Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: October 2011 (Page 1 of 2)

Cool Demo Opportunity for UK Readers

While most of the readers of this site are in the US, we do have a good contingent of readers from across the pond. I was recently made aware of an interesting demo day that those of you in the UK might be interested in. SFL Productions in Reading is holding a DigiFest Day (actually two days…) on November 9 and 12. From 10 PM-5 PM, you can play with the latest digital desks from Midas, DiGiCo, Roland, Avid, Allen & Heath, Soundcraft, Presonus and Yamaha. 

They will have them set up with virtual soundcheck in both FOH and monitor configurations so you can see how they perform. This actually is a great idea, and if I wasn’t located halfway around the world, I would pop in for a visit. Well, that and the fact that I’ll be covering WFX at that time. Still, how often do you get to compare and contrast all major digital consoles under one roof at the same time? It’s brilliant!

It’s a free event, so visit the SFL Productions website for more information. 

As a challenge to our US production houses, who wants to do a similar event over here?

Almost Live from LDI

I’m not at LDI this year—just so you know. But our man in the field, Duke Dejong, is, and he’s sent back some pictures. Don’t be looking for in-depth reporting here, but these are a few things of interest he came across while wandering the floor (and avoiding the flood).

Chauvet had a bunch of stuff that looked interesting this year. This little box of joy contains six battery-powered LED fixtures that recharge in the roadcase and run for 12 hours. Could be sweet as truss warmers or, more excitingly, portable church. I know, right?

Here’s another Chauvet fixture, a really tight LED powered Framing Spot. No specs yet, but it looks cool.

This is the new Chauvet Q-Wash. If you can’t read the data on the Archos tablet there (Archos? Really?), this little guy has 91 (91!) 3W RGBWA LEDs, will zoom from 6°-32°, is controllable by 12 or 15 DMX channels and puts out 13,100 lux at 5M. As a moving head fixture, this could be pretty slick. I want to know the price, don’t you?

This is pretty wild; it’s called Spider Truss—for obvious reason. I don’t know any specs on it, but it sure looks interesting. 

So you can’t afford a DL-3, but you want to throw video around, huh? How about a projector scanner from Elation? It comes with a universal mount for the projector and lists for around $1,000. Environmental projection, anyone?

This was one of the Grand MA 2’s that didn’t get flooded. Apparently there was a snafoo with some pyro that set off the sprinklers and soaked a few Grand MA 2s. Bummer. But at least the Vista’s were safe. (That’s for you, @tmpendergrass!)

From SeaChanger, it’s a plasma color-changing fixture. Duke says, “Really good color, full color temp control for white too.  Nice and cool temp wise, light is pretty even.” So there you go. 

We’ve been hearing rumors of a new Source4 LED spot, and apparently it’s becoming a real product. Duke wasn’t allowed to take pictures of the product (Really? ETC? Come on…), but he was able to capture the output chart they threw up. Notice the third and the last entry; the third is the Source4 575 we know and love; 575 Watts, 10600 lumens. At the end of the chart, the new Source4 LED, 155 Watts, 6350 lumens. So 1/2 the output at 1/4 the current draw. Also note that they are getting 41 lumens per Watt, which is the highest of any fixture they mentioned. Interesting…

It’s a lighting show, but that doesn’t stop Vaddio from being there. They were showing off their new ProductionVIEW HD MV. It’s a multi-format switcher that can do two separate 6×1 mixes (two discreet outptus), controll cameras and has a built-in multiviewer. Add the touch screen and you simply touch the source you want to take live. I still don’t like robotic cameras for IMAG, but the switcher concept is cool. Duke says it’s affordable, but we don’t have a price at this time.

We thank Duke for the photos, and I refer you to the post he did over at the CCI Solutions blog with some additional narrative. Looks like some good stuff this year!

