Church recording challenge

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by mkt, Mar 30, 2011.

  1. mkt

    mkt Active Member

    I've been handling the care and feeding of the church sound reinforcement system for a while now and doubling as the roadie for our traveling singers. FWIW, the church PA is a garden variety TOA mixer/amp in a rack with Shure SM58 wireless mics, wired podium mics on the pulpit and and lectern, and a Tascam tape deck. We've been distributing and posting podcasts of the sermon. However, I've now been asked to figure out a way to record the "entire service," including the music.

    We recently took out a couple of pews on the left side of the sanctuary to move the music closer to the congregation. I've attached a couple of rough diagrams showing the two most common layouts in use on any given Sunday.

    The diagram that I'll call "left side" shows the choir (15-20 singers) standing behind the piano (lid closed) -- the choir director plays and directs from the keyboard. The front row of the choir is on the same level as the piano. The back two rows are on a raised platform. The two X's behind the piano bench are optional instrumentalists. Last week we had a violinist and a bassoon there. Behind the X's you see two small circles representing congas, which could be used with other percussion (tambourine, claves, etc.) on Spanish and Gospel numbers, and occasionally on an impromptu basis. None of this is currently miked.

    The two X's in front of the piano, closest the center aisle, represent vocal or instrumental soloists who could perform alone or with acoustic guitar or piano accompaniment. Sometimes a singer here will use an SM58 wireless on a stand. However, strings (violin, guitar) sound beautiful in this space and don't require any amplification to be heard by the congregation.

    The diagram I'll call "a capella" shows the choir centered on the steps in front of the altar with director standing in front. The choir is not currently miked in this position. The X in front of the choir could be a vocal soloist, either a capella or using an SM58 as a stand or hand mic. A vocal soloist or narrator might also stand behind the lectern on the right, where he or she would be picked up by the podium mic on a goose neck.

    To top it all off, there is a pipe organ, with pipes on both the left and right sides behind the altar. The pulpit and lectern mics (open during the service) actually do a fairly decent job of picking up the organ and getting it onto the tape.

    I'm leaving electronic instruments out of the mix, since we don't have a praise band and I don't see one on the horizon. When we do have electric guitars and keyboards, the musicians bring their own amps. That's all they need to fill our rather live space, which seats about 200 on the main floor and 60 or so in the balcony.

    A little more about the hall. The center and side aisles and the chancel are carpeted, including the areas where the singers stand. However, the floor immediately around the piano is tiled (unfortunately, as it tends to be overbalanced), as is the floor under the pews. The pews are wood (no cushions), the side walls are concrete block and glass, and the sharply peaked roof is bare wood. HVAC consist of floor heat registers along the outside walls in the back half of the sanctuary, but not in the front area where the musicians perform. There is a small amount of air noise from the pipe organ wind chests.

    Basically, what I've said I would do is come up with a plan to capture the entire service: something decent enough to put up on the web or burn to CD for shut-ins -- but not a "high fidelity" (do people use that term any more?) product. That said, I'd still like to do as good a job as I can.

    I've been working through mixer options and recording methods, and I may come back to those later, but right now I'm still trying to think through a strategy for miking everything.

    The assumption at the moment is that we will need to train someone to do a live mix, separate from the PA system. I'm thinking about splitting the signals from the podium mics and at least a couple of the wireless handhelds so those feeds would be available. Beyond that, here are the resources and constraints I am working with...

    We cannot hang mics over the center aisle, because this would get in the way of the banners that are hung there during the holidays. A modest number of floor stands is OK, but there is a strong sentiment against booms or anything that might obstruct the view, be tripped over, or make the sanctuary look like a recording studio. There are routes available to run cables to the back of the house and a closet that might be remodeled to hold equipment. I can get a dedicated electrical circuit installed. A cherry picker can be rented if we need to do something up high.

    Quality of equipment. (sigh) At this point I'd be pressed to spend more than $300 or so per mic. On the other hand, if we really need something better to make it work (given the stated goals of the project) I can go looking for donations.

    What I'm really hoping for right now is a mic strategy. My bias is that simpler is better, but I'm very open to your suggestions and observations. Many thanks.

    Cheers,
    mkt

    LeftSide.png ACapella.png
     
  2. mkt

    mkt Active Member

    Just a follow-on thought. For the moment, I'm trying to work through what (to me) are the main characteristics of the mic challenge: we don't need to amplify anything more than we are amping now (mainly solo voices), the music is acoustic, the choir changes locations during the service, and the piano sits out in front of everything. While there are other aspects to this project, my assumption is that first order of business is to capture sound.

