Conduit is Likely Cheaper

Image courtesy of Mike Sessler. Wait...that's me!

Image courtesy of Mike Sessler. Wait...that's me!

I get to talk to a lot of churches now. Being involved with a number of church renovation projects each year, I hear some interesting strategies. One of those strategies is to not run conduit for AVL wiring, but to plan on doing what we call “free air” wiring instead. Free air is just what it sounds like; the cable is running through free air. There may be ceiling trusses or beams to attach to, but for the most part, the cable is just running up there in the air, outside of conduit. 

Now, I get the premise behind this; conduit is expensive! Those pesky electrical contractors (ECs) charge a pretty penny to install and terminate conduit. And when you talk to an AVL integrator, they are going to want a lot of conduit! So it seems like a great way to save money is to skip the whole conduit thing and just have the AV company free air all the wire. Or at least a lot of it. That should save a ton of cash, which lowers the overall cost of the project. Win-win!

Not So Fast

That’s the big problem with running wire free air; it’s not so fast. Let’s take the example of pulling speaker wire up to a stack of speakers. There will likely be several runs of individual cable going up to each speaker cluster. If there is a conduit that starts at the rack room, and ends at the speakers, it’s a simple matter of laying out the cable and pulling it through the conduit. It doesn’t take long at all. However, if that speaker wire has to be threaded through the ceiling trusses, across and over, down and around, all from a lift, it’s going to take a while. A good long while. 

Now you might think that installing conduit will also take a while, since it has to traverse the path as well. That’s true. However, conduit comes in 10’ rigid pieces, and it only has to be attached in a few points. It’s a lot faster and easier to make that look good than it is to pull cable through the same space. Moreover, if the conduit runs are laid out wisely, the EC can start pulling multiple conduit through the same path, which makes if even faster for the cable pull. 

Labor Rates

Another cost imbalance is that most of the time, the AV installer is charging a higher labor rate than the EC is for the conduit installer. So if you skimp on conduit (which can be installed by a lower labor rate worker), and make the wire pull harder for the higher labor rate AV installer, you’re not saving anything. 

Cable Types 

But wait, there’s more! Did you know that code requires you to use what is called plenum-rated cable if you don’t pull it through conduit? And did you know that plenum-rated cable is 2-3 times as expensive as the non-plenum-rated version? That’s because in case of a fire, codes want to minimize the amount of poisonous gasses that fill the air. Normal cable has a PVC jacket on it that will burn and give off highly toxic gasses. Those gasses can incapacitate or kill people before the fire does. So that’s bad. 

Thus, if you’re going to free air cable through what is known as a plenum space (a space where air moves through that you might breathe), you have to use plenum-rated cable. So sure, you may have saved a little money on conduit, but if your cable bill is 3 times what it should be, have you saved anything? 

Run Extra Conduit

One more tip; if you’re running conduit—or rather if you’re paying your EC to run conduit—have them run an extra tube here and there. Now, it may not be necessary to run a spare conduit to each TV in the lobby, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have an extra, empty conduit between FOH and the amp room. Or between FOH booths in a building. Or maybe even a spare tube between the amp room and the ceiling (for later TBD use).

This is especially true if you’re going to cut the floor in a major remodel. If you’re cutting the floor, the biggest cost of that job is the concrete work. Adding a few extra unused pieces of PVC conduit underground costs almost nothing, and may well save you a lot of headaches down the road. 

Do yourself and your church a favor…don’t skimp on the conduit budget.

This post is brought to you by Shure Wireless. The new ULX D Dual and Quad wireless systems feature RF Cascade ports, a high density mode with significantly more simultaneous operating channels and bodypack diversity for mission critical applications. Visit their website at Shure.com.

Streaming 101

Image Courtesy of Sebastiaan ter Burg

Image Courtesy of Sebastiaan ter Burg

We talk to a lot of churches that have a desire to stream their services and events online. We recently taught a class on this topic at the North West Ministry Conference, and we thought we would share it with you here.  

So, you want to stream your services over the inter-webs?

