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The Secrets of My Success, Pt. 1

I get a lot of questions from other tech leaders. And I’m OK with that. I really do enjoy helping people and solving problems. But I’m only one person, and I’m a busy one at that. Sometimes, emails and twitter questions can pile up and go weeks without being answered. I generally get to them eventually, but I feel bad when it take so long. 

In the interest of spreading the wealth (of knowledge), I’m going to share with you the secret to acquiring knowledge. Learning new things has been one of my keys for staying employed, and I think it’s one thing that makes me good at what I do. So here you go; some of the secrets I’ve employed to learning more about this crazy trade.

Read the Manual

Yes, I know. Most of us pride ourselves on being able to take any new piece of gear out of the box and start using it without reading the manual. Well-designed equipment will even make that possible—at least to some extent. But when you start getting into the technical details of how to do something, often the fastest way to figure it out is read the manual. 

I can’t tell you how many questions I’ve answered from people by simple downloading the manual for the product they’re having trouble with and reading it. Sometimes, I even cut and paste the relevant section in my answer. 

Often, you will even discover cool features of a product that you didn’t know existed by reading the manual. I don’t even know how many times I’ve thought to myself, “I wish this box would do …” only to find it does because I read the manual.

I will acknowledge that many manuals are not worth the paper they’re not printed on (everything is a PDF now, right?) I’ve seen a manual for a mixer say, “The PFL button engages PFL mode,” and nothing more about it. Well, now that’s super-helpful isn’t it. I sort of figured pushing a button labeled PFL would do something related to PFL. And if you’re familiar with what PFL is, you probably don’t need that less than helpful sentence. But if you don’t know what PFL is, you need to go searching. 

Use Online Help

More and more software is coming with built-in help that is actually useful. Just the other day, we were trying to figure out how to run a particular report in our new system-design software. We knew what we wanted was possible, but it wasn’t immediately obvious. So I hit the big ? button. It took me to online help section that eventually led me to the solution. 

More and more, companies are using YouTube for really helpful instruction videos. I was trying to learn some new to me lighting software a while back, and discovered a whole slew of videos from the creator of the software. My learning curve shortened dramatically.

Again, I’ve done this for others. Many times, when I get a question about software, I’ll either launch my copy or download a demo and look for help. It’s amazing how many times the answer is right there. But sometimes the answer is there, but it doesn’t work. I was trying to convince a Blackmagic routing switcher to work the other day and while the manual told me what to do, I wasn’t getting the result I wanted. In that case, it’s time to pull out the big guns.

Use the Google

Google is probably the single greatest technical resource for a technical director today. You really should learn how to use it. Seriously. I’ve had questions come in and I’ve literally typed the question into Google and sent out a response based on my findings. 

See, here’s the thing. Chances are, someone else has already needed to do what you’re trying to do. And they’ve probably already written something about it online. And Google knows where it is. Now, you could email me and ask, or you could just go to Google. Google is faster, by the way. 

Google has become really good at taking in natural language questions and giving you good results. I was going to give you an example, but I do it so regularly that it’s become like breathing; I don’t even think about it. Just try it. 

Someone asked me once if I had any online resources for training volunteers. You know what I did? I used the Google (and reminded them about this cool site called ChurchTechArts). When someone asks if I’ve heard about an obscure product, I use the Google. Do I remember where an article by someone is on a particular topic? Use the Google.

Next time, more top tips for acquiring knowledge!

“Gear

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CHCC Renovation: Tech Desks

tech_desk.jpg

I’ve been posting a few pictures of the progress of my new tech booth desks on Twitter and they seem to have generated quite a bit of interest. So here’s a quick post on how I designed and built them. 

Designed in Sketchup

I typically use Trimble Sketchup for my design work. While there is a pretty good learning curve, it’s not terribly hard to use, at least as far as 3D programs go. It’s easy to draw in scale, which is critical for visualizing how everything is going to work. Plus, there is a huge library of previously built models that you can drop into the plan. I have iMacs, monitors, speakers and keyboards all over my model, which helps me figure out how big thing need to be.

If It Ain’t Over Built…

My dad and I used to joke that we should start a construction company, and if we did, our motto would be, “If it ain’t over built, we didn’t build it.” In that vein, I used 4x4 Douglass Fir lumber for the legs and all cross pieces. Each piece is joined to the other with a half-lap joint and glued together with Gorilla glue. Gorilla glue is crazy strong, and it expands as cures to fill in any gaps. 

We cut the laps first on a sliding compound miter saw, then finished them with a router. With the saw, we set the depth to just under half the thickness of the wood and made repeated cuts to remove a bunch material. After knocking out the remaining slices of wood, I used a plunge router and spiral cutting bit to finish the cut to the right depth. Cutting the ones in the middle of the wood was easy. But the ones on the ends required a piece of 4x4 clamped to the work table near the end of the piece I was milling to hold the router up. 

