Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: January 2011 (Page 1 of 3)

Demo’ing Equipment

One of our loyal readers, Chad Green, recently asked how I go about setting up demos of equipment. He’s noticed that I regularly test gear, and has some needs for doing the same. Now before I get into the hows and why’s, let me issue a few disclaimers. If you are in a smaller church, I probably have a significant advantage when it comes to demo’ing gear. I say this not as a point of pride, but to let you know that you may have to work harder at it than I do. I have three things in my favor that many do not; I’m at a good-sized church, this blog has been reasonably successful and I have someone who works for me who loves to demo gear (Kevin Sanchez) and is relentless in setting up demos. Because our budgets are larger and we buy more, and because manufacturers want their equipment reviewed here, I can get stuff pretty easily. With that said, you too can get demos of equipment. Here’s how I go about it.

Start with the Manufacturer

Whenever possible, I start directly with the manufacturer. If it’s a big company, they will refer me to the local rep. The rep sells the equipment to dealers, not end users. One of the reasons I go to trade shows is to meet with manufacturers. It’s a lot easier to get a demo when you have a name and a face at the company. Once I’ve seen the gear I want to audition, I’ll contact the company to see about setting up a demo. Smaller companies will typically just send it out, larger ones work through the rep.

Local Reps Are a Great Resource

When I don’t know anyone at the company, I’ll work through a local rep firm. Typically, reps work for multiple manufacturers. Good rep firms will work with you to find the best fit for your needs and point you to solid dealers from whom to buy the gear from. Good reps know that end users buy equipment, and that means dealers buy equipment. The rep firm’s job is to sell gear to the dealers, and if people are buying from dealers, everyone’s happy. For example, I’ve gotten to know the local Shure and QSC rep firm out here, so when I need to look at something from those two companies, I call them.

Good Dealers Can Also Help

I do a decent amount of business with Rat Sound, and they’ve been very helpful in setting up demos for me. My contact there will often reach out to the rep and have the equipment sent over. If I like it, I buy it from Rat. As a side note, don’t ask a dealer to set up a demo, then buy from someone else—that will be your last demo through them. Get to know your local dealer (or a national one if you don’t have a good local contact). Relationships are the key to this business, and taking the time to get to know them goes a long way. Referring others to them helps, too.

Caveats

Without going any further, I feel as though I should throw out some warnings (lest I make every manufacturer, rep and dealer in the country crazy!). First, don’t demo frivolously. That is, don’t start asking for demos of every cool new piece of gear you read about in a magazine or see online. I make it a rule to only demo gear I’m actually interested in and capable of buying. Sometimes plans change, but I don’t ask people to set me up with gear I know I won’t buy. Now if someone gives me something to play with, that’s a different story, but from my end, when I need a demo, I’m serious.

Second, always support the demo chain. In other words, if a dealer set you up with a demo, buy from that dealer. If a rep set you up, buy from one of their customers, not a dealer in another zone. Dealers and reps make money by selling gear. Don’t abuse them by trying to save a few bucks. Believe me, having dealers and reps on your side makes a huge difference when you’re in a crisis (and that day will come, believe me).

Third, demo realistically. I don’t buy every piece of gear I demo. Sometimes it’s not what I though, sometimes another product wins the shootout, and occasionally the project is cancelled. But like I said in rule #1, I’m serious about what I demo. For example, when looking at audio consoles, as much as I would have loved to play on an SD7 for a weekend, I demoed the SD8 because that’s what I could afford, and what we bought. If you’re a 200 seat church in the rural Midwest, don’t start asking for a demo of a Meyer Milo line array system just because you want to hear it. Make sure the demo gear fits realistically within your budget.

Finally, demo with care. You don’t need to demo every piece of equipment you buy. Quite often, you can make really good educated decisions based on talking with others, your dealer’s recommendations and reading. When you start demo’ing gear, do so with bigger items that you are really going to buy. This builds good will with your contacts. Don’t go crazy asking for mic demos from everyone. Be strategic. And ask nicely. Never threaten, become adversarial or go postal on anyone you’re asking to help you. Remember, they are helping you, don’t abuse that.

