Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: October 2009 (Page 1 of 2)

More Stuff Seen on the Show Floor

On the third and final day of WFX, I spent almost the entire day on the show floor. We’re getting ready to upgrade a lot of equipment at Coast, so I needed to get some hands-on time with as much gear as I could. Here are a few things I saw that impressed me.

Vari-Lite VLX

The new VLX Wash fixture. The new VLX Wash fixture.This is Vari-Lite’s first foray into the LED moving-head market, and it’s a big one. With an output of 14,000 lumens (full white), it’s quite bright. The field of light is very even, and the fact that the color temperature is continuously variable from  about 3,000 to almost 9,000 is a very nice touch. The colors are rich and intense. It seemed reasonably quiet on the not terribly noisy show floor, and it’s heat output was a fraction of a nearby 2500. It is designed as a wash fixture, and has a zoom range of 23-58 degrees. The only real downside is the cost–almost $8,000. However, when you consider that the LED modules are rated to last 10,000+ hours, it’s not a bad value.

Not sure you can order them this way, but it looked cool! Not sure you can order them this way, but it looked cool!They had one on the floor with a clear case to show off the internal guts. Each LED module is designed for easy removal and replacement if needed.

Wybron LED Fixture

Wybron LED Spot Wybron LED SpotThis is a nice fixture. Sadly, I can’t tell you much about it specifically because Wybron has 0 information on their web site (and I didn’t grab a tear sheet). What I can tell you is that it’s crazy-bright, produces rich, saturated colors and kicks out a really nice white. If I remember correctly, it’s a RGBW fixture, meaning there is actually a White LED inside–that gets the whites dialed in well. We looked at the output on the black ceiling of the convention center (a good 25′) and it has some punch. I will go up to 9 channels of DMX for very fine control.

They had it set up next to a Color Kinetics ColorBlast 12 and an 11″ Selador. There was no comparison. The Wybron LED blew them both away, both in output and in color intensity. It’s a bit pricey on a single fixture basis (around $2,200) however, when you consider the output, it does the work of 2-4 other fixtures in the LED market. So it’s not a bad value at all. Wybron–get this on your web site; you have a great fixture here!

The SamePage Music and Mixing System

The SamePage system. (the white spot on the near monitor is a reflection--sorry about that!) The SamePage system. (the white spot on the near monitor is a reflection–sorry about that!)This is another product that I’m pretty excited about. I went to WFX fully expecting to be ordering an Aviom system for our band. I had heard about SamePage and was a bit curious, but left the booth (after 45 minutes) pretty much blown away. SamePage started off as a sheet music replacement. It has a very powerful software engine to manage, display and annotate sheet music–on a touch screen monitor. Similar in size to a large music stand, all the stations are tied together on a network. When the music leader advances songs, all the other stations follow along. If notes are added, everyone gets them. The music leader can build playlists from home, and when the band arrives, all the necessary music is on their station. Pretty cool–but as a tech guy, I don’t care that much. That is, I didn’t care until they added the mixing module.

Based on the Mamba digital snake system, SamePage has integrated a 16 channel personal mixer into each station. Taking cues from Aviom and RSS, they have build a very powerful personal mixing network. It’s possible to send up to 32 channels down the network (from either ADAT, AES or Analog inputs) and let each station select up to 16 of them. Each musician can then mix, on the touch screen, their personal mix. Each input features a simple 2 band EQ as well as panning and muting. You can even name each channel.

Latency is around 60 microseconds with a digital input, so it’s really not a factor. The cost is slightly higher than an Aviom system, but given the added functionality of the music system, it’s an easy sell for me. I expect to be getting some demo units next week (hopefully!), and will write more once we get hands on. There is a lot to this system, and I can tell you it’s put my Aviom order on hold. It was also great to talk with the guys from SamePage and hear their plans for upcoming products, some of which are on the down-low–but I can tell you it’s going to be cool.

