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Library » Press »
(Originally appeared in Church Production)

Designing Recording Spaces for Churches

by Richard Schrag

For many years churches have been recording their worship services, and have installed audio and videocassette reproduction equipment in their facilities. But as more and more houses of worship expand their production capabilities in terms of audio and video, many have begun to recognize the value of including a full-service recording/production space as part of their facility.

While these capabilities offer many benefits for the church, there are several design and construction issues that must be considered that a church must keep in mind, long before the first recording session ever begins.

The reasons for having an on-site recording facility vary for each church, according to what its needs are and the types of services it holds. Essentially, it all depends on what the church is about. In some cases, churches are mostly interested in documenting what goes on in their worship services. Other churches have extremely active music ministries. Depending on the current situation and the long-term needs, the types of recording equipment, and tracking and control room needs are quite different.

Whatever the reason for incorporating a recording space into a church, there are a few constants. The recording and production that takes place needs to be an outgrowth of the ministry of the church. Also, planning for the new space must occur early in the development process, whether the project is a renovation or a ground-up construction.

Praise, Prayer, . . .and Planning

There is no “one-size-fits-all” model that can be applied to designing a recording facility into a church. However, the most important thing to remember during the church’s planning process is avoiding the mindset of, “we’ll just leave a room open for this and deal with it later.” The time to start thinking about and planning this type of project is in the initial stages, perhaps even before land is purchased, if the church is being built from the ground up. It’s critical that planning occurs early in order to consider how the church’s ministry relates to audio, video, music recording and production. By generating these criteria up front, the church can then identify budget, schedule and function early on so the subsequent planning will allow everything else to fall into place.

Renovation vs. New Construction

There are two ways to go about adding a studio into a church: during a facility renovation or during the construction of a brand new building. With the renovation of an existing building, a church is constrained by limitations of the existing space, and recording studios typically need more clear height than normal office or administrative space.

Other challenges faced during renovation are structural capacity, mechanical infrastructure, electrical capacity, and the availability of wire management to connect the studio with the sanctuary and other spaces. All these considerations, in a renovation, become a lot more difficult if they haven’t been adequately planned well in advance.

Recently our company, Russ Berger Design Group, designed a recording studio at Crossroads Community Church in Vancouver, Washington. The church staff wanted to expand their existing building with a thoroughly modern facility, including a new sanctuary, and an entire music wing that features an audio recording studio and control room.

What made this project especially interesting was the level of sophistication of the church’s music program. At Crossroads, the assistant pastor, who also runs the music worship program, is a graduate of North Texas State and an accomplished jazz musician as well. As a result, their music program goes far beyond simply organ accompaniment on Sundays.

One thing this church has in common with other projects, however, is a limited budget, which forced us to get creative in certain aspects of the planning, noise control, and architectural and acoustical finishes. For example, although expansion space was limited, they needed a new choir rehearsal room, but they also wanted a recording studio. So, we combined the two spaces into one room, creating a really quiet and acoustically inspiring choir rehearsal room that is also fully optimized for recording.

The term “acoustically inspiring” means it’s not the average choir room found in many churches–often a simple rectangular room in which a couple of risers are added at the back. Those types of rooms typically have low ceilings, a great deal of flutter echo, disturbing acoustical anomalies, and loud air conditioning systems.

At Crossroads, the space actually gives them something back acoustically. It’s truly fun to sing in there, and to hear your voice projected back to you.

The room is also extremely flexible, since it can handle not only a small choir but also a small orchestra. It features booths to isolate piano and other instruments so they don’t leak into the choir microphones or other instrument mics during recording sessions.

The control room looks onto the rehearsal/recording space, which gives the church even greater flexibility. They can record choir rehearsals, or pre-record program music for the praise and worship parts of their services. Or, they can pre-record music and vocals to use as backing tracks for soloists who may be singing during weekly services or at special holiday services. Of course, they can also produce excellent quality recordings for distribution on CD or over the Internet.

One thing other churches should consider, though, is the issue of how simultaneous use might overburden a particular space and get in the way of being able to do recording when the room is needed for choir rehearsal.

The First Steps

One of the most important areas is the facility’s machine room, which is technically a “behind the scenes” function, but it’s the machine room that will allow interconnectivity from recording spaces to the rest of the church.

For instance, a church may want to put in a master antenna television (MATV) system to project video and other programming throughout education or administrative spaces, or it may want to be able to record out of classrooms to produce educational programming. The church may also want to connect to the outside world through ISDN and Web servers. So, a properly constructed and equipped central machine room makes a lot of sense.

The next step is to begin grouping production spaces around that technical equipment area. These spaces include areas for audio recording and production, music recording and production, and perhaps video editing and/or production.

Every church is different. But the key to adding recording capabilities is that it has to be an outgrowth of the way they worship.

It’s all about recognizing opportunities. A lot of times, churches may be used to operating a video camera during a choir performance or running an audio feed to a local radio station and that’s all they think about when they consider the possibilities for audio and video ministries. There are many opportunities available to really extend the reach of their ministry, through properly planned and designed on-site recording facilities.

 

Richard Schrag is a principal with the Russ Berger Design Group in Dallas. The Russ Berger Design Group (RBDG.com) is a design firm that joins architecture, interiors, and acoustics into technical environments and buildings for recording studios, broadcast facilities, and creative media production spaces.