Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: July 2011 (Page 1 of 2)

What The Church Can Learn From Apple

'Apple Store Regent Street' photo (c) 2007, Squinty Bastard • Bald by choice. - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

 

Apple has raised a few eyebrows and drawn a fusillade of flaming arrows of late, what with the update of FinalCut Pro and recent release of Lion. Critics are calling those huge mistakes, and predict Apple’s customers will be leaving in droves. On the other hand, according to the recent earnings call, they have some $76 Billion in the bank and posted another record quarter. So there you go. Clearly they are doing something right.

Now it may seem sacrilegious to suggest the Church could learn anything from a company that priced it’s first computer, the Apple I, at $666. Keep in mind that I’m not suggesting pastors adopt Steve’s notoriously dictatorial leadership style, or even trying to become like Apple. On the other hand, I think those of us in leadership should always be scanning the horizon for principles we can integrate into our lives that will help.

I have followed Apple since 1986, and have been fascinated with their rise, fall and subsequent rise. Here are few things that I see over and over again, and I believe have been key to their success. Perhaps these principles will be helpful.

Apple Doesn’t Care What You Think

I should rephrase that; Apple doesn’t care what critics think. You can look back over their history, particularly since Steve returned in the late ’90s and it quickly becomes obvious that they blaze their own path. People complained long and loud when they deleted the 3.5” floppy from Macs; but they were right—it was dead technology. Anyone seen a 3.5” floppy lately?

They obliterated SCSI in favor of FireWire, then dropped FW400 support in favor of FW800. But again, does anyone miss SCSI? And with a $3 cable from monoprice.com, you can always connect your FW400 stuff if you need to. I could go on citing examples, but you get (or already know) the idea.

Whenever change is required, a certain percentage of the people affected will be upset. That’s OK. We need to hear those people, let them air their concerns, love and care for them, and then continue on with our plans. If we’ve made a decision based on prayer and input from the Holy Spirit and others, we need to stick to that plan with confidence, even if a few people are upset. The minute we start catering to every upset member is the minute we become ineffective as a church. 

The reason that we can move forward confidently is the next main point.

Apple Has a Clear Vision of Their Future

Apple doesn’t look at what computing needs are today. They look 3-5 years down the road. They try to predict (often with frightening accuracy) what we’ll be doing in 3 years, then give us that technology today. Sure, we’re often way out there on the leading edge (eg. ThunderBolt), but my guess is that in 2-3 years you won’t be able to buy a computer without ThunderBolt.

Apple has never been reactive (at least not with Steve at the helm). They don’t look at the computing landscape and say, “Hmmm, what is Dell doing, we should copy that.” Instead, they blaze a trail, based on what they think is needed. Now, you can agree or disagree with their conclusions, but you can’t deny this is how they operate. Love them or hate them, they know where they’re going and aren’t afraid to go there.

Many local churches are often very reactive. They wait to see what the mega-church down the street is doing, then copy that. Or they look at the church across town and try to guess what that church is missing and fill in the gap. As soon as the winds change, it’s off to another thing.

Again, I think we need to seek God in prayer; ask the Holy Spirit to show us where He wants us to go as a church and as a tech ministry. We should be asking Him where we should be going, what we should be doing and to give us a clear picture of the next few years. Once we have that, we should pursue that with all we have. As with Apple, people can agree to disagree, but we cannot be held captive to the naysayers.

Apple Strives for Best, not Biggest

Apple has never been the biggest computing company, at least in terms of market share. Last I checked, they were still hovering around 10%. Even the revolutionary iPhone seems to be being eclipsed in the smartphone market by the plethora of Android devices. But honestly, I don’t think Apple cares. 

They want to build what they believe to be the best computing devices on the planet. They sell them at a premium and have quite well for themselves. And regardless of market share, Apple is the brand to beat in terms of industrial and UI design, and everyone knows that (even the Apple haters will admit it if they’re honest). Everyone else copies Apple. Again, you are free to not like it, but you can’t deny it. Along the way, being the best has been very, very good to them (consider the aforementioned $76 Billion in the bank!).

At the local church level, and in our tech ministries in particular, I think we need to strive to be who God has called us to be. I don’t need my tech department to look like Saddleback’s tech department; the world already has one of those. My audio system doesn’t need to look exactly like Northpoint’s. We need to be who we are.

As a church, we need to strive to be the very best church we can be. We don’t have to be the biggest, we just need be the best Coast Hills we can. Your church needs to be the best your church name here it can. Your tech department needs to be the best tech department it can.