Affineon LED Downlights

The LED-based DL. The LED-based DL.This is another one of those products that for me, is a game-changer. These are good-looking, insanely bright LED architectural lighting fixtures. The current DL product is white–you specify the color temperature when you order. It’s fully dimmable, with an extremely smooth dimming curve.

There are four fixtures, with outputs ranging from just over 4,000 lumens to over 15,000. They replace incandescent or Metal Halide fixtures, matching output for about 1/2 the power consumption. Couple that with a 50,000 hour life, much lower heat output and consistent color temperature over the entire dimming curve and you have a great product. We’re looking hard at these for our house lighting fixtures.

They also plan on doing a RGBW version on a moving yoke. When Teddy of Affineon told us about that, I said we had to see one when he had it ready. So stay tuned for a hands on review of that once it’s available early next year.

So there you go. There wasn’t a lot of great new stuff on the show floor this year, but the stuff mentioned here  in these posts is what made an impact on me. More to come as I get product in my hands to play with.

Seen on the Show Floor

Once again, with the best intentions I set off the show floor of the WFX conference. I had planned on being able to take lots of great pictures and upload them here almost in real-time. Reality however, is a cruel mistress; wi-fi connectivity is very spotty and 3G service is non-existent. And I had a lot to see. A few things stood out, though and I’ll post a quick commentary on them here.

The RED One

RED One Camera RED One CameraThis is just a very cool video camera. It will shoot all the way up to 4K and with that big lens on the front, produces a pretty nice image. The output has a very film feel to it. Amazingly, the camera body is only about $17K, and the lens is around $10K (sorry I don’t recall how long it is, but it’s a nice zoom). Might be a little overkill for IMAG, but for the aspiring film maker out there…

The Reveal Ellipsoidal

Reveal Ellipsoidal Light Fixture--All LED-based Reveal Ellipsoidal Light Fixture–All LED-basedThis fixture is a completely LED-based ellipsoidal. The output field is incredibly even and bright. However, what makes it stand out is the fact that you can do full RGB color mixing inside the fixture. Pick a color temperature of the white you want, and it will go there. They’re a bit pricey right now (somewhere around $1800), but I expect them to come down as the technology takes hold.

Echolab ATEM Switcher

Echolab ATEM Switcher Echolab ATEM Switcher
I haven’t been this excited about a product in a long time. After a 45 minute demo (with the president of the company!), I’m pretty well sold on it for our next production switcher. It will input SDI (HD or SD), analog component, Y-C, Composite, and HDMI. The input section alone saves me over $4000 in converters in our system. It features 12 internal keyers and 5 DVEs. It also has an impressive macro section which allows you to assign complex transitions or setups to a single key–great for volunteers. At around $19K, it’s a winner.

And Finally

Spell Check Anyone? Spell Check Anyone?
Oopsie. Dave Stagl suggested that perhaps it’s a reference to the dual-diaphragm construction of the KSM9. Never underestimate the value of having just one more person look over your artwork before you send it out for 8-foot tall prints…

More to come!

WFX, Here We Come!

This morning, my associate TD, Gary, and I (though I often refer to him as the Assistant to the Technical Director–just for fun) will be heading east to Charlotte, NC to attend WFX. I was able to go last year, and had a great time. It was fun being able to hang out with Colin (@faithtools) and his sound guy Erik (or was it Eric…?). I also met with a bunch of other TDs and technology leaders from all over the country. This year should be even better since the CTDRT is gaining members daily, some of whom are also going to WFX.

And that’s one great reason to go to a conference like that. It’s always great to rub shoulders with other TDs. We often have a lonely job, and it’s good to meet other people to encourage, and who can encourage us. But that’s not the only reason. In fact, the biggest reason I’m going (and it’s a different reason today than it was 6 months ago) is to look at gear. We’re in a season at Coast where we need to update or upgrade just about every system we have. So I need to look at a lot of gear and meet with a lot of vendors. Here’s a sampling of the stuff I’ll be looking closely at:

LED Lighting

Most of you know, we’re in the midst of a process to figure out how to convert our entire lighting system, including house lights, to LEDs. Not sure yet what we’ll be going with, but I expect to see some promising fixtures at WFX.

