did on how to operate ProPresenter. My ATD and I did most of the work to get the songs built each week, so for the most part, that was done. The team knew how to make changes, but really I wanted them focused on getting the words up on screen at the right time.

With new team members, they would sit and watch an experienced operator for a few weekends before getting hands on. Then, they would sit with experienced members and cue slides during rehearsal. It was during this phase that we could tell if they were going to make it or not. Some people have an innate ability to pick up on this, others do not. When new volunteers simply couldn’t figure out when to hit next, we moved them into another position on the team. 

Sometimes, they would hesitate; they would follow the words instead of lead. If that was happening, I would wander over and sit with them for a while to make sure they understood they were the worship leaders. The lyrics have to be up on screen before people sing them. I made sure they knew this. 

It’s Just Time

Really, the secret to success was how much time we spent with them. I payed really close attention to how they were doing as they came up to speed, and when I felt they were falling behind or not paying attention, I talked with them. We held the bar high and if they started to slip, I talked with them. I was never harsh or demeaning, but always made sure they understood this was a big deal and I needed them to do a great job. Pretty much all of them got it and rose to the occasion.

There were some that did not rise up; and we moved them on to either other positions on the team or another ministry altogether. This is something that I feel some TDs struggle with. They keep have someone on the team who clearly isn’t doing a good job, but won’t remove them because they need the position covered. However, I think sometimes God will withhold providing us a new, better person because we’re afraid to remove someone who shouldn’t be there. 

That’s pretty much it. There is no secret sauce, no written curriculum, no magic incantation. We spent time with our team members and made sure they understood what we needed them to do. If they didn’t or couldn’t keep up, we moved them on. It’s simple, but perhaps not easy

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ProPresenter--Color Coding Slides

Last time I told you how I like to break up lyrics in slides for easy reading. Today we’ll tackle another ProPresenter operational topic; color codes. I’ve seen this happen so many times it has become tragic. The worship leader, sensing the congregation is ready to repeat the bridge one more time loops back. The ProPresenter operator however, was expecting the final chorus. Those lyrics are triggered and sit there while the ProPresenter op frantically ties to find the bridge slides. Sometimes it takes so long, the WL has gone back to the chorus before the bridge slides ever make it to the screen. That is not a great way to stay non-distracting. 

Now, I understand the conundrum. As an operator, you’re staring at a screen full of grey tiles with itty-bitty words on them. You’re reading and trying to find the right slide, but you just can’t find it. What are you supposed to do? Take advantage of a feature that has been around for a long time; slide labels and colors. 

I wrote about this 6 years ago, but I still see it happen so often I figured I better touch on this topic again. The good folks at Renewed Vision have made it easier than ever to build custom label lists that have colors associated with them, so it takes just a minute to label and color code your whole song. Here’s how it works. 

Colors for Easy Identification

As you can see in the above screen shot, it’s pretty easy to tell right off the bat where the different sections of a song are. I settled on a  standard color scheme many years ago and it’s served me well ever since. You can probably figure it out by looking at the image. 

Blue—Verse

Purple—Chorus

Pink—Pre-Chorus

Orange—Bridge

Red—Tag

Yellow—Blank

White—Title

You can use whatever color scheme you want as long as it makes sense to you and is consistent. After a few weeks behind the computer, the operators get to know the color code instinctively. Once they have it down, it takes mere seconds to locate the right slide when there is an off-script change. There were times when I would be mixing and would see our WL motion to the band he was going to repeat something unexpectedly. Before I could even motion to the ProPresenter op, they would already have the slide on the screen. That’s how it should work.

Name Your Slides

You can also apply labels to slides. In addition to the colors, I always made sure to label them Verse 1, Verse 2, Chorus, Bridge, etc. It’s just one more item for the brain to latch onto when looking for a slide in a hurry. If a verse is broken up into multiple slides, it would be labeled Verse 1-1, Verse 1-2. We experimented with Verse 1-A, Verse 1-B for a while, but I think I like the numbers better. 

Honestly, getting to that level was more important in Ver. 4 than in Ver. 5 & 6. Version 5 brought arrangements which make it easy to clump all the slides for Verse 1 into a token. When you’re building an arrangement, the tokens keep the verse slides together and in the right order. 

I know this may seem like a little thing, and it might seem tedious at first to start labeling and coding your songs. However, you only need to do it once, and after that, you are ahead of the curve. I used to say I would put my ProPresenter ops up there against any other church anywhere and they would be some of the best. Part of that was the fact that we trained hard and they really cared. But making it easier for them to succeed is the TD’s job, and it’s one I gladly take on.

Today's post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

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.

Roland