We asked Matt Minikus about his journey into music ministry, which Matt and Josie do full time.
Editor – Matt, you and Josie have made your lives revolve around songwriting and music production. I want to talk with you about some of your production techniques and practices, but before we go there, what led you guys to follow this path?
Matt Minikus – There is much to this story, but I’ll do my best to make it brief. When I first began to follow Jesus 20 years ago, I traveled with some young preachers, David Asscherick and Matt Parra, as their musicians. I loved music ministry, but it didn’t seem like a life that would support an “adult” life as I got older. So many well-meaning Christians would say, “You need to grow up and get a normal job before it’s too late.” When Josie and I married, I was working at a Christian high school as a dean. Josie and I had been married for one year when I was informed that I was losing my school job. So much for the stable life, LOL.
We began to look into other options, but none of them seemed to be a good fit. We went to the 2009 GYC youth event to sing a couple of songs and see friends. That Sabbath afternoon, we hung out with David Asscherick, Ty Gibson, James Rafferty, and some other musicians. We hadn’t met Ty and James until that event, but as we talked and sung songs that afternoon, Ty asked what we did for a living. I told him that I was probably going to be working for a church that offered me a secretary job. He then asked, “Why don’t you do music ministry?” My response was simple, “I’m married, and you can’t make a living doing that. Not many churches and ministries hire musicians.” Then he suggested that maybe multiple ministries could share the salary and said, “You guys should be doing music full time.”
Those words began a process of thoughts, discussions that lead us into a full-on marital battle. I had a longing deep in my heart to make music for God, but I had decided it wasn’t possible. As Josie and I began to discuss the possibility, she became very frustrated and angry. She didn’t want to leave the area where her family was to do something that she was terrified to do. We had a friend share a book by Morris Venden entitled “How to Know God’s Will in Your Life.” We had to read the book separately because of how heated the topic was, but by the time we were done reading it, God had gently but very clearly shown us that He was calling us into music ministry. Not just me, but to Josie as well. He did so many things to affirm His call while we read that book; it was truly miraculous. The road was rocky as we began that call, but we were so grateful that He spoke so clearly. We never had room to blame circumstances or difficulties on each other or second guess the decision because we knew God led us here.
Editor – It’s amazing how God leads. So, you took the leap into full-time music ministry, and you’re still eating and have a place to sleep. I’m sure at times it is a challenge to make ends meet. One of the challenges with working in the music industry is you need good equipment to work with. Bottom-end instruments, microphones, and recording gear can only take you so far. Once you have quality instruments, they can last a lifetime, unless something happens to them. Have you had any bumps along the way with regards to your equipment?
Matt Minikus – We’ve had a few. When we first began touring full time, we bought a new Bose PA system. We spent most of the money we had, but it seemed necessary due to countless bad sound guy experiences I had accumulated over the years prior. While beginning our first tour, we stopped to spend the weekend with some friends out in the country near Sonora, CA. That night our car was broken into, and most of our sound system was stolen as well, and some boxes in our car. The sound system was a tough enough loss, but when we realized that Josie’s songwriting journal was in one of the boxes, we wept. Josie had been writing song ideas in that book since she was a young teen. There were so many finished and unfinished songs in there.
We were really feeling stressed and violated. We didn’t have any more money to repurchase the gear, and the questions about what we were doing with our life crossed our minds. We remembered how God called us into this, so He certainly wasn’t taken by surprise by what had transpired. So we prayed for Him to make a way. He did. In the following weeks, we had received an insurance check that covered everything as personal items. The insurance agent said that if we had been making an income with the equipment, it would have been considered “Business Equipment.” But since we hadn’t yet, it was covered.
So we praised the Lord that we weren’t making any money yet! Who would have thought we would have been rejoicing about that. LOL. As for the loss of the song journal, some of the songs came back to Josie over the following months, but many were lost. Yet, Josie was convicted that the Lord is the Author of all inspiration, so He could give her more songs. And so He did. Our song “More Valuable Than These” came from this experience, and so many since. God is simply not challenged by the situations we are in. He has always provided for us everything we need, and I am not trying to sound spiritual saying that. We just have not been in want since we chose to follow where He called. It hasn’t been easy the whole time, but we have found that His promises are true, especially the promises in Matthew 6 and Luke 12.
Editor – Through it, all your trust in God has strengthened! That is hard but so cool. Let’s talk about technology. Do you produce your own videos? If so, how? The quality is great. What equipment do you use (camera, audio, lighting, etc.)? Did you use Final Cut to edit your videos?
