Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: September 2008 (Page 1 of 2)

Review: Chauvet D-Fi Wireless DMX

As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently picked up two Chauvet D-Fi wireless DMX units. The motivation behind this purchase was to save the hassle of running 200′ of DMX cable from our tech booth (in the back of the balcony) all the way to upstage left–and picking it up every weekend. We needed to control two of our portable 4-channel dimmers from our Expression 3, and wireless seemed to be the way to go.

Initial research suggested that wireless DMX units were pretty pricey; often exceeding $500-600 per end (a transmitter and a receiver is needed for any such system). While running the cable would be a pain, spending $1000+ was not an option if I wanted to get anything else done this year with my meager budget.

Enter the Chauvet D-Fi. The units themselves are pretty unglamorous. Made of simple extruded aluminum, they seem reasonably rugged. A model of simplicity, each unit can be switched to be a transmitter or a receiver. One end houses 3-pin input/output/through jacks, while the other end has a jack for 12v power (external wall wart), dip switches for selecting frequency and Tx/Rx mode, the antenna, and LEDs for status indication.

The D-Fi has just been updated, and I managed to hit stock turnover just right. I received one of the old units and one of the new units. There are only 2 differences between old and new–the original unit used one of 2 frequencies in the 900 Mhz range, while the new is selectable between 6; for an antenna, the old came with a 1/4 wave, the new has a 1/2 wave. Presumably, the 1/2 wave antenna will provide a little better range, and the additional 4 channels will help ensure you can find a clean frequency for operation.

What attracted me to the D-Fi was the price. You can find them all over the web for $180 each, which means you can sent an entire DMX universe a few hundred feet (it’s rated for 100 meters, line of sight) for just over $350. Since a simple 200′ DMX cable was going to cost me $150, this seemed like a reasonable upgrade, especially considering the labor savings for an eight-week series.

But that’s only if it works. I’m pleased to report, it does. Quite well. I was initially disappointed to see the inclusion of 3 pin connectors for the DMX. According to the official DMX-512 standards, the correct pinout is a 5 pin. The audio industry standardized on 3 pin XLRs for audio many years ago; it would be nice if the lighting industry would do the same with 5 pins. This is especially important since a mic cable does not have the correct impedance (110 Ohms is specified for DMX), and including XLR connectors on the D-Fi encourages the bad practice of using mic cable for DMX cable.

However, a few minutes with a soldering iron and some DMX cable solved that issue; I simply made up some 3 pin to 5 pin adapters to properly interface with my lighting board and dimmers. Once I had cabling out of the way, setting the units up couldn’t have been easier. Simply set the dip switches to a matching frequency, pick one as transmitter and one as receiver and you’re done. I placed the transmitter up in the light cove above our tech booth, and plugged into universe 2 on our Expression 3. I placed the receiver on stage (about 100′ away, with no obstructions) and plugged into the dimmer. The lights indicated that I had a connection and after a little patching on the Expression, I was controlling lights on stage. It was that easy.

One thing I noted is that the LEDs are very bright. As in annoyingly bright. I ended up placing a few pieces of gaff over the LEDs so they wouldn’t be distracting as they blink constantly when a link is in place. 

We have used the D-Fi with our portable dimmers on for 2 weekends now, with excellent results. We also used them to save us some work running cable for a large mid-week event. Instead of running cable up a balcony to hit 3 Martin Mac 700s, we used the D-Fi. Again, it worked flawlessly. I couldn’t detect any lag in the issuing of commands, and looped cues that moved the lights around during walk in ran perfectly. 

For that event, we connected the D-Fi to the output of universe 1, and looped through to 3 other lights on the stage. It was nice to be able to loop through instead of using a second universe and re-patching all the fixtures. 

While I realize there are more expensive (and arguably better) wireless DMX units out there, the Chauvet fills the bill for what we need. The cost/value ratio is very high, and I would recommend it to any church looking to send a DMX universe from here to there without wires. Since it occupies the 900 Mhz space, the DTV transition is a non-issue. If I were touring, I might worry about the fragile nature of the power connection, and perhaps the antenna, but I’m not and I take care of my gear. If we go portable for a while next year when we plant, I will be using this every week for sure. Otherwise, it’s a handy problem-solver to have at a reasonable price. This one gets the Church Tech Arts seal of approval.

