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Field Guide to AVL Renovations: Design

Just some of the new conduits we're adding. And this is just a renovation; we already have a bunch in there!

Just some of the new conduits we're adding. And this is just a renovation; we already have a bunch in there!

Since we’re close to embarking on a pretty significant renovation of our main sanctuary at Coast Hills, I thought I would kick off a series on successful renovations. This comes not only from my own experience, but from dozens of others. Just about every month I receive at least one e-mail about a church doing a renovation; and often it’s not going well.

The reasons renovations, or new builds for that matter, don’t go well are not really complicated. The problems tend to stem from a fundamental lack of understanding of how complex even simple AVL (audio-video-lighting) systems are. I’ve heard pastors say, “We’ll just hang some speakers in there, don’t worry about it,” without any thought to how incredibly bad that can be. Of course, they’ll complain about how bad it is later, and probably blame the sound guy. 

So let me say this right at the beginning of this series, if you’re talking about a renovation or build project, now is the time to bring the AVL guys into the discussion. Pastors tend to say, “We’re not there yet, we’ll engage you when we’re closer.” And that is the problem. The time to start planning a successful AVL system is at the dreaming stage. 

Define the ministry objectives, then design the building and AVL system. Those two design processes should go hand-in-hand. As you begin to dream about the kinds of ministry you’d like to see happening in the building, give the AVL guys a chance to dream about the ways technology can be integrated into that plan. Technology can be incredibly powerful, but only when it’s done in a way that supports the mission and vision of the church. Otherwise, it’s in the way. 

As you define your mission and vision and figure out how the building will be used, the AVL guys can be designing a system that supports it. Some churches will protest at this point, saying they can’t afford good design. Those are the same churches that can find enough money to do the job two or three times. Doing things right the first time will always cost less than doing it wrong a few times first. Always.

The AVL system integrates with every trade and building practice. This is another reason to get the AVL guys involved early. Even a simple system uses a lot of conduit. Power is needed in very specific places—and it needs to be the right kind of power. Structure must be in place to support rigging the speakers, video walls, screens, projectors and lighting. We have to make sure HVAC ducts are not in the way of lighting instruments, speakers and other stuff we’ll be hanging in the air. Building design elements will either help or hurt sound and sight lines. 

It’s a lot easier and cheaper to have the AVL guys in the room early to call out things like that. Otherwise, we come in with a big red marker after most of the plans are drawn and mark up what we need. This adds cost, time and often, a significant amount of stress.

Don’t assume that the architect knows what will be needed in an AVL system. That’s something else I hear often, “Don’t worry about it, the architect will handle that.” Unless the architect has also been designing sound, lighting and video systems for a decade—systems that are really good—you better get an expert in. I have  spent the last 20 years tearing out systems that were “designed” by architects, the cheapest contractor and well-meaning but completely uninformed volunteers. I’m begging you, bring in some experts. Early. 

I don’t know if it’s pride, arrogance or both that keeps leaders making the same mistakes. I know they don’t teach the building process in pastor school, yet we have a large enough body of knowledge to do this right. For some reason, I watch church after church push the AVL guys out of the way, bully them into silence, then beat them up when the system comes out badly. 

In 2014, we know how to do a great job with a building. It takes communication, planning, knowledge, good design and having the right people in the room from day one. I think it’s time we stop wasting our congregations’ money on projects that are not functional. 

As we go through this series, I’ll help you define your system objectives, develop an initial budget, choose key technologies, design a system that works for your church, work up reasonable install timelines and commission the final system. That’s a lot; but that’s what a project looks like. A building project is no small undertaking, and it deserves to be handled wisely. My hope is that as we go on this journey together, more projects will go more smoothly. Buckle up—it’s going to be a wild ride!

Roland

Today's post is brought to you by CCI Solutions. With a reputation for excellence, technical expertise and competitive pricing, CCI Solutions has served churches across the US in their media, equipment, design and installation needs for over 35 years.

March Retro: The Downside of Making It Look Easy

This is another post from March 2007, the first month this blog was on the web. I've tweaked it a little bit, but the concepts are still sound. Some things just don't change...

Really good tech people have one thing in common: we love a challenge. Tell us something can’t be done and we’ll figure out a way to prove you wrong. Need another monitor mix when all the Aux sends are full? No problem, we can swipe an unused group out, or maybe a matrix out. Need to run 40 channels into your 32 channel board? No problem, grab the board from the children’s room and sub it in. Next challenge…

I’ve discovered that all this resourcefulness has a downside. It can lead worship leaders—especially less technically minded ones—to think that we can do anything, and that it will be easy. And fast. I have a saying I use over and over, “Planning will set you free.” When it comes to live production, I plan as many details as I possibly can. The way I see it, the better an event is planned, the more I can enjoy the actual event. And I will have more bandwidth to respond to last minute changes. While I can figure out problems on the fly, I would much rather know what will be expected this weekend, plan for it, configure the system, then be able to worship while I mix.

