Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: October 2007

On a Personal Note

Normally I don’t post a lot of personal stuff on here, but some may be interested to know that my 2 girls and I are currently in Minneapolis looking for a place to live. We’re currently in that “excited and terrified” stage. It’s exciting to think about joining the staff of a great church and starting a new life in a new city, new house, etc. On the other hand it’s terrifying to think that in less than 30 days we have to pack up everything we own and move it 1/2 way across the country!

Every sign seems to point to this being a great decision and I’m really looking forward to it. The hardest part will be saying goodbye to all our great friends at Crossswinds. We’ve had such a great experience there and it has truly prepared me for the next phase.

If nothing else, this post explains the lack of posts recently.

Something else to be excited about is that yesterday, Apple officially released OS 10.5, Leopard. This long awaited release looks to once again put the best OS on the planet another few steps ahead of everything else. Microsoft finally has another OS to copy (too bad it will take them 5 years…). Even better news is that my new laptop will have Leopard on it when it arrives. Once I get set up with the new ‘Book, I’ll make some comments on the new OS here.

Blue Skies

The sky is really clear at 32,000′! Taken somewhere over that little sliver of Canada between NY & Michigan. Below the clouds are Ohio and Indiana (I think…turns out you can’t see the state lines from the air like you can on a map…)

Of Cables and Connectors

How much thought do you give to your cables and connectors? Probably not much. At least not until you’re faced with a task of making something like this:

XLR Snake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That little mess of spaghetti is the new input patchbay for our soundboard. I wanted to build that when I first built the sound booth, but didn’t have the budget. As I sat there soldering (for 3 hours), I was thinking a lot about the connectors, and the cable I chose. 32 Input jacks, 32 output plugs, 3 connections per connector, 192 solder points; it doesn’t take too many minutes of inhaling solder smoke that you want to find a way to make it go faster. The choice of connector has a lot to do with that

When I first started doing sound some 20 years ago, I used whatever connectors I could buy at Radio Shack. Then I discovered Switchcraft. Sure they’re a bit more expensive, but wow–the 280 and 297 1/4″ connectors are sooo much better than the cheap stuff. But when it came to XLRs, I never really liked the standard Switchcraft. Too many parts, those annoying small set screws, they just took too long to put together. They’re tough, but assembly is a pain.

Neutrik XLRThen I discovered Neutrik. If it’s possible to fall in love with a cable connector, I did. The NC series are brilliant. No set screws. Easy assembly. And if you get the solderless ones, you don’t even need to solder. Wow, I liked those! In the last 10 years, I bet I’ve used 500 or more Neurik XLR connectors.

The one thing about Neutrik XLRs is that they are still made up of 4 parts; the shell, the connector, the strain relief and the cover. A few months ago, I accidentally discovered a connector that has stolen my heart. I was rummaging through a box of stuff and found Switchraft’s new AAA series connectors.

Switchraft AAA Series XLRIt’s a metal body with an integral strain relief. The plug is already assembled in the shell, so it comes apart into 2 pieces. Slip the shell over the wire, solder to the plug (or jack) and screw it together. This is so simple!

Over the course of soldering up a 32 input snake, I know I saved a bunch of time. The connectors are really easy to use, and have nice, solid solder cups. Another difference between the Switchcrafts and the Neutriks is the depth of the solder cup, and the thickness of the cup itself. Neutriks have deep cups, which take a lot of solder to fill properly. They are made of fairly thin metal, too. I’ve never had one fail, but Switchcraft has a nice, thick cup that isn’t too deep. So you can achieve proper fill with less solder, which means less time.

If you’re doing one or two ends on a mic cable, it’s no big deal. But if you are making up a snake, saving 30 seconds on a connection adds up.

