Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: September 2007

Providing Ambience for IEMs

Live Sound, September 07

My new issue of Live Sound arrived yesterday. Actually, it came last week, but pages 35-82 were missing…go figure. Anyway, thanks to the great folks at Huge Universe who sent out a new copy right away.

Back to the story, they have a great article on helping musicians who are using in ear monitors (IEMs) achieve some level of connection with the audience and each other. The author discusses the pros and cons of mic’ing the audience, mic’ing the artists and using some of the new specialized IEMs that contain ports or mics on the ear buds.

If you don’t get Live Sound, and you do anything remotely related to sound, you really should subscribe. Especially since it’s free! You can also view the electronic version of the magazine for free here. Actually, you do have to subscribe, but like I said, it’s free.

More IMAG Essentials

It’s about time to return to our discussion of IMAG. We’ve talked about some basics on how to do IMAG, the importance of a good tripod, and today we’ll look at some accessories. Think of this as “dressing for success” for your camera.

When you’re out in the field shooting a video, you have a lot of flexibility in how to position yourself to work the controls of the camera comfortably. However, in a church setting, when trying to run a camera for IMAG for an entire service, it really helps produce better results if the operators have easy, comfortable access to the controls of the camera. The problem is, if you are using a camcorder, like a GL-1 or a GY-100, the controls are way up on the front of the camera, and not at all easy to reach (it’s the same for larger cameras too). To stand behind a tripod and reach around to the front of a camera and zoom and focus, while trying to pan and tilt is a recipe for disaster.

The answer is in rear controls. If you’ve ever been to a major sporting event and seen the guys running the many cameras posted around the stadium, you’ve seen rear controls. The operators are able to sit comfortably, pan, zoom, tilt and focus all with their hands conveniently in front of them.

If you are using an ENG-style camera, rear controls (AKA studio controls) are easy to come by, but not inexpensive. Typically they attach to rear control arms of the tripod head, and the controls attach to the arms.
Zoom & Focus Control

This is Varizoom’s traditional-style zoom control for Canon ENG lenses.

If you are using any of the small camcorder-type cameras, finding controls has been harder. The lenses typically don’t have remote control ports on them, and they are not tapped for focus controls.

Enter a company called Varizoom. They have been making controls for all kinds of cameras for a long time. I bought my first remote zoom control from them back in 1997. Here are few examples of controls that may be helpful.

Varizoom control

This is a zoom, focus and iris control for a number of Panasonic cameras.

By incorporating these inexpensive controls to your IMAG cameras, you will get drastically better results. I have even found them to be incredibly useful in the field doing production work. Being able to pan, tilt and zoom with my right hand (through the use of a remote), while focusing with my left on the lens was huge in getting creative and smooth shots.

Another “must-have” accessory for the well-dressed IMAG camera is a monitor. Most dedicated IMAG cameras come with an overhead monitor of at least 7-9″ so the operator is not squinting into a tiny viewfinder. These are readily available for ENG cameras, but not so much for smaller ones. There are bunch of companies that now make hot shoe mountable LCD displays that function just like a studio monitor.

7? LCD Hot Shoe Monitor

Varizoom 7″ Ultimate Field Monitor

Again, Varizoom comes to the rescue. Composing and focusing your shots is infinitely easier on a 7″ monitor than the viewfinder or even a flip out screen. The best part is the monitors and controls are very affordable.

If I were putting together an IMAG system on a budget, it would be really easy to pick up a few camcorders, the remote controls and monitors (and a couple of good tripods) and we’d be all set. Well that and the switcher, router, producer monitors and cable. Looks like we’re in for another post!

Wireless Mics in Danger?

If you’ve read any trade magazines in the last year, you may have heard of the debate raging about the so-called “White Space” in the RF spectrum that will suddenly become available when the FCC shuts down analog TV in another year or so. The details are somewhat technical, but what it means for you is this: If you currently use wireless mics in your church (and who doesn’t?), you could be in danger of all kinds of interference from unlicensed devices operating in the same frequency bands as your mics.

This type of interference has been kept at bay until now because wireless mics operate in the space between analog TV channels, and nothing else is allowed there. Once analog TV goes away, the FCC wants to auction off the space, which could mean major trouble and huge expenses for churches who would have to replace all wireless equipment.

Shure has been a loud and vocal opponent to this pending action, and has drafted a letter that we can send to the FCC. You can download a copy here. I would urge you to download a copy, print and sign it and send it to the FCC quickly. They will begin hearing the case in about 2 weeks. The ramifications of this are huge, and it behooves us to take action while we can. Have your pastor, business administrator, worship leader and tech director all send copies if you like.

Thanks to Anthony Coppage for brining this to our attention, and providing the link to the letter.

David’s Definition of a “Sound Check”

I found this at David Crowder’s blog today. It was amusing, even as I read it the second time, so I decided to post it here. BTW, he has a new album coming out soon. I would say dc*b is one of, if not my favorite worship bands right now. His lyrical artistry blows me away on every album. You can pre-order it on his blog.