Don’t go crazy trying to be something you’re not; be who God has called you to be, and be the very best you can. Out of that, growth will come. 

Of course, all of these analogies are not perfect. As I said at the beginning, I don’t want or expect the church to be like Apple. But I do feel we can learn a few things. When we are operating our of the Holy Spirit’s playbook, we can stop worrying about the results, and simply do what we’re called to do. The results, God’s results, will follow.

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Building a Portable System

On Twitter, @busyscott asked if I knew of any “How To” guides for building a portable sound system. I thought for a while, and realized I couldn’t think of any. So I thought I’d write up a Reader’s Digest Condensed version. This won’t be comprehensive, but will have a few thoughts on what I consider important for portable system design. Of course, all these ideas need to be considered in light of your needs, which may be different from mine. 

Make it Portable

This may seem obvious, but based on some of the “portable” systems I’ve seen, it seems this rule is oft-ignored. Mike’s first rule of portability is this: Never carry what you can roll. The second is like it; never roll what you can get someone else to roll. Even when people remember this rule, there are a few things that sometimes get missed. 

First, use good wheels. And by good, I mean at least 2-2 1/2” in diameter (larger is better). Second, make sure the wheels (at least some of them) lock. In portable situations, you may find yourself setting up on un-level ground, and locking wheels will keep your portable system from ending up in a pond. 

Part of portability means smart packaging. SKB and others make very slick rolling racks with mixer rails in the top, and vertical rack rails below. These make ideal small system building blocks. Drop in a rack-mountable mixer, add necessary outboard gear and you’ve got FOH taken care of. 

I’ve been working on a system like this at Coast Hills for a few years. I’ve slowly been re-purposing equipment, and filling out my rack to get us to a place where we can roll it out and be ready to go. 

Manage Expectations

This isn’t so much a rule as a reminder as you’re building your system. We sound guys like to overkill everything, all in the name of the best possible sound. That’s a good thing, generally. But in portable systems, we’re typically doing simple events that don’t require concert level sound (and if they do, bring in a concert level PA…).

I find myself using my portable system with an iPod for background music and one or two mics for announcements about 80% of the time. The other 20% consists of off-site retreats and the like where the acoustics are much, much less than ideal and the expectations are similar. 

This is a good thing, as we don’t need to spend a small fortune to build a high-end system. We are typically looking for basic sound reinforcement, so a set of powered speakers usually work just fine. If you pair them with a set of powered subs as well, you’re well down the road to decent sound. 

In our case, when we installed the EV LiveX system in our student room, I pulled down the old EONs and the subs. Those got re-purposed as my portable speakers. They’re not the best, but they work fine for what I need.

Consider Analog

Digital is all the rage right now, but for a portable system, I don’t mind going analog; though this is primarily a cost issue for me. I have a lot of older, still working analog gear that worked great in my system. A couple of DBX 166A comps gives me 4 channels of compression, an SPX 990 works wonders on effects and the DriveRack PX works fine for basic PA tuning. Add in a Furman for power and a rack drawer for sharpies, board tape, gaff and batteries and we’re ready to roll. I’m short just two channels of wireless for our system, and I’m still debating what I’ll buy for that. 

While digital is nice in that does package all that outboard gear in one box (an 01V could work really well), it’s a lot of money if you have to go buy one. And given how infrequently we use our system (5-6 times a year), it’s too much money for me to tie up sitting in a closet. Of course, if you have an 01V sitting around…

Keep it Self-Contained

One of my biggest goals for my portable system is to make sure I have everything I will need in the case without having to pull anything from my regular stock. That includes patch cords, mic cables, extension cords, etc.. 

Now, I do sometimes break that rule when it comes to mics. If I’m doing a retreat and need a few DIs and drum mics, I will pull from my regular mic locker. Again, it doesn’t make sense to me to have $1,000 in mics and DIs sitting in a closet most of the year, waiting for that occasional outside event. 

However, as much as possible, I want to be able to grab the racks and cases and go; I don’t want to be grabbing a ton of stuff from main stage to make it happen. Consider your possible needs for cabling, then assemble those cables in a rack, box, or other rolling container and keep them there. You might even want to label them.

Adjust as Needed

Now, the system that I’m describing is very basic and handles small events very well. If you find yourself doing outdoor worship services multiple times a year, or other larger events, you should consider the cost of building your own portable system versus renting what you need. You may find that simply renting a PA for the day will get you better quality at a lower cost than you could afford to buy. 

