Sanctuary or Studio?

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

Do you record your church service? Most of us do, but why? In my opinion, we record our church services for three distinct reasons.

1. To create a historical record

2. To “time delay” our services for those that cannot attend

3. To use as an outreach and ministry tool

Traditionally, we have used fairly simple means to record our services. A “board mix” is sent off of the live sound console to a cassette deck and the sermon is recorded. Our gauge of success was “Can I understand what the preacher is saying?”

If we could understand the difference between Corinthians and Chronicles, than we considered it a job well done.

Over the last decade, there has been a transition in this mentality. Increasingly, churches are not merely distributing the message but are attempting to enroll the listener in the whole worship process. This means recording all of the aspects of the service, including special music and congregational singing. The goal of this kind of approach is to translate the listener into the worship service.

Once we have defined this as our goal, being “intelligible” is no longer a good indicator of success in our recording. An increasing amount of churches are using more contemporary music and blended worship formats. Because of this, the recordings that we make of our services are being compared to recordings the listener already has. Secular or Christian, most commercial music made today has very high production value. In layman’s terms, it sounds great. Obviously, if we want to use this recording as an outreach tool, we want our recordings to sound the best that they possibly can.

A wonderful first step is to “go digital”. A CD recorder can be inserted in place of the cassette deck in this recording situation and the church immediately gains several things. A CD recorder is MUCH quieter than a cassette deck. This means less background noise to distract from what is going on. This same CD can then be duplicated, much faster than real time, with absolutely no loss in quality. Even the best of cassette duplicators will always have “generation loss” so that a copy will NEVER sound as good as the original. CDs are also more resistant to damage and will store for long periods of time with no ill effects. A CD recorder is also operationally very similar to a cassette deck, so it is not difficult to train your sound operators to use it.

Perhaps most important is the fact that cassettes are going away. I did some informal research at my local electronics superstore. They had sixteen shelf spaces for cassette decks. Four of these were filled by other products, and seven were completely empty. I won’t even mention the layer of dust on the remaining product. Even most cars today are equipped with CD players. These facts make the CD a much better distribution tool to move forward with, even if you continue to record services on cassette to meet the needs of some members.

OK, that was the easy part. Now comes the part you were dreading: The Next Big Step. Commercial recordings are made in multi-track recording studios. These are controlled acoustic environments that allow the person doing the recording to isolate individual elements of the recording (choir, preacher, cello etc.) to their own track so they can be manipulated after the fact. Time travel is also included in these facilities, in the form of what we call “overdubbing”. This is the process that allows a person to sing their own background vocals or play bass and drums on the same song.

I spoke passionately with the elders in my church about tearing out the last three pews in our church, building an isolated room, hanging absorptive materials all over the walls and placing audio deflectors all over the stage to keep the audio sources from bleeding into each other. I am pretty certain that when they suggested that the evangelical church down the street could use my services they were trying to encourage my missionary motives.

The jest here is clear. Our goal in a church is to provide an environment that is conducive to worship, and most of us do not meet to worship in a studio. There are still elements of what goes on in a studio that can be applied to recording a worship service.

Recording individual sources onto their own tracks gives us a much higher level of control over the recording. These tracks must be “mixed down” to a stereo source for them to be playable. So unlike our CD recording, we are not done with our recording when the church service is over. This means that a whole new schedule must be set up. Is your goal to be able to hand out recordings of the service at the Sunday evening service, or the mid week gathering? Would your church rather gather a month’s worth of worship services and put them out as a collection at the end of the month? These kind of timing decisions will impact how you structure your recording system.

If you do decide that you want the additional control and precision of recording your worship service on multiple tracks you will have to dedicate a range of new resources to the project. This will include equipment, time, space and a new group of volunteers. The good news is that professional quality equipment has plummeted in price. The bad news is that time, space and volunteers are more precious than ever.

Over the next couple of issues we are going to go over some of the questions to ask and their impact on the kind of technology you may put to use in recording your church services. Your church may or may not be interested in adding these kinds of technologies to your recording process. My goal over the next couple of months will be to help you to ask the correct questions to determine what kind of system best suits your church’s applications.


Board mix- Using an audio feed off of the live sound mixer to record a service

Generation Loss- Quality lost when you copy a cassette tape

Multi-track- A method of recording where individual sources get their own track

Mix down- Combining the tracks of a multi-track into a format that can be played elsewhere

Overdubbing- Adding audio on top of a partially finished recording