Neutrik Speakon

While we’re talking connectors, I recently switched all of our stage monitor connections over to Neutrik Speakons. As much as I like the new AAA series XLRs, I have to say the Speakon connectors are my favorite of all time. They are a simple 2-piece construction, and terminate with screw terminals. No soldering! (at least for the cable ends)

They are a twist-lock design and don’t come unplugged like the old 1/4″ monitor cables. Whoever thought that the 1/4″ plug was a good speaker connection, anyway? These connections are rock solid and reliable. They even come in multiple pin connections (2, 4 and 8 for normal, bi-amped and, well, I guess quad-amped).

So there you go. An inside look into the mind a true geek. An entire blog post about cable connectors. Seems trivial, but connectors are essential to what we do. Think about how many signals pass through how many connectors for a typical service. A quick mental count for one of our normal services and I’m into the hundreds of connectors. Do connectors seem insignificant? You bet. But consider the havoc when one fails! Peace.

Cross-Cultural Experiences

Last Friday was a night of firsts. Crosswinds played host to a program sponsored by ProjectUrge, a ministry that seeks to join urban and suburban churches together in ministry. I learned a lot about different cultures that night.

Our culture is pretty well planned out, punctual and ordered. The urban church culture is much more relaxed, less punctual and more spontaneous. Neither is better, but they are different.

The first “first” came when, 40 minutes in the the program, someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Where can I plug in my keyboard?” I was running FOH for the program, and we had already completed the worship set. This gentleman was from the city and he and his choir drove out to sing. They were just a little late. I informed him of those facts, and he replied, “Oh no, we’re from Rochester, and we’re going to sing.” OK, then. Sure enough, they sang.

The second “first” was the performance by Morningstar church. A true, black gospel choir. They rocked the house. I have never mixed a choir like that before, and as it turns out, it was harder than I thought. I was well into the second song before I felt like I had a handle on the harmonies. Either by sheer, dumb luck, or God’s providence (I’m leaning toward the latter), I set up 3 mics for the choir. I normally do 2 in our space, but decided at the last minute to grab 3. Turns out they were perfectly positioned for the altos, tenors and sopranos. Once I figured that out, I was able to blend the parts and make it work.

I gotta tell you, they were incredible. The aforementioned keyboard player played like, 3 parts on his little keyboard (that we plugged into the acoustic guitar DI and I set levels and monitors on the fly during the first song…), and the dummer was like Steve Gadd.

The whole night really didn’t fit into my “Planning will set you free” mantra, but then again, because I had stuff plugged in all over stage, and had extra inputs wired, we were able to accommodate last minute additions. So maybe I was closer than I thought. Anyway, it was great.

Equipment Reviews Now Up

I’m trying to build up the content of the web site side of this site, and over the weekend had some time to post 3 equipment reviews over there. There are also some pictures of sets we’ve done at Crosswinds over the last year. You can view them here. I’ll be working at getting more stuff up there as time allows. It might be scarce over the next few weeks as I’m getting ready to move across the country, but we’ll see what we can do.

CS3 Web Premium Arrives

Yeah, I know, they’ve been shipping it for a few months now. I meant it just arrived at my house. After a few months of running Dreamweaver in Windows (through Parallels on my MacBook) and an old version of Photoshop CS1, I finally sold some stuff and sprung for CS3. I played with the beta of Photoshop, so I knew it was going to be cool. Web Premium comes with Photoshop Extended, so as soon as I get to spend some time with it, I’ll be able to play with video in there also. Very nice.

But before you can play, you have to install. No problem, right? This is a Mac, software installs are a breeze! Well, apparently Adobe didn’t get that memo. I put the DVD in the drive and start the installer. I pick the components I want to install and hit go. It seems to take a rather long time, but I figure it’s fine.

Suddenly, a blank dialog box pops up and the DVD spits out. Yup. A blank dialog. No way to cancel or know what it wants. I force quit out and hit the web. Turns out Adobe has an entire section on their website devoted to CS3 install issues. Now I know I’m in trouble.