The Vision of John

We’re in a new series right now called Revelation/Revolution. The idea is to look to the first three chapters of the book of Revelation, see what the Revelation of Jesus says to those seven churches, and consider how we need to revolutionize how we live, and what we are called to be as a church. Since the vision John sees is one of Jesus walking among seven lamp stands, we of course, have seven lamp stands on stage. And since we can’t just have seven lamp stands (they’re really more lamp posts…) on stage turned on all the time, we needed to control them.

Thankfully, we have two 4-channel portable dimmers. But no one ever thought about running a DMX line from the tech booth to the stage, so using those dimmers would have meant dragging out a 150-175′ DMX line every week, then picking it up at the end of the night (we share the space, remember). For eight weeks. That though did not appeal to me, so I looked into other options. I settled on the Chauvet wireless DMX unit (which I’ll review later). The short version is that it works great. It transmits a whole DMX 512 universe on the 900 MHz band. With a transmitter above the booth and a receiver down by one of my portable dimmers on stage, I was good to go.

One thing we did that was really cool was to synchronize the lighting of the lamps with the series intro video. The video features famous people who had a revelation (Mother Teresa for example) and how that played out into a revolution (caring for the poorest of the poor). With each “revelation,” we lit a lamp with a 2 second up time. As the seven “revelations” were told, the next lamp would come on, while the previous one would fade down with a 10 second down. At the end of the video, when we introduce the themes for the next 7 weeks, each lamp came on with the theme graphic, and we built to all seven lamps lit. But we only took them to 50% initially. As the music swelled at the very end, we bumped them all the way to 100%. 

All the cuing was done manually; I watched the time of the video playback and cued the light operator. It worked really well, and added another dimension to the video.

At the end of the night, we invited people to come up and take an object that represented one of the seven attributes John described of Jesus. Wool for his white hair, denoting wisdom, for example. Once people had their objects, they were invited to stand for corporate prayer to pray these attributes into Upper Room as we cast vision for our new church.

It was a very moving evening, and we got a lot of positive feedback regarding the stage set and the use of the lamps. The lamps themselves were purchased at Lowe’s. They are designed to be set into a concrete post (they even came with anchor bolts). Since we didn’t think it would be appropriate to lag bolt them to the hardwood stage (I would have heard about that for sure…), I made up some 18″ square 3/4″ MDF bases, painted them black, and bolted the lamps to those. I cut a slot in each base for the cord to come out. I used 16 gauge SJ cord with a ground for safety. This way, at the end of the series, we can sell the lamp–they will be ready to put outside just like they were designed.

You’ll see from the pictures that each one had a sign on it. I had those made up at Kinkos. If you follow my Twitter feed, you’ll know I forgot to do that on Friday, and scrambled to get them done Sunday morning. Thankfully, Kinkos pulled it off. The total cost for the lamps, bases and cord was around $1300, but we should be able to get close to $800 back for the lamps at the end. So for a 8 week series, we have $500 invested in our stage. Not bad. You can click on any of the pictures to see larger versions.


 

 

 

 

 

Groups, VCAs and DCAs Part Two

In the previous post, we got started talking about groups. Most church sound boards have groups. Some have VCAs. As a church sound volunteer, it’s important to know what they do and how to use them. To recap, Groups are additional mix busses on your board that allow you to collect inputs and make them controllable by a single fader. That’s the vast over-simplified version anyway. A more elegant way to accomplish that task is with a VCA.

So now, picking up where we left off…

The VCA Masters from a Yamaha PM5000 (click to enlarge)

VCAs

VCA stands for Voltage Controlled Amplifier. The clears it all up, no? Well, how about this: According to Wikipedia, “A voltage-controlled amplifier is an electronic amplifier that varies its gain depending on a control voltage.” In other words, rather than controlling the level of a signal through a resistance network, the way a typical fader control does, a VCA uses changes in control voltage (which is adjusted by fader movement up and down) to control an amplifier that alters the level of the signal. In a non-VCA fader, the audio signal actually runs through the resistance network of the fader and the level is altered based on how much resistance to signal flow there is. Lowering the fader raises the resistance, lowering the level of the signal.

In a VCA desk, when you raise and lower the fader, you’re actually raising and lowering the control voltage that tells the amplifier to raise or lower the level of the signal. It’s kind of like the difference between a switch and a relay. A switch has the signal (say 110 volts of AC to power your light) flowing right through it. When you turn off the switch, you directly break the connection. A relay however is controlled by another switch. Flip the switch, and the control voltage tells the relay to close and let signal through. Hopefully, this is making sense.

