Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: July 2010 (Page 1 of 2)

Mixing Pt. 2 Webinar Now Available

Here is the audio from last week’s mixing webinar with Dave, Jason & myself. This was a particularly fun webinar with lots of great information. We talk about getting the low end right, stereo and imaging and even aux-feeding your hi-hat. Yup, you’ll have to listen to make sense of that one! As always, you can listen to the audio here using the player below, download the file from the link or subscribe to the iTunes podcast feed. Thanks for listening!

Download this Episode (below) or Subscribe in iTunes

Church Tech Arts Webinars: Mixing Pt. 2

Night of Worship

View from Front of House. That’s Kevin Sanchez capably manning Monitor world on stage left.This week we held a Night of Worship at Coast Hills. To say it was a big event would be an understatement. One could argue (and someone did point out) that we probably made it more of a production than it needed to be, but hey, that’s part of the fun. We had a big band to start with, a bunch of vocals, our two worship leaders plus a guest leader, so we thought it would be fun to throw some new technology into the mix. Rather than use our M7 for monitors, we asked Digico of we could borrow a second SD-8 to mix monitors from. We shared our DigiRack for inputs, using gain tracking to keep levels under control, and drove all 14 monitor outputs from a MADIRack connected to the monitor SD-8. We also multi-tracked the entire evening using a RME MADIFace at FOH. That sounds like a mouthful now that I’ve written it, so let me break it down.

First off, here is a diagram of our signal flow:

The stage rack was under complete control by the FOH console. It is connected via two 75 Ohm coaxial MADI cables; these cables provide 56 channels (in & out) plus control. At FOH, I used the Copy to MADI 2 option to duplicate the inputs right over to the RME MADIFace that is connected to the 17″ MacBook Pro running Reaper for multi-track recording. This takes every channel from the stage rack directly to the Mac immediately after the pre-amp. By pressing “Listen to Copied Audio” (after correctly setting up the routing in Reaper), each channel comes back into the console as if the band were still on stage.

The stage rack (a DIGIRack in our case) has both a main and aux MADI input/output. We connected the Aux Out to the monitor console’s MADI 1 input. This brought all the stage inputs into the monitor console. We engaged gain tracking so that any changes to the pre-amp gain stage made at FOH would be compensated for with the digital trim on the monitor console. Digital trim provides ±40 dB of gain, so there’s a lot of room for adjustment. Gain tracking worked pretty well overall, although my monitor engineer reported having to make some tweaks to the gain staging a few times, even with tracking on. We didn’t have time to really dig in, test it and get to the bottom of it, so I can’t say for certain if there are some minor issues, or if we needed to change our workflow. For our purposes it worked well enough; if I was considering doing this every week, I would test it more before committing.

Since we needed more than the 8 analog outputs provided for on the monitor SD-8 surface, we added a second local MADIRack using the MADI 2 I/O. The MADIRack was under complete control of the monitor surface. We simply routed the 6 wedge and 4 stereo ears mixes out the 16 outputs provided on the MADIRack.

I spent a fair amount of time in the offline software building the show for FOH. When it came time to load the show into monitor world, it went pretty seamlessly. The only issue we had was that I had selected Copy to MADI 2 in my FOH show, and we forgot to uncheck that option at monitors, which caused a few issues until it was discovered by Taidus Vallandi, Group One’s (DIGiCo’s US Distributor) intrepid Tech Guru who stopped by to pay a visit. Next time we’ll know better. Otherwise, we had to do some re-configuring of the surface to make it work better for monitors, do a little patching and we were good to go.

Our local Shure rep was kind enough to drop off a second PSM900 for our guest worship leader, and our monitor engineer Kevin Sanchez brought down a few G3 ears for our other worship leader.