Demos can be a great way to make sure you get the proper gear for your church. Just be sure to do so with care and caution and it will be a great experience for all.

Church Tech Weekly Episode 32: Cheap Video Walls

This week Van & Mike are joined by Karl Peterson in Atlanta. The trio talk about prioritizing projects for upgrade, what things are non-negotiable in a build or upgrade and discover a very clever way to build a matrix video wall out of unusual parts.

Guests:

Van Metschke

Karl Peterson

Picks of the Week:

 

 

CTA Classroom: Let There Be Light. Or Not.

Everybody knows that the purpose of lighting in the church is to put light on the stage, right? I know a lighting director (from my high school musical days) who said his rule of thumb for stage lighting is to, “flood the stage, and make ’em pink” Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of churches follow the same advice. I’m not sure that’s the best use of light, however. In fact, I would argue that the most creative and effective lighting I have seen includes as much non-light as light. Let me explain.

What is the first thing your eye is drawn to in this picture?Visual Theory

As humans, our eyes are pre-programmed to jump to the brightest thing in our field of view. Try it out for yourself. In a darkened room, with one or two sources of light (the living room at night with a tv on works well), drop your gaze to the floor, then look up. See where your eyes go. More likely than not, they darted to the lightest thing in the room. In my living room right now, when I look up I see the tv. So if our eyes are drawn to the brightest thing in the room, what else is drawn there as well? Our attention. Now think about what happens when you wash the entire stage with bright, even light. Where does one look? I would suggest that when the entire stage is lit evenly, the people in the congregation don’t know where to look.

Here’s another great example, even with a simple lighting rig and no hazer. Practical Application

What if we as lighting designers could help direct the congregations attention where we want? Guess what? We can! We do it by using shadows and the absence of light. So if you have a worship set on stage, you typically want the worship leader to be where people are looking. To accomplish that, you can light the rest of the band with richer colors and less overall light, and put a little more light on the leader. If the guitar player has a solo for a bridge, bring a light up on him or her. That shifts the focus of the audience where you want it to go.

You can also apply this to the pastor who is speaking during his message. Consider a stage that is fully lit during the message. The poor person in the congregation doesn’t know where to look. Strike that, they know where to look, but their internal hardwiring has them looking all over the place for the brightest object. By dimming upstage and stage left and right and putting the speaker in a nice pool of light (large enough for him to walk around if that’s what he does) the man in the pew’s attention is automatically drawn to the speaker. He’ll spend more time listening and less time looking around. All we’re doing is using the body’s natural tendencies to draw attention where we want it. In doing so, the congregation spends fewer “processing cycles” to use a computer analogy, trying to decide what to look at, which frees them up to hear the message.

And that’s what it’s all about. The church technician’s primary job is to support what happens on stage, remove barriers to receiving the message and to enhance the experience. Everything we do boils down to that. By using light and the lack thereof, we make progress in all three areas. Now go have fun lighting – or not!

The 90% Principle

I’ve been working on this post in my head for a long time. The basic concept for this post is the law of diminishing returns. This law states that as you continue to put time/energy/money/effort into a project, at some point the return you receive for the increased effort is no longer worth it. It’s sort of like a compressor; put 2 dB in, get 1 dB out. Turn up the ratio and put 4 dB in, get 1 dB out. Diminishing returns.

The 90% principle is an attempt to quantify the threshold. That is, at what point does it stop making sense to keep working on or spending money on something. As you can guess, I suggest that point is 90%. But 90% of what? Let’s say that 100% is perfect, the best something can possibly be, whether it’s a product (like a speaker system), or a project (like a video edit). My supposition here is that once we get to 90% of perfect, we can generally stop. To the perfectionists out there, this sounds like heresy, but stick with me for a few minutes.

Real World Example

Let’s take the case of a speaker system. I chose this for two reasons: A) The number of choices in the category make it easy to develop this illustration, and B) I’m in the market for a new PA so this has been on my mind a lot. So, let’s start off defining 100%. The 100% mark is going to be the absolute best (most musical, most even coverage, flattest frequency and phase response, etc.) PA you can find. For this case, I’m not going to define it further than that. Regardless of what PA you choose as 100%, it’s going to cost you some coin. What I’ve normally found is that opting for 90% instead of 100% will probably only cost 50-60% of the 100% system. So, you might save nearly half and still get 90% of the performance.

