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 one or more pairs of speakers, a recording device, etc.
Typical hookup for churches.
Think of the mixer as the essential heart and brain of any live and recording setup. Investing in a quality mixer as your foundation will 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 and mountains of cables, it also saves the hassle of connecting it all to your mixer and hiding all those cables. The new StudioLive AI-series Active Integration™ mixers add even more onboard processing, along with many other new and improved features, while retaining the same ease of use that has made StudioLive the preferred choice of worship teams worldwide. (There are currently four models: the StudioLive 16.0.2, 16.4.2AI, 24.4.2AI, and 32.4.2AI.)
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 buses (aux buses for short). Let’s say a mixer has one aux bus. Each channel has an aux send knob that controls the level of that channel in the mixer’s aux bus. 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 bus 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 buses exclusively for monitors, the number of aux buses you have determines the number of discrete monitor mixes you can create. Most affordable mixers have one or two. Two aux buses give you two separate mixes; six aux buses means six separate mixes. Note that aux buses and their sends are typically mono, so a performer who needs a stereo monitor mix (such as a keyboardist using stereo in-ear monitors) will need two aux buses: one for left, one for right. Keep this in mind when determining how many aux buses you need.
Good news: StudioLive mixers have lots of aux buses for creating discrete monitor mixes: 4 to 14, depending on the model. All aux buses on StudioLive mixers feature all of the same feedback-busting, frequency-balancing, dynamic-processing goodness found on the channels. 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 aux sends in StudioLive AI-series mixers can be wirelessly controlled from an Apple iPad®, iPhone®, or iPod touch®, using free software. With free PreSonus QMix™-AI software for iPhone and iPod touch, up to 14 worship musicians—and for that matter, the choir director and pastor—can simultaneously control their own StudioLive monitor (aux) mixes.
QMix™-AI 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 the StudioLive AI mixer’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?
Although the mixer is the core of a good PA system, it is often tucked out of the way in order to hide the cables and the mixer’s flashing lights and to keep the mixer safe from curious young congregants. The problem is, hiding the mixer usually means locating the sound person away from the “sweet spot” —the mid point between the two sides of a speaker system where the entire system sounds its best.
The sweet spot is the optimal position to hear what you are mixing. If you can’t hear properly at the mix position, you’ll get a lot of exercise running to the optimal listening position, listening for problems, and then running back the mixer to correct the problems before you forget the problem you heard. Obviously, this is not a desirable way to mix.
Some modern mixers have solved this by allowing you to remotely control the mixer from an iPad or laptop. This allows the mixer to be placed pretty much anywhere in the sanctuary. 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 it 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!
Good news: You don’t have to stay at the mix position. SL Remote-AI for iPad, available free from the Apple App Store, provides almost complete, direct, wireless control of any StudioLive AI-series mixer. With just the mixer, an iPad, and a wireless router, 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!
Even more good news: StudioLive AI mixers are as easy to network as your iPad. Connect an Ethernet cable from your StudioLive AI mixer to your wireless router, and you’re connected to the network. No further setup is required. Need to go wireless? No problem. Connected the included USB LAN adapter to your StudioLive AI mixer’s USB connection and then scan for your network. You can browse for available wireless networks right from your StudioLive’s System menu, just like you do with an iPad—no IT training required.
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.
Good news: The AudioBox Stereo Bundle from PreSonus provides everything you need to create high-quality stereo recordings. By using the included pair of professional small-diaphragm condenser mics, you can easily record your choir at a competition or mobile event and is a great solution for capturing an intimate acoustic service at a summer camp. All you need is two microphone stands; everything else is provided in the bundle…even the cables and the recording software!
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 advanced setup, cabling, and audio know-how. PreSonus has removed this hurdle with the StudioLive AI mixer by building in a professional FireWire audio interface that allows you to simply connect the mixer to your computer and hit Record in the included Capture™ recording program—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 AI mixer you’ve connected to your computer and automatically creates a track for every input channel and a stereo track for recording your main mix.
How can we make services available to housebound congregants?
If you have a StudioLive AI 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 Nimbit® account and email your home-bound congregants a link to download it—or upload the mix to SoundCloud™ directly from Studio One and have congregants stream it live on their computer. If your church has a Facebook page, you can create a Nimbit store and SoundCloud 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 as 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, track names, markers, edits, and even your StudioLive Fat Channel come with you. No importing or conversion necessary!
Moreover, when you record with Capture and a StudioLive AI-series mixer, you can save the mixer scene with the Capture Session. A StudioLive mixer scene contains virtually all of the mixer’s key settings, such as fader levels, buses, routing, EQ settings, and dynamics processing. When you open the Capture Session in Studio One, your StudioLive AI mixer scene loads in Studio One, as well—including the Fat Channel processing. (The StudioLive reverb and delay processing is not included.) The result is that, except for effects, the mixer in Studio One configures itself just like your StudioLive AI mixer when the scene was stored.