VCAs have several advantages over regular faders. First, they last longer and are less prone to get “scratchy” because of wear and dust. Second, because the fader is not processing the signal, VCAs can be more accurate and precise. Finally, because a VCA is sort of like a remote control, they can be remote-remote controlled. Enter what is known as the VCA (really, they’re VCA Groups).

For the purposes of illustration, let’s assume that we’re using a 1K tone as our signal source, and that we have adjusted the head amp (or trim, or preamp, or gain, or whatever your board calls it) so that the channel, when in PFL (or solo) mode reads 0 dBu.


Let’s say you turn up channel 1 to 0 dBu, or unity. That tells the amplifier in channel 1 to let the signal flow with no gain or cut applied to the signal. When you lower the fader to -10, that tells the amplifier to apply 10 dB of cut to the signal.

Now, let’s say we assign channel 1 to VCA Group 1 (more commonly known as VCA 1). And let’s turn channel 1 back to 0. If we were to now lower VCA 1 to -10, that would tell the amplifier in channel 1 to apply 10 dB of cut to channel 1 [above left]. And if we now dial the fader of channel 1 back to -10, that tells the amplifier in channel 1 to apply another 10 dB of cut to the signal [above right]. “Madness!” You might say, “Lowering the signal twice!” That’s true, but it’s also highly useful. 

Consider this; we can accomplish the same thing, level-wise, with a group. However, we’re sending the signal through 2 amplification stages. And once the signal leaves the group, it goes through a third amplification stage at the main faders. With a VCA, there is a single amp stage on each channel. The channel faders and the VCA faders simply tell that amp what to do. At no point does the signal pass through the VCA group, because there is no “group.” I said it gets interesting, so here’s how it could play out.

At Upper Room, we have our VCAs (well, technically they’re DCAs, but they act essentially the same) set up like this: 1–Kick & Bass; 2–The rest of the drum kit; 3–Guitars; 4–Keys; 5–All Band; 6–Vocals; 7–FX; 8 Speech mics. VCAs 1-4 act like groups for us, in that we can quickly adjust the entire drum kit up and down, add or subtract keys, whatever. However, we also have the whole band on another VCA. So that means that every channel that is assigned to VCA’s 1-4 is also assigned to VCA 5. That allows us to take the level of the entire band up and down on one fader, without altering the relative levels between each of those channels. If during the set the band gets crankin’ and starts to overpower the vocals, we turn down the band VCA. That’s it, the whole band comes down.

Where this is very elegant is that the signal is processed strictly in the channel amp; it’s not going through multiple amp stages of gain/cut to get there. So let’s play this out.

Take the kick, channel 1 in our setup. Let’s say on the fader, it’s set to -5 dBu. So at the channel level, we’ve knocked 5 dB off the level (relative to 0, or unity, which is determined by the head-amp control). Now, as part of the drum kit, it’s assigned to VCA 1. And we might run that at -2. That knocks another 2 dB off the level for a total cut of 7 dB. As part of the band, it’s also assigned to VCA 5, which we might run at -5 also. That’s 5 more off, for a final level of -12 dB. And again, all of this level changing is done on the channel strip itself, in a single amp stage; it’s not going through multiple stages at each VCA. The VCA groups simply alter the control voltage of that channel’s amp.

By definition, and unlike a group, a VCA group can never overload. This is because it’s simply a “master remote control” for a bunch of inputs. Even if you push your VCA group fader to +10, you’re merely telling all the channels assigned to that VCA group to add 10 dB of level to their respective signals. At that point an individual channel might clip, but the “group” never will because it’s really more of a virtual group.

We should also note that by lowering VCA 1 (kick & bass) to -2, it also tells channel 9 (bass) to turn down by 2 dB as well. And by setting the VCA 5 at -5, it tells all of the band channels (basically 1-14) to lower by 5 dB. But each individual channel can be adjusted relative to each other, so the mix is preserved.

You do have to be careful with VCAs, however. Because you are remotely controlling a channel (for lack of a better term), you could be tempted to over-drive your input channels with too much signal. This could happen in the above example very easily. Let’s say someone wasn’t paying attention and set VCA 1 (kick & bass) to -20, and VCA 5 (the whole band) to -30. That would lower the signal of the drum mics by 50 dB. That would be pretty low in most systems. You would probably want to hear more drums than that, and even if your channel fader is already at +10, the total output of the channel is -40 (+10 plus -20 plus -30). So you might be tempted to turn up the head amp control to get more level. However, you would quickly drive the head amp into distortion. When using VCAs, getting good gain structure is more important than ever.

