Using Drones and Playing Keys in Worship with Matt Stanfield

Using Drones and Playing Keys in Worship with Matt Stanfield

Today, we’re sitting down for a conversation with Matt Stanfield – an accomplished keyboardist and producer who has worked with names such as Corey Asbury, Michael W. Smith, Jenn Johnson, Mack Brock, Kasey Musgraves, Kelly Clarkson, and Keith Urban, just to name a few.

Matt has lived and worked in Nashville for the past 20 years, plays keys at The Belonging Co., and runs a website for professional loops and samples called Track Fox.

This week we got to talk about playing keys, working in Christian and secular music, and even how to use drones in worship. Keep reading to see how this very innovative conversation unfolded.

Jordan: Hey Matt! What are you up to today?

Matt: Hey Jordan.

I’m here in my studio, adding some keys/vibe to a few songs.

Jordan: What’s the best keyboard or synth?

Matt: Man one synth I absolutely love… that is seriously underrated… is the Korg Minilogue. Everyone complains about how the low end isn’t great… and there’s some merit to that… but it’s a really inspiring synth. Korg just released a new version that comes with a stereo effects engine… for those who don’t like the mono approach of the original. But it is an analog synth after all… the Moog only has a mono output and it’s still king in many circles.

As far as virtual stuff, I’m LOVING the Parallels synth by Softube. It can do quirky and grainy but can also do really modern pads as well. I’m adding it to my pad setup at The Belonging for sure. I also use the TAL all the time, and Serum continues to be a winner.

Jordan: Midi controllers w/ VST’s or keyboards (in a live worship context)?

Matt: That’s a great question. I tend to use my laptop for all of my sounds… we have a Nord Stage at church… which is a killer keyboard…  it seems a travesty to only use it as a controller, but that’s usually what I’m doing.

A keyboard will be more stable; a computer+controller introduces more room for error BUT I think it gives you more depth of sound. Laptops also gives you the option to run drones.

Jordan: What’s the most important or undervalued aspect of playing keys in a service?

Matt: Well… and this may not be a very “musical” answer… but your heart, your willingness to lead by serving.

Understanding your role… is so important. Let’s be honest: the actual notes or parts that are appropriate from a keys standpoint aren’t earth-shattering. But that’s not the point. The point is to help lead the congregation into the presence of God. Sometimes that’s best done by not playing, often it’s best done by playing 2 or 3 notes at most.

Jordan: I’m a huge believer in minimalism. A kingdom-focused heart, confidence, great sounds and minimalistic playing are what makes a great and inspiring musician to me.

What’s been inspiring you lately?

Matt: So many things… but not what you’d think. I love machines and technical things. That’s code for “I’m a nerd”. I honestly don’t listen to tons of music, which may seem strange at first. But consider this… I spend a lot of time each day in front of speakers. When I’m done… I want quiet. I like to read or be outside. We took a drive yesterday, as a family, no music… just enjoying the surroundings.

Musically though, I’m inspired by sounds. Anything through a good reverb… or a bad reverb for that matter… is inspiring.

I’d have to say my favorite thing is sitting down at my upright. I have an old 57 jammed inside the piano, so I often open Ableton and run that mic through a huge reverb, just the reverb, and no dry signal. So, I’m sitting there at the piano, hearing the hammers and strings in front of me but at the same time, I’m surrounded by this amazing wash of reverb. So enjoyable. And it helps me play less because too much gets a bit thick with the reverb, you know?

Jordan: Yeah man! I love that. Reverb is one of my favorite musical tools. I’m on a spring reverb kick right now. 100% wet reverb is a great vibe that I think a lot of players don’t always think to try.

Matt: Yes! It’s awesome. Definitely has to be used correctly… and if you hit a bad note it’s suspended out there for a while… but no risk, no reward, right?!

Jordan: Haha, for sure!

You just launched a new company for creative samples and loops – Track Fox. I love what I’ve purchased so far. What are some ways that church musicians can be using tools like this?

Matt: Hey- thanks for saying that. Yes! Track-Fox is something I’ve wanted to do for some time and now it’s out in the world. The idea behind it was to create a tool-kit of loops and sounds and phrases that are inspiring to writers and musicians and producers. At its most basic form, it’s a sample library but the heart behind it is to provide high-quality elements that will inspire new songs and make existing tracks better!

A specific thing I’ve already used it for is creating drones and pads (see tutorial here!) In the context of a modern service, drones are SO useful. That and it’s SO fast to grab a loop or percussion phrase and use it for energy if you are using tracks…but drones are probably the best thing.

For example, I used Track-Fox on the new Mack Brock record, on the song “Still In Control”… the vibe in the verses… a lot of that is a Track-Fox drone.

I know at church, most of us (keys players) have a drone element set up, something we can trigger if we need it. It’s something that usually happens toward the end of worship when things are quieter.

A drone allows me to be really sparse as far as the actual piano… and the music never fully dies because I have a drone underneath what I’m doing. It’s similar to layering a pad underneath a piano but does something a bit different. It’s almost like having two keys players… but takes up less room.

Jordan: You’ve worked with quite some big names in both the Christian and secular scenes. What are some things you’ve learned about using your gifts outside of the church?

Matt: I don’t view it as separate… “Christian” vs “Secular”. We’ve separated it long enough, and in doing so, separated ourselves from so many people who need what we have! Does that make sense? I’m using the same setup no matter who the “artist” is.

We’re clearly called to do our best no matter what we are doing, so that’s what I try to do. The truth is, there are guys that are so much more gifted than I am… in and out of the church. So I’m so thankful to do what I do for a living.

I love playing on Sundays; I love being part of that team. I love working on records… it could be for someone like Corey Asbury or it could be some new country up-and-comer. I could be scoring something for a film. Whatever the scenario… I want to bring the best of who I am to the table. I think God honors that.

I believe a new generation of musicians and artists are rising up. People like Corey. People like Lauren Strahm (Fleurie) who love Jesus with all they are. You can’t hide that and people are drawn to it, in the church and outside the church.

It’s the KINDNESS of God that pulls us to Him… not some amazing piano part I may play! True… playing may serve to set the stage, may open up hearts and minds to what God is doing, but at the end of the day, it’s about using my gift to point people to Jesus. That is the goal.

Jordan: Thanks for your time Matt!

Matt: My pleasure!

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