All fader levels in Studio One will match the levels set on your StudioLive AI mixer. Each channel in Studio One will be loaded with Studio One’s Fat Channel plug-in, with the same Fat Channel settings you dialed in on the StudioLive AI mixer. Even mutes, solos, and effects sends will be loaded. Now you can work with the recording at home while the mixer stays in the sanctuary, yet your recording will sound the same in Studio One as it did during the service. This provides a great starting point for any live mix because you don’t have to redo all the good work you did while your were mixing the service.
Good news: The Studio One Fat Channel plug-in is fully compatible with VSL-AI for StudioLive AI series mixers. This means that if you create a preset you want to try out at the next service on your mixer, you simply save it a preset for VSL-AI. From VSL-AI you can load it remotely on your mixer or save it directly to your StudioLive AI mixer’s Fat Channel preset library. All presets created or stored in VSL-AI automatically show up as presets for the Studio One Fat Channel, so your Fat Channel settings can go from sanctuary to studio and back!
Can this technology help us train new volunteers?
The volunteers at your church keep it running. You rely on them for everything from answering the phones when the secretary in the office has the flu to operating the mixer or playing bass in the Sunday service. Training your volunteers so that you get the most out of the investment you made in your PA system can be as challenging as creating a pool of musicians for your praise team. This is where virtual soundcheck can save training time and frustration for everyone involved.
As its name implies, virtual soundcheck allows you to check the sound of your praise band “virtually” – that is, without the band. Many modern digital mixers provide some way to do this (some more complex than others) but only a couple have a true virtual soundcheck that is completely integrated into the mixer. StudioLive AI mixers are able to provide this amazing experience through Capture’s unique Virtual Soundcheck mode.
The first two steps in training your new mix volunteer should be turning on the StudioLive AI mixer and launching Capture on a computer that’s connected to the mixer. Once Capture is launched, the new volunteer should click the Virtual Soundcheck button and pick one of the pre-recorded services you have stored on the computer. This will load the recorded audio onto the tracks in Capture, complete with track names, and engage all the digital returns on the StudioLive AI mixer. Your new volunteer can now play back audio through the system and get acquainted with the mixer without being nervous about making a mistake in front of the congregation. Once they are comfortable with Capture and the basics of the mixer, they can come in on their own to practice.
Virtual soundcheck also comes in handy when musicians are running late because of other commitments, enabling you to dial in a great mix while you’re waiting. When everyone has arrived, simply click the Virtual Soundcheck button again to remove the audio from the Capture session, disengage all the digital returns on the mixer, and arm every track in Capture for recording so you can record the rehearsal or service.
Good news: Track names in Capture are broadcast throughout the StudioLive AI network. This means that when your virtual soundcheck is done, the channels on your StudioLive AI mixer, in SL Remote-AI, and in QMix-AI are labeled and ready to go.
Virtual Soundcheck doesn’t just make life a little easier for the people behind the mixer; it can also help your praise leader create a team of musicians and elevate everyone’s skill level. Your praise leader can practice with one or two new musicians during the week and let them practice with the rest of praise team without needing to organize a big rehearsal.
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 Digital Return 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.
Good news: There are many online services that provide high-quality multitrack versions of contemporary Christian worship songs. These allow you to either fill in the gaps in your praise band or fill out your already amazing worship-team lineup with string sections, harmony or backing vocals, and more. Using these tracks in Studio One is as easy as drag-and-drop. Studio One’s browser lets you see every audio file on your computer and drag it into a session. It will even create an audio track for you! These tracks can be used live in the same way as pre-recorded audio tracks and can be a great way to add a special touch to holiday services.
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 or Nimbit 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 (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.
Plug-ins can also be used for processing during services. For example, if you need a guitar amp but don’t have the space for one, you can insert Studio One’s Ampire XT plug-in on the guitar player’s track in Studio One. Engage the digital return on the guitar player’s mixer channel, and you can use the processed signal during services while your guitar player is playing live and being recorded in Studio One!
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. The site includes 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 great recordings —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 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 audio content 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 also lets you create shareable, interactive campaigns 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.
Nimbit can become a beneficial revenue stream for any organization and 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 followers you have. You can even check your Nimbit dashboard (and your SoundCloud dashboard) right from the Studio One Start page.
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!
Before you distribute a CD or stream or sell audio content on your Web site, you need to obtain a mechanical license from the copyright owner or administrator. This may sound daunting but there are many resources to ensure that you are in compliance with the law and that artists providing the inspirational material you use are getting paid so that they can create more material for you to enjoy.
While there are several options to get a mechanical license, perhaps the simplest is to subscribe to an annual or single-use licensing service that specializes in Praise and Worship music, like Christian Copyright Solutions (CCS), Church Copyright Licensing International (CCLI), or OneLicense. These services provide a blanket licenses for performances, audio streaming over the Internet, printing lyrics in bulletins, duplicating sheet music for choir members, and reproducing music for distribution. By subscribing to one or more of these services you can use any song in their catalog for a variety of purposes, depending on the type of subscription you have.
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 output (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.