WFX is 10 Days Away

Don’t forget, in just over a week, we’ll descend into Dallas for WFX. Van and I will be bringing you full video coverage of the latest and greatest products we find. Make sure you say tuned to this site for videos that will hopefully start appearing on Nov. 10. And if you’re going to be at the show, follow me and Van on Twitter as we’ll be tweeting our location a few times throughout the show for impromtu meet ups. Looking forward to seeing many of you!

My Trip to Planning Center Online

Chances are if you work in church tech, you are familiar with Planning Center Online. And if you’re not, you really should be. There is really no better tool for planning and managing teams for worship services. Seriously, you chould check them out. Planning Center Online started about five years ago with just a few guys. They’ve grown tremendously over those few years and have recently moved into some very cool new office space in Carlsbad, CA. 

They’ve also hired a number of new designers and developers, including my friend Daniel Murphy. The other day, I went down to visit Daniel (thanks for lunch, by the way!) and check out the new digs. If you’ve used PCO for any length of time, you’ve seen some significant improvements to the look and feel of the interface, as well as plenty of new features. While I was there, Daniel showed me the next generation service planner, and all I can say is, wait until you see it! We will soon be seeing great new features and a whole new, easier-on-the-eyes look (see the new Matrix view as a reference). They also are doing some cool stuff with Music Stand and the Apple TV. Look for some of the new stuff after the first of the year (public beta in the next few weeks). Follow Planning Center Online on Twitter for updates of the new features.

Anyway, I thought you would enjoy seeing where some of your favorite software is made, so I took a bunch of photos. Behold, the new PCO offices.

This is the main coding area where most of the work gets done. The office has a very cool, Silicon Valley startup feel to it.

You can see the bookcase on the right in the back of the previous photo. This is a general hang out, meeting area. Would be a nice place to relax and code…

What would a software company be without a beanbag “campfire” area?  This is one of two smaller conference rooms with great views of the valley just beyond the office. I’m told sometimes Daniel will grab his MacBook Pro and sit here at the bar while coding.This is their training room. They can seat 24 comfortably. Believe it or not, they have an HD projector bright enough to be visible even with all this glass.Some companies have a break room. PCO has a BREAK ROOM! My host, Daniel, racks up the balls for a friendly game of pool.I’m guessing the kitchen was installed to prepare for the eventual all-night code-athons. This bit of damage was inflicted by Daniel, while riding an electric scooter at full throttle around the office. Looks like it’s not “all work and no play,” after all!PCO has come a long way in just a few years, and it’s great to see them really taking off and refining the software that makes our lives easier. And, if you are a TD in the SoCal area, next March we’re planning a CTL meet up there that we hope will include a trip to the nearby NAMM museum. Good things to come!

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Board Layout: My Take—Part 2

Yesterday we started talking board layout. Today, we’ll finish up by looking at how most of my faders and VCAs look on a given weekend.

Because I have 36 faders, I’ve found I can get my whole band, including vocalists all on the surface at once. Since our bands are usually fairly small, it’s quite easy for me to mix a weekend strictly on the faders. If I want more bass, I can easily reach the fader and push it up. More piano is one fader away, right in the center. Here’s how it lays out.

The left fader bank always houses the drums (8 faders), bass, perc or winds (1 or 2 faders) and drums spank. Sometimes I’ll drop a second guitar (or my double-bussed “monster guitar” fader) if I have the need and the room.

The center fader bank contains our worship leader’s guitar, piano, keys (all stereo but 1 fader each), B3 (2 faders, 3 mics), worship leader vocal & smash channel (2 faders), background vocals (2-4 channels) and when I have room, iTunes playback. 

On the right side, I have our announcement mic, the teaching pastor mic, 3-4 faders full of effects returns (vocal hall, vocal plate, vocal delay and drums), and my VCAs. I typically have 6 VCAs employed; drums, guitars, keys, perc/winds (it’s an either/or instrument for us), BGVs and wedges.

Here is where I diverge from some FOH engineers; I don’t really mix on my VCAs much, I basically use them as remote controls to turn the whole band on and off with a few handles. Sometimes I’ll push or pull on the BGVs, and occasionally will move the drum or keys VCA. But not often. It’s just as easy for me to grab their channels. 

