Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: May 2011 (Page 1 of 2)

A Different Perspective

Yesterday, I was able to experience church as an RC (regular congregant). I didn’t plan it this way (at least up until a few weeks ago), but it happened to work out that today is Memorial Day, and we had a contractor (John Garlick) in mixing FOH. That meant that with a simple PTO form, I could leverage 2 days of vacation into a 5-day weekend. I took the weekend off, and since Monday & Tuesday are our regular days off, I’m taking Memorial Day on Wednesday. It’s a perfect storm, only a very relaxing one. Anyway…

So I got to go to church with my family yesterday. I like to do this a few times a year (roughly once a quarter) for a number of reasons. I know a lot of tech guys think the have to be there, running the show every weekend. There may even be some for whom that is an expectation from leadership. I think this is a mistake; and I say that as one who used to be there every weekend. Here is why I take a weekend off once in a while.

Perspective
It’s a good thing to view the service through the lens of someone who sits in the seats. When we hang out in the tech booth week after week, it’s hard to get a sense of what’s really going on in the pews, especially if you have a less than ideal tech booth location (as we do). But when we sit in the pews with the RCs, it’s a whole new experience. For example, last time I did this, I heard some things in the PA I didn’t like and saw a few things about lighting that were distracting. We made some changes, and this time around it was better. It was very encouraging to be surrounded by people singing and engaging in worship, which reminds me of why I do what I do 48 weekends a year. 

Reminder
I find it healthy to be reminded that I don’t have to be there every week for things to work. The minute I starting thinking that the whole train will go off the tracks if I don’t show up is the minute I need to make some changes. My team is great, and they did a great job. I didn’t receive a single text all weekend (except the one from Isaiah telling me the new lighting computer was wicked fast), and everything ran like clockwork. It’s good to know it’s not all about me, and that I’m really not that important to the whole service going well. You might want to be that critical component; I don’t.

Process
I’ve also found that when I take a weekend off, it exposes weaknesses in process. If I’m doing my job well, I am developing processes and training other people to do them, so that when I’m not there, everything goes smoothly. One of the best ways to find out how I’m doing is to not be there. I beta test this by being there and not doing much, but there’s nothing like a lack of physical presence to point out cracks in the veneer. This week was very positive; everything worked. All I had to do all day was log in to the video computer and upload the already rendered message (which reminds me, I need to finish that step in the process…). The podcast was already up, which means that process worked. 

Refreshment
My family is always shocked when I take a weekend off and sit with them. I think it’s good to do that once in a while. Not shock them, sit with them. I enjoy worshiping to gather as a family, and I like being taught the Scriptures together. These weekends off remind them that I still want to connect as a family and that they are important enough to me that I take time off to be with them. And, it just feels good to be able to worship without having to think about the next cue, or wonder if the SPL is too high or low. 

If you’ve not developed your ministry to the point where you take a weekend off every now and again, I encourage you to do so. If you don’t, you are at a much higher risk of burnout, or even complete failure. The longer I do ministry, the longer a view I am learning to take of it. I want to be able to do this for a good long while, and the only way that can happen is if I stay healthy; physically, mentally and spiritually. 

If your leadership doesn’t let you take a weekend off, print this post out and slip it in their mailbox. I don’t know of any Sr. Pastor who never takes a weekend off; why would they expect you to work 52 weekends a year? Right, Mr. Sr. Pastor?

Stay healthy, be in this for the long haul.

Today’s post is brought to you by the Roland M-480. The M-480 is a 48-channel mixing console and a core component of the V-Mixing System with integrated Digital Snakes, Personal Mixing and Multi-Channel Recording options. Combine two M-480’s together for 96-channels of digital mixing.

CTA Classroom: Ground Loops

The topic for today’s post comes from a reader, Jonathan Mould. He wanted to know more about the electrical side of sound. This is an interesting topic because sound is both electrical and physical. Sound systems turn physical movement of air into electrical signals, then process and amplify those signals (sometimes changing them into streams of 1s and 0s and back), and finally turn those amplified signals back into physical air movement. It’s all kind of crazy when you think of it that way.

I started this post thinking I could tackle three topics and realized that even a cursory explanation of ground loops would take a whole post. So, you’re witnessing the beginning of a series here. First up, Ground Loops.

Ground Loops

To understand ground loops, one must first understand electricity. A full explanation is beyond the scope of this article, but here’s a brief description. Standard 120 volt circuits consist of three leads; a hot (current carrying) lead, a neutral (the return) and a ground. To vastly over-simplify, the electricity leaves the panel on the hot lead, travels to the appliance, does some work and returns to the panel on the neutral. The ground is properly called a safety ground and serves one basic function—to send any electricity right back to a safe place (the earth) if anything goes wrong inside the appliance. This is a preferred outcome (as opposed to sending said accidental electricity through your body to the earth).


electricity-1.jpg

Electrons go from the panel, to the appliance, do some work and then back to the panel on the neutral leg. This is vastly simplified, OK?

