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Recording Worship // Part 1 // Where Do I Start?

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That question has so many answers I can’t even begin to cover all of the details in one post. So, let’s call this a primer to getting started on recording your worship band. I will share with you the things I wish someone had shared with me 10 years ago when I started this journey myself and MY opinions about that loaded question.

Here we go…

The first step in recording any project whether it is for your ministry or for any other music recording is to define what the purpose of the recording will be. Meaning, is it strictly for YOUR congregation or enjoyment? Or, Are you also planning for it to be a commercially viable, public release outside of your local church? Unfortunately, I think I just put the chicken before the egg by calling that the first step. Actually the first step should be asking the question, “Are the songs we want to record really quality songs or do we need to spend more time writing before we decide to release them for public enjoyment?” Once you can definitively answer those few questions I think you are ready to start the process I am going to outline in this post.

I think that recording a worship project or any music project for that matter can be broken down into two basic stages: 1. Songwriting and Pre-production 2.  Recording, Mixing and Mastering. There are many more sub-stages within these but for the sake of the post let’s keep it broad.

Let’s take a closer look at these two stages…

1. Songwriting and Pre-production

This stage happens before you ever approach a proper recording of your material. This to me is the most crucial part of the actual recording process.  Here is a saying you might have heard before and it goes like this, “Garbage in, Garbage out!” This same mentality goes when it comes to recording public releases of your music. Be sure as songwriters that you are taking your craft seriously. This is particularly true in worship music where you are writing songs ascribed to God and you have theological issues at stake as well as musical issues such as timing, melody, and lyric to deal with.

In the songwriting phase I always ask myself the question, “If I strip this song down to just an acoustic instrument and a vocal, is still a great song?” If so, it’s worth doing a proper recording for public release. This is something I wish someone had shared with me early on in my songwriting journey. Songs at their core are nothing more than lyric, melody, and rhythm. Those things are true regardless of the extra instrumentation you wrap around the song. Those extra elements such as drums, keys, programming, gtrs, etc… should serve to enhance what’s already great about your song.  I have on many occasions loaded down my subpar songs with production and mix elements to make them shiny and attractive only to later realize that those elements were merely masking the things that made it a subpar song.

This brings us to preproduction. This is the process of taking potential songs you wish to record and giving them the best arrangements and instrumentation possible. This includes picking the tempo, key, instrumentation, etc. This is also where you want to clearly define the vision for the recording project. This is much easier said than done. If you don’t know what you want then it is going to be VERY hard for anyone else to deliver what you don’t even know you want. Make sense? If you have hired a reputable producer, this process will be easier than if you are doing it yourself. Although, from experience I can tell you that going that route may be much harder on your ego However, it is definitely better for the song in the end. The reason I say it is easier is because it ‘s hard to be open minded and objective to critiquing your own work. For that reason, one thing I always do with everyone I work with is to tell him or her to RECORD EVERYTHING! This is really simple in the songwriting phase with smart phones having great built in voice memo recorders these days. The iPhone is what I have and I can tell you that the last 20 songs I have worked on all have original iPhone voice memo, demo recordings. Those are used just for you to review your own material and perhaps share with other band members and possibly the producer if there is one on the project. One other important note to mention is that if rhythm is an important part of your arrangements it is best to record to a click track EVEN on your preproduction demos.

Another important thing to mention here is that songwriting is never it’s best when it’s done alone or on an island. I ALWAYS write with another person even if the basics of the song come from an isolated setting at first. I always pick someone else up and let him or her come party on my island. Now, once you have arrangements, tempo, key, and other basics set, you are ready to head into the studio or if it is DIY, head into your bedroom, living room or worship space to start recording. I will typically do a rough recording even if just a stereo mic up in a room of live musicians to hear the rough demo in the newly arranged or “pre-produced” versions of the songs. This gives me a good idea of what I want to record as far as parts are concerned when we get to the recording stage.