HD-SDI Video Switchers

Our old MX-50 is getting pretty long in the tooth, and is really not meeting our needs. I’m particularly interested in  the Panasonic HS-400 and the For-A HVS-300. But then, Sony has a nice one, and the GV Indigo is not out of the running. Maybe even Broadcast Pix (though I’m still leery of a switcher built on XP…)

Wireless Mics and Aviom Systems

I don’t really need to look at this stuff–I know what I want. But I’ll be shopping a few more vendors for package pricing. And there’s always a possibility that I’ll see something compelling that will make me re-think my Shure UHF-R and Aviom systems.

Finally, the other reason I’m going is to teach a class or two. I had submitted a few proposals last spring, and one was accepted; The Ins and Outs of In-Ear monitors. Then I was asked to moderate a panel on Using Video to Enhance Services. Then I was asked to sit in on a panel on using Character Generators, Edge Blending and Graphics for Medium to Large Churches. Next, I was asked to lead a roundtable on Troubleshooting. Guess they’re really hard up for speakers this year…

Anyway, I’m really looking forward to it. I get to sit at the table with some solid people like Anthony Coppedge, Brad Weston, and Walter Silverman. I’ll also be  blogging as much as I can from the Expo floor as I find cool stuff. I’m pretty sure my iPhone WordPress app is up and running smoothly now, and I won’t be searching for Wi-Fi (assuming I can get 3G coverage inside the convention center. Here’s hoping!

And if you’re attending WFX this year, be sure to ping me on Twitter. I know we’re going to try to meet up with as many CTDRT people as we can.

When Crazy Becomes the New Normal

crazy-new-normal

I had a really good and interesting conversation with my boss last week. We were discussing what it means to run at a sustainable pace. His spiritual director had just asked him what changes he would need to implement in order to be still excited about doing what he’s doing when he is 50. I thought that was an excellent question. Though if you’re as close to 50 as I am, you may need to push the time out a little further for this to be meaningful…

The real question is this: Can I maintain the pace I’m currently at which I’m currently moving for another 15 years? And if not, what needs to change?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on this. Partially because I’ve been on the ragged edge of burnout more than a few times, and partially because I just changed jobs and it’s a natural time to think about it. I’m also a recovering workaholic, and it doesn’t take much for me to slip back into the “do whatever it takes to get it done” mode. One of the things Todd and I talked about was a season like we’re in right now; 8 weeks from the Christmas program, about to launch into a ton of technology upgrades, re-defining the worship experience at Coast, managing the current levels of giving… That doesn’t all fall on our shoulders alone, but we’re affected by it. And we both have personal things going on at home–nothing tragic or out of the ordinary–just additional stuff that we’re dealing with. So we know we’re in a crazy season right now. The danger is that “crazy” becomes the new “normal.”

I think those of us with a bent toward perfectionism and workaholism can easily ratchet up “normal” until we’re running so fast and so hard we can’t make it a year. Then we burn out and look for another job. Wash, rinse, repeat. This is not good.

As I’ve been thinking of ways to combat this tendency in my own life, here are a few things I’ve been wrestling with.

Take the Long View

It’s really hard for me to not have everything “finished” by the end of next week. It doesn’t matter how absurd that concept is, I feel like I should have it all done and under control by next week, the week after by the latest. And as much as things like the CTDRT are helpful, they often add to that self-imposed pressure. I hear a great idea someone is doing with their volunteers and I want to implement it (and experience great success and fruit with it) right now. Or I’ll have lunch with someone who will describe something they are doing and I think, “I need to add that to my regimen.”  It’s crazy, but it’s how my mind works.

So when I get stuck in that, I try to re-think the plan in terms of years. I’ve always been really good at being able to see what is not as it is, but as it could be. The problem for me is I don’t think it should take as long as it does. And recent events in my life have caused me to want to plan in months, not years. Now, I’m making a concerted effort to think in terms of years. I’ve been saying things like, “OK, that’s a great idea. That’s going to be a year three implementation.” I may start it next year, but thinking further out forces me to relax my pace a little.

