Six Must-Have Recording Tools for Churches

If you ask most churches like yours, the arm of ministry could stand to be even longer in today’s world. Fortunately, there are now excellent tools to help churches extend their ministry “reach.”The fresh musical ideas that were once contained to the corporate worship environment are now blessing people as they drive, work and exercise. And recording your church’s music is the only way to make sure your message is in the mix.As many churches have discovered, though, capturing quality recordings is easy to discuss in a staff meeting but hard to actually accomplish in real life. Good recordings require talented musicians and experienced engineers and producers. They also require quality gear, which is the aspect we’ll focus on in this article.If you’re looking to gear up for a music recording ministry in your church, here are six things that will set you up for success.

1. Microphones

After the performance itself, the microphone is arguably the most important factor in the recording equation. While that dusty $20 garage sale mic might clean up and work okay in a live setting, it likely won’t do the trick for recording. A little crackle or buzz from a wireless mic isn’t a show-stopper on stage, but it’ll be a glaring flaw in a recording.Invest in an assortment of microphones that will do justice to every instrument and voice you may need to record. Usually, this means a combination of dynamic and condenser mics from the likes of Shure, AKG, Audio-Technica, Rode, Neumann, Sennheiser, Beyerdynamic and others. These mics are used daily in every studio on the planet for a reason—they capture fantastic recordings.

A basic mic complement would start with three or four dynamic instrument mics (such as the ubiquitous Shure SM57). Add to these at least two small-diaphragm condenser mics. Get a matched stereo pair if possible, especially if you need to mic a choir or other large group (i.e., orchestra). Buy at least one large-diaphragm condenser, preferably one that offers multiple pickup patterns.This is your “desert island” recording mic setup, but it won’t cover every recording need. Expand your kit with a few additional small-diaphragm condenser mics of differing models, and at least one more large-diaphragm condenser (cardioid-only is fine). Being able to try different mics to find what’s best for a given instrument or voice is a huge benefit.

Quick tip #1: Get a pop filter for recording vocals with that large-diaphragm condenser mic. It’ll be the best $20 you ever spent.

Quick tip #2Keep your recording mics separate from your live mics, safely tucked away under lock and key. The only time these mics should be on stage is when you’re recording live. Treat them like the delicate instruments they are.

2. Clean Gain

After the audio signal leaves the mic, it’s much too weak to go directly into a computer for recording. This is where a microphone preamp comes in, and its job is a crucial one: to boost the strength of the mic signal by as much as a million times (60 decibels). You want this gain to be as clean and accurate as possible.A preamp that colors the sounds becomes a compounding problem since it puts its mark on every instrument and voice that flows through it. Considering that pros will pay thousands of dollars for a two-channel mic preamp, it’s not realistic to expect the same quality from a $200 computer interface with eight preamps. You can find the middle ground by picking up a high-quality two-channel mic preamp to supplement your computer interface. Use it on two critical inputs when recording your basic tracks (such as acoustic guitar), then run every overdub through it. Your tracks will sound better for it.

Quick tipThough it can limit what you can record, you may save money with a high-quality single-channel mic preamp.

3. Computer Digital Audio Workstation

While any modern computer can handle audio recording, a more powerful rig will allow you to mix more tracks and apply more plug-in effects. Don’t skimp on CPU (processing power), memory, hard drive space or hard drive speed. Get recording software that balances features and ease of use. Purchase additional plug-ins if the supplied effects aren’t stellar. Make sure you have a decent pitch correction plug-in, especially if most of the musicians you’re recording are non-professionals.Get a high-quality recording interface for your main computer, and purchase something smaller for remote recording with a laptop. With a laptop and an inexpensive USB audio interface (plus that nice mic preamp, of course), you can record additional tracks anywhere. You may even be able to record at people’s homes if they have an instrument that can’t be transported, or if the studio is already booked. Flexibility is a huge benefit.

Quick tip: To avoid tech hassles, dedicate the computer to audio production only.

4. Monitoring for You

Because the recording and mixing process involves thousands of decisions based on how things sound, you need to be able to hear your music with brutal honesty. Good studio monitors aren’t designed to flatter—they’re designed for accuracy. Invest in a quality pair of monitors that are as large as your space and budget will allow. Most monitors with an 8-inch woofer or larger will give you a good rendering of your low bass; add a subwoofer for anything smaller. Have a pair of home stereo speakers around for a second opinion of your mix, but don’t rely on them.Get a pair of high-quality, closed-back headphones. These should be as honest (flat) and uncolored as possible. You may end up recording with the performer in the room with you, or you may have to record in a remote location. Having a pair of headphones that are trustworthy and also block outside sounds is a huge help for such “non-standard” recording situations.

Quick tip: Dialed in correctly, an inexpensive home stereo subwoofer does a great job for studio monitoring.

5. Monitoring for Them

Giving your musicians a clean mix to record with is imperative. Have decent closed-back headphones for them, preferably ones that work well with just one earpiece on. If you have a stage monitoring system that you can move (or if you’re recording on the stage), that system will work well for recording, as well. For all other situations, consider purchasing a compact, inexpensive headphone amp you can put near the musician. They can control their own volume that way, and you’re not hassling with headphone extension cables.

Quick tip: Earbuds work great for recording, often with one in and one out. Tuck the “out” earbud down the back of the musician’s shirt to reduce bleed into the mic.

6. Sound Treatment

It’s easy to underestimate how much the space you are in impacts your recordings. Put a musician and mic in a bad-sounding room, and the room will color the recording. Play back a great recording in a bad-sounding room, and the room colors the playback. If you can’t afford to have an acoustic consultant design great-sounding spaces for you, use sound treatment to shut down the reflecting sound in your rooms. Even just a few sound-absorbing panels, positioned well, can radically improve the sound of a room. Little or no reflected sound in the room is much preferred over colored sound.If you have to record in rooms that you can’t permanently treat, purchase small acoustic panels you can move as needed. Some foam panels will even mount on microphone stands, allowing you to set up a small recording booth anywhere for crisp, dry sound. Many fantastic vocal recordings have been captured inside the cozy confines of three or four slabs of acoustic foam.

Quick tip: Stick with products designed for acoustic treatment. Egg crates, carpet and other home-brew methods don’t absorb all frequencies equally, and can actually make the room sound worse.

A Great Start

Starting up a recording ministry in your church isn’t as easy as simply buying the right equipment. It’s a deep dive into a world where skill and experience are king. But gaining that skill and experience is easier with the right tools, and your music will sound better along the way. Gear up!

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