Electricity always wants to get back to ground, or earth, and will always take the path of least resistance. Should there be a short inside an appliance, the chassis of said appliance could become energized. If you touched it and happened to be providing a good path to ground, that current will flow through you. Since it only takes about 20 milliamps to stop your heart, it’s very possible that a short like that could kill you. This is why we never solve ground loops with “cheater plugs” that effectively lift the safety ground.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In an ideal world, the ground wire in a circuit would have zero voltage potential. That is to say that if you put a voltage meter on the ground wire and tested for voltage to a “true” ground, you would get zero volts. In complex electrical systems like we might find in a church or theater, it’s possible to have a few volts of voltage potential on the ground bus (all the ground wires connect back to a ground bus, which is connected to a ground rod—at least they’re supposed to be).

In a large enough system, you could have multiple ground busses and grounding points, each with slightly different voltage potentials. Now, we’re only talking about a few volts here, and for most equipment attached to this electrical system, it’s no big deal. However, in the world of sound, it can cause havoc.


ground-loop.jpg

When we have voltage potential on one ground leg (in this case, the one of the right), it travels from one chassis (mixer) to the other (amp) via the balanced audio line, finally settling at the lower voltage potential of the earth, inducing a hum. Also simplified to illustrate the concept.

Remember that we send audio signals to and fro with balanced lines. A balanced line consists of a high lead, a low lead (the signal carrying pair) and a shield. The shield ultimately gets connected to the chassis of the audio equipment, say an amp or a mixer. Also connected to the chassis is the power ground connector. 

When you connect to components with a balanced line, you are essentially connecting their chassis together. Now image that instead of both pieces of gear being tied to the same ground bus (like we always tell electricians to do, and sometimes they listen), they are connected to two separate ground busses. Imagine that one ground bus has a few volts of voltage potential and the other one does not. Plug that XLR cable in and you now have current flowing over that cable between the amp and mixer. 

What happens when you send 60 cycle current next to an audio line? You hear a 60 cycle hum. What happens when the shield of your balanced audio cable is carrying a few volts of 60 cycle current? A really well defined 60 cycle hum.

Some think the easiest way to solve this problem is to decouple the two electricity ground busses by using a “cheater” plug on either the amp or the mixer. Cheater plugs disconnect the safety ground connection, and in some instances will solve a ground loop. However, it’s very dangerous and you should never be do this. Will do so kill someone every time you do it? No. But do you want to be the one who eliminated the safety ground when someone does get shocked or killed? Me neither. Don’t do it.

The right solution is to make sure all your audio equipment is grounded to the same ground bus. Electricians will argue about this sometimes if they don’t understand why, but don’t relent. As part of a proper system, all your audio equipment should be powered from the same panel (that is preferably powered by a ground isolated transformer). This is why doing the electrical work in a properly designed install can be a little more expensive than just running lights and outlets; all the conduit runs have to go back to the same spot rather than wherever it’s convenient. But I digress…

Now, if you can’t re-work your electrical grounding system, and you still have a ground loop, there is still a temporary solution. You can lift the ground on the balanced audio line on one end or the other. Most of the time, this will stop the ground. Doing this can theoretically leave you open to RF and EMI noise getting into the line as the shield is not shunted to ground on both ends, but in practice it’s usually a better alternative to the 60 cycle hum. 

Sometimes ground loops will show up when connecting things like keyboards to a mixer using a DI. Better DIs will have a ground lift switch that disconnects pin 1 (shield) inside the DI and will usually break the ground loop. If your DI doesn’t have that feature you should get new DIs. If you can afford that, you can make up a short XLR cable that has Pin 1 open at the female end. Make sure you clearly identify this cable as a ground lift.


ground-lift-xlr-2.jpg

If you need to lift a ground, do it in the audio cable (or with a DI). This method is much safer.

There’s so much more I could say about ground loops, but this is already getting long. And to all those sticklers for detail, yes I know I glossed over some points and over-simplified things to make the concepts understandable. If the concepts in this post are new to you, I encourage you to spend some time researching them. There is a ton of information available on the web; start Googling ground loops and spend a few hours educating yourself. Your efforts will be rewarded.

Today’s post is brought to you buy Heil Sound. Established in 1966, Heil Sound Ltd. has developed many professional audio innovations over the years, and is currently a world leader in the design and manufacture of large diaphragm dynamic, professional grade microphones for live sound, broadcast and recording.

Technology Meets Art

We techies live strange lives. Last week at the Worship Mentor Gathering, part of our discussion centered around the three-stranded cord of beauty, truth and goodness. These three attributes of God are all present to some degree in each of us. The way we give and receive love is manifested in these attributes. The truth person is firmly rooted in the rational; he wants to plumb the depths of truth and figure out how to best communicate that to others. The goodness person is all about taking up the cause of others; she is the activist, the one who wants to drill water wells in Africa and send food to children in China. The beauty person is the artist; he sees God in creation and wants to both experience and create art the reflects the wonder of God. 