Here’s another one: Consider a video edit. I’ve edited a lot of videos over the years, both when I owned my own company and for various churches. We used to have a saying, “A video is never finished, it’s abandoned.” When I think of nearly every video I’ve ever cut, I can think of things I would change. Subtle tweaks to edits, minor soundtrack fixes, graphic adjustments, the like. Those changes didn’t get made because we ran out of time or budget. And honestly, the vast majority of people wouldn’t really notice them anyway. In many of those cases, we probably got 90-95% of “perfect.” The rest we had to let go.

Why 90%?

Now, here’s why I suggest that 90% is a fair stopping point: I believe that most people in the pews can’t resolve any differences above 70%, give or take. Sure, there may be a few people out there that could see or hear the difference between the absolute best and 80%, but most of the time, it will only be us, the trained professionals, who can discern the critical differences.

Again, this idea may be raising the ire of perfectionists everywhere, and as a recovering perfectionist, I understand. Here’s the deal; I’m not advocating mediocrity. I’m advocating excellence—but not extravagance. And if you stop and think about it, I’m actually suggesting going above and beyond what most people can see and hear by a margin of almost 30% (90 is 28% more than 70…).

Quite often, trying to push your way to the final 10% of perfection will take just as much effort and cash as getting to the first 90%. So what I’m suggesting is that we really stop and evaluate if that is worth it.

Returning to Examples

Now let’s go back to our examples. Take PAs; for our room, we could easily spend nearly $200,000 on a PA to get the absolute best there is. However, I’m pretty confident we can get 90% of that performance for around $100,000. And the reality is, both of those systems would be a massive upgrade over what we have now. Moreover, I would suggest that almost no one in the congregation would be able to tell much of a difference between the two. Would I be able to? I would hope so; that’s what I’m paid for. But Sal and Sally Pewsitter? I doubt it. So is it worth an extra $100,000 for a difference most can’t hear? Perhaps not.

Or how about our video. Let’s say working a full day on the video would get it to 90% of perfection. Now, at this point, we can go home and spend the evening with our family or stick around until midnight and get to 95%. Is that worth it? Again, I suggest that most people would have thought it was “perfect” at 3 PM.

It’s possible that in some cases it’s worth spending the extra time an energy to get to 100%. However, we have a limited amount of time and resources available, and perhaps it’s a better use of that time and money to wrap it up at 90%. Consider; saving $100,000 on a PA might buy a really nice console, some great mics and have money left over to do some good in the community. In the big picture, that might be a better option.

This is not a hard and fast rule; but it’s one that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. What’s really important? What are we as a church really called to do? How can we maximize what we’re given to the greatest good? Can we find away to get out from behind our desks and spend more time with volunteers? Or our families? Give it some thought, see what you think.

Church Tech Weekly Episode 31: Church Pottery

In a rather fun & lively episode, Mike and Van are joined by Duke Dejong and Kevin Sanchez right after a SoCal Area CTDRT meet up. The group has great fun talking about new projector technology, the importance of mentoring and of course, have some great picks of the week.

Guests:

Van Metsche

Duke Dejong

Kevin Sanchez

Picks:

Sony VPL-FX500L LCD Projector $7000 List

Where’s My Droid (Android App) Free

TripIt (Travel Service/iPhone App)

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? (Book by Seth Godin) $15

Symetrix Jupiter (DSP) Price varies by model (8×8 is around $1200)

Saddleback Studio As promised, a picture of the “studio.”

Can a Live Mix Sound as Good as a Recording

I saw this question come across the Twitter the other day:

Can you expect a live mix to sound as good as a recording mix?

Brian Howley

I was going to respond on Twitter, but then I realized I had more than 140 characters worth of answer, so we are. There are a lot of ways to look at this question, but first I think it’s important to define “good.”

