Sounds from the Church: Sermon Audio Tips

Last week we discussed the why’s of putting sermon recordings on your church’s website. (Last week’s article)  So you got all fired up, went and recorded the sermon this week and now…oh yeah, I didn’t really mention anything about how to do it.  I figured that’s a pretty big part of putting sermon audio on your website, so that’s what this week is about with some tips and instructions on sermon audio.  (Here’s a little secret: These tips will also be useful with other types of audio. Shhhh)

Recording:

While most churches don’t have any trouble getting their pastor to speak, it can be a little more challenging recording what the pastor is saying.  If you already have some form of sound system and your pastor is already mic’ed then this will be a very easy process.  All you need to do is connect a recording device to the sound board and press record when the pastor speaks.

Most sound systems have a “record out” or “tape out” output, which is usually 2 RCA connections.  You can use an RCA cable to connect from the “tape out” to a tape recorder. (I trust you can figure the rest out).  If you want to be really fancy, as well as save some later steps, you can connect to a digital recording device.  This may be a computer, a digital recorder or even an mp3 player, many of which can do digital recordings now.  Digital recorders work the same way a tape recorder does, except they don’t use tapes, or at least not normal tapes.  So you can connect them the same way as a tape recorder.  To record on a computer or mp3 player, get a cable that converts from RCA to a 1/8 in stereo plug.  You can find these converters at any Radio Shack or other electronics stores.  Connect the RCA side to the soundboard and the 1/8 in plug to the “input” for an mp3 player or the “microphone input” for a computer.  If you use an mp3 player, read the instructions on your mp3 player for how to record.

If you use a computer, you will now need to have software to record the audio.  You can spend hundreds of dollars on very good software, or you can get a free program, like Audacity.  If you aren’t planning to record a CD, I’d recommend using Audacity.  I’ll just use Audacity as the example from here on.  If you use other software, you will have to adjust the instructions accordingly.

Once you’ve connected to your computer to the sound system and opened up Audacity, go into your computer’s control panel.  Then double click the “Sounds and Audio Devices” icon.  On the first tab you should see an “Advanced” button.  Click it.  That will bring up the volume controls for your computer.  Go into the “Options” menu and select “Properties”.  Then select “Recording” and click the “Ok” button.  You should see Microphone as one of the inputs.  Make sure Microphone is selected.  You can use the volume control to adjust the volume when recording.  I don’t recommend ever taking any of your volume settings higher than 90% as you may get some distortion.  Then, in Audacity, all you have to do is click the “Record” button (the red circle) to start recording and then click the “Stop” button (the yellow square) to stop the recording.  If you just want to pause the recording click the “Pause” button, not the “Stop” button.  Otherwise you will start a new file when you start recording again.  Be sure to save the file(s) when you are done recording.

Try to record the audio at the best settings.  So make sure your volume is set so the recording is loud enough to hear without modifying the file.  Also use high settings for the quality of the recording.  The defaults in Audacity should suffice.  You don’t want to have to do much editing of quality or volume after you have recorded.  The more volume or quality adjustments you make, the more distortion you will have and it’s always easier to downgrade the file then enhance it.  So make the recording as good as you can when you are making the recording.

If your church doesn’t have a sound system, my best advice is to get one.  It doesn’t have to be real fancy, just a basic system with a couple of mic inputs.  You can find them at most music stores for a couple hundred dollars or even at pawn shops for much less.  Other than having a sound system, you can try using a voice recorder.  Again many mp3 players have this feature now.  The sound quality would not be as good, but it would be workable.  Your last option is to just setup a boom box and with a tape recorder in the room and hit record.  This will have a lot of background noise from others in the room and usually some hissing sounds.  You can remove some of it with software, but the sound quality will be nowhere near as good as you would get with even the cheapest of sound systems.

Digitizing:

You can’t put audio on your website until you have created a digital version of the recording.  If you did this during the recording process, then you can skip part of this step, but you can still read the whole section and feel sorry for the people who have to do it all.  If you recorded on an mp3 player or a digital recorder, you will need to transfer the audio file to your computer.  Read the instructions with the device for how to do this.

If you recorded onto a tape, you will need to convert that to digital form.  Unfortunately there’s no short cut to doing this.  The only way to convert a tape recording to a digital recording is to re-record the tape onto your computer.  First you will need a tape player, any tape player with a headphones jack will work, even a Walkman.  Next you will need a cable with a male 1/8in stereo plug on either end.  If your tape player has a ¼ in earphone jack, then the cable will need to have a ¼ in stereo plug on one end an 1/8 in stereo plug on the other.  You can get this cable at any Radio shack or most electronics stores.  Plug one end of the cable into your tape player and the other into the Microphone jack of your computer.  Then follow the instructions I gave above for recording from the sound system to a computer.