Executive pastors and accounting people tend to be truth people; musicians and worship leaders tend to be beauty people; outreach pastors and counselors tend to be goodness people. We techies, however, can best be described as bi-polar. On the one hand, there is a serious truth element to what we do—the technical side of our jobs that requires us to delve into signal flow, transmission protocols and IP addresses. But we also have a beauty side; the sound engineer who orchestrates the band into beautiful music, the lighting designer who paints with light, and graphic artist who stirs our senses with pixels. Like I said, we techies live strange lives.

Because of our bi-polar personalities, it’s hard to know where we belong. One many levels we can relate to truth people, but at some point, our artistic sensibilities will be offended (like, Who the heck picked that ugly battleship grey color for the new college group room? It’s hideous!). On the other hand, we don’t always fully fit in with the artists (like, Really? You need 2% more sax in your wedge? Really?). Strange lives indeed.

So what do we do with all this? To be honest, I’m not really sure. I’ve been wrestling with this for over a week now and I’m finding definite answers elusive. One thing that has become clear to me is that I need to embrace the artist side of my split-personality more. After spending a few days with some very smart, passionate and creative worship leaders, I’ve realized we’re more alike than different. Clearly we need each other, and working together will be better than working alone (or worse, against).

I also want to get more comfortable with who God has created me to be. Instead of wishing I was more of an artist or more of a rational person, I want to enjoy the tension and the balance between the two. Like relaxing in a hammock strung between the two trees of beauty and truth, I want to rest in who I was made to be, and enjoy the shade of both. I also want to figure out how be more effective doing what I am gifted to do.

I’m sure I’ll be unpacking this more as I continue to work through these concepts. But for now, that’s what I’ve got.

This post is brought to you by Horizon Battery, suppliers of  award-winning Ansmann rechargeable systems that are used worldwide by Cirque du Soleil and over 25,000 schools, churches, theaters, broadcast companies, & businesses. Learn more about their pro-grade batteries and chargers by visiting their web site. Tested and recommended by leading wireless mic manufacturers and tech directors.

Waves

Last week I had the privilege to attend the Worship Mentor Gathering. I spent two and a half wonderful days with some really smart and passionate worship leaders. I joked that I was the token tech guy at the event; at least until Stephen Proctor showed up. Then we were the two token tech guys… Seriously, it was a great time talking with some really smart people and being challenged in the way I look at worship, the church and faith.

On Monday night, I went out to the deck of the hotel and watched the ocean for a while. Did I mention it was held in Laguna Beach? Overlooking the ocean? Who says ministry has to be all pain and suffering? Anyway, I was watching the waves for a while. At first I wasn’t paying much attention to them, other than seeing how big some of them got. Then I started noticing a bit of a pattern. There would be a series of small waves, followed by a couple medium waves, a few more small waves then a couple of really big waves. Then the sequence started all over again. It didn’t always go exactly like that, and I didn’t stop to count numbers of small, medium and large to determine a pattern, but there was clearly a pattern.

As I stood there pondering this, I felt the Lord reminding me that this is kind of what serving in the worship department of a church is like. The weekends keep coming, just like the waves crashing onto the shore. We have smaller weekends (call them “normal’), a few that make a bigger splash, and a couple of really big ones. Then we do it again. As I was working this all out, a few more thoughts came to mind. 

First, one could view weekend services as relentless. They just keep coming, week after week after week. Whether you’re a TD, a worship leader, or someone who supports those two, the job never ends. You never get to the point where you can say, “Ahhh, finally. That’s finished. Now let’s start something new.” There is always one more weekend coming; and another one after that.

But then I started thinking about some of our conversations earlier that day about art and it’s importance in the church. It occurred to me that like the waves, every weekend is different. If you watch waves break on a beach, you’ll notice that they don’t all break the same way. Some break over here, some over there. Some break right up on the shoreline, others a little farther out. If you look at the waves, you’ll notice that they’re all quite beautiful, and all quite different. It’s a lot like art. Weekends, like waves, give us a chance to create art every seven days. We get to infuse our artistic aesthetic into our church body in slightly different ways every time a weekend comes around. 

It’s also important to know that we need to take a break once in a while. About 20 years ago, I was on a job in Puerto Rico. It was a plum gig; a seven-day stay at a ocean side resort and I only had to work a few hours a day. One night, while strolling the beach, I started body surfing. It started out innocently enough, just getting my feet wet. Before I knew it, I was riding really big waves in and out. I had a blast. After about a half hour and dozens of waves, I was exhausted. I had to get out and head back to my room and collapse.

That’s kind of what church can be like. Creating art every week, week after week can be exhausting. We need to take a break once in a while to recharge. I’ve been working on making a habit of taking a weekend off every quarter or so, and it’s amazing how exhilarating that is. I actually find myself more energized when I get back to work the next week. It’s a practice I heartily recommend. 

If you feel like the weekends just keep coming and you’re getting tired, perhaps you need to change your perspective. You have a chance to create art every seven days. And art has a funny effect on people. Augustine said that the human heart is astonished when it receives truth sideways. That’s what we do. We present truth through the side door, and it can make all the difference in the world. More on that concept to come…

This post is brought to you by CCI Solutions. With a reputation for excellence, technical expertise and competitive pricing, CCI Solutions has served churches across the US in their media, equipment, design and installation needs for over 35 years.

