In April of 2013, the pastoral staff of my church was attending the Gospel Coalition Conference in Orlando, Florida. For four days, we stayed in the same hotel room, just talking about ministry, and brainstorming big, bold ideas for the future.
In the middle of discussions, the idea came up to record a live worship album. While the worship director and myself have been involved in countless past recording projects, we’d never done anything like this before. It would be an incredible challenge, but we were up for it.
The process took far longer than we expected, and it became far more difficult than we expected. As soon as we started this project, I started researching everything I could find on how to record a live album. While I found a few helpful tips, I didn’t find anything which was a true guide for a project like this.
This post exists to hopefully help a church somewhere record their own live worship album. This blog does assume that you have a solid knowledge of sound equipment, and the mixing process does require that you have someone that knows how to mix. There’s no quick and simple tips on how to do either one of those tasks.
As you read my suggestions, always remember that I’m assuming you’re a normal size church with normal resources. Therefore, I’m guessing that you’re not using professional musicians, and you don’t have expensive isolation booths, and other fancy equipment. Therefore, this tutorial is to help you record a “Live” album. “Live” is in quotes, because you will be overdubbing much of the album after it’s recorded.
I want to keep this as simple as possible, so each section will feature lots of bullet points, and to-the-point suggestions.
DO-IT-YOURSELF LIVE WORSHIP ALBUM
- The length of time between when you start a project like this, and when you finally release the album, is rather lengthy. So, if you choose a song that was huge with your church 12 months ago, it will feel very old and dated by the time the album is released.
- If you’re not recording original songs, pick either long-time church favorites, or something fresh and exciting.
- If you’re reading this, I’m assuming your band isn’t composed of a bunch of professionals. Remember that when selecting songs. Just because the song sounds good live doesn’t mean it will sound good on a recording. The room is very forgiving. Recordings have no mercy. Pick songs everyone can play absolutely perfectly.
- Keep in mind that recording 10 tracks requires doing twice as much post-production and mixing as recording 5 tracks. Start with an achievable goal.
- If you’re recording songs you didn’t write or that aren’t in public domain, you have to file a bunch of paperwork to get permission to record the songs.
- To cut to the chase, you will have to pay the song writer roughly 10 cents per copy of each song that you sell.
- There’s no one place you go to file paperwork, and there’s no set length of time that it takes. For the Hillsong songs we recorded, we received permission within about a week. Some of the other people took over a month to approve the recording.
WHAT YOU NEED TO DO:
- Beta 52
WHAT DO YOU DO WITH IT:
- Unplug your snake from your board (or whatever it is plugged into)
- Plug your snake into the 24-channel splitter
- The splitter will have two output cables for each input
- Plug one set of outputs back into your soundboard
- Plug the 2nd set of outputs into the OctoPre MKII (each OctoPre has 8 channels, and you will have three of them)
- OctoPre is used to get each signal up to proper recording levels
- Plug the 24-channel TRS snake into the output of the OctoPre’s
- Plug the other side of TRS snake into the Joenco Black Box Recorder
- A key element to a live album is crowd noise. With a worship album it’s even more important, because you want crowd singing. This requires that you place as many mics in the room as possible.
- The problem with room mics is that they will pick up far more stage volume than crowd singing. Therefore, you want to be creative to find ways to block as much direct sound from the speakers.
- The closer the room mics are to the audience, the better.
- We had four crowd mics. I would have preferred to have several more.
- This is the 21st century. The cheapest and easiest way to promote an album is online, using social media. When we posted a video from our live album, roughly 25% of our church shared the video on their Facebook page, and we had twice the number of plays as we have people in our church within two days. To make this happen, we had to film the event.
- Ideally, you need three cameras with at least two cameras manned.
- CAMERA #1 – Wide shot of the crowd and the stage. If one camera is unmanned, this camera can be unmanned.
- CAMERA #2 – Camera aimed at the lead singer. Ideally, this camera is manned so you can zoom in and out to show the other singers but, if necessary, it can go unmanned if you re-aim the camera each time a song has a different lead singer.
- CAMERA #3 – This camera is manned and up close to the stage. This camera aims at whichever instrument is most important at any given moment. Ideally, this camera person would be at band practice, so they can know the songs in advance.
- Vocals mics will pick up large amounts of stage noise. This means that vocals will be difficult to put in the mix and impossible to auto-tune.
- Acoustic guitars sound much better mic’d rather than plugged in direct.
- You’ll likely want to record some extra instruments to fill out the sound.
- Whenever possible, overdub parts in the room where you originally recorded. Overdubbing vocals in the original room will give you some natural reverb which matches the room. Recording the parts in isolation booths will give the album a studio vibe.
- This isn’t an opportunity to rearrange the song. This is an opportunity to record what you attempted before, or a cleaner version of what you did before. If you get too fancy with overdubs, it stops sounding live.
- Get together a group of at least 10 people to act as a choir for the entire album. Ideally, you’ll have a good mix of guys and girls. Have them clap at the beginning and end of songs. Likewise, have them make crowd improv noises from time to time. They will supplement your crowd mics during parts of the songs when the band is very loud.
- We recorded overdubs, mixed, and mastered using Logic Pro.
- If you don’t know how to mix and master, you can hire someone to do it for you. If you take it to a professional, this will get very pricey. If you can find a young do-it-yourself musician, they will be much cheaper.
- We have several members of our church who can mix. One of them is great at it. You likely have some people in your church who can help.
- If you mix it yourself, each song you add is more time that the mixing process will take. My theory going into the album was that once we mixed one song, we could create a preset we would apply to the other songs. While we did do that, it didn’t reduce the amount of time it took to mix by much.
- We released our album using TuneCore.com. They can walk you through the process of getting your songs on iTunes, and you can print physical CDs from their website. It’s all very simple. There are costs associated with their services but, compared to equipment rentals, it’s still cost effective.
- We released the album on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and we printed physical copies.
- iTunes and Amazon take roughly 30 cents for each song sold. If the song is a cover song, an additional 10 cents will be paid as royalties to the songwriter. That’s 40% of your gross right off the top.
- Spotify pays extraordinarily little. This is more of a promotional path than a revenue stream.
- Physical copies will most likely run around $3 per CD. This number varies based on the type of case you get and the number of CDs you print. But the cost of printing doesn’t change based on the number of songs you put on the album. Therefore, the more songs you put on the album and the more you charge for the CDs, the more cost effective the album is.
- Some people prefer iTunes, and some people prefer physical copies. You will significantly increase sales by offering both.
We recored the two additional songs using a Presonus StudioLive 24 channel board.