Force Myself to Take a Break

This has been harder. I’ve only been here a few months, and I’m taking my first weekend off at the end of October. We techies are notorious for feeling like we have to be there every weekend. We don’t! We tend to hoard our vacation time, then never take it because we can’t take 3 weeks off at once before it expires. One thing I need to do is sit down with my boss and map out my vacation schedule for the year. I want to look over the church calendar and plot out a weekend off every 2-3 months, plus a week off, plus a few extras here and there.

That accomplishes a few things. First, it gives me much needed rest. Second, it creates and environment where I have to train others to do my job. Finally, it reminds me that I’m here for the long-term and need to think about it that way. I will also be planning my times off around busy times in the church calendar. That way I’m not trying to take a week off just before a critically busy time, and hopefully, I’ll be getting a break right after one.

Those are a few ways I’ve been trying to maintain a pace that I can keep up for many years. I really do want to be as excited about working at Coast Hills 10 years from now as I am today. And while I can’t control everything that goes into that, I can control my own contribution.

What say you?

Bringing Vocals Forward

Last time I told you about my adventures in learning the PM5D-RH. And while there are a few things I don’t like about the desk, it’s a pretty powerful system. Having 24 mix busses, plus 8 matrix mixes (effectively doubled when you have a DSP-5 as we do), you have a lot of flexibility when setting up your mix.

When we did our last webinar with Dave & Jason, Dave talked about a technique he dubs “the smash mix.” He uses it on drums and vocals to help pull them forward in the mix. I was quite intrigued, but never had the free mix busses (or time) to play around with it; until now.

In my case, I wanted to thicken up the vocals and bring them a little further forward in the mix. We are on all wedges right now (hoping to change that soon), so we have a lot of stage wash. Our vocals tend to get lost because we simply don’t have the dynamic range in our system. But if one simply turns them up, they stand out too much when they sing out, and still get lost when they pull back. Adding compression helps, but you can’t add enough to pull them forward without it sounding unnatural.

Here’s how this works: First, set up the vocals like you normally would. Dial in the EQ, apply some mild compression (I normally go for 2-4 dB of gain reduction using a 2:1 or 2.5:1 ratio, give or take) and assign them as you do normally. At this point, they may not have quite the presence in the mix you desire, so here’s the secret sauce. Take your vocals and in addition to assigning them to your main mix (or group, or DCA/VCA), assign them to a second mix bus. In my case, I used 24 because it was free and close to me (why reach?).

A quick look at our setup for a smash mix. Using Mix 24 and compressing that heavily before sending it to Stereo. A quick look at our setup for a smash mix. Using Mix 24 and compressing that heavily before sending it to Stereo.On this new mix, apply some pretty serious compression. I went for a pretty solid 10 dB all the time (low threshold, high ratio)–hence the name “smashed.” You really want to pull a lot of dynamic range out. Finally, assign this mix to your main outs (LR bus, or however you send signal to your speakers). Start bringing this up behind the vocals. You won’t need much before you’ll find them really stepping forward in the mix.

The theory behind it is pretty simple. Vocals can be pretty dynamic, with lots of peaks and valleys in the waveform. Those valleys are what tend to get lost. Because there can be a lot of range between the peaks and valleys, it’s hard to achieve the right balance between too loud and too soft. Adding in the smash channel keeps the valleys from becoming too deep; the massive compression keeps it from adding much to the peaks. Thus, your overall dynamic range is reduced, without sucking the life out of the sound. Vocals can be brought right out front of the mix without adding additional volume.

One word of caution. This technique works on just about anything. I already mentioned Dave does this on his drums. You could put it on keys, guitar, whatever. However, if you use this technique on everything, you’ll find yourself right back where you started. So use it sparingly!

Another word of note. Doing this in the digital domain is really easy, but if may introduce some slight delay artifacts due to the processing time. On vocals, it’s fine as the delay simply thickens them up a bit. On drums it might introduce some smear so you may need to get creative to fix it. In the analog world, there’s no time lost, however it may introduce some phase shift. So be aware and be prepared to tweak it a bit.