After a bit of a rocky start, things went pretty smoothly. There was a little bit of a learning curve to the set up, but given that we started soundcheck at 2:15, the service at 6:30, and we had time to run every song, I call the test a success. At FOH, I snapshotted every song, which was a Godsend given how many changes I made during each one. After playing with the snapshot capabilities for a while, I’ve figured out how to create a template for a service in advance, then update the snapshots as we go. Again, that worked nearly flawlessly, with only a few minor issues with crossfade times.

We now have 11 songs on the hard drive, multi-tracked and ready to go for training, refining mixes, experimenting with effects or tuning the room. This is perhaps the feature I’m most excited about with respect to the SD-8. Honing the craft of mixing only comes with a lot of time and it will be great to go spend an hour or two during the week playing with stuff without having to tie up the band.

At the end of the night, we heard many comments about how powerful the worship was. This was a first for us, but I doubt it will be the last. Though it was a lot of work, it was a lot of fun.We created an environment where people could worship freely and that they did.

Another view of the stage

Help Us Help You

This is a follow-up to my previous post, Surviving VBS. It’s an open letter to Children’s Ministries, Student Ministries and any other ministry that needs to interact with their technical and production departments.

I’m a big movie fan, and I really liked the film, Jerry Maguire. The language was rather coarse, but the story line was excellent. In many ways, it had a lot of redemptive themes to it. But I digress. One of the more well-known scenes has Jerry standing in the locker room dealing with his reluctant client. He starts repeating over and over, “Help me help you. Help me help you! HELP ME HELP YOU!!” That’s the message I want to convey in this post. It’s not a rant about how disorganized or unprepared other ministries are, but a series of suggestions on how we can work together to create more effective programs. Here we go.

Over Communicate

Techies need a lot of details. Even things that you don’t think are significant can have a huge impact on what we do. One thing you can do to help us help you is to communicate everything. Take VBS for example; when you give us a schedule, don’t simply give us the schedule for the main room, give us the entire schedule. Let us decide what is important and what’s not because, and I mean this in the kindest possible way, you have no idea what’s important to us.

I wrote a post titled The Downside of Making it Look Easy sometime back, and it addresses this issue well. What tends to happen is that people who work in non-technical areas of ministry walk into the church service and see that everything happens seamlessly. Everyone on stage has a mic that’s turned on at exactly the right time. The band is heard and mixed well. Lights are lighting up what they’re supposed to and videos seems to appear from nowhere.

What you don’t realized is that there is a ton of preparation going into all of that, and all that preparation requires a ton of information. I know a week in advance what my band looks like, and I spend 30-60 minutes writing up a patch sheet and configuring my console to make sure every instrument is accounted for. It takes 2-3 people over an hour to set the stage, line check and get the mixing boards ready to go. Lights need to be focused and that requires a lift driving all over the stage. Videos need to be edited, converted and prepared properly in our presentation software. Someone spends hours setting up the run sheets that are timed to the minute so we know what’s coming next.

Help us help you by giving us all the information we need. Even things that you don’t think are significant (like needing 6 mics instead of 5 for a drama) can be a really big deal, especially if we don’t have 6 mics. I always tell other ministries that we can do anything, we just need to know about it in advance.

Answer Questions Quickly and Accurately

In my last post, I advised techies to ask questions, a lot of questions. Know that we’re not questioning your programming, your plans or your heart for impacting kids. We just need information. So if we keep peppering you with questions, just give us answers. If you don’t know yet, tell us you don’t know, don’t make something up. Or connect us with the person who does. We want to help you put together a great program. Whatever we don’t currently know, we’re going to ask about. Don’t take it personally, we just need information.

Don’t Try to “Save us Work”

Whenever someone tells me “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of it so you don’t need to do anything,” alarm bells start going off in my head. Usually what it means is that my workload just doubled, because now I’ll have to first fix or undo what someone else did, then do it right. The fact is, we’re really good at what we do, and you’re not really good at what we do. And rightly so; I’m not good with kids, and don’t want to spend my days working with them, that’s why I’m a techie. I want you to work with kids, let me deal with tech and production.

