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Boot Camp: Just for the Record (Part I)

“Remember that service when…?”
“What an incredible message. I want a friend to hear that.”
“Wow, what an inspiring service. I just have to share that with…”

How many times have you attended a worship service, conference, seminar, or special event, and then headed straight to the “tape counter” to get a copy to keep for future reference? It happens all the time, and perhaps could even happen more often than it now does at your church, if you have an effective recording ministry in place.

What we have for so long referred to as “the tape ministry” continues to grow and expand in scope through developing technology, but the basic principal remains the same: preserve the moment for next week, next year, or even future generations.

We’re going to take a few installments in this new series to discuss the ins and outs of the recording ministry, more specifically, what all it takes to capture, clean, copy, and “consumer-ize” any important event so that those who desire can immediately take it home with them.

Many churches have been recording and duplicating tapes for years, and some are in the process of thinking about it, so we’re going to start at the very beginning, assuming nothing is yet in place, and “First Church” has no idea of where to go first. Let’s get going!

Where Does it All Come From?
The audio signal that will eventually end up as your recorded “product” will come from one of two places: either from your main “house” audio console or, in a more complex installation or setup, from a separate, dedicated recording console. The dedicated recording console (and facility, for that matter) is increasingly becoming the format of choice, but many of us are still a few years away from convincing our finance board that we need at least two audio consoles. For most of them, the “Bogen” was just fine, thank-you-very-much. Let’s take a quick look at both options in this issue.

The Dedicated System
Here’s how a simple, dedicated system is configured: each source of audio —lines, microphones, instruments, etc.— is fed directly to a signal splitter. The signal is then fed (or “split”) out to both the main house console, and to the dedicated recording console. Both signals are identical, and because of a transformer in the split, the two consoles never “see” each other, thus, they do not affect each other in any way.

This is why transformer splits are important: they “isolate” each piece of hardware, and leave it thinking that it is the most important thing in the church. Many well-meaning, budget-minded techies attempt the “let’s-just-make-a-Y-cable” approach. They are usually left frustrated by hums and buzz caused by ground loops as each piece of equipment looks for the best way to ground itself.

In permanent installations —as in my own church— all stage input lines go to the “inside” of the balcony, where a “trap door” provides access to 122 Jensen transformers simply mounted to a piece of plywood. No fancy cases or housings here, just those little guys doing their job of telling the house console, “you are mighty. You are exclusive. There is no other console in this place, but you, O great one.”

In the meantime, as they send each of the stage signals to the main console in the balcony just overhead, they are also sneaking an exact copy of each signal (through a separate 22-gauge mic line) some 100 feet away to the recording facility. Here, it shows up at that patch bay as though it was the only console on earth. Such deceptionSbut this kind is ok in the church.

Transformers are also available in a small box-type as well, looking much like a D.I. box. This type of splitter can be located right at the stage, and then two separate snakes run to their respective consoles. (If there is a stage monitor mixing console, then the need would call for a three-way split.)

Now that the “recording console” has its audio source(s) readily available via the “record” patch bay, channels can be assigned, levels set, and equalization and effects can be added to the recording engineer’s content, and everyone in the house is happy.

Keep in mind that the wonderful advantage of this arrangement —no matter how simple the recording setup— is that a recording engineer has complete control over what goes onto tape, and the guy or gal operating the house audio console isn’t affected in any way. No pushing, shoving, or belligerent behavior here.

We’ll return with “what to do at the console later, but let’s pause for a moment and look at the other option: doing everything from the house mixer location.

The Shared System
While not ideal by any means, many of us have no option but to somehow connect our recording device to the main house console and, with no excuses, obtain a studio-quality mix without the house engineer even knowing that we showed up this morning. I’ve been there.

You know the feeling: all you want to do is get a decent mix, but anything you do distracts the house engineer. At times you’re even asking him or her to compromise their mix for your sake. Most of us would rather drip hot solder on our fingernailsSbut we can work together, if we take some time before the service to get everyone set and happy.

Remember that with this “shared system” configuration, for apparent reasons, the house engineer must have final say; the house mix cannot be compromised for the sake of recording. There are several ways in which a house console can “feed” a recording device:
• through an auxiliary bus
• through sub-mix outputs, and
• through direct channel outputs (or insert points)

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