Here is the list of equipment that we use:
We started with an old Sony NEX6 camera with a Sony Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 lens. It worked ok, but it didn’t shoot in 4k and would overheat if used for very long. We upgraded the camera body to the Sony A6600. It shoots 4k, doesn’t overheat, has fantastic focusing options, and would work with the lens I already had. Side note: I don’t currently upload my videos in 4k, but I wanted our videos to be more future proof. I also noticed that starting at 4k and compressing it down to 1080p gives a little sharper image compared with just filming at 1080p.
We try to use as much of the natural lighting available as possible from our windows, and then fill in the rest of the needed light with a pair of FotodioX C-200RS FlapJack 7” LED lights. They have variable color from 3200 to 5600K and are dimmable as well from 10-100%. I use an app on my phone to see what the color temperature is before turning on the lights, and then I match it with these lights. They have worked very well. If I were to buy them again, though, I might have gone for the 10” model. As the days have been getting shorter, recording with less natural light has made it harder to get the brightness I want for filming.
I use a Zoom H6 to record our audio. It is very clean sounding, can run off of batteries if needed, and is simple to use. It has 4 XLR or 1/4” inputs and can be expanded to 6 inputs. I record all of our tracks at 24bit 48khz. Microphones we use:
- Townsend Labs Sphere L22: This is a modeling microphone, which means you can change the way it sonically responds to the audio source after you have recorded your tracks. You can emulate many of the high-end microphone models that you see out there. We usually use the Townsend mic for main vocals. If I set it between us, I can mix the front and back levels separately since it can be a stereo mic as well. (Example) Once we record our track, I’ll open it in my DAW (studio software) and select the microphone model. It is remarkable technology and extremely useful. If it was in your budget to get a mic like this, I don’t think you would be disappointed. We have also used this mic to record our piano for some of the videos. It was good, but the DPA mics (listed below) are better.
- Brauner Phanthera: I bought this microphone specifically for recording Josie’s voice in the studio. It has a very open airy quality to it with a 3-dimensional depth that is truly amazing. My voice doesn’t sound particularly good on it when close, but it can record my vocal and guitar very well at a distance. It sounds balanced and has a rich low-end even though it is 2-3 feet away. (Example) This mic is about the same price as the Townsend. If I were buying one microphone, I would choose the Townsend.
- DPA 4011: This is a stereo pair of small-diaphragm microphones that are primarily used on instruments in the studio. I made a stand out of extruded T-slot aluminum to bridge our upright piano, so I could place these mics in front of it. If you look, check out our living room session video called “Tell me the Story of Jesus.” You can see and hear the difference compared with using the Townsend mic in the video called “Blessings in the Tears.”
- Neumann KMS 105: This is a vocal mic I use when touring. It has a good flat sound and rejects sound behind it. We use it for vocals when at the piano (as seen in the above link about the piano). You can get a good vocal level without getting too much piano sound bleeding into it.
- Blue Encore 300: also a vocal mic. It picks up a bit more around it than the Neumann but is much brighter. I’m not a fan of this mic for recordings, but you work with what you have.
- Audio Tech PRO 35: This is a little clip-on gooseneck microphone. I have a few of these that I use on tour, but they have also been useful for recording some instruments. I used a couple of these on our video “Trusty and True” to pick up more guitar and the glockenspiel and shruti box that Josie was playing.
Those are the microphones we use, but it is more important to learn how to find mic placement and set proper record levels than to just have great mics.
- Adjust the recorders trim until you get an average record level of around -12db;
- Plug in a good set of studio headphones with a flat frequency response;
- Move the mic around while listening on headphones, until you find the spot that gives the most natural sound;
- Check record levels again and make sure you don’t get any clipping;
- Now you are ready to record your audio.
- Audio: I use Logic Pro X with a variety of plugins when mixing down the audio tracks. I often use EQs, de-essers, compressors, and reverb. If I have a background hum or noise floor issue, I use a software called iZotope RX to remove those unwanted sounds. This is a really helpful tool when you are recording in living spaces that have HVAC, a refrigerator, and other noise appliances that can make your tracks sound terrible.
- Video: I use Final Cut Pro for the assembly of the music video. I’m just a beginner with this software, but I found it to be intuitive and not too difficult to navigate. Thanks to YouTube, any problems that I couldn’t figure out, someone had a video explaining it.
That is our setup and how we are recording our music videos right now. I keep trying new things and learning what works better.
Editor – Thank you for sharing your journey and technotes. I’m sure this will be helpful to others. Blessings to you both in the coming weeks and months.
Matt Minikus and Josie live in Oregon.