Before you just jump in, here are some things you should think about.

Determine the Why

It is funny how many people we talk to that have no idea “why” their church wants to stream. Before you move forward, it is good to ask these questions with your team and leaders:

Does It Need To Be Live?

Would posting on YouTube or Vimeo Sunday afternoon or Monday work just as well? Often, a few hours or even a day delay won’t be a big factor for your audience.

Is it because it’s cool or does it advance the vision of your church?

Many churches fall into the trap of thinking they need to stream live because all the big “cool” churches are doing it. Most of those churches see live streaming as integral to their mission. But that doesn’t mean it’s right for every church. 

Here are (in our opinion) valid reasons to stream live:

  • Keeping services accessible for shut-ins and sick
  • Reaching your community
  • Reaching a larger audience outside your immediate community

Still going to stream live?

Do it well. Today’s connected generation has high standards and a short attention span. A poor live stream will do a lot more damage for your church’s creditability than no stream at all. Plus, you’re competing with all the big players will full staffs and big budgets.  

High quality video is essential. If you’re going for more than archival quality, you’re going to have to spend some money. Quality cameras can range from $5,000-50,000 each. If the camera requires an additional lens, they range from $3,000-50,000 each. If you have more than one camera, you will need a way to switch between them. Switchers range from $2,000-25,000.  Keep in mind you will also need capture cards, encoders, IT infrastructure and fast internet. The cost for those can quickly creep into the thousands of dollars. Live streaming is not a low-budget endeavor.

Camera Shots

Good execution is essential and that starts with camera shots. For speaking only, you can get away with one camera shot, but we recommend at minimum two. Here are some camera shots that work well and can also serve to feed your iMag and ancillary room video feed:

  • 1st front-center shot (above the knee or at waist)
  • 2nd Camera additional front-center (head to toe)
  • 3rd Camera Slash Shot (usually house left/ right)   
  • 4th-5th- Cameras POV on Stage    

Also:

  • Additional Slash or roaming
  • Audience shot
  • Jib shot
  • Dedicated Far-Wide Shot

Proper Lighting

You have to light with video in mind. Proper lighting is more important for video than it is in the room itself. Cameras don’t have the dynamic range our eyes do, so lighting needs to be well-controlled. The great thing about the new high definition cameras is that lighting doesn’t have to be crazy-bright anymore. That being said, color balance is important. The major things are:

  • Color balance front light to 4,000K-5,550K
  • Even front light
  • Good back light
  • Color (which helps with depth)

Good Audio

No matter how great the video looks, if it sounds bad, you will drive your audience away. If you are only streaming the speaking portion you can get away with the board mix, but if you are streaming the entire service with music you will want to explore some of these options:

  • Dedicated matrix mix from main console
  • Broadcast mix of stems from main console
  • Broadcast mix of each channel (split)

* A great execution of this can be found here 

Staffing Needs

Adding this kind of video may require a larger crew. Staff/ Volunteer positions may/will include:

  • Camera Operators (1-6 or more)
  • Video Director
  • Shader (depending on the complexity of your system)
  • Technical Director

IT Infrastructure

This is a BIG ONE. If you are streaming your services, you must have a good IT infrastructure and bandwidth and up-speed is crucial. 

  • For SD, minimum 1 Mbps upload, continuous
  • For HD, minimum 5 Mbps upload, continuous
  • For Multiple Bitrates 8-20 Mbps (don’t recommend)
  • QOS (Quality of Service)—prioritizing streaming traffic

Streaming Company Qualifications:

Here are some, but not all, of the services a streaming provider will offer which you should consider:

  • Weekend customer service hotline
  • Video Player embedded on your site
  • Ad free (you will have to pay for this)
  • Transcode to multiple bitrates (Receiver’s bandwidth is a potential limiting factor)
  • Analytics
  • Player DVR function (record while streaming); archive and playlist ability
  • Geo Blocking (regional availability)
  • Password protection ability for conferences etc.
  • Simulated live
  • Mobile device compatible

Read the Fine Print

Some plans will charge a monthly fee and then add bandwidth usage fees. Unlimited bandwidth may seem good, but it might ultimately be more expensive, so read the fine print and plan accordingly. One more thing; read the fine print.