What I do tend to do during transitions is to pull down all the VCAs except the keys (which goes to -20 or so) while they underscore a prayer. I should point out that the reason I have my wedges on a VCA is to make it faster to turn them on and off. I don’t like having open wedges when the band is not up there. So by assigning all my aux masters to a VCA, I can turn all the wedges on and off with one handle. We normally only have 2-3 wedges on stage for vocals, but the aux masters fall on a different page, so it’s faster to grab them from a VCA. Of course, most of those transitions happen using snapshots, but that’s another post. Still, it’s a lot easier than grabbing twenty-some-odd faders. 

For a typical weekend, I rarely have to change layers. On some weekends we’ll do an interview that will require me to drop down a layer in my center bank to get to the rest of the wireless mics, or we may roll a video (also on that page). But most of the time, it’s all faders on the surface. 

As Dave & Duke pointed out on our last podcast, the it’s less important how you lay your board out, and more important that you do what you do on purpose. There are dozens of ways to get good results, and what you do may not be what either Dave or I do. That’s OK. Take ideas, merge them with your requirements and come up with something that works for you.

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Board Layout: My Take—Part 1

The last few posts over at my friend Dave Stagl’s blog, Going to 11, have been really good. I encourage you to read both Part 1 and Part 2, both dealing with board layout and Dave’s approach to using groups and VCAs. The purpose of this post is not to argue or suggest that I’m right and he’s wrong, but rather to give you a different view on how to lay out your mixing desk. My way is not better, it’s just more suited to our set up and the way I mix. I’m writing this to give you ideas; which is how I arrived at what I do—by studying various models and synthesizing my system.

So here we go. First off, I mix on a DiGiCo SD8, which gives me a few advantages. First, I can layout my faders any way I chose; I’m not limited to inputs here, groups there, outputs over there. Second, the SD8 has a flexible bus structure, so I can decide on how many Auxes and Groups I have, either of which can be mono or stereo. Third, each channel can be mono or stereo, which saves me a lot of faders. Finally, I have 36 faders on the surface, a feature that’s proven to be very helpful. Keep these things in mind as we go.

Dave does a great job of explaining Groups and VCAs in his posts, and I’ve written about them here, here and here. Whereas Dave runs most of his channels through groups on the way to the main L&R bus, I take a different tack. Most of my inputs go straight to the L&R bus without passing Go or collecting $200. Rather than use my groups for mixing the house mix, I use groups to feed my matrix to build customized mixes for video, recording and the lobby. The exception is the drum channels. But we’ll get to that in a moment. 

The above picture shows my standard group layout. The first four on the left are my “Groups to Matrix” sends. I’ve broken down all my inputs into four categories; Speaking Mics, Vocal Mics, Band, Playback. Each input gets routed into it’s own group, which is processed and mixed appropriately in the matrix for it’s intended target. I wrote about this technique in this post. The Speaking Mic group is a mono, while the rest are stereo. On the right, I have my FOH Monitor group, which I use for monitoring at FOH, and my Main L&R group. The Subs channel is actually an aux that we’ve ganged together with the Main so a level adjustment at the main fader also adjusts the subs (one of the cool things about the SD8; ganging unlike faders). 

For the drums, I double bus them into my main Drum group and my Drum Spank group (that is, each channel is routed to two groups, or busses, that then feed the main L&R mix). The Drum Spank group is my parallel compressed group that I use to add some extra “bam!” to my drum mix. It’s compressed with a multi-band compressor so I can treat the various instruments in the group with different levels of compression. The reason I double bus them is to keep everything in time; were I to route all the drum inputs straight to the main mix, and have a second group that’s compressed joining in, that ever-so-slight timing delay would cause some phase issues. 