See, we do this every week. We have it down to a science. We know our rooms, our stage, our production and technical capabilities and can pull off amazing programs. As most other ministries do big productions once a year, we have roughly 50 times the experience you do. Leverage that, bring us into the process. When you bring in people to “do it for us,” it really makes our job harder. I put in an extra 10-15 hours last week because of the “help” that I had.

Know that I don’t doubt your motives here. I know you know we’re busy. You want to lighten our load, and that’s admirable. But please let us tell you how to lighten our load. I would never presume to tell you how to run your crafts or recreation programs because my experience there is negligible. What we do is specialized and complicated. Treat it accordingly.

Hopefully this will inspire some improved dialog between tech and other ministries. My goal is to better support the other ministries in the church, not dig on them for making our lives tough. The truth is we love what we do, and we’re really, really good at it. We want to be a big part of life-change as the rest of the staff. We simply do it differently. Use our gifts, and help us help you.

Surviving VBS

Last week was VBS for us (though we call is SVBS). As it was my first SVBS since coming to Coast Hills, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect (aside from a ton of really amped up kids screaming their cheers). I had some initial meetings with the kid’s ministries staff to talk about the details of the main sessions. Of course, when we actually got down to the first day, there were a lot of surprises. This is to be expected, however. One thing we need to keep in mind as techies is that when dealing with other ministries (and sometimes even the worship department), they always forget tech.

It’s not intentional, they just don’t think about it. Children’s workers are concerned with how their programs impact the lives of kids, not how it impacts us. And if you think about it, that’s the way it should be. With that in mind, that means we need to be really pro-active about getting the information we need to support them well.

What follows are some thoughts based on what I learned this week. In the moment, I have to admit that I was really frustrated at being deluged with all kinds of requests and changes at the last minute. As I thought through it during the week though, I realized that there were things I could have done to make it run more smoothly. So I’m going to come at this from two angles; first, what I should have done to make sure things go smoothly, and second, an open letter to other ministries on how to work with your technical staff to ensure smooth events. Since we’re the experts, I’ll tackle our side of the equation first.

Ask, Ask and Ask Again

As I said, children’s workers aren’t concerned about how their decisions impact tech. That means we need to be continually asking for information. Because I had a few crazy-busy weeks leading up to SVBS, I was not diligent in asking for more information. I assumed if they had information to me they would give it to me. I was wrong. For example, I knew there was a drama that needed 5 mics. I should have double and triple checked that the week before. Turns out there was a need for 6 mics. I found that out Monday.

I should have verified the schedule as well. The run sheets indicated that the main session started at 10:30, so I planned for my team to be there at 9. Turns out that there was a leader meeting scheduled at 8:30 and the kids would all be in the room at 9:00. I should have pressed for a detailed schedule breakdown of every minute of the week, regardless of whether it directly affected me or not.

The truth is, they don’t know what’s important for us to know and what’s not. So we have to keep asking questions until we get the answers we need. If something has not been communicated to you, assume you need to ask about it. Never assume they will tell you what you need to know.

Talk Directly to the Band

Or worship leader, or drama team, or anyone else who will be on the stage. Perfect example: We had a guy come in to lead worship; I was told it would be him and his guitar. So I prepped a DI, wireless handheld and a wedge. Monday morning, he walked out on stage wearing ears, a headset mic and carrying an iPhone (he was planning on playing back his tracks from that).

Now, I’m behind. We had to quickly drop another line, put in a stereo DI, grab a beltpack (which I re-synched to match the HH channel I had planned for) and set up the PSM900. Thankfully his headset mic had a Shure connector on it and we are a Shure house. Had I gone to Sennheiser last year, however, we’d have been in trouble!

Lesson learned: I should have directly contacted him and found out exactly what his needs were. You can’t trust a children’s worker to communicate the band/worship leader needs from a technical standpoint. They aren’t techies and don’t know that those few subtle changes make a huge difference in how we set things up. We have to be the proactive ones.

