Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: April 2009 (Page 1 of 2)

Five Things I’d Say to Young Sound Engineers Pt. 4

All week I’ve been giving advice to young sound engineers. The first three posts have dealt with our knowledge, attitudes and what to do when we make mistakes. Today (finally!) we get to talk about gear–well, sort of.

#4: Be Prepared And Know Your Equipment

This is a big one for me. While it’s true that most sound boards have the same functions, the way they go about it can be totally different. Call me a geek, but each time I’ve started mixing in a new church, I’ve gone online, downloaded and read–cover to cover–the manual for the mixer. I also like to get with the worship leader and find out what the requirements for the weekend are. How many inputs, what type, monitors, special requests, all that stuff. I build input lists and make sure I know where and how everything is routed.

I don’t care how many services you’ve mixed at your current church or venue; walking into a new setting requires a whole new level of effort on your part to get things going smoothly and quickly. If the goal is to take good care of the band, you had better know the gear and how to use it before you get there.

Most worship leaders I know would be happy to spend some time playing and singing for you during the week so you can get comfortable with the equipment. Take them up on that.

Show up early, line check everything and make sure the stage is read to go before the band arrives. Don’t underestimate the possibilities of things going wrong and overestimate your ability to fix them.

Worship Leaders, You’re Killing Us

I’ve written a guest post for a site called Musicademy today. The site is based in the UK and is an excellent resource for worship leaders. If you’re a techie, I’d still encourage you to check it out. Something that’s been on my heart lately is that both techies and musicians need to spend more time learning the other’s craft. Not to say that musicians need to become  FOH engineers or presentation operators; or that FOH engineers need to become accomplished musicians, but the more we know about what the other does, the better we can work as a team to create more powerful and effective worship experiences.

I’m excited that Musicademy, a worship leader-centric site, has asked me, a techie, to write something for them. We’ve already been talking about some other synergistic ideas that I hope will come about soon. So check it out, I think you’ll find it’s time well spent!

Five Things I’d Say to Young Sound Engineers Pt. 3

For the last two days, we’ve been talking about advice to young sound engineers. For review, the first two points were:

  1. You Don’t Know as Much as You Think You Do  and
  2. #2: Attitude is More Important than the Mix

Today we’ll continue with…

#3: Don’t Be Afraid To Say, “I’ve Made A Mistake”

 I was talking with our Jon, our worship pastor, the other day about various types of sound guys we’ve worked with. He commented about one who during a sound check accidentally grabbed the wrong gain pot (one he had previously set) and tweaked it all out of whack. Instead of trying to cover it up, he said, “Hey, guys, my bad. I grabbed the wrong gain, we need to go back and re-do the bass.” That really impressed Jon and said to me, “Who cares he made a mistake. It made the whole band feel better that he stopped, fixed it and went forward, rather than try to cover it up and blame something else.”

Here’s a potentially surprising fact: We all make mistakes. I have, on more than one occasion, turned up the gain on the wrong channel. Sometimes I’ve done the right thing and owned up to it. Other times, I’ve tried to tweak it back to where I though it was and hoped no one noticed. When I’ve done the right thing, it’s always been the right thing. No one cares if you make a mistake and own up to it. But if you make a mistake (and everyone knows you did), and don’t own up to it, that breaks down trust. Without trust, we can’t work well together.

Five Things I’d Say to Young Sound Engineers Pt. 2

Yesterday began a new series that falls loosely in the category of advice for young sound engineers. The first point was, You Don’t Know as Much as You Think You Do. Today, we’ll build on that.

#2: Attitude Is More Important Than The Mix

Demonstrating a servant’s hear  and going out of your way to make the band and audience happy will take you a lot farther than focusing exclusively on your mixing chops. I know a lot of engineers (especially monitor engineers) who were perhaps not the most skilled, but had a reputation for doing whatever it took to make the band happy. Those are the guys who never lack for work.

I found this to be an interesting phenomenon; when the sound guy can put the band at ease early in the sound check, the band plays better, the mix is better and everyone is happier. When the engineer gets defensive or argues with the band, the rest of the day doesn’t go well.

