Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: November 2012 (Page 1 of 2)

The Optimized Stage Pt. 2: Stage Cabling

Last time around, we talked about how input lists can make stage set up easier. Today, we’ll move out of the office and onto the stage. 

Optimize Stage Cabling

Sometimes, I am appalled by the cabling I see on church stages. There I said it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen 25 or 50 foot cables running 6 feet, with a giant rat’s nest of a coil either at the snake head or at the bottom of a mic stand. Drum risers are often the worst. I remember arriving at Coast Hills and finding literally 200’ of mic cable strewn all around the kit. This post is not specifically about it, but if your stage looks like that, please learn how to solder and make cables that are the right length, OK? I’ve written posts about it herehere and here.

Anyway, we’ve taken great pains to clean up our stage cabling. These steps fall into a few categories; custom cables, custom snakes, and pre-wiring. Let’s consider each one.

Custom Cables

There is no reason to run a 25’ mic cable from a snare mic to a drum snake right below it. It’s just a mess. At least buy 10’ or 6’ cables. We’ve chosen to build custom cables for our drum kit (and a bunch of other stuff). The drum kit doesn’t really get set up differently (other than the occasional swap right- to left-hand), so there’s no reason not to make the cables just as long as they need to be and not much longer. We even put right angle XLRs on all the mic ends to really clean it up. Each end of the cable is labeled as to what it is, and the snake is labeled as well. We have a Whrilwind 12 channel snake sitting on the drum platform, so that’s where all those cables plug in. With no extra length to work with, the elves that come in overnight to tangle the cables just get frustrated and leave.


In retrospect, I would have flipped the labels on the silver XLRs… Someday.

We also built custom cables for our percussion set up. We use two mic’s on a stereo bar for the congas, so I built a two channel cable with right angle XLRs on the mic ends. The overhead mic is also connected via a custom-length cable that we measured in-place (and added just a little to be safe). All ends are labeled. 

We also built some custom cables for the M-48s. They consist of a 2-channel audio cable for running back to the IEM transmitter rack and a tactical Cat-5 for REAC data. Both cables are loomed together using TechFlex F6 split loom. Again, all ends are labeled, so it’s easy to keep straight which one is going where.

Anything that gets set up the same way every time and can benefit from custom cables gets custom cables. Set up and take down go much faster (when we take it down, which is not often).

Custom Snakes

I have a 2-channel snake built and labeled for our worship leader’s electric guitar rig—he plays through a Fractal Designs Axe2, which outputs a stereo signal. We have another one that I built just to have, but has now become the 2nd electric guitar snake, as our second guitar player has the same set up. 



I’ve written up this inexpensive stage snake head before, but it gets used for our perc/winds platform. As mentioned last time, we typically have either perc or winds, not both. Since I needed 3 lines for perc or 2 for winds, I built a 4 channel snake, and loomed in a tactical Cat-5 for the REAC data for that player’s M-48. That 4th channel doesn’t get used often, but it’s nice to have. 

The piano position has an eight channel snake running over to it. We use the first two for piano, the next two for synth 1, two more for synth 2 (when needed) and have an extra pair to return the output of the M-48 to the IEM transmitter rack if we need to.


This lives at the back of the drum riser, out of sight from the house.

Our stage snake used to be a 16×4 unit, but we never used the returns. So we swapped out the males for females and made it a 20×0. If we ever need returns, we just gender-reverse a few channels. We went the extra mile and labeled the inputs not only by number but also by function, so it’s easy to remember where things go. A volunteer doesn’t need to remember that the acoustic guitar goes into input 9, they just look for the input labeled acoustic guitar. And because our input list handles everything we need, it doesn’t need to be changed except under very rare conditions (e.g. Christmas & Easter).

