Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: June 2012 (Page 1 of 3)

A Quick RF Tip for Wireless Gear

For the last few months, we’ve been having problems with one of our wireless IEMs. It’s a PSM900, and while it generally provides good service, it occasionally just drops out for a split second. We’ve tried a bunch of things to fix it; swapping frequencies, antennas, even changing positions of the transmitter. But we still get these random drop outs. They don’t seem to be RF hits per se, as we’ve done multiple scans and fully coordinated our frequencies between the 900 and our two channels of PSM1000 (the only other thing we have in that range).

I was about ready to send it in for service this weekend, when I recalled an idea that one of my Shure friends suggested at NAB; lower the transmit power. Whereas the PSM1000 has automatic RF attenuation built-in to the receiver to guard against overpowering it, the 900 does not. I thought we were transmitting at 10 mW, but when I checked the transmitter between services, it showed we were at 50 mW. 

So, just for fun, I dropped the power to 10 and stood back to see what would happen. After the service, I asked the vocalist if she had experienced any dropouts during that service. “Nope! None. It was perfect.” So there you go.

The theory is simple; the RF input of a wireless receiver can be overloaded, just like a microphone preamp. When you overload a mic preamp, it distorts. When you overload an RF front-end, it drops out for a split second. The easiest solution is to drop the transmit power, or move the transmitter further away. In our case, out transmit antenna (just a 1/2 wave on the front of the rack) is only about 30’ away from the vocalists. At 50 mW, we were sending it too much power. 

If you’re having issues with wireless IEMs or mic’s taking random hits, you might think that turning up the transmit power will fix it. However, it could actually make it worse. If you have RF issues, first make sure you’re using clear frequencies by using the unit’s scan function. Most wireless mic’s will not scan and auto-select open frequencies for you. 

Next, make sure you are selecting frequencies that are free from 2 to 3 intermodulations. If you don’t know what that is, here is a simple definition: It’s when two channels operating in close proximity combine to form a third frequency, and that third frequency is one you are trying to use. If you stick with suggested frequencies from the manufacturer, you’ll likely steer clear of those.

Or if you have it available, use the software made by the manufacturer for such a purpose. As a bonus, the upcoming version of Wireless Workbench 6 from Shure includes frequencies and tuning from almost every major mic manufacturer, so you can use that to coordinate frequencies, even if you can’t use it to scan with your equipment. At least you can verify the selected frequencies will work together.

Finally, try dropping the power. Wireless products are amazingly efficient and you don’t always need to blast out 100 mW to make them work. Sometimes you do, but often times, the lowest transmit power will deliver the best results (not to mention extend battery life—at least in mic’s).

Wireless can be tricky business; and it’s only going to get worse. No time like the present to bone up on your RF skills.

Today’s post is brought to you by the Roland R-1000. The R-1000 is a multi-channel recorder/player ideal for the V-Mixing System or any MADI equipped console or environment. Ideal for virtual sound checks, multi-channel recording, and playback.

Less Cowbell, Please

Today’s guest post is from Todd Elliott. Todd is the Technical Arts Director at Willow Creek Community Church. Not only is he the TD of one of the largest churches in the country, he also has a big heart for the local church tech. I highly recommend you follow his writtings on his own blog, First In, Last Out and keep up with him on Twitter (@_ToddElliott). Todd is a friend, and I’m honored to have him guest-posting today.

It is very rare that I would prefer less cowbell.  However, we had a service a couple of weeks ago at Willow where I was on the verge of wishing for much less.

It was the Father’s Day service, and the creative idea was to have dads come up from the audience to participate in leading worship from the stage.  We gave each one a drum stick and something to hit with it.  Most of them were playing on a drum of some kind, but there it was…the cowbell.  Some lucky dad had the prescription to cure someone’s fever.

From a musical stand point, and more importantly from a production standpoint, the mix was horrendous.  There was a  cacophony of noise coming from our stage that couldn’t be fixed by any plug in.  Back in the booth, we had a few conversations about how to make the mix come together with that awful noise.

In reality, this was one of those times when the perfect mix didn’t matter; one of those times when technical excellence is way down the list of things that are important; when whether the dads had enough rehearsal is even a part of the discussion.

This idea was about engaging people in our congregation in new ways.  It is about celebrating dads.  It is about how hilarious it is to watch a bunch of middle aged dudes with no rhythm try to connect a drum stick with a cowbell.  It is a moment in the service that people will talk about, that made our mega church feel like something more normal sized.  In spite of it not being technically excellent, it was an amazing part of our service.

This example might be extreme, and therefore making it a little too obvious that what matters for production isn’t always the most important thing.  However, after this particular weekend, I  have wondered quite a bit about the other instances that aren’t as obvious.  Am I holding up the value of production higher than it needs to be?

I think there are moments that get missed because we could have rehearsed more or been better prepared.  If we had 20 guys on stage every week that sounded that bad, I think we would have a problem where the value of excellence needs to be raised up a little higher.  But are there moments in our services that should be happening and aren’t because I am worried about technical excellence above all else? 

There is a never ending tug-of-war between having enough rehearsal time and flying by the seat of your pants; between planning everything so it can be executed flawlessly versus being spontaneous; between the perfect mix and too much cowbell.