CTA Classroom: Making Interviews Successful

Maybe this never happens at your church, but at ours, we regularly have people on stage being interviewed. Sometimes they are telling their story, sometimes they are talking about or announcing a new ministry, other times they are reporting on an event or outreach we had. The one thing all these people have in common is that they are not used to being in front of people, nor do they really know how to properly use a mic. Added to that, they are rarely in the room early enough to get a good sound check on their mic. This has been the case at almost every church I’ve been a part of, and as such, I’ve developed some ways to handle those times and make it work.

Now, in an ideal world, these guest speakers would arrive plenty early, we’d show them how to properly hold a mic, they’d talk at actual level and we could dial them right in. Maybe you can get that to happen in your church (and if you do, would you mind writing a guest post explaining how you did, so we can enjoy that too?). But chances are, your church is like mine and the first time you hear these folks on the mic is the first time the rest of the congregation does, too. 

Check the Mic Anyway

We always line check our wireless, and when we have non-professional talent speaking into those mics, we make sure to hold the mic further away than we should. That serves two purposes: First, you get the gain set correctly. If you set it up when the mic is held right up to the chin, when the guest holds it mid-chest, you’ll be way too quiet. Second, it tells you if you’re going to deal with feedback. If you do, ring it out. Give yourself as much gain before feedback as you can get. Make sure whoever is checking the mic tries speaking at loud and soft volumes so you know how it sounds. And you’ll know where to set the compressor threshold.

Chose Your Mic Carefully

We normally use Beta 87s for these interviews. Now some may disagree, but I find the Beta 87 a great announcement mic. The patter is pretty wide and as a condenser, picks up well. The mic is very tolerant of bad mic technique, which these guests often have. Because of our room and where the PA is located, I don’t have major issues with feedback. I would recommend experimenting a little to find out which mics give you the best combination of sound quality versus pickup flexibility versus gain before feedback. Chances are you won’t get these folks to hold the mic right on their chin, so pick something that works 6-8 inches away.

Compress Like Crazy

I tend to be pretty aggressive with compression for guests like this. The reason is simple; they don’t typically know how to properly hold the mic, and they tend to be all over the place in terms of level. Often times, a guest will start with the mic close, and as soon as they hear themselves out of the PA, they back it away, thinking it’s too loud. I shoot for hitting 4-6 dB of gain reduction all the time, and boost the output gain back up to make up the level. I tend to go with a little higher ratio to make sure if they suddenly get excited they don’t get too loud (think 3:1 or maybe 4:1). For an interview, I’m not worried as much about absolute sonic purity as I am intelligibility. Chances are this is a 3-5 minute deal, so I tend to worry less about getting it sounding “perfect” and more about just making it clear. 

Ride the Fader

I tried to come up with a way to illiterate that better but failed. Sorry. I always keep my hands on the fader for these mics. When the guest is not speaking, I’ll typically pull them down to -10 to -15 just in case they do something crazy with their mic. I don’t turn them all the way off for two reasons: One, if they suddenly start speaking, going from off to on is going to be abrupt, and two, it’s a lot farther to move the fader, and as such takes longer. Watch them as they talk. If you checked the mic at 6” from the mouth and they start off closer, set the fader at -5 when they start. But be ready to push it up as they will likely back off. If they move the mic around a lot, ride the fader a lot. The compressor can only do so much, you have to work it, too. If you know the people who are speaking, take a guess as to how loud or soft they speak and set the fader accordingly. In situations like these, you have to use every clue available to make it sound good. Pay close attention, and you’ll do well.

In a lot of ways, these little interviews are guerrilla audio. You’re working under far less than ideal conditions and simply have to make the best you can with what you’re given. Don’t sweat it too much, and be sure the people can be heard.

Sony VPLFH500L Review

Back in January, the SoCal CTDRT hosted a projector shootout at Saddleback Church. We had representatives from Panasonic, Christie, Sanyo and Sony present. There were a variety of projectors to look at, ranging from 5000 lumens to 15,000 lumens. The one that caught my eye was the newest projector in the room, the VPLFH500L. It produced a very good-looking image, was certainly bright enough, and was reasonably affordable (in the $10K range).

As for specs, the projector is rated for 7,000 lumens in standard mode, 5,600 in Eco mode. Contrast ratio is rated at 2500:1. It’s a true HD projector, capable of resolutions up to 1920×1200. It’s a 3LCD system featuring Sony’s BrightEra Inorganic panels. Most LCD panels break down over time and degrade the image. The inorganic nature of the LCDs are supposed to last significantly longer. Standard inputs include Y/C, Composite, 5-wire analog (RGBHV / Y Pb Pr) on both 5 BNCs and a HD15. You can also connect via DVI-D, HDMI and HD/SD SDI (the last one with an optional board). It can be remotely controlled via RS-232 and over EtherNet, the included wireless remote or with a wired remote control.


