Geeking out with database software
In a previous post I discussed the important task of curating your churches congregational song list. But how do you manage it all? How do you consider the dozens, or even hundreds of songs you regularly sing and filter down to seasonally, thematically, or scripturally appropriate songs for a given Sunday? I’d like to share with you two options that I’ve used for keeping track of our song list: spreadsheet and database.
For many years I’ve relied on my trusty excel spreadsheet. In this ever-expanding document I kept track of every song we sang, along with text/tune information, and a few scriptural, seasonal, and thematic notes. I put a lot of time in it, color coded date cells with a gradient (red=older, blue=newer), color coded a running count of how many times the song was sung (green=sung more, red=sung less). It is a great reference for every part of my song selection process – from brainstorming an initial list of appropriate songs, to narrowing down that list to the right song for this congregation at this time.
On the far right of the sheet I have a column for each time the song is sung. The advantage to this is that the colored column to the left of that counts the cells to its right, keeping a running tally of the number of times sung. It is colored green for more sung, and red for sung less, with yellow in the middle. When sorted alphabetically, I can instantly see which song is commonly known, and which song is unfamiliar based on this columns color.
Once the sheet is setup this way, maintaining the list is pretty manageable. I’ve developed a habit of going in every couple months and updating the “last sung” entries to keep the list up to date (looks like I still need to do that for November). Though it seems like busy work, this healthy habit forces me to reflect on the songs we’ve been singing for the past couple of months as I enter them into the spreadsheet.
You can also sort and filter the spreadsheet using excels built in data tools. Sorting by “Last sung” will remind you of the past few months of songs at a glance; filtering themes or seasons can give you a quick list of all your songs for a particular theme or season.
More recently I’ve been experimenting with database software. Because I didn’t want to get too technical with software such as Filemaker Pro or Microsoft Access, I looked around for really simple online database software that anyone could understand at a glance. After looking at two online services, Sodadb and Obvibase, and have decided that for my needs, Obvibase is the best fit. I chose this because it was free, easy to use, and shareable. I was able to import my spreadsheet and with a bit of tinkering to a really clean looking database that was shareable online. Check it out here. (Of course this is read-only access)
At first glance this looks fairly similar to a spreadsheet, but it has a few features that make this option particularly flexible and attractive.
Attach files: With each entry you can attach a file from Google Drive or Dropbox. This means you could link your song sheet or recording directly to the database.
Shareable: You can send a link to other worship planners as a read-only. A monthly fee upgrades you to pro, which allows you to add more collaborators for editing purposes.
Custom type columns: In the “genre” column, instead of a blank cell I’ve added a dropdown list of prescribed genres to easily maintain consistency throughout the database.
Really simple bulk editing: Because of the handy checkbox on the side, multiple records can be selected and tags can be assigned with one entry. This made it easy to tag all songs with a tune name and without a modern arrangement as “Hymn (Traditional).”
Simple search: Within each column I can type a search term and whittle down the list to only entries matching that term. By typing “advent” into the liturgical column I find all songs with an advent theme. You can also do a cmd-F global search as well.
Stability: I have to admit, at one point I had spent hours formatting and setting up my spreadsheet, and then an accidental copy/paste disconnected a large chunk of data from the corresponding songs. In short, I broke it. The benefit of a database is that any adding, formatting, filtering, or modifying data will not impact the existing data. With excel, I wasn’t always so lucky.
I know there are many powerful features to explore. In the future, as I get better at database management, I would love to setup an automated entry form linked to planning center that automatically records “last sung” data and imports ccli info. If you’re a database geek and know how to do this let me know!
It seems as if excel shines at data analysis. The conditional formatting and color-coding features make it really handy as a tool to reflect on your song list. On the other hand, Obvibase and other similar database software are built for at data management. These tools shine with automation features, integration of multiple users, and keeping unique records.
Do you have a good way to organize your congregational song data? Let us know in the comments.
Image attribution: g-stockstudio / Thinkstock
That’s is some very helpful information. I am new at being a congregational worship leader and trying to find out what songs the church already knows and what I want to do is a hard thing . But I think I’m going to make a database similar to yours so I can see the songs in a more practical way
The seedbed links are broken! I’d really like to check them out..
Hi. Can you tell me please if and how I could add sheet music files to a database like those mentioned? I am trying to build such a database with sheet music files to be shared. Many thanks.
Thank you for sharing. I’ve been racking my brain in some of the same areas. I’m currently working with a excel spreadsheet as well.
Follow up here from me, the author!
I have modified how I used the database over the years since writing this post. To record how many times we’ve sung a particular song, I use the “Nested Table” feature to insert a table-within-a-table. This nested table is titled “times sung”, and has only one column which is “sung”. This lists each date that sang a particular song (and gives each entry a unique ID, which is less important). Then when I zoom out to the main database, I see the number of times it was sung in total, and if I click that number, I zoom into the individual date records.
It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s what I’ve been using lately. I’d like to be able to filter to say, for example, “list the songs we’ve sung at least 4 times in the past year,” but to be honest I don’t have time to do that much data entry!
Regarding Misu’s comment above, you can use obvibase to upload sheet music files linked to google drive or dropbox!
Thank you so much for these practical and detailed examples of exactly HOW you track your songs. I will check out the free app / site you mentioned. Like the other commenter, I would have loved to see how you set up your Excel but being able to see your Obvibase was greatly appreciated. I am trying not to do double or triple work and find one way that works and use it! I thought I’d add some of your categories and add in addition to the BPM the Original Key and my (personal) key for acoustic guitar. Thank you!