How to Record an Acoustic Worship Session

I recently had the opportunity to visit Inland Hills Church to record a new worship song called Making Room by Andrea Hamilton and her worship team. 

As I was setting up for this project I realized that this may be helpful to see what goes on behind the scenes to capture a recording like this. I know a lot of you write your own worship songs or you want to make your own covers of worship songs so in this article I'll walk you through a step-by-step process for filming and recording a live acoustic worship session.  I’ll share share a step-by-step guide to:

  • My list of recommended gear and software to give you a professional look and sound. 

  • Budget friendly alternatives so you don’t break the bank.

  • How to set up an efficient workflow so you can get it done quickly.

Big Picture

First, I want to give you a big picture perspective on what needs to happen so I've boiled this process down to seven steps.

1. Learn the song

It’s pretty simple and obvious but make sure you learn the song. Make sure everybody knows their parts because if you're going to share this with the world nobody wants to watch a video of you reading off of a chord chart. Plus if you learn and memorize everything the whole process is going to go so much more smoothly because you only have to do a few takes.

2. Acquire all the equipment beforehand 

Double check to make sure you have everything. You don't want to show up to the day of the shoot and have something missing.

3. Scout and find a good location

If you're going to shoot it at your church, I highly recommend finding a spot with lots of natural light–it's going to make the lighting process much easier. 

Also, find a spot that doesn't have crazy acoustics with a lot of reverb. You want to record in a relatively more dead space so you can have more control of the sound in post-production. 

4. Schedule the appropriate amount of time

Schedule the shoot and arrange for all of the right and necessary people to be there. Even if you're just recording one song I'd recommend allotting two full hours for setup, recording, and tear down.

5. Record the song

If you followed the first four steps, this part will be easy because you’ll have prepared in advance and have everything organized.

6. Edit Master Mix and Multicam 

For post-production, edit your mix so the audio sounds great. Then you can also create your Multicam edit for the music video portion of it.

7. Share your song with the world

You can upload it to YouTube or you can share it on Facebook, but be sensitive to copyright issues. I know that YouTube makes it fairly easy and legal to share covers, but if you're ever unsure consult with legal counsel. 

If you're writing original songs then you don't really have to worry about any of those copyright issues but be aware of any potential pitfalls. 

Recording Making Room

Now I'll break down for you in greater detail how we went about producing the video for the song Making Room.

We scheduled this video shoot for a Tuesday morning and we decided to do it in the main lobby in the entryway of their worship center at Inland Hills Church. There's lots of natural light and there wasn’t any traffic outside. The only downside about this space was that it was a bit more reverberant than what I would have preferred.

Gear

Now I want to unpack for you all the gear and software we used in this setup. I’ll break it down into three parts: 

  1. Audio

  2. Visual

  3. Lighting

Audio Gear

Laptop

Audio Interface (4 Channel)

Audio Interface (2 Channel)

Vocal Microphones

Budget-Friendly Vocal Mics

Logic Pro X

  1. Macbook Pro and Logic Pro X

We used my MacBook Pro and Logic Pro X to capture the multitrack recording of this session. 

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Some of my favorite digital audio workstations include Ableton Live which many of you know and Pro Tools, but for this setting I just decided I wanted to use Logic Pro X because it’s easy to use when it comes to easily whipping out my computer and recording.

You can use any digital audio workstation as long as you make sure it can capture multiple tracks of audio at one time. The reason you want this is so that you have lots of control in post-production–you want all the channels tracked separately so you can control all those levels and make it sound nice and professional. 

Some budget-friendly–even free–digital audio workstations include GarageBand which runs on Mac or Audacity that runs on a PC. You can even record a multitrack session to an iPad as long as you have the right audio interface that has multiple inputs and is compatible with iOS. 

  1. Audio Interface

The audio interface is important for capturing multiple channels of audio and sending that audio into different tracks on your DAW. 