On a normal weekend, 99% of the time, my group faders remain right at unity. The only one that really changes is the Drum Spank, which I have on the top layer next to my drum input channels. When I need some more “oomph” from my drums, I push up the Drum Spank. 

That’s my take on groups. Tomorrow, we’ll look at the rest of the board and see how it lays out.

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Upcoming Adventures: WFX, Dallas

In just a few weeks, we’ll be heading to Dallas for the WFX conference. I missed it last year, but am very excited for this year’s event. It’s going to be a full week, so I thought I’d highlight a few things. Hopefully you’re going to be able to attend (please be sure to find me and say hi!), but if you can’t, don’t worry we have a solution for you.

Tech Leader’s Retreat

First on the agenda is the Church Tech Leader’s Retreat. Pulled together by CTL, the Retreat happens on Tuesday the 8th. Unlike last year’s full-day event, this year, we’re doing two half-day retreats, which will be basically the same. The first session runs from 10:30-2:30, while the second runs from 4:30-8:30. There will be a panel of us leading, and plenty of time to break into smaller groups and discuss things around the table. 

I’m excited to be part of this great group of guys leading the event, including Dennis Choy, Todd Elliot, Greg Baker, Jeff VanderGiessen and several other great TDs. I hope and pray we can be a source of encouragement to those who attend.

The Grilled Cheese Throwdown

Well over a year ago, Jason Cole challenged me to a Grilled Cheese Throwdown, and it’s finally happening in Dallas in a few weeks. The stage is set for us to compete in “kitchen stadium” at the main campus of Lake Pointe Church at 701 E Interstate 30, Rockwall, TX (exit 67C off of I-30, Room W300, third floor, it’s the “West Wing”) . The clash of the cheese titans will occur at 7 PM on Wednesday the 9th. The event will be hosted by my good friends Van and Duke as well as Tom Petroski, and judged by Bill Swaringim and Jonathan Davis. It will be a bummer for Jason to loose on his home turf, but that will just give us an excuse for a SoCal rematch someday.

Video Coverage

As we did at NAB, Van and I will be bringing you exclusive Church Tech Weekly coverage of the WFX show floor. The list of companies exhibiting is actually quite impressive and there have been a fair number of new product announcements since NAB. I think we’ll have a great time doing this. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention and thank our sponsor for this coverage, RightsFlow. We had Chris Lydle on the podcast this week and talked a lot about the copyright issues churches face. RightsFlow is a great product that makes it easy and affordable to stay legal, so be sure to check them out. Van and I thank them for their support!

A Panel Discussion

I will also be one of several panelists on Wednesday afternoon, leading a session called, “How to Develop Ruthless Respect From your Leadership.” Long name, but I think it will be a good discussion. Joining me will be Anthony Coppedge, Todd Elliot, Dennis Choy and Daryl Cripe. If getting leadership to listen to you has been a challenge, swing by that session; hopefully we’ll have some good insight for you.

Live CTW Podcast

For many of us, the live podcast we did at the MGM Grand Buffet was the highlight of NAB. Whether is was Bill dropping chocolate mousse on Van’s shoe or Giessen talking into a napkin-rolled set of flatware, it was a bit of a circus. 

This time around, we plan on doing the same thing. The time and place has not been nailed down yet, but we’re giving serious thought to recording the show right after the Grilled Cheese Throwdown. Which makes it important for many of you to come out so we’ll have a large studio audience. And it will be really fun…

Help Needed

One thing I need to ask for is a little help. If anyone has a handheld HDV or similar video camera we could borrow for a few days, it would be a huge help. I could fly one in from here, but if I don’t have to, life is easier. I’m not super-picky on what it is, but HD would be preferable. Small and light are good, and XLR inputs are our only real must-have. If you have something we can use, please contact me at mike {at} churchtecharts {dot} org. We’ll even give you credit during the production. 

Also, we could potentially use a 4-8 channel USB or FireWire audio interface and some vocal mics. If we record the show at Firewheel, we’re probably covered. If not, we’ll need something. Again, I can bring mics in from here, but if I don’t have to, life is easier. Again, credit will be offered. Crowd-sourcing our production needs; now that’s progress!

