This week it's all about lighting! We recap LDI—or as our panel calls it, LEDI. Learn about the new LED-source moving head fixtures, LED houselights, LED video walls and a new console from High End. And you'll never guess who our sponsors are...
As more and more of our A/V/L equipment becomes computerized—and thus is running from a hard drive—figuring out how long a drive will last is quickly becoming a big deal for technical leaders. A quick count in my tech booth tallied 20 hard drives (both SSD and spinning). Some of those are backups, and that doesn’t count the 3 others that we keep in another room as backups. So to say our operation relies on hard drives is an understatement.
But how long will they last?
That is the question. I’ve had a lot of experience with hard drives over the years. I’m sure I’ve owned, managed, bought, replaced hundreds of drives. And for the life of me, I’ve not been able to come up with a consistent answer. Thankfully, there are companies who don’t use hundreds of hard drives but thousands. Tens of thousands actually.
Backblaze is a company that provides online backup. They started five years ago and now deploy 75 petabytes of storage. They are quickly approaching 30,000 drives in service. They elected to install consumer-grade drives, not the server-grade, industrial strength ones. People told them they were crazy, but it’s worked out OK. They have a ton of data on hard drive failure rates.
Recently they wrote a blog post that details their current knowledge of failure rates. I recommend you go read the whole article because it’s quite interesting. But here’s the Cliff Notes version.
Drives last 6 years.
Well, that’s sort of true. They are extrapolating 5 year data, to 6 years, and arriving at the point where 50% of the drives fail. That becomes the median failure rate. In other words, if their projection holds up (and we’ll have to wait a year or more to see), 50% of drives will fail before 6 years. Which also meads 50% will continue to run. But wait…there’s more!
The Bathtub Curve.
Reliability engineers point to a curve called the Bathtub Curve. It shows three things; the early failure rate, a constant failure rate, and the parts wearing out failure rate. When overlaid on top of each other, it looks a bit like a bathtub.
This curve mirrors what Backblaze finds as well. Indeed, I would say this is what I’ve tended to see in my much more limited experience. Backblaze finds that drives have three distinct failure rates. From their post:
- For the first 1.5 years, drives fail at 5.1% per year.
- For the next 1.5 years, drives fail LESS, at about 1.4% per year.
- After 3 years though, failures rates skyrocket to 11.8% per year.
The early rate is the “infant mortality” rate; those that likely have some sort of manufacturing defect. However, if the drive survives the first year and a half, they seem to do quite well. After three years however, parts start to wear out. As mechanical devices, bearings will wear, heads will wear, and even the magnetic properties will change. At that point, almost 12% begin to fail.
While that looks like a huge jump, keep in mind that after three years, more than 80% of the drives are still working. So that’s not too bad.
What does this mean for us?
I think it means what it always meant: we have to back up regularly. For every mission critical drive, we need to have a hot backup that can be swapped in quickly in case of failure. If it’s not a RAID copy, having a clone of the drive with the most current data possible will make it much easier to get up and running when the drive fails.
Also, I think having a policy of replacing mission critical drives on a regular basis is a good idea. I’ve personally settled on a 3-year replacement policy for most of my drives, and that’s just based on my experience. Interestingly, it seems to be mirrored by this data. I could probably stretch it out to 4 years because I have good backups, but drives are so inexpensive now, it seems to make sense to replace them.
I would love to see a study like this with SSDs. My gut tells me we’ll be on a 3-year plan with those as well, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Like everything, planning is everything. Knowing our drives will fail makes it easy to justify backups as well as money in the budget for replacements. Remember, when it comes to drives, it’s not a question of “if,” but “when.”
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Hasn’t this been fun? We’re talking volume—everyone’s favorite subject! I actually enjoy talking about it because it often tends to bring to light other issues that haven’t been dealt with. In the last post, I talked about some of the issues I see in many churches, and how those issues relate to volume. Today, I’ll throw out some suggestions for solutions.
The music selection needs to be appropriate for the congregation. I don’t understand why all churches think they need to be the same. A pastor of a small church with an older congregation will go off to a conference at a big church, hear some loud, rocking worship, see the many hip young people showing up and come home thinking his church needs dramatic change. Maybe it does, but trying to change a church used to choir and organ into Hillsong United is going to be tough.
One is not better than the other. The music selection should reflect the congregation, and the band should be able to do it well. I’ve had this conversation with our leadership. When we were struggling with volume, I said, “Look, if we want to be a quieter worship church, that’s OK. But we have to stop playing big Hillsong United and Planetshakers tunes. That stuff needs to be loud. But there’s plenty of great worship music that works well at lower volumes.”
Choosing the right music that is appropriate for your congregation will go a long way in making whatever volume you end up at more acceptable.
The level needs to be appropriate for the music. You’ll notice I’ve deftly avoided quoting SPL numbers throughout this series, at least as far as guidelines go. The actual number is far less important than making sure everything is appropriate. Saying we need to mix all our music at XX dB SPLA is just silly. Sometimes XX is going to be too loud for a given song, other times it’s too quiet. Strive for appropriate. It’s a fine line, but it’s not impossible to find.
