So your church wants to do a record. Or maybe you’re working with your team or other musicians and they want to get songs down on tape. HA!!! …I mean the hard drive. Either way, let’s look at several ways to record drums in a typical church. For this article we are not going to focus on a large, contemporary, mega-church. We all get to see that a lot on YouTube or DVD’s from artists or large ministries that do live recordings. Those are really impressive, but I want to talk about what most of you probably are dealing with in your world.
If you are recording in a venue that is the average church building you probably are dealing with a one to three hundred seat auditorium. Whether old or brand new construction, most of the time these building are not designed for modern worship bands. Usually the acoustics are not really “band friendly.” Sorry drummers, that’s just the way it is. But there are ways to get a great recording even in these situations.
To do a truly “live recording” is a major challenge. This would be recording the vocals, band, and congregation all at the same time at a special event. In a small room I think it’s good to use a drum booth/ cage/ Plexiglas… etc. Sorry friends, I know that’s not ideal, but it is the only way to get as much isolation as possible. The key is to allow breathing room around the kit. Don’t make the booth too small and too tight around the drums. There should be easy walking space around the kit, and the top should be at least six or seven feet tall. This still allows sound waves to move around the kit and will give you a pretty realistic recording of the drums. Although this is a drum article I also recommend the rest of the band go completely direct into the system and not use any amps if possible. Yes, for bass players too. If other players must use amps they need to go in back rooms or at least keep the volume super low. Keyboard players should go with all digital instruments. Only if you’re doing something truly symphonic or for classic piano styles would I mike a real piano.
The team should also use all “in-ear” monitoring. NO live speakers on stage. If this is new territory for your worship team then I would take some time to adjust to the new technology. If you absolutely have to use monitor speakers you will have to try to keep your monitor levels down as much as possible to get a clean mix. The drummer should still try to use their own mixer and headphones, even if the other players do not. Please try! Remember, the more audio bleed you get into your microphones from loud monitors, the more it will make mixing the project a big challenge. Of course if you get all amazing performances from the whole team and don’t need to do any tweaking or overdubbing then you can make it work. But that is a rare case, unless your team is a well-trained, well-rehearsed group of professionals.
In a situation where you’re just recording in the church without doing an event I recommend pulling the drums out of the booth and setting up in the middle of the platform away from any walls. The rest of the band can set up at a distance from the kit to give maximum separation. I would still recommend going “line direct” from pre-amps for other instruments and putting the singer or singers in an isolation booth. Then you can make use of a combination of close miking techniques along with using some room mikes to create a great natural room sound to the kit. Check out the photo of a session I did in Nashville in a chapel on Music Row.
Even on a smaller budget many churches can afford to get audio gear that will allow them to start recording services, special events, and even scheduled studio projects. Some of the new digital mixing consoles are fully equipped with recording software. It’s good practice for a music team to step into this level of work. Let it be inspiring not frightening to push your team and your drumming to the next level. As you start working on this level of musical development you’ll not only be challenged, but you will also be inspired by the growth in your drumming and in the skill of the whole team. Keep learning! Keep growing! Be faithful!! – Peace, Carl