Ask for a Map

This was another failing on my part. VBS tends to take over the entire church campus. Rooms that aren’t typically used for production often have production going on. Sometimes that includes parking lots. In our case, we needed staging and portable PAs on both sides of our building, outside. One of the funny thing about portable, powered speakers is that they require power. It’s a rare church planner that thinks far enough ahead to put power in the parking lot (anywhere useful anyway). That means someone will have to run power out there.

In our case, I knew of one of those locations, and didn’t know of the other. Again, in the moment, I was pretty tweaked that no one thought to run power for the powered speakers. And again, as I thought about, I realized that they wouldn’t know any better. To most people what we do is magic. “It’s just a speaker and a mic, why do you need power?” seems like a logical question for them. After all, they never have to run an extension cord to use the PA we dutifully installed in their rooms. It just works.

And that’s why we need a map. Make them draw a picture showing you everything that’s going to be happening all over campus. If you see a giant recreation area in the parking lot, start asking questions about portable PA. See a drama in a classroom, start asking questions. This will save you a lot of last minute stress.

Pre-build and Plan

Thankfully, I stayed around late Sunday to pre-set a lot of what I knew. That saved me when it came to the stuff I didn’t. Had I asked more questions, I would have been closer, but at least I had a baseline. Don’t assume you can set it all up the first morning. There will be surprises, things you didn’t think about, and last-minute changes. Set up more than you think you’ll need, put out an extra wireless mic, stage a few extra portable speakers, round up a bunch of extension cords and anything else you can think of.

It’s also a good idea to have more help on hand than you think you’ll need, especially for the first day or two. That’s something I’m big on; and it saved me. My daughter is the master of prepping wireless mics, so I had her working on that. I brought in another guy to float and he was able to run around putting out fires while I re-built my monitors for the worship leader. My lighting guy is self-sufficient and I had an extra pair of hands at ProPresenter.

Hopefully that gives you a few ideas for surviving and even thriving during your VBS. If you’ve already lived through it this year, consider the next 12 months a time to plan for it next year. Next time, I’ll address children’s ministry directly with some thoughts on how they can help us help them.

Mixing Webinar Part 2, Take 2

After last night’s technical difficulties, we’re going to give this another shot. We keep trying to find ways to improve the experience, and make it less time consuming to produce; sometimes it doesn’t work. Last night we were met with blocks in the firewall (I tried it from the office as our upload speed is better than what I have at home), then issues with audio routing in our fallback system.
The good news is that we stayed and worked on it for a while and I think we have a plan. It might not seem it, but getting three people in different parts of the country live to the web (audio & video) and get it recorded is tough when you have no budget.

Anyway, we’re going to give it another shot this Thursday night, July 22nd. Once again we’ll be on the LiveStream channel starting around 7 PM PDT or 10 PM EDT.
I think we have a great list of topics to discuss, and hope you can join us. Thanks for your patience as we keep trying to work out the bugs.

Mixing Webinar Tonight

Join me, Dave Stagl and Jason Cole tonight on the LiveStream channel at 7 PM PDT, 10 PM EDT as we discuss Mixing, Pt. 2. We’ll be picking up pretty much where we left off last time, as we decided we had way too much more to talk about. We’ll be discussing, Panning/Imaging/Stereo, Aux Fed Subs, Spectral Balance/Octaves, Communicating with the Band, and probably wrapping up talking about the Low End.

As always, the recording will be available here and on iTunes if you miss it.

I Need a New Associate TD…

So here’s the deal. The church I call home is in search of a new Associate Technical Director. And we need one pronto. The benefits of the job are plenty.

  • Working with the greatest church staff I’ve ever known
  • Being part of a cool movement of God
  • The weather in Aliso Viejo, CA is amazing
  • We have a completely new FOH and Monitor system, as well as a new lighting system
  • Our band is really, really good.

