Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: June 2011 (Page 1 of 3)

My Reaction of FinalCut Pro X

As I’m sure you all know, FCP X debuted last week on the Apple Store. It’s generated quite a lot of buzz, though much of it bad. Even Conan made fun of it, which says something about how mainstream Apple has become. A lot of professional and serious amateur editors are up in arms over the new version, though. I can understand the frustration, but I for one am glad Apple blew up FCP 7 and started over, at least for those of us in the church market. Here’s why:

FinalCut Pro was originally developed in the late ‘90s by Randy Ubillos when he was at MacroMedia. It was originally called Key Grip, never released and sold to Apple. Early versions were pretty anemic, and while it has grown into a editing powerhouse, it’s really become a kludge. The interface has become decidedly unApple-like, and even with the additions of the orbital apps (Compressor, Soundtrack, DVD Studio Pro, Color, Motion), the integration between them hasn’t been great. 

Because it’s a 32-bit architecture, it’s limited in how far it can go into the future. Really, it was time to scrap it and start over from the ground up as a 64-bit Cocoa app. That change, while necessary, does come with a price. But like everything, determining the value of that price is critical. To wit:

Some have moaned on about how there is no provision for bringing in previous projects into FCP X. Personally, I say, “So what?” When we moved from an A-B Roll tape-based editing system to non-linear in 1995 we orphaned 10 years of tape projects at my video studio. We never looked back. Since I’ve been editing digitally for over 15 years, I can count on one hand the times we went back to a project. And editing in the church for 5, I’ve never gone back to re-work an old project. That’s me. For some it might be a big deal. Personally, I don’t care. I edit a video for this weekend, and next weekend we’ve moved on. 

No multi-camera support has been cited as a big deal. Again, I don’t care. I’ve never used multi-cam in FCP 7. Actually I tried it once, and it was such a pain to set up, I gave up and went back to the old way of doing it. Really, I rarely shoot anything with more than one camera, so I won’t miss the feature. And Apple says they’ll add it back eventually. So, whatever.

Lack of SAN support has also been pointed out. This one has some merit (really, they all have merit if it’s important to your business, it just doesn’t matter to me) if you’re used to capturing a service to a centralized storage location, then having other editors work on the footage. But I doubt that’s many of us. We capture to a USB 2.0 drive attached to an iMac and edit right there. So again, not a big deal.

I could go on and on explaining why all the negatives people have pointed out don’t bother me. But I’m wasting space. What gets me excited about FCP X is all the stuff they got right; the magnetic timeline, for example. I’ve spent so much time fixing stuff that got out of sync or accidentally trimmed in FCP 7 that I can’t wait to work with the new timeline. And the fact that we can finally do sample-level audio edits. Or compound clips. How about the fact that you can drop any format of video on the timeline and start editing while it renders in the background? 

I’m excited that it is 64-bit, uses Grand Central and is built on Cocoa. The fact that you can shove an SD card into your Mac and start editing while it copies and optimizes the video in the background will be a huge timesaver. And how about shot-based auto color matching? How many times are you editing different clips of an event and they jump all over the place from a color balance perspective? Now we can click and correct. Sure it’s not a DaVinci, but it’s going to be close enough for 98% of us.

Again I could go on, but you can go to the Apple web site and read more. I think it’s a great release and can’t wait to start using it. I can see how people who have come to rely on FCP 7’s advanced power editor features would be upset. But as someone posted on Twitter, “Apple is fine with angering 5,000 professionals to win 2 Million consumers.” 

The reality is, FCP X brings some amazing editing features to the desktop at a price that almost any church can afford. Does it fit the bill for everyone? No. And if you still need to access your old projects, don’t delete FCP 7 from your system. 

Personally, I’m ready to move into this decade with an editing program. What’s your take on FCP X?

ProPresenter 4 Workflow Tips

While running ProPresenter this past weekend, I was reminded again of how much I like that program. Both powerful and easy to use, ProPresenter 4 gets words on the screen like nothing else. I haven’t written about Pro in a while, and I thought it was time to revisit the topic.

The first thing you’ll notice about ProPresenter at Coast Hills is that the songs are all color-coded. As you probably know by now, I’m a bit CDO (that’s OCD in alphabetical order), and I like to keep things organized. There are a few features in Pro that help facilitate that. 