Still, that shouldn’t dissuade you from using them. Their much cleaner than groups, and the level of control is far greater. You also have more options for control, as shown above. Moreover, when you mute a VCA group, you also mute the channels. On most boards, this will have the effect of shutting off the Aux sends as well, which keeps you’re monitors quiet when you want them quite. Another benefit of VCAs. 

DCAs

DCA stands for Digital Controlled Amplifier. Essentially, they are the same thing as a VCA, but on a digital board. Every digital board I’ve seen has DCAs, which makes sense because the signal is already in the digital domain, and it’s just a simple matter of programming to make a DCA group behave the same as a VCA group. So there’s not really any more to see here. Move along.

You do have to pay attention to your DCAs on a digital board, however, because most of the time they’re on a separate layer. So it’s really easy to have the scenario I illustrated above play out (40 dB of cut applied without you knowing where it came from). As always, proper gain structure is important.

I hope this has shed some light on the concept of Groups versus VCAs/DCAs. While they can all have the same ultimate effect on the signal, they go about it differently. And when you use one versus the other depends mainly on your board. If you have both, use VCAs for your channel “grouping” and groups for sending mixes somewhere else besides the main speakers. They are great for “submixes” for an Aviom system for example. If all you have are groups, break your band up into logical “groups” and control them as described. Most of all, I want to encourage you to explore what your mixer can do. It probably has more power than you thought. To paraphrase my favorite foodie, Alton Brown, “Get out there and play with your mixer” (preferably during non-service times…)

Groups, VCAs and DCAs

Today we’re going to talk a little more about two features of audio mixing boards. Specifically, we’re going to dig into the nitty-gritty of Groups, VCAs and DCAs. I often run into confusion about these similar, yet different technologies, so hopefully this post will shed some light on the subject.

First, we’ll look at the ways all three are similar (and for now, I’ll use the terms VCA and DCA interchangeably). In a live mixing environment, Groups, VCAs and DCAs all exist to help you control the level of a group of inputs all at once. They go about it in different ways, but that’s the idea. Take a bunch of inputs, say 8 drum kit mics, and put them under the control of one fader. This allows you to quickly adjust the level of the entire group quickly, and without changing the relative balance between the individual channels.

Any respectable live mixing board will have at least 4 groups. Better ones have 8. Even better boards have groups and VCAs. Any board with a group or VCA architecture will have some means of assigning individual channels to one or more groups or VCAs. That’s about as far as we go together; it’s now time to look at them individually

Group

A group is essentially a mixing bus. A group has it’s own little amplifier and a way to aggregate all the channels assigned to it into a single output. Higher quality boards can handle a whole mess of high level (0 dBu to +10 dBu or more) without overloading. Lesser boards are saddled with groups that start to overload a much lower levels.

When you send a channel to a group, the signal leaves that channel at the level set by the fader and enters the group. The group fader then alters the level of all the inputs into that group. In a big-picture sense, the L&R busses on your board are groups (at least they perform the same basic function). The difference is that a group typically sits between the individual channels and the main L&R (or mono) output bus.

The group and master section of an Allen & Heath GL3800. (click to enlarge)

Most groups also have dedicated outputs on the back of the board, but if your board lacks VCAs, the most common use of groups is to sub-mix a set of channels before sending them to the main outputs (again, L&R or mono).

For example, when I was at my last church, our FOH desk (a Soundcraft Series Two) had 32 channels and 8 groups. We configured the board thusly: Group 1–speaking mics; 2–vocals; 3–drums; 4–guitars; 5–keys; 6–brass or choir; 7&8 stereo inputs. So, with this configuration, it was super-easy to turn the drums down a bit, because we simply lower group 3. Raising the level of the vocals could be accomplished by pushing up group 2. 

And because most boards that have groups have inserts on those groups, we could put a compressor on an entire group if we wanted to. I almost always had a compressor on my speaking mic group, mainly because I didn’t have enough compressors to give everyone their own. Throwing it on the group let me compress all the speaking mics, and keep the levels under control with minor tweaking. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing.

The problem with groups is that it adds an additional step of amplification/processing inside the board, and that creates noise. A well-designed board will minimize this, but it’s there nonetheless. You’re also a bit limited in what you can do with groups (at least compared to VCAs, which we’ll see shortly). There’s also the issue of group muting. Typically, when you mute a group (or in some cases, un-assign it to the main bus), you only shut that group off in the house. The monitor sends for those channels are still on. If you’re all on ears, this isn’t a big issue. However, if you have wedges on stage, you’ll still get noise out of them when you don’t want it. To clean that up, you’ll need to use a mute group (but that’s another post).