What is “As Good?”

If you define “as good” as having the same production value, perhaps a live mix will never measure up. In the recording studio, you have the opportunity to run multiple takes, multiple tracks, multiple effects and multiple passes through the mix to get the it spot on. In fact, with fader automation, you can run through the track as many times as needed to make it perfect. In a live setting, you might have one or two times through in rehearsal plus the actual service. Even if it’s a song you’ve done several times before, it’s not likely to be as good as it would if you had more time in the studio.

People unfamiliar with the recording process may think that the band goes into the studio, plays the song while being recorded and the track is done. Under rare circumstances that happens, but far more often than not, each musician gets multiple takes and the editor pieces together a perfect performance. The engineer might pull out all kinds of effects and tricks to make the sound quite amazing. An entire CD project may take a month, several months or even a year to fully produce.

Compare that to a typical church weekend. As live engineers, we’re often working with a pickup band that has hopefully listened to and practiced the songs during the week. They may run the song once or twice, then we mix it before an audience. In larger churches, you may have the opportunity to record the rehearsal earlier in the week, then tweak with virtual soundcheck. But for most of us, it’s rehearsal, then service.

With that kind of schedule, it seems clear that a live mix would not sound “as good” as a recording. However, let’s look at it another way. Why would you want it to?

Why We Do Live

My first reaction to the question was, “If you want it to sound like the recording, just play the recording.” There’s a reason we have live bands on our stages and platforms every weekend; a live band draws you into the worship experience in a way that’s unlike listening to a recording. There is a rawness and dare I say, a realness that happens with people playing live. When we mix live, we have the opportunity to create energy and movement in the song, and it’s probably going to be different and unique each time.

It’s that sense of uniqueness that leads people to pay serious money to see their favorite bands live. They don’t go to hear the recording, they want to see the band play the songs right in front of them. A live venue is unlikely to be acoustically perfect, and we’re probably not going to be able to do cool stereo sound effects and all  the subtle multi-track thickening that can be done in the studio. However, that doesn’t mean it won’t sound great.

Apple and Oranges

I really think Live and Recorded are like apples and oranges. Which one tastes better? The truth is there are good oranges and bad, tasty apples and rotten ones. And in that spectrum, we have many different varieties. Some people may like oranges better than apples, and others may like apples better. I would suggest that this is not a zero-sum game; that is, if one is “good,” it doesn’t make the other “not good.” I’ve heard some really good live mixes, and I spend a lot of time studying great studio mixes. Which do I like better? Why do I have to choose? Can’t I like both?

I’ve been doing live sound for a long time, and have gotten pretty good at it. I really like mixing live and enjoy a tremendous sense of satisfaction when a mix comes together well. On the other hand, I’m experimenting with recording more these days, and I enjoy that a lot also.

Just so we’re clear, I’m not saying that recordings are “better” than live. I think live mixes can sound amazing; they’re just different. It doesn’t also doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do everything we can when mixing live to create a great sound. But we also have to recognize that we’re working under very different constraints, so the definition of success has to be different.

That’s my take anyway. What’s yours?

Thanks, Brian for the post idea!

CTA Classroom: IMAG Essentials

I’ve been thinking about IMAG (Image Magnification) lately. We currently use IMAG at Coast Hills, and I’ve done a ton of it during my career. As I read through the stack of church production type magazines I get each month, it is clear more churches are moving into the IMAG arena. It makes sense, as worship rooms get larger (it seems that 2000+ room are becoming more common), there is a need to help those in the service see those on the platform. I’ve shot 200 some concerts as well as a few dozen other events, and here are few things I learned along the way.

The image on the screen should be bigger than in real life.

Seems obvious, right? But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked up at the screen and noticed that the image of the speaker is smaller than the speaker is in real life. The reason is simple: Directing for IMAG is different than directing for a tape or broadcast mix. Most directors (and camera ops) are uncomfortable staying as tight as they need to for effective IMAG. There is a tendency to pull out and show the overall scene. But think about this—if you’re seated 150? from the platform, you already see the overall scene; what you want is a close up of the speaker so you can see their facial expressions.

