Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: November 2010 (Page 1 of 2)

The Mighty High Pass Filter

I was watching something on TV the other day and after hearing multiple “plosives” (P’s and B’s and T’s) just booming away through my speakers, I quipped, “Can we please get a high pass on that mic!” Then I realized there still may be a number of young sound guys/gals (YSG’s) out there who are not yet acquainted with the high pass filter (HPF). Allow me to make the introduction.

The high pass filter, whose control typically lingers near the top of the channel strip, does just what it sounds like; lets high frequencies pass, while blocking lows. And by high frequencies, we mean any frequency higher than the threshold set by the control. I suspect that’s part of the problem for the HPF; some might think that it will cut out all the low end and make the sound tinny and thin. You certainly can achieve that effect, but it’s not the intended result.

The HPF comes in two flavors—a fixed frequency filter activated by a switch (commonly found on lower-end analog boards) and a variable threshold filter with an on-off switch (found on everything else). The former type typically has a hinge point (or threshold) of somewhere between 75-100 Hz, and has a slope of anywhere between 6 and 24 dB per octave. Understanding slope is helpful in knowing how to employ HPF’s, though you can’t do much about it with a fixed frequency version.

Let’s take a 12 dB per octave slope; that means that starting at the threshold frequency for every halving of the frequency (an octave), the output drops by 12 dB. So if you have a HPF with a threshold of 120 Hz, by the time you get to 60 Hz (one octave) the signal is lowered by 12 dB. At 30 Hz (another octave) it’s down a total of 24 dB. Perhaps an illustration would help.

high pass filter

Now, as you can see, this is a fairly gentle slope. A 18 dB per octave would be steeper, a 24 dB steeper still. It’s helpful to know the slope of the filter, though many manufacturers don’t publish it. You can get a good idea of how steep it is by sweeping the control up and seeing how quickly the low end falls off (assuming you have a threshold control).

In practical use, I approach HPFs this way; if I’m dealing with a simple switch (that is, no threshold control) I turn them on for every channel on the board except for the kick, floor tom, bass and electronic keyboards. Generally speaking, there’s not much musical content below 75-100 Hz for vocals, acoustic guitar or much anything else, and what is there typically muddies up the sound. Engaging the HPF in this way helps eliminate a lot of low end rumble as well as low frequency feedback in the monitors.

If I have a threshold control, I’ll turn it on for every channel and adjust the individual controls as needed. For a kick, I might have the HPF set to 30-50 Hz, just to clean up the extreme low end. On vocals, I normally start at 120, but sometimes run up as high as 150-180 depending on the voice, the mic and what I’m hearing. If plosives are a problem, turning the HPF up can take some of them out. It can also make the speaker sound very thin and tinny, so be careful.

For other instruments like acoustic guitar, I like an HPF at 150 or so to tame some of the body resonances. Again, you have to be careful, but this is a good place to start (always listen…). You can also use high pass filters on things like cymbals. I have my HPF on the high hat channel turned way up around 500 Hz or so. That cuts out some of the bleed from the toms and snare, cleaning up the high hat sound. If you want your overheads to act as cymbal mics, do the same thing. On the other hand, if you want to pick up the toms and snare, but not the kick, you can set it around 120 or so.

Like every other control on a sound mixer, you have to listen, not just follow numbers. The best way to learn what the HPF sounds like on your board is put on some headphones, solo up the channel and either turn it on or off, or turn it on and sweep the threshold up and down. When you arrive at something that sounds pleasing, stop.

Church Tech Weekly Episode 24: It’s Freezing Here

Mike and Van talk about how cool the job of the TD is. We get to tell the story of Jesus and see life change every week, and even more during Christmas. Still, it’s easy to miss that in the middle of the business. [Sorry about the cyloning, this time it hit Mike’s track. It’s random, non-reproduceable and so far a cure eludes us. Thankfully, this time it’s not too bad.]

[powerpress]

My 2010 Thanksgiving List

First Fun Thanksgiving, after J.L.G. Ferrisphoto © 2008 Mike Licht | more info (via: Wylio)
I don’t always do a Thanksgiving post. For me (and a lot of other church tech guys), Thanksgiving is a fly-over holiday. It’s often an inconvenient roadblock on the road to a really busy December filled with Christmas productions and extra (and extra-complicated) services. In fact, I would be OK if we moved Thanksgiving to a less hectic month like October or August.

Still, it’s good to take a few days off, even if forced to, and smell the roses or consider the things we should be thankful for. And the truth is, I do have a lot to be thankful for. So here is my list for 2010, in only a semblance of order, of things I give thanks for.

