Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: December 2007

Click Tracks Expanded

Well, since I had a day off, I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I just expanded the post and created a tutorial on the website. There, you can view screen shots as well as hear some examples of what I’m talking about. Hopefully it will be helpful. You can view it here.

Making a Click Track

As promised here is what I learned making a click track video for Christmas Eve. First off, let’s define exactly what we mean by a click track video. A click track video is put together to a song just like you normally would, but then for the service, you replace the music with a click track that is sent only to the musicians so they can perform the song live while the video plays. The click track needs to be in time with the original music score so that the edits fall where they should. Maintaining synchronization is not a big deal if the footage is just atmospheric, but if you are trying to tie certain shots to certain phrases in the song, the band and video needs to be in sync. Here’s how to do it.

For this exercise I used Final Cut Pro and Soundtrack Pro, though you could accomplish the same thing in the Adobe suite. You can also use a dedicated music program like Logic, Cakewalk, Reason or any number of other sequencing software to build the click track, and any video editor you like.

As I said in a previous post, I had a bit of trouble with this at first, and I think it’s because I made it too complicated. So here is my revised method, which worked really well. First, edit the video like you normally would. Next, open up a new project in Soundtrack Pro (or your music editor of choice). Import your song and begin the process of determining the tempo and time siganture. If the music director already knows this, you’re hardest work is done. Most worship tunes (and most rock music for that matter) is in 4/4 time, which means there are 4 beats to a measure, and the 1/4 note gets the beat. If you are unsure, start there.

Tempo is expressed in beats per minute (bpm). Getting the temp right is the hardest and most critical elements of the whole process. Some software has beat detection tools which makes this a lot easier; sadly Soundtrack Pro does not. To determine the tempo and create the click, you need a simple loop of beats. I found that the Wood Block loop works really well. If you use this loop, you’ll notice that the loop has beats on 1 and 3. We’ll fix this later on.

Place your song on one track, then load the Wood Block into another track. Stretch the loop out to the length of the song. Play the song and find the first beat. Line up the first beat of the wood block with the first beat of the song. Hit play. Very quickly you’ll notice if the wood block is beating faster or slower than the song. Adjust the tempo of the project (the wood block will follow along with the project; the tempo control will not affect the song) and try again. Before long, you should have it dialed in. Make sure to check the song all the way through to ensure it doesn’t drift.

Once you have the temp figured out, you can delete the song track. All we need is the wood block. As noted earlier, the wood block loop has beats on 1 and 3. For an effective click track, we want beats on all four beats per measure. This gives the musicians a steady beat to follow. At first I played around with different ways to accomplish this (editing the sample, the Apple Loop Utility, etc.), but the easiest way is to just double the tempo. In my case, the target tempo was 76 bpm. To achieve clicks on all four beats, I dialed up the tempo to 152 and voila! a perfect 76 bpm four beat click.

Export your click track as an AIFF file (or WAV), making sure it’s longer than you need to cover the song. Import the song into your editor and line it up on the beat.

The next trick is to give the musicians a cue when to start. Having a click track is good, but if you put the first click on the opening beat of the song, they will fall behind. So what I did was to put 2 measures (8 beats) in “silence,” meaning before the song actually starts. To further clarify, I used a 1 frame 1K tone at beat one of the first 3 measures. So it sounds like this…

BEEP…click…click…click…BEEP…click…click…click..BEEP…click…click…click… From this point forward it’s all clicks. The third beep is the beginning of the song.

To finish the video, mute the music tracks and export with just the click. When you play that back through Media Shout (or whatever you use), make sure the soundman sends the click to the monitors (in-ears work best, though this works in wedges) and not to the house PA (that would just spoil the ambiance…).

There you have it. A simple way to synchronize the band with a video. All told it takes almost as much time to explain it as it does to do it, so give it a try!

Christmas at Upper Room

Merry Christmas! Now the day after Christmas, I have to say it’s been one of the best ever. Rather than bore you with all the personal details of our Christmas (which you can read about here if you’re interested…), I thought I’d give you an glimpse into what Christmas services were like here at Upper Room/Christ Presbyterian Church.

First of all, there were a lot of them. Thankfully, I was only responsible for 2. Upper Room put together the 2 PM “Family Friendly” service and the Midnight gathering. In between were CPC’s 4, 6, 8 and 10:00 services. Since we share the same room and equipment, yet have vastly different worship styles, we decided to split up gear. CPC’s lighting needs were pretty basic, so they used our conventional, installed light rig. For our 2 services, we brought in six MAC 700s and brought out our Expression 3 console. As you can see from the pictures, it looked pretty nice. It’s truly amazing what you can accomplish with a limited number of moving fixtures.

