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Recording Church Services

by Robert Stephens
rs@lvcog7.org


This article discusses the basics of using your computer to capture the audio of your weekly service and making sermon MP3's or audio CD's using the Audacity recording program.

Copyrights: Before you record or broadcast a worship service, make sure you have the rights to use the music. Old hymns and songs that you have written are OK to use as you wish, but most modern music carries copyrights, and there are certain restrictions on how the music can be used. A CCLI license gives you right to perform the a lot of modern music in your church. Check with Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) or Christian Copyright Solutions for for more information on how to legally record and distribute music. The preacher's sermon is OK to use, because he is the copyright owner.

Recording to a Computer: If you have a digital console, this is easy. Otherwise, you will need some type of interface to get sound into a computer. Be aware that the "mic input" on a cheap soundcard should not be connected directly to the console, as the input level is about -40dBu. If you do, it will likely give poor results, becuase the analog/digital conversion is taking place inside the computer, which is noisy. Apple computers seem to work better, but an external interface is still prefered, such as the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 2 In/2 Out USB Recording Audio Interface

Recording to a Handheld Recorder:  Handheld recorders are small devices for recording ambient sound to an SD card. The least expensive that I've found is the Zoom H1, which costs about $100. But be aware that the "line input" on the Zoom and Edirol products aren't the best quality, and it's not suitable for connecting to a console. The Sony PCM-M10 would probably be a better choice.

Remember that if you record directly to MP3, you're not going to be able to edit it later. To get the best results, you should record in an uncompressed format, such as WAV. Export to MP3 only after you've finished editing.

Recording Sermons

If it is necessary to record from only one channel, you may use the direct out from the channel, or an aux send. 

Make sure you get the recording levels set correctly during the sound check, to not have to change these in the middle of your recording. Not too high, to avoid clipping. Make sure you save your recording as a project when finished, or export to an un-compressed format, like .WAV

A Music Mix

It is theoretically possible to record simply using the "Main Out" of the console, but this often gives poor results when recording music, because any instruments that are not miked are not going to be in the recording. For best results, the EQ for recording needs to be done separately from the house mix. Instead, use direct-out, or pre-fade aux or group sends, with the outputs going to the recording interface. This allows you to have a separate mix for the recording. If you have a stereo aux send, you can pan stuff around, and be as creative as you like. 

There will also be much less reverberation in the recording; this is great for speech intelligibility, but your music won't sound as good. I use an effects processor to artifically add ambience. Audience mics are another way to make the recording mix sound more natural, especially if you are not able to mic all of the instruments. Your audience mic should not be sent to the main mix, only to the recording interface (and in-ear monitors). 

Compression

Compression on speech: It's usually best to use the Compressor effect to reduce the "dynamic range" between loud and soft. Most churches use audio compressors, at least on vocals, but it's even more important for a recording mix in a large environment.

The default compressor in Audacity has very limited controls, but others can be installed. Keep in mind that a compressor can:

  • Improve intellegibility

  • Improve ease of listening

but can also:

  • make the audio sound unnatural (if overused)

  • make background noise more significant

  • move the system closer to feedback (live environment)

Settings: For voice, I usually put the threshold slightly above the soft parts, the ratio should be high enough to function properly, but not so high as to take away the character of the audio. Attack and decay can be set to your preference. A good place to start is 15ms for attack and 250ms for decay.  If the attack is too fast, it could be triggered by T's, S's, P's, and so on. If it's too low, you'll hear the first part of the syllable stronger than the rest. Play with the controls and try to hear the difference.

Editing and Distributing


The size-compressed MP3 format is ubiquitous for audio players and website plugins. But keep your Audacity project (or export your recording as FLAC) so as to save an original, uncompressed copy. This lets you fix any problems that you find later without audio losses. When you save as MP3, some quality is lost in the process. MP3 files cannot be edited and then re-encoded as another MP3 without significant loss in quality.  

WAV is the native file format of conventional audio CDs.

Streaming Audio or Video

These days there are a lot of options available for getting your message out. Podcasts, websites, internet radio, and so on. If you want to broadcast live or pre-recorded audio (embedded player on your site, or to another location), you'll need a program for encoding your audio to send to your streaming server. There are many DJ programs available which can both stream and record. Be aware that it's very important to have a good level of compression on the signal before it's sent. If you want a simple video stream, begin with something like Livestream.com. If you have a budget and you're looking for a better solution for creating an online presence, check out streamingchurch.tv or streamingfaith.com or haivision.com

Checklist for Recording and Editing Sermons

  1. Before the sermon, verify that:
    • Gain levels are correct to the recording device
    • Signal sounds good.
    • For sermons: Aux Send goes to one channel. Other channels could be used if needed.
  2. Start recording.
    • Make sure your power-saving features are turned off
  3. Save your work
    • ...as an Audacity project file and/or an uncompressed file (WAV, FLAC, or AIFF)
    • Append the day's date, sermon title, speaker.
    • Save in a second location for safety.
  4. Edit your work
    • Trim so that it begins/ends at the appropriate location
    • Listen to your work, and fix any problems as needed
    • Use the compressor to make levels more consistent.
  5. Use the Metadata Editor to create the ID tags. ID tags of the sermons should be the same each week.
  6. Did you record a track with effects? Are you adding a jingle or any other audio? Set the levels to get a good sounding finished track.
  7. Export
    • If it is for the website or ipods, use MP3 with variable bitrate, and lowest quality (smaller file)
    • For archival and burning CD's, use .FLAC. or .WAV)
  8. Listen to the final product
  9. Use the FTP program to copy the .MP3 to the web directory (if applicable)
note: I copied a simpler version of this tutoral to Audacity's wiki at http://wiki.audacityteam.org/wiki/Recording_Church_Services
and in Spanish at http://wiki.audacityteam.org/wiki/Es/Grabar_Servicios_Cristianos 

 

 

© Copyright 2012 Robert Stephens

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I am an engineer who studies audio and acoustics.

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