The concept of “online church” and livestreaming worship and sermons used to be reserved for the hip, youthful, tech-savvy (and usually larger) churches… but now it’s what everybody’s trying to figure out FAST!
Why? There’s a virus. We’re all at home (at least right now at the time of writing this!). We can’t gather for church like we usually do.
But if you think that “online church” is just a short-term thing… if you’re just hoping to survive through these next (hopefully) few weeks before things “go back to normal”… think again.
Online church is the way of the future. It’s the new normal.
I don’t for a second mean that it should or will replace our gathering together for services.
What I mean is that we should stop treating “online church” (livestreaming services, more social media presence, connecting with our congregations online throughout the week, etc.) as a band-aid. It can and should become an important and necessary part of the future of our churches—big or small.
Bottom line: online equals HUGE impact. People are on the internet, so church should be on the internet.
Both the worship and the message can and should become easily accessible for people to “happen across it”—whether they’re seeking God or looking for a new church—or for members of your congregation who aren’t able to make it to the weekend service.
Which leads me to the main thing that this blog is about.
You may have noticed that… singing tends to sound better in a live room than livestreamed.
These are some real comments from my Worship Vocalist subscribers this week who listened back to their worship service livestreamed…
“I wanted to cry. I thought I sounded like a cat that had its tail stepped on.”
“I can only listen to about 45 seconds before I can’t handle it and I turn it off. It sounds so pitchy.”
“My first thought was—if I really sound like that, I should not be singing. I’m so discouraged.”
Here’s the reality: listening to vocals is way more forgiving when you’re in the room live, hearing it in real-time. Not just a little. Way. More. Forgiving. Usually there’s a bit of reverb and EQ on the mics… PLUS, the natural acoustics of the room allow the sound to reflect and resonate within the space, which is what our ears are used to hearing all the time—the natural acoustics of whatever “space” we’re in at that moment.
Yes, you can still hear some of the pitchy notes in a live setting. Some of the tonal inconsistencies. But when you’re watching a video, multiply those flaws by a hundred.
So… if online church (or in other words, “video” church) is the way of the future… and thus we know that many people—hundreds, maybe thousands every week—won’t be in the room… then suffice it to say… we need to do something about that!
Bottom line—off-pitch, unpleasant-sounding vocals are a distraction to the worship experience.
When I’m worshipping at home with the livestream—if I’m being honest—I don’t want to cringe as I listen to the singers. If I’m leading worship and others are watching from home, I don’t want them to have to cringe at my off-pitch notes.
As I scroll through my Facebook feed on a Sunday morning, I want to be able to tune into lots of different worship services… and be PROUD of what I see and hear going on in churches all over the world… not EMBARRASSED by the lack of skill so apparent in the worship world as a whole.
Too harsh? Please hear my heart—I love worship vocalists. I love worship teams. And I’ve got a lot of grace for beginners… grace for people who are learning and growing and who sing a lot of imperfect notes (believe me, I’ve been there and I’m definitely still on the journey!).
I just want us as worship team vocalists to stop justifying our collective laziness and lack of skill development by saying things like… “the Lord looks at the heart”… or thinking that it doesn’t matter because it’s just church—”my congregation loves me the way I am (and the way I sound!)”.
It’s not just church. It’s CHURCH. We’re meant to be the light of the world.
And yes, the Lord may look at the heart, but guess what… man looks at the outward appearance. Man (aka your congregation sitting in the chairs + your online “audience”) hears the outward sound that comes out of your mouth. We’re leading worship, so skill matters if we want to lead people effectively.
Off-pitch notes are distracting.
When somebody’s singing a song that’s just out of their range, it’s distracting.
A voice cracking is distracting.
It’s the same for musicians. When they play the wrong chords. When the timing is off. It’s distracting.
I’m not saying that these things can never happen… perfection is totally unrealistic. But what we don’t want is these things happening on multiple songs in a worship set, week after week. It just doesn’t need to happen. When we train the voice in the right ways, it won’t be off pitch. It won’t crack. It will be there for you when and how you need it.
So… what do we need in order to minimize distraction in our worship services?
Better tone. We need a smoother, more consistent, seamless vocal sound—less wobble, less flipping/cracking, less discrepancy between the low and high notes in our range.
But more importantly, our pitch needs to improve. Big time.
It’s much easier to listen to an average or even sub-par tone coming from a singer who’s singing on pitch… than to listen to a singer with a beautiful, even “vibey” tone who has pitch issues. Especially when you’ve got multiple singers on a worship team… if even one singer is struggling with pitch, the harmonies won’t actually be harmony… they’ll create dissonance. And dissonance is distracting. Especially on video.