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Mid-Span Support

One of my biggest issues with most tech tables is there is always something to smash your knees or thighs underneath the desk table. I didn’t want that problem with these. So I located the mid-span cross brace below the table top 12” back from the front edge. I figured this would be far enough that you could comfortably raise the chair up enough to get as high as you want to to mix without hitting anything. 

Most of the tables are under 6’ long, so I wasn’t worried about sagging; especially with two 4x4s holding up the top. But FOH is 10’ long, and that’s a long span for a desk, particularly one with so much weight on it. To fasten the top to the base, I used PL Premium adhesive and 4 1/2” Timberlock screws. Now, for this assembly to sag, the entire thing has to deform, which should be hard.

The top is made of two piece of 3/4” 8-ply plywood, that are fully glued together. I spread Titebond glue over the entire surface, and screwed them together every 12”. As FOH is 10’ long, and it’s hard to find 10’ plywood, I had to join a few pieces. I used a full 8’ piece on the bottom with a 2’ end, and two 5’ pieces for the top. Putting the seam right in the middle will hide it almost completely as the console will be sitting right there. Looking back on it, I should have used plate joints (also know as biscuits) for those seams. Next time…

They’re Strong & Mobile

Overall, the desks are pretty tough. I’ve sat on all of them, and there is very little deflection. Even the FOH desk hardly moves, and as the SD8 is 51” long, most of the weight will be about 3’ from each leg. So I think we’ll be OK. 

I put 3” locking casters on each desk as well. I have always hated having to climb behind the desk to work on the I/O of the consoles. So I decided to put casters on them, so it’s easier to pull the desk out and get back there and work. You can’t skimp on casters, and I found these for about $8 each at Home Depot. The desks roll very nicely and should last a long time. 

Here is the Sketchup file if anyone wants to see the actual design. I’m not going to post construction drawings for them because they take a lot of time to generate, and are only useful if your tech booth is the same size as mine. Grab Sketchup and modify the sizes to suit your booth if you want.

Roland

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CHCC Renovation: Working with Architects

It’s been a little while since I updated you on the renovation at Coast Hills. As I write this, I’m one day away from the final week of install. As we work through this week, I’ll update you on some of the technical things we did, but in this post, I wanted to offer some advice on something I almost never hear anyone talking about; how to work with the architect and builder during your renovation. 

They Don’t Really Know What We Do

I had a revelation a few weeks back. Now that I work as an AVL integrator in an architecture firm, I realized that my aggravation with the architects who designed the buildings I worked in was misplaced. After having many discussions with the guys in our firm, I’ve come to realize that they are not tech guys. This may have been obvious, but it really hit me one day. The reason they don’t know how to design with the needs of production in mind is that they’ve never done production. 

This is not their fault, but it does put the onus on us as production guys and gals to clearly define our needs and make sure that those needs are incorporated into the plan. To be sure, some architects are more knowledgable than others, but it’s a mistake to assume they will know how to design a stage, tech booth or video control room that will meet your every need without any of your input. 

Communicate Clearly, Follow Up and Follow Up Again

I sent many, many emails to the architect on our project. I followed up with most of them. But the ones that I didn’t follow up on ended up being things that were missed. Even after I received confirmation that my curtain batten plan was to be included in the plans, I never actually checked the plans to be sure they made it. It wasn’t until I asked about it that everyone said, “Curtain battens? What curtain battens?” What followed was a tragically comedic email discussion about what materials should be used for the battens. 

Again, we can’t assume the architect or builder know what we need from a production standpoint. Chances are, they’ve never actually built a production stage. We all have heard the stories about trying to explain to the electrician that yes, we actually do really need all that conduit. And yes, dedicated power really is important. It is up to us as the experts in production to communicate, communicate and communicate again. And don’t assume that because you specify Schedule 40 black steel pipe for battens that someone won’t think Schedule 40 PVC is acceptable. Trust me on this.

Choose Wisely

I’ve had conversations in the past with church leaders about choosing a builder. Many years ago, I was on the building committee at my church, and they wanted to hire an architect who had never designed a church before, and a builder who had only built one very traditional church building. Both were bad ideas. 

Make sure the architect and builder have actually built similar buildings to what you want. If they haven’t, they must express an extreme desire to learn about the needs of modern church production. If they think a church AVL system is a gooseneck mic on the chancel and a few speakers in the nave, and you’re looking to create a Hillsong-like experience every weekend, run away. Not that there is anything wrong with a chancel and a nave, but that is a whole different ballgame. 

This is a Big Deal

When we start talking about renovations or new buildings, we’re talking about dollar amounts in the hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. This is money given sacrificially by the members of your congregation with the idea that it would go to advance the ministry. When bad decisions are made and money is wasted, it’s bad stewardship, plain and simple. It is up to us as experts in production to stay on top of this stuff. Never assume, over communicate, follow up and follow up again. If you have a good building team, the end result will be a good one.

“Gear

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