The Best Format for Lyric Projection

lyric backgrounds

Photo courtesy of Jamie Brown

The projection of lyrics in church has become quite normal, even in many traditional environments.  The issue of how we project lyrics and the best format was brought to my attention a few weeks ago in my post where I invited you to submit your questions.

This question comes from faithful blog reader, Bill Horn:

“What do you prefer, or what have you found to work best, regarding the format of your projected lyrics? Some examples would be how many lines per slide, how you handle capitalization, etc. This isn’t talked about very often, and I would be interested to hear how you do it at SSCC. Thanks!”

I think that every church has it’s own preference in lyric projection.  The best format for one is undesirable for another.  It’s subjective so it joins our choice of music and style in being one of those controversial topics that we may agree to disagree on.  When you add preferences of font, size, alignment, color, length, and background, we have lots of areas to navigate.  At the end of the day I think we can all agree that the sample lyric projection in this post provided by my friend Jamie Brown is NOT the best choice!  (See Jamie’s humorous post on “More Backgrounds That Make You Say ‘What?’” on his blog.

I’m going to be inviting Travis Paulding, our Tech Director from SSCC to comment here as well as one of my friends and a well-known VJ, Steven Proctor.  (@worshipVJ).  They will be able to shed some light on this topic from the technical standpoint as well so come back and check the comments frequently for that discussion.

Alignment

As is the case with many of the options on lyric formatting, the presence (or lack thereof) of a background image, motion, or logo has everything to do with alignment.  Text alignment must take into account the position of background images being used.  The lyrics should not clutter the background and at the same time, the background must not overpower the lyrics.  We are not singing backgrounds yet they can offer an inspiration to complement the song.  My personal preference is to have center alignment when possible but I also find left alignment works well.

Length

This is an area where I’ve struggled.  Those who create our slides tend to prefer only a few lines of lyrics per slide.   This gives the slide more space.  However, I’m much rather have more lines and less changing.  The fewer lines on a slide, the more switching back and forth happens.   Unless the person controlling the lyrics is extremely familiar with the song arrangement they can easily get lost of distracted.  Furthermore, I believe that the lyrics are telling an important story and it helps me to see the entire phrase in context instead of bite-size phrases.

Line Breaks

Perhaps my biggest pet peeve in lyric projection is where the line breaks happen.   It’s easy to quickly copy and paste lyrics into software without paying attention to the flow of the lyrics.  Take the crazy cake example above.  Despite the silly chocolate cake background, the lyric length is fine with me and the lyrics break appropriately.  An inappropriate version would look like this:

So take me as You find me,
all of my fears and failures,
fill my life again.
I give my life to follow (…)

I see this often and I’d rather have complete phrases or sentences and not half of a thought.  In this example if there was not enough room to continue the lyric, I’d start a new slide with “I give my life to follow everything I believe in”.

It’s not only about the grammatical structure and phrasing, it’s also about the musical phrasing.  It’s helpful to read the lyrics and even sing them so that you can feel the natural break in the line.

Backgrounds

I like backgrounds.  At the same time, I hate backgrounds.  I’m not a fan of crazy, spirograph animations that are eye candy for the sake of coolness.  They distract me.  Again, this is all personal preference.

What I am a fan of is tasteful backgrounds that complement the mood and story of the song.   If I’m singing about the cross, still or moving images of the cross can reinforce the lyric and bring deeper inspiration and meaning for me.  At the same time, I’ve found a few backgrounds in our video library that are more distracting.  There is one for example, that has the crosses on a hill with dark clouds blowing by and an occasional flicker of lightning.  The lightning flash always distracts me because the room is usually dark and it’s like a strobe effect.  When I’m leading I see this bright flash in my peripheral vision and it’s been distracting enough to me that I asked our tech team to only use that when we all agree that it’s needed.

Punctuation

Most of the guys in our tech team prefer to eliminate punctuation.  In most cases this is OK but I feel like the punctuation is important in many cases.  It impacts the way a line is read or sung.  I don’t think you have to use periods at the end of every sentence necessarily but I do like proper capitalization.  If a comma is important in the phrase of a lyric I am not opposed to using it at all.  I’d also say that although they can easily be overused, an exclamation point can be effective when the lyric is “exclaiming” something that we want our people to champion.