Light Plot - wide

How do you make a very traditional space look contemporary? Black it out and add some cool lights!

My lighting guy, John, and I arrived Sunday to set up and program the cues. In about 4 hours we had both programs done, and were heading home. This made Monday a breeze. I had already built the Media Shout scripts on Friday, so we were in really good shape. For audio, we had our normal 5 piece band and 2 vocals, which was set up very quickly. Sound check went well, if not a bit slower than normal, but we were ready to open doors at 1:50.

Thankfully, it was not a production heavy service. Mostly hymns, a really fun kids drama (utilizing the 4 beds on stage), and a message. We also put together a click-track video that ran over the live band performance of While You Were Sleeping by Casting Crowns. I had a bit of a challenge in putting together the click, so I’ll be writing a quick post with some suggestions on that in a day or so.

One distinctive element of Upper Room gatherings is the “experiential.” For the 2 PM, we had several hundred pillow cases printed up with “Blank is Awake to Jesus!” Near the end of the gathering, Kurt invited kids to come down and write their name in the blank and remember to be awake to Jesus this year. Normally when we do an experiential, there is a trickle of people that eventually turns into a lot of people. In this case, it was like the kids were teleported down there. It was unbelievable. Hundreds of kids showed up and had a great time. Check it out…

Experiential

Hundreds of parents and kids stormed the stage to get their pillow. Few (if any) were hurt… Seriously, it was really cool.

Our biggest challenges came right after and right before our services. We had to completely strike the stage after the 2, while CPC was setting up. Then a few hours later, as soon as the doors opened after the 10 finished, we rushed in and re-set. Because of the Upper Room worship style, we hang heavy black curtains around the entire lower level, black out the windows, and put of a ton of candles. All of this had to be set, removed and re-set. I personally thank God for the dozens of volunteers who made this happen quickly and smoothly.

The midnight service was almost identical to the 2 PM, with minor changes. I came in early to fix my click track, and we tweaked the lights just slightly. The atmosphere was really introspective and worshipful throughout the entire evening by design, though it was amazing how many people showed up at Midnight!

Midnight

The funniest moment of the evening (for the crew anyway) was during the candle lighting. At the end, the band was working their way toward Silent Night and the lighters started firing up candles. Because of the location of the tech booth, we couldn’t tell how it was going. The plan was to do a 30 second light fade to black as the candles lit up. The trick was to not fire the cue too early and leave everyone in the dark, or too late and make it look silly. We took our best guess, and it worked out great. The lights faded down almost imperceptibly and the room grew bright with candle light. I mean it was bright!

Candle Light

There is not a lick of electrically driven light in the room at this point. Just about 1500 candle-power.

So there we were, relishing in the moment of a perfectly timed light cue when the Creative Director (who sits in the house, nearby stage left) comes on the com and says, “OK, you can take the lights now…” John and I looked at each other and I replied, “Uh, what lights, they’re all out.” “That’s crazy!” he said, “Amazing, OK never mind.” 1500 candles will really light up an all white room.

After that all we had to do was shoo everyone out so we could pack up and go home. It was a herculean effort, but in under 25 minutes we had the lights and sound struck and we were ready to go. All in all, it was a great day, very worshipful and low stress. I’m thinking this is how Christmas should be!

Again, Merry Christmas from the great white north known as Minnesota! Peace…

Christmas

This Christmas will be something different for me. For the first time in a long time, I don’t have a large number of technologically driven services to plan and execute. In fact, we don’t even have a Sunday service this weekend! It’s almost too quiet…

In fact, I’ve been pretty busy. January will bring a series based on movies, which means I have a 15-20 minute video to cut together each week. I’ve also been working on a click-track video set to “While You Were Sleeping” by Casting Crowns. We’ll use that one on Christmas Eve. Plus there has been the standard “getting up to speed” in a new church setting, and just figuring out what I need to fix first (and there’s a lot to choose from…lights, video, audio…it’s all broken). I’m also working on developing PowerPoint templates, sermon notes templates, and a bunch of other time-saving standardization tools. All of this to explain the lack of posts recently.

On Monday, we’ll fire up a full day of services; the good news is that I’m only responsible for 2. Upper Room will put on the 2 PM “Family Friendly” service, followed by CPC’s 4, 6, 8 and 10 PM services, and at Midnight we’ll be back for a candle-lit gathering. It’s nice not having to be there all day, but the set up/tear down/set up/ tear down thing will be challenging. We’ll be breaking out our new ETC Expression 3 light board for the day, along with some MAC 600 lights for good measure. That should be fun.