The other challenge with staying as tight as we need to has to do with lenses. Long telephoto lenses are expensive, but they are necessary to getting a useful shot. My rule of thumb is this: A standard IMAG shot needs to be head to waist or closer. Ideally, you should be able to go head and shoulders. If all you can get is a head to foot, you will not have an effective IMAG experience (unless you have mammoth screens).

Shot selection should make sense.

If you’re shooting a speaker who stands at a podium, you really don’t need to keep switching shots. I’ve sat through events shot with 5 cameras, and because there were 5 cameras there, the director felt the need to use all five, all the time. Again, consider the goal of IMAG—to show distant viewers a close up of the speaker. Cutting back and forth between cameras for no reason is distracting.

If the speaker walks the front of the platform, having three cameras, house left, center and right, will allow you the opportunity to cut to the camera that the speaker is facing. But if the speaker pauses at stage left, don’t switch to the house left (stage right) camera just to “change it up.”

If you are shooting a worship team or a band, the focus of the IMAG should be the worship leader or lead singer. Having multiple stationary cameras in the house allow you to highlight different instruments or other vocalists occasionally, and adding a handheld stage camera makes that more effective. However, keep in mind that the people in the congregation didn’t come to see a close up of the bass guitar player’s fingers. That can be a very cool shot—for a second or two between phrases of a song. But please, don’t spend an entire verse there (unless you are using instruments as a background for lyrics, which is a whole different style).

When cutting a worship team, the cuts should follow the music. A soulful rendition of Amazing Grace doesn’t require (or benefit from) 30 cuts a minute. However, an upbeat tune like Dancing Generation could be enhanced by a few extra cuts here and there.

IMAG and broadcast mixes are different and need to be treated as such.

There is a temptation to combine the two functions, IMAG for the worship center and a “broadcast” mix for the in-house CCTV network for cry rooms, or hallway monitors. This is rarely optimal, however. As mentioned previously, IMAG needs to be close up shots. A broadcast mix needs a mix of closeups and establishing shots. For years I was stage camera op for a music festival in Ohio. We were supposed to be there for IMAG—our shots were projected onto huge 30? screens for those at the back of the 10,000 person crowd. However, the director wanted to make live concert videos. They looked great when we watched the tapes at home, but the crowd was gypped. That wide sweeping shot of the crowd that moved up to the stage (using the 30? crane) looked really cool, but the poor folks in the back already had that view. They wanted to see Toby Mac, not the people in the first 15 rows.

It sounds like I’m repeating myself, and I am. It’s important to think of IMAG as IMAG and broadcast as broadcast (regardless of how it’s “broadcast”).

Regardless of what you’re shooting, or how you’re mixing, you need the right equipment. Few things are more frustrating than trying to pull together a good video mix using equipment that was not designed for it. In a future post, I’ll give you some of my thoughts on the equipment you’ll need if you want to get into live video.

Winter NAMM 2011: MyMix

MyMix with the analog input moduleMyMix was there, this time with their analog input module, the IEX-16L. There are some things I like about MyMix; it’s small, has a nice display and offers plenty of features. However, I’m not sold on the one big knob thing. Having watched our musicians work with the M-48s over the last few months, it seems having dedicated knobs for 8 channels (in two banks) is a lot faster when you just need to bump the volume of a channel while playing. With MyMix, it’s Spin, Click, Spin all while looking at a rather small LCD display. Still it’s an interesting concept…

 

Winter NAMM 2011: Soundcraft Si Compact

Soundcraft S1 Compact Soundcraft Si CompactWe’ve mentioned the Soundcraft Si Compact on the podcast before, but it’s the first time we’ve gotten hands on with it. Can I say I’m impressed? Soundcraft has clearly set their sights on the Yamaha LS9, and fired a pretty strong opening salvo. Available in 16, 24 and 32 channel frame sizes (each model sports an additional 4 stereo channels), and boasting 14 mono aux mixes and 4 matrix mixes, it’s certainly interesting.