On the downside…

  • The pay is kinda low (it’s a church after all…)
  • The hours can be sorta long sometimes (it’s a church after all…)
  • You have to put up with me as your boss

You can download the full job description here to learn more about the position, and visit our website to learn more about Coast Hills.

As this is an ATD position, there is no relocation package available, so you’re probably going to want to be living in SoCal (or planning on moving here soon anyway) before firing off a resume. If, after all this, you’re still interested, you can send me your information and resume to this address: msessler [at] coasthillschurch {dot} org.

Next week is VBS week, so I’m liable to be really busy so if it takes me a few days to get back to you, don’t sweat it. And if you know someone who may be interested but doesn’t read this blog, let them know. We’re hoping to have someone in place in August.

UPDATE: This is a full-time position.

Three Tips for Improving Your Mix This Week

I’m the Technical Director of a good-sized church. As such, I oversee all technical aspects of the weekend services; sound, lighting, video, presentation and even some stage design and set up. In my current role, my time is split between all those disciplines. But at the end of the day, my passion is sound. So with that in mind, I have a few suggestions on how you can improve your mixes. They may seem simplistic, but as I’ve been more intentional about doing them, I’ve noticed a marked improvement in the overall quality of my mixes and how fast they come together. It’s further proof you can teach an old dog new tricks…

Listen to the Music

I’m surprised at how few sound guys actually listen to the music they mix. I once was talking to an audio volunteer about a festival I was shooting. I started naming some of the artists we had filmed that week; Michael W. Smith, Newsboys, Jars of Clay, etc. To each, he shook his head to say, “Never heard of them.” I asked him what kind of music he listened to. “Mmm, I really don’t listen to music,” was the reply. I thought, “That explains a lot…”

Most worship teams have a method of getting recordings of the songs they will be doing for a given weekend out to the team. We use Planning Center Online, and the MP3s are posted there each week. That enables the team to listen to the songs during the week to learn their parts. Since our part as mixers is to know how the individual parts come together, it’s a good idea for us to listen as well. I create a playlist on my iPhone and listen to them during the week several times. Even songs that I’ve mixed before go into the list, as I want to be sure I know when solos are, and to remind myself if it’s a piano or guitar led song. When you know how it’s supposed to sound, it’s a lot easier to pull a mix together

Record and Listen to Your Board Mix

I didn’t start doing this until recently because I had long held to the notion that the board mix doesn’t accurately reflect the acoustic energy in the room. While that may be true, there is still a lot we can learn from listening to the board mix. We may notice that we picked up a guitar solo late, or that the vocal harmonies weren’t balanced properly. The drums may be too loud or too soft in your mix recording, and you can mentally adjust for that, but you can still figure out how everything else sits in the mix.

I admit I don’t do it every week, but I find when I listen to my Saturday night board mixes, my Sunday morning mixes sound better. It doesn’t take that long, and is worth the effort if you want to get better at your craft.

Solicit Feedback

We all know feedback is something to be eliminated in the world of sound. However, feedback in the form of constructive criticism from a few people you trust can be a very good thing. These people don’t have to be musical experts or professional sound engineers. They should have a decent ear and know how to describe what they are hearing, however. It’s a pretty rare church where the sound coverage is so even that what you hear at FOH is the same everywhere in the room. It’s good to get some input from people who sit in other areas, and to hear what they liked and didn’t like.

For example, I really love the sound of the B3 organ. I like to pull it up so I can hear it, which is sometimes too loud. I need people to tell me the organ is starting to overpower the vocals. Since our current mix position is up in the balcony, in a completely different sound field than the rest of the congregation (a particularly egregious sin committed by far too many architects…), my boss will occasionally call up on the com and let me know something is translating too loud or soft on the floor. This is helpful input for me.

So there you go. A few things that are easy to implement and will surely give you results pretty quickly. As a fourth, bonus tip, you can tune in Tuesday, July 20th for “Mixing, Part 2” with Dave, Jason and I. We may be trying a new service this month, so check back in a few days for the URL of the webinar. You can also listen to Part 1 here.

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