For this video shoot we used two interfaces. We used the Behringer UMC 404 HD and the UMC 22. We needed the ability to capture five channels of audio because we had 2 vocal mics, 2 channels, a piano, acoustic guitar and Cajon so that makes 5 total. The problem is my largest Behringer interface only has 4 channels so I was short one channel. 

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My solution for this was to combine my 4 channel audio interface with my 2 channel audio interface to have 6 channels available. 

Protip: How to combine audio interfaces

You can combine audio interfaces on a Mac really easily. 

  • All you have to do is go to the audio MIDI setup app on your Mac.

  • Then make sure the both interfaces are plugged into your Mac via USB 

  • Click the little plus icon and add an aggregate device so it aggregates two devices together and it treats them like one device. 

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  • When you go into Logic, you can actually pull up that aggregate device and you'll see you have 6 available inputs. 

So that's a cool little quick tip if you don't want to lug around a large audio interface which I didn’t because I was flying to California.

In Logic Pro X, I went to preferences, then audio and I selected my aggregate device for my input interface.

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Then for the output device, I just selected the external headphones output on my Macbook Pro and I just used my Alclair RSM quad drivers to monitor the session next with inside Logic Pro X. 

out.jpg
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Then, in Logic I:

  • Created five audio tracks.

  • Labeled the tracks,

  • Made sure that the input for each of those tracks lined up to the proper input on the audio interface.

  • Went through and “record enabled” all the tracks so they were ready to record audio, and then we were ready to go. 

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  1. Mics

The vocal microphones we used two Shure SM7B microphones. These microphones work phenomenally for capturing vocals whether you're recording a podcast or if you're recording singing vocals. 

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They’re great because they're dynamic microphones so they can withstand the kind of high volume and high pressure levels which are common in a live music environment. They also have a really great ability to isolate the sound of the vocals from the noise and the rest of the room. Finally, they have a cardioid pickup pattern so they reject sound from behind the microphone.

The one downside about this microphone is that it costs $400. If you want a budget-friendly option, I would recommend trying the Shure SM57 microphone

inexp mic.jpg

Traditionally, the SM57 is just great for micing instruments, but it also works great for vocals. It doesn't sound as full and beefy as the Shure microphone does, but it still sounds crystal clear and you have that great isolation for recording in a live environment. You could also use a Shure SM58 or a Shure Beta 58 microphone if need be.

  1. Guitars and piano

You have two options for any guitars or piano that you’re plugging into your audio interface. 

  • If your cable length is less than 20 feet then you can just plug your instrument cable straight into the audio interface. 

  • If you're running a longer length you'll want to use a direct box to convert that unbalanced signal from the instrument to a balanced signal into the audio interface.

Video Gear

Cameras

Budget-Friendly Camera

3-Axis Gimbal

42.5mm Lens

25mm Lens

  1. Cameras

We used three Panasonic GH5 to capture the high quality video that you see. The GH5 is arguably one of the best compact professional cameras in its price range–it has high quality 4k video up to 60 frames a second and it has amazing in-body stabilization.

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The second GH5 was sitting on a tripod and I had a 4.2 F1 lens and it was focusing on Andrea the whole time. My friend Spencer was running the third GH5 with the same lens and he had that camera set up on a gimbal.

Budget Friendly Cameras

The catch is, the setup I just talked about costs $8,000. I couldn’t just drop that much money–I've acquired this gear over multiple years of having my own video production business and chances are you probably can’t either.

If you want to use a high-end camera like the GH 5 you can actually rent this camera and the lenses from websites like Borrowedlenses.com.

Or you can just purchase a more budget-friendly camera. Like the Canon M50–it's a great, compact, mirrorless camera. 

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If you’re REALLY pressed for money and if you have really great lighting, you can actually use the camera on your smartphone. You still need a fair amount of light for it to really look good in post, but it’ll still work.