The interface is certainly more pleasing than the LS9. Soundcraft included FaderGlow, a feature found on their higher-end digital desks, to keep you straight on what you’re adjusting. It’s very easy to punch up sends on fader (they call it TOTEM, Touch Once Easy Mix) on any mix or matrix (and the fader grooves change color depending on mode). They also include a 31-band GEQ on every single output bus, plus 4 Lexicon FX units.

The screen is significantly smaller than the LS9, but it is a touch screen. The Si compact has snapshot functions, built-in USB recording, and dedicated controls for all gate, comp, EQ and HPF functions.

Si Compact=

The 16 channel version is even rack-mountable! That’s a lot of power in a small package. Finally, all three Si Compact models accept a 64×64 bus expansion card and are HiQnet compatible. Card slot options include Aviom, CobraNet, MADI (optical), and AES (4 ch. and 8 ch. versions).

Yamaha has been resting on the success of the M7 and LS-9 for quite some time now, while other manufacturers are rapidly coming out with very compelling options. The Si Compact is another entry in the battle for the lower end of the digital mixer spectrum. While it might not be the right choice for everyone, it’s certainly worth a look.

Winter NAMM 2011: iPadPalooza

We saw a lot of iPads at NAMM this year. It’s no surprise really, the iPad is a perfect remote control device. The surface is large enough to design a good interface, there’s plenty of room for clicking and dragging and the touch screen is of high enough resolution that you can actually make fine adjustments. I don’t think we caught all the all the apps, but here are a couple that are interesting.

Harmon HiQ Net App Crown System Control AppIn the Harmon room we saw the new Crown System Control App. Running on HiQnet, the app allows you to completely control your entire Crown amp rig right from the app. Because it integrates with System Designer, you can develop all sorts of custom control panels and load them into the app. You could even create a custom control panel and use something like an iPod Touch as a custom wall control. Now that’s kinda cool. It’s also possible to connect to the system and directly monitor and control every single amp (included HiQnet connected powered speakers) right in the app.

The app is $3.99 and available for both the iPhone/iPod Touch and iPad in the iTunes store.

Presonus Studio Live iPad App Presonus StudioLive Remote iPad AppOne of the nicest looking iPad apps, is from Presonus and it’s designed to control the StudioLive consoles. As I understand it, the app controls the computer that is running Virtual StudioLive. It’s a true iPad app, not a port and it is extremely fast and easy to use. It’s very easy to switch between the gate, comp and EQ on a channel by flicking left or right. EQs can be adjusted right on the curve display, or using the large virtual knobs. To pan a channel, you just drag in the pan window (above the fader, note the orange and green stair steps in ch. 5 & 6).

Interestingly, multiple iPads can connect to and control the software at once; and you can set each iPad up to control a particular aux mix. So in that sense, you could almost have a personal mixing system with your StudioLive with the addition of just a few iPads. And since the StudioLive 24.4.2 has 10 aux mixes, well, you do the math. It’s certainly an interesting concept.

The biggest downside to the app however is not with the app itself, but with the board. Since the StudioLive lacks moving faders, any changes made in the app are not reflected on the surface. Which means you really can’t set up a mix on the desk, grab the iPad, walk the venue and tweak the mix then return to the board. That’s a huge limitation to what would otherwise be a great combination.

Honestly, it’s too bad because Presonus has come up with the best looking and potentially most functional iPad remote mixing app to date. Presonus! Are you paying attention Avid? DIGiCo? Soundcraft? Midas?

Not really new, but worth mentioning are the Yamaha StageMix iPad app for controlling the M7, and Tweak from Allen & Heath. Tweak is really limited and only really good for just what it’s name implies, tweaking. I would not even attempt remote mixing on it. StageMix is much better, and with the ability to sends on faders, would be a boon to both monitor engineers and FOH guys.

We also saw an iPad controlling the Meyer Constellation system in their demo room, and at quite a few other booths. Clearly progressive audio companies are getting the clue that networking and remote control are the future. Now what are the rest of you waiting for?

UPDATE 1-20-11: Allen & Heath apparently announced an actual iPad app at NAMM. I missed this, but ProSound Web has the story. Based on the screen shots, it looks pretty nice…

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