Developing Upgrade Proposals

Image courtesy of Seiichi Kusunoki

Image courtesy of Seiichi Kusunoki

Recently, a reader reached out to ask if I would review and comment on a proposal to replace their aging analog mixer with a shiny new digital one. There were other upgrades as well. It was a well-reasoned proposal, filled with plenty of details, facts and figures. Anyone who took the time to read it would have all the information they needed to make a sound decision on whether to spend that money. My advice to him? Trash it and start over. Well, I said it nicer than that, but that’s the gist of it. I am known for my subtlety. 

No One Cares

The first point I made regarding his proposal is that no one in leadership cares about making his life easier. I say that not to be a jerk, or to criticize leadership. They just don’t care. And frankly, I’m not sure they should. When we as a TD come to them and say, “Man, doing church every week is hard! I have to re-patch all these inputs, figure out how to make everything fit, allocate my two compressors most efficiently and just try to make it all work!” their response is likely to be, “Well yes, but we’re doing church every week, right? I mean, it does work?” The answer my friends, is yes.

I once wrote a proposal similar to our dear reader’s. Only mine was two pages longer. I’m an over-achiever. It was full of well-reasoned arguments as to why we needed to change out our perfectly functional 32-channel analog desk to a 48-channel digital one. I wouldn’t have to physically re-patch inputs and outputs, we’d have more compressors, more effects, I could build scenes that would set the board up for each of the four different bands…my life would be so. Much. Easier.

Later, I polled the board and found that not one of them read it. Not one. It’s true. No one cares. 

And why should they? I didn’t care about how many couples the pastor had to counsel during the week instead of doing message prep? I didn’t care about how many sensitive artists the worship leader had to console before they would go back to playing their instrument. And I didn’t care about whether the church could meet payroll or pay for my new mixer. No one cares. Unless it affects them.

Find Out What They Care About

Years later, after spending a few years in the trenches and talking to a lot of other TDs with way more experience, I had the chance to once again submit a proposal for a console upgrade. This time, my proposal started with conversations. Lots of them. I laid the groundwork for about 6 months. Then, after thoroughly researching everything, I presented a one page proposal with the numbers. It was basically a spreadsheet table and some bullet points. 

Our leadership at that time was really keen on transitioning away from staff/contractor led services to volunteer led. My proposal would make it possible to eliminate the contractors (saving almost $50,000 a year) and allow more people to involved in the tech team. It also set us up to eliminate wedges on stage, which were a constant source of frustration for our pastor who sat in the front row. 

It was approved in a heartbeat. Why? Because I didn’t focus on what made my life easier (though the new system made my life infinitely easier). Instead, I focused on the mission and vision of the church and how this upgrade—which cost real money—would further that. Fewer contractors, more volunteers, money savings, less stage wash, more clarity. These were all values that had been shared from the top down. Not once did I mention multi-band compression or dynamic EQ or snapshots. Why? Because no one cares. 

It’s Simple Alignment

When proposing upgrades, you have to be sure that upgrade aligns with the mission and vision of the church, and every dollar you spend will further that mission. Few pastors or boards will simply give you $10,000, $20,000, $50,000 or even $5,000 to spend just to make your life a little better so you can come in 20 minutes later on Sunday. That’s not a win for them. Show them how you can get more people involved in the ministry. Show them how this saves money in the long run. Show them how their lives get easier. That is a win. And that will get funded.

Elite Core

Go Back In Time

Image courtesy of Rosenfeld Media

Image courtesy of Rosenfeld Media

I love the terminology we use in technology. Augmented Reality; Defragment; GigaFlops; Pre-Delay. If you’ve been around audio mixing—and particularly effects units—for any length of time, you may have seen the pre-delay control and wondered exactly how you can pre-delay something? After all, “pre-“ means before, and “delay” implies after. So it’s like saying, “before-after.” What’s that all about?

Before Delay

Perhaps the best way to think of pre-delay is “the time before the delay.” That is to say, how much time elapses before the delay (or effects) start. You typically see pre-delay on reverb units. The pre-delay control essentially allows you to create a gap between the time the reverb unit is first excited and when it starts spitting out it’s warm, rich, diffuse sound. 

When To Use It

Almost all signals can benefit from some amount of pre-delay. How much will depend on multiple factors. But first, why do we want a gap between the original signal and the reverb? Mainly it’s about articulation. If the reverb starts before or just as someone finishes singing a word, it can be hard to hear that word or phrase. Reverb by it’s very nature is diffuse and lacks clarity. When you add a lack of clarity (that’s a mouthful, huh?) to the end of something that should be clear, it makes it hard to understand.

Setting Pre-Delay

If you only have one reverb unit in your system and everything goes through it—that is, everything that you are putting reverb on, don’t put reverb on everything—then you will have to come up with the best compromise. Usually, the vocal will dictate how much pre-delay in that case. I find I like to have about 30 msec. of pre-delay on my vocal reverbs. That’s not a hard and fast rule, but it seems to work well most times. For drums, it might go a little less. Acoustic guitars might need more. Or less, depending on how it’s played and the tempo of the song. 

If you have multiple reverbs—as you are likely to on a digital console—you can customize the pre-delays for each effect unit and each purpose. But don’t get too caught up in this. If you have a mid-week rehearsal you can record and then play around with in virtual soundcheck for a while, you can dial in the pre-delay just perfect. But, if you’re in the situation I find myself in, which is to say we rehearse for an hour or so then have a service, just set a round 10-30 msec. of pre-delay and don’t worry too much about it. As you have time, you can grab some tracks and find a setting that works well for vocals, guitars, drums, whatever. Use that as your starting point and tweak if you have time. 

Pre-delay isn’t going to make or break your mix. However, if you add some pre-delay to your reverbs, you’ll find you can use longerand more reverb and still have plenty of clarity. And if you’re like me, that’s a good thing.

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