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The Secrets of My Success, Pt. 2

Last time, I gave you the first two secrets of acquiring knowledge. I’ve employed the crazy tactic of reading the manual and reading online help for years and learned a ton. But sometimes, the answer you’re searching for is not there, or you are still not getting the results you want. At that point, you have to expand your search radius. 

Image courtesy of Jacob Bøtter

Image courtesy of Jacob Bøtter

Contact Tech Support

This goes overlooked more than it should. It’s true that some companies have terrible phone support (we’re looking at you, Blackmagic…) but others are stellar. I’ve had some tech support staff help troubleshoot problems that turned out to not be theirs. One even contacted support at another company and helped me solve a tricky problem between platforms. 

I have learned so much by talking with good tech support reps. Often times, I learn not only about their product, but about a protocol, system or just how something works. Good tech support teams are invaluable and when you find them, you want to keep their number close. 

Use Your Network

I put this last for a reason. I’m a big fan of having a network of people I can call when I get stuck. But I usually only call on them after I exhausted the above options. The reason for this is simply time. Most often, I can find an answer quicker in the manual, online or with Google than I can from a friend. My friends are great, but they’re also busy. I don’t expect them to drop everything and help me solve a problem.

Sometimes I’ll shoot a quick text to a friend with a question, but if I don’t hear back right away, I’ll work through the previous steps. Many times, by the time they get back to me, I have my answer. There are times that I can’t find an answer, or the question is so specific that I really do need advice or counsel from a friend, and that’s really the best use of your network. 

If I want to know how to invert a selection in Photoshop, I’m not going to ask my friend Ken—even though he could surely tell me. I can find that on Google in under a second. But if I’m trying to decide if I should upgrade to Photoshop CC or stick with CS5, we’re going to have a conversation. See the difference?

Bonus Round: Use the Search Box

This is something else I get all the time; someone will ask me, “Hey, I think you wrote an article on thus and so a while back. Do you know where it is?” Chances are, the answer is no, I have no idea. I write well over 200 articles a year and have been doing so for 7 years. Even if I did remember writing the post—which I probably don’t—I couldn’t tell you the URL. 

But, Squarespace has this great search tool. The search box is right over there on the right, and you too can do exactly what I’m going to do; type some keywords into the search box and see what comes up. Again, you could email me and wait 2-4 weeks for me to do a quick search on my site and send you the result, or you could do it yourself. Not that I mind hearing from all of you, but you can probably get the answer faster on your own. 

So that’s it. That’s how I look so smart all the time. I learned a while ago that I don’t need to know all the answers, I just need to know where to find them. Today, that’s easier than ever. And you can do it from your phone. To be fair, I am really good at seeing how a whole bunch of disparate information fits together in a cohesive whole. That’s a natural talent that I’ve worked hard to hone. But you too can learn this skill. It all starts with a quick glance around the old inter-webs.

Roland

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The Secrets of My Success, Pt. 1

I get a lot of questions from other tech leaders. And I’m OK with that. I really do enjoy helping people and solving problems. But I’m only one person, and I’m a busy one at that. Sometimes, emails and twitter questions can pile up and go weeks without being answered. I generally get to them eventually, but I feel bad when it take so long. 

In the interest of spreading the wealth (of knowledge), I’m going to share with you the secret to acquiring knowledge. Learning new things has been one of my keys for staying employed, and I think it’s one thing that makes me good at what I do. So here you go; some of the secrets I’ve employed to learning more about this crazy trade.

Read the Manual

Yes, I know. Most of us pride ourselves on being able to take any new piece of gear out of the box and start using it without reading the manual. Well-designed equipment will even make that possible—at least to some extent. But when you start getting into the technical details of how to do something, often the fastest way to figure it out is read the manual. 

I can’t tell you how many questions I’ve answered from people by simple downloading the manual for the product they’re having trouble with and reading it. Sometimes, I even cut and paste the relevant section in my answer. 

Often, you will even discover cool features of a product that you didn’t know existed by reading the manual. I don’t even know how many times I’ve thought to myself, “I wish this box would do …” only to find it does because I read the manual.

I will acknowledge that many manuals are not worth the paper they’re not printed on (everything is a PDF now, right?) I’ve seen a manual for a mixer say, “The PFL button engages PFL mode,” and nothing more about it. Well, now that’s super-helpful isn’t it. I sort of figured pushing a button labeled PFL would do something related to PFL. And if you’re familiar with what PFL is, you probably don’t need that less than helpful sentence. But if you don’t know what PFL is, you need to go searching. 

Use Online Help

More and more software is coming with built-in help that is actually useful. Just the other day, we were trying to figure out how to run a particular report in our new system-design software. We knew what we wanted was possible, but it wasn’t immediately obvious. So I hit the big ? button. It took me to online help section that eventually led me to the solution. 

More and more, companies are using YouTube for really helpful instruction videos. I was trying to learn some new to me lighting software a while back, and discovered a whole slew of videos from the creator of the software. My learning curve shortened dramatically.

Again, I’ve done this for others. Many times, when I get a question about software, I’ll either launch my copy or download a demo and look for help. It’s amazing how many times the answer is right there. But sometimes the answer is there, but it doesn’t work. I was trying to convince a Blackmagic routing switcher to work the other day and while the manual told me what to do, I wasn’t getting the result I wanted. In that case, it’s time to pull out the big guns.

Use the Google

Google is probably the single greatest technical resource for a technical director today. You really should learn how to use it. Seriously. I’ve had questions come in and I’ve literally typed the question into Google and sent out a response based on my findings. 

