Redefining Rest

With few exceptions, the tech guys I know are all blessed (or cursed, depending on the perspective) with a high work ethic. We all tend to live by the “get it done no matter what it takes” creed. That leads to long days, late nights and many weekends not taken off. Generally speaking, those are good traits. This country needs people who will work hard for a good cause. And since Sundays keep showing up with alarming regularity, a good tech guy or gal can be the difference between a service that connects people with God or one that’s distracting. 

The downside of this work ethic however, is that we almost never take time off to rest. I put myself in this category. I realized the other day that I haven’t taken a week off since March of 2014. That is way, way too long to be continually working. Sure, I’ve taken a long weekend here or a random day off there, but not an entire week. A full week is really what’s needed (sometimes more) to reset our internal systems to we can keep on going. But even when taking a week off, there is a problem.

Be Productive!

I keep hearing that phrase in my head. I want to be productive. And no matter how much I really just need to lay in bed until 9, enjoy a lazy morning and then take a hike through the woods, I have this clamoring to be productive and get stuff done. I want to build shelves in my closet, fix the gutter on the shower door, clean my office, move the website, reply to emails that are 5 months old (sorry if you’ve emailed me; I’m really behind…). I feel like I simply need to keep doing something. I need to rest, but I justify it by saying because it’s not “work,” I am getting rest. But I know it’s a lie.

Redefine Rest

Yesterday, I had a bit of a revelation. As I was struggling with how to spend my afternoon, it all of the sudden hit me that I need to re-think my time off. Instead of simply considering it time I’m not working—at my job—I need to create an actual goal I can accomplish. I’m task-driven. I like to figure out how I’m going to accomplish something and then do it. It’s why I’m good at my job. But it can be a problem when I simply need to chill out. Unless I redefine my goal.

Yesterday, it occurred to me that what I need to do is set a goal to rest. I need to remind myself that the point, the goal, the successful outcome of this week will be to get rest

I am tired. I have been running at a pace that is not sustainable and I need to do a better job of pacing myself. I need to take more regular breaks. I know all this. But the start of that process is to get some rest, plain and simple. So I decided that the only way I can consider this week a“success” is if I get a ton of rest. And that means not doing a whole lot. Sure, I’ll take some hikes, go to the range, spend a bunch of time in the kitchen with my wife and daughter and maybe I’ll even build those shelves. But the real goal of this week is to rest. All those tasks can wait.

You Need To Rest

Why am I telling you this? Partially it’s to keep myself accountable. When I put this out on the old inter-webs, it’s harder for me to start taking on a ton of work. But it’s also largely because I suspect there are some of you out there who need to hear this. You need a break. You need to give yourself permission to take a week off and sleep in. You need a whole week of doing nothing. But you struggle with it because you feel you need to be productive. 

So here you go; I give you permission to take a week off and rest. I’m following my own advice here; I was going to write this yesterday, but I went for a walk in the woods instead. Managed to get within about 12 feet of that deer up there. That was very relaxing. Except for my knees—they’re still sore... 

Relax, take time off, do things that are fun and restorative for you. The work will wait. Believe it or not, the world will keep on spinning even if we’re not there to make sure it does so on cue.

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Don't Forget to Check the Cable

We’ve been talking about the transition to IP-based networked AVL systems for quite some time. I just finished up a big install for a church in which every system is IP-based. Audio is Dante, lighting is Streaming ACN and while video was SDI, the router and switcher lived on the network and were remotely controllable. All these systems are extremely flexible, powerful and offer the church great capabilities. They also come with some setup and configuration challenges. I spent as at least 2-3 times the as long getting everything playing nicely as I did actually tuning the PA and building show files.

These system can also be challenging to troubleshoot. And with everything now in IT switches, it’s easy to assume that any problem you have is IP related. However, sometimes, it’s something far more simple—and frustrating. Here are few examples of things I ran into that turned out to be a lot simpler than we originally thought. 

Is It Getting Power?

We installed an RGBW house light that was driven by DMX. The fixtures have their own control box that sends out a proprietary control signal that we initially had some challenges with. Once we worked that out, it all seemed to be working, until we lost half the lights in the youth room. The lights were split into two circuits and two runs of control. Those runs coincided. I spent a few hours trying to troubleshoot the control signal, wondering why it wouldn’t turn on. 

Finally, I grabbed by non-contact voltage tester and found out they weren’t getting AC. I went back to the relay rack and found a fuse blown on the relay tray. Curious as to how the fuse was blown, I shut power off to the relay panel and tested all the hot busses for shorts. Sure enough, we had a short in a different circuit. The electrician accidentally landed a neutral on a hot lug and when we put the relay tray in, it blew the fuse. We didn’t know that, as we hadn’t used that circuit yet. And when we pulled the trays out to connect DMX, we mixed up the order and ended up with the blown fuse in the house light slot. Before you go spending a ton of time trying to sort out IP/IT/DMX/SCAN issues, make sure the fixtures are actually getting power. Lesson learned. 

Is the Pinout Right?

In this same system (it was a frustrating day), we came out of a SCAN gateway to DMX to drive the control box. The gateway used a terminal strip, and the control box used a 5-pin connector. So, we cut the end off a 5-pin cable and landed the wires. My installer had done the exact same thing in another room in this install, so it seemed logical to land the wires the same way.