Planning allows me to serve the band better. This in turn allows them to lead the congregation into a deeper experience of worship. But some worship leaders seem to follow the, “Whatever the Spirit leads!” model of “planning.” Now if the band is simple and everyone knows the words, that can work. But when the band grows larger and the poor ProPresenter operator is just trying to survive following a worship leader that sings the song differently every time, the stress level goes up exponentially for everyone.

Sometimes, technical leaders get no respect. I would never presume to jump up on stage during a rehearsal and say to the guitar player, “Why can’t you just play the right chords, they’re on the page right in front of you!” That’s because I have respect for what they do, and playing a guitar is not as easy as it looks. Why then would a musician come back to the sound booth and say, “I need another mic, it’s easy, just plug it in!” I invite every musician and pastor to shadow a tech guy some week to see what we actually do. Few ever do it, but those that do come away with an education.

If you’re a technician, take pride in what you do and know that your job is every bit as complicated and difficult as any on stage. If you are musician or worship leader, take some time to educate yourself about the technical complexities of a modern sound, video and lighting system. And better yet, plan ahead. Everyone will have a more enjoyable, worshipful experience. Believe me when I tell you, planning will set you free!

Gear Techs

Book Review: Overwhelmed

A few months ago, I heard Perry Noble, pastor of Newspring Church in Anderson, SC, was coming out with a new book. I’ve followed Perry for many years and have found his teaching to be very good. I also appreciate his down home manner and humor. His church is growing like mad, so he must be at the top of his game. Clearly, he has his act together. 

Turns out appearances can be deceiving. In his soon-to-be-released book, Overwhelmed, he talks about his struggle with depression and feeling, well, overwhelmed. Someone I know was struggling with depression at the time, so I thought I’d sign up to get a pre-release copy for review (having a blog can be handy at times…). 

While there are 40 chapters in the book, they are all fairly short, so it makes for a quick read. I like the fact that he broke things down into bite-sized chunks. This makes it easy to read a bit, reflect, then go back for more. 

Perry talks about this story, shares his struggles with depression and how God brought him through it. He gives us some reminders about God’s love for us; reminders that we see every day. He goes on to share things we tend to struggle with and how we can turn those struggles into a deeper walk with the Lord. Finally he acknowledges that life is indeed hard, that we will face pain and struggle, and that God is still faithful.

Honestly, it’s a pretty encouraging book. As I read it, I kept thinking that this was as much for me as it was my friend with depression. The more I read the more I felt like this is something most tech directors should read. 

I Think We All Get Overwhelmed

By nature, we tech leaders see problems and want to fix them. The problem is, we tend to see a lot of problems. By being so aware of so many problems, it’s easy to get into a mode where we think we need to solve all those issues, right now! It doesn’t take too long before we find ourselves working all the time, spending no time with our families and no time resting. 

Perry dealt with this, too. As a young pastor of a rapidly growing church, he found himself working all the time. One line in the book really stood out to me (actually many did, but this illustrates this point well). He writes,

“I remember telling my friend, ‘The devil never takes a day off!’ ‘Perry,’ he replied, ‘I’m not sure the devil is supposed to be your example.’”

I’ve heard several people on church staffs use that excuse for working all the time. And yes, it’s an excuse. We are not called to work all the time. We are called to work for six days and rest. And those shouldn’t be six 12-hour days, either. That pace is not sustainable. And yet, there we go, working like mad, figuring if we don’t get that projection thing figured out today people will surely end up going to hell and it will be our fault. That can be a bit overwhelming. 

But we’re not called to that. We’re not God, and we don’t have to own that. In fact, the bible has something to say about working hard and resting. Perry says, 

“The Bible calls those who will not work lazy, but it calls those who will not rest disobedient.” 

Stop and let that sink in for a minute. 

We Have to Trust God

I think a lot of the issues we have with working too hard, becoming overwhelmed and ultimately finding ourselves discouraged and depressed stem from a lack of trust in God. This paragraph gave me something to think about for well over a week:

“We trust Him with things like eternity. We trust Him to make sure the earth keeps spinning around at the right pace every day. We trust Him with the oxygen levels in the atmosphere. But when it comes to trusting Him with every issue in our lives, we have a more difficult time.”

After reading this book, and spending a lot of time thinking about it, I’ve found myself a lot less stressed out at work. Sure, I still desire to do a great job. I still take my job seriously. And I still want to be part of growing the Kingdom. But I don’t feel like it’s my responsibility to do it all myself. 