Now go play with your mix!

Time for Another Webinar: Vocals

I’m excited to remind you that this Thursday, Oct. 15 at 10 PM EDT/7 PM PDT, my friends Dave, Jason & I will be hosting another TokBox webinar. We’ve done a few of these, notably on the wireless mic situation and drum mic’ing. This month’s installment will be titled, “Our Favorite Things: Vocals.” We’ll be talking all things vocals. Dave will talk about EQ strategies, getting most from vocals as well as mic placement/technique. Jason plans to talk about effects processing. I’ll be along mostly for the ride, and will try to keep things moving and wrangle questions from our live studio audience (not really–you’ll all be virtual).

If you missed out on the last two, here are a few quick guidelines. I’ll post a link to the TokBox about 5 min before we start both here and on Twitter. Make sure you have headphones or ear buds, and mute your mic when you join (roll over your picture and click the little mic icon). If you have specific things you’d like us to discuss, please leave them here in the comments section. We’ll also be taking questions live using the chat function or classroom style (raise your hand, and wait for me to call on you–too many people talking at once on TokBox gets confusing fast; technology in it’s infancy).

These are a lot of fun to do, and if history proves correct, really informative. Mark your calendars and make sure you join us this Thursday.

For more information on TokBox etiquette, read this article.

Learning a New Board

Last weekend, we were about 20 minutes in to our stage set up when I realized there was a problem. Our regular FOH guy was not there. He’s been contracted to mix at Coast for something like 20 years, and he’s very reliable. So we called him. Turns out, we had ourselves a little scheduling glitch. That is, we thought he was on, he thought he was not. No one’s fault really; what we had here was a failure to communicate. So we dropped back to plan b. Me.

Now, if you’ve read this blog at all, you know I love to mix. It’s just about my favorite thing about doing tech in church and I jump at the chance to do it when I can. I had been planning to add myself to the schedule, and spend a few hours during the week getting to know the board. So while normally, I would have been pretty excited; instead I was a tiny bit nervous. At front of house sits a PM5D-RH-EX. Basically, it means we have a 5D (with recallable preamps) and a DSP5 on stage. I’ve mixed on a number of Yamaha digital boards and a ton of analog ones, but never the 5D. Yamaha, in their infinite wisdom, designs a completely new user experience with every digital board, so there was not a lot to draw from–at least in terms of the control surface.

Yamaha PM5D-RH Yamaha PM5D-RHAnd that’s when it hit me. All I was doing was learning a new control surface. I know how to mix. I know EQ, compression, gating, where to place things in a sound field, setting gain, the whole works. All I was doing was learning a new control surface. Everything that I need is there, it’s a simple matter of figuring out where it is. Besides that revelation, I had two other things going for me; we have a monitor guy and I know Studio Manager like the back of my hand.

First and foremost, having a monitor guy really saved me (thanks, Phillip!). The fact that I didn’t have to deal with figuring out the surface while getting 9 monitor mixes dialed in was a huge plus. I’ve always mixed monitors from FOH and wondered what the big deal of having a monitor engineer was. Now I know. I no longer take them for granted (or want to get rid of them!).

Second, I realized that I’ve used Studio Manager extensively. And thankfully, Yamaha does keep the interface for their various consoles pretty similar in SM. So, I called up the selected channel view, and whenever I couldn’t quickly find something on the surface, I did it in SM. And honestly, doing a lot of things is easier in SM anyway. Naming channels, patching, routing; even setting gains on the DSP is easier due to the reduced latency of the display (the 5D as a control surface is really sluggish).As the weekend wore on, I became more comfortable with our user-defined keys, the location of select buttons, and the different modes of the encoders. By the 5 Pm service on Saturday, I was feeling pretty comfortable. I even decided to try out a new process for fattening up the vocals and helping them stand out in the mix–a tip I learned from Dave Stagl (but never had enough free mix busses to try). But that’s another post–the next one, in fact!