How are you walking the tightrope? 

Are things always landing on the side of technical excellence or are you able to see the big picture so that you know when to lower your value for the sake of the service? 

Today’s post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

Qualifications for an Audio Volunteer

I had the immense privilege to be part of the Worship Arts Technology Summit last week. WATS is a gathering of worship artists from many disciplines who come together for training, skill development and encouragement. After hanging out at FOH with Lee Fields for most of the day, Lee and I were joined by Van Metschke and Dave Hatmaker (who is currently at Yamaha, but is also a genius of epic proportions). For over an hour, we fielded questions from the audience. Several of those questions will make great posts, and this is one of those.

What do you look for in an audio volunteer?

For some reason, everyone on the panel looked at me. I do have some thoughts on this (as you might expect). While I like the old standards of Faithful, Available and Teachable (and those are all important qualities, ones that I pretty much insist on), I also look for a few other things. 

First, I look for someone who is either a musician or who loves music. Though we have some pretty impressive technology in our tech booth, I can teach almost anyone how to run it, provided they have even a modicum of technological savvy. What is really hard to teach is how music fits together. Now, if your church has very simple services with one or two mic’s for worship, then this isn’t as important. But if you are doing modern, rock-style music (or any other musical style for that matter) during worship, you need people who know music. Most of the problems I’ve had with audio volunteers are rooted in the fact that they don’t listen to, enjoy or appreciate music. So that’s a biggie for me.

Second, I look for someone who has a lot of enthusiasm to be there. I make it a little hard to join the audio team. I have four people who joined the audio team as A2s almost a year ago. Two of them (and one in particular) have shown a lot more enthusiasm about being on the team; and they’re the ones who are currently mixing FOH. But they’ve spent the last year setting up the stage, coiling cable, patching IEMs, running down batteries and just sitting next to me watching. The ones who have been involved eagerly are the ones who move up the ladder.

Going back to FAT volunteers, obviously, we need people who are available. At my church (and many others) running FOH is a 7-hour Saturday and a 6-hour Sunday. It’s a big commitment. I need people who can be there. And they need to be there when they’re scheduled. If we schedule a team, we schedule it based on what we need for the weekend. If someone bails, we’re short handed and everyone has to work harder. 

But the capital T in FAT is the most important to me. Being teachable is a big deal. During our panel, Lee chimed in and said this was one of his biggest qualifications. He wants people that he can train to mix like him. With this, I totally agree. I don’t want to have four or five different styles of mixing. Our churches put a big emphasis on consistency (as do many others). It shouldn’t be apparent who is sitting behind the desk each week. Apparently, we’re doing OK with this; the first weekend we had our new volunteer mix, I didn’t tell anyone—he just mixed. During Saturday’s debrief, everyone said the audio was great. They had no idea it wasn’t me. That tells me his overall style is close enough to mine that most people aren’t going to notice.

Of course, since I’ve been mixing considerably longer than he’s been alive, my mixes should sound a bit better. But his need to at least sound similar. This particular volunteer has proven to be a sponge in soaking up what I’ve been teaching him. That will carry him far down the road. 

In a nutshell, that’s what I look for. Someone who is musical, enthusiastic, faithful, available and above all, teachable. What do you look for in an audio volunteer?

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

CTW InfoComm 2012 Coverage: Behringer X32 Mixer

We saw it at NAMM in January, and now we get hands-on with the new X32 digital mixer. It’s an impressive amount of power in a small package, and of course it is very, very affordable (MSRP of $2799!). It features 32 channels, Midas preamps, 16 busses and an upcoming iPad app. And, it has moving faders. Though we haven’t heard it yet, it sure looks pretty nice.

CTW InfoComm 2012 Coverage: Behringer X32 Mixer from Mike Sessler on Vimeo.

CTW InfoComm 2012 Coverage: Studio Six Digital

Studio Six Digital has brought SMAART to iOS, and now offer a very flexible interface for getting a calibrated test mic connected to your iPhone or iPad. They have also started shipping a small test mic with a 30-pin connector for taking quick but accurate measurements with your iOS device. For smaller system optimization tasks, leave the laptop at home and bring your iPad and a Studio Six interface.

CTW InfoComm 2012 Coverage: Studio Six Digital from Mike Sessler on Vimeo.

This post is brought to you by Horizon Battery, distributor of Ansmann rechargeable batteries and battery chargers. Used worldwide by Cirque du Soleil and over 25,000 schools, churches, theaters, and broadcast companies. We offer a free rechargeable evaluation for any church desiring to switch to money-saving,  planet-saving rechargeables. Tested and recommended by leading wireless mic manufacturers and tech directors. 

CTW InfoComm 2012 Coverage: Stealth Acoustics

Sometimes you have a place in your building where you need good sound, but don’t want to see speakers. Stealth Acoustics has a unique and good-sounding solution to this dilema; speakers that look just like drywall. They can be mounted in the walls, taped and painted just like regular drywall, then turned up to rock the house. Several models are available depending on the application and budget.

CTW InfoComm 2012 Coverage: Stealth Acoustics Invisible Speakers from Mike Sessler on Vimeo.

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