I’ve been using Media Shout 3.5 for the last few days. I have a review that I’m working on that will be posted sometime soon. It started off as a “why I don’t like Media Shout” and is turning into a “Ok, they’ve fixed a bunch of things I didn’t like about it” article. I’ve also been playing with ProPresenter. I’ll try to get some thoughts on that one up also.

It’s been about 3 weeks of working with my new MacPro (2.66 Ghz dual-dual core), Leopard and Final Cut Pro Studio 2. All I can say is, “Wow!” I’ve run across a few minor bugs and a little weird behavior now and again, but over all, it’s a great package. It’s a blazingly fast (with 5 Gigs of RAM and a 500 Gig 2-drive array), and looks great with dual 22″ monitors. Leopard is great, and I have to say I’m quickly becoming addicted to Spaces and QuickLook. Networking is also vastly improved (I had to laugh that my Macs joined the network in about 2 seconds, and it took 3 people almost 30 minutes to get the Windows computer to join the Windows network), and adding printers is a breeze.

A BlackMagic Intensity Pro card showed up yesterday as well. I bought it primarily to use the analog I/O for monitoring and ingesting analog stuff. At some point, it would be cool to use the HDMI interface for monitoring, but for now, I’ll stick with my trusty old Sony PVM CRT. BlackMagic bundles some cool software with the card, and hopefully next week I’ll have some time to play with it. I don’t have use for it, but it’s interesting that you could put 2 Intensity cards in Mac or PC for under $500 and use their switcher to switch between 2 HDMI sources and key text over it. That would be a pretty sweet little package.

Here’s a pic of my office. It’s shaping up nicely. I’m still waiting for some storage to be delivered, but it’s very usable space. Just beyond the blue wall is my office mate Steve, who until recently played Bass for Rebbecca St. James. That’s all I’ve got for now. As I said, I’ll be working on finishing up my Media Shout review, and as time allows, I’ll be posting about the new toys I get to play with in my new playground. May God richly bless you this Christmas!

UR Office

The Plan, part two

Last time I suggested that a holistic plan was in order if we were to effectively develop technologies for our churches. Here are some thoughts on how to develop that plan.

Functionality

Does the system do what it needs to do easily and repeatably? Is it a huge hassle each week to get things to work, or does only one person have the knowledge to make it work? Does the system accommodate all the needs placed on it without a lot of reconfiguration?

Ease of Use

As much as I appreciate high-level engineering, if a system is too complicate for non-professionals (ie. the average volunteer) to operate, it doesn’t work. As much as I’m a big believer in training, we always have to keep in mind that most of volunteers do something other than live production 5 days a week.

Expandability

Few things bug me more than spending money twice. If you currently have a 24-channel board that is maxed out, don’t buy a 32-channel (unless it’s digital and you can add channels easily down the road). The cost to go from 32-channel to 48-channel is typically not that great (perhaps another 30-50%), but if you have to replace that 32 with a 48 in two years, you pay for it twice.

Cost Effectiveness

Some churches just throw money at their technological woes. Others don’t spend any more than they have to (and usually too little). In my opinion, both approaches are wrong. Sure, having all kinds of toys is fun, but is it necessary? I would rather have some really good gear that gets the job done than know that we spent a ton of cash on top of the line stuff, which diverts funds from practical ministries (or worse, adds to the indebtedness of the church).

On the other hand, tying together a bunch of mixers from Radio Shack might be cheap, but it won’t be effective. And every time you buy the wrong thing, you pay for it twice (or more).

I’m currently at the front end of this process. I’m starting by assessing our current equipment and our needs. By meeting with the people involved with all three service types, I can ensure that whatever I design will accommodate all their needs (accommodating some is not an option!). Once I know our needs, I will start drawing up a system that will work. As much as I can, I will re-use equipment we already own. Sometimes I will have to re-work my design to utilize existing equipment. Other times it makes sense to start from scratch.

Along the way, I’m soliciting input from our volunteer techs. I want to know what bugs them about the current system. How can we improve workflows to make things happen easier? What do they know that we have to do a few times a year that I haven’t experienced yet? All of this is critical information.

Once the system is designed, we’ll prioritize what needs to happen first. Every upgrade or change will be done with an eye to the future while making sure we don’t do things twice. Underlying problems will be solved before we deal with surface issues. Where we can add additional infrastructure to ensure easy upgrades in the future we will (ie. pulling three Cat. 5 lines down a pipe when we only need one for now).

Ultimately, it comes down to spending God’s money wisely and getting the most bang for the buck. Because our budgets will be limited, I will fix as much as I can as fast as I can. I may not spec the top end stuff, but everything will be quality. Most importantly, all of our production needs will be met efficiently.

I’ll keep you posted on our progress as we evaluate and upgrade. It will be a lot of fun!