Three hours of troubleshooting streaming ACN, DMX, gateways and all that nonsense and one of my guys suggested opening up the 5-pin to verify the pinouts. Sure enough, the manufacturer of this 5-pin cable (who will go unnamed, but will not see a ton more business from me) decided that sticking to a single color scheme for all DMX cables is simply too much work. In one cable, shield, data + and data - were bare wire, black and red, respectively. In the other room where I had so much trouble, it was bare wire, red and green. Once I swapped wires, all worked fine. 

Lesson learned; never trust a cable manufacturer to do a good job managing colors in 5-pin (or even 3-pin for that matter) cables. 

In each of these cases, a simple analog cable caused me a ton of headaches. I should have checked them first, but I was sure it was a network issue. When troubleshooting newer systems, don’t forget the basics. Is it hooked up properly? Is it getting power? Is the In cable going to the In port? Often, we spend a lot of time trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.


Backstage at the CMA Award Show

Image courtesy of Disney | ABC Television Group (this was last year)

Image courtesy of Disney | ABC Television Group (this was last year)

Every once in a while something totally unexpected and totally cool pops up. As I write this, it’s the Sunday before the 2015 CMA Awards show. Yesterday as I was eating my Cowboy Eggs and Bacon breakfast, I read an email from long-time CTW listener. He said he was in town doing coms for the CMA’s and wondered if I would be interested in a backstage tour. It didn’t take long to say, “Yes!” 

I just got back, and thought it would be fun to share some of it with you. I didn’t take any pictures because I didn’t want to be “that guy,” but I’ll try to describe some of the very fascinating things I saw. Much of this is pretty typical for an awards show like this; in fact, many of the same trucks and crew to all the major award shows. Still, it’s cool to see, and I came away with a few very important thoughts that relate to church production.

Two of Everything

Most people know the CMA’s have two stages in the venue that alternate performances. Because of this, there are two of almost everything. But it’s not always split for Stage A and Stage B. There are two separate monitor worlds, one for each stage. And there are two consoles at FOH, but one is for all the band mixing, while the other is for everything else. There are two broadcast audio trucks, but one is “live” and one is “preset.” There are also two video trucks but there is so much going on in both it’s hard to tell you what is what. 

I’m not sure this is 100% true, but it also looked that most of the key production positions also had a primary and secondary tech working them. I know from experience that having a dedicated A2 on a big weekend can be a huge stress reliever, and I regret not learning that lesson earlier in my career.

By the Numbers

Everyone wants to know how many channels of this or that there are, so I’ll see how I can do with recall. I believe the FOH guy told me they are running about 242 inputs at FOH. All the live desks are DiGiCo SD5s and SD7s, while the broadcast consoles are Calrec. The show has 16 cameras, including 5 jibs and a SteadiCam. There were some 250 channels of wireless between mic’s, IEMs and coms. Each stage has 10 wireless IEMs, 4 wired IEMs, and there were 16 wedge mixes, though I don’t think that was per stage. Coms is an interesting blend of digital point-to-point and analog party line depending on application. I think there were some 90+ com packs.

Lessons Learned

Whenever I get the chance to do something like this, I always try to see what I can learn that will improve my productions. Here are some of the takeaways. 

Give yourself enough time. The show is Wednesday night, and they’ve been there for almost a week already. I believe one of the reasons for the low stress I sensed is because they all had enough time to do their jobs well. It helps that the same companies do this show every year, and it’s pretty dialed. But they also know how much time it takes and allow for it. Too often, we try to cram 3 weeks worth of work into 1 and kill ourselves. My best Christmas productions where the ones where I started way in advance. 

Have enough help. The number of people back stage was staggering. Everyone had a job, and typically it was just one job. I didn’t see anyone trying to program lights while simultaneously fixing audio problems or setting up drum risers. We often complain about the lack of help in church productions, but I wonder if it’s because we don’t ask enough people to help. Or perhaps if we’re trying to do productions we can’t reasonably do because we don’t have the help. 

Don’t be a jerk. As Keith took me around, he introduced me to many of the high level production folks. Every single one of them stood and talked with us for a few minutes, even though they had no reason to do so. I’ve been guilty of this at times, people will bring family members by during a production and I’ll say hi and rush off to do something “important.” Perhaps because I didn’t have enough help or enough time. Hmmm… But everyone I met was super-cool and gracious. 

Those production guys are real people. I have frankly been quite embarrassed during some award shows some years as I watch the social media stream just rip the production—and thus, the production crew—to shreds. Now, I’ll agree that there are certain shows where the audio or camera work or whatever is less than stellar. But before you hit Tweet on that scathing critique, think about how it would feel if every member of your congregation tweeted about your last mistake.

I got to meet and talk to the guy who does the final 5.1 broadcast mix. He basically gets stems and puts them all together, while he has about 20 people talking on the coms the entire time. When I told him that I felt the CMA Awards had the best broadcast mix of any award show, he was genuinely grateful for the praise. He told me that they usually don’t hear positive comments like that from viewers, so it meant a lot. Think about that before you tweet next time, OK?

Overall, it was a great couple of hours. I want to thank Keith for inviting me and everyone I talked with for just being cool. I’ll be out of town on Wednesday, but you can bet I’ll have my DVR set so I can watch the whole show when I get home.