Like I said when I went to Gurus, meeting readers and listeners was a highlight, and I am looking forward to meeting many of you at WFX. If you see us walking by, don’t hesitate to say hi. And if you introduce yourself with your twitter handle, we’ll recognize you faster! See you in Dallas!

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Fun with Vocal Effects

As I’ve had the opportunity to mix a lot more often lately, I’ve spent more time working on my vocal effects. The techniques I’m using currently are really a mashup of things I gleaned from Dave Pensado and his guests, my own experience and tastes and conversations with other FOH guys. Please note that this post is descriptive, not prescriptive. There’s no magic here, just a few things that I’ve been pretty happy with of late.

Back In The Hall

We’ll start with background vocals first. Currently, I split my effects between the lead vocal and the backgrounds; something I do partly because I can, but mostly because I like the way it sounds. My go-to effect for background vocals is the Hall. The SD8 has a decent built-in Hall that sounds pretty natural. I bus all my background vocals to an aux, and run that aux through the hall.

My strategy is thus: We typically only have 2, maybe 3 background vocals. And having a pretty big vocal sound is part of our musical DNA right now. With a total of 3 vocals, it’s hard to make them big. However, with a healthy dose of Hall on the backgrounds, they sound bigger than they are. I’m not going to get into all my settings (except one, in a minute) because they’re relatively unimportant and change week to week. Play with your effects and see what you come up with. What works in my room may not work in yours.

Main Entree

When it comes to the lead vocal, I go with a combination plate; a plate and a delay to be exact (catch that clever food alliteration?) I use the plate on the vocal for to main reasons, well actually one main and once ancillary reason. First, the plate is a little tighter and that helps with clarity, but more important I just like the way it sounds. I always have. Give me a plate that sounds like an SPX990 or Lexicon and I’m a happy guy. 

The second half of my vocal effects combo platter is the delay. I’ve played around a lot with delay in the last year, and have recently settled on something that I’m pretty happy with. It’s a straight delay (no feedback or regeneration) and the tempo is dictated by the song. I used to do a lot of tap tempo delays, the ones that create a noticeable echo. I still use that occasionally, but I’m a little tired of them.

I started using really short delays after hearing Pensado talk about them. He would often use a really short, say 98-110 msec. delay to beef up a vocal. I tried that and generally liked the results. Then I started thinking, what if I set my delays to numbers that actually correspond to the tempo of the song? Say a sixteenth or thirty-second note? So I downloaded Tap Tempo Calculator onto my iPad and started trying it out.

Keeping Time

My current strategy is to punch the tempo of the song into the calculator and set my delay time to the sixteenth note time (though sometimes I do some math and go with a thirty-second note) On most of our songs, that ranges between 100-200 msec.; I don’t go less than about 70, or more than 200. When the delay mixes in with the main signal (and when combined with a plate), the vocal sounds much bigger, yet still very clear. It’s always surprising how much different the vocal sounds when I mute the effects between songs while Mark is talking during rehearsal. Suddenly he goes from huge and present to a guy talking into a mic. It’s pretty cool.

Then I started thinking, what if I set my decay times on my Hall and Plate to times related to the tempo of the song? So I did. I generally set the decay times of both to a half note, though I am known to stray occasionally. Sometimes a half note is not enough, but a whole note is too much, so I’ll go a three-quarter note (dotted half-note). Sadly, this requires math as my tempo calculator doesn’t compute that number for me.

This may seem an overly mathematical way to approach this subject, but music is pretty mathematical. Since our band plays to a click, their tempo is well regulated (it should be noted that these techniques are going to be hard to implement if your band doesn’t play to a click).

My results doing this have been very solid. The effects help keep the vocals glued together very well, and make the three voices feel like a much bigger vocal team. I use snapshots to update the delay times for each song, which makes it super-easy. There is a little math involved up front, but after that, it just sounds good. At least that’s been my experience thus far.