On the other hand, if you need it often enough, it may make sense to build your own system. Keep in mind, you could ease into it. Start buy renting the whole system to figure out what you need. Then build your own FOH rack with mixer and other gear, but rent the speakers. When it makes sense, buy speakers.

Obviously, this is not a comprehensive guide, but hopefully it gives you some ideas and a launching off point. Do you have a portable system? What does it look like?

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The “Right” Sound

I’ve been having more conversations lately about trying to get sound “right.” I’ve spoken with more than one Sr. Pastor or other church leader who just wants the sound to be “right,” but doesn’t really have a handle on how complicated the task of getting there is. In some conversations, they seem to intimate that there is a knob labeled “right,” and all we have to do is turn it up and we’re done. You and I know this is just plain silly, but I can understand their point of view.

For example; why does it take them 20 hours to come up with a 30 minute sermon? I mean really? Based on how I write, I’m quite sure I could write 30 minutes of dialog in under 3 hours. What are you doing with the other 17 hours, pastor? Surfing YouTube?

When we don’t understand each other’s worlds, it’s easy to make assumptions. They tend to assume that the shiny new digital board mixes the sound all the way to “right” by itself, and we assume they’re slow.

In an effort to bridge the gap, I’m always trying to come up with ways to explain the complexity of what we do. One of my latest illustrations comes out of my math-geekness. I started adding up the number of adjustments we make on any given Sunday to make the sound good. Then I started adding up the number of parameters we have at our disposal, out of which we make adjustments. Then it occurred to me that each of those parameters has a wide range of values. And I wondered what that big number added up to.

So I did what anyone would do, I built a spreadsheet. Starting with the basic parameters on our SD8 (I excluded multi-band comps and dynamic EQ, as well as inserted GEQs and FX) and started adding up how many things we can adjust (HPF, LPF, EQ, Comps, Gates, Auxes, Fader). In our current configuration, that number is 43. I then assigned an approximate number of values to each parameter.

Now this is somewhat subjective; take EQ gain for example. If you have 18 dB boost or cut, how many steps are there? The SD8 works in .1 dB. But who among us can hear .1 dB? So I took it to 1 dB, thus I have four EQ gains with 36 possible settings (actually 37, counting 0). I did the same with Q and frequency, then worked my way through the channel strip.

Any guesses as to how many values we have per channel strip? Remember, this is our board in our configuration and I’ve made some subjective judgements as to the number of values per parameter. Nonetheless, I came up with just over 2,000 values per channel!

Of course, we don’t have one channel. In our case, we normally run between 32-40 channels on a weekend, depending on band configuration, number of speaking mics, etc.. Total it all up, and you are at 65,000+ possible values! 65,000! Some combination of those values will make it sound “right.” And as my friend Roy says, “A lot more of them will make it sound wrong!”

I never really got a handle on permutations and combinations in math class so perhaps someone can help me out here. But if you take 43 parameters with 2000 possible values and spread it out over 32 channels, I’m guessing the total number of possible combinations runs into the billions. Math is like that.

Essentially, we have to pick one of a billion possible combinations (for each song, mind you) to make it sound “right.”

Of course, this is a vast over-simplification; you can likely be 1 dB off on your guitar EQ and still be in the “right” ballpark. But when you look at this this way, it starts to become a little more clear that this is way harder than it looks.

And, we’ve not even begun to talk about mic choice or placement; reverb and other effects settings (heck, I didn’t even count up output parameters and values!); or even the basic musical artistry that separates technically competent engineers from great engineers.

Feel free to pass this on to your Sr. Pastor if you’re struggling to help him understand the complexities of what you do. I have the opportunity to run this by our Sr. and Exec. Pastor at the end of next month; I’ll let you know how it goes.

Have you been successful in communicating the complexities of your job with your pastor? If so, what’s your secret?

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EV RE320

The ElectroVoice RE20 has been from it’s introduction a favorite of broadcasters and announcers. Somewhere along the line, someone stuck it in front of a bass cabinet and discovered it rocks as a bass mic. Then someone else put it in a kick drum and found it works wonders there, too. In fact, the RE20 is great on a lot of things. And while it’s not super-expensive (at least by premium microphone standards), at $400-ish, it’s not a budget mic either.

EV realized there was a market for a more cost-conscious version of the RE20. In January, 2011 at NAMM in Anaheim, they introduced the RE320. List price is $299, and you can find it on the street easily in the low $200’s. When I saw it at NAMM, I knew I had to try it. I’ve used the RE20 in the past, and always liked it. But I have a hard time justifying the price tag when I have so many other things that need attention.

