During the late nineties, Russia was going through some pretty dramatic changes.
One of the big ones was opening up to allow churches to come in.
Many Americans were arriving to serve as missionaries while that door was open, including a family that we knew.
Within a year, they were part of a rapidly growing church that met in a large (rented) theater space in Moscow. Someone donated money and equipment for a portable system, and they managed to put together a nice rig. Not the simple “two boxes on sticks” portable, but rather portable like, “do we seriously have to pack this thing up and store it after every service?”
To the best of my memory, the system included four JBL dual-15 tops, four single-18 subs, a rack of power amplifiers, and a 24-channel house board joined by an effects rack. Not to mention the snake, cables, stands and microphones for a 10-piece band and full worship team. Enough to soak a room hosting about 1,500 people each Sunday. Setup and packed away for every service.
They did fine with the live rig, but someone also donated a recording system, which none of them had any experience with. Meanwhile, the worship leader possessed more than 100 original worship songs that had never been recorded.
This is the part where my friends threw my name in the hat. So through a squirrelly chain of events, I ended up in Moscow for six weeks to record an album while also helping to train the team.
Note that I agreed to do this without asking any relevant questions.
A good one would have been something like, “Exactly what kind of recording gear will we be using?” Yeah. That would have been a good question. Then I would have known that it was an 8-track portable unit that actually recorded to analog tape.
Another good question would have been, “Hey. How cold is it over there?” Stupid cold. That’s how cold Moscow is, even in March.
If I had any sense, I might have also asked about sleeping arrangements. Then I would have known that the plan was to park my six-foot-two, 230-pound carcass on a bed designed for a skinny 10-year-old. I might also have asked what we would be eating.
Nope. None of that came up. These are textbook-perfect moments that summarize my decision-making skills back then.
So without a studio-grade recorder, microphones, monitors or even, uh, a studio, we began to create an album. We recorded in the church office and various apartments, using live vocal mics and direct inputs from keyboards and guitar processors, along with whatever else was available.
It ended up being a pretty good album. Not anything that would win a Grammy, but solid. It wasn’t good because I was good, it was good because they were. These were amazing people. Not just because they were incredibly talented and disciplined, but because of their passion.
I went over there to teach them how to record and make an album happen, but they shaped me in the process, welcoming me into a group of young and passionate believers that hadn’t been bogged down with negativity and bad habits. They sincerely loved each other and were excited to be at church. It was something we don’t see enough of, then or now.
I found out that there was another very important reason for all of this. This group was about to host a Christian pastors conference, possibly the first ever in Moscow. There were clergy coming from all over Russia. Some were spending days traveling on trains to get there. Most were very poor and considered it a miracle that they even made it. Many had minimal contact with other churches and were desperate for this connection.
We finished the album and managed to get it duplicated in time for the conference. Until I actually witnessed them holding the tapes, it still hadn’t occurred to me how big of a deal this was. These pastors were able to take something home with them that they had never owned: a Christian worship album recorded in their own language.
It may not have been the best album I ever worked on, but it was probably the most important one, and the entire project still stands as one of the best experiences of my career.
Senior editor of Live Sound International and ProSoundWeb.com, M. Erik Matlock has worked in professional audio for more than 20 years in live, install, and recording. Read more of his random rants and tirades for PSW and LSI here.
His latest book, Basic Training For The Church Audio Technician is available here.
This article originally appeared on ProSoundWeb.com.