Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: July 2013 (Page 1 of 2)

What Selling Gutter Helmet Taught Me About Mixing


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A lot of people don’t know this (mainly because I don’t usually mention it), but for about 18 months in the early 2000’s, I made a living selling Gutter Helmet and replacement windows. Well, “made a living” is probably a bit generous; I wasn’t ever able to make quite enough to get by, nor did I really enjoy it. It was an incredibly valuable experience, however. God has a funny way of using everything in our past—someday I’ll tell you about the chain of tanning salons I owned—to further His Kingdom.

The other day, I was reflecting back on those wonderful interesting educational days, and drew some parallels to how I now approach FOH work. You might not see the connection right away, but remember—mixing is at least 33% people skills. And selling home improvement products is all about people skills. These are a few lessons that I learned that still impact how I mix.

Build Trust Quickly

Even though my prospective customers all called for an appointment, I still had just a few minutes to build rapport and trust with them. People don’t buy from someone they don’t trust, so I had to win them over quickly. I dressed professionally, carried a clipboard, and arrived on time. I smiled, shook hands and pet the dog if they had one. I explained exactly what I was going to do during the appointment and tried to set them at ease.

I to do the same thing with musicians. I like to be on stage when they start arriving, saying hi, smiling and seeing how they’re doing. If we have a new musician, I will orient them to our stage, make sure they have what they need and explain how we run rehearsal. I dress professionally, and do my best to set them at ease, making sure they know I will do my level best for them to have a great experience. This goes a long way toward helping musicians do their best, which makes my job a lot easier.

Be Prepared

I never really knew exactly what type of house I would be measuring up, or what objections they may have. We had different types of contracts, sales slips and credit card forms, so I made sure to have a full supply of those in the truck at all times. I made up my own presentation book that answered common questions and demonstrated how our system was different and better than the competition. I practiced my presentation so I looked and sounded confident. Even though I don’t consider myself good at sales, my closing rate was nearly 40%, which I’m told is rather good for in-home sales.

As a FOH engineer, I need to be prepared for whatever could comes my way. I make sure I have extra channels available for unexpected inputs. We have a full selection of DIs, mic’s, cables, batteries, wireless and other odds and ends just in case. We show up early to make sure the stage is fully set and functional before the musicians ever walk through the door. We can accommodate almost any request because we are prepared. I use down time during the week to prepare for the weekends so they run more smoothly and with less stress. And that makes everyone happier.

Manage Time Well

On the busy days, I would often have 3-4 appointments. Showing up late puts you in a harder position to build trust, and I didn’t want to have to dig out from that hole right off the bat. The appointments were not always right down the road from each other, so I had to pay very close attention to my time at the first so I wouldn’t be late for the second. That meant being efficient with my measurements, demonstrations and negotiations that would hopefully close a sale so I could move on to the next. Some people just wanted company, and I had to be very aware of when I could spend time chatting and when I needed to move on.

Starting a rehearsal late can be the kiss of death for a service. If the band doesn’t have sufficient time to run through all the songs, it can really derail the worship. We have to pay special attention to our time so we’re not the ones holding things up. If we’ve shown up on time, prepared well and are fully ready when the band arrives, we’re a leg up. But things can still go wrong. Sometimes we have to decide not to deal with something right then because we have to keep moving. If we fail to manage our time well, little things can quickly become big things. And we don’t want that.

As I said, mixing is at least 33% people skills, and it is as incumbent on us to get better at that side of the equation as it is to learn more about plug-ins, frequency response and spectral management. While dealing with people may be harder, it’s possibly the biggest element in whether or not we will be successful.

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Getting Rid of Our Gandalfs


The wise sage. 

The wise sage. 

Last week I had the privilege of attending the Echo Conference in Dallas. I’ve wanted to go for a number of years, and it finally worked out. The folks at Watermark Church were most gracious hosts, and the entire event was well done. 