I’ve been surprised more than once by a band member telling me they thought the mix was great and they enjoyed working with me. What surprised me was that I felt the mix was anything but great, and I may have been struggling with it all night. But what I did do was take good care of them, and make them happy. The right attitude can make a mediocre mix sound great.

Five Things I’d Say to Young Sound Engineers Pt. 1

Chris Huff at Behind the Mixer wrote an interesting post last week. He wrote about how musicians see sound techs. It’s a good, enlightening and sometimes hard read. I recommend it. One of the comments that really got me was this one:

Do you give suggestions to the sound tech?

– All the time and he always dismisses everything anyone says.

That got me thinking and inspired the series we’re starting today. I don’t know that I’ve attained the status of “old sound guy,” but I know I’m getting close. I realized this the other night when one of my new sound techs and I were making cables. I realized that I had been mixing longer than he has been alive. That realization led me to think about some words of wisdom that I wish someone had shared with me 20 years ago when I started. Probably would have saved me (and the bands I worked with) a lot of hassle. What you’ll read this week are some things I’ve learned along the way that will hopefully make your career as a sound engineer more productive and fun.

#1: You Don’t Know As Much As You Think You Do

I’ve met and worked with a lot of sound guys over the last 20 or so years. One trend has stood out to me; the best ones are always learning and are always open to picking up new tricks from someone else. The “less good” ones seem to think they’ve arrived and have nothing more to learn from anyone. Oddly, the latter group tend to have a lot fewer hours at FOH than the former.

Just because you’ve figured out how to mix with subgroups doesn’t mean you have mastered the art of mixing. If you read the blogs and talk to the best FOH engineers out there, you’ll find they are always experimenting, always talking to other audio guys, always reading; always learning something new. They never seem satisfied with their competency, now matter how high it is. They are always willing to share their knowledge and take suggestions; even from people who “know less” than they do.

A lot of younger sound guys I know seem to vastly overestimate their competence, and that trait does not serve them well. They often show up late for sound check, cop an ‘tude at a simple suggestion, and generally give off an “I’m the expert, leave me alone” vibe.

If this describes you, I have but one thing to say: Knock it off. You’re giving the rest of us a bad name. You’re the reason that musicians don’t like sound guys (and gals). You’re the reason the rest of us have to work so hard to build credibility with the bands we mix.

I’ve mixed for 20+ years and have yet to feel that I’ve mastered this art. I’ve gotten pretty good at it, but I have so much more to learn. Yesterday, one of my newest sound guys (who’s still a set up tech at this point) made a suggestion about mic’ing cymbals that made a lot of sense to me. I’m going to try it this weekend. He’s a great example of how sound guys should act. Paying attention, learning and making suggestions. I expect great things from him in the coming years.

Technological Worship: Style or Substance

OK, I admit it. I crowdsourced this blog topic. The last few months have been really draining, and I’ve been running low on ideas (actually, I have tons of ideas, but they’re all half-baked). So, I turned to the Twitterverse for some suggestions. Today’s topic is courtesy of Mark (@soulfisher), one of our volunteer lighting techs at Upper Room. The bad news: This topic is not mine, and I’m not exactly sure what he meant. The good news is: This is my blog, and I can make it mean whatever I want. It’s good to be the king…

The role of technology in the worship experience has been subject for debate for a long, long time. What I always find amusing is how the modes of worship that one generation holds as sacred are the same modes that were heresy in the previous generation. Denominations have split over the use of drums in worship (I am not making this up). Surely, electric guitars are straight from the Devil himself! Well, maybe not…

As a geek and lover of modern technology, I have struggled to find the appropriate place for technology in the worship experience. I’m pretty good at playing both sides of the argument, too. For example, I’ve written quite extensively about how I am enjoying the community that I find myself part of through Twitter (here, here and here). I’ve also written about the need to put down the laptop and the iPhone and go talk to another human face to face (here). It is with this same two-faced approach that I deal with worship technology.

Must Have Balance

Mr. Miyagi taught the Karate Kid that he needed to improve his balance if he ever wanted to kick the bully’s behind and win the girl (I’m paraphrasing). Thus we have the iconic shot of Ralph Macchio in the crane position on a pier by the ocean. I like to approach technology in worship in the same way. In fact, I can often be found practicing my crane during many worship services.