Pre-Wiring

I like to keep my stage neat, and don’t like to have a bunch of unnecessary cables lying around. Still we’ve made the decision to leave much of it pre-wired. Since we have a bunch of skirted decks on stage that we can coil cable up out of sight, we do. The aforementioned 2-channel guitar snakes are always in position, as is the 8-channel piano snake and the M-48 cables. Many of them live in neat coils at the front of the drum riser, where they stay out of sight until needed, but are already pre-patched. 



The drum kit stays wired up, as does the Leslie cabinet. We also keep many of our musician positions pre-wired with tactical Cat-5 for the M-48s. Basically, if it’s a “backbone” type cable, we leave it in place. Short patch cables will get torn down at the end of a weekend. But now that I’m thinking about it, that amounts to the 2-channel line we use for the woodwind player’s rig (he’s stereo, too) and the three perc cables. Oh, and the occasional 2-channel for synth 2, which runs around the piano to the front, and connects to the piano snake.

Again, this works for us because we don’t change up our stage, and like our input list, the stage is laid out to accommodate every configuration of band we’re likely to encounter. Leaving the “backbone” cables in place under mats makes set up a lot faster (the stage is done in about 20-30 minutes if we’re taking our time), and simplifies takedown. 

This is a vast improvement from 3 years ago when it took 2-3 people over 1 1/2 hours to get it done. Personally, I prefer spending that time hanging out with our volunteers. So there you go; some custom cables, snakes and pre-wiring will make your stage set up go a lot faster. Next up, custom boxes.

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.

The Optimized Stage Pt. 1: Input Sheets

The other day, I was talking with my ATD, Jon about our weekend process at Coast Hills. We both commented on how “dialed in” everything is, and I got to thinking about the development of that process. It really goes back a lot longer than my time here; I actually started working on this process about seven years ago. It’s been an evolution, to be sure, and the specifics of what we do is based on my current setting. However, I think there are a lot of transferable concepts. Over the next few posts, I’ll give you a “backstage tour” of some of the things that we do each week that makes our jobs easier, and produces better, more consistent results. 


click to enlarge

Optimize Input Sheets

I’ve written about our input sheet template before (here and here), and in those posts I discussed the mechanics of building the input sheet, and how we use the power of Numbers to make it faster and easier to fill out. In this context, however, I’d lille to consider another angle—the backstory if you will. How did we arrive at our input set up, and what benefits do we see from it.

We had two primary goals in developing this input sheet; 1) The channels we wanted to have full control over in the M-48s had to be in the first 40 channels of the input rack, and 2) Devise a layout that would accommodate nearly every possible weekend band configuration without re-patching anything. 

As a side bar, we can prioritize those two goals over efficient console layout because the SD8 makes it so easy to move channels around on the surface; it really doesn’t matter what goes where, we can put any input on any fader. If I were in a different setting, I may tweak my layout some so the mixing surface makes more sense.


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Let’s look at each section of the input sheet, each of which is color-coded for easy identification. The first 10 channels are for drums; well actually 8 are for drums, the other two are click tracks (one for the metronome and the other for the click coming off the tracks computer when we use it). Those are fixed every week, and the only thing that changes is we sometimes drop Tom 1 when a particular drummer plays. Otherwise, those are constant.


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The next set of inputs do double-duty. On weeks when we have our percussion player (as shown), we use three inputs, two for congas and one as an overhead. Other weeks we’ll have a woodwinds player, and in that case we use the first to inputs as a stereo send from his rig (since those inputs feed a stereo channel on the console anyway). On weeks when we have neither, those inputs aren’t used. This is a common theme, as you’ll see.


input-sheet-guitars.jpg

The next section is guitars. The first three inputs are dedicated to the bass and our worship leader’s electric guitar rig. On the weekends he doesn’t play, we don’t use those inputs. We also have inputs dedicated to a second electric and an acoustic guitar. We don’t use these often, but when we do it’s nice to not have to re-arrange everything.


input-sheet-keys.jpg

Keys take up more channels than drums in our input configuration with a total of nine. Three for the B3 (two top, one bottom), two for piano, and four cover up to two synth rigs. Most weekends we don’t use synth 2, but it’s becoming more common as the guys get more creative with their sounds. 


input-sheet-vocals.jpg

Next up are vocals. Here, we also went for nine channels, not because we often have nine vocalists on a weekend, but because do do for big events. Some of the wireless mic’s are pre-set for vocals, others for handheld announcement or interview mic’s. The later can easily be turned into vocal mic’s by changing the group assignments on the console. Allocating this many inputs to vocals may seem wasteful, but it actually makes sense for us in the context of what we do. And anything that falls below this line can easily be folded back to the band without the need for individual control.


