How to Mix and Record Church Services—and More
Although worship teams deal with many different scenarios and levels of user sophistication, they generally have a lot of common needs, aspirations, and questions. We’ve assembled some of the most common, important and oft-asked questions and answers all in one place to help your worship team accomplish its goals.
What is a mixer and why do I need one?
Whether they have 100 members or 1,000, many modern churches need more than an organ and a choir to lead a praise service. When you add a praise band and more, you need a PA system, and the central component of a PA system is the mixer.
At a basic level a mixer does exactly what its name implies: mix audio signals together. If you have more than one sound source (say, five microphones, an electric guitar, a piano, and an organ), you need a mixer to combine all of these audio signals in such a way that you can control the relative balance between them and then send out your mix to a pair of speakers, a recording device, etc.
Think of the mixer as the essential heart and brain of any live and recording setup. Without a solid mixer as your foundation, everything else is meaningless. Investing in a good mixer can save a lot of money on peripherals and operational headaches.
Beyond basic level and pan control, a good digital mixer will allow you to avoid purchasing equalizers, compressors, noise gates, multi-effects units, etc. While, you don’t need these processors to mix audio, they are essential for producing better sounding, more polished mixes. However, until recently, a digital mixer that would provide all these tools was out of financial reach for all but mega-churches with thousands of congregants.
PreSonus StudioLive™ digital mixers changed all that, providing a wealth of onboard processing for every input and output. This not only saves the cost of buying expensive outboard gear, it also saves the hassle of connecting it to your mixer and trying to hide mountains of cables.
Good news: You don’t have to know how to use a compressor, noise gate, or EQ on a kick drum or vocal to use these processors on the StudioLive mixer. Every StudioLive mixer comes with 50 channel-strip presets for the most common instruments. Simply load it and go.
How do we budget for personal monitor-mixing systems?
Most mixers have some ability to send at least a universal monitor mix to the stage. This is typically done with auxiliary sends (aux sends for short). Let’s say a mixer has one aux send. Each channel has an aux send knob that controls the level of that channel in the mixer’s aux output. You build your monitor mix by setting the aux-send levels for all channels you want in the monitors. Route the aux output to one or more stage monitors, and you have a monitor mix that you can control separately from the main mix.
If you’re thinking an aux send sounds a lot like a channel fader, you’re way ahead of the game. Just as each channel fader allows you to create a mix for the main output, each aux send allows you to create a mix for the corresponding aux output. (Aux sends can also be used for other things like routing controlled amounts of signals to outboard effects.)
Assuming that you’re using aux sends exclusively for monitors, the number of aux sends you have determines the number of discrete monitor mixes you can create. Most affordable mixers have one or two. Two aux sends gives you two separate mixes; six aux sends means six separate mixes. Note that aux sends are typically mono, so a performer needing a stereo monitor mix (such as a keyboardist using stereo in-ear monitors) will need two aux channels—one for left, one for right. Keep this in mind when determining how many aux sends you need.
Good News: StudioLive mixers have lots of aux sends for creating discrete monitor mixes—4 to 10, depending on the model. (Recently, PreSonus announced the StudioLive 32.4.2AI, which will have 14 auxes.) All aux sends on StudioLive mixers feature all of the same feedback-busting, frequency-balancing, dynamic-processing goodness found on the channels themselves. You can create a slew of high-quality, individual mixes for your performers without spending an additional penny beyond the cost of the StudioLive and monitors.
Even better, the monitor (aux) sends in StudioLive mixers can be wirelessly controlled from an Apple iPad®, iPhone®, or iPod touch®, using free software. With free PreSonus QMix™ software for iPhone and iPod touch, up to ten worship musicians—and for that matter, the choir director and pastor—can simultaneously control their own StudioLive monitor (aux) mixes.
QMix makes creating monitor mixes easy with the Wheel of Me view. This lets you select multiple "Me" channels and turn them all up in your monitor at the same time, while controlling the relative balance between “Me” and the rest of the band.
More advanced users can have complete control of the aux-mix send level and panning (for linked auxes) for each channel from the Aux View. Using Virtual StudioLive’s security features, you can let each musician create a personal monitor mix—or restrict them to the Wheel of Me while you create their mix.
How can I get better at mixing when I can’t hear the speaker system very well from the mix position at my church?