Seriously, we work really hard at Upper Room to make technology invisible, yet effective in enhancing the worship experience. I’m not really interested in having the coolest light show in the Twin Cities, or the most awesomest video projection, or the craziest sets. When we look at our technology, we ask, “Will this enhance worship or draw attention to itself?” If the answer is the later, we cut it or change it until we get to the former.

Sometimes I see videos of other churches worship gatherings and I think to myself, “Really? That looks more like a concert than a worship service.” I struggle with being both jealous of the cool technology and judgmental of how that technology is used. Then I remember that neither emotion is called for and thank God that all those people were in a church that Sunday.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t seriously evaluate how we use technology, however. Just because we can draw a crowd doesn’t mean we are connecting people to God. In fact, I would argue that sometimes the very things we do to reach out to people actually get in the way of connecting people to God. There are those in the unchurched world who look at a church building with a $2 Million A/V install and ask, “Really? There’s another typical church, spending all their money on themselves.” Is that true? Maybe, maybe not. But was the question ever even asked? Something to think about.

Must Be Relevant

Something the church in general has never been very good at is staying relevant to the current culture. To some extent, “relevant” has become a dirty word in many churches. Again, it’s amusing that “relevant” is despised by some as being too trendy at the expense of the Gospel, and by others as selling out, at the expense of the Gospel.

Still, the church needs to communicate to the people of this planet in a language they understand. That language is rapidly changing, and the church needs to keep up. The challenge lies in being true to the message of Jesus, yet framing it in a way that people today can understand and respond to it. Again, balance is in order. While we tend to think that people today want a lot of flash and bang in their worship service (because that was all the rage in culture 20 years ago), the culture is actually moving on and is now looking for more relationships. The huge explosion in Facebook and Twitter belie the true yearning of our society; people want to find meaning through relationships.

So while concert quality sound and lighting might be entertaining, it’s really not meeting the needs that people actually have. We’re just entertaining them long enough for them to forget how lonely they (we) actually are.

We spent a lot of time in dialog with our church community as we launched out as a church plant. We heard a great many comments about how people want to connect with other people, feel like a family and be in significant relationships. We didn’t hear a single comment about wanting better sound, or cooler lights. We have those things in our new space, but we did it on a dime because we want to put most of our effort into actives that draw people together.

Must Be Real

Which brings me to my third point; we must be real. As I watch some of the American Idol-ish church services on the web, I  wonder, “Is this real, or is it a show?” Go to 30 mega churches in the US and you’ll see the same thing; reasonably attractive people in hip clothing singing popular songs played by a rad band with cool lights. Are we being real or are we simply trying to be NorthCreekGraingerBack (no offense to any of those ministries).

For too long, the church has tried to be something it’s not. We’ve hidden behind walls of all kinds; high liturgy, the priests, icons, and today, technology. We need to admit who we are, and be who we are. Believe it or not, people want to connect with us, as we are, and when they’re ready, to God. Don’t let technology get in the way of that. On the other hand, if you can find ways to use technology to create an environment where people can connect with God and each other, use it! Just don’t become a slave to it. When you do, it just needs to keep getting bigger and badder than last week (and the church down the road).

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to work on my crane…

Be Still…

Those of use who proudly claim the moniker “Geek” are a rare breed. We’re different from most people around us. Almost every geek I know surely has input as a key strength (if you’re not familiar with StrengthsFinder 2.0, check it out). We’re constantly listening to music or podcasts; watching TV or movies; reading or updating blogs; posting and following Twitter or Facebook; messing around with new software on our computers; reading trade magazines and industry websites; talking geek with other geeks. And that’s in our time off. When we’re working we add to that list mixing or editing audio; creating video and graphics; programming lighting; preping presentation graphics; scheduling and leading volunteer teams; generally being creative and producing moments of great artistry in our auditoriums and sanctuaries. We’re a busy lot, and for the most part, we like it that way.

Most geeks I know thrive on being busy and under some level of pressure. We don’t like the status quo. When we have our systems in place and running smoothly, we have a sudden urge to tear the entire system apart–all in an effort to make it “1” better.

Those of use who work in churches are on a constant cycle of deadlines. In addition to Sundays (which come with frightening regularity), we have the high holidays and usual ministry cycle. It seems that our calendars are broken down into quarters that have us always preparing for the next big event. It never stops. And for the most part, we like it that way.