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Finally, we have a pair of audience mic’s and a foldback channel, which is really an aux that collects everything above channel 40 plus local board inputs that need to be sent back to the band.


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Starting at input 41, we have our final wireless mic’s for announcements and our two teaching pastors. Inputs 44&45 actually run in the drum snake, but get patched higher up because we didn’t think the band would mind having the tracks come back to them as a mono feed in the foldback channel. That’s been open to debate, however, so we may be looking to re-allocate a few inputs. Most likely, we’d swap two of the wireless mic’s (H & I) with the tracks. Rounding out the list is three inputs dedicated to the odd wired mic we may need to patch for some reason. 

You’ll see in column 2, we indicate which snake channel the input runs through. We have two snakes on stage—drum (blue) and stage (red)—plus six hardwired inputs from the iso room where the Leslie speaker lives (green). The black boxes indicate direct patches to the input rack.

Plan for Anything and Everything

As I said, this input sheet can accommodate just about anything that our worship team throws at us each weekend. This represents almost the entire pool of musicians that we have to draw from, so even if everybody was scheduled for a weekend, they would still all fit. When we don’t need an input, we simply don’t use it. 

We’re so committed to this process that we’ve gone to the trouble of labeling the input snakes with the input they are supposed to be taking. Even the XLRs in the rack are labeled not only with what they are, but where they are supposed to go. Of course, we worked this process for several months to be sure we liked it before labeling everything, but relabeling is not that hard when we have to move a few things. 

Stay Flexible

The system is not completely rigid, however. Occasionally the band really wants to hear the tracks in stereo, and if we’re not using synth 2, I’ll patch a send to route the tracks to the M-48s on 27 & 28. Sometimes we have both percussion and winds, and when we do, I’ll steal a few inputs from either vocals or synth 2. 

It should also be noted that each of these inputs is patched to a corresponding channel in the SD8. Stereo sources are patched as stereo channels to conserve faders and channels (one of the best features of the SD8). Our baseline show file has the most commonly used channels on the surface, and we add, subtract and move as needed. 

This whole process took a while to sort out, but now that it’s there, it takes no time to implement each week. In fact, most of the decisions are already made for us, it’s a simple matter of filling in the needed names. As I said, this is developed for our situation, but I’ve done the same thing at other churches. In one church, we had four completely different bands rotating through each week and an analog console. I spent many hours trying to figure out how to develop a standard patch for that situation, but once I did, weekend setup became a breeze. 

Like most things we do in church tech, 90% of the effort is in preparation. Putting in the time up front makes the weekend run smoother, which is of course, the point of this whole series. Next time, we’ll talk stage cabling.

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.

Another “Thankful For” List


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Sunday morning, I was reading through my RSS feeds as I normally do over breakfast. Seth Godin wrote a post entitled, Vendor Shout Out that really stood out to me. Seth acknowledged the fact that it’s easy to give props to a restaurant using Yelp or a book on Amazon. He also noted that it’s easy to knock a product when it fails us by using that well known public platform known as Twitter, but we rarely take time to mention the people who make the gear that helps us be successful. 

Drawing some inspiration from Seth, and hot on the heels of our national day of thanks, I thought it might be appropriate to thank the companies who help me and my team create an atmosphere of worship every weekend. And just so you know I’m not playing favorites, the order is based on how our tech booth is laid out, not in order of importance. Mostly…

Digico, makers of my favorite audio console, the SD8. This desk has made it easier than ever to produce quality audio, with greater levels of consistency than I ever thought possible. And the headphone volume knob goes to 11. Who doesn’t love that?