Click for largerAs you can see in the screen shot above, each element of the song is colored differently. I developed this method at Upper Room while I was TD there. Our worship leaders there had the tendency to randomly jump around in the song. To make it easier when they looped back to a chorus, I color-coded each element. There’s nothing significant about the colors, it’s just what I chose.

  • Blue=Verse
  • Purple=Chorus
  • Pink=Pre-Chorus
  • Orange=Bridge
  • Yellow=Blank (or instrumental)
  • Red=Tag
  • Black=Blackout
  • Green=Anything else

At Coast, our worship leaders are really quite good about sticking to the order they rehearse in. Still, it’s nice to have a quick visual reference of where we are in the song, simply by looking at the colors. 

You’ll also notice that each slide is labeled with the part of the song it represents. Songs with multiple slides in each verse would be named like this:

  • Verse 1-A
  • Verse 1-B
  • Verse 2-A
  • Verse 2-B

If there is a single verse, chorus or bridge, I just use A, B, C, etc.. The reason go to this level of labeling is to ease moving songs parts around. I found when dealing with volunteers who don’t do this every week, it’s best to keep things as organized as possible. Because there can be a lot of slides for a song, it’s easy to accidentally get a few of them out of order and not realize it. Labeling them not only by what section they are (verse 1, chorus 2, etc.) but by each slide helps make sure everything stays organized.

It used to be a little tedious to color code and label each slide. In Pro4, we have the ability to build a custom label menu that includes color coding. So while it took me 5-10 minutes to set up, I can now completely label a song in under a minute.

Again, you can see my CDO coming out in the organization of the menu. They also include an “Other…” option if you have a very unusual section, or if you like to make notes. I use the Other… label a lot to write a note about how long an instrumental bridge might be (8 bars). That keeps the  operators from bringing the next slide up too early.

Those are a few of my favorite, or at least most useful features of Pro4. What tricks and tips do you have to share with the class?

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CTA Classroom: Quick Monitor Tips

As I’ve had family in town all week, today’s post is going to be simple and quick. I want to throw out three quick tips for helping get your monitor mixes dialed in faster and with a little less stress. The general assumption here is that you’re mixing wedges from FOH, but the principles will apply to just about any situation.

Start with a Rough Mix

For some, this may seem obvious, but it makes a big difference. Back when I was mixing on analog consoles, we would typically zero out the board after every weekend. So when the band got there, they didn’t hear themselves or anything else in the wedges. It took me a while, but I learned they found this disconcerting. 

My initial fix to this problem was to put just each instrument in their wedge to start. That helped, but the more I played with it, the more I found that I could build a basic mix even before they got there that would end up reasonably close to what they wanted.

I started noting roughly where the gains were for each input, and set those appropriately. And I would dial up a rough mix just to get them started. I’ve been doing this for the past few years and have found it helps sound check go a lot faster.

Right now, our vocalists are the only ones on wedges, and the only mixes we do from FOH (the band is on Roland M-48s), and we are typically two to three tweaks away from getting the monitors set each week, at least initially.

Sound in the House

I like to have the sound in the main PA when I’m getting my monitors dialed in for the band. I’ve done it both ways, keeping the mains off and trying to get the monitors set up, then brining up the mains; and leaving the mains on the whole time.

I’ve found that the mains are going to influence the sound the band hears, so why not work with it from the get-go. This also has the side benefit of helping me get my gain structure set up the way I want, because I’m hearing it in the house as I set gain. Once the house is right, setting the monitors goes pretty quickly.

Raise Your Hands if You’re Sure

This is another one that seems obvious once you do it, but it took me a few years to catch on. If you’re mixing a bunch of wedges, going through each instrument for each wedge can take a long time and be very frustrating. Instead, I like to use the hand method.

Simply, I will go through and do one input at a time, say the kick. I’ll have the drummer hit the kick, and set the gain. The band is asked to raise their hand if they want that input in their wedge. When they have enough, they drop their hand.

We proceed through the whole channel list in this manner. Once we get that set, I’ll usually have the band play a verse and chorus of a song we’re doing that weekend. Then I will go through each band member and ask them for individual tweaks (more snare, less bass, etc.).