As good as we may be at our various geekly positions, there’s one thing we tend to misunderestimate (props to G.W. for creating that word for us): The value of being still. For a geek, being still is probably one of the hardest things to do. So we don’t do it. Yet we must.

I’ve noticed a pretty repeatable pattern in my life: When I’m on the go constantly for extended periods of time (think months), I begin to run dry. I start running out of ideas for the blog. I don’t feel like creating anything at work. The thought of having friends over for dinner seems unappealing. Even sleep gets hard.

But if I stop.

Just for a bit.

And be still.

Things change.

I decided to spend an hour today just sitting alone in my living room. I sat next to an open window, closed my eyes and just listened. In the kitchen, I could hear the steady hum of the refrigerator (which runs a lot, what’s up with that?); outside I heard the distant call of birds; the occasional rumble of a plane taking off; farther off I could hear the incessant rush of traffic on I-35W.

At first it was hard. I wanted to grab my laptop and do something. But the longer I sat there, the more I felt renewed.

I felt refreshed.

Inspired.

Alive.

Loved.

Now that we’re through Easter, and things have settled down, take some time to be still.

Relax.

Chill.

Unplug.

Be still, and know that I am God.

Be still, and know that I Am

Be still, and know

Be still

Be

You’ll be glad you did.

peace

A Few More ProPresenter Tricks

Fresh on the heels of my last post, I thought of a few more tips that might be helpful. Actually, Dave Smith over at Creative Church Media reminded me of one, which promoted me to think of a second (giving credit where credit is due…).

ProPresenter is designed to be a “point and shoot” interface. Click on a slide and it goes live. It’s a great concept, and one of the attributes that makes it so easy to teach to volunteers. They don’t have to learn any fancy keystrokes, or weird icons. Just click the slide. Or hit the spacebar. That’s pretty easy.

But there are times when the keyboard is faster. As much as I’m a fan of the mouse, I’m a bigger fan of keyboard shortcuts. Like when the worship leader goes back to the chorus–which is faster, look down to the control screen, grab the mouse, find the right slide, move the pointer to the slide and click…or…hit the “C” key? Here’s how it works.

Any slide can have a hot key associated with it. Any slide can have a hot key associated with it.To get to this menu, I simply control clicked (actually, I right-clicked ’cause that’s how my mouse is set up) on slide 2, which is Verse 1–A. You can see I’ve already assigned “B” to the first slide of the bridge, “C” to the first slide of the chorus, and “I” to the instrumental. If I had screen capture software, you’d see me next assign “V” to Verse 1–A. It might play out like this:

You have  the song set up to go verse, instrumental, chorus, instrumental, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, chorus. But at the last minute, the WL goes back to the bridge at the end. Rather than hunt around for the bridge slides, just hit “B.” Done. If he goes back for an acoustic reprise of verse 1, it’s “V.” Or “C” if he finishes up with the chorus. This particular song is pretty easy, but there are plenty of others that get big and complicated and these quick keys could get the right slide on the screen a lot faster. The only downside is that you can only use a single letter, and it’s a-z only. You can’t use numbers for hot keys. Why not? Because you can access slides individually with the number keys!

Use the number keypad or the ones on the main keyboard and access any slide in a presentation directly. Use the number keypad or the ones on the main keyboard and access any slide in a presentation directly.Here, I’ve just hit the number 2 key. Pro throws up this nice orange box to confirm that 2 is in fact what you want. Hit return or enter and you’re there. If you’re good with the numeric keypad, you could really fly around a presentation with this trick. While I doubt any song would ever get this long, you can go up to 4 digits of slide numbers. If anyone has a presentation with 1,000+ slides in it, please let me know!

Still, this is a cool way to quickly get around a song without trying to figure out where the pointer went. I applaud Renewed Vision for putting these shortcuts in there, because as great as the mouse is, the keyboard is faster in the hands of a skilled operator. You want to be a skilled operator, don’t you? Thought so!