Weighing in at only 44 lbs, it’s not terribly heavy. It is of course fully fly-able and has provisions for inverting and reversing the image depending on orientation of projector relative to the screen. Because Sony has been making projectors for a while (though not many people think of them right off), there are over 10 lenses available, both premium and value lines depending on your imaging needs, budget and throw distance. The only issue for us (and possibly others) is that the widest lens is .87, which was still not quite wide enough for our very short throw. 

On the other hand, the amount of lens shift available is pretty crazy. During the demo at the roundtable, the rep was able to move almost 2/3 of the image over to the screen next to him. We found it very easy to shift the image on to our screen, no matter where we put the projector. 

I mentioned the dual-lamp system earlier. The projector is designed to have one lamp burning at any given time. There is an auto fail-over system in place to provide backup. You could set the projector up to strike one lamp until it’s exhausted then start striking the other one, but the preferred way to go is alternate strike. That mode keeps the lamps aging at approximately the same rate to get maximum life out of the bulbs, with minimum variation in brightness.

Basic controls on the projector itself. I like this feature.

All that is good stuff, but what intrigued me were the life cycle operating costs. One thing that most churches never consider when looking at projectors is how much they will cost to operate. Projectors require electricity to operate, obviously, but some require a lot more than others. Bulbs will eventually need to be replaced, some at much more frequent intervals than others. And then we have filters. My current projector manufacturer, Christie, sells filters in packs of 5 for about $250. The funny thing is they look frighteningly close to the air filter I just picked up at Pep Boys for my daughter’s Civic. That cost $12. 

When you start to factor in all these operating costs, you end up with a non-trivial amount. For example, factoring in lamp life, filter costs and electrical usage, our Christie S+16K costs us about $5/hr. to operate. Do that math on that and start considering how much that could be shaved over the year.

Actually, I did the math and figured out that based on our current usage and electricity rates, replacing our two Christies with VPLFH500Ls would save us approximately $18,000 over five years. Which isn’t far from the purchase price. Not bad.

The VPLFH500L draws about half as much electricity as our existing Christie DS+5Ks. The lamps (there are two, one burning at any given time, and they can be set to strike alternately) on the 500 are rated to last for 6000-8000 hours, as opposed to 1200. If I recall correctly, a lamp change (both lamps + filters) will run under $1,000, again as opposed to over $1,500 (not including filters). 

So far, everything looks really good. One criticism of the projector is the white housing. If you’re mounting this in the ceiling that’s all blacked out, this may stand out. On the other hand, if your ceiling is white, it’s all good. The biggest issue we ran into is with remote control. 

You guys all know I’m huge into remote control. Sony does include a built in web server in the projector so you can control it with a browser. However, it works with one browser and one browser only; Internet Explorer under Windows. We tried Safari, Chrome and Firefox on both the Windows and Mac platform and the only one that actually worked was IE under Windows. I talked with the product manager about this and explained that if they are serious about getting into the HOW market, they needed to fix this as more and more churches migrate away from Windows (especially in the tech department) to Macs. Time will tell if they listen or blow us off. 

Sure, I could fire up Parallels or VMWare, or use one of the PCs (more correctly, BootCamped Mac Minis) in the tech booth, but the computer at Video is an iMac, and I don’t feel I should have to run Windows just to turn my projectors on. Petty? Maybe. A deal breaker? It might be.

In summary, this is a good, solid projector. Other than the major flaw of IE only remote control, it’s a great buy. The image quality absolutely blew our 5-year old Christies away, not only in brightness (it was only a little brighter) but mainly in clarity, and especially black detail level. For one event, we had a guy in a black tux standing against a black curtain background. Even under less than ideal lighting, we could clearly see the different shade of black on the lapel, and his jacked was separate from the black curtains a few feet behind him. On the Christie, he was a floating head. 

At the end of the day, Sony makes good stuff. Whether this is a product that will find a home in the HOW market remains to be seen. But I think they have a great start here.

This post is brought to you by Horizon Battery, suppliers of  award-winning Ansmann rechargeable systems that are used worldwide by Cirque du Soleil and over 25,000 schools, churches, theaters, broadcast companies, & businesses. Learn more about their pro-grade batteries and chargers by visiting their web site. Tested and recommended by leading wireless mic manufacturers and tech directors.

My Trip to Ross Video

Last week I had a great opportunity to visit Ottawa, Ontario in Canada to tour the headquarters of Ross Video Systems. My host was my friend Nigel Spratling, who invited me up to talk video switchers. We had some great discussions about all sorts of video-related topics, including a fascinating discussion on lip synch. I wish I could recount that for you here, but I think it would be best to try to get Nigel to join us on Church Tech Weekly one week to talk about that.

Ross HQ. Notice the reserved spot for now retired founder, John Ross.

On the second morning, we drove out into the country to the small town of Iroqouis, where Ross Video began. Most of the manufacturing is handled there, and while the current plant is packed to the gills, a new expansion will be breaking ground in a few weeks. 

Crossing the blue dotted line is a no-no. Static=bad.