The Man with the Plan

Most of the churches I visit or work in suffer from a common problem. It’s something that just seems to happen. I completely understand the circumstances that lead to this problem, and am very sympathetic to those it affects. The problem is a lack of a plan. Not just any plan, but a complete, holistic plan of how technology works together. What I normally see (and I’m sure you’ve experienced this, too) is a patchwork quilt of disparate stuff tied together with duct tape and chewing gum. Okay, it may not be that bad, but you know what I mean.

The reason this happens is easy to understand. Most churches’ tech people are hard-working volunteers who were tasked with a job that they do with great enthusiasm. They may or may not have the experience, know-how or authority to really analyze the needs and put together a complete system that really works well. The leadership of the church may not get it, or there may be insufficient resources.

Sometimes it’s the result of a variety of people working on the system and just trying to get something to work this weekend. Other times, the fault lies with outside contractors who didn’t take the time to learn the true needs of the church. Too often, this happens more than once.

Any way you look at it, it’s a recipe for frustration, not to mention less than ideal results each weekend. Again, this is not a dig at the volunteers who serve so faithfully year after year. Having been in that position myself for many years, I understand exactly what is going on. What I’d like to do, is to offer some suggestions to getting out of this dilemma, improving your production value and making volunteers happier and less stressed.

It all starts with a plan. Now, even if you don’t have a background in system design and engineering, you can still do a thorough needs analysis and begin sketching out what you need to accomplish.

For example, let’s say the pastor often requests a DVD of the services to evaluate how various elements came together. Do you have a camera in place to do that? What will you record on, and does the audio system have the capability to send a usable mix to the recorder? You could piecemeal this together each week, or you could incorporate the needed elements into a system so that all you need to do is drop in a blank DVD-R and hit record.

Or let’s say you have multiple types of services each weekend; each with varying musical, drama and video needs. Does your system accommodate all the needs without significant re-patching and changeover? If not, you need to think through what you need to accomplish and design a system big enough to handle it.

Now, keep in mind, I’m not advocating spending huge sums of money to put in a large system that no one can figure out how to use. What I am for is Optimum Value Engineering (to borrow a term from the construction trade…). OVE looks at each piece of the puzzle and tries to make it just the right size. Not too bit, not too small. In our examples, with three types of services a digital audio board would really be a nice element. But this is not to say that you need a Midas XL-8 (at the cost of a quarter million dollars!). A Yamaha LS-9 might be just perfect.

I’ve tried to think of ways to help you think through your needs and design a good system. Because each church is unique, it’s hard to develop a one-size-fits-all approach. My next post will give you some ideas to consider.

On Working with Great Staff and a Day Off

I work for a great church. I know, I’ve only actually worked there for 5 days now, but it’s a great staff. Really, I feel very blessed to be here. These are people you want to work with. Tonight we had some real challenges, technically speaking. We lost control of the lights for most of the services (despite a lot of on-the-fly troubleshooting during and between services), and they just sort of did their own thing. Changing colors, turning on and off, all at random intervals. There was a lot of talk on the Clear-Com, but it was all handled well. The good news is I now have my first project to work on this week.

Which brings me to my next topic, my day off. Today is Sunday. I was off yesterday and I’ll be off tomorrow. Though this is my first week here, I can tell you it’s the greatest gift I’ve ever been given as a church techie. Knowing that I don’t have to go to work tomorrow after a long and somewhat stressful day is just amazing.

If you’re reading this blog, you probably go all-out every weekend for your services. Doing that takes a lot out of you. Even when you enjoy it, it’s draining. I love doing services, I love the technology, the people and seeing God move. But I also really like to have time off to recharge. Tomorrow I get that. Tuesday when I go in, I’ll be fired up and ready to go. I’ll get more work done in 4 days than I ever did in 5. All churches should consider this, especially for their production staff. Seriously.

It became a reality this week that the technical infrastructure of our church building is a disaster. I’m trying to be kind, but it’s really a mess. Video, lighting and even sound is just messed up. I look at it and think, “This is not how we do things!” So I have a long road ahead of me to sort it all out. But that’s what I do, and it’s why I was hired. The good news is, the leadership is behind me (well they say they are, we’ll verify that in a few months!). Thankfully, our volunteers are troopers and will help me drive the bus to the land of improvement.

I’ve said it before, if you want your volunteers to do a job well, give them the tools they need to do it. Get the details right and make sure someone has thought through the whole system and come up with a unified plan. Make it right, and the team will amaze you. I have a lot more to say, but it’s late and I need some rest. I’ll be chronicling my quest for a unified, holistic media/technology strategy here over the next few months. Stay tuned!

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