By all means, if you have a board that has groups (and no VCAs) you should use them. They really do make life easier and help you quickly adjust mixes with just a few faders. Even if you have a small band, aggregating inputs down to a single fader makes the job easier. If you have VCAs, however, groups loose their luster pretty quickly.

But we’ll have to wait on VCAs. As I started writing, I decided that I needed visual aids to illustrate my point. And those take time. Check back in a day or so and see what we come up with for VCAs and DCAs.

Update: ProPresenter and OS 10.5.5

If you’ve already updated to 10.5.5 and don’t want to roll back, the good folks at Renewed Vision have found a work-around to get you back in business. The only downside is that you use the ability to play back DVDs (until a permanent fix is issued) through ProPresenter. Here’s the post from Greg:

So far we’ve determined that the DVD component is involved. A temporary solution is to disable the DVD playback.

You can do so by running the following command in the Terminal (copy everything inside the box below):

Code:

defaults write com.renewedvision.ProPresenter3 disableDVDFunctions -bool true

Note, that you can’t use the preference setting in Pro because it crashes before it is able to save the preferences.

This seems to resolve the problem. If you are experiencing the kernel panic, run the command above in the Terminal and please let us know along with the information requested above.

When you wish, you can turn DVD playback back on directly in ProPresenter, a terminal command is not necessary.

So there you go. As always, remember there’s no rush to install Apple’s software updates. If your system is working normally, and you aren’t having issues that the update is supposed to fix, hold off for a bit. You’ll find life a lot easier for you if you stay off the bleeding edge.

[Update] It should also be noted that this seems to only affect MacBook Pros.

That and have a full-bootable backup of your system before you update. Then rolling back is really easy.

Thanks Greg, Brad and others at Renewed Vision for staying on top of this and getting a fix out so quickly. You guys are the best!

Here’s the whole thread on the Renewed Vision Support Forums…

When Things Go Wrong

 This is going to be great. For starters, this is a reader submitted topic. I love those. For another thing, it’s about something that goes horribly wrong during a service. And for us tech guys, it’s kind of like a train wreck. You know you shouldn’t look, but you just can’t help it. Then you say, “Phew! At least I wasn’t mixing when that happened!” So here we are. In the middle of service, and the pastor steps up to pray. His mic is on, everything is working perfectly. And then…well, take a listen.

Bad, Bad Sounds During Prayer

I don’t know about you, but that makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Call me a perfectionist, call me paranoid, but I can’t stand it when stuff like that happens during a service. It’s just horrifying to me. Now, this pastor handled it well, but the mood was still broken. I always tell our tech volunteers that our job is to create an atmosphere of worship. People should be able to come and meet with God without having to block out explosive noises from the sound system.

OK, enough ranting. The question was posed to me, “What could the FOH engineer have done to either prevent this, or minimize the damage?” Personally, I’m a big fan of “prevent this.”But before we can prevent anything, we need to know what we’re dealing with. The initial diagnosis of the offending noise was a bad cable to the bass guitar. (I think we have an update, but I’ll save that for the end because it doesn’t help make my point–see how I am?)

Test and Fix Them Cables

So let’s consider the “bad cable” theory. How do we prevent a bad cable? For starters, test them. We just did this a few months ago. We pulled all the cables off the rack and tested them. Every single one. It took about an hour and a half. We plugged each into a cable tester and gave them a shake all up and down the length of each cable. Ones that failed were put aside, and were fixed them later. Ones that couldn’t be fixed quickly were thrown away. The way I see it, there’s pretty much no excuse to use bad cables more than once. And if you test them regularly, you can head most of this off at the pass. If all your cables are good, you won’t have issues like this. Except when good cables go bad…

Mute Them

My Bible says that on the 5th day, God created the fish, the sea and mute groups. And VCAs/DCAs. And He commanded that we use them. Often. That’s the rarely quoted 11th commandment, “Thou shalt mute all unused inputs until just a moment before they whilst be used, and promptly re-mute them again after they are done being used” (and we pronounce that “use-ed”). As you may have guessed, I’m a big fan of muting inputs, or turning them off when not in use with a VCA or DCA. I’m so big on this that I will often not un-mute a mic until the person is inhaling just before they are about to speak or sing. And as soon as they’re done, the input is off. This is important for several reasons.