 Some Streaming Providers you should look at:

     Stream Monkey

     DaCast

     Church Streaming TV

     Stream Spot

     LiveStream (use the paid service)

     UStream (use the paid service)

     YouTube (maybe)

You can also “Roll your own” with CDNs like Akamai but this is not for the meek and with all the providers out there, unless you are an uber-nerd with lots of time on your hands, we don’t recommend it.

Here are some other resources for your perusal:

10 Church Live Streaming Providers to Consider

7 Best Live Streaming Services for your Church

Top live streaming services for Houses of Worship

6 Church Live Streaming Best Practices

Elite Core

So Easy Anyone Can Do It!

Image courtesy of Gergely Csatari

Image courtesy of Gergely Csatari

There I was, enjoying my morning bacon and eggs, flipping through posts on Facebook. I came across one in one of the production groups I follow that really caught my eye and made me laugh. It read:

TRUE or FALSE: Anyone can be trained to be a great sound technician.

I should have noted the author and group so I could give credit (or maybe it’s good I didn’t…). To me the answer is so obvious, I initially laughed, but then it occurred to me where the answer was coming from. Most likely, the question came from a tech leader at a church—likely smaller—who is getting pressure from their leadership to develop a large, professional grade sound team. And the pastor simply can’t understand why they don’t have a team of amazing engineers. I mean, it’s so easy, anyone can do it, right?

Wrong.

I would (and have) argued that next to the preacher, the FOH engineer is the hardest job on a Sunday morning. To be a truly great sound engineer will take years (yes, Virginia, years) of dedication to training, learning and getting better at your craft. The amount of knowledge one must possess to be a great engineer is staggering. The number of hours one must mix to become great is dumbfounding. Check out my friend Dave’s post on learning to be a great FOH engineer. It Takes Time

Here’s what I have discovered after nearly 25 years of technical leadership in the church. For every 500 or so people in the church, there might be one, maybe two that could be good FOH engineers. Now, that doesn’t mean they have the time, willingness or desire to become FOH engineers, I mean, they could. Most can’t. I know, I’ve tried to train a lot of people with good hearts who want to serve but have no idea how to mix. 

It’s More Than Mechanics

I’ve already said it’s not possible that anyone can be trained to be a great sound engineer. But how about an operator? Can we train almost anyone to at least operate the board? No. My wife is a great example. She’s a fine woman but were I to bring her back to FOH and start showing her around the SD8, her eyes would glaze over and she would likely walk out. She’s a former musician and has a little bit of musical/mix knowledge, but learning to operate that console is not in her scope. There are a lot more people like her in our churches than not. 

I remember working with a fellow volunteer way back in the day. He was a solid volunteer; always there when scheduled, generally had the pastor’s mic on when it was supposed to be and had a good attitude. But he was a terrible mixer. Sure, he worked as an electronics technician doing board-level repair, but he didn’t for the life of him have any idea how music fit together. I used to have vocalists offering to pay me $20 to take over and mix their special on weeks he was mixing. He knew how the board worked—heck, he probably could have built it—but he had no idea how to mix music

Art and Science

It’s been said many times that being a great FOH engineer is a weird mix of art and science. We need to understand and almost unconsciously know the technology, but we also need to know music. We need to know how music fits together, and how sound propagates in a space. We also need to be therapists and counselors to the band if we want to get the best performance from them. It’s a weird mix, and most don’t possess it. 

Your Final Answer

False. Not anyone can be trained to be a great FOH engineer. In fact, I would go so far to say that most people wouldn’t even make good FOH engineers. I’m not being elitist, this is just what I’ve observed after 25+ years doing this.

This post is brought to you by Shure Wireless. The new ULX D Dual and Quad wireless systems feature RF Cascade ports, a high density mode with significantly more simultaneous operating channels and bodypack diversity for mission critical applications. Visit their website at Shure.com.