Anyway, here is David’s definition of a sound check:

* [“sound check” is that institution of necessity involving the setup and plugging-in of all the band’s instruments and microphones and such, ensuring that they all function properly and that the respective noises emitted are successfully making the journey to and through the speakers that the crowd will be listening to and also ensuring that these sounds are exiting the speakers that the band will be listening to as this will greatly aid the band in the victorious production of what will be met with the ear of those persons facing them. seems simple enough. and, as best we remember, it used to be. over the course of our existence as a band we have faced only a modest handful of memorable type sound checks: i.e., those that might be designated “taxing.” this summer, the inverse has proven to be the norm: i.e., there have been but a modest handful that were not. we’re unsure what may have gone wrong, globally speaking – we’re at a loss.]

Collide Magazine


Check out Collide Magazine. It’s dedicated to the use of the arts in the church. They have sections on visual arts, music and technology on the web. I haven’t seen the first issue yet, but I’ve heard it’s worth reading. You can get a free issue at the website. Mine’s already on order…

Church Media—At What Cost?

I’ve been reading a book lately called The Dangerous Act of Worship by Mark Labberton. The premise of the book is that if we are actually involved in the worship of God, the outgrowth will be our active participation in social justice and dispensing of mercy. Labberton argues that if we are not doing justice and loving mercy, we are not worshipping, or at least we are not worshipping God. As I’ve read, I’ve been wresting with what this looks like in my life. Am I really doing anything to help the cause of the poor and needy, or am I merely chasing the American Dream, consoling myself that part of my work week is devoted to leading others in “worship?” These are weighty issues.

Then along comes Sarah McLachlan and a new music video she recorded for $15. The song is entitled World on Fire, and speaks to social justice. Her premise is that the typical music video costs $150,000 to make, but what if most of that money could be used to help the needy around the world. You can see the video here, along with a list of donations for the other $149,985.

As I watched the video, I started thinking about churches and how much money we spend on ourselves. Month after month I read the trade rags and see church after church installing PM5Ds and Venues and the occasional XL8 sound consoles. There are $100,000 speaker arrays, and video and projection systems that cost more than my house. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like technology toys as much as anyone, but should a church be spending $65,000 on a sound console? And that’s just for the mid-range. The very first Midas XL8 in the US was installed in a church—at a cost of $250,000! What would happen if instead, they spent $20,000 on a M7CL and gave the other $230,000 away to the poor and needy of the world? A quarter of a million dollars would feed a lot of staving kids orphaned by war or aids in Africa. Seriously.

Now, I’m not saying it’s absolutely wrong to make those big ticket buys, but can we really look God in the eye (figuratively speaking) and say we’re worshiping Him in our multi-million dollar facilities with our hundreds of thousand dollars of AV gear while thousands of people die every day around the world of starvation? I was looking at lenses the other day for an article on IMAG. A single lens for a video camera can cost easily $20,000-50,000. All so we can see the pastor better? I don’t know, is that really worship? If it is, is it of God or ourselves?

Whenever I see a video that asks those outside the church what they think about the church, the word “hypocritical” comes up a lot. As I’ve thought about this topic, I can’t help wondering if those impressions aren’t correct. We say we love God and desire to follow Jesus. Then we spend a ton of cash on stuff that benefits us, while ignoring those around us with real needs.

The other side of this coin is that people in the US have to be reached with the Gospel, too. Because of the culture we live in, we need to invest in a certain level of technology and media to speak to them effectively. But do even those we are trying to reach sense a certain disconnect between the message and what they see when they walk into our technologically advanced churches?

I don’t pretend to have this all figured out. Like I said, these are weighty issues. Is it wrong to spend money on a soundboard? I don’t know. But when those outside the family of faith have a better grasp of social justice than we do, it’s time to start asking the questions.

What say you?

It’s All About The Volunteers, Baby!

Not the Benjamins or the Pentiums (sorry for the obscure pop-culture references…).I’ll get right to the point, a technical ministry in a church runs on volunteers. That may seem obvious to some, but I’ve become more aware of what I consider to be a disturbing trend in some churches. As churches get larger and begin to add specialized staff, it seems that volunteers sometimes become regarded as a necessary evil.

I was recently talking with some folks from another church about technical arts directors they encountered. It seemed most had little regard for the “volunteer thing,” and would actually just prefer to do it themselves. One thing I’ve felt God teaching me over the last 2 years or so is that people matter so much more than the process or product. If we as church staff are not investing in the lives of our volunteers, we are not only missing a huge opportunity, but also failing to do what God’s called us to.

Something I’ve seen happen far too often in my 20 years of church life is a pattern of tech people being part of the team for a while then suddenly, feeling like “it’s time to move on.” They leave the ministry, sometimes the church and go somewhere else where they will serve for a while, then leave again. Why is this so? Here’s my theory:

Tech people, by nature, tend to be less relational. We like our gear, and we like to make stuff work. After a few years of watching the people on stage get all the accolades for “a great service,” and never feeling appreciated, they leave–hoping to find something better down the road. Because a tech arts director or worship pastor never invested in them, they feel no sense of connection to the ministry. We all need someone to invest in us. Because the tech ministry is likely to be the primary point of contact with the Body, that task should fall to the tech arts director.