My Wife

The truth is, I don’t give her enough credit, nor do I thank her enough. It’s hard to be a TD’s wife; our hours are long, the pay low, the schedule unpredictable. If something, anything, is happening at church we need to be there long before it starts and will be there well after it finishes. We miss every major holiday and most minor ones. My wife rarely, if ever, complains about any of that, knowing that it’s part of the calling. In a few weeks we’ll celebrate 20 years of marriage. I’m truly blessed to know that she has my back and supports me and our girls so well. Speaking of my girls…

My Girls

My wife and I have two great girls. They have been a joy to parent and are maturing into wonderful women of God. It’s not easy to be a daughter of a TD, for most of the reasons listed above. Still, they love God and support what I do, often times doing it right along side me. I love watching them grow and continue to become more involved with our church family. Speaking of our church…

My Church

Last night we did a family Thanksgiving service, which included an open mic sharing time. I have known for a while that I work at a great church, but that point was really driven home last night. It’s been so cool to see our church truly become a church family, even over the last 16 months I’ve been here. In fact, it feels like a lot longer, which is indicative of how much this feels like home. I know a lot of TDs who are struggling in their roles right now, and I’m blessed to work at a church where I’m comfortable, doing what I enjoy with people I love. Speaking of people I love…

My Friends

The last 24 months have been a watershed of friendship development. Just a few years ago, I didn’t know there were other TDs; today I count dozens of them as good, even great, friends. A handful have become like brothers. I’m so thankful for those guys; people I can call on for support and encouragement, and for the fact that they call on me for the same thing. Some of these friends are close, others are scattered across the country. But we use technology to stay in touch, and that’s pretty cool. Speaking of technology…

My Tech

Though being overly dependent on technology does have it’s downsides, I’m willing to put up with them to take advantage of the upsides. From the “old school” tech like cell phones and text messaging to “new school” like Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, Skype, HeyTell and TokBox, my friends and I have been able to leverage these tools to stay in touch, and deepen our friendships. It’s amazing how well you can get to know someone on the other side of the country when you spend a few hours on a Skype call with them every month. And I like that. I even find my faith is stretched and deepened in these conversations. Speaking of faith…

The Father , Son and Holy Spirit

No list of Thanksgiving would be complete without this inclusion. I can honestly say if it weren’t for my relationship with Jesus, I would be angry, alone and probably divorced (and perhaps re-married and divorced again) by now. Not only is my eternity secure, but my life today is much richer and more complete than I deserve it to be. Without God’s presence in my life, nothing else in this list would exist.

So there you go. Of course there are a host of other things to be thankful for: The fact that I’m in the 89% of Californians who has a job. We have a comfortable house to live in, plenty of food to eat and clean water to drink. I have good music to listen to, and enjoy some of the best weather in the country (Sorry Minneapolis, I heard it was 7 there today…65 and sunny here). Last night someone said if you start to make a list it might take a few minutes to come up with the first five things, but if you keep going, after a while, you have a few pages. That’s how I feel. I could keep going, but I won’t. Not because I’m not thankful, but because I have to get my chestnuts in the oven. Have a great Thanksgiving!

Reclaiming Lost Features

It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of the DIGiCo SD8. Even if you don’t have an SD8 I hope you’ll read on as the process of solving this problem may be helpful to you.

The SD8 is by far my favorite console to mix on. And it has a really cool feature that lets you tie the effects parameter edit window to the return channel so you can quickly access the FX right in the main interface so you don’t have to change screens. At least, it did have that feature. See, before v.300 of the software, you could select, “Solo Displays Insert” and whenever you hit solo on the FX return, the FX window would pop up. That was if you patched the output of the FX unit into the return of the insert on that channel (and left it off, we don’t really want the signal, just the association of the FX unit and the channel). In the old days, before v.300, it worked great.

Solo Displays Insert The green button is the solo button.However, with the release of the latest version of the software, they inexplicably changed the “Solo Displays Insert” logic. Rather than displaying the return route, it now displays the send route. I’m not sure what the supposed advantage of that might be, but it does make it impossible to accomplish the trick I got really used to, since you can’t have two sources feeding into the FX unit, even if one is a “dummy” input.

This morning I work up to an epiphany. I was thinking of ways to make the shortcut happen, within the confines of the new software. It occurred to me that I could simply change my audio path. What I did was reroute my aux sends to feed the return channel instead of the FX unit. I then patched the FX unit into Insert B on the return channel and whammo, I get my shortcut back.