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Lighting

LED Light Panels

  1. LED Panels

I recommend you just find a spot with great natural light, but you can find these on Amazon and we used them to fill in the light on the singer’s faces a little bit more and to also have a bit of a hair light behind them to create some separation between them and the background.

lighting.jpg

Filming the song

When everything was in place, I went over to Logic Pro X, hit the main record button, made sure all of my tracks were recording in the timeline and it was good to go. 

Next, we hit record on all three of our cameras and it was really important to just let the cameras roll throughout the whole song–it makes it much easier to sync up the angles and make your Multicam edit in post.

Then all we had to do is tell the band to play. They played the song and we captured it. I recommend that your camera operators know where their attention should be. Have them focus on a specific instrument or person so they can ensure that they don’t overshoot on one thing and miss another.

Protip: I always recommend leaving 5-10 seconds of just silent dead space both at the beginning and at the end of the song because that way you don’t have to worry about people making noise or talking.

We ended up doing three takes of the song which only took about 15-20 minutes to get through recording. Then we grabbed lunch and I flew home for the next step.

Editing the video

I opened up the multitrack session in Logic Pro and I applied some waves plugins like gain, compression noise gates, E! and then even a little bit of reverb.

My screen looked a little crazy, but the editing was still light.

My screen looked a little crazy, but the editing was still light.

Mixing the audio

Overall the signal processing for the session was very light because I wanted to have that raw acoustic sound to it. I also added some Churchfront pads underneath the session.

pads.jpg

Once I had the final mix and it sounded great, I bounced the audio out of Logic Pro X and I stored it on my hard drive and it was ready to be combined with our video.

I used Final Cut Pro X to accomplish all the video post-production work. 

I created a new library and imported the 3 video clips for this session and the one master mix audio clip that I had just bounced from Logic Pro. 

Using Final Cut Pro

Then I selected all four of those pieces of media. You can easily sync together video and audio and Final Cut Pro to get a Multicam clip which allows you to playback the video and then just select the shots you like as you're playing the song through the timeline.

I used my keyboard commands to select which angles I wanted. I probably spent about 15 minutes just playing through the song and selecting the best angles for different parts of it.

footage.jpg

I wanted to give this video a more cinematic look so I wanted to have a wide aspect ratio. To do this, I applied the letterbox effect in Final Cut Pro. Once I had applied the letterbox effect, I spent a few minutes reframing some of the video clips because some of them were looking like they were shot too low or too high. 

letterbox.jpg

Color Correction

Then I did some color correcting. When done well, color correction makes it look more professional and cinematic. I used Film Convert Pro to basically turn the color of the video into something that would look like using old-school film and give it more contrast and grain. I also did some minor color correction to the individual clips just to make sure they all matched each other. 

color correction.jpg

Adding a title

Once I was done with color correction, I went to the beginning of the video I added in a simple title and it just says, “Making Room Inland Hills Church” so people who watch the song know what the song is and who it's by.

Protip: When we recorded the video, I purposely shot the first few seconds out of focus so that I could put a title over it and you could read the text well and then I bring it back into focus on Andrea when she's about to sing.

title.jpg

After all that post-production work bringing audio and video together, I was finally done and the song was ready for exporting and sharing. 

And that ladies and gentlemen is how you go about producing your own live acoustic worship session!

Make sure you go watch the final product of this process by checking out the music video Making Room and the story behind the song. It’s super powerful and I was so excited to work on this project with Andrea and her team. I really hope it's impactful and inspiring for you. 

If you’re a worship leader wanting to take your ministry and your own growth and development to the next level then check out worshipleaderschool.com. We've got a complete online course library there to walk you through lots of practical trainings on worship ministry whether its pastoral aspects of worship ministry like speaking or praying in worship. Or maybe it's really technical things like using Ableton Live to run a click and tracks and automate lyrics and lighting. In worship there's so much in worship leader school it continues to every month we have a dedicated community of students who are part of worship leaders school that you can connect with and you can even receive real-time help from me during one of our weekly office hours sessions. 

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