2. Recording, Mixing and Mastering

Here’s the deal, I don’t want to assume each of you can afford or budget to have your recordings done by a professional, so I am going to approach this from two angles: Professional recording and DIY recording. I have nothing against DIY, in fact that is how I got to where I am today. I am a DIY guy at heart. However, DIY will not easily or cheaply get you to your end goal most of the time. For example, if you are doing a public release of your material I am assuming quality matters to you. You are probably listening to amazingly recorded and produced worship albums from great churches and groups like, Hillsong United, Bethel Church, Jesus Culture, Elevation Church, North Point or others of similar quality. If that’s the benchmark you are reaching for, then PULL OUT YOUR WALLETS because that’s going to cost you!! Typically, productions of that quality go for about $1000-$4000 PER SONG to produce and record and that does not include mastering. The good news however, is that you can still make great sounding recordings on a variety of budgets including DIY. Just understand that if those other recordings are what you are after, you’re going to have to be realistic about the outcome and expectations of your project.

Regardless, if you decide to go DIY or with a producer and studio setup, the process of recording should be basically the same. It’s all about laying down the musical parts that make up the song. For me, it goes like this for each song in the order of which I record them. Drums, Bass, Rhythm Guitars and/or main rhythmic/melodic instruments, Vocals, lead instruments and intricate melodic instrumentation, extras. The reason I don’t record intricate leads and such before I do vocals is that I want to be sure I don’t start running all over my vocal melodies with those parts. Often times I will have a close rough vocal in my recording session and do those lead parts before the final vocal recording so that I can be sure I have left room for the lead vocal. Let’s be honest, the lead vocal makes or breaks the song. If I have parts competing for the attention of it, I have probably just broken my song.

For all of the DIY folks really just getting started, I want to give you some advice on gear and some resources you need to be checking out. First, when it comes to gear…there are many affordable pieces of recording gear available on the market today that will give you great results at moderate prices. To properly record your project you will need at the very least: A computer, DAW software like (Protools, Logic Pro, GarageBand, Cubase, Reaper, Digital Performer, etc.), A multichannel audio interface with built-in preamps so that you can get what you are recording into your computer (from companies such as RME, Presonus, Motu, Focusrite, Avid, etc…), Studio Monitors, and some Microphones. The brands and products I recommended here are affordable options for the home or project studio for DIY folks. It does all start to add up though when you think about it, so if you only plan to record just the one project it may not be cost effective to purchase all of the equipment. You may just want to consider having a reputable third party do the recording for you. Side Note: No matter how much or what quality of gear you obtain, it will only be as good as you are. Invest in yourself before investing in more or upgraded gear. Don’t fall victim to G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) as so many of us have!

With all of that said… if you do go the DIY route, please educate yourself and practice the skills it takes to make good recordings and mixes. There are some amazing tutorial and educational sites out there if you really want to goes this route and I highly recommend you check them out and use the resources they offer. Most of the material is available at no charge. The first is from Graham Cochrane at TheRecordingRevolution.com. This site is AMAZING!!! His info is priceless and will save you LOTS of headaches and mistakes that I made early on in my production journey. The next resource that you will want to checkout comes in at a slightly more advanced level but is FREE nonetheless. You will want to check out Dave Pensado at PensadosPlace.tv. His site is a combined weekly show of industry heavyweight interviews along with tutorials on mixing and recording techniques. These two resources alone will keep you busy for months learning and experimenting with recording and mixing audio.

Well, I hope all this information is not overwhelming to you already. If so, take heart because it’s new to you. Don’t let the task scare you into giving up. If you feel like it is more than you can accomplish on your own then you are in a great place! God never intended you to accomplish great feats on your own. He designed us to do them with Him and as a part of community. Honestly, community is how great things happen. So, go get to know someone who is 3-4 times further along in his or her craft as you are and invest in a mentoring relationship with that person. You will be stretched and grow in your craft. You will get better. You will dream bigger. You will accomplish more. I hope that you now have a good start in answering the question “I want to record my worship band and make an Album or EP…Now What?”

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3 Responses to “Recording Worship // Part 1 // Where Do I Start?”

  1. this article was very encouraging, thank you! i’m very DIY as well and love reading/watching stuff from Graham Cochrane. didn’t know about the other site though! i will definitely be checking that out.

  2. Thanks Ben. I am now in my 50’s have guitar most of my life and became a Christian in 1976. I have finally decided to pursue this medium of evangelism, as it’s the only way I can see that I can effectively communicate my faith.

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