But how can that happen with volunteers are viewed with disdain? That’s what I find troubling. For me, the volunteers provide the energy for what I do. And I’m not a people person! But I really get excited seeing volunteers grow–whether in skill level, personally or spiritually. When we have the opportunity to invest in the life of someone, that pays dividends that we may not even appreciate in this life.

I really believe the role of a church leader is not to become indispensable, or even to multiply themselves. Rather, I think we should be multiplying our influence. By building teams of growing capabilities, and investing in the lives of others, we can truly make an impact on our world. Sure, if the church just hired “professional” talent to produce media, mix sound, run lights and video, the overall quality of the production would likely be higher. But the quality of the ministry would surely not be. When we allow volunteers to use the gifts given them by God in service to the Body, everyone wins. It’s up to us to figure out how to make that happen.

Things Musicians and Sound Techs Do to Annoy Each Other

Pete Bishop has two great posts on the things these two groups do to really make life difficult for each other. They would be really funny if they weren’t so true. Actually, they are still pretty funny. Getting the musicians and the tech people to work together is perhaps one of the most difficult and yet important tasks of a worship arts department. Check these out and see how many of them you break regularly!

Things Sound Techs do that Annoy Musicians

Things Musicians do that Annoy Sound Techs

Barrier Free Worship

Last night marked the kickoff of our Student Ministries at Crosswinds. The turnout was pretty good, and after some fun, announcements and games, the all-student band, powered by the all-student tech team lead the group in a time of worship through song. Jon, our youth pastor, then taught a really powerful message from the book of Acts. What happened next, was completely unplanned and totally a work of the Holy Spirit.

One of the adult leaders walked to the platform near the end of the closing song, took the mic and suggested that we have a time of prayer at the front of the room. He invited all the students who wanted to come down and pray that God would use them this year. What was remarkable to me was not the large number who went forward to pray, but that everyone else sat in their seats and prayed along. It was an especially moving time of prayer; some cried, others prayed boldly. I was reminded why I really enjoy working with students.

I was struck as it was happening, and I’ve thought about it more since, that those of us in the technical realm have a great responsibility during those spontaneous times: Don’t screw it up! I thought back to several other times in my career when the Spirit moved people way off script, and the service became a truly live program. I thought through some of the mistakes I’ve made, and what I’ve done right. Those are especially holy moments, and the last thing I want to do is interrupt what God is doing in the Body.

Here are some thoughts to that regard. This is not meant to be exhaustive, nor inclusive. It’s just what I’ve learned during those times.

Pay Very Close Attention to What’s Going On in the Room

During these times, more than normal, the tech team needs to be very aware of what is happening in the room. Is someone headed for the platform to speak? Where is the pastor or worship leader, and what are they doing? What is the mood of the room? Is the band on stage and are they looking like they are going to play something?

All of these observations have to be taking place all the time, and you need to respond appropriately to them. Last night, I felt the best response was to change nothing. We left the blank background of the song slide on the screen, we dimmed the lights, but played no music. The key for me was not to disturb the mood.

Think Ahead, and Be Ready for Anything

This is a close corollary to the previous observation. Based on what you see, what could happen? How can you be ready for it? You may need to bring the band back up, or deal with someone else coming up on stage to speak. Which mic might they use? Is the reverb on or off?

If someone starts playing guitar, make sure to not just unmute the channel (because we always mute unused channels), but bring the fader down, then unmute and fade up. If someone grabs a mic and starts talking, the same actions apply. If the pastor happens to stand up in front of the front fills with a lav on and starts talking, think ahead and lower the channel a bit to avoid feedback. The key is to work quickly, but smoothly.

Determine the Least Intrusive Way to Support What’s Happening, and Do It

During those special times, people really don’t need a big technical presence. The moving lights probably shouldn’t. The sound should be quiet. The screens should be static. Major changes to anything are not good. Things should stay subtle and subdued. As the time winds down and people begin to disperse consider carefully what you do next. If you normally have people walk out to a rockin’ tune, consider cuing up something a bit more reflective. Or nothing at all. Sometimes people really need silence to be able to hear from God.

These unplanned, Spirit-prompted times are very special. I’ve experienced a few of them in my life, and I’m always pleasantly surprised by them. While the temptation is to join in and revel in the moment, I think we as techies have a responsibility to keep our heads in the game (as it were) and support, albeit carefully and subtly the work that is happening. Non-verbal communication becomes very important, and everyone needs to be on the same page. For me it’s really exciting to be part of watching what God is doing, right in our midst. These are the times to remember, and when we can perhaps make our greatest contribution.


I’ve Moved

I had a day off today and figured out how to install WordPress 2.0 on my own web site and migrate the blog over to my own domain. This will give me the ability to add some new features. I plan on being able to create some demo files, both audio and video, to support the topics we’re talking about. I’m really excited about the upcoming changes. Thanks for reading!

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