Here are a few ways to improve your pitch so that you’ll sound better on the livestream…
1. Choose the right key for your voice.
This is more important than ever. Sing in your sweet spot. This isn’t the time to believe the lie that “higher = better”. The best key for your voice is not the original key… it’s the key where you feel most comfortable and sound the best. If you’re straining to hit the high notes or low notes in the song, it’s not the right key for you.
So if the original key sits too low for you, raise it. If the original key sits too high, lower it. Do what’s best for your voice—not someone else’s voice! (The people listening on the livestream thank you in advance.)
2. Make sure you can hear yourself properly in the mix.
Take the time to get your mix right. Whether in-ears or stage monitors—you’ve got to be able to hear yourself and the lead vocalist well enough to be able to stay on pitch.
3. Sing in a mix.
For too many vocalists, the only way they can get to the high notes in worship songs—without flipping to a weak head voice—is to push up their chest voice. The problem is… not only does that cause fatigue and vocal damage over time—but on top of that, chest voice sounds dull and pitchy (flat) in the higher range. If you only sing in chest voice, your voice will tend to always be slightly flat on those higher notes. Which may sound passable live in the room, but not on the livestream.
For other vocalists—especially if they’ve been classically trained—the high notes aren’t an issue… but the low and mid-range notes sound weak and pitchy (sharp) because the singer is pulling down head voice too low. Head voice is great in the higher range, but super inefficient in the lower range—which again, may sound passable in the room, but not on the livestream.
It’s so important to learn to sing in a blended mix of chest, head and pharyngeal resonance—it’ll give you the fullness of the sound of your chest voice, but without the strain and pitchiness of your chest voice in the high range. Your low, mid and high-range notes will sound powerful and seamless! The mix is a game changer, and is absolutely essential if you want to achieve a contemporary sound—so if you haven’t gone through my “Discover Your Voice” lessons yet, do it—I teach you how to develop a healthy, powerful mix (again, the people listening on the livestream thank you in advance)!
4. Drop your jaw and and narrow your mouth when you sing higher.
Most singers, when they go higher, tend to lift their chin (reeeeeeeach!) and go super small and wide with their mouth shape. This causes tension, pitchy notes, and cuts off so much of your potential power and volume.
Instead, keep your chin down, drop your jaw, and aim for a narrow (vertical) mouth shape, not wide (horizontal). It creates so much more efficiency for your voice, which for you means freedom, power and way better pitch! Check out this quick video tip where I demonstrate this in a song!
5. Warm up your voice.
Singing your worship set on cold vocal cords is a recipe for pitch disaster and a tired voice.
Singing a song is not warming up. Drinking herbal tea is not warming up. You’ve got to use vocal exercises specifically designed to ease the voice into your full power, resonance and range. If you don’t already have a warmup routine, use this one!
6. Tune the vocals.
As we’ve established already—when you’re listening to vocals on video, pitch is of the utmost importance. And so, you may not have considered using autotune before now, but… I would submit that maybe now’s the time!
(Sidenote: by “autotune” I’m just generally referring to pitch correction—Autotune and Waves are the two most common tools used by churches—so check them out! And don’t be overwhelmed at the thought of pitch correction… it’s not as expensive or complicated as you might think! Here’s a great tutorial video that will help give you—and your sound team—an idea of how to get started.)
Now before you get riled up… please just hear me out. This is a touchy subject in the worship world, I know. ?
There’s nothing wrong with—I repeat, there’s nothing wrong with—using a bit of pitch correction to help eliminate distracting pitchy notes, especially in a livestream context.
The bottom line is—tuning makes the vocals sound better. When it sounds better, it’s easier to listen to. When it’s easier to listen to, it’s easier to engage and worship with.
And that’s our goal, right? To create an environment where people can engage and worship easily, without distraction.
Do you put a filter on your Instagram pics? Sure… we all do. And sometimes there’s #nofilterneeded, of course. In a worship service, most of us already use things like compression and reverb to help make live vocals sound better (because singing “dry” into a mic sounds terrible)… guitarists use pedals to do all sorts of fancy things to the sound of their instrument—all of these things are tools that help support the worship environment.
Tuning is no different.
Singing off-pitch (even slightly) is WAY more noticeable on video than it is in a live context in the room, so by tuning the vocals, you’re allowing the people “tuning in” (pun intended ?) to engage more easily.