See, here’s the thing. Chances are, someone else has already needed to do what you’re trying to do. And they’ve probably already written something about it online. And Google knows where it is. Now, you could email me and ask, or you could just go to Google. Google is faster, by the way. 

Google has become really good at taking in natural language questions and giving you good results. I was going to give you an example, but I do it so regularly that it’s become like breathing; I don’t even think about it. Just try it. 

Someone asked me once if I had any online resources for training volunteers. You know what I did? I used the Google (and reminded them about this cool site called ChurchTechArts). When someone asks if I’ve heard about an obscure product, I use the Google. Do I remember where an article by someone is on a particular topic? Use the Google.

Next time, more top tips for acquiring knowledge!

“Gear

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CHCC Rennovation: Main PA and Lobby

Because of the cool rigging bar, we only needed two pick points to fly the array and get the angle we needed. Gotta love good hardware.

Because of the cool rigging bar, we only needed two pick points to fly the array and get the angle we needed. Gotta love good hardware.

By now it should not be news to anyone that we put in a Bose RoomMatch PA in Coast Hills. I have taken no small amount of flack for that decision, but I stand by it, especially now that we really have it dialed in. As I’ve said before, there are other PA’s that we could have used, but none fit the budget and provided the directivity control RoomMatch does. And in that room, we really need control.

Asymmetric and Symmetric Boxes

As far as I know, we are one of the first installations to use both types of boxes in the arrays. Now, I should point out that RoomMatch may look like a line array, but it’s not. It’s billed as a Progressive Directivity Array. That means each box covers a specific part of the seating area. There is some combining at lower frequencies, but for the most part, the boxes don’t interoperate much. 

Because of that, we were able to mix and match boxes for a very specific design. I wanted to provide some sense of stereo imaging across a wide chunk of seating in the middle, and keep as much sound off the walls as possible. To meet those goals, we used boxes that were narrow on the outside and wider in the middle at the top of the array. The arrays are mirror imaged and the coverage is indeed pretty tight.

I do love a good rack. Amp rack, that is...Get your mind out of the gutter.

I do love a good rack. Amp rack, that is...Get your mind out of the gutter.

Keep The Colors Straight

Apparently, when I wired up the arrays, it was dark and I was tired. I inadvertently wired a few NL4s wrong and we had some phase issues initially. But once we got that sorted out and began the tuning process, it was all fun. 

A couple of guys from Bose came down and started taking measurements throughout the coverage area. They averaged those together and we came up with a room curve. Interestingly, the curve they came up with was shockingly similar to the one I put in using a LAMA transfer function with the measurement mic at FOH. 

We ended up with about 4 filters in the system, and two of them are there to tame room anomalies. Otherwise, the system sounds really good out of the box. We did a little gain shading in the amps to dial out some summing that was happening with the LF elements in the arrays, and to compensate for the air loss at the HF end. But otherwise, the system is pretty flat. 

Stereo Imaging for Days

I really wanted to have an LR system, but didn’t expect to get great stereo imaging. I was surprised to be wrong on this point. Throughout almost the entire center four sections and much of the back outside sections, there is an excellent sense of stereo. We played a bunch of tracks through the system and each time we kept looking at each other saying, “Wow, the stereo field is amazing!” It’s some of the best I’ve heard in a live PA. 

But vocals image right in the center where they should and speaking sounds fantastically present. So I’m very pleased with that. Time will tell if they really utilize the stereo image as well is can be, but it’s nice to have it available. 

This is a terrible photo of the subs. but you get the idea.

This is a terrible photo of the subs. but you get the idea.

Big Bottom

The system also has four dual-18” subs in a cardioid pattern flown over the center of the proscenium. They are in a 2x2 arrangement and once we got the timing right, it’s pretty remarkable how little low end there is on stage. But throughout the whole seating area, there is plenty. We ended up dialing those back a little bit because Coast Hills has never been thumping the bass. There’s headroom there, however, should the new style of worship desire more bass. 

Because the main boxes go down so low, the subs are really only working at the very low end, just like they are supposed to. Off hand, I don’t recall where they are working, but I believe it’s from about 30-90 Hz. 

Good Lobby Sound

For the last 5 years I’ve been frustrated by the sound in our lobby. It was terrible, really. We had a bunch of ceiling speakers mounted in the walls. Under the best of conditions these won’t sound good, and these were not good conditions. 

I spent a little more money in the lobby than I ordinarily would have, but I’m glad I did. We hung four RU8 Utility Speakers from Bose up in the corner where the wall meets the ceiling. The RU8 is a dual 8” plus a horn configuration, and it’s driven by a PowerMatch 8250. The 8250 puts out 250 watts into 8 channels, so each speaker is powered individually. I went with 8 channels because someday, they want to blow the front of the building out and put speakers out front. So they have 4 channels to expand into. 

I didn’t have time to do any tuning of the lobby speakers, but I thought they sounded acceptable out of the box. At some point, I want to go in and play with the Smaart rig and tweak them a little bit, but for starters, it works. My choice of Bose speakers for the lobby was based on the idea that I wanted them voice matched to the mains. As you walk in from outside into the lobby, then into the sanctuary, it just keeps getting louder, but it sounds the same. I think we hit that goal. 

Overall, I’m very pleased with the system. It has enough headroom to get really loud if they want, but it sounds clear at lower volumes. It’s very present without being harsh and has a nice, warm low end that doesn’t mask the midrange. And the lobby sounds good. That’s a win in my book.

Roland