    My apologies if the post above is TMI. I've tried to anticipate many of the questions that have been asked in other threads. One thing I didn't address is the mic pre question -- I'm planning to rely on the mixer pres unless we really need to do something different.

    At the back of the house, I'm assuming that we'll use some kind of hybrid mix for recording, while keeping the PA system a separate entity.

    I know forums like this are littered with first-timers from churches. I have spent some time reading through the material posted here, and I found the thread started by ZTubeMan in September 2008 to be of particular interest. The knowledge and generosity of the members of this forum are greatly appreciated.
     
  3. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    Hi mkt and welcome to RO,

    Let me start by saying, there are copyright concerns when you distribute the music portion of a church service, whether it be through podcast, CD/tape ministry, video etc.


    I appreciate the detailed description and objectives, in these things I don't think you can have too much information - and to that end - I've got a few follow up questions:

    How do these various configurations sound in the sanctuary?
    If they sound good, have you tried a couple well placed mics in the room?
    The shut-ins won't expect a lot of production, they want to recreate the experience of sitting in the pews.
    Some of my church clients that don't have very sophisticated mixers use a small stand-alone digital recorder with built-in mics such as the Zoom H4n to accomplish that.

    For micing an ensemble on a reasonable budget, I personally think it's pretty hard to beat the Rode NT-4 (at roughly $525). It's a stereo XY mic, so it's actually two mics in one body. It couldn't be easier to use. If you can walk around and find a place where the group sounds good and has a nice balance - put the NT4 there on a garden variety straight mic stand and you are should be off to a good start. The NT4 is especially useful in a church setting, because you can put it exactly where you need it. If you've got a children's program, put it 3ft. off the ground wherever their little voices blend together.



    What model of TOA mixer are you using for the front of house mix?

    Specifically, does it "Direct Outs" (or inserts in a pinch) to give you your splits?
    (I think I know the answer to this, but I might be surprised)

    Does it have any unused Auxes you could use for your independent mix?
    (is it important that the recording be in stereo?)

    Is there another mixer available to dedicate to the recording mix if you can get the splits?

    Do you intend to mix the recording on the fly live to a stereo recorder, or multi-track everything separately and mix it later?
     
  4. mkt

    mkt Active Member

    Thanks for the message and the welcome! Here are some answers to your questions:

    ... there are copyright concerns when you distribute the music portion of a church service ...


    Thanks for mentioning this. We've limited the podcast to the sermon with a public domain musical intro. No plan to distribute recorded music until we take care of the royalty and record keeping part of it. Portions of the service could be considered personal by some members -- so I expect we'll end up with some kind of "highlights" production in any case.

    How do these various configurations sound in the sanctuary? If they sound good, have you tried a couple well placed mics in the room?

    Funny you should mention that. The choir director is very supportive, and he's arranged to have a couple of evening rehearsals in the sanctuary. The first one was tonight. I sat and listened in a few locations, then I tried mics in a couple of spots and listened through headphones.

    The a capella setup can sound really nice when the choir is well rehearsed. Through some acoustical accident, the group sounds larger than it really is when standing on the carpeted steps, but it thins out if they move forward or backward. From a listening standpoint, there is a sweet spot about six feet in back of the conductor (unfortunately, one of the places I would not be able to place a stand). I tried setting up an AB pair about two feet to either side of the aisle, and it worked OK, but not great.

    The left side is a good performance space. I think the choir just seems to be more relaxed there. I set up an XY pair in a couple of spots and generally liked what I heard, but it was hard to deal with the overbalance of the piano. The congas have a nice boom in the hall, but they didn't come across that way in the mics. Maybe some cardioid off-axis thing? On the other hand, a light ping on a high-pitched temple bell struck in the same location cut through everything.

    Overall, I'd say the hall sounds live, but not reverberant. It accentuates high harmonics, which may be one reason why acoustic strings sound so good in it. I usually sing in the choir, so it was good to get out front. There are more things I want to try. If you have suggestions I'd love to have 'em.

    The shut-ins won't expect a lot of production, they want to recreate the experience of sitting in the pews.
    Some of my church clients that don't have very sophisticated mixers use a small stand-alone digital recorder with built-in mics such as the Zoom H4n to accomplish that.