Good News: You don’t have to stay at the mix position. StudioLive Remote for iPad, available free from the Apple App Store, provides almost complete control of any StudioLive mixer. So you can wirelessly control the front-of-house mix, processing, routing, and more from anywhere in the sanctuary—even in the choir loft. Even better, the volunteer running sound for your service doesn’t have to be isolated from the rest of the community. They can mix right from their pew!
In fact, some worship teams don’t even place the mixer at a mix position out front. They place the mixer behind or beside the stage and control the mixer from an iPad. That also means they don’t need to run a big, heavy audio snake across the floor of the sanctuary. This is especially great for mobile churches!
Should we record our services?
Yes! Recording your services allows you to do more than simply archiving your pastor’s most powerful sermons or hand out song recordings to new praise band members. Recording your service can offer your terrific opportunities to reach out into your community and even fundraise for your church (more on that in a minute).
The professional solution for recording to computer is an audio interface, such as the PreSonus FireStudio™ series and AudioBox™ VSL series. An audio interface converts analog signals to digital and vice versa and routes digital audio to and from a computer via USB (the AudioBox VSL series) or FireWire (the FireStudio series). Audio interfaces generally have better A/D and D/A converters than you’ll find in most computers, and they often provide additional features, such as high-quality mic preamps, phantom power to operate condenser microphones, and more. Models range from single or dual channels on up to eight channels and even more. (PreSonus FireStudio interfaces also allow cascading multiple units via FireWire for up to 48 channels!)
Luckily, professional-quality audio interfaces for your computer are now affordable and abundant. Using these with some decent mics is a great solution for any recording application. An added bonus of recording directly to a laptop or desktop computer is that you can more easily edit and mix your recording, burn it to a CD, and post it to the Web.
If you’re recording a worship service, you have all your instruments and microphones connected to a mixer, and you have to figure out how to get the signals into your audio interface at the same time. This isn’t impossible, but it is going to involve some setup, cabling, and audio know-how. PreSonus has removed this hurdle with the StudioLive mixer by building in a professional FireWire audio interface that allows you to simply connect the mixer to your laptop and hit Record—no cabling, patching, or signal-routing involved.
Another problem with most audio interfaces is trying to get your recording software configured to communicate with them so that each mic and instrument is recorded to the appropriate software track and prerecorded tracks play back correctly. PreSonus has solved this with the StudioLive and all PreSonus audio interfaces by including a powerful, yet easy-to-use, professional recording and mixing application: Studio One® Artist. While Studio One will work with any audio interface, it is designed to integrate with PreSonus audio interfaces and mixers at a much deeper level, simplifying the entire configuration process. By providing easy-to-use templates for every PreSonus audio interface, you never have to assign interface or mixer channels to software tracks because that’s all preconfigured for you.
Most people on the PreSonus staff are musicians and audio engineers, and many them perform, mix, and record for their churches. As a result, PreSonus deeply understands the problems that are encountered when you are trying to mix the service, make sure mics aren’t feeding back, mix monitors, and record, all at the same time. As simple as Studio One is, we knew we could make live recording even simpler. This is where Capture™ comes in.
Good News: PreSonus Capture live-recording software, included with all StudioLive mixers, installs easily, requires no setup of any sort, is designed specifically for the StudioLive, and lets you record the individual tracks and/or a stereo mix with one mouse click. Capture knows which StudioLive mixer you’ve connected to your computer and automatically created a track for every input channels and, for StudioLive 16.4.2, 24.4.2, and 32.4.2AI mixers, it also creates a stereo track for you to record your main mix.
How can we make services available to house-bound congregants?
If you have a StudioLive mixer, you can start by simply recording the stereo mix in real time directly to the stereo track in Capture. But you don’t have to choose between recording a stereo mix and recording individual tracks.
Stereo mixes have their disadvantages, especially if you’re simply recording the main mix that is also feeding your house speakers. Let’s say the guitar amp is so loud enough in the house that it doesn’t need to be reinforced through the main sound system. If the guitar is not in the front-of-house mix, a recording of that mix won’t include guitar. Vocals are typically very loud in the house mix so that they can be clearly heard; if you record the house mix, your recording would be too vocal-heavy. (It should be mentioned that your StudioLive mixer lets your record any stereo mix on your mixer so subgroups or aux mixes can be used to create a separate recording mix.)