Turns out that’s the thing you run into if you happen to have Safari 3 beta installed (which I did). Why this is an issue puzzles me to this day. Adobe says I have to uninstall Safari 3 and roll back to Safari 2. See Apple’s website for instructions. Sure. So I go digging around and figure out how to do that (turns out I had to re-download Safari 3 beta, which comes with an uninstaller, which in addition to removing 3, puts 2 back on…).

OK, problem solved! On with the install. I re-fire up the installer and away we go. Man, it seems to be taking a really long time. Oh well. Insert sound of disc eject here. Uh, oh. Dialog box that says, “Please insert ExtendedScript Toolkit 2.0 to continue.” Excuse me? What is that? (actually there were more words, but this is a family-friendly blog…)

More web surfing. Back to Adobe.com. Oh look, another entry about this very issue. Seems this is the problem you get after you had the last problem. Thanks for mentioning that! So now, I have to uninstall the Adobe stuff, restart and try again. OK, we’ll try that.

Three times! Still nothing. Remember, I’m installing on a Mac. That’s a Macintosh. OS X. We stopped dealing with crappy installs like this like, 6 years ago! Anyway, a bunch more looking on the web turns up a forum on Adobe.com where others are having the same problem. Turns out you can download the ExtendedScript Toolkit 2.0 and if you mount the .dmg to your desktop during install it will proceed fine. Sure, it does, but it takes forever! Oh, and never throw it away, because if you ever want to install another component, you’ll need it again. Ughh.

So thanks Adobe for creating great software like Photoshop, Dreamweaver (actually, you bought that one…), Acrobat and After Effects. And thanks for wasting 4 hours of my life while trying to install CS3. And for charging me a small fortune for the privilege. You’re the best. But will you still respect me in the morning?

An actual review of the software will be forthcoming. Oh, and here’s the link to the forum thread in case you find yourself in this predicament.

A Few New Magazines Worth Reading

Anyone that knows me well knows I love to read. I normally read 10-14 trade magazines a month, many cover to cover. I also try to fit a few good books in there as well. My theory is that things change so quickly in our field, and there is always something new to learn. In addition to the old standbys I’ve been reading for some time (Front of House, Live Sound, Pro Sound News, Church Production, Technologies for Worship, Digital Content Producer, Videography, Post, Studio, among others), I’ve recently been reading through some new ones.

Lighting & Sound America

Lighting and Sound America

As you might expect, the focus of this mag is on lighting and sound (those magazine guys are so clever!). They cover various topics related to the entertainment industry. The current issue has an article on the Rascal Flats tour, a Mary Kay Convention, Disney’s High School Musical tour, and Club Med Cancun. I find I don’t read every article, but there are some great ideas for stage design and I find it always pays to find out what equipment is being used by touring companies and installers. Check it out, you can probably qualify for a free subscription.

Live Design

Live Design

This mag focuses primarily on stage and lighting design. Again, there are some great ideas here for churches. The current issue has articles on Eric Clapton’s Concert at Crossroads benefit, the future of club lighting, TWFM’s presence at LDI, and an interview with Rick Seigel, Director of Photography and Lighting Designer. It’s a pretty wide swath of topics. The articles are pretty well written and informative. Again, free subscriptions are available.

HDVideoPro

HDVideoPro

This is a new magazine that showed up on our doorstep a few months ago. I have to say, it is one of the most useful and informative video mags I’ve ever read. Every article was solid and educational, and they covered a wide range of topics. I learned more from that issue than from 6 months worth of other mags. From technical articles to equipment reviews to interviews with industry professionals, this one has it all. If you are doing video work in a ministry setting, this is a good one for you. Sadly it will cost you 20 bucks a year, but I would say it’s worth it.

So there you have it, a selection of my favorite new magazines for the moment. What about you, do you have any that you recommend? Leave a comment so we can all benefit!

The Journey

I have been on a journey for the last several months (more like 10…). One that has now either concluded or just beginning, depending on how you look at it.