During prayer, or speaking, there is nothing else going on in the system to cover up bad sounds. What kind of bad sounds? Well, how about the one we just heard. Or how about during a wedding and someone is prepping for a service backstage and starts plugging mics into channels that should be off (but aren’t). Or how about the guitar player that comes up during prayer and decides to tune, only instead of tuning clicks the tuner off instead of on. Those kind of sounds. If someone were to be following my “all inputs off except the active one” rule, and a cable went bad during prayer, no one would have been the wiser.

Pay Attention

Almost every board I’ve worked on has some type of signal indication light on each channel. If the band comes up during a prayer (their channels are all off, of course), and you glance down and see a channel meter or signal present light flashing when it wasn’t before, put on the headphones and take a listen through the PFL (or solo) bus (not in the house) and see what it is. If it’s a cable gone bad, don’t open that channel. It’s our  jobs as FOH engineers to keep tabs on this stuff.

The Nuclear Option

Sometimes really, really bad stuff happens and you have no control over it. It might be an unexpected power surge that fries a power supply (of course, you should be surge protected…). It could be quick brown or black out (it’s not a bad idea to have your FOH desk on a UPS…). Sometimes a piece of equipment fails in a catastrophic way. In any of those cases, I would say you have about 1-2 seconds to figure out if the problem is on an individual channel, or a group, or a mix bus that you can pull down really fast. If you can’t find it, you have to go nuclear and pull the mains down. In rare cases, even that won’t work, and you might have to take the whole system down. How you do that will vary from church to church, but do you have a plan for it?

Some would suggest that I’m making too big a deal of this. After all, these are relatively rare instances. I would argue that these are extremely rare cases (at least in places I’ve worked) because I make a big deal of this. The old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” certainly applies to the world of live sound, lights and video. If we maintain our systems well, take care of our equipment, pay attention and follow solid live production practices, we can make these hugely obnoxious problems a thing of the past. Go ahead, listen one more time…

Bad, Bad Sounds During Prayer

After I talked some more with my friend, he informed me that he has a caution light showing on the console, indicating a possible problem with the power supply for the desk. This could account for the noise. Time for a service call…And don’t put it off, either!

ProPresenter Users–Hold off on 10.5.5

For reasons probably only Steve Jobs knows, the 10.5.5 update breaks ProPresenter in a major way. It’s causing Kernel Panics (those are really, really bad…). Renewed Vision is working on figuring out what Apple broke this time and will post an update when it’s figured out.

As always, it’s prudent to hold off on installing any updates on a well-functioning system (and especially mission critical systems) until they’re proven to work well and not break anything. This includes (and sometimes means particularly) Apple updates.

Apple is somewhat notorious for changing things and not letting developers know ahead of time. So be aware. And it never hurts to have a fully functioning backup of your previous version just in case. See Back the Data Up, Pt. 2. for some thoughts on how to accomplish that.

[Update 9-17-08] It appears this issue is only a problem with MacBook Pros. And there is a work-around for it.

The Upper Room Announcement

Today, we’re taking a break from our usual techie stuff to talk about some of the exciting things God is doing in the midst of Upper Room. I find it good to do this once in a while, as it’s easy to forget that we serve a higher purpose than great audio and video…

First, a little background. Upper Room started about 7 years ago as a third expression of worship at Christ Presbyterian Church. Initially geared toward the next generation, and combining both sacred practices and experiential worship, the community has grown beyond the expectations of those who were there at the beginning. Today, upwards of 1,500 worship with us each week, and we have a staff of 11. Upper Room is in the unique position of being a “church within a church.” 

This has proven very advantageous on many fronts. Because both communities share common facilities, overhead costs are reduced. Having both staffs in the same building is sort of like being a church plant with a mentor down the hall. And, as much as Upper Room has learned from CPC, CPC has learned from Upper Room. It’s been a very healthy and positive relationship.

It’s not been without challenges, however. CPC is more rooted in a traditional/contemporary worship style, while UR is more modern/post-modern. This creates a lot of work each weekend as we change the space back and forth. Trying to work through sub-ministry issues has taken a lot of energy (though not in a bad way, but like all relationships, it takes work). And there’s been a growing sense that UR is being held back missionally because of our physical location. 

About 1 1/2 years ago, the leadership of UR and CPC began to meet, discuss, pray and discern what our relationship would look like going forward. Having joined the UR staff in the middle of this process, I can say it’s been one of the most thorough, God-honoring processes I’ve ever witnessed. The spirit has been fantastic, and it’s exciting to see two communities so committed to each other and to the mission God has set before them. About 4 months ago, the working groups brought forth a recommendation that they felt would serve the interests of both communities best, and allow each to thrive and grow in the work of the Kingdom.