Timing

Perhaps the most critical issue in lyric projection is the timing of the change.  I’m a fan of having the lyrics change AHEAD OF TIME.  I don’t want to wait for the next slide.  By the time our congregation is singing the last line or phrase they have already viewed it and have it in their minds.  They aren’t reading it word-by-word, they are reading it phrase-by-phrase.

Take for example the “Mighty to Save” song we’ve been using in this post.  That last line, “Now I surrender” has a 2-bar musical progression that builds up to the Chorus.  I think you should go ahead and present those lyrics so that “Savior, He can move the mountains” is visible before we start singing that Chorus.  If you’ve been in the congregation where they wait until the first word is sung before changing the slide it’s very frustrating.  Anticipate.  Move ahead.

I’d rather make a few mistakes and move ahead prematurely than lagging behind a few syllables on every change.

Conclusion

In conclusion I can say that I ultimately try to give as much creative liberty and power to our technical team as possible.  I only bring corrections to lyric projection when I see something that is distracting or if I really feel that we’re missing the mark on thought flow or line breaks.  I’ve sometimes watched and noticed the lyric timing lagging and when this happens it’s usually because the person controlling the lyrics didn’t rehearse with the band.  They are uncomfortable with the progression of the song or perhaps they are distracted.

There have been a few occasions where I’ve switched roles and assumed the seat of the lyric projection person.  I can tell you it was fairly stressful.  I felt like I couldn’t disengage even for a second.   I’m naturally distracted so I found that I had to really concentrate to not get lost or miss a transition.

It’s not the simple task that you may think.  Give honor to your volunteers and thank them for their addition to your team.  The reality is they are leading your people and contributing greatly to the worship service by providing the lyrics.

What are your thoughts?  Let’s hear them!

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Fred McKinnon is a Pianist/Composer from St. Simons Island, GA. Checkout the full BIO for more information and a complete bio. Worship Interludes Podcast - This podcast features instrumentals for prayer, meditation, soaking worship, relaxation, study music, and rest. Visit the Podcast page to listen or subscribe. Follow on Social MediaFacebookYouTubeInstagramTwitter

16 comments on The Best Format for Lyric Projection

  1. A lot of good points here and I pretty much agree with you. That is probably good since we tend to lead worship services together, haha. I’ll respond by section:

    1. Alignment – the rule (with exceptions for sure) is that text is king. We always want it to be easy to read. For us it is usually centered horizontally and vertically. I like putting text at the bottom but actually had some short people complain about not being able to always read the bottom of our screens when people are standing. Standard for is is a bold white font with a dark stroke, allowing it to always be readable.

    2. Length – the faster the song, the more lyrics I prefer on a slide, we have to always plan for the lowest common denominator and there is always someone who has never heard it before. I try to never have more than 4 lines of text but it just depends on line breaks and phrasing as you mentioned. I just don’t like staring at the same text for a long time so on slower songs I like fewer lines at a time. The goal, 2-4 lines.

    3. Line Breaks – Again, I prefer to not have a lot of text on one slide. When I’m able to engage in worship (as opposed to working in the service/event) I like to close my eyes, when I don’t know lyrics I open them. If there are a lot of lines of text on the screen it is hard to find my place, if there are a few lines it is very easy to find my place. I also realize that it is subjective. I’m working through our library as we go, trying to eliminate situations where two lines that are sung quickly one after another are not on the same slide.

    4. Backgrounds – I should start by saying that in our main services we have a separate person running backgrounds so lyrics ops can pay attention to lyrics. #1 goal of our content ops is to visually enhance the worship experience by presenting aesthetically pleasing loops and contextually supportive loops. #2 goal of our content ops is to not be a distraction. They all know it, and I remind them a lot. I don’t ever want something on screen to grab attention from someone who isn’t looking at the screen… unless I do. (But those moments are infrequent and scripted.) The lightning clip that Fred mentioned is the one I use as an example in training. It has moments where it works, but you better have a plan. When I first started using loops, I did them for the sake of having loops. We saw them somewhere else and wanted the bells and whistles. Now we have a strategy, you need a strategy.

    5. Punctuation – Agree. Use when needed, simplify when not. In addition to punctuation I think that use of all caps should be avoided unless adding emphasis to a word or two. All the text formatting and grammar should make it easy to follow.