Now, I suspect you’re a bit like me and don’t really put much thought into the process of building the tools we rely on to do our jobs. Seeing the plant was very eye-opening. One of the first things you notice is the blue dots on the floor. That’s a “do not cross” line; at least without anti-static straps. Because the CMOS and other chips are so sensitive, you’re not allowed to cross that line without special anti-static straps on your shoes. Every rolling rack has a chain below it to keep static from building up. Apparently, a simple static discharge could fry an entire chip; and given the costs of those chips, that could be a very expensive proposition. I made sure not to touch anything!

This is a rack of assembled button boards, all ready to be picked and put into a switcher when needed.

The other thing you notice about Ross is that they are a full manufacturer. Whereas many other players in the video system game are really R&D and design firms, Ross actually makes everything in house. Obviously, they don’t make the chips or other electronic components, but they build the boards, assemble everything, test it and ship it out of that facility (and two others in town that will be folded into the expansion space soon). 

The SMT machine mounts all the little components on the board automatically. The monitor on the right is the optical quality checking system.

They make extensive use of SMT (Surface Mount Technology) machines. Components such as resistors, caps, and other little electronic bits arrive in reels or in trays. Automated pickers take those parts and put them on the board that has already been covered in solder paste. Once the parts are in place, it goes through an oven that carefully heats the board up to melt the solder, then cools it off again. This has to be done very precisely or the thermal shock could break something inside the chips. Since they use lead-free solder, this process is a littler harder than it used to be. Everything they make is RoHS compliant and lead-free.

Some of the chips are mounted using Ball Grid Array (BGA) technology. Instead of a chip with hundreds of little mounting pads sticking out of it, or small pins that go into a socket, BGA chips have hundreds of little balls of solder on them (one they showed me had roughly 1100 or so). The chips have to be placed perfectly, the oven needs to be smooth enough to not jostle the chip out of place, and it has to heat all the solder perfectly evenly so that all the balls melt at exactly the same time. If one doesn’t melt right, the chip might not work. Or it might, but only after it warms up. Or it may work intermittently. Imagine trying to troubleshoot that!

They also have a camera system that compares the boards coming out of the SMT machine to an ideal sample. The computer will look for parts that are out of place, oriented incorrectly or any other anomalies. I’m told this picks up roughly 2/3’s of the issues that happen during the manufacturing process. Visual inspection catches the rest. If the camera does pick up any anomalies, the process can be adjusted in real-time, saving them from producing a whole batch of boards with something wrong (say a wrong resistor value).

A few CrossOvers during the burin-in process.

Each board is bar-coded, inspected and tested to be sure it works perfectly. They even have a camera that looks at a panel full of LEDs, detects variations in the brightness of the individual buttons, then re-programs the board to ensure each button looks the same! 

Once a system is assembled, it goes through a complete burn-in test. Each and every piece of gear from an Open Gear card to a Vision 4 switcher gets burned in. I’m told their “infant mortality rate” is below 2% now; which is indicative of a really good production process.

Vision 4 under testing. Each modular switcher is fully populated for testing, then de-populated to match the customer’s order. That way if the customer upgrades, they know it will work.

One of the biggest advantages to building in-house, they said, is the tight integration between designer and builder. When the designers are working on a new component, they can talk to the guys on the manufacturing line to determine the best way to lay it out so it can be produced efficiently, tested thoroughly and last for a long time.

Manufacturing processes have always fascinated me; and this was truly eye opening. Ross is set up as a high-mix, low-volume plant; meaning they produce a small number (relatively) of a lot of items. That means most of the cost to produce a batch of anything is really in the set up of the process. Once the machines are programmed and loaded up, they just turn out product. Getting there, however, takes some time and effort. 

A rack of CrossOver Solos ready to ship. Can I just tuck one in my suitcase now?

As we talked, it became clear why professional production products cost so much. The volume is low, yet the stakes are high (the stuff has to work). It would be a lot more cost effective to run 100,000 CrossOver 12s; but they’d never sell that many. So in effect, we’re almost buying custom product.

I was impressed with everyone I met at Ross. Maybe it’s because they’re Canadian, and just terribly polite, but everyone, without exception was welcoming and nice. There was a sense of calm in the plant, even though they were all very busy. Each one seemed glad to see me, and gave the impression they could help if I called and needed some help. That’s something to think about when buying production gear. 

All in all, it was a great trip. I learned a lot, and feel like I’ve made some new friends. It’s good to know Ross products are built with care, and they tell me they have some exciting new products in development. I’m told that if we like Carbonite, we’ll really like what’s next.

Today’s post is brought to you by DPA Microphones. DPA’s range of microphones have earned their reputation  for exceptional clarity,  high resolution, above all, pure, uncolored accurate sound. Whether recording or sound reinforcement, theatrical or broadcast, DPA’s miking solutions have become the choice of professionals with uncompromising demands for sonic excellence.

CTA Classroom: Set Auxes to Post

Last week, Chris Huff had a great post over at Behind the Mixer that explained the differences between pre- and post-fader aux mixes. He said, quite correctly, that you generally want monitor mixes to be pre-fader, and FX sends to be post-fader. I totally agree with that, and run my auxes that way almost all the time.