This recommendation was brought to the Session, which approved it unanimously. UR staff were present when the recommendation was proposed, and I was again struck by the spirit of cooperation and support. Rarely have I seen a church be the Church like this. Last night we announced to the community the results of the discernment process and what we feel God is calling us to as a church.

Sometime over the next 12-18 months, Upper Room will be commissioned and sent off as an independent church in a new location. In short, we’re planting a church! To say that this is exciting is an understatement. Right now, there are as many unanswered questions as there are people to ask them. We don’t yet know where we’re going (other than somewhere in the Minneapolis metro area), or what kind of building we’ll be in, how we’re going to get there. 

Going forward, there is a well thought out visioning/ownership process in place that will guide us as we seek to further discern what this all means. I continue to be impressed with the leadership of both communities as we move forward. The potential is here to launch a church really well, and I think we’re going to do just that.

For me, it means a shift in my role. I will be taking on more of the IT needs, and expect to be involved with the build-out and/or rehab of whatever space we end up with. For years I’ve been asking God to let me start from a blank slate, and it looks like I’ll finally get the opportunity. I can’t wait to spec a system out from scratch and hopefully avoid all the problems that I’ve been fixing at the other churches I’ve been part of.

Personally, I’m very excited about this. I find it utterly fascinating that God brought us here for such a time as this. When many looked at my background they said, “Really? How does this qualify you to work in a church?” On the surface, it looks like a hodgepodge of jobs that don’t fit together. In fact, it all makes perfect sense. Ten years in professional video production, for example, is an easy fit. But working for a company that produced huge corporate meetings? Well, I did learn a ton about live production, and I was also promoted to IT manager when I designed, installed and maintained the first computer network they had. Even this seems to fit once it’s explained.

But owner/builder of a chain of tanning salons? How does that fit in? Perfectly, it turns out. It was a serious education on commercial construction, design and building, not to mention learning how to design and install electrical systems of the 800 amp, three-phase size. Add to that HVAC, working with sub-contractors, building officials and the permitting process.

Selling home-improvement products? Again, I learned a lot about construction, contracts and managing expectations. It’s like a perfect storm for using all of the experiences I’ve had (except it should be less destructive than an actual storm…).

All of this is why I’m so excited to go to WFX in Houston in a few months. They are having what appear to be some excellent sessions on building, design and re-purposing existing buildings. Not to mention a huge trade show that will again expose me to many much-needed products and services.

I’m also excited to have a growing network of fellow tech directors around the country that I can draw on as we make a few thousand decisions about gear selection, vendors and design. As I said in the beginning, sometimes we can get so wrapped up in what we’re doing, it’s easy to forget what God is doing. This is one of those times when I remember I’m a part of something much bigger than myself.

The next year or two are going to bring many surprises, and it’s going to take a lot of hard work to get there. But just as I have been prepared for this in my area of expertise, so has the rest of the staff. And I think we’re all looking forward to seeing just how things turn out.

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned…there is going to be a lot of exciting techie things to report on coming up!

The Wait is Almost Over

For several months I’ve made veiled references to some coming changes at Upper Room. And while I can’t talk about it publicly yet, we’re almost there. Tomorrow will be a big night in the life of our community, and I can’t wait to share the news with everyone. God is doing some exciting things in our midst, and I feel like we’re on the cusp of something big. 

So tune in on Monday morning, I’ll have complete coverage of the news. It’s going to be good…

The Digital Matrix

Picking up where we left off, today we’ll talk a little bit about how digital consoles are changing the way we think about a matrix mix. Perviously, we discussed what a matrix is, and how to use it. Rather than try to give a completely illustrated guide to every digital console and how it works (which I can’t because I’ve not used them all), I’m going to pick out a few desks that represent, at least in broad strokes, how a matrix functions in the digital realm. 

Yamaha PM5D

While the PM5D is a digital desk, it handles the matrix pretty much the same way an analog desk does. The PM5D has 24 mix busses, plus LCR. It really doesn’t do groups, you simply assign your channels to the mix busses. Any of the mix busses can feed into a matrix mix, as can the LCR mixes. Once you’re at this level of a board, the set up gets complicated fairly quickly. As I’ve not spent much time at all behind a 5D, I won’t attempt to suggest a variety of options. Suffice it to say if you have a 5D at your church, you should have someone on staff who knows how to use it.