The biggest advantage of a stereo mix is that it’s already mixed and therefore readily available for quick distribution. After the service, simply upload the stereo mix of the service to your free SoundCloud™ account and email your home-bound congregants a link to stream it live on their computer. If your church has a Facebook page, you can post a link there too!
Because you have all the individual tracks recorded as well, you can dig into Studio One to do a proper mix with those later and make the highlights available as an online archive, or create CDs or MP3s to sell as a fundraiser (more on that shortly).
Beyond that, there’s a handy shortcut if you want to record the whole event, yet post only one or more sections. Normally, this would require listening to the playback after the event and editing the digital audio file—but not when you record with PreSonus Capture. Capture lets you easily drop markers at strategic points while recording. You might, for example, drop markers at the beginning and end of the sermon, drop markers at the beginning and ending of each choir performance, and so on. Then after the service, with a few clicks you can easily tell Capture to export the sections between specified markers as separate audio files. Voila! Your hard drive now contains a file with just the sermon in one file, each choir performance in a separate file, etc. And you still have the original recording of the entire service.
If you need to do some basic editing before you post to the Web, such as trimming dead space from the beginning or end of a recorded section, Capture lets you do that too. If you need more editing control, such as pasting a stock intro onto the beginning, or using software signal processors to sweeten the sound, you can do that in PreSonus Studio One Artist, included free with every PreSonus StudioLive mixer and audio interface. Studio One Artist rivals many audio editors costing hundreds of dollars.
Good News: Just like Studio One Artist is integrated with all PreSonus audio interfaces, it’s also integrated with Capture! Simply open your Capture session from within Studio One and all your tracks, markers, and edits come with you. No importing or conversion necessary!
What’s the best way to sing/play along with background tracks?
Easy. Just use the Capture or Studio One software to record the backing tracks in advance. For playback, press the appropriate FireWire buttons on the StudioLive to route the tracks back through channels on the mixer. You could prepare something as simple as a full stereo mix for a performer and the congregation to sing along with, or as advanced as individual tracks that members of the praise band have previously recorded in order to embellish the performance. The keyboardist, for example, might prerecord some orchestral tracks in order to be able to focus on playing a main piano part live.
In some of these situations, you’ll want one or more members (usually at least the drummer) playing to a click track. A click track is basically just a metronome that makes it easy to sync up the live performance with the prerecorded tracks. Since you don’t want the audience to hear the click, mute the corresponding mixer channel in the main mix and just send it to the aux sends for the appropriate performers’ monitors.
[VSL screenshot showing some tracks accepting analog input and other tracks with FireWire returns engaged. Show signals in the meters at least for the FW returns.]
What else can we do with our multitrack recordings?
Multitrack recordings can be a great way to attract new congregants, send your pastor’s message out to the world beyond your local community, and provide the congregation with easy access to inspirational sermons and music. But like any public engagement, you want to put your best foot forward. While the stereo mix you record in real time and upload to SoundCloud can be a great way for sick and elderly congregants to feel connected to their community when they can’t attend services, it’s not the best quality that it can be. This is where the integration between Capture, StudioLive, and Studio One comes in.
As we already mentioned early, you can simply launch Studio One and open your Capture session. Unlike most DAWs, bringing in additional tracks or loading plug-ins is as easy as drag-and-drop from Studio One’s browser. A plug-in is a piece of software that mimics hardware within a recording application (i.e. reverb, delay, compressor, EQ, etc.).
From within Studio One, you have access to a complete suite of signal-processing plug-ins and everything else you need to create a polished, professional quality mix of your service.
Need to cut out just the sermon? Studio One makes it easy. Simply make a cut at the beginning of the sermon in the audio file and another at the end, then drag the clip to the file browser in Studio One to save it as a standalone audio file that can be accessed from other Studio One or Capture sessions.
Good News: PreSonus understands that not everyone is an audio engineering prodigy, so the company has spent years creating an extensive library of online videos that cover nearly every aspect of recording, mixing, and mastering in Studio One. In addition, PreSonus offers an online Knowledge Base and active forums where Studio One users and PreSonus staff swap tips, tricks, and ideas. PreSonus also presents workshops at a variety of events, some of them specifically created for worship teams.