The point of this post however, is to remind you that whenever you need to learn a new console, remember that all you’re learning is a control surface. Everything you already know about mixing is still valid. You simply need to learn where the buttons are and what the encoders do in what mode. And if you have access to the control software on a PC, your learning curve shortens even further.

Presenting Upgrade Projects

I had lunch with my boss (Pastor of Weekends) and Sr. Pastor this week. The purpose of the lunch was two-fold. First, I wanted to inform him of my findings as I’ve spent the last few months looking over our systems. Second, I wanted to get his feedback on which updates need to take priority over which other ones. Our church is probably in the same situation as yours–offerings are down. And we have some significant needs in the technical department. So while it would be easy to place an order for a half-million dollars on Monday, we can’t. Some things need to be done, others can wait.

The outcome of the meeting was very good. However, it started off just as many meetings of this nature start off. Right up front he said, “I want to ask you a question and I don’t want you to take it personally. Every tech director before you (and every other one I know) has always come in and said, ‘The last guy didn’t know what he was doing! It’s all got to go.’ Why should I listen to you?” Show of hands–anyone else ever heard that? I think my answer surprised him, and it bought me a lot of trust. Here’s a summary of what I said (and this concept did not originate with me, so don’t go thinking I’m a genius or anything).

Step One: Determine Ministry Philosophy

I started with this. We need to first define what it is we’re trying to accomplish on a weekend. We need to establish our overall ministry philosophy. Are we going for stripped-down, acoustic worship that’s coffee house style? Or are we going for a bigger rock and roll show look? Do we value volunteers in production positions or do we want paid staff people behind the board? Those and a few other questions need to be defined first.

Step Two: Philosophy Drives Programming

Once we have our Philosophy down, we can start developing our programming to support that. Again, how do we use the weekend to drive our ministry down the field (to use a butchered football analogy). All the programming decisions we make on a weekly basis will determine the next step.

Step Three: Programming Drives Technology

This should be obvious, but it’s not. Too often, we tech geeks have done things that lead to my pastor’s question. We buy technology just because it’s cool and exciting. We spend our budget because it’s there. We replace equipment because we didn’t buy it in the first place. However, none of this makes any sense. What drives the need for technology is programming.

For example, if programming is stripped-down acoustic worship designed to feel interactive and coffee-house like, you probably don’t need 72 moving lights. Or even 6. A 96 channel digital console is overkill. Twelve dual-eighteen subs is a waste of money (unless your coffee house happens to seat 4500 people). On the other hand, if you’re going for a live-concert experience, you need all of those things. In fact, it’s hard to pull that off without a pretty massive rig. Most of us probably land in the middle, but you get the point.

I think we’ve entered a new era in church technology. For the time being, I don’t think we’ll be at liberty to buy new stuff just because it’s there and it’s cool. We have to really pay attention to our expenses and make sure our large projects reap tangible benefits. Which finally brings me to point four.

Step Four: Technology Drives Budget

To me, it’s never made sense to arbitrarily assign a budget number to technology every year. We know some things such as consumables and maintenance are  pretty predictable. On the other hand, just putting in a line item of $10,000 or $20,000 or $50,000 for “New Equipment” is a bit nutty. It makes far more sense to define the ministry philosophy, determine the programming needs to support that, figure out what equipment we need to pull off that programming, and shop for the best price on that equipment. It’s easy, really.

When we present things in that light, it’s a lot easier for the pastor or board or congregation to say, “OK. I get why we need to spend $60K on lights.” When we walk in and say, “We need a digital console,” resistance will be a little higher.

Bonus Round: Ask for Input

Right now, we’re facing a situation where every single major system (and a few minor ones) need to be upgraded, updated or torn out and replaced. Obviously, we can’t do it all at once. So I asked our pastor which ones are a priority for him. And as much as I’d like a new PA before year’s end, really what we need to work on is getting our lighting and video systems upgraded. I’ll get a new PA eventually, but for now, it can wait.