I first felt God calling me into ministry some 15 years ago. At that time, I was the lay youth leader at our small church in Ohio. I thought God was calling me into youth ministry. Some good counsel and a lot of prayer kept that from happening (seriously, it wouldn’t have been good). Instead, He opened doors for me to combine my profession (media production and communications) with my passion (ministry). In 2001, for a variety of reasons, that changed. I worked in another business for a while, and had some jobs I really didn’t like.

A year and a half ago, I re-discovered my true calling. God opened the door for me to join the staff at Crosswinds, part-time, as Technical Arts Director. It has been a great time. I have grown tremendously, and feel like I’ve been able to make a contribution to the life of the church.

As the new year turned, I began to feel a restlessness in my spirit. I felt God was preparing me for something else. My wife and I began to talk about what it would look like to join the staff of a church full-time. We began to pray for God to open doors of opportunity. After a few conversations with other churches that didn’t lead anywhere, a door was clearly opened last July. After many hours of phone conversations, and a 4 day trip with my wife, we feel this is indeed a door God intends for us to go through.

Sometime during the end of November, we will launch into a new faith journey as we pack up and move our family to a suburb of Minneapolis and I join the staff of Upper Room Community as Technical Arts Director. Upper Room is a young, vibrant and growing community of believers with a great staff. In all of our conversations, things just clicked and fell into place. So, as much as we are sad to leave a body of believers we’ve come to know and love, we are very excited about what God is going to do in and through us and we move into full-time ministry.

Personally, I’m looking forward to devoting all my work hours to one enterprise and leading a team of technical artists. I expect it will be a challenging and stretching season. I also hope to have a little more time to work on this little web project I’ve started.

To all my Crosswinds family, thanks for welcoming me into your midst and letting me serve. You have truly been a blessing in my life, and I do hope we can stay connected. To other readers, thank you for indulging me with a little personal stuff here. Next week we will return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Blessings!

How Big is Your God?

Yesterday and today, I have had the good fortune to spend some time up an my family’s camp in the Adirondack Mountains. It’s situated on a lake and is one of the most naturally beautiful places I’ve ever been. This a sad time of year, because on this trip, we close the camp down for the season. And this is only my second trip up this year. It seems strange to be “winterizing” because yesterday it was 75 degrees and remarkably sunny. Today it’s raining, but I really enjoy sitting on the front porch watching the rain fall into the lake. I do feel bad for those two out in the canoe right now, though…

Last night after dinner I went out to our neighbor’s dock to look at the stars. I decided to lay down and just look up. At first, I could see only a few, but as my eyes adjusted, I was engulfed in a 180 degree panorama of stars. One thing I love about it up here is how dark (and quiet) it gets at night. After a few minutes, I could clearly see the Milky Way. There were thousands of stars, I couldn’t begin to count them all. As I lay there, several things struck me.

First, it occurred to me that I only saw those stars because I took the time to let my eyes adjust. Had I walked out there, looked up and gone back to the cabin, I would have missed most of them. Those stars are evidence of God. I wondered, what else do I miss because I don’t often take the time to stop and let my eyes adjust. Last time, I wrote about rest. Too often our lives are crammed so full, we can’t take time. To stop. And look. And wait. For our eyes to adjust.

Second, I was reminded that we serve a big God. I wish I had the ability to photograph what I saw (I tried, even a 30 second exposure didn’t do it). Some of those stars are so far away, they are already burned out, but the light is just now getting here. And light moves pretty fast. All of those stars were hung in place in an instant when God said, “Let there be light.” I was pretty impressed with myself for having built the porch I’m now sitting on. Yet there before me were thousands of stars as big as our planet. Spoken into existence in an instant. If that doesn’t re-frame your life, nothing will.

I think a lot of times my image of God is too small. I tend to pray about small stuff, the daily concerns of life. Those aren’t bad, they’re just not all God is. I lay on the dock as long as I could (it was cool and getting damp, and hey, I’m getting older…) hoping that image would get burned into my memory. Whenever I’m tempted to limit my prayers, I want to recall that scene. If God can make that, I think He has more potential than I can imagine.