What is your vocal effects “secret sauce?”

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Doing Less With Less

In my last post, I talked about how we are often called upon as TDs to do more with less; less time, less money and less equipment. In this post, I’m going to talk about the flip side of that. Sometimes, we reach the point where we have to start doing less with less. See, the thing is, worship technology is expensive, and to do it well is resource intensive. When our budgets—both time and money—get cut we have to start making decisions as to what we can and can’t do. This tends to raise a few problems, however.

Their Problems

The first problems we tend to think of are those created for our leadership when we tell them we can’t do something. This is an issue to be sure. I’ve had to have those conversations with pastors and bosses; it’s not fun. I was once in a situation of moving into a new building with an AV install that had a budget equal to 25% of the amount I told them it would take to do it well. On opening night, they asked for the wireless mics; I handed them two. My boss wanted to know where the other ones were, and I had to explain that we only bought two. Oddly, I was blamed for that, even though every one of my proposals had four channels of wireless because that’s what I knew we needed. However, the integrator, to save money, only included two. 

“Understanding Technology” is not a course taught in seminaries, though it should be. For some reason, church leaders become “experts” in how much technology should cost when budget time comes around. When you find your self in that situation, there’s not much you can do except smile and say, “I’m not sure what to tell you; this is how much it costs.”

I believe it is incumbent on us as the actual experts in technology to be leading up, continuing to be as clear as possible as to how much time and money things take. We need to always be respectful and defer to leadership; but the reality is they often don’t really know how this stuff works. We need to help them understand, and that takes time, energy and trust. 

Our Problems

Perhaps more insidious are the problems we create for ourselves. We tend to place unrealistic expectations on ourselves, and those expectations drive us to work longer and harder than is healthy. TDs and technical leaders tend to be high-capacity, driven people. We like to solve problems, and we like to get things done. But the reality is we can only do so much; and if we expect to do this for any length of time, we need to pace ourselves. 

One thing I’ve been learning is that because I’m such a perfectionists, my “acceptable” tends to be “crazy awesome!” for everyone else. As I wrote in The 90% Principle, going beyond that level is rarely noticeable for anyone else. 

As an example, my current budget is 35% of what it was two years ago. Now I’ve made some significant strides in systematic efficiency, but the reality is I am not able to do 100% of what we were could to back then. We probably get to about 50% due to the efficiency gains, but I will kill myself trying to maintain a level higher than that. 

If you were to walk into a Mercedes dealership wanting to buy a $100,000 S-class, but you only had $35,000, you would be politely told you should look elsewhere. Why would we think we can do $100,000 worth of technical ministry with $35,000? I could maybe find a good deal on a 7-year old used S-class, but it’s not going to be the same. It can still be great, but not the same.

I’m also without an ATD right now, so I’ve lost 45-50 hours of productivity in my department. In fact, I’ve probably lost more than that, because Isaiah and I worked so well together, we actually got more done together than we each would have alone. However, I’ve made a conscious decision to not try to make up that time personally. 

I make sure we have everything ready for our mid-week and weekend services, and once that’s done, get as much done as my schedule allows. But a lot of things are going undone, or taking a lot longer. When something breaks on the weekend, it stays broken until the next week when I can look at it. I simply can’t fix a projector while I’m mixing FOH. 

The thing is, this is OK. It occurred to me the other day that God doesn’t need A/V/L technology to change lives. He’s been doing it for a long time without it, and will continue to do so whether or not all our lights are working or the cameras are aligned. Jesus said that He will build His church; He didn’t tell us to do it and ask if we need help. 

Don’t put pressure to make it all work squarely on your shoulders. You are responsible for what you can do, not what you can’t do. When your hands are tied by time and budget, simply do what you can do. Then go home and enjoy your family. Don’t beat yourself up. God has, is and will continue to work. 

What have you had to say no to? Or, how has your budget affected what you can and can’t do?

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.

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