ProPresenter Time-Savers

I’m really kind of lazy. Actually, that’s not true. I have a serious work ethic. Though people at work make fun of me for rarely showing up before 9 (to me 9:20 is still “9”), I rarely leave before 6, and it’s not uncommon to find me at my desk at home doing system design or something until 11 PM. So, perhaps it’s not laziness as much as an intense desire to be efficient.

I’m an INTP, and if you know Myers-Briggs, that explains a lot. Time means something different to me than it does to most people. My desire is to get as much done in a given amount of time so that I can get on to doing other stuff (also efficiently, I might add). But all that is really a set up to what this post is all about. Yes sir, this post is about ProPresenter. And being lazy. Here are a few tips on how I get more done in less time.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Planning will set you free. And the first step in planning is to actually have one. A plan, that is. That begins with the lyric sheets from the worship leader. Our worship pastor, Jon, has the best lyric sheets and song scans ever. Seriously. Here’s an example:

A typical lyric sheet. (click to enlarge) A typical lyric sheet. (click to enlarge)It’s very easy to see the different song sections, and what order he’ll sing them in. And if he deviates, he’ll call it out from the stage before he does it. I love that about him. So now that we know what the various pieces of the song should be called, here’s how I set it up on ProPresenter.

First, my rule of thumb is to not have more than 4-5 lines of a song on the screen at any given time. I’ve found any more than that is confusing, and people lose their place. That means that most verses need to be broken up into a few slides, as will some choruses and the occasional bridge. One thing I love about ProPresenter is the ability to assign labels to every slide. So I do. Take a look.

It's more than a pretty color scheme. It's highly functional. (click to enlarge) It’s more than a pretty color scheme. It’s highly functional. (click to enlarge)You’ll see Verse 1–A, Verse 1–B, Verse 1–C, Verse 1–D. You’ll see Chorus A and Chorus B. You’ll even see Bridge A, and Bridge B, Bridge C and Bridge D. Why? Because I never want to get the slides out of order on accident. You see, I could label all four Verse 1 slides “Verse 1.” But what happens if I accidently mix up the order when I’m editing? Then I have to refer back to the chart to figure it out. And remember, I’m lazy. Doing it this way makes it super-easy to make sure you have every slide of every section in the right spot. Efficient, huh? And you can pre-populate the labels list with all these labels.

All my frequently used labels. Out of order, but still handy. All my frequently used labels. Out of order, but still handy.Sadly, as of right now, Pro mixes up the nice, logical order you put them in, but I just alerted them to this fact, and hopefully we’ll have a fix soon.

Now, another thing you’ll see is that each slide has a color assigned to it. This is another favorite ProPresenter feature. I came up with a pretty random, yet now standard, color scheme for all our songs. Verses are blue, pre-choruses are magenta, choruses are purple, bridges are orange, tags are red and blanks are yellow. It took a little while to get used to the color scheme, but it makes it super-fast (and super-easy) to find a slide on the fly when the song change.

Chose your colors carefully. They'll save you in a pinch. Chose your colors carefully. They’ll save you in a pinch.Let’s say we’re finishing up the bridge. The order calls for a chorus next, but instead the worship leader decides to loop back to the verse. If you’re staring at a sea of grey slides, finding it takes a few seconds. However, if you know the verse is blue, you click the first blue slide in a sequence of blue slides, and blammo, the right slide is on the screen..

And the best part is, after a few months, you start to get your catalog of songs all labeled and color-coded, and when you start building worship orders, it takes but a few seconds to scan the slides and the lyric chart to make sure everything is set correctly for this week. If the order changes, it’s easy to do it because you’re moving blocks of color around, not random grey slides. It’s what I like to call a win-win-win.

Oh, and here’s one more tip for you (and this one is free). If you already have a song in your library that you want to use this system with, you don’t need to individually label every instance of Verse 1–A, or Chorus A. Clover-click on each Chorus A slide (for example), then right-click on the last one of the set, and choose your label. It labels them all in one shot. Same goes for colors. With colors it’s even faster, because if you clover-click the first one in a series, then shift-clover-click the last one, it selects all in between. Then you can right-click and pick your color. I just saved you a half-hour over the next month of labeling slides.

Now go color-code some slides. You’ll thank me later.