If you’ve started off with a rough mix and they need less of something from the start, I ask them to simply point their hand down until it’s low enough. Typically, I try to keep my rough mixes all a bit low, so it’s not a big problem.

With that method, even a large band can be set up quickly and efficiently. And that’s important because musicians have short attention spans and if we loose them, it’s a hard job getting it back.

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Time Flies

Katie’s first Christmas

Today my oldest daughter graduates from High School. To think that I am old enough to have an 18-year old daughter is rather surreal. It doesn’t seem that long ago that she was just entering pre-school. In fact, I still remember the first day of school when I dropped her off. I asked if she wanted me to come in with her, and she said, “Sure.” Once she saw the room, and the other kids, she looked at me and said, “I’m OK. Bye!” And off she went. 

That was 15 years ago. This fall she is off to college. Where did the time go? Over the past few weeks, scenes like that have been playing over in my mind. It’s hard to believe that the little girl who used to crawl up on my lap and make funny noises with me while we watched Tim the Toolman Taylor now has her own car, and is making her own decisions. 

Being that this is a blog about church tech, you may be starting to wonder if I’ve just gone all nostalgic today or if there is a point to this post. Well, yes. There is.

If you have kids, or are going to have kids, you need to know one thing; they will grow up. Don’t miss it. This is a challenge for us techie types because we are high-capacity, high in-demand workers with a tendency toward workaholism. You know it’s true. It’s really easy for us to spend many more hours at the church than we should because, “…we need to be there.” 

Your kids are going to grow up. Don’t miss it.

I write this as someone who has varying degrees of success with this. At some points in my girls lives, I’ve been around a lot. There were many years when I was able to attend every school play and activity. But there were also more years than there should have been when I wasn’t really around much. 

When my first company really started taking off, I missed a lot of dinners. When I first started working at the church, I missed a lot of dinners, and school programs, and just good old fashioned time together. 

My kids are growing up. And I missed some of it.

I write this as a cautionary tale to you younger tech guys and gals. The church will always be there. There will always be one more project, one more thing that needs fixing, one more event to run, one more service to plan. You will never be finished. Ever.

But your kids are going to grow up. Once. Don’t miss it.

At this point in my career, I’ve achieved a fair degree of “success.” And that’s great. I wish I felt more “successful” as a parent. It’s not that I feel like a failure; to be sure, my girls are great and we have a very good relationship. My oldest is off to a wonderful Christian school in the fall (Vanguard; Go Lions!), and I have no doubt about her faith in Christ. 

Still, I know I missed parts of her life, and I can’t get that back. 

One of Katie’s Sr. Portraits

Don’t let your job, even for the church, rob you of your children’s childhood. You won’t get another chance. If you have kids, play the family card more often. And if your church won’t recognize the importance of that, find another job. The church that intentionally keeps you away from your family doesn’t deserve you. Yes, I just said that.

Your kids are growing up. Don’t miss it.

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End of Life

I’ve been thinking about the end of life lately. Not my end of life, mind you, but our equipment’s end of life. Over the last few years, I’ve been working on replacing all the outdated, worn out and incorrect equipment at Coast Hills (which is just about everything). I figure this process will take another 3-5 years at least. However, every piece of equipment has a fixed lifespan; stuff just doesn’t last forever. That means that even the nice, shiny new equipment I’m putting in today will need to be replaced. And I’m not sure anyone ever considers that.

See, I think most churches look at A/V/L equipment as a one-time capital expense. They buy all the stuff they need once, and forget about it for a long, long time. At least until it breaks. At which point there is a sense of panic and urgency to get it fixed or replaced. 

As part of my master plan for A/V/L equipment, I’ve decided to run some end of life projections. The rationale is simple; while I know we have a lot of outdated gear to replace right now, we have a bunch of other stuff that will be needing replacement starting in about, oh, 3-4 years. And when you start looking at the numbers, it’s not chump change. Take a look:

As you can see, we’re talking some serious dollars. Now, I’m just considering major systems; that is systems that have a price tag over $10,000. I figure the smaller stuff will just get rolled into the normal yearly operating budget. We will always have mics, DIs, single light fixtures and maybe even a video monitor or two to replace. But when it comes to the big stuff, we need to think that out in advance. And here’s why:

Over the next 10 years or so, we’ll need to spend almost $300,000 to keep pace with our equipment’s end of life. Think we should start planning for that? Uh, yeah.

