Recording a CD: Where Do I Start?
This article was originally published in Worship Leader magazine (Nov/Dec 2008). For more great articles like this one, subscribe today.
I’m a worship leader and my Pastor has asked me to record a CD of our worship music for our congregation. Where do I start?
This is a big subject, so I’ll probably just scratch the surface this issue and then I’ll try and take it apart in a little more detail in the coming months.
I’ll start by asking you a few questions about this CD. You said it’s for your congregation, so how many CDs will you print? Do you plan to record a live service or record it in a studio? How much time can you personally dedicate to a recording project? Will you stick with your “regular” band members or will you hire some ringers to bring up the level of musicianship (or maybe you are blessed with ringers on your team)?
Obviously, a lot of those questions bring you right back to the budget. And the trick for you as the worship leader is to determine where that money set aside for a recording is best spent. The first thing a lot of folks think is, “I need to buy some gear.” So, you start looking at M-Boxes and microphones and studio speakers and quickly realize you can more than spend the entire budget trying to get enough entry-level gear together to try and pull it off. Then you start surfing the recording Web forums trying to figure out how to use all this stuff to make it sound decent. Pretty soon you’ve spent a month or two trying to sort it all out, and you still haven’t begun to think about actually recording your CD.
So, here’s my two cents: when a pipe breaks in your house, do you run out and buy some new wrenches and pipe saws and find a website on plumbing and fix it yourself? Ever tried to pull your own aching tooth, or do you head to the dentist? Now, I know you’re thinking, “my budget is too small to rent studios and hire pros to record it.” But is it? Can you afford to spend a ton of your time distracted from your real mission to figure out what gear you need and learn how to use it and get good results from it? And that’s not even considering the whole creative side of the project, which in the long run is a much more important use of your time than figuring out how to be an audio engineer.
Even if you think it’s just a small, simple recording, it will turn out much better if you use that budget to hire someone that can guide you through the process of recording your CD. Not to mention preserving your sanity.
All right, whom should I consider hiring for recording my project?
You need a producer, an engineer, and a mixer. Often times, especially for smaller budgets, one person can fill all these roles. I’ll see if I can quickly explain what each does, and hopefully you’ll see why you need them.
A producer is responsible for the big picture and every detail. He is going to sit with you and work through your songs, from choosing the right ones, to the tempos, keys, arrangements, and even help with lyrics or chords that aren’t quite working. He’ll map out the recording sessions, keep things flowing, keep the mood light, and encourage the best performances of the songs out of you and your team. Then he’ll work with the mixer in tweaking every detail until everything is just right.
An engineer’s job is to do the actual recording of the music. He’ll choose mics, place them in the right spot and generally make everything sound as good as it possibly can. He knows how to run all the gear and software, and probably knows a few cool tricks to make you sound “one louder.”
The mixer then takes all your raw recorded tracks, maybe does a little editing to fix up some timing issues or mistakes, applies eq, compression, reverb, and effects, turns everything up to just the right balance until hopefully, your song now “sounds like a record!”
Brian Steckler is a composer, producer, and writer. Find out more at briansteckler.com.