Roland, for the best personal monitor system on the planet, the M-48. Though it took the band a little while to get used to, I don’t think anyone who let me take them away now.

Ultimate Ears, for making really great-sounding IEMs. They have proven to be critical to not only our musicians, but also to me, given our terrible mix position and PA configuration.

Shure, whose UFH-R and PSM wireless mic’s and IEMs give our artists and pastors freedom to move, and keep my stage clean. Dropouts? Forgetaboutit.

Heil, for making my job at FOH really, really easy. Changing over just about all our mic’s to Heil has vastly improved our sound, at a fraction of the cost of replacing the PA. We still need to do that, but this was a giant bang for the buck.

Ansmann (and Horizon Battery), for powering said wireless gear (and everything else in the booth and the building that runs on AA’s) reliably and economically week after week.

Cockos Software, a small bunch of coders who have spent incredible amounts of effort and time creating my favorite DAW, Reaper. 

Apple, for powering, well, pretty much everything. In the booth, we have five Mac Minis (plus one on stage running our digital piano), a MacBook Pro (plus one on stage), two Mac Pros, an iPad, and an assortment of MacBook Pros and Airs and iPads and iPhones that come and go each week. The fact that we can control any one from any of the other is beyond amazing and incredibly useful.

Antecea Software, for creating a solid, reliable and easy to use VNC app, Desktop Connect.

High End Systems, for controlling our lights. Even though I really don’t like the Hog software, I do have to acknowledge it’s role in making the weekend beautiful. And since we started running it on a Mac Mini, Bootcamped to Windows, it’s actually been pretty reliable. 

Renewed Vision, for ProPresenter. Yes, I know, I have given them a hard time the last few weeks because of the weird bugs we ran into. But, to their credit, they worked really hard to figure out the problem and have already coded the solution. And let’s be honest, there isn’t anything else out there that comes close to the power and usability of ProPresenter 5. The new version is really, really good.

Ross Video, who make a stunningly wide range of products from the CrossOver Solo that we use (and can afford) all the way up to the giant Vision 4 (that we can’t). What impresses me about Ross is that each product, no matter the price point, is built the same way, with the same components, in the same factory, with the same dedication to excellence and reliability. There is a lot to be said for that.

Of course, we use many, many more products each weekend, but these are the ones that stand out to me, primarily because each product was chosen to do exactly what we need it to do. And each one does it so well, it would be tough to find a substitute. 

So that’s my list. What do you use week in and week out that you can’t live without? Let’s spend some time thanking those who make it possible.

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

Sync: Praying for the Christmas Season

They say that Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year.” And it probably is; unless perhaps you are a church tech. In that case, it’s “the most busiest time of the year.” Most of us will put in plenty of extra hours in the month of December (if we haven’t already started..). That extra time can be draining, and it can become easy to forget why we’re doing this in the first place.

To help keep this in prospective, Church Tech Leaders is holding an “event” called Sync on December 4th at 12:00 CST. I quote event, because it’s really less of an event and more of a time to call church tech leaders all over the country to come together and pray for their fellow techs—both paid and volunteer—and for the impact we’ll have on the Kingdom this Christmas.

We all know that Christmas is a great time to share the Gospel with those in our community. But for us, it can often seem like a ton of extra work, and we can loose sight of the importance of our role. And when that happens, it really just is a bunch of extra work. By taking time to pray for each other, perhaps we can keep our hearts and attitudes pure while we serve our church and community. 

Click on the banner above to sign up for the “event,” and set a reminder to stop and pray for a great outpouring of God’s Spirit on our churches this December.

Today’s 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. 