Editing:

Regardless of how you recorded the audio file or how you digitized it, once it is digitized, you can edit the file before you put it on the web.  Once again, I recommend Audacity, because it’s pretty good and it’s free.  I’ll use Audacity as the example.  Open up your audio file in Audacity.  You will see a visual display of the audio.  You can cut sections like dead time before and after the speaking by selecting the section you want to remove with your mouse and then clicking the “Cut” button.  You can also copy and paste if you want.  There are also several effects editing features like adjusting the volume (amplifying), adjusting pitch or speed, or my favorite, noise removal.  With almost any non-studio recording, you will have background noise, usually a hissing sound.  You can remove that.  Select a section of the audio file that only has the hissing sound and no speaking.  Then go into the “Effects” menu and select “Noise Removal”.  Then click the “Get Noise Profile” button.  Next select the entire audio file.  After that, go back into the “Effects” menu and select “Noise Removal”.  Then click the “Remove Noise” button.  You’ll be amazed the difference you’ll hear.

File Format:

Once you have the audio file on your computer and have edited it, you will need to make sure you have the appropriate format and quality for you finished sound file that you will put on your website.  You can use several different formats with your website (mp3, wav, rm, wma), however, I recommend using mp3.  Mp3 format creates very small files and mp3s are probably the most widely compatible format there is.  Wav files take up about 10 times as much disk space as mp3, and rm and wma files require certain software to play making them less compatible.  Audacity has an mp3 converter.  So, if you recorded in wav format (which Audacity does by default), you can then export the file as an mp3.

When you convert to mp3, you will want to consider, what kind of audio file it is, and how much space you want the file to take up.  You can set the quality of the sound file by setting how many kbps (kilobits per second) you want the file to be saved as.  This is called the files “Bit Rate”.  The lower the bit rate, the lower the quality and the less space it takes up.  128 kbps is near CD quality.  You want to use that for music files.  Recorded speaking, on the other hand, doesn’t need to be nearly as high because there is less sound in the recording.  You can usually do recorded speaking audio files at 32 kbps or even 16 kbps.  I’d advise you to try out the various settings and decide for yourself which you like best.  You can adjust this setting in Audacity by going into the “Edit” menu and selecting “Preferences…”  Then click on the “File Formats” tab.  You will be adjusting the “Bit Rate” in the mp3 section.

Please note you will need to get the “LAME MP3 encoder” to export mp3 files.

Uploading:

Alright, your sermon is now ready for your website.  Now you need to upload the file.  Most web hosts will either have a file uploader in their system, FTP access or both.  With OurChurch.Com, you can use the “Upload Graphics and MIDIs” feature in your webmaster page for audio files up to 5MB in size.  You can also use the “Upload Files” feature in your cPanel’s File Manager to upload a couple files at once.  You also have FTP access for uploading larger files and as many files at the same time as you want.

- FTP
Since it is more universal, I’ll start with FTP.  FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol, and is simply a program which copies a file from one computer to another, in this case, your website’s server.  OurChurch.Com provides links to 2 FTP programs in their Help Pages under the “FAQs: Using FTP to transfer files” topic in the “Help for Webmasters of Gold, Silver, and Bronze Websites” section.  Click on the “Can you recommend a free FTP program?” question for the links.  You can find a tutorial on how to use either FTP program in the OurChurch.Com Help Pages under the “How do I use FTP?” question.  With an OurChurch.Com website, your server is your website is your domain name without the www. (example: ourchurch.com).  Your username and password are your cPanel username and password.  If you want to use your audio files with the BEACON web builder, then you will need to upload the files into the /view/uploads/ directory.  Once you have connected to your website’s server, go into the “public_html” folder, then the “view” folder, and then the “uploads” folder.  This is where you need to upload your audio files.

- cPanel
You can also upload files using the “Upload Files” feature in cPanel’s File Manager.  To do this, login into your cPanel.  Then click the “File Manager” link near the bottom of the middle column.  This will bring up a new window.  Double click the folder icon (not the text) for the “public_html” folder.  Then double click the folder icon for the “view” folder.  Next double click the folder icon for the “uploads” folder.  Once in the “uploads” folder, click the “Upload Files” button.  Then browse for the file(s) you want to upload.  Once you have selected all the files you want to upload, click the “Upload” button.  We recommend you use this feature for files only a few MB in size or less.

- Webmaster Page
The easiest way to upload audio files with OCC is to use the “Upload Graphics and MIDIs” feature in your webmaster page.  This automatically puts the files in the /view/uploads/ directory.  You can do this by logging into your Webmaster page and clicking the “Upload Graphics and MIDIs” link in the right column.  Then login again.  Next “browse” for the file you want to upload and select it.  Then click the “Upload” button.  Please note you can only upload 1 file at a time and there is a 5MB file size limit.