Yamaha LS9

This board is becoming increasingly popular in the church arena. It’s small, has a high feature set and is very affordable. The LS9 has 16 mix busses (plus L, R & Mono and Monitor L,C & R), and 8 matrix mixes. Like the 5D, the matrix is fed from the other mix busses. In a church setting, the matrix mixes are going to be primarily used for recording sends, cry rooms & lobby feeds and things like that. With only 16 mix busses at your disposal, you will probably be feeding the main mix into your matrix most of the time. The matrix mixes then become a level control for your various outputs. 

If you are not running stereo IEMs (which consume mix busses pretty quickly), you might be able to do some quasi grouping with a few leftover mix busses and use them to feed into a matrix for various mixes as we discussed on Tuesday. If you even separated the band into 2 mix busses, and used a third for vocals, you could come up with a combination of “external” feeds for recording, cry rooms, etc. using those mix busses and matrix mixes. Though the LS9 only has 16 Omni outs, you can add additional outputs using the MY-Card slots. Those outputs can be fed from the matrix to give you some more output capability.

RSS M-400V Mixer

Roland’s entry into the digital mixer game is an interesting one. While I’ve not mixed on it yet, I’ve played around with the software, and I’m impressed. The M-400 is very well integrated with the REAC digital snake, which provides plenty of configuration and I/O options. I’m not entirely sure I have a full grasp on what it can do, but it seems quite powerful. Like the LS9, the M-400 has 16 mix busses, L, R & Mono. It also has 8 matrix mixes. And while the matrix mixes are fed primarily by the mix busses and L&R, you can also pick any two other input channels and put them into any of the matrix mixes.

This starts to get really interesting. For example, for a recording feed, to make up for the fact that the music is always going to be a lot louder than the pastor speaking, you could send L&R to a matrix, then also add in the pastor’s channel. That would bring the level up to a more comparable level with the music.

How useful this is depends a lot on how you set up your mix busses. But certainly, the ability to directly add a channel (or two) into a matrix mix could come in handy. This is a board I want to spend some more time with at WFX in November. It has some great functionality that and a price point that would work well for many churches under 1000.

In some ways, using a matrix mix on a digital board is a little less useful than an analog board because you don’t really have groups to derive your matrix mixes from. Because every digital board I can think of uses DCAs (a topic for another post), you don’t need to group say, the drums, the keys, the guitars, etc.. You can do it all with DCAs and with better sonic purity. The cost is that the matrix becomes less useful. That is, unless you’re driving an M7…

Yamaha M7CL

In many ways, I saved the best for last. I’ve said before that I believe the M7 is just about the ideal all-around console for churches between “large enough to need digital” and several thousand. And once you cross that 3000-4000 attender threshold, you probably have someone on staff who can efficiently drive a Venue or a 5D–that is, if you really the need additional capabilities of those boards.

The M7 breaks new ground with it’s approach to the matrix. At first glance, it appears to be set up just like the LS9–16 mix busses plus L, R & Mono. It also has 8 matrix mixes. What makes the M7 unique (for just about every digital desk I could find) is that you can assign anything to the matrix mix, right down to the channel level. This effectively makes the M7 a 24 mix bus board, only better. It’s better because you can assign mix busses to the matrix; L, R & Mono to the matrix and individual channels to the matrix. 

Because you can stereo link matrix mix pairs, you could create an additional 4 stereo monitor mixes. Or stereo record mixes. You can use it to break out record sends to different places if you want. At Upper Room, I use Matrix 1 as my video record send, and use Studio Manager to mix it on the fly without affecting the FOH engineer. You can read more about that here. We also have another record send that goes to the cassette recorder & HD24 fed by Matrix 2. Because we don’t have the time to deal with that mix much, it’s fed mostly by the mono mix, with a little extra pastors mic for good measure. 

In a sense, the matrix becomes another “layer” of mix busses on the desk. For mixing the CPC contemporary service, we use a matrix to feed the ButtKicker for the bass player. We have matrix mixes set up for wedges when we need them. When thinking about how to use a matrix mix on the M7, just think, “What would I use a mix bus for,” and you can use a matrix for it as well. 

I originally thought the LS9 had this functionality, but it doesn’t. So far, it’s unique to the M7. I don’t know if it would be a simple software update to enable this on an LS9, or if it’s a matter of processing power. Either way, until the LS9 can do this, the M7 remains my favorite all-around church board.

Hopefully, these three posts give you a little more insight into the strange and wonderful world of the matrix. While not exhaustive, I tried to give an overview of what you can do with these useful tools we have at our disposal. Happy mixing. Next up, VCAs and DCAs…

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