Mixing Organ Into the Sound System

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What are other churches doing when it comes to recording their organ?

We have a Praise band that leads worship once a month, otherwise organ and piano lead our singing regularly. We had a "congregational" mic that picked up the organ as well as the congregational singing in the past but the sound quality was poor. We intend on purchasing new speakers for our Allen organ but are scratching our heads as to how we should go about micing and mixing into our digital recordings and livestream. The AV company we hired to install our new system is unfamiliar with organs and directed us to the organ technicians but then the organ techs can only educate us on the organ and speakers, not micing the instrument and so round and round we go! 

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Disclaimer: I am neither a sound engineer nor an organ specialist, but a musician who knows a bit about it all.

If you don't have a pipe organ, I would wonder if the organ is "anything special" and whether it is something you need to stay attached to. Not from the aspect/desire of scrapping the organ, but because there are newer more modern takes on the organ that you can plug into a sound system to give better sound/recording quality and better control to the sound engineers (although they are usually digital instead of analog like older organs - matter of taste as far as sound goes). I give an example below of a digital organ and pedals. It's not cheap, but I don't know how much you're planning on spending on speakers and just know that organ repairs can be expensive as well. Additionally, if you buy a digital organ like this (or another similar product), it may give the ability to be more versatile in including it with your praise team as it may have pad sounds (I have not checked). 

http://www.nordkeyboards.com/products/nord-pedal-keys-27

http://www.nordkeyboards.com/products/nord-c2d

I'd be happy to chat further if you want. 

 

Adom, thank you so much for you insight. I took two of my organists to a great music store last week to test out some digital organs (they found the Viscount Legend to have the best feel) but they felt completely overwhelmed by the impending learning curve transitioning over to a digital organ would require. That being said, they would not pack their music and leave if we were to go that route.  Without conventional stops and swell peddles, they felt a little lost and could not consider it a "real" organ. An additional concern is then for guest organists for weddings and funerals and how they would feel playing a digital organ.

It will actually cost us more to keep our current Allen organ, purchase and mount new speakers, get it serviced, and then have it rewired in it's new home in the sanctuary. That being said, I don't want to completely overwhelm our very faithful organists nor end up with a digital organ that we fail to get to sound like a true organ (a necessity to not frighten the older members of our congregation).

Personally, I am feeling 50/50 on the decision but the more input the better!

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Hi Karisa,

All that being said, I would reiterate that money is not necessarily the only consideration (although it can often feel like it). Sometimes money is paid for beauty because our churches need beauty to help point us toward God.

Out of curiosity (since we currently have an old analog organ that I would contemplate replacing with a digital) did the organists feel like they could get a comparable sound out of the organs they tested or was that part of the "learning curve"?

Amen, churches do need beauty to help direct us towards God! The organists did not find that they could get a comparable sound out of the organs we tested. 

The best approach depends on your desired outcome. If your desire is strictly for recording and live-stream then you have a lot more flexibility than if you expect to reinforce the sound as well. 

Because an organ is such a massive instrument, to try to "direct mic" each rank would be a nightmare. If your Allen organ is like ours, there are no direct outputs that mix all the ranks together. You would have to rewire the amps internally, tap off at a line level from each rank generator, and feed a separate sub mixer to get a manageable signal to the board. Do-able but very impractical.

Assuming your purposes are strictly for recording or distributing elsewhere (not amplified inside the sanctuary) and you don't mind having the congregation singing/background noise included, then find one (if mono) or two (if stereo) good quality mics and position it (them) so they pick up the best mix of all the organ sounds and the congregation/praise band as desired. I would start with a placement of 2/3 toward the front and 2/3 toward the ceiling and, if using only one, slightly off center. Adjust front/back and up/down until you get the desired mix of all the sounds you want or until the aesthetic police arrest you.  ;)

As for specific mic types, again it depends on your desired quality level. The most common mic for this use would be a small diaphragm condenser mic such as a Shure KSM 137 or similar.  If you want something smaller you can probably use a typical 'choir mic' like an Audio-Technica U853R or similar. Due to God's laws of physics, generally the smaller the mic the less bass frequencies it will pick up.  Read the mic specs and match the mics to your desired outcome.

Hope this helps!

Doug Sebens

Lynden, Wa.

 

Thank you, Doug. If we do decide to keep our Allen organ, I will definitely use this info to select a sufficient mic. Question for you: Where are your organ speakers placed in your sanctuary? I recently had a suggestion to have speakers both in the front as well as in the back.

Hello Karisa,

Our Allen organ was installed with one set of speakers in the old pipe room directly behind the pulpit, one set in a pipe loft room up and to the right (audience right)  and another set installed way up in the back wall of the balcony. The rear speakers are on a separate rank in the organ called 'Antiphonal'. 

