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Recording Ministries

Dec 29, 2009 12:00 PM, By Trevor Boyer

Three approaches to audio capture and distribution.

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Audio capture and distribution in houses of worship

The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, directed by Carol Cymbala, has won six Grammy Awards for Best Gospel Choir or Chorus Album, most recently for Live ... This is Your House in 2004. For the last three albums, including last year’s I’ll Say Yes, the Brooklyn Tabernacle has hired Nashville-based producers Tony High and Melissa Mattey to travel to Brooklyn and record tracks via Digidesign Pro Tools. For these recordings, the choir performs live on the sanctuary stage, just as it does every Sunday. FOH Engineer Doug Bull runs the Yamaha PM1D at front of house to give the band and the 300 choir members a monitor mix. This signal is split so that it can also be sent to the Pro Tools system on the fourth-floor recording studio.

These albums, of course, are fairly rare occurrences: The Brooklyn Tabernacle’s Technical Director Michael Archibald says the choir makes records about every other year. On a weekly basis, however, the church is still making use of Pro Tools for the somewhat mundane but equally important task of archiving and quickly generating copies of Pastor Jim Cymbala’s sermon and the choir’s music. The church is also interested in launching a weekly (traditional) radio show that comprises the audio of the church services. Grammies aside, the Brooklyn Tabernacle is a typical large church when it comes to recording its music and its message.

At churches, especially larger houses of worship, music and message often work hand in hand to instruct a congregation and focus its devotion. What these two modes of worship have in common, of course, is that audio represents their primary content. It’s no surprise, then, that many larger churches—many of which also have sophisticated sound-reinforcement—are set up to execute professional-level recording of the pastor’s sermons and praise music—whether recorded live or in a studio setting. Here we look at three examples.

Besides the weekly services, Saddleback Church’s 
Mike Mierau is also responsible for recording the occasional conference, and there’s a podcast to produce weekly for iTunes and for

Besides the weekly services, Saddleback Church’s Mike Mierau is also responsible for recording the occasional conference, and there’s a podcast to produce weekly for iTunes and for

Saddleback Church

Saddleback Church, with its main campus in Lake Forest, Calif., is perhaps best known as the home of Pastor Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life, and a speaker at the inauguration of President Obama in 2008. The church is spread across seven sites on the Lake Forest campus (both permanent buildings and Sprung air-conditioned tents) and four additional campuses in and near Orange County, and it hosts about 20,000 worshippers every week. Warren preaches from the Worship Center—the main auditorium in Lake Forest—and his message goes out via fiber to the other sites on campus. These sites, which have specific musical signatures such as hard rock and traditional praise music, capture the video and audio feeds of the sermon and delay them for 1 to 10 minutes.

Mike Mierau is in charge of making sure all those feeds are going out and that they’re being recorded. “I have 18 master outs to different locations,” he says. “So I’m feeding quite a few places at the same time.” Only one service per Sunday is recorded as a multitrack mix for posterity; the rest are recorded as stereo. For mixing, he uses a Digidesign D-Command control surface that’s attached to 96 channels of Digidesign preamps. Mierau is running Pro Tools 7.4.2. “I haven’t moved up to 8.0 yet because I’m all about stability,” he says. “Not to say that 8.0 is not stable, but I usually wait six months or so to move up because it’s too important for this room to be stable to move up to something that’s still kind of new.”

At Saddleback, the audio of its  sermons are mixed at front of house on the Worship Center’s Digidesign Venue Profile console.

At Saddleback, the audio of its sermons are mixed at front of house on the Worship Center’s Digidesign Venue Profile console.

With his Pro Tools setup, Mierau uses Waves Audio’s FSL4000 as a primary plug-in. The console emulator is based on the ’80s/’90s pop-radio standby of the same name. “I’m an old recording/analog guy, so when I entered into doing the broadcast feeds for Saddleback, I implemented that because I like the sound of what Waves did,” he says. That plug-in is applied to most of his inputs except for those of the pastors’ Sennheiser SK 5212 transmitter with an MKE 2 lavalier microphones. For those inputs he uses a McDSP plug-in, the standard Digidesign compressor/limiter, and another plug-in from Massey. In his recording room, Mierau uses a pair of M-Audio Studiophile DSM3s as reference monitors.

Meanwhile, on Sunday at the offsite campuses, the audiences hear one of Warren’s two sermons that were delivered the previous day at Lake Forest. The audio for these sermons was mixed at front of house on the Worship Center’s Digidesign Venue Profile console. Depending on whether there’s an orchestra on stage, between 40 and 78 channels of audio are sent from FOH to Mierau at the recording studio. (He’s capable of receiving up to 96.) The audio and video feeds of those sermons are streamed from Mierau’s recording studio to a video-editing bay on campus, where songs are edited out. The sermon is then saved to a portable hard drive for each offsite campus and burned to DVDs, which serve as backups. In April, Saddleback also started an Internet Cafe, an almost-live stream to the Internet, and Fox News airs the church’s Easter and Christmas services every year.

As mentioned, most of these audio feeds exist as stereo mixes, but the 11:15 a.m. service on Sunday, recorded via wireless Sennheiser 5000 and 2000 series (praise singers are on 2000 HHs with the 965 heads; soloists use 5000 series HHs with Neumann 104 heads), is multitracked. “I log certain songs that I felt held up to a certain level,” Mierau says. “At some point in time, we’ll go back and review and decide on what we’re going to use for a worship CD.”

Besides the weekly services, Mierau is also responsible for recording the occasional conference, and there’s a podcast to produce weekly for iTunes and for, a new website dedicated to the podcast. Pastor Tom Holladay explicates five Bible chapters a week (using an AKG C 414 B-XLS mic), and Mierau records a week’s worth in one day and later edits and adds bumpers and music beds from Saddleback’s library. He records the podcast in one of the two video editing bays in Lake Forest—a “pseudo-studio,” as Eric Kibbe, the church’s audio director, calls it.

For all the Pro Tools work that the church executes, it’s helpful that the church serves as a beta site for Digidesign. (On the microphone side, Saddleback is also a beta site for Sennheiser.) For that reason—and because of the technical acumen that Saddleback collectively has on staff—the church usually does not hire systems integrators when it specifies and purchases new packages of recording, sound reinforcement, or broadcast gear. The exceptions are new buildings, such as the Refinery, which is the youth facility built on the Lake Forest campus last year. “On that size and scale of a project, where we have two different rooms that have three-cam HD video capture, we have actually sourced out to do some of the spec’ing on that,” Kibbe says. “But all our smaller projects, we pretty much do inhouse. We just updated all three of our tents, and we did it all inhouse.”

Acoustic Dimensions’ Craig Janssen designed the audiovisual infrastructure for the Worship Center and the Refinery. The install of both rooms was done by CCI solutions in Washington by Mark Pearson. Saddleback has hired SIA Acoustics of New York to tune the rooms.

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