Being Thankful



Photo courtesy of  Mark Mrwizard's

Photo courtesy of Mark Mrwizard’s

As a recovering perfectionist who is also a systems, process and change guy, I kinda suck at being thankful. I tend to focus way too much on the things that still need to be fixed, updated, improved or changed—and I completely miss all the great things that are going on. Maybe you can relate. 

Thankfully, God has put me on a journey over the last few years that as finally begun to help me change this attitude. Part of this has been realizing that there really are a lot of great things going on in my life right now, and to miss them would be a tragedy. I have also tried to be more intentional about seeing the good, and not stressing as much about the bad. 

I’ve not mastered this yet, but I see progress. Which I suppose is something to be thankful for in and of itself. I went to a neighboring church this past Sunday night to hang with my friends Van and Duke, and as you might expect the weekend before Thanksgiving, the message was on giving thanks. 

The teacher gave us several suggestions for cultivating thankfulness in our lives. One was to translate our birthday (month & day) into a time—for me that’s 3:14—and set an alarm to give thanks for something every day at that time for a week. I chose to add a PM to the time, but you can do what you want. I’ve done that two days this week, and already see a change in my attitude.

So in keeping with the idea that expressing thankfulness will encourage me (and possibly you) to be more thankful, here are some things I’m thankful for.

My wife—she puts up with a lot from me; my crazy schedule, my constant day dreaming, and the time it takes to maintain this site. She’s stood by me through a few failed business attempts and multiple cross-country moves. That’s not so bad.

My girls—both are wonderful women who have great ministries in our church to students and kids. It’s cool to see how God is cultivating their hearts to serve His people. 

My friends—I have several close friends who I am so very thankful for. I also have a ever-widening circle of friends who I’m getting to know better and better; and even though I’m an introvert, I treasure all of those folks. 

My church—I can be critical of my church at times, mainly because things aren’t changing as fast as I’d like them to. However, the reality is, it’s staffed and led by some really wonderful people who care more about the people who make up the church than becoming the next big thing. When I remember that, my perspective changes.

My readers—When this blog was started over five years ago, I had no idea it would one day be read by over 10,000 people all over the US and internationally each month. Lately, I’ve been on the receiving end of some really wonderful e-mails from people who seem to appreciate what we’re doing here. And, thanks to my sponsors, it’s been possible to send my daughter to the school of her choice without it being a huge financial burden. How cool is that?

OK, that’s a partial list from me. Now it’s your turn. What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving season?

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.

Keys to Becoming a Great Technical Artist: Pt. 6

This is our final article in this series. I finished last time by saying that I may be going back on my earlier position of not having any real order to theses traits. However, as I’ve spent a few weeks writing these 4,000 or so words, it’s become clear that perhaps there is, and today’s attribute is likely the least important. 

Characteristic Six: Technical Skill

Don’t get me wrong; technical skill is important if you want to be a technical artist. However, the key to being a great one lies less in the raw skills you have technically and more in the previously outlined traits.

With that said, I think it is critical to have a considerable amount of technical skill to be a great technical artist. The technical leader today is being called upon to do more than ever before. As churches cut their technical staff, we’re seeing people go from being specialists in one area to having to oversee sound, lighting, video, presentation, and sometimes even IT.

I think we are in an incredible era in human history. Never before has so much information been so readily accessible. There is really no excuse any longer for not knowing your craft. Just forty years ago, if you wanted to get into the live production game, you would have to start pushing road cases, and hope to find someone who knew just a little more than you did to show you the ropes. Most of the information out there was conjecture and opinion, with little hard science.

Today, there is a wealth of great information available at your fingertips (as well as a bunch of conjecture and opinion…). While it takes some effort to separate the wheat from the chaff, it’s not that hard. We have a great network of technical leaders in CTL, and it’s easier than ever to continually expand your skill set. 

That’s one of the things we set out to do with our podcast, Church Tech Weekly; bring you perspectives from the best tech leaders in the church today. Take some time and listen to them. End shameless plug.