This post is going to be about when it makes sense to break those rules. Keep in mind that this is a compliment to, not a criticism of Chris’s post. But first let’s review. You generally want monitor mixes to be pre-fader because you don’t want changes made to the house mix affecting the monitor mix; most of the time. Every once in a while, however, that’s exactly what you want. Let’s look at some examples.

Stem Mix Research

Let’s say you find yourself mixing some submixes or stems for a personal monitor mix (aka Avioms or M-48’s). With Aviom’s especially, it’s not hard to use up all 16 channels and still need more. So, you may have to submix certain things, perhaps your playback channels (iTunes, video, etc.) and speaking mics. If you mix all those sources down to a single aux, you can save a valuable channel count, and still give the musicians the information they need. 

However, let’s say you run all those pre-fader; what’s going to happen? Well, they’re going to hear your pastor singing during the worship set, if you forget to stop iTunes at the beginning after you fade it down in the house, they’ll get that too, and you’ll have some great ambience happening with the open announcement mics. Not optimal.

Instead, let’s set those to post-fader. In post-fader mode, the only time any of those channels show up in the IEMs is when they’re actually being used. So the band will hear iTunes fading out, and they’ll know it’s time to start playing. They won’t hear the pastor until he actually takes to the platform to speak, and the announcement mics will be silent until announcements. Pretty cool.

Sometimes you might get a request to put the pastor’s mic in the wedges so the singers can hear the pastor talking between songs. In this case, if I can send him post-fade I will. The reasons are again obvious; when I fade down his mic at the end of his talking time, I want him to leave the wedges.

We do this at Coast; we have two aux mixes for these stems—a playback foldback for iTunes & video and s speaking mics foldback for, well, speaking mics. Mixing all these sources post-fader also has the effect of keeping the level relatively consistent. Which leads me to another use case.

Vocal Submixes

This one might be a bit specific, but it totally saved our bacon at Christmas time. During our huge theatrical presentation, Gunch!, we had something like 16 channels of actor wireless. Because so many of the musical cues were keyed to actors lines (and many of the actors sang as well), the band really did need to hear the actors. However, trying to get 16 actors dialed in to a pre-fade mix would have taken a long, long time. I know, because I tried to do it. After about 15 minutes of holding up 120+ people, we needed a better way (we were less than 1/3 the way through).

We made the decision to switch to post-fade for the actors. The idea is simple; at FOH, I was working to keep the level of the actors consistent in the house by riding faders. So, if I was doing that in the house, setting the aux up to track the faders (by going post-fade) meant the level would be consistent in the foldback as well. It took just a few minutes to establish the send level for all the actors mics, but once we had that, I kept it even in the house and the musicians were happy.

Since we had actors ranging from little kids to semi-professional actors with an MBA in theater, running the mix this way was a huge win. We also had actors whose dynamic range went from a whisper to a shout; again, by tracking the aux mix level with the house fader, everyone was happy.

These are a few ways I’ve used post-fader sends; how do you use them?

The Right Mic

I admit it; over the years, I’ve come do develop what some might say is an unhealthy obsession with microphones. Hi, my name is Mike and I’m a micaholic. In reality, I’ve been fascinated for years that the same basic components, put together in essentially the same way can have such a diverse effect on sound. For example, all dynamic microphones are built from a diaphragm attached to a magnet that moves through a coil. But no one can disagree that an SM58 sounds radically different from an RE20. The trick then becomes figuring out which mic goes best with which source.

This really has been the object of my obsession over the last few years. It really all started back in Ohio when I joined a good-sized church there. They had a decent group of musicians on stage, but terrible equipment to reproduce the sound. I joined the tech team and immediately set about improving our lot. I started with the vocal mics first, as they were the most cost-effective to change out. Once I found out how much the sound improved could be by swapping one mic for another, I was hooked.

Over the last few years, I’ve been slowly doing the same thing at Coast HIlls. When I arrived, all our vocalists were on the same mic, the EV N/D757. Apparently, someone got a deal on them since we have 12 in the mic locker. Now, they’re not a bad mic, but they don’t sound a whole lot better than an SM58 in many cases. Once we made the switch to our new UHF-R wireless mics, I started upgrading capsules. I purchased a KSM9 for our worship leader, but we didn’t like how it sounded for him, and we moved it around to different vocalists. I never did find anyone in our team who sounded better on it, at least in our PA. So I sold it.

When I discovered the Heil RC 22 and RC 35, the game changed. We immediately noticed a significant improvement in both clarity and detail. What I find interesting is that on most vocalists, the 35 sounds great. However, we’ve had a few people on whom it just didn’t work. But when we swap it for a 22, we’re back to great. Our current student ministries worship leader is a great example. I tried the 35 on him and didn’t like it. But on the 22, he sounds fantastic.

Now I point this out not just to pimp Heil mics (I do use a lot of them and they are great) but to illustrate the case that it’s important to match the source to the mic. In fact, I would dare say that changing mics is the single most affordable thing you can do to improve your sound. Simply figuring out which mic works best for each instrument and voice on stage will make your job as an engineer far, far easier.