See, the problem with defining an absolute SPL level is that SPL meters are stupid. All they can measure is the pressure at the surface of the reference microphone in dynes per square centimeter. That’s pretty useful, huh? An SPL reading doesn’t tell you anything about how the mix sounds, what the overall spectral content is or if it feels too loud or too soft. And truth be told, it takes a lot of experience for an engineer to learn how to discern what is too loud or soft. There is a much bigger conversation to be had than quoting a blog post from someone who measured the level of Disney shows with his iPhone (see the first article in this series).
You need a good band, good engineers and a good PA to get good sound. A lot of churches want to simply blame the sound guy when it’s too loud. And sometimes it’s his fault. But as we’ve discussed, it’s often the fault of the band or the PA. All three issues need to be discussed and dealt with.
If the real problem with volume is an acoustic drum kit, no amount of yelling at the sound guy “turn it down” will help. This is a holistic discussion. And it’s best had on a Tuesday night, not Sunday morning.
Dynamic range is a good thing. Now I’m showing my age. I remember when music, and even entire albums had dynamic range. Ever since the volume wars began about 15 years ago, some seem to think that the goal is to start loud and stay as loud as possible for as long as possible. This is exhausting. The worst services I’ve ever been to were just one crazy loud song after another, with no breaks in between.
Song sets that build, rest and breath feel so much better. It’s a lot easier to get loud when you also get soft. Range feels good. Pink noise, not so much.
If you have a congregation made up of both older and younger members, doing a louder song, followed by a medium one then a softer one will take people on a journey and make it easier to keep everyone happy. Most people can take loud for a short time (as long as it sounds good), especially when it’s followed up by some really good sounding quieter moments. Your service doesn’t have to look like a square wave.
So there you go. That’s about 3,000 words on volume. In truth, we could go on for another 30,000 words and not exhaust the topic, but hopefully this will start some productive conversations around it. But please, put away the iPhone, OK?
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If you want to have some fun, start a discussion on how loud worship music should be in church. It often ends up in a shouting match with people on both sides of the fence hurling insults at each other. OK, that may be a (slight?) exaggeration. Still, it tends to be a lively debate. In the last two posts, we’ve been unpacking a post written on Thom Rainer’s blog. I talked about what I agreed with, and what I disagreed with in that post. Starting today, I want to begin to suggest some solutions (we’re supposed to be prophets, not critics, remember?).
I find that “volume” in church is often a problem, and yet the problem is rarely as simple as turning the volume down. What follows is a list of some of the most common problem areas I see that are related to volume. And this is in no particular order.
Sometimes, the band is just not that good. I hate to start off by throwing the band under the bus, but it’s a real issue. If you have a couple of guys on stage sawing away at their electric guitars (generating no small amount of energy between 1-4 KHz), a bass player who thinks 5 string basses are great because he can play more notes and a drummer who has never heard of a half note, it’s not likely to be pleasant. Unless you’re at a speed metal concert. But you’re not; you’re in church.
And it doesn’t have to be all electric instruments. I’ve seen churches stack up 4-5 acoustic guitars, 2 keyboards plus piano; and they’re all playing the same line! That’s a lot of energy in a region that can be painful at even moderate volumes. My point is, sometimes the best solution to a volume problem is to work with the band.
On the other hand, sometimes the mix is just not that good. Last time I mentioned a few events I’ve been too that were way too bass heavy. Now, I like a good solid low end. I have a sub in my living room and I know how to use it. But when the goal becomes trying to see how many fillings we can rattle loose in our congregants, I think we’ve missed the point.
We also have a generation of sound guys who were raised on low bitrate MP3 files played through iPod headphones. If that’s the reference for how music should sound for these guys, it’s no wonder the mixes in churches (and everywhere else for that matter) sound so bad.
A good mix will sound better at higher volumes than a bad mix at low volume. Getting this right is more than half the battle.
Sometimes the PA is not very good. While it’s true a great engineer can make even a bad PA sound OK, most churches don’t have great engineers. In fact, many—especially smaller churches—do well to have one good engineer. Why stack the odds against them by making them work on a crappy-sounding PA?
If the system is not tuned well, it’s going to take a lot of work to make it sound acceptable. If you have a pair of old crappy speakers in a gymnasium, it’s not likely to sound amazing. It’s possible to get to good, or even great, but it is really hard.
Churches, at least give your musicians and sound guys a fighting chance by providing them with a decent PA before beating them up over the volume.
Sometimes the music selection is simply wrong. I remember sitting in a class taught by Robert Scovill a number of years ago. When asked about volume problems, one of the things he said was, “Sometimes, people just don’t like electric guitars.”
This goes back to the previous post somewhat. Why do churches who get regular complaints about the volume continue to pick loud, rocking songs? People can worship Jesus at many volume levels. It’s up to the worship leader to choose songs that can be mixed at appropriate volumes for the congregation he leads.
The bottom line is that people complain about bad (or too loud) sound, yet refuse to upgrade the system or get training for the musicians and sound team. Leading worship is incredibly hard. Not only does it demand high technical skills—from playing to singing to mixing—it also demands high artistic skills, plus a healthy dose of spiritual sensitivity.
When churches complain about the quality of the mix but fail to provide any training for their sound person, they are only perpetuating the problem. Did the pastor just show up one day knowing how to preach a great sermon? Of course not. Why would you expect a volunteer with not prior experience or training to know how to put together a Disney-quality mix? The same is true for the musicians. Stop complaining, pony up and get them some help.
OK, so those are some of the problems. In our next post, we’ll discuss some solutions.