Your congregation loves what you do for worship. So much so, they may often ask to be able to download the songs from a worship service or if and when the church ever recorded an album. You may have thought that this might be a cool gift to present to your church, but you likely never thought you had the means to facilitate a live recording.
Depending on the quality and scale of your console, you can use your live sound console to mix down the entire project.
What if I told you, you may have nearly all the ability to do it right now, with what you have?
Use Your Existing Console Recording Process
If you have read any of my prior audio development articles …
… you will know I am a strong endorser of using the process known as virtual soundcheck as a regular training tool.
Most live sound digital consoles will have some form of allowing the ability to record every input from your audio console to an external computer, and then later play back those recorded tracks to your console. If you have not yet already established this workflow, I highly recommend moving in that direction, as soon as possible.
Leveraging your own console capabilities to multitrack, your live sound console will now be the hub to track your live service recordings, while also recording overdubs and other additions to a potential recording to be mixed down.
I would say here, depending on the quality and scale of your console, you can use your live sound console to mix down the entire project. Many consoles allow the ability to use internal third-party plugins, along with additional external plugin servers. We have seen and heard many vocal TV shows that sound amazing, all of which are using modern day live sound consoles for mixing those shows.
However, if you do not have a console that has the channel count to mix such a project down, you can endeavor to mix your recordings down solely using your DAW (digital audio workstation) software. You can initially multitrack all your recordings, using free software such as Waves Tracks Live or Reaper, but you will want to transition into some more advanced professional editing and mixing software, such as Pro Tools, Logic, Studio One, and others.
Use What You Have On Stage To Record With
You’ve decided to try and record, but I can imagine at this moment, that your questions are endless.
Those questions like range from what mics to use, how many mics to use, do we start isolating instruments, how do we do overdubs and more.
• What mics to use?
While the saying goes, it’s only going to sound as good as your source, your source contains two components, the quality of the mic and the quality of what you are recording. Many of those live TV shows may just have Shure SM58 capsules on their mics. I would plan to use what you have available to you.
What you should look out for is faulty equipment, such as cables in disrepair, broken mics, faulty direct boxes, bad snake channels, buzzing guitar pedal boards, and aging drum heads.
• Should we isolate instruments?
I would encourage you, if you are not already set up in this way, to place amps off stage to eliminate stage bleed into vocal mics. If you have a drum shield, you will want to use it. And ideally, you may not want to place vocalists directly in front of the drum kit, even when a drum shield is present.
• How many mics should we use?
Ideally in a studio, you use all the mics you want. Recognize that you don’t have to use everything in the final mix, but you will later regret not having options. For live recordings, you may want to over mic or even double mic many instruments, as your console and DAW allows. Typically, the drum kit will have the most mics. With guitars, you may have two or more mics per amp cabinet, while look to always record other instruments such as keyboards in stereo.
For audience mics, set up as many condensers as you can at the front of the stage at even distances, pointing toward the audience. At minimum have two, but ideally having more allows you to sample other areas of the room, to be able to choose what sounds best during final mix down.
• How do I record overdubs?
The process of “overdubs”, is that of taking your main live recording, and dropping in additional recorded tracks. Those additional tracks can be anything from new vocal recordings, additional guitar or keyboard tracks, and anything else you think can positively affect your final mix. Most live albums do have overdubs in many forms and can be an ideal way for those bands with smaller instrumentation, to give additional life and energy to a recording project.
Practice Makes Perfect
If you are starting off on recording with little to no experience, you may want to just work on this workflow and slowly perfect how many mics, mic angles, getting it all multitracked, and chase down the little equipment imperfections. It will take time learning all of this and getting your workflows refined. Be patient!
As you refine your workflows, create some test samples to also begin mixing down. It’ll help you come to better conclusions as to what needs improvement on the recording side.
On the musician’s side, when you begin to get closer to finalizing exactly what you eventually want to record, begin to emphasize it during your musicians’ practice and memorization. When you can get to the point where the “what” that is being played, is second nature, it’s so much easier to perform from a creative space, than a space that is burdened by concern over errors.
Additionally, many musicians may need to work on their equipment to be noise- or error-free. Having the ability early in this process to record and play back tracks can help them understand what does and doesn’t sound good. It’ll provide everyone a target to work toward, as you move to a potential recording project.
The Art of Overdubs
We all know that a live performance can be both amazing, but oftentimes a little raw. You may have for the most part an amazing recording, but for some reason it was lacking instrumentation that day, or where one vocal or instrument was just a bit off. It’s generally easy to create new tracks and using your console to record some additional tracks before you embark on a final mix down.
Some suggestions here are, if you are in need or adding or replacing vocals, you may want to invest in a large diaphragm mic with a pop filter, to add a finer quality of recording. The small caveat here is in the final mix, you will need to ensure that this new mic and the mic used during the live recording, sound similar in EQ and tone.
Do you have a drum shield? Use your drum shield with several heavy blankets thrown over it to create a small vocal or guitar isolation booth. If you happen to have large padded panels for your drums or even off your building’s walls (yes, I have really done that), you can use that as well. The goal here is to eliminate unwanted reflections off flat surfaces with your overdub recordings.
If you have metal music stands, cover your stand with cloth for the same reason.
Copyrights and Getting It All Legal
Most churches’ song licensing is done through CCLI, or Christian Copyright Licensing International. While I’m not going to get in the fine legal details, if you already have a contract with CCLI, you may already have some ability to distribute service recordings to your own congregation.
If you have a livestream license, you likely already have the ability to release live event recordings. This specific performance license is very much targeted to your church’s recording of live events and may not cover studio-only recordings.
While certainly recording original works is the easiest and most hassle-free way of recording songs and then later selling it, I would not discount the effort of recording your live worship and releasing it as a free download to those in your congregation. Everything doesn’t have to be studio perfect, and it’s often that imperfect worship your church congregation enjoys the most.
It is extremely important to connect with your licensing provider to ask questions, so you can set correct goals for your future recording projects. Staying legal is important!
More importantly, don’t think that a live recording project is completely unrealistic at any size of organization that you may be. Not everything needs to sound like a Grammy Award-winning album and the actual process of recording could be accessible to you now, with what you have around you!