Pretty much every song you’ve ever listened to on an album has been tuned. Every “live” worship song you’ve watched by Hillsong, Bethel, Elevation, Red Rocks, Gateway, you name it… I dare say we can assume that every one of those songs has been pitch corrected (both on the spot as they’re singing and after the fact)—even though it’s made to seem “live and untouched”. And guess what—there’s absolutely NOTHING wrong with that! It’s the standard!
It’s not cheating to use pitch correction. I repeat—it’s not cheating.
Because here’s the reality about autotune. It’s a tool, not a magic bullet. Autotune makes a good singer sound better, and makes a bad singer sound worse.
Pitch correction is only effective if you’re able to sing well on pitch already (it’ll lock each note into the centre of the pitch—which will help so much with the blend of multiple vocalists!)… but tuning the vocals will actually sound WORSE if you aren’t singing close enough to the centre of the pitch (at best, it’ll sound unnatural; at worst, it’ll tune to the wrong note completely).
So autotune should only ever be viewed as a way to refine your vocals… it should never be used as a crutch. We can’t rely on technology to make up for a lack of skill. Good sound HAS to start at the source—and that’s your voice. Your ability to sing with a pleasant tone and sing the notes on pitch. Consistently.
Autotune is not—and should never be—an excuse to not improve your vocals. Rather, it should be used (and is used regularly by worship teams and artists all over the world) by already-competent vocalists to help eliminate distractions in the worship environment.
You don’t have to use pitch correction. You may not have it in your church’s budget, or you may not (yet!) have a sound engineer with the vision or skill to implement it. That’s ok.
There’s a reason this was my final point. Because the previous points—choosing the right key, making sure you can hear yourself, learning to sing in a mix, paying attention to your mouth shape, warming up your voice—all these things are the MOST important things to focus on so that you can sing better and SOUND better on the livestream.
And guess what—when you can sound better on the livestream, you’ll sound AMAZING live in the room!
I’ll leave you with this… if livestreaming is a thing of the now (which it is)—and a thing of the future (most likely will be)—we HAVE to build and instill more of a culture of excellence and skill development on our worship teams.
If you’re a worship pastor, set the standard for vocals high. Not perfection—but high. Give people time and grace to get there. Invest in resources that will help get them there. But don’t apologize for having a vision for excellent, distraction-free worship that helps your congregation engage more easily.
If you’re not the leader, set the example anyway. Hone your craft. Pursue a better-sounding voice. Day by day, week by week, month by month—diligently exercise your voice… and it will inevitably start to show up as you sing in your worship services. More consistency. Better pitch. Better tone.
God is worthy… and He deserves the BEST, most excellent sound we can bring! He loves beauty… He’s incredibly detailed and creative in the things He creates—and if we’re made in His image, we should love beauty too… and do whatever we can to create beauty!
And—I think I can speak for your congregation, and anyone “tuning in” to your service online—that they love beauty too… and they deserve the best, most excellent sound we can bring!
I’m so glad we’re out of online church world and back to in person services, but I agree it’s a tool that should continue to be implemented, for those who can’t make it one week due to sickness, when someone from your congregation is away, etc.
I love the “tough love” attitude in this post and I’m a BIG proponent of excellence. I agree with everything you had to say here!
Glad you enjoyed it!
I love your point about auto-tuning being like what guitarists are doing with a pedal, I never thought of it that way… it would sound so dry to not put effects on the keyboard patches or electric guitars, and vocals are the same. Since we starting using auto-tune during Covid, it has tightened up the sound of our vocals quite a bit for online services. That plus continuing to develop our voices with your content has been a game changer for our vocal team!
So good. I’m definitely a fan of using a bit of tuning for vocals!!
Such a timely blog. My church has made our online services permanent as we have been able to reach out to people from outside Australia now! It’s amazing that even though Covid has turned the world upside down, God is still able to move and touch people… I’m not part of the online stream worship team but I know they struggle with all the things mentioned here so I am definitely sharing this with them!!
Yes for sure! It’s so powerful the way that people can be reached online!
Tuning really helped us take that next step up. We use it in house & on the stream. It’s not drastic, but definitely helps to tighten the vocals in the harmony parts. Like you said, not a substitute for singing well, but definitely a tool that helps to sharpen the sound. (It took some getting used to though, as it threw me off at first)
Nice! I’m all for subtle tuning!
Oh yes! Livestream sure does seem to enhance EVERY SINGLE wrong note and/or pitch problems 🙁
I utilize the livestreams as a way for me to go back and listen to myself (as well as our team) and use it as a teaching moment for what to improve on for the future.
Thank you for all the tips, I am definitely sharing this post with our team!
Yes it is so important to watch ourselves back!