To further that assertion, I’ve received quite a lot of high praise for the sound in our room lately. Now, I’d like to think that my mixing skills are improving (and I’m hopeful they have), but I doubt that’s the only variable. We’ve not done any significant tweaking to the PA tuning, nor have we been able to address the poor coverage or lack of acoustic treatment. However, what we have done is change out almost every mic on stage.

The drum kit is now almost exclusively Heil, with the exception of the kick mic which now rocking an EV RE320. Our vocalists sing through the aforementioned RC 35s and 22s, along with the occasional Beta 87 (since I’ve lacked budget to pick up more 35s…). We moved our AKG C414s from overhead duty to dual mic’ing the top of the Leslie, and put the PR48 down on the low horn of that great old cabinet. I’ve had the chance to try out a few mics on the guitar cabinet of late, my favorite being the relatively new Shure KSM313 ribbon mic. Sadly, budget constraints will likely keep me from buying of those, though it is absolutely killer.

The point of all this is that it may take some experimentation—we’ve spent weeks trying different mics on vocalists until we were happy—but you can get there. Talk to other engineers and find out what they’ve had success with. But don’t stop there. Sometimes, using something different than everyone else will give you better results. For example, everybody knows you’re supposed to use condenser mics on the high hat, right? I know I always have. However, I’ve never really liked the sound. When we put a dynamic mic on it (the Heil PR 22), we were blown away. Finally, the hi hat sounded like a hi hat in the PA. Same with the overheads; the PR 30 is by far my favorite overhead mic so far. But that doesn’t mean I’m not open to trying something new. We used the PR 48 in the kick for a while, but were never really happy with it. Within a few hits during line check, we knew the RE320 was a keeper. And now the 48 is slammin’ on the Leslie.

By now you know that I’m not really concerned about what the rest of the crowd is doing; for me that’s just a starting point. I want to know what works in our room. And that should be your goal. I encourage you to give some new mics a try. You might be surprised at how much your sound can improve.

This post is brought to you by Horizon Battery, suppliers of award-winning Ansmann rechargeable systems that are used worldwide by Cirque du Soleil and over 25,000 schools, churches, theaters, broadcast companies, & businesses. Learn more about their pro-grade batteries and chargers by visiting their web site. Tested and recommended by leading wireless mic manufacturers and tech directors.

Handing it Off

BXP135677photo © 2003 tableatny | more info (via: Wylio)

Last Wednesday marked the sixth Night of Worship we’ve had at Coast Hills since I started there. And it was the first one that I really didn’t have anything to do. That was kind of a weird feeling, but it was a good one. Normally, I’ve mixed FOH for those events, but I wanted to give Isaiah a shot. Just as I suspected, he knocked it out of the park. And while I may have spent a few hours up front helping with the stage set up, and mixing monitors (standing on stage, with my iPad!), after the band got rolling, I actually left the room and didn’t even show up until it was time to start! If you’ve not been doing this whole TD thing that long, you might think that’s heresy; but I’m here to tell you, the goal should be to hand it off.

Basically, that’s what I did. Isaiah had audio well under control. Daniel, one of my star lighting guys (who’s still in high school) capably handled lighting. Monica was doing fine with presentation. I didn’t need to be there. Once the event got underway, our other star lighting tech, Thomas, showed up in the booth, just to hang out. It was pretty cool for me to stand there and watch my team totally rock it, and just enjoy worship! 


I’ve said for a long time, one of our goals as TDs should be to work ourselves out of a job. Not literally of course, but we should be working toward a point where we don’t need to be hands-on for the service to come together. Ideally, we shouldn’t even need to be in the room. 

You might be tempted to think that taking such a hands-off approach is the lazy way out; but it’s not. It’s actually a lot harder than just doing it yourself. I’ve spent the last two years working really hard to develop my people and my systems to a point where they can do it themselves, and do it well. And sometimes, when problems crop up, it’s a lot easier to to just jump in and fix it rather than let them work through it. I resist jumping in as much as I can because I want my team to grow and learn.

Others may worry about our teams becoming better at the craft than we are, as if they may rise up and steal our jobs one day. My friend Van and I talk about that a lot and we both agree that we hope our teams get to be better than we are at this whole tech thing. In fact, if at least some of them don’t, we won’t feel like we’ve really done our jobs all that well. 

I was reading something some where the other day (I wish I could remember where) that said in essence, we should strive to be remembered not by the things we’ve achieved, the stuff we’ve amassed or the by the success of our career. Rather, we should strive to be remembered by the people we’ve served. If we empower our teams to do the job better than we can, we have not only served them well, we’ve served the Body well. Hopefully, we will set them on a path to do the same thing.

And that is a legacy worth leaving.

This post is brought to you by CCI Solutions. With a reputation for excellence, technical expertise and competitive pricing, CCI Solutions has served churches across the US in their media, equipment, design and installation needs for over 35 years.

« Older posts

© 2021 ChurchTechArts

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