    6. Timing – Agree. I used to tell people to hold if they were unsure, I’d rather them not change than change and be wrong. We don’t say that anymore. If you have to guess, chances are you will be right unless the leader is really getting free. Eliminating distractions is king. For us, lyrics ops are always at rehearsals but sometimes there is something else going on that distracts them from following rehearsal closely. (For us it would be last minute additions to our Pastor’s sermon notes.) We work hard to have everything ready before 8am Sunday and when changes come up I try to have myself or our producer for the morning make the changes on a different computer. One thing that has helped, especially new ops, is for them to log into Planning Center and listen to the rehearsal tracks and get familiar with the music and even follow along at home with a demo (free & unregistered) version of ProPresenter.

    7. Conclusion – It is hard to run lyrics. I am technically 100% capable but mentally not so much. I get distracted like Fred. I’m singing and wondering why they are behind forgetting it is up to me. I’m evaluating the mix. I’m staring out of our video booth from behind my frosted glass watching a kid pick his nose. You know, the normal stuff. We have a great team of lyrics ops and they do a great job when they are given a vision, it ain’t easy.

    1. fmckinnon says:

      Thanks, Travis — fantastic! Hope Bill comes and reads all this!

  2. Tony Bedora says:

    It sounds like you are not including IMAG in your discussion. Am I right? How many lines would you use with IMAG?

    1. fmckinnon says:

      Tony, We don’t have IMAG in our church, so I can’t really comment on that. I know we’ve used it before, so perhaps Travis can address it more clearly. I think IMAG would be treated as a typical, moving background, though.

      Although we don’t have IMAG, Travis and I share a mutual concept that during corporate worship it should be used sparingly — perhaps during a spoken moment, song intro, etc. We’re not fans of using IMAG to show a concert (zooming in on the guitar player’s solo, etc) … it lends itself, in my opinion, to more spectatorship, which is already a huge issue.

      1. Wow – I’m really amazed at the differences of practices here.

        Just a few thoughts to add to the discussion:

        We use IMAG liberally and backgrounds sparingly. In my experience, IMAG lends itself to break the fourth wall, while many backgrounds are chock full of distractions. Not to mention that one set of visuals may speak completely differently to different folks. Even color is an issue – the VJ may feel a certain mood for a song, but other worshipers feel differently. Motion backgrounds can make it difficult to read without dedicated type space, which is usually lacking in many of the most popular motion graphics. Minimal, not overt, is definitely our direction.

        In terms of punctuation and styling – I also maintain a pretty strict style guide. Our lyrics also go through Communications to make sure they have correct punctuation and spelling. Lyrics are in order start to finish, so volunteers have it easier and aren’t trying to figure out where the song is going, unless the worship leader gets extra Spirit-led. Styling may change between segments of the service in order to give context, but consistency is key for eliminating 50% of the distractions. Very tight ship, to say the least. Some may feel this is too programmed, but others may see this as a careful approach to creating a distraction-free worship time.

        Amount of lines – Less is more for us – Having whole verses on the screen is not only overload, but you can potentially lose the message. If you’re worried about keeping your place on the screen, chances are you’re not thinking about what you’re actually singing. And what happens when that powerful tag gets lost in a sea of other words? As long as we advance cues ahead of time, people are generally good about keeping up.

        Our traditional services are a different story – styling for those is more based on utility – ultra-conservative, just enough styling to make it feel more reverent, less digital. For those folks, it’s about having the whole verse up there in senior-citizen sized type. Not a lot of room for creativity, but we try to keep it just as reverent and tasteful.

        I don’t see one way as better than another, but it’s interesting to see the contrast between churches’ styles. 

    2. As Fred said, we don’t do IMAG most weeks. We use it for baptisms and other moments with a simple 1 camera set up. We are looking at adding it in the future, it is a financial hurdle pretty much at this point to get a 3 camera system worth having.

      I am not a fan of IMAG during worship in a one venue, non-broadcast setting. But that is definitely an opinion. This discussion really all depends on philosophy. I feel like it puts too much focus on the people on stage. I’d prefer to have static or motion backgrounds on the screen behind any lyrics and save the camera shots for anytime some one is speaking. I’ve been researching a dual-output switcher for if/when we go to IMAG on a regular basis. This would allow me to send lyrics/BGs to our main screens during worship and lyrics/IMAG to web and distributed feeds.

