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!


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.

Shift Worship Media Creator

You can't see it here, but there is a cool particle animation going on here, and it took about 2 minutes to create. So cool!

You can't see it here, but there is a cool particle animation going on here, and it took about 2 minutes to create. So cool!

I was tipped off to a very cool new background creation tool by my friend Camron Ware. It’s launching today, and I had the opportunity to pre-view the app to see how it works. The Shift Media Creator is one of those purpose-built tools that is a model of simplicity. It’s not fancy, but it does the job very effectively and easily.

You can start with your own images or anything else you have on your iPhone. The first step is to choose the aspect ratio. HD, SD are both there along with triple-wide versions of HD & SD. Flipping and rotating is a press away. Next, you can filter and adjust the image to your heart’s content. There are a bunch of filter packs, with more coming soon. A full suite of image adjustments are also on tap. 

One of the things I really appreciate about the app is the text preview tool. You can see what either white or black text will look like over your background. One of the biggest problems with a lot of backgrounds is that they either get so bright, dark or busy that it’s hard to read text. Shift allows you to fix this at the creation stage. Smart.

Once you adjust color and filter the image, you can add some motion. Right now, there are two motion generators; I would expect more to arrive shortly. As with the filters, you can vary the amount of the motion component to be as subtle or extreme as you like. 

Once you’re happy with the result, the app renders the image out to a 30 second loop. Options for saving include your camera roll or your Shift Worship account. You can also share using the built-in iOS sharing services. 

Overall, this is a great little tool. So often, we pick a background for a song based on what we have in our library. Many times, we’d love to do something more custom, but don’t have the time to dig into Motion or After Effects to come up with something. This simple app allows anyone to snap a picture, and quickly turn it into a very great looking motion loop. 

While the app is not free, it’s only $5.99. In making the two backgrounds I did for testing purposes, I saved $6.00 worth of time, so it’s clearly a bargain. Go check it out on the app store.

Today's post is brought to you by Pacific Coast Entertainment. Pacific Coast Entertainment is the premier event production company servicing Southern California and the western states. PCE offers a complete line of Lighting, Audio, Video, and Staging equipment for rentals, sales and installs. Where old fashion customer service meets high tech solutions. PCE, your one stop tech resource.

SSL Live: Operational First Impressions

She sure is pretty...

She sure is pretty...

Over the last week, I’ve had some time to spend with the new SSL Live L500 mixing console. My friends at CCI Solutions dropped one off for me to work with for a while, and it’s been fun spending time with the new desk. Overall, I will say I like the desk. It’s pretty clear the software is still in its 1.x release (1.8 at the time of my testing), but I think they are on the right track. Going through the whole desk will take several posts; today we’ll just hit some of the highlights—sort of a hands-on first impressions bit.

A Big, Bright Screen

The centerpiece of the console is the giant 19” daylight visible touch screen. This is one of the biggest screens I’ve seen on a mixing console. While we didn’t take it outside to see how bright it is, I can tell you indoors with the brightness all the way up, you need sunglasses. The LED indicators get crazy-bright as well. The screen is a multi-touch display, so you can pinch, zoom and scroll, much like an iPad. Maybe I’m spoiled with so much time on my iPad Air, but the SSL screen feels a little sluggish. Touching is not quite as accurate, nor responsive as an iPad. Still, it’s not bad, and certainly as good as any from DiGiCo or Yamaha.

SSL says their, “[B]eautifully considered and organized graphical user interface provides comprehensive control of the entire console environment.” Comprehensive? Yes. Beautifully considered? Ok, it looks pretty nice. And I guess it’s pretty well organized. 

One has to remember that there is a lot going on with this console. It can handle 192 processing paths, and each of those paths have a lot of options. So coming up with a way to present all that information to the user had to be a challenge. 

It Is Unique

Sometimes I found myself searching for a way to do something, only to discover it was a screen away. It’s not a bad interface, but it is very unique. I have to keep reminding myself not to compare my speed on the Live to my normal speed on any DiGiCo console. I am so intimately familiar with DiGiCo that I can get to anything on any of their desks very, very quickly. The SSL is a whole different beast. This is not bad, it’s just different. 

Sometimes, the British conventions can be amusing as well. For example, to select a bank of fader in a tile (a tile is one of the three collections of 12 faders), you press the “Call” button next to the digital scribble strip. When routing an effect into an insert, you select the send route, then press “Make.” It’s not hard once you get used to it, but it’s a bit unintuitive. 

Most of the rotaries at the bottom of the screen do something, but it's not always clear what.

Most of the rotaries at the bottom of the screen do something, but it's not always clear what.

Like most large format consoles, there are many ways to do anything. For example, to edit an EQ, you can double touch the EQ icon on the screen for the channel you wish to edit. That brings up the EQ menu on the big screen, and you can touch and drag the curve around to your heart’s content. Or you can press the select button above the fader and the channel appears in the Selected Channel fader strip. SSL has dedicated an entire second, smaller screen and 19 knobs to a complete channel strip. 

This is SSL's version of a "channel strip." 

This is SSL's version of a "channel strip." 

Working this way can be pretty quick, though with all those knobs, you spend some time figuring out which one is wired to which control. After some use, I’m sure this would become second nature. Or you just work on the big screen. The encoders above the faders also map to certain controls in certain modes, though it’s not always clear which ones. 

Like any new, complex console, this will take some time to really get used to. Coming soon is version 2.0 of the software, along with an off-line editor. Personally, I love having the off-line software for learning. I learned the DiGiCo and Avid that way, I’m sure I’ll spend some time with the Live software once it’s out. Most things are a touch or two away, so once you know where to look, functions come up pretty quickly. 

It Sounds Good. Really Good.

Of course, no one expected SSL to put out a console that doesn’t sound good. I was given a bunch of tracks to play with (I couldn’t use mine as they all have to be converted to 96 KHz first), and I chose the original studio tracks from Boston’s More Than A Feeling. Now, for a guy who grew up listening to Boston over and over and over, this was a treat. I know that song inside and out, and it sounded fantastic on this desk.

I love to test out compressors in a new console by really digging into them with vocals to see how they react. I hit Tom Scholz’ vocal with a good 18 dB of gain reduction and it just sounded better. Plugins like the Listen Mic Compressor worked wonders on the drums, and I like the tube emulation they have available. 

The EQ responded pretty much like I wanted it to, and there are plenty of options for curve styles. 144 of the channels have the very cool All Pass filter available, which allows you to do a phase shift at a given frequency without any amplitude change. I’m still playing with that to get my head around what it’s doing. I hear v 2.0 of the software will have some tools for helping with that. 

There is so much more to say about the SSL Live, but we’ll wait until next time. Of course, there will be the inevitable comparison between the Live and the DiGiCo SD5. As I spend more time on it, you’ll hear more. Stay tuned!


Today's post is brought to you by DiGiCo. DiGiCo audio mixing consoles deliver solutions that provide extreme flexibility, are easy to use and have an expandable infrastructure, while still providing the best possible audio quality. Visit their website to learn more.