Re-Mix: Lessons Learned from a 12-Year Old

Taking a cue from Stuff Christians Like (and Jon probably stole this idea from someone else–that’s how we bloggers roll…), I’m pulling up a remix. Actually “remix” might imply that I’ve done something to change up this post since it was originally published. But I didn’t I just re-read it because it came up as a “Related Post” when I previewed yesterday’s post. After reading it, I thought, “Dang, that was a good post, maybe one of my best.” Pardon the blip of big-headedness. But really, it’s a good one. And since I have some 200 new readers since I wrote it (according to Feedburner, if you can trust the wildly fluctuating stats), I thought it might be a good idea to re-post it. So without any more introduction, I present, Lessons Learned from a 12-Year Old.

Today was a proud moment for me. My youngest daughter turned 12, which is a pretty humbling thing in itself. More than that, though, she also ran ProPresenter for “big church” for the first time today. And she did it like a seasoned veteran. As I watched her fire off cue after cue with Olympic sharpshooter accuracy, I started thinking what we could learn her. So here are a few things that Robyn can teach us.

Know the Music

Robyn is already an accomplished musician, and she really knows music. Because she often listens to praise and worship music, she was already very familiar with the songs we sung today. That gives her a real leg up when running ProPresenter (and Media Shout before that–that’s right, she’s 12 and she’s dual platform!). Because she knows the music, she can tell when the worship leader is circling back around to a chorus, or transitioning to the bridge. I watched her quickly navigate to the right slide so fast no one would have ever guessed it was a different order–all because she heard the 2 measure change and went to the right place.

Think Ahead

I also watched her continually scan the presentation to see where the song was going. Even on the first run through, she was paying attention to what was coming up, and if the played order was different from the given order, she caught the change and fixed it before anyone had a chance to say anything.

Cover Your Bases

There were a few sections of two songs that the worship leader sang differently each time through. Without any prompting, I watched as Robyn had one hand on the space bar and another on the mouse. Depending on how the song actually went she would hit space and go to the chorus repeat, or click and drop right into the bridge. Because she had two options, she got the right slide on the screen every time.

Pay Attention

This is an area that she just excels at. She was on top of the songs, and managed to follow the speaker who came in with a “manuscript” that was often more of an outline. She didn’t wander off mentally as a lot of us are prone to do. I didn’t have to remind her to hit any cues, even ones that weren’t purely scripted. She paid attention to what was happening in the room, and got the right slide on the screen at the right time.

Know Your Computer

One reason she is so good at ProPresenter is that she’s been using computers since she was 2. She’s taught herself Photoshop. She’s figured out how to set up websites on her own. She has been building PowerPoint presentations for 5 years. For fun. Because she’s so familiar with how computer programs work, she made the switch from Media Shout to ProPresenter in 30 minutes. Actually, it was less than that. I gave her a 20 minute tour, she played with it for a bit and pronounced, “It’s a lot like Media Shout, only more spread out.”

Care

Part of the reason she did a great job tonight is because she really wanted to. Now that might seem obvious, but how often do we approach our work as just something else we need to get done. In contrast, she really wanted to do a great job. Even though she nailed it during rehearsal, as we walked back in to the sanctuary after taking communion, she said, “OK, I’m starting to freak out now…” She had a good, healthy level of anxiety and wanted to get it right. Too often we lose that.

Now, I’d like to take credit for all of this great training and instinct. But the truth is, she’s just really good at it. And before I even had a chance to train her, somebody else (the volunteer in charge of tech for the kids ministries at Crosswinds–great job Kyle!) had shown her the ropes and taught her good technique.

I think there were some that were nervous about having a 12-year old running ProPresenter tonight. Our guest speaker’s assistant hovered in the booth for the first service (and only the first service, he didn’t have to give any direction at all!). I’m pretty sure my boss was skeptical, but by the end of the first worship set, he jumped on the com and said, “Maybe we should have middle schoolers run ProPresenter every weekend!” In fact, I am writing this as she’s cuing the second worship set for the 7 PM service. I don’t have to think about it!

At the end of the day, any potential critics were silenced. The good news is that anyone can learn from her and improve their game. Whether you’re 12 or 72 (you know, there’s just no way to gracefully illiterate 12…) you can give your best in service to our Lord. Just follow these simple instructions. “And the children shall lead them…”

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