I really don't like it when the organists use the Antiphonal rank because the soundboard is also located in the balcony and it makes it difficult to hear at times. They are not used much and I'm sure it sounds very nice down on the main floor when they do.

The organ is not direct miked nor fed into the sound system in any way other than a 'congregational' mic placed on the front of the balcony which is fed only to the recording and distributed systems (nursery, foyer, fellowship hall, etc.).

Hope this helps

Doug Sebens

 

 

 

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Karisa:  I'm an organist and am familiar with the "Digital" organ world-specifically Allen, Rodgers, etc.  I just went through the process with our own congregation.  It is unfortunate that your Allen Rep, doesn't know or refuses to assist you in putting the organ through the sound system.  It can happen.  I'm not sure what specific model organ you have, but it might be something that Allen Corp, might be able to solve for you.  Check out their website for contact information.  

If this is specifically for recording purposes, your least expensive and most practical way is to use a microphone - with that I would contact your local AV technician to find the right microphone.  But if you desire to incorporate the organ into the overall mix on your sound system, then it would be good to contact Allen Organ Corp.

If your organ is aging out and is needing replacement anyway, your faithful organists should have a say in what's next, especially if it is your desire to keep them involved in worship leadership.

But my humble opinion is to keep the organ you have if it isn't a sound quality/service of the instrument issue and a recording issue only.  This may be an unpopular opinion, but it's the members of your congregation you are serving not the "church down the road".

Kevin, your input is appreciated. Because it would be for recording purposes then yes, I agree with the microphone route (I'm sure the options out there have come a long way since our original congregational mic). The instrument is in good working order, though it is nearly 36 years old. We have never had any major issues with it. We are trying our best to find the balance, as you stated,, with serving out congregation but also being future-minded. 

Hey, all!

TL;DR:

Feeding the Allen's own, internal RCA connections to your mixer through DI boxes will cost you about $200 for fantastic results. New speakers and mics will be brutally difficult, cost several thousand dollars, take a very long time, and provide inferior results.

 

Long Story:

We are in the midst of upgrades ourselves and are seeking similar solutions. We upgraded to a digital mixer last year and now we are attempting to capture and perhaps stream one or more of our services in HD, but we need to capture the audio from our classic 90's Allen organ. I'm with the musicians on this one- the organ is an astounding human musical interface; there is nothing else like it. Hang on to it!!

A- (Several $K, dubious results) The mic'd system will require new speakers, maybe new amps, expensive installations, visual clutter, and to do it right, several mics in odd places around the room. For example, in our Sanctuary, our organ feeds its own 8 speaker cabinets, and all of them have internal crossovers and three speakers each. That means there are 24 separate speakers in there, all pointing in different directions. Mic'ing and mixing it right (on video) would take serious production magic and plenty of money. You would spend several thousand dollars, easy. 

If you are going to spend money on speakers, then upgrade your house mains that you use all the time!

B- ($200, fantastic results) A direct system would take existing RCA outs from the Allen (think red and white connectors on your old component stereo system) to DI boxes and out to XLRs (regular 3-pin microphone cables). You could probably get the whole rig for less than $200 in pristine quadraphonic. 

My first choice would be a set of stereo RCA DI boxes like the ART CleanBox Pro.  Allen organs use RCAs to pass line level signals to their amps and they also potentially have dedicated outputs from what I see. (More below) You would want those DI boxes as close as possible to the Allen, running XLRs back to your mixer (XLRs are great at rejecting interference). There are power outlets inside your organ, so you can use a small power supply inside to run the AC adapter for the ARTs, and I would be tempted to mount them inside the organ case.

Cracking the back cover of our Allen (an MDS 26 from 1995), there are several promising leads. 

1- On the floor of the case, there are two pairs of RCAs that clearly read "out". If those work at line level like an old stereo system, that would give us quadraphonic sound right there. I plan to test this out tomorrow with our organist, just to see what the levels are like.

2- Failing that, there is a spot for a 6-pin "P945 Headphone / Tape out" on a rear panel. I'm pretty confident we could do something with this as well, similar to the above setup but with the extra step of pin to RCA conversion and some connector soldering. No big deal, though admittedly sad because this would only be stereo.

3- You could divert the RCAs before the amplifier, completely disusing the Allen amp, so once again you have RCAs that you can DI box to your board. We won't be doing this, since the speakers that our Allen tech installed work wonderfully well. We just need signal for recording and broadcast.

Like I said, we're in the middle of this ourselves, so I will let you know what else I can find out. 

I hope this helps, and God Bless you!

 

PS- There is an Option C that is very outside the box- if you have a digital Allen, then you have the option of using your organ as a MIDI instrument, voicing it from a powerful computer. Not exactly a cheap option, but a very intriguing one.