Insert Routing The old and new fx routing.The takeaway, even if you don’t get to mix on an SD8, is that there is almost always more than one way to accomplish your goal. You’ve probably heard the old story of the mother who while teaching her daughter to cook cut off the ends of the roast before putting it in pan. The daughter asked her mother why, and mom said her mother had taught her that. The daughter asked grandma about it and grandma said, “Oh honey, I only did that because I had a small roasting pan and that’s how I got it to fit.”

We often take things for granted because it’s the way we’ve always done it. It may even be a good way to do it. Sometimes though, there is another equally effective way to do it, you just need to change your thinking.

Lighting System Update

It’s been a few months since we finished the largest lighting system upgrade I’ve ever been a part of, so I thought I’d give you an update. For those not familiar, our original lighting system was bought used over 10 years ago. Not  in great shape from day 1, and having been installed by well-meaning but less skilled volunteers, it was on it’s last legs. Of the 72 installed channels of dimming, 42 of them still worked. And many of the house light dimmers, when turned up to full would intermittently turn off. And we had a single line of DMX running from the booth to Fleenor opti-splitter on stage, and then everywhere else. It was a mess.

We had electricians in the building for almost 12 weeks running completely new wiring. I don’t know how many feet of 3/4″ conduit they bent, but the original bundle of pipe was as big as my car. We are now wired for 144 channels of dimming, 120 of which is accessible via 20 Socapex outlets they installed. The remaining 24 went to house and utility lighting. They also installed a bunch of Cat5 for the ETC Net3 control system. Net3 will handle all modern lighting protocols, including up to 64 universes of DMX on the single Cat5. I figured that would be enough for a while. We have a mixture of Net3 gateways and dedicated DMX ports installed throughout the room, making it easy to get the right universe of DMX right where we want it. Each of the ports is easily configurable as well via software.

Finally, we installed the Paradigm architectural control system. Whereas we used to have an old conventional lighting board in the tech booth for the sole purpose of turning on and off the house lights without needing to fire up the Hog, we now have two 10-button switches; one in the back of the room, one on stage. In the booth is a cool new LCD touch screen. The 10-keys have 9 presets plus Off available so facilities can come in and work without needing to fire up the conventional board. We can even run our mid-week services from the presets. In the booth, we added a bunch of functionality to the touch screen, such as the ability to lock the 10-keys out and six additional programmable presets for simple events. We can also control our stage area lights, color back lights and ColorBlasts via the touch screen. It’s now easy to whip up a simple look for a memorial or other outside event without even firing up the Hog.

Paradigm will also do timed events, and as such, we have one event set up that turns all the lights off automatically every night at 11 PM; it also unlocks the 10-keys at 1 AM (in case we forgot to), and if we need other events set, we can easily create them via a web-based interface. To say we are happy with the new system is an understatement. We’re thrilled. Because we can run the house lights at full (and because of the new Extra-Wide lenses we put on them), our room is almost twice as bright as it was. We no longer have a rat’s nest of power and DMX cable running all over the place, and we have much more control over the system. Here’s a bit of a pictorial tour of the journey.

Old Truss Wiring This is a glimpse into what our truss once looked like.Because we had so few dimming circuits over the stage, and because of their location, we had extension cords running everywhere. Many of the lights were tied together with two-fers, and some of them had melted together. There were DMX cords everywhere as well.

Some of the cords we pulled This is about 20% of the cords we pulled out of the catwalk & truss.Based on the size of the pile of wiring once we stacked it all up, I’d guess we pulled well over a quarter mile of cable out of the house, truss, and catwalk. We’re still trying to figure out what to do with it all…

The empty truss We pulled everything down.We decided to just pull all the lights and cable out of the truss, and then do some re-configuring of the truss itself. We had a couple of 10′ sections that extended over the wings that weren’t useful, so we hung them downstage. We dismantled a couple of pretty sketchy pipe drops that held some of our side lights and moved those instruments to the newly hung truss segments. It looks much better now.

Conduit Our electricians were artists.This is the main “highway” of new conduit. It’s our projection room. The guys from CSI Electric did an amazing job and were fantastic to work with. Anytime we hit any kind of a snag, we were always able to work out a solution. “We can’t do that,” was never in their vocabulary. Having great electricians is not a luxury on a project of this scope.

Conduit bends This is my favorite section of conduit in the place.I just love how those guys took such care to make it all beautiful as well as functional.