  3. Bill Horn says:

    Thanks, guys. Great discussion on the subject. When I look at how we are utilizing projected lyrics, there seem to be repeated debates amongst our team about the best way to do it, so I really appreciate your thoughts. It helps to have some third-party opinions when it comes to those sticking points!

  4. I don’t know why, but I’m craving chocolate now.

    Sorry it’s taken me a few days to comment, as I’ve been in “event mode.” Thank goodness the green room has Reese’s cups!

    I’m glad this conversation is taking place, especially on a non-tech blog. The more worship leaders & pastors get involved in the creative/tech process, the better!

    There are many philosophical layers for projection and all of its nuances: technical/logistical, creative/artistic, and I would even add, theological. Beth Moore just talked last night (at the event I’m VJ-ing) about “narrative art” and how the Scriptures are saying more than just words. She said, “It’s not only about what is being said, but how it’s being said.” She went on to explain the truth found in the beauty of the Hebrew language and how it’s formatted, specifically in the Scriptures.

    It’s revelations like these that remind me how sacred and wonderful the details are, even in the area of formatting & designing slides. We can create “narrative art” with our text formatting! Let excellence and intentionality permeate every detail, whether it’s seen or unseen.

    With that said, here are a few thoughts…

    1. Alignment

      I love what both Fred & Travis said. They bring up great things to think about and watch out for.

      In years past, I’ve gone w/ centered/centered text. But as I’ve used more intentional imagery that tells story, i’ve put the lyrics on lower-thirds. But in recent years, I’ve gone with a left-justified, lower-third lyric, with a thick margin. Almost like you would see in a magazine ad, where there’s a prominent picture, and then big bold text left justified below.

      Length

      I lean more on what Travis said, though I appreciate Fred’s perspective.

      My opinion is 2 lines, though I can definitely go for 3-4 depending on the situation.

      Someone asked about length when running IMAG, and when that is the case, I strictly stay to 2 lines.

      Over-population of text can become overwhelming, especially if it’s more than 6 lines. It just becomes visual noise to me and I end up seeing nothing.

      Line Breaks

      I break lines and pages according to musical phrasing, which means I’m not looking at lyrics as simply a sentence or even a text-only poem, but a song. I break at natural pauses, rests and moments where the singer breathes. I just break it where it feels right…does that make sense?

      One thing that drives me crazy is text “orphans” (and also “widows”). This is when the text box in your software runs out of room and shoves the last word onto it’s own lines (or a line at the end of a stanza onto its own slide.) This absolutely drives me crazy. It’s like hearing an out-of-tune singer or instrument.

      Backgrounds

      I couldn’t agree more with Fred & Travis, especially what Fred said. I, too, am a fan of motion but I hate most motions at the same time for the very reason he listed. I also love their approach with separating out the roles of lyrics and motions, and letting someone else intentionally focus on the imagery. That is one of the best ways to evolve and grow in visual worship.

      Motions/loops can have the ability do two things: create an atmosphere and tell a story. I didn’t say that all motions always do that, but VJ-ing motions can give you that opportunity.

      Unfortunately, most motions found on church media websites severely lack in the ability to tell story, and so you mostly see swirly particle motions that create an atmosphere (and in my opinion, a sometimes distracting atmosphere.) Most motions I VJ aren’t found on the typical church media sites, though they definitely contain some hidden gems.

      I’d like to see media producers create more motions that tell story (like Highway Media’s archaic but timeless Vibe Video collection). Particle motions have their time & place, but seeing them all the time drives me nuts, unless the VJ/visual worship leader had an intentional philosophy/practice in Color Theory and/or the colors of the liturgical Church calendar (the Story of Christ told throughout the year).

      Punctuation

      I’m a firm believer that lyrics are more like poetry than text in a book that follows proper English grammar. And because of this, grammatical rules are tossed out the stained glass window.

      I eliminate almost all punctuation except for the occasional mid-phrase comma to break up a thought that isn’t broken up by a line break.

      I also un-capitalize every word except for names and pronouns of God. Even “i” is uncapitalized as a visual, theological nod to the Great I AM. i must decrease, and He must increase.

