Recording Church Services

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Audacity is an excellent way to capture the audio of your weekly service and make sermon MP3's or audio CD's. With a simple USB interface, and some knowledge about mixing consoles, your laptop computer can be a recording station.
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Before you record a worship service, make sure you have the rights to record the music. Check with Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) for more information on how to legally record and distribute music. The preacher's sermon is OK to record, because he/she is the copyright owner.

A Music Mix

Many churches record simply using the "Main Out" of the console. If recording a mix, this usually gives very bad results, because any instruments that are not miked are not going to be in the recording. Instead, use a pre-fade aux send, or a group send, with the output going to the recording interface. This allows you to have a separate mix for the recording. If you have a stereo aux send, you can pan stuff around, and be as creative as you like. Many USB interfaces have a monitor output, so that you can hear exactly what's going to be recorded.

Audience mics are a great way to make the recording mix sound more natural, especially if you are not able to mic all of the instruments. Your audience mic should NOT be sent to the main mix, only to the recording interface (and in-ear monitors).

There will also be much less reverberation in the recording; this is great for speech intelligibility, but your music won't sound as good. This is another reason to use audience mics to capture the ambiance of the room and environment.

Recording Sermons

If it is necessary to record from only one channel, you may use the direct out from the board, or an aux send. Connecting the console Main Out to your recording interface will give fair results, but will have all the noise from the other channels, as well as EQ, which may be undesirable for your recording.

Make sure you get the recording levels set right in Audacity before the sermon, so as not to change these in the middle of your recording. Not too high, to avoid clipping. Make sure you save your recording as a project when finished.

Editing and distributing

Use Audacity's Compressor effect to reduce the dynamic range between loud and soft. Most churches use audio compressors, at least on vocals, but it's even more important for a recording mix in a large environment.

You may want to export your recording to the size-compressed MP3 format, for upload to a website or for use on a portable audio player. If so, retain your Audacity project (or export your recording as WAV) so as to save an original, uncompressed copy. This lets you fix any problems that you find later without audio losses. MP3 files can't be edited and then re-encoded as another MP3 without significant loss in quality.

If burning to an Audio CD, so the service can be listened to in the car or the home stereo, export to WAV, not to MP3.

Checklist for Recording and Editing Sermons

  1. Check levels, solo to verify the signal sounds good
  2. Record
  3. Save your work in multiple locations for safety
  4. Listen to the recording, compress the audio, trim unwanted segments and fix any other problems
  5. When finished, use the Audacity Metadata Editor to create the MP3 ID tags (you can add tags for other formats too, but they may not necessarily be supported by all player software or hardware)
  6. Export, or Export Multiple
  7. If exporting to MP3, set the appropriate bitrate. A lower bitrate will produce smaller files, but with lower quality.