The best technical artists I know are always learning, adding new skills to their toolboxes. It’s one of the reasons I pay to go to trade shows out of my own pocket—because it’s a great way to network, learn about new technology and talk straight to the people who make it. Yes it costs me personally, but when my skill set grows, I’m better able to equip those around me. 

I think most people who are involved in live production technology have a natural bent towards tech (and if they don’t, well, perhaps they need to find a new area in which to serve). However, technical skill is developed over time. It’s a continual process, not an event. I went to school for four years to learn this craft, and indeed did learn a lot. However, that was not the end of my education. Just the other day, I learned how to install an app on my iPad without using iTunes or the App Store (did you know you could do that? Look it up!). 

While it’s unlikely we’ll become experts in every single discipline of live production, we should at least have a pretty good understanding of them. I’m not really a lighting guy, per se. However, I know how to design a light plot, I can fix broken fixtures and I can program a service even using a lighting console I don’t like. And while I don’t like it, I keep learning it.

So while I think this is probably the least important characteristics of a great technical artist, I do think it is critical. You can be a great leader of technical people if you possess the first five traits; however without technical skill (and plenty of it), it’s really hard to be a technical artist. 

I said at the beginning that this was not likely to be a definitive list. You’ve heard my criteria; now it’s your turn. What would you add to the list?

This post is brought to you by BargeHeights. Bargeheights offers cost effective lighting and LED video gear for churches. Coupled with unique visual design, Bargeheights transforms worship venues of all sizes.

Keys to Becoming a Great Technical Artist: Pt. 5



Photo courtesy of  richard-g .

Photo courtesy of richard-g.

This has been one of the longest series I’ve written, but the feedback has been good, so we’ll keep going. So far, we’ve been covering characteristics or attributes of what makes a great technical artist; Situational Awareness, People Skills, Troubleshooting Skills and Musical Ability or Passion. Today we add one more.

Characteristic Five: A Passion for Excellence

People define excellence in different ways, and many confuse it with perfection. Shooting for perfection is tough, since we’ll most often be disappointed. However, excellence can be achieved, regardless of the quality of your equipment. I consider excellence doing the absolute best you can with what you have available. Thus excellence will mean different things to different people in different situations. 

We get ourselves into trouble when we visit the giga church down the street, look at their production and come home defeated because we can’t possibly replicate that experience with our outdated and broken down gear. And that’s true, we can’t. However, we can still strive to continually improve our skills, our production and out teams. We can work within the limits of our equipment, utilizing it to the fullest extent. We can endeavor to create a seamless atmosphere of worship that is the proper embodiment of our congregation. 

A great technical artist will have a passion for doing things well. He or she will always be learning, growing, increasing their skill level so that each weekend is just a little better than the last. He or she will encourage their team to grow as well, stretching their skills and providing them the greatest opportunity to succeed. 

Some might think that excellence is expensive, but it’s not. Excellence is an attitude not a budget. I’ve worked to develop an environment of excellence in churches where my total annual production was less than my current supplies budget. In that smaller church, we took a somewhat defeated, half-hearted technical ministry and made it excellent, not by spending money but by changing the goals and raising the bar. Sure we had to fix some things, we bought some new equipment and updated some settings. But most of the transformation was attitudinal, not hardware. 

A great technical artist is not satisfied with the status quo, and can see things the way they should be. It may take relentless campaigning on your part to get there, but no one ever said being great was easy. The best technical artists I know are not content with the way things are. They are constantly looking for a better way to do something, a new skill or another way to challenge their team to get to the next level. They are motivated not from a fear of loosing their job, but internally, by a deep desire to continually get better at their craft.

And make no mistake; what we do is a craft. It’s something that needs to be honed, nurtured and grown. Not just anyone can do this; those that choose to have to put in the hard time to become great. 

Next time we’ll wrap up the series with the characteristic that you probably thought was going to be first. I know I said there was no order, but perhaps I was wrong…

This post is brought to you by Shure Wireless. The new ULX D Dual and Quad wireless systems feature RF Cascade ports, a high density mode with significantly more simultaneous operating channels and bodypack diversity for mission critical applications. Visit their website at Shure.com.

