Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

The Rule

You’ve probably had this happen. Rehearsal and run through went smoothly, all systems appear to be go. Then, just before the service starts, something appears wonky. You see signal present LEDs lighting up on channels that shouldn’t be. There isn’t signal where the should be. The presentation computer doesn’t seem to be acting right. The lights don’t respond. What’s happening? Sometimes, it’s just equipment failure. In that case, you can troubleshoot as quickly as you can, fix it or switch to plan B. Other times, it’s a symptom of “What’s this button do?” syndrome.  Let me explain.

We techies tend to be a naturally curious lot. That’s what makes us good at what we do. On the other hand, sometimes that curiosity gets us in trouble. Remember Curious George? We can be like that. I was thinking of this a few weeks ago. We started producing our videos with dialog on one channel and music and effects (M/E) on the other. Simple enough. That way we can better control the mix in the sanctuary, where it can be hard to hear dialog.

Normally, we run our video’s audio feed into a stereo input on the M7. This works fine until you want to adjust the relative balance between the two input channels. There’s no way to do it. So, we patched it up to channels 40 & 41. No problem. Works great. Then between run through and doors open, our engineer decided it would be more convenient (and less of a reach) to patch it down to 38 & 39. Makes sense, we’re not using those for anything, and they’re a little closer to where he stands. The problem was gain. Those channels had been used for mics previously, so the gain was turned way up. When we routed a +4 line level signal into them, we had huge amounts of noise. Fortunately, he noticed it, and called me on the com before we ran any video.

Doors hadn’t opened yet, so we did some quick troubleshooting. I checked the audio interface, it was good. I checked the switcher, all clear. I re-booted the computer (you never know…). No change. Finally, I looked at Studio Manager running on my laptop in the tech booth. I saw the gain knob set to 3 O’Clock. “Well there’s your problem,” I said. He dialed the gain back, everything was fine.

Thankfully, he caught it and we were able to fix it before the opening video ran. If we hadn’t, we may have had speaker components leaving their home and coming to rest in someone’s lap.

I’ve been guilty of things like this in the past, too. During the sermon, I occasionally get bored and start thinking, “Hmm, how would it work if we did…” That can be dangerous. On more than on occasion, I’ve had to say to the entire congregation, “That was me…” It can happen with the presentation computer, the light board, sound, whatever. If it has knobs and switches, it’s easy to fiddle. And when we fiddle, bad things can happen. That is, unless we follow The Rule.

The Rule

Don’t change things once rehearsal/run-through is over. Unless you know exactly what you are doing, and exactly what the outcome will be, without question, leave it alone. And even then, you’re taking a risk.You can try it between services if you have time to test, but in general, once doors open, we’re done. That means no re-patching, no clicking on new icons in ProPresenter (those things just seem to show up every time there’s an update!), no checking to see what this button does on the light board.

Once you know everything is working, leave it alone! I say this to my team, and I say this to myself. There are so many things that can go wrong when you start changing things, it’s just not worth it. What I try to do now is write down the experiments I want to try and play with it during the week. I’ve been using a program called Evernote for that purpose. I run it on my iPod Touch, my MacBook Pro and my Mac Pro. It keeps my notes in sync, so I can always remember what I was thinking of doing on Sunday.

You can also try a few things during rehearsal; just be aware that if you mess something up, you could be wasting a lot of people’s time while you recover. So use that freedom judiciously. Follow The Rule and you’ll look smarter and more capable to the people around you. Experiment during the week and bring your learnings out on the weekend, and you’ll look smarter still!

8 Comments

  1. jblasongame@gmail.com

    Again, one reason I don’t like digital. One small software error or forgetting to hit the save button has big consequences.

  2. jblasongame@gmail.com

    Again, one reason I don’t like digital. One small software error or forgetting to hit the save button has big consequences.

  3. mike@churchtecharts.org

    True, but the same kind of thing could happen with an analog desk. “Hey, what does this ‘Scene’ button do?” Oopsie! Ultimately, it all comes down to knowing your gear and not messing with stuff when you’re live.

    Digital desks may have a few pitfalls, but I hope I never have to go back to mixing on an analog desk. The sheer power of digital by far outweighs the potential negatives. Especially in a multi-use facility.

  4. mike@churchtecharts.org

    True, but the same kind of thing could happen with an analog desk. “Hey, what does this ‘Scene’ button do?” Oopsie! Ultimately, it all comes down to knowing your gear and not messing with stuff when you’re live.

    Digital desks may have a few pitfalls, but I hope I never have to go back to mixing on an analog desk. The sheer power of digital by far outweighs the potential negatives. Especially in a multi-use facility.

  5. jrygel@hotmail.com

    This sounds familiar. I am all about digital boards, but there do tent to be a lot more places to flub up the signal that are fairly difficult to find . . . Some of the common ones I’ve found before are:

    – turning on the channel insert without patching it anywhere, of course, this mutes the channel (on an O1V96, not sure if this happens on a LS9 or M7)

    – turning off the aux send for the channel – I still haven’t found a good use for that option and I wish Yamaha would allow me to lock all aux sends to ‘on’

    – and the best ever digital board flub up – try sending the channel where an effect return is patched to into the input of that effect – it’s actually amazingly easy to do on an 01V96 if you’re using two of the stereo channels for FX returns and two for something else . . . and it creates a REALLY interesting noise . . .

  6. jrygel@hotmail.com

    This sounds familiar. I am all about digital boards, but there do tent to be a lot more places to flub up the signal that are fairly difficult to find . . . Some of the common ones I’ve found before are:

    – turning on the channel insert without patching it anywhere, of course, this mutes the channel (on an O1V96, not sure if this happens on a LS9 or M7)

    – turning off the aux send for the channel – I still haven’t found a good use for that option and I wish Yamaha would allow me to lock all aux sends to ‘on’

    – and the best ever digital board flub up – try sending the channel where an effect return is patched to into the input of that effect – it’s actually amazingly easy to do on an 01V96 if you’re using two of the stereo channels for FX returns and two for something else . . . and it creates a REALLY interesting noise . . .

  7. tmbsr1025@yahoo.com

    This post reminds me of a “what’s this button do” type moment. A singer was singing along with a taped video through the TV/VCR through the projector at the end of the service. I decided to pack up my laptop and pulled what I thought was the plug – dead silence – I pulled the plug of the TV!

    “Wow, that’s never happened before,” the singer said. I quickly plugged in the TV/VCR, pressed power and play and ducked real low behind the table. He recovered quite nicely and finished his song!

  8. tmbsr1025@yahoo.com

    This post reminds me of a “what’s this button do” type moment. A singer was singing along with a taped video through the TV/VCR through the projector at the end of the service. I decided to pack up my laptop and pulled what I thought was the plug – dead silence – I pulled the plug of the TV!

    “Wow, that’s never happened before,” the singer said. I quickly plugged in the TV/VCR, pressed power and play and ducked real low behind the table. He recovered quite nicely and finished his song!

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