The week before Easter, a box arrived; it was my demo RE320. We were re-setting the stage anyway, so I pulled the PR-48 out of the kick and stuck the RE320 in. I think it was the second or third kick during line check that I knew this mic was not going back.

I’ve tried a lot of different mics in the kick, and have only really ever been happy with one; the Heil PR-40. I’d love a PR-40, but at almost $400, it’s a tough sell. The PR-48 was OK, but I never felt we could get it positioned to give us both the punch and the clarity I wanted from the kick. We could get one or the other, but not both.

When I arrived at Coast, we had the “classic” combination of a Beta 91 inside and a Beta 52 in the hole. I know a lot of guys who like the dual mic technique in the kick, and I respect that. My preference however, is to use one. There are a lot of reasons for that which I won’t detail here. But know that it’s preference thing and I don’t think dual mic’ing is wrong. I’d just rather not.

So I’m always looking for a single mic that can give me what I want (and costs less than a PR-40 or RE20). At long last, I’ve found it. The RE320 sounds really, really good. It’s tight, punchy, has good articulation and gives me the low end oomph that I’ve been after; all without sounding muddy.

The RE320 is a “dual voice design” (EV’s words), meaning there is a switch that tailors the response to either work well on a kick drum, or for announcing. I’ve not had occasion to use it for voice-overs, but if it performs that task anywhere near as well as it does on the kick, it will be a winner.

The RE320 is a long, heavy mic. It requires a good stand to stay in place, and may take some tweaking to get it in the right spot. We have ours way inside the kick, about 3-4″ away from the beater head, slightly off-axis and pointed at the beater. That gives us the best sound in both the PA and the ears for the musicians. My friend Van just demo’d one (that is not going back either) and he has it about 3-4″ inside the front hole. Of course, your mileage may vary.

At right around $200, it was a no-brainer for me, especially since I essentially got two mics for the price of one. That’s right, don’t think that PR-48 was relegated to the bench. When I spoke with Bob Heil some time back, he told me the killer mic combination for the B3 is two PR-30s on top and a PR-48 on the bottom. I’ve yet to acquire the PR-30s, but the PR-48 is in fact, killer.

So now that I’ve saved $200 on my new kick mic, I have enough to buy one of the two needed PR-30s. So it’s really a win-win. If you’re in the market for a kick mic, I think you should definitely give the RE-320 a try. It’s head and shoulders above what we ever got out of the Beta 91/52 package; at least that’s our experience. 

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Shortening the Digital Learning Curve

A while back I wrote a post on virtual soundcheck. Simply put, virtual soundcheck is a mechanism for capturing the inputs to your board as close to right after the mic pre as possible, then being able to easily play that back, in the same inputs as the real band. Digital consoles have made this process relatively easy, though the exact implementations vary.

The other day I was asked to recommend a digital console to a church who as looking to make the switch. As I pondered the options in their price range, one of their requirements kept coming back; the console should be fairly easy for volunteers to learn.

To some extent, this is a catch-22. An audio console is by nature a fairly complex device. The bigger they get, with more routing and mixing options, the higher the complexity. When moving to digital, the complexity factor goes higher. Even the best, most user-friendly consoles are still pretty complicated pieces of technology, and as such, require the user to spend a fair amount of time on them to be proficient. 

This brought me back to virtual soundcheck. I thought of one of the ways we use virtual sound check, and that’s to train new volunteers. In the old days, training new volunteers had to happen either during the week, with no sound running through the board, at rehearsals, or–heaven forbid–during a service. 

What I love about training with virtual soundcheck is that we can record the entire process, from beginning to end, in full multi-track form, then play it back without the band being there. That means, our audio team can show up at 7 PM on Thursday when the room is empty, fire up the board and spend all night playing with all the knobs, faders and on-screen controls without any worry that we hold anyone up or cause distraction during the service.

It’s easy to train people on the sound check process by simply recording the sound check. I can show someone how I EQ a guitar by recording and playing back the guitar player in our band. If I want to teach on how compressors or gates work, it’s easy to do with actual sounds from our actual band.

And since we can record the entire service, we can even work on getting transitions right; like making sure the pastor’s mic is up after worship for prayer, and how to get the band turned off so you don’t hear thumps and pops during said prayer.