And this is where it gets tricky. We can’t clearly define “end of life.” Not all equipment will just drop dead at 10 years old. However, we do know that all electro-mechanical devices will begin failing at some point. I’m taking some educated guesses as to when our systems will need replacing.

I’m guessing at roughly how much it will cost (in today’s dollars, anyway), based on equipment I know that is roughly comparable today. Obviously, there are a ton of variables in this plan, but it’s a best guess, Mr. Sulu. 

It’s important to keep in mind that these are not budgets, they’re not completely spec’d out systems and I won’t be held to these numbers. Rather, it’s an estimate for planning purposes. Certainly we may be able to stretch some of the equipment life to even out the graph.

We’re really heavily loaded in the next 2-3 years, then it tapers off until the early 2020’s. As I get into this more, I will probably make some adjustments to see if we can level that out some. But there’s no getting around it, we need to start setting aside some significant cash right now to be prepared for this. 

Either that, or we make some significant decisions regarding our use of technology. For example, we’re looking at some changes to our main auditorium that may negate the need for IMAG. If that’s the case, we can save about $75,000. Not bad. On the other hand, if leadership decided we not only need to do IMAG, but add a few cameras to the mix, the numbers go up. 

So as you can see, this is but a starting point. But without a starting point, we have nothing to talk about. With this, we can start thinking ahead and plan wisely. 

How are you planning for your systems end of life?

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.

Final Shots from InfoComm

Here are the final few pics I received from Duke Dejong at InfoComm last week. I would have had these up earlier, but we bought some new lights and had to get them hung before the weekend. Anyway, here we go.


As Duke said, it’s not new, but it’s still freaking awesome! I heard this at NAMM in January, and it is really, really cool.

Now this is something we’ve been waiting for; an iPad audio interface from Studio Six Digital. It will be shipping in August, and includeds a built-in battery plus a DC power cord. When plugged into power, it will also charge the iPad. The interface has a single mic input, plus a line in (so we can do Transfer Function!). They are working on a case for the iPad/interface. Cost is said to be $399. 

One more, “There’s an app for that!” Sometime this fall, you’ll be able to control your Smaart 7 rig from your iPad. This seems like a cool concept, though I’ll be curious to see why this is better than just VNC’ing into the computer running Smaart. Still, sounds cool…

Well, that’s it. Been a great show, huh? I feel just like I was there, only my feet aren’t sore and I’m not dehydrated. Thanks to Duke for bringing us this great coverage, and don’t forget to listen to Church Tech Weekly tomorrow for even more coverage. 

InfoComm Update: StageMix & TVOne

More pics and info from InfoComm11!

Yamaha will be adding head amp control to the StageMix iPad app at some yet to be determined date in the future, taking us one step closer to full remote control of the M7 or LS9.

Nexo shows off a rather funky looking, good sounding $4K floor wedge. Duke says it sounds “pretty dang good and loud.” So there you go.

TVOne is showing off their new CorioView 4 Input Multiviewer that we saw at NAB. It inputs lots of flavors and is very customizable. 

InfoComm Update: Bose Line Array & Blackmagic Recorders

While Bose has left sort of a bad taste in everyone’s mouth from a live PA standpoint, it appears they are trying to change that with a new line array system.

From what we hear, it’s steerable both vertically and horizontally, and at least in the demo room, sounded pretty good.

Boxes are said to be priced in the $4-5K range each. Duke reports that while the array doesn’t quite get down low enough to really give you that thump in the chest, they are working on a dual 18 to provide the low end. Will people be able to get over the Bose name? Time will tell…

Blackmagic continues to roll out new stuff. These appeared on their website a few weeks back, SSD-based recorders. The price point is crazy, and would be a perfect solution for an off-site video venue. Just sneaker-net the drive to the new venue and pop it in a dock there. Seems almost too easy.