Old wiring Here’s a glimpse into the old world.Behind the beautiful new conduit, you can see that bundle of wires hanging out of the wire chase. That was the old lighting system. We have hundreds of feet of wire chase up in the ceiling, much of it looking like this. Rather than run conduit, which is the right (albeit harder) way, they just ran wire chase. Someday, we’ll take the sawzall to that…

ETC Sensor Racks It all ends here.All that wiring drops into the big gutter above the racks. The rack on the left is home to the Paradigm controller, a POE network switch and a patch bay. We have 20+ network outlets in the house & stage and can easily route DMX or any other protocol to any of them.

It would take another 20 pictures to really do the new system justice. However, trust me that it’s wonderfully done. My goal with the design was to create a system that would last Coast Hills for 10-15+ years without any significant upgrade, and I think we accomplished that goal. We even planned ahead so that when we’re able to make the switch to LED lighting in the house and stage, we’re ready for it. The final phase of the project, in my mind anyway) is to replace the Hog with something a little more volunteer friendly, like a Jands Vistsa. But that’s another post…

When You Run Out of Inputs

As Christmas Season approaches, I’m sure many of you are planning for your big Christmas services or productions. Earlier this week, I wrote a post about what we’re looking at for our Christmas production. It’s going to be a big deal, and I woke up in a cold sweat the other morning realizing I had forgotten two mics and didn’t have the inputs for them. As I plotted out my strategy to free up inputs where there seemed to be none, it occurred to me that many of you may be in the same boat.

Christmas and Easter seem to always stretch our audio systems. Whereas a 32-channel board might be fine all year, at Christmas you need 40+ inputs. Or in our case, 56 is typically more than enough; in a few weeks I need 64+. In previous churches, I’ve run into this issue many times, on varying scales. There are many ways to tackle the problem of too few inputs; I’ll talk about three of them, in ascending order of cost.

Trim the Input Count

This may seem obvious, but I’m amazed at how many people don’t really look at their inputs closely. Though you may have a “pulpit mic” channel, do you really need it for the big production? If not, you just freed up an input. Same thing for other “permanently” patched mics like those for baptismals, overhead choir, CD and DVD players, even audience mics. If you don’t need them for the show, you can unplug them and reclaim the input. Just remember to label those ends so you know where all those unplugged XLRs go back when you’re done.

Submix

When I was a Crosswinds in NY, I had a 32-channel board that was full most weekends. When Christmas hit, I was a good 16 channels short. I solved the problem there by swiping a board from the children’s ministry room (along with all their wireless mics…). I routed all my wireless mics into the submixer, and sent that to the main board as a single mix. Two things to keep in mind when submixing: First take extra care with your gain structure. It’s easy to build a smokin’ hot mix in the submixer and overload the input channel on your main mixer. Watch that. On the other hand, don’t send too low a signal either, or noise will increase dramatically. Second, use the submixer wisely. Don’t stick the random extra guitar, banjo, keys and 4 additional wireless drama mics over there. Find a big chunk of similar mics and put those together into a submix. Ideal candidates for this are all your drama mics or the drum kit. 

Rent

Years ago, I was part of a church that ran a 32-channel SR-32 each week. For the big Christmas concert, we had 22 channels of wireless, a band and a small orchestra. Yeah, not going to fit. And there was no room in the booth for a second mixer (and it would have had to be at least 32 channels). So I rented a ML-5000 from a local sound co. One of the reasons I went with that board was that mute automation that it offered. We had so many scenes, back and forth between drama, music, more drama etc., that it would have been almost impossible to manage without some level of automation. We brought it in for a long weekend and it cost us a few hundred dollars, but it was money well spent. A few words of warning: If you’re renting a board you’re not already familiar with, make sure you get it in enough time to learn it well. Also, rentals tend to book up for Christmas early, so if you haven’t booked a desk yet, you’d better hurry. Finally, if you currently mix on a small analog desk, resist the urge to go rent a big digital desk like an SD8 or a Venue series, at least unless you are really familiar with them already. Making that jump takes some time and you’ll be under enough pressure already. Find a big enough analog desk and your life will be much easier. 