As all that crossed my mind, I decided to strongly recommend that if this church were to buy a digital console, they buy one along with a virtual sound check system. The more I thought about it, the more I believe that nothing will shorten the learning curve faster than giving a volunteer time on the system. And giving them time on the system with actual sound sources will always be better than not.

Since you can typically add virtual sound check to almost any digital board for between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars, it just makes sense (given that you’ll spend at least $10K on a desk anyway and probably more).

There is, of course, a lot more you can do with virtual sound check and digital multi-tracking, but I think training users is perhaps the highest value add. Do you use virtual sound check? If so, how?

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Skype On The Big Screen

There seems to be a fair amount of interest in doing Skype calls during services lately. It seems I’ve seen 3-4 threads on doing just that in the past few months. We had to do a little Skyping today for our SVBS program; we did a video call with a woman in Kenya. While setting up a Skype call is something your grandmother can do, integrating it into your projection, video and audio setup can be a bit more challenging. Here’s how we did it.

Video

This is perhaps the easiest of the three—getting video into Skype. While you could do it with a built-in laptop camera, the better option is to send a video feed through a video card or FireWire converter. We have a MacPro at presentation, with a Blackmagic Intensity Pro card. The Intensity Pro will input and output HDMI and Analog video, along with analog audio (and S/PDIF out). 

For our system, we sent a composite program output from our switcher (actually it was from the DA) to the Intensity card. While the card can do component, I figured composite would be good enough. We originally came straight out of camera 1’s CCU, but then realized it would be good to be able to return the audience cam to the woman in Kenya. So we switched it. That let us get a shot of the person on our end doing the talking, and add in the kids as well. Which leads to audio…

Audio

Skype audio can be tricky. No matter what audio interface you try to use, Skype will only use the first channel (or left) for input. We have an M-Audio Fast Track Ultra at presentation that we use for playback of videos and such. After playing around with a bunch of different options, we determined that we could use the Fast Track for both input and output. 

We routed Skype’s output to the M-Audio, and sent an Aux from the SD8 back in. It’s important to use an Aux (or a Matrix, or perhaps a group if you must) to send the audio to Skype to avoid feedback loops. Do not send program out or you will get feedback. We sent only the interviewer mic and a little bit of the audience mics (post fader) back to Skype.

Getting the call set up before going “live” can be tricky. You need to be able to talk to the person on Skype, and hear them before going to the house. For us, that means solo’ing up the Skype audio feed in our NS-10s at FOH to hear the caller, and using the talkback mic to talk to her. The SD8 makes it easy to assign the TB mic wherever we want, so we sent it to the Skype Aux send.

If our FOH position was closer to the audience I would probably put on cans, but because we’re in another zip code, we can get away with the speakers at low volume. And now, how do we get the Skype video feed onto the main screen?

Presentation

This part really only applies if you’re using a Mac with ProPresenter (which you should be anyway…). There is no easy way to route the Skype screen to the ProPresenter output screen directly. You can’t use the “Web” function, because Skype doesn’t work that way. You need a way to get the video image from the Skype window onto a slide.

Enter a nifty little program called CamTwist. It’s a free little app that does a lot of things, but what we’re interested in is a feature called Desktop+. Desktop+ allows you to not only turn the contents of a user-definable capture window into a video feed that ProPresenter can use, but it will do it while the window is behind ProPresenter. 

So that means you can set up the call, select the area, then bring ProPresenter to the foreground and pipe CamTwist in as a live video input and voila, you have Skype on the screen. We created a slide with a background JPG and added a smaller live video window in front. So all we had to do to take Skype to the screen is to hit that slide. Easy.

Of course, if you had even a semi-decent switcher feeding your main screen this is pretty easy. But we don’t, so we make do with this. One thing to keep in mind is that the order you launch programs is important. 

You must first launch Skype, then CamTwist, then ProPresenter. If Pro starts up before CamTwist, it won’t recognize the CamTwist input and you’ll get a blank screen. Also, Skype audio can be funky; play with it a lot to make sure you get the settings right before trying it out during a service. We found that sometimes we just had to re-start Skype to get a setting change to stick.

So there you go. That’s how we do a Skype call to the main screen.

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What We Can Learn from Michael Jackson

I just re-watched Michael Jackson’s This Is It. Now, I’ll go on record stating that I’m not a huge MJ fan. I appreciate his artistry and showmanship, but I don’t have any of his music on my iPod. It’s good stuff, just not my cup of tea. I originally saw This Is It in the theater when it came out last fall. At first, I was a bit put off by his physical appearance, but after a while I was drawn in by the incredible talent he possessed and the amazing show they were preparing. 