Keys to Becoming a Great Technical Artist: Pt. 4


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So far in this series, we’ve covered three characteristics of great technical artists; Situational Awareness, People Skills and Troubleshooting Skills. Today we’re going to tackle one that would seem on the surface to apply only to sound engineers. However, I think once we dig into it, you’ll see it is just as applicable to all of the technical disciplines. 

Characteristic Four: Musical Ability (Or at least Passion)

I don’t know many really great technical artists who are not musical, and/or passionate about music. So much of what we do revolves around music, and not having any idea or love of music makes it really difficult to be truly great at this game. As I said, this obviously applies to sound technicians; we’re mixing music after all. 

Years ago, I had a discussion with a volunteer at a church I was working at. The previous week, I was engaged as the stage cameraman for a Christian music festival. He was asking what I did, and what bands were there. It was a pretty all-star lineup, with some really big-name acts that anyone who listened to any Christian music would know. As I rattled them off, his answer to each one was, “No. Nope. Uh uh. Never heard of them.” Finally, I asked him what kind of music he did listen to. “Oh, I don’t really listen to music. I listen to talk radio.” And that explained everything. 

He was a reliable volunteer—there whenever he was asked to be—and he had a good attitude. He even got the right faders up at the right time, most of the time. But his mixes were much less than desirable. Even though he knew how to use the equipment, he didn’t know how music was supposed to go together, and thus he couldn’t make it sound great.

Obvious for the sound guy, right? But how about the lighting guy? Lighting has to compliment the music, and cues need to happen in time with the music. Without an idea of how music works, it’s really hard to know when to build, when to dial it back and when to go for broke. 

While a lighting guy could fake it, it’s really obvious when the video team doesn’t know or appreciate music. How many times have you been watching an IMAG feed of a keyboard player during a guitar solo? Or the director cuts to the drummer right after that really sweet one-bar fill. Video team member who are consistently a few measures behind everything either haven’t learned the music, or just don’t understand it. Camera people in particular need to know what sounds the different instruments make. Chances are, it’s not the bass player ripping that great lead solo during the bridge. Yes it’s a guitar, but it’s the other guitar. 

Of course, we can’t forget the song words tech. A non-musical person can press spacebar when we finish singing the last word on the slide (which is probably too late, by the way). But a musician will know exactly when to advance to keep from breaking the the flow.

My daughter is a great example for this. An accomplished musician in her own right, I’ve seen her run ProPresenter for worship leaders who sang the song differently every time. If they doubled the chorus but the next slide was a bridge, she’d hear the first note of the chorus repeating and be back at that slide before I could even start saying, “Repeat… uh never mind.” 

I don’t think you have to be an actual musician to be a great tech (though it does really help). I have taken various instruments at different times in my life, but never really enjoyed playing them. However, I’ve spent literally thousands of hours listening to music, both for pleasure and to analyze it to see how it works. As I’m writing this, I’m listening to an album that I listened to a lot in high school, but haven’t heard much recently. Between sentences, I’m tapping out the drum line, the keyboard line, or the bass line. I may not be able to actually play any of those, but I know them all by heart. And I’m noticing a distinct lack of high end in this recording. But I digress.

The other day I said I would much prefer a tech who has above average people skills to above average technical skills. I think the same is true for musical chops. Give me a musician or someone who loves music and I can help them become a great tech. But a straight up tech geek whose only exposure to music is the soundtrack in the video games he plays 5 hours a day? Maybe not so much. 

Combined with the previously mentioned attributes of situational awareness, people skills and troubleshooting, we’re well on our way to becoming a truly great technical artist. But wait! There’s more! (as they say on TV).

Today’s post is brought to you by Ultimate Ears. Housed within a custom shell designed to fit your ears, high quality multiple armature speaker systems provide an unparalleled sound environment, as well as 26 dB of passive noise cancellation.

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