      And I have also seen an ALL CAPS approach to some songs, and that format has won me over, as well (as long as it’s not used all the time). If it works for the design, it can have a cool aesthetic. (Trent Armstrong at Igniter Media is a huge fan of this approach).

      Timing

      Again, I completely agree with Fred & Travis. Always be ahead! This isn’t opinion…this is a rule. For me, it looks like advancing to the next slide while we are singing the next to last word of the last line.

      Fonts

      One topic that was barely touched on here was FONTS. And i won’t go into much here, but I’m a fan of clean, simple bold fonts…especially Helvetica Bold. I like to use the Kerning/Leading character tool in ProPresenter to decrease the space between the characters and let the characters lightly touch. Again, there’s a design element to formatting. (You should watch the film documentary “Helvetica”… you will never look at Fonts the same way again.)

      But I also like to use a more ancient looking font. Where this goes wrong is when you use Papyrus. I don’t like to get cute or spiritually sentimental with my fonts…but sometimes I do want it more organic feeling than a clean bold contemporary font like Helvetica. A good example of this is the font “Dominican.”

      Camron Ware (@VisualWorshiper) has a font guide that you can download here:

      http://visualworshiper.com/Websites/visualworshiper/files/Content/2713986/Visual_Worshiper_Font_Guide.pdf

      More Thoughts

      Here are two more articles that I highly recommend reading. These dive into the conversation and offer up a few visual examples.

      Barton Damer’s “Ketchup on Steak”

      http://echohub.com/posts/design/ketchup-on-steak-tips-for-better-presentations/

      Nate Ragan’s “Grammar Rules for Worship Slides” (which I like to call “Kingdom Grammar”

      http://worshipleader.com/grammar-rules-for-worship-slides/

      Nate’s article generated quite a little controversy, which is interesting and honestly a little humorous to read, in my snarky opinion. 😉

      Thank you, Fred, for the invitation to share some thoughts! I hope these thoughts help you form and sharpen your philosophy in this area of visual worship!

      Remember, these are NOT rules (well, for the most part) but honest thoughts and opinions and intentions when it comes to glorifying God and leading people to worship through the small but influential detail of formatting slides. You don’t have to do it exactly like us, but have your own philosophy and be intentional about it.

      1. Adam Ranck says:

        huh. “worship foregrounds”.

  5. Chris Gambill says:

    Fred,
    Thanks for sharing these thoughts. I always enjoy the peek in how others are approaching projection.

    I have to say that I’m right with you in all these except for punctuation. I know that I take a different approach that a lot of others, but I really think punctuation is important. I think it comes from the fact that what we sing is more than just words. It is an expression of spirit and truth, and serves a role in forming and reinforcing theology. To me, not including punctuation runs too high a risk of phrases being misinterpreted. I’ve seen lines in a song where, without the punctuation, they take on a whole new meaning. Also, I guess if the writer took the time to include punctuation, I can take the time to make sure it’s correctly represented on the screen. Maybe that’s just me, though.

    Hope things are going well for you these days. Sorry to hear you were unable to make your trip with Joy the weekend.

    1. fmckinnon says:

      Chris,
      Thanks for the comments. Overall I tend to still agree with you on the punctuation. It’s there for a reason. Fred McKinnon
      —————-
      email: fred@fredmckinnon.com
      twitter: @fmckinnon
      facebook: http://www.facebook.com/fredmckinnon

  6. Highway7 says:

    I truly dislike center justification. It’s not how the writer of the song wrote it, it’s not how we in the English speaking world normally read a published poem, and overall it’s an unnatural and distracting choice.

    My general sense is that tech team people want to center justify the lyrics on the slides because they like it to be symmetrical. Thus it’s an aesthetic consideration rather than a linguistic one, concerned less with the smooth conveyance of intellectual meaning and more with subconscious visual appeal. Visual appeal is not the arena where language operates. I believe this is all working against the ultimate point of Bible-based (text-based) worship.

    I would like to implore church tech teams to remember that God’s primary means of communicating his grace to us is via the written word. And written words have logical rules governing how they are graphically presented. Trying to tweak things up so that it’s “looks cool” is not operating in the realm of logic or linguistic clarity. I believe that mucking about with the conventions of written words undermines those words and dulls the application of thought when we sing those words.

  7. I would like to see more posts like this. Do you have any plans of making any?

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