Today as I watched it again, a few themes emerged that I think we as technicians and musicians can learn from. Note that I’m not saying we should be like Michael Jackson; rather these are a few illustrations of how we could be better at what we do every weekend.

Know the Material
During one scene in the film, Michael is working out a part with the keyboard player. The musician obviously studied the part and knew it pretty well, but Michael knew it exactly. Every note, every beat and the exact feel. Other times we saw him working out vocal parts with the background singers and he could sing every line. The man obviously knew the songs backwards and forwards.

How much time do we spend during the week getting to know the songs we’ll be mixing or playing on Sunday? Far too many times I’ve seen musicians show up, pull out the charts and ask, “So how are we playing this?” or “Wait, what’s that part?” Other times, I’ve seen FOH engineers turn a guitar-led song into a piano-led number because they weren’t familiar with the recording. 

I’m not saying there isn’t room for artistic interpretation and expression, but there’s a difference between showing up prepared and putting your signature on it and flying blind hoping not to crash. Technology is making this easier than ever. More and more churches are using Planning Center Online which makes it dead-simple to attach MP3s of each song so the entire team can listen during the week and familiarize themselves with the material. 

I’ve been encouraging my entire tech team to spend a few minutes and listen to the songs before the weekend. It helps lighting designers come up with a feel for the song; camera people know when solos are going to happen and video directors know when to switch to them. Presentation techs will have a better idea of where to break verses up and obviously FOH engineers will know how to set up the mix.

Treat Others with Respect
Another favorite scene in the film happens when Michael is having problems with his IEMs. After struggling through I Want You Back, he stops, and says (and I’m paraphrasing because I didn’t transcribe this), “I’m struggling to adjust to the in-ears. It feels like there is a fist pushing down in my ear. And I’m saying this with love; L-O-V-E. But it’s really hard, you know?” 

We’ve all heard stories of big-name (and not-so-big-name) artists going off on monitor engineers because their monitor mix is not quite right. I once had a musician snap, “They need everything in their monitors, they just need it mixed well!” I’ve had musicians stop during rehearsal and say, “The mix is so bad, we just can’t go on!” These were church musicians. I’ve also seen engineers yell at musicians, “You can’t hear your guitar because you’re deaf!” 

Those are probably not the best way to build relationships. When a musician is willing to work with the engineer to achieve a good mix, everyone wins. When the engineer walks down on stage and asks, “Is there anything else I can do for you?,” everyone wins. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath…” Yelling at people doesn’t build teams.

Share the Spotlight
Whatever you think about Michael Jackson, you can’t deny he was a mega-star. With all his stardom and fame, you would expect he would have every right to keep everyone in the background and keep the spotlight on himself. His fans would probably expect that. But that’s not what he did. He surrounded himself with dancers and vocalists and shared the spotlight.

In another favorite scene, he brings 24-year old Orianthi Panagaris up to the front of the stage for her guitar solo. Now, she’s a pretty amazing young guitarist, but she’s just that–young. He stops her several times and says, “Now really hit that high note, don’t worry if the rest of the band stops. This is your time to shine, and we’ll be right there with you.” 

That’s an amazing gift to give a young performer. We can do the same thing. Worship leaders can allow others to lead out and learn from the experience. As TDs, we can give younger techs and volunteers the chance to take on more than they ever thought they’d be capable of. And when someone compliments their work, we need to make sure they know it wasn’t us. 

I have a 15-year old lighting volunteer who is really, really good. I love giving him the chance to create magic with the lights. Our worship leader is very good about bringing others in to hone their skills at leading. Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about the team we’re building to bring glory to God. 

At the end of the film, they gather in a circle as Kenny Ortega and Michael thank everyone. Michael says, “This is a great adventure, not something to be nervous about. We just need to bring our best.” I think that should describe what we do every weekend. We don’t need to be nervous about bringing praises to God; it should be an adventure! When we bring our very best to God and offer it to Him, somehow, He transforms it into a magical experience that gives everyone in the room freedom to worship Him with their entire being. If that’s not a great adventure, I don’t know what is!

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Help Us Help You

Still on vacation. But in the spirit of helping you survive the summer ministry months, here’s a few thoughts on working with other ministries, those that always seem to need our help during the summer.

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

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

Over Communicate

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

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

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

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

Answer Questions Quickly and Accurately

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

Don’t Try to “Save us Work”

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

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

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

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

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