This is not a fool-proof process, and I offer it up with no guarantees of success. However, I’ve talked to a bunch of tech directors who do this same process every time, and it just seems to work. It buys us a lot of trust so that when we do walk in say, “We need thus and so…” our leaders know we’re thinking it through.

Creating the Big Picture

Long-time readers of this blog know that I’m all about developing a well thought out game plan before starting any system upgrade. Perhaps it comes from my background in carpentry and construction–one would never (OK, at least one should never) undertake a new building or renovation project on without a well-developed plan. When trying to coordinate all the various trades–framers, plumbers, electricians, drywallers, finish carpenters–it’s imperative that all know what the outcome should look like when everyone is done with their piece of the job. Without a plan, the job gets botched; pieces don’t fit together, there are HVAC ducts where there should be lights and outlets where the trim should be. We’ve all seen it. And we’ve all seen it in the church with our technical systems.

It starts off innocently enough. Say we need to add some TVs to the lobby. Often the timeline and budget are tight so we run coax and feed it from an RF modulator which is looped out of the DVD recorder (I’ve seen this in more churches than I can count, by the way…). Then we need some TVs elsewhere. That leads to an RF distribution amp. It all works well enough except between services when the video guy finalizes the DVD, and everyone on campus sees the process.

A few years later, there is a new tech guy and he starts running a whole new standard. A few years later, it happens again. By the time we’re through, we have multiple standards–RF, DVI, HDMI, Twisted Pair, Composite Video, S-Video, HD, SD–running all over the building and no way to make everything talk to each other.

The same thing happens with audio and lighting. How many churches have DMX and MultiPlex in different (or even the same) rooms? How often have you seen multiple rooms in a facility each with a completely different compliment of equipment? Multiple wireless mic manufacturers, scalers, switches, mixers and lighting boards–we’ve all seen it. And there’s really no one to blame. It’s all done with the best intentions–save the church money, meet the needs, get it up and running quickly–all noble goals. Except it’s a mess. And eventually, it needs to be fixed.

Eventually, someone needs to develop a plan to bring all the systems under one umbrella. One thing that’s hard to acknowledge is that the best person for that job might not be the Tech Director. I know some great Tech Directors who are phenomenal audio guys. Their knowledge of building a mix, mic selection and the use of effects dwarf mine. And quite often, they don’t know that much about video or lighting systems. Sure, they can turn on the cameras & lights, run the board and make things work. But design an entire system? Probably not. They’re audio guys, and they like it that way. And I think that’s OK. At least until they start being asked to design an entire system.

As churches, we spend a lot of money on the wrong equipment. Often several times. Usually it’s because finding someone who can develop a solid long-term plan is rather difficult. More difficult, in fact, that just making something work. Sadly, I don’t have a fool-proof method for finding the right person to design a system. What I can tell you is that the more eyes that are on the plan the better.

I consider myself pretty good at system design. I understand signal flow and have a knack for developing efficient systems. And I love to learn, so I’ll spend hours researching. Still, I almost always run my plans by a number of other people who know as much or more (and sometimes less) than I do. Why? Because I always get good feedback and suggestions on how to do things better. When considering vendors, I’ll ask around to see if people I trust have had good experiences with XYZ company. And if not, who did they have a good experience with. I’ll bring in multiple vendors, manufacturers reps and consultants if need be to get the best system.

Does all that take longer? Yes it does, without question. But in the end, it’s the only way to ensure I’m spending my churches money in the most cost effective way possible. Note too, that the plans we ultimately come up with are probably not the cheapest up front. However, they will provide the most value in the end. And as for the time factor, I’d rather live with something that’s not working right for a few months than spend money 2 or 3 times fixing the problem. When I tear it out and fix it, it’s going to be right.

Understand too, that I say all of this not to ruffle feathers or make people feel bad. My motivation is to help the Church be as effective as possible while being wise stewards of the funds God has entrusted us with. Since I’m doing a lot of system design right now, over the next few months I’ll be letting you in on our process. Hopefully it will be helpful to some.

I’ll end with the words my college professor, Clint, was fond of admonishing us with, “Think it through.”

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