As tech leaders, we’re an unusually responsible lot. We own our jobs, and usually several other people’s as well. But that’s not what God calls us to. He calls us to rest in Him, and to do the job He’s called us to do. 

I found myself convicted and encouraged by this book, often at the same time. If you ever struggle with being discouraged, feeling like you’re not measuring up or have way too much on your plate, give this book a read. It comes out on April 1 (which is a bit ironic), though you can pre-order it now. If I were developing a curriculum for tech directors school, this would be required reading.

Gear Techs

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March Retro: Being Excellent with Less

I really need to set up a calendar event for this. I had planned on doing something for this website's 7th birthday, and here, I blew right past it. The first post appeared on churchtecharts.wordpress.com on March 6, 2007. That seems like an eternity ago now. Still, when I went back and re-read this post, it's as true today as it was when I wrote it. So I figured I'd re-post it here since I'm pretty sure we have a lot more readers today than we did in 2007. 

Also, for good fun, in case you weren't reading back then, here is a list of the posts from March, 2007. It will sort descending, so, you'll want to scroll down and hit next to get to the actual beginning. Then you can read through in proper order. Enjoy!

Have you heard the expression, “Stuff expands to fill the space available?” It was true in my life. When we lived in our first, tiny little house, we didn’t have that much stuff. In fact, it all fit in a single moving van when we bought our next, larger house. After 10 years there however, we had a lot of stuff. In fact, the once empty basement was full. It took an interstate move to a smaller house to clear out the clutter.

I think the same concept applies in the technical and worship arts. We are always striving to make things a little bigger, a little better. And therein lies the challenge. Not with getting bigger necessarily, but in outgrowing our capacity. Let me explain.

We began a new ministry in our church recently. The program included weekly meetings that would have a worship component. As a general rule, we do worship really well, and it’s very much in the contemporary style —full band, great vocals, lighting – the complete package. It also takes a small army of volunteers to make it happen. In fact, there are upwards of 70 people participating in worship in any given month.

For this new ministry, it was supposed to be simple—pre-packaged PowerPoint slide shows, split-track CD for music and a few vocalists. They would use the youth room, which has a capable but simple lighting rig (30 or so fixtures). At least that was the plan.

The first week there were 5 vocalists on stage, 2 guitars and keys. They wanted lights, 4 monitor mixes and big sound. To support this “simple” set-up there was one guy who is one of our best lighting guys, but new to Media Shout & sound, and one tech who was completely green. The next week, they added drums and some more vocals. Oh, and that week there was only one tech.

Now, I’m all about doing things right, even big. “Go big or go home,” I often say. Yet in this case, it’s a clear mistake. Without sufficient technical support, the music team must scale back. If it doesn’t, both the techs and the musicians will be frustrated, the techs will burn out and the whole thing will collapse. This is a classic case of being only as strong as the weakest link. In this case the weak link is the tech team (a lack of trained multi-disciplinary techs), and thus that becomes the limiting factor of the program. And understand it's not for lack of trying; the techs we have in our church are the best I've ever worked with. But not every one is trained yet in all disciplines, and it takes a lot of years of experience to cover 2 or 3 roles in a tech booth at once.

I would like to propose a radical concept – simplify down to the level of excellence. What does that mean? Look at it this way; design your program (worship, new ministries, that big Easter musical, whatever) around whatever the weakest link is, and do what you can do with excellence up to that point. If you don’t have enough musicians to pull together four different full on bands for a month of worship services, make one a simple acoustic set. If you can’t staff the tech teams to do a wild musical production, simplify it. Once you simplify to the weakest link, you now have the ability to be excellent.

Too many ministries think that bigger is better. It’s not. Better is better. Excellence should be the goal, not getting bigger. Putting more bodies on the battlefield before they’re ready simply results in more casualties. Do what you can do really, really well. Then stop. Raise the bar when all the elements are in place to do so. Want to do a huge musical production that requires 20 actors on stage with wireless mics? You’d better own (or be able to rent) high quality mics that are frequency coordinated, a soundboard with automation capability, and have a couple of high quality sound guys. Miss any of those elements and you’re asking for trouble. You will not have an excellent production. If you can’t accommodate it, scale back until you can do what you do really well. Stretch the crew, yes. But if you push too hard, things break. Don’t do it.

So what’s the solution for our new ministry? It’s easy—simplify. Go back to a split track CD for music with one or two vocalists. Stick with simple PowerPoint presentations. Continue to recruit and train tech volunteers. Once they are ready, we can add musicians. It will happen, but it needs time. Failure to pull back will ultimately result in failure of the ministry. That benefits no one.

Those that come into our ministries deserve excellence. God wants our best, not our biggest. We can get bigger as we get better, as we add volunteers and the equipment to support them. But we should never get bigger before we get better.

Roland