    A really good observation. The guy I talked to at the pro audio shop (Bay Area readers, I'm talking about the one on Telegraph in Oakland) made a similar suggestion. Unfortunately, one person involved in the project insists that this approach will not pick up spoken words well enough. We have an H2, so I might try this on the sly when I get a chance.

    For micing an ensemble on a reasonable budget, I personally think it's pretty hard to beat the Rode NT-4 (at roughly $525). It's a stereo XY mic, so it's actually two mics in one body. It couldn't be easier to use...

    I've heard good things about the NT-4. Using a single point stereo mic has crossed my mind, but I hadn't considered some of the uses you suggested. Maybe I can get one to play with. :)

    What model of TOA mixer are you using for the front of house mix?

    It's the 900 series with the plug in modules. Definitely no direct outs or inserts. We're running the aux output to the assistive listening system, and I tried splitting that with a passive Whirlwind box meant to split line signals. Big time hum, which the ground lift didn't solve and I haven't had time to track down.

    Is there another mixer available to dedicate to the recording mix if you can get the splits?


    We will need to buy another mixer, and it would be my job to come up with the specs. I'm thinking that it might work better to run a couple of the PA mics into a recording mixer and use the mixer's direct outs to the PA.

    Do you intend to mix the recording
    on the fly live to a stereo recorder, or multi-track everything separately and mix it later?

    Well, that's the 64-dollar question, isn't it? Getting late, so I'll pick up this topic tomorrow.

    Cheers and thanks again,
    mkt
     
  5. mkt

    mkt Active Member

    Do you intend to mix the recording on the fly live to a stereo recorder, or multi-track everything separately and mix it later?

    Well, that depends.

    I know that this is a recording forum. But, since you've worked with churches, I hope you'll tolerate a sentence or two about the evolution of the project. One of our members has become concerned that the recording of the service does not capture everything that goes on, in particular some of the more memorable music performances. He found support for buying additional mics for the PA. I steered the project toward using a separate mic system for music recording, with the aux feed from the PA added as needed for the spoken voice input.

    So what is the purpose of the end product? At this point there is no immediate change from producing the sermon podcast, which simply involves pulling the SD card from the portable recorder, editing the sermon, and voicing over the introduction. This is done offline, with the software determined by whoever does the sermon posting that week. What I've promised to do is set up a digital archive of the complete services while we figure out what happens next.

    If we continue to use the stereo recorder, the lowest-level solution might be to send the mono PA signal to one track and a mono music mix to the other track for editing later. Another solution would be to split the mic PA inputs and create a stereo mix on the fly. However, if we invest in a multi-channel mixer and train someone to run it, I think it's only a matter of time until somebody says, "I've got a MOTU" or "Let's buy an Mbox Pro" or "I want to run ProTools" or whatever. So I'm starting to think of the mixer as the front end to whatever our digital future might be -- which could very well include multi-track recording.
     
  6. bigskyllc

    bigskyllc Guest

    I think projects like this are pretty cool. It's a good opportunity for a unique experience. I'm not a bell expert, by any means, but my instinct would be to get back from the bell some distance.
    My experience has come from recording church handbell choirs. Distance can cut down on some of the excess sound, and produce clearer results.
    I would venture the Blumlien Fathead pair might sound good. These mics are blowing me away. (still on the honeymoon)
     
  7. HalS

    HalS Guest

    Hello mkt,

    I have been recording our church services LIVE for many years. We started out with split microphone signals to PA and recording boards. The PA board is on the main floor and the recording board is upstairs in a closed room. We have our own studio speakers, so a LIVE mix is what we shoot for.

    As for recording the piano, we use a Crown PZM "velcroed" under the closed lid. Since we use monitors, it allows the PA guys to control the monitor mix and the feed to the other instrumentalists. You might try AKG C3000's or Shure SM-81's for the choir. They have a good cardoid pickup pattern. If you could get some of the choir members to move the mics when they move, it would help. We use DI boxes to pick up the instruments and get them into the loop. One other thing to consider would be using one or two audience mics. Using these ambience mics make a nicer "being there" sound for listeners who are not there. Myself being a stereo buff use two audience mics, two organ mics, and mix choir and instruments with that in mind.

    I hope that helps.

    Hal Swinhart
    Recording Engineer
    Bethany First Nazarene Church
    Bethany, OK
     

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