Several years ago, I was challenged with this question, “What are you doing right now, that without God’s intervention, will utterly fail?” That challenge was on my mind a lot over the last few months. Our family has been challenged in a big way. For thematic reasons, I will start another post to finish the story. Then we’ll get back to good old techie stuff… promise!

Rest

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. Reading is one of my favorite pastimes. I’m known to grab a book and a place to sit and read for hours. Reading makes me think, and I like to think. The books I’m currently working on have challenged my thinking in several areas. One common theme is the idea of rest. Not just any kind of rest, but a Sabbath rest. One book, The Dangerous Act of Worship (Mark Labberton) devoted an entire chapter to rest. A Beautiful Mess (Rick McKinnley) does the same. Here are some thoughts:

We are to live [the Christian life] daily as well as practice a weekly sabbath-keeping. It is not just an old legalism reinserting itself. It says to the frantic, exhausted, distracted, fatigued people of God: please rest. The hectic lives of Christians in our culture and the busyness of many churches show little sign of living out of God’s rest. Our tendencies to imitate our culture are directly related to our unwillingness to stop, cease producing, consuming, moving, accomplishing, buying planning. We can be as much 24-7 (even in the name of Jesus) s our secular neighbors.

A Dangerous Act of Worship

When I read that paragraph, I thought, “Man, he’s right. I tend to want to just keep going and going, trying to ‘advance the kingdom.'” Rick McKinnley points out, however, that God is already advancing His kingdom. He is doing it with His strength and His power. All He asks of us is to live in the kingdom that He is already building. Labberton goes on to say:

Predictably, when our communal and personal sabbath-keeping practices are anemic or absent, we have far less to give for the sake of others.

So why talk about this in a Technical Arts blog? Simple: Because techies are some of the most driven, workaholic people I know. And I can say that because I’m a recovering workaholic. When we love what we do, it’s easy to keep doing it, to the exclusion of other things, even rest. We console ourselves with the fact that our serving is worship, and that makes it OK to keep going 6-7 days a week 3 or 4 weeks a month. We work our day jobs during the week, and come to church to work on the weekends. It’s not good.

A few months ago, I found myself working 65-70 hours a week. The list of things to do kept getting longer, and the projects I was working on seemed never ending. I was developing high-level training, installing new equipment and running services. It was killing me. I know you know what I’m talking about. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve managed to pare my schedule down so I have at least 1 solid day off every week, and twice a month, I get a Sunday off. The difference in my life has been amazing.

Now, I’m trying to re-focus my time off to be able to spend more time being, and not doing. I want to rest in God’s creation, so that when I am working, I have something to give. Now, as much as I’ve done this, I’m starting to think about our volunteers. We have some who serve almost every weekend. That means they never get a day off to just be. I want us as a church to start evaluating what we do in light of how it affects our volunteers.

That’s the funny thing about the Church. In our desire to “advance the kingdom,” we’re willing to sacrifice our members. Churches that are just plain busy (as opposed to missional) are doing more harm than good. The reason is simple. It is only through living in God’s rest, that we are able to see the world as He sees it. If we don’t have His vision, we aren’t doing His work—we’re doing our own and asking Him to bless it.

If you are a staff Techie, make sure you take time to stop. Do it this week. Give yourself permission to let a few things go undone. Believe me, they will be there next week. If you are a volunteer, God bless you! Make sure you don’t over-commit either. We want you to serve, but not at the expense of your family or spiritual well-being. Take time to rest, church will still go on. If you are a church leader, please consider your schedule and consider the burden it places on those who actually have to implement it. Try to figure out a way to do the work of God without killing anyone (a plan I’m pretty sure God would be on board with).

Take time to enjoy God’s creation. Take time to read His Words. Read a good book. Be available to those you love. Just be. You can always get back to doing tomorrow.

Peace.

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