Furthermore, PreSonus offers a dedicated Studio One Web site. To check out the Studio One site, visit www.presonus.com and choose Studio One from the Products menu. During the summer of 2013, a completely new Studio One site will go online at the same link. The new site will include in-depth descriptions of the program’s features; links to relevant instructional videos; an extensive FAQ; installation instructions; and much more.
To top it off, publishing companies Hal Leonard Publishing and Alfred Music and instructional video companies lynda.com, groove3.com, and macProVideo.com offer Studio One instruction, as does Obedia.com.
We have good recorded mixes and sermons—now what?
While Studio One Artist provides all the tools you need create a polished mix, upgrading to Studio One Professional will unlock the full potential of this software. Studio One Professional is the first and only DAW that provides an integrated mastering application and a way for you to upload final mixes direct to the Web.
The Project page is a dedicated mastering solution that is integrated into Studio One Professional. Here, you can burn industry-standard Red Book audio CDs, create high-quality MP3 albums, and much more. Songs and audio files are arranged as a sequence of tracks on a continuous timeline.
You can apply effects to individual tracks, as well as to the master output track, in order to achieve sonic continuity throughout the project. The integrated browser makes importing songs, audio files, and audio effects fast and easy. Studio One songs can be imported directly into your projects without having to export a song mix. After a song has been imported into a project, you can go back and change the song mix, and the project will be automatically updated. No other DAW offers this kind of seamless workflow.
We’ve already mentioned SoundCloud as a way for congregants to easily stream services by simply clicking on a link. From the Project page in Studio One Professional, you can upload directly to SoundCloud.
From Studio One Artist, Producer, or Professional, you can upload directly to your Nimbit® account and tap to offer your sermons, worship music, and services on the Web. Nimbit is a subsidiary of PreSonus and is dedicated to providing services needed by anyone trying to build a strong, supportive relationship with their devotees through recorded material. Nimbit enables you to give away or sell music and merchandise from beautiful storefronts in Facebook, Jango Internet Radio, PledgeMusic, and on your church Web site.
Nimbit handles payment processing for your sales, and if you like, you can let Nimbit do warehousing and fulfillment for your physical goods, too. For that matter, Nimbit can manufacture your CDs and DVDs before packaging, warehousing, selling, and shipping them for you. Nimbit can also distribute your virtual goods to iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon MP3 through its DittoMusic connection.
Nimbit also lets you create shareable, interactive promotions on Facebook, Twitter, and your own Web site that incorporate music, video players, and a personal message. You can even offer free downloads or discounts on sales through a church storefront.
Your pastor’s sermons speak to your congregation; now they can speak to the world through your Web site, too! Nimbit allows you to create an archive of sermons on your site that people can download to their mobile devices and listen to again and again for inspiration and comfort. People who download free content or who make a purchase are given the opportunity to leave a donation for any amount. This allows people to give as little or as much as they can afford.
We know from experience that Nimbit can become a profitable revenue stream for artists and organizations but you don’t have to take our word for it. Nimbit keeps you informed of how well you’re doing with a variety of analytics. Your Nimbit dashboard shows you these analytics, such as your direct sales and how many new fans you have.
Good News: Need to raise funds for a mission trip? Use your praise band and choir recordings as a free gift for those who donate. There’s no restriction on the amount that you can sell recordings for. Use the Merchandise section of your storefront for your next fundraiser to sell raffle tickets (be sure to comply with all laws regulating raffles!), children’s artwork, and more!
How do we get a good soundtrack for our videos?
The built-in mics on most video cameras don’t give professional results. There are several ways around this. Assuming that the camera has an external audio input (many do not), the quick-and-dirty method is to bypass the camera’s mic by connecting an extra StudioLive subgroup output or aux send (or pairs for stereo)—complete with Fat Channel processing—to the camera’s external audio input.
Good News. For even more polished productions, Studio One Professional supports QuickTime (.mov) video playback within its audio-production environment. While watching video clips in Studio One Professional, you can extract the audio, process it for better sound, then dub it back into the video.
There’s an even better solution, though: While videotaping, use Capture to record the live audio to the computer. Afterward, in Studio One Professional, tweak the mix as needed and completely replace the entire audio track of your video with the much more polished version.
For more information about PreSonus and its products, please visit www.presonus.com.