In my case, this year, I’m doing a combination of two of those. I’ve trimmed our some unnecessary inputs (one of my 4 video channels as I only need 3), and I made sure I had exactly what I needed for the band. I’m also bringing in either another stage rack or an 8-input card (depending on availability). The rack gives me far more extra inputs than I need and makes it easier to wire up the band, but complicates monitoring. The card is enough, just enough, but I’m a little nervous about having every input used up. But we’ll figure it out. It’s what we do…

ProPresenter 4.2.1

Last week Renewed Vision released a new version of ProPresenter 4, that addressed a number of bugs and added some great new features. The first new option is the ability to use Quartz Composer files directly within Pro4 Quartz Composer is Apple’s node-based dynamic graphics engine that can do all kinds of interesting stuff. Last year at WFX, Nicholas Rivero was showing me a demo of what he was doing with a portable MIDI keyboard and a bunch of code he wrote in Quartz to generate some crazy-cool backgrounds. I’m no expert in Quartz, but there are some interesting possibilities that can be done with it. Check out this blog for some tutorial examples and get your creative juices flowing…

Also new in 4.2 is the Mask Layer. You may already be aware that prior to v. 4.2 Pro4 had 5 layers to work with; (from the bottom up) Background Color, Live Video, Video Playback, Slides and Props. The new version adds a new layer, Masks. Masks are similar to props in that both can be used to either mask out part of your image (creating an edge-blend or creating a shape, for example) or keying a graphic log “bug” as often seen on TV shows in the lower right corner. Props are very cool and highly useful for both applications. The big problem with the props (and it’s not really a problem, it’s the way they were designed) is that it’s easy to accidentally clear a prop. Say you’re using a prop to mask out a section of your image (because you’re projecting on an irregular screen shape, for example). If you were to insert a “Clear All” cue into a slide after a video (which we do all the time), it would clear the prop and you’d have video blowing all over your custom screen shape.

ProPresenter 4 Mask Layer Similar to Props, the Mask is completely persistent.The mask was designed to solve that problem. The only way to clear a mask is to go into the mask layer window and hit “Clear Mask.” A Clear All won’t clear it. In fact, shutting Pro down and re-starting won’t even clear it. I saw a demo of this feature at LDI a few weeks ago and was immediately excited because this Christmas, we will be projecting on a very irregular surface. I’ll be able to pop on a mask and there will be no possibility of it coming off accidentally. This is a huge win for anyone doing projection like this, or environmental projection.

Also released this week was a new version of the iPhone remote app. This version seems to have fixed some bugs and (more importantly) added universal iPhone/iPad app support. I love what they’ve been doing with the app; it now shows color coding of the slides, all the text is clearly readable, and you can even access all the clear commands (including bail to Logo). You navigate primarily through playlists, though your entire library is instantly accessible as well. There is no ability to create anything in the remote app, and in my tests, I noticed that if you start running the show from the Mac, the app doesn’t stay in sync. However, if you want to fire off the slides from your iPhone or iPad, it works great.

ProPresenter 4 Remote in Portrait Mode The familiar iPad Portrait mode
ProPresenter 4 Remote Landscape Mode And in Landscape mode (more useful on the iPad than iPhone IMO)
ProPresenter 4 Remote Clear Menu It’s nice to be able to clear from the remote.In my testing, I found the app to be generally reliable. I had a few times when it would connect then not respond, and there seems to be a slight delay from the time you hit the slide on the iPad/iPhone and when the change happens on the screen. If you try to fire through a presentation super-fast it will sometimes hang on a slide, but at a more normal pace it seems to work fine. It’s a good tool, but I’m not 100% confident I’d run a service from it yet. I think I would want to run a service from the remote, but be sitting at the Mac just in case as a test to make sure it’s solid. It does look promising, however and I’m excited that resources are being put into the app.

Don’t Forget: Webinar Tonight

DIGiCo SD8 at FOH

Just a reminder, join Dave, Jason and me tonight at 7 PM PST, 10 PM EST on our LiveStream channel for what I’m sure will be a lively discussion on analog versus digital consoles. I’ve been going over the show notes for this one, and I think it’s going to be a fun discussion. As Dave mentioned on his post, the three of use use digital consoles but I think some of us still long for the analog days. Tune in to find out who (and it may surprise you!)

If you can’t make it, we will have this and previous shows available here on the Show page, and most of the webinars are archived for on-demand viewing on the LiveStream channel.

See you tonight!

Church Tech Weekly Episode 22: Guys Like Us

Mike and Van talk with Jeff VanderGiessen of Mars Hill. The three talk about what came out of WFX, developments on a CTDRT Mentorship program and in the picks of the week section, a cool way to distribute HD video around your campus.

Guests: 

Van Metschke

Jeff VanderGiessen

Blogs: 

Van

 

Picks:

  • ProPresenter 4 (Mac & Windows Presentation Software) $399 single, $799 site
  • DropBox (Cross Platform File Sharing over the web) Free
  • ZVPro 280 (Send HD video over Coax) approx. $2400
  • SketchUp (Mac & Win 3D drafting software) Free

[powerpress]

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