Putting the File on Your Website:

All that’s left is linking to the audio files on your website.  This can be done very easily in OurChurch.Com’s BEACON web builder.  You can do this by logging into your Webmaster page and “Adding” a multimedia page.  Then, on the multimedia edit page, click the “Add Additional Entries” button.  Next select the audio file you want to use in the “Multimedia File” drop-down menu.  Then give the file a title and description.  Finally, if you have more than one file on the page, select its position and click the “Submit” button.  Repeat these steps to add more audio files.

If you are not using BEACON to build your website, you can simply create a link to the audio file on your website using html.  The URL for the link will be the location of the file plus the file’s name.  So, if you have a website with the domain name, example.com, and you uploaded the file to the /view/uploads/ directory.  The location of the file would be http://www.example.com/view/uploads/.  If the file name was sermon1.mp3, then the URL for the audio file would be:

Streaming Audio:

You can also set up the audio files to be pseudo-streaming audio files.  This means the audio file will start playing before it is completely downloaded.  This is very nice especially for large files, which may take a while to download.  You can do this by opening up a new text file in Microsoft Notepad.  Enter the URL for the audio file in the text document and then save it.  How you save the file will depend on the format of audio file you have chosen.  If you are linking to an mp3 file, you will save the text file as the audio file name ending in .m3u.  So, if you audio file is “sermon1.mp3”, you would save the text file as “sermon1.m3u”.    Using the example from the previous section; you would open up Notepad, enter “http://www.example.com/view/uploads/sermon1.mp3” (without the quotes) and then save the file as “sermon1.mu3” (without the quotes).  You will need to upload the .m3u file to your website with your .mp3 audio file.  If you are using a .rm audio file, then you follow the same process, but you save the Notepad file as .ram.  If you are using a .wma audio file then you would save the Notepad file as .wax.  As with the m3u file, you will need to upload the .ram or .wax files to your website’s server with your audio file.  Then link to the Notepad file instead of the audio file.  So, if you had a audio file named “sermon1.mp3” and you wanted it to be streaming audio on your website, you would create the .m3u file and upload it to the /view/uploads/ directory and then link to the .m3u file on your website using the URL:

http://www.example.com/view/uploads/sermon1.m3u

Website Tips:

Here are a few ideas for how to use the sermon audio on your website:

  • Create a Sermon Page or pages with the most recent sermons.  You could have just last week’s sermon or the past several weeks.
  • Create Topical Pages that have several messages on them addressing a specific topic.  You can also add other non-audio items like home Bible study guides, links to more info, links to a forum discussion of the topics, etc.  Be creative!
  • Don’t for get your other ministries.  Have recorded messages for your various ministries on their web pages or sections of the website.
  • Have welcome and descriptions messages.  You can record a welcome message for visitors on your homepage.  You can also create recorded messages describing the various ministries of your church as well as your mission and vision.  Often times audio can be a much more interesting way to learn about these things rather than reading through pages of text.

Well, now you know how to put sermon audio (or any other audio for that matter) on your website.  It’s not too difficult to do and it will only get easier after you do it a couple of times.  There are many reasons to put sermons and other messages on your website, but none more important than telling others about the love of Christ.  Sermon audio on your website is just one more tool you can use to attract people and bring them the Good News!!

Tell us about how you have used sermon audio on your website or are planning to, or any creative ways you have found to create and upload the sermons.

Kurt Steinbrueck is the Director of Marketing Services with OurChurch.Com. He also serves on the leadership of Family of Christ Lutheran Church in Tampa, FL. You can find him on Google+ as .

8 Responses to “Sounds from the Church: Sermon Audio Tips”

  1. One of the most convenient (and free for starters) to upload and host sermons is http://www.sermoncloud.com — so you don’t need to worry about bandwidth, FTP uploading, building an RSS feed, and all of that. Just record, upload, and you’re good to go! (side note: I’m not associated with it in any way.)

  2. This is just what I was looking for. I have been recording the services for weeks now. I have them all digitized. Now I am seperating the sermon from the whole service. Next I want to post them in our website. I have learned that to do the best job I record the service at as good a quality as possible then digitize at the best quality and the last thing is convert to MP3 and that is where quality can come down at the very end without making the sound really sound poor. Thanks for the great tutorial. We have bronze so have the multimedia page in the package for Beacon. Now the next question is how do I add the XML to our site to provide a RSS feed.
    Thanks so much,
    Bill Larsen

  3. Hey Bill,

    I’m glad that you found the information helpful. It sounds like you’ve got a good system going for you. As to setting up an RSS feed, you may want to check out the “Sounds from the Church: Podcasting Sermons” blog article.

    http://blog.ourchurch.com/2006/10/31/sounds-from-the-church-podcasting-sermons/

    In the article you will see a reference to blogging software by Word Press. FYI – You can install that software for your website using Fantastico in your Bronze package’s cpanel.

  4. This is just what I was looking for. I have been recording the services for weeks now. I have them all digitized. – See more at: #sthash.DVUpfs4r.dpuf">http://blog.ourchurch.com/2006/10/17/sounds-from-

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