Oh, and they’re also making a rack mount dual bay version for recording longer sessions. According to Duke, the single has just started shipping, with the dual to follow in July. Could be a fun summer!


restingphoto © 2009 Liber the poet | more info (via: Wylio)


Again with the confession time; I’m not good at taking a Sabbath. And I suspect I’m not the only tech guy in that boat. Taking a day off and not doing anything can be really tough for people like us. We’re used to running full tilt boogie all the time and cranking through an extraordinarily high workload. We’re really just not wired to take a day off, sit back, relax and enjoy the show. Mainly because most of the time, we’re putting on the show. Metaphorically speaking, of course. 

And that’s where it can get sticky. Because the truth is, we need to take time off to recharge. But we often don’t. Personally, I have a hard time with a day that doesn’t end with more things checked off my list. I am a doer, and I like to do. 

But we need time to be. Just be. Some time to relax, recharge and enjoy the world God created for us. A few hours when we don’t have to accomplish anything. A day to reflect on what God is doing in our lives, or just be still and let Him be God while we watch the world go by.

I don’t know about you, but I feel a sense of guilt when I take a day like that. I feel like I should be getting something done. Even if it’s not work related, I always have things to do; balancing the checkbook and paying bills, writing, cleaning up around the house or yard, keeping the cars maintained, writing proposals or doing system designs, the list goes on. 

I used to think that if I worked on my writing or consulting business on my days off from church, that was like taking a day off. Except it’s not. It’s still work. And the longer I do this, the more I’m realizing that I simply cannot work all the time. We were not meant to work all the time.

God created the Sabbath for us, not the other way around. We are meant to be able to step off the treadmill once a week, and trust that life will in fact go on even if we’re not working to make it so. I think being a TD at a church sets us up for the idea that we can never take a day off. We get so used to having to be at church all the time to keep the train on the rails, that we think if we take a day off, the universe will come unglued.

Can I let you in on a secret? It won’t. God has this, really He does. I know this to be true because I actually took a real Sabbath this week. I spent the whole day of Monday not really accomplishing anything productive. 

That’s not entirely true, I did make one phone call and return two e-mails for work. But it took less than 10 minutes. The rest of the day was, well, rest. I watched two movies, and sat in my zero-gravity chair in the backyard and took a nap. For two hours.

And the earth was still spinning when I woke up. Go figure.

See, I’m learning when I really do need to take a Sabbath. I know I should take one every week, but sometimes that’s just plain hard. But when I find myself getting irritated at routine requests at work, or aggravated at my wife or kids for asking me questions when I’m trying to get things done, or ready to quit my job and ride a motorcycle across Canada (movie reference; One Week, I recommend it), I know it’s time for a day off.

I want to be the TD of Coast Hills for quite a few years. And the only way that’s going to happen is if I take care of myself and avoid burnout. And the only way that’s going to happen is if I take a regular day off.

Really off.

As in, “no work, no e-mail, no phone calls, no texts” off.

A day to just be instead of do.

Time to allow God to heal my spirit and revive my soul.

Then I can get back to it with more energy and excitement, feeling far more productive. I’m learning to feel less guilty about taking a day off. After all, God Himself took a day off; so I think we’re allowed.

How often do you take a real day off?

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Extron Goodies at InfoComm

Here are some cool new products coming from Extron. First up a cool matrix router. 

It’s a cross-point router that scales from 4×4 to 32×32. As you can see it handles quite an array of inputs and outputs, will switch HDCP signals and will supply power to XTP (Video over Twisted Pair) transmitters and receivers. For a church looking to set up a distributed video system on their campus, this could be pretty slick. Model name is XTP CrossPoint 3200.

The SME100 is a streaming media encoder that spits out an h.264 stream over EtherNet. It appears to have the front end of a scaler/switcher and can take component, DVI, RGB and other signals in, convert them to h.264 and stream them out. This is due by the end of the year. Duke reports the quality to be quite nice.

The DVS 605 is a digital seamless switcher that integrates HDMI, RGB, HDTV, and video sources into presentation systems. It features two universal analog outs plus optional 3G SDI outputs. Expect to pay around $3200 w/out audio, $5,000 with. 

And finally, iPad control for Extron switches. Why spend a ton of money on proprietary control interfaces, when you can just use an iPad. This would be slick for people who manage a large campus full of Extron gear…

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