The opening night keynote was provided by Jon Acuff of Stuff Christians Like fame. I expected a funny talk with lots of jokes, but not a lot serious content. I was pleasantly surprised. Jon is a funny guy, so there was plenty of humor, but he also tailored his talk in a way that really spoke to the audience of creatives and techs. 

One comment he made struck me in particular. He said this, “The church has a bad habit of getting rid of our Gandalfs.” As this is something I talk about a lot, it really resonated with me. But I can see how some context would be helpful. First, I’ll set it up with a simple roadmap that most of us take through life. 

Our 20’s: Learning

We spend our 20’s learning about stuff. College, first jobs, relationships, all that jazz. We tend to try a lot of things, and learn a lot.

Our 30’s: Editing

Having tried a lot of things in our 20’s, it’s time to figure out what are the 3-5 things that we’re really going to focus in on. Rather than trying to do everything, we edit our lives, distilling our passions.

Our 40’s: Mastering

By the time we hit our 40’s, we’re coming up on the 10,000 hours mark of mastery. Those things we selected in the 30’s are now becoming second nature, and we’re getting really good at them.

Our 50’s: Harvesting

Hopefully, we made good decisions in the previous few decades and those good decisions and hard work is now paying off. We begin to reap what we’ve sown.

Our 60’s: Guiding

At this stage of our life, it’s time to give back. We have learned a lot, and it’s time to share that knowledge with upcoming generations.

As Jon pointed out, we’re finding that the ages thing is breaking down a little bit. You don’t get to skip stages, but you can accelerate them. However, there is a problem. It happens everywhere, but it’s a problem in the church, and thus our focus. 

Once people get to a certain age—at least for some ministries—they are let go by quite a few churches. It’s especially prevalent in youth ministry, for worship leaders and tech guys (though for different reasons). Jon shared a story about a youth pastor friend of his who was fired after he turned 42. Too old, the church told him. 

I’ve spoken to many worship leaders who start to get really nervous when they get up toward 40; they’re pretty confident they’ll soon be replaced by younger, hipper dudes with skinnier jeans and more hair product. We may laugh, but it’s true.

Even tech guys aren’t safe. I know several who have been let go and replaced by someone half their age who will work twice as much for a third the salary. The tragedy of this is that the “old guy” has more years of experience than the young kid has been alive. At experience would be very helpful to the young tech, but cheaper is better for many churches. 

Getting Rid of Our Gandalfs

Which brings me back to my original point. Once we have these guys in our midst who have been doing this ministry thing for 15, 20, 25 (or more) years, we should not be replacing them for younger, fresher versions. Ideally, we should be bringing in younger people to learn from the old guys. 

Now to be sure, sometimes the old guys become cranky old men who just complain about the younger generation, and reminisce about the good old days. Those guys need an attitude re-adjustment or do need to leave. 

But the vast majority of experienced church staff—youth guys, worship leaders, techs—would love to be part of a team that helps raise up the next generation of leaders. I know in my 20’s, the thrill came from doing the show. Now that I’m older, while I still like doing production, I get much more joy from helping others do this technical leader thing better. 

The church that is simply looking at the bottom-line of those expensive salaries are missing the big picture, and it will cost us dearly over the long haul. On the other hand, I know some churches that are doing a great job of integrating generations, fostering environments where the experienced can pass their wisdom on to the younger, energetic leaders. Oh that this would happen more often.

 

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.

Building a New Tech Booth



Even before I visited Coast Hills, I knew the tech booth location was a problem. Situated in the balcony, it is in a completely different acoustic space than the majority of the seating. Moreover, it’s only accessible by walking out of the auditorium, through the lobby, up two flights of stairs, back through the upper lobby and across a third of the seats in the balcony. It takes almost a full minute to go from FOH to the stage. 

At last, my dream of moving it to the floor will happen this summer. We’re going to pull out about 60 chairs and build us a new booth in the same place where people sit. What a concept!

Having spent the last 25 years in various tech booths, I’ve taken a lot of notes. Whenever I visit a church, I always look to see how their booth is laid out and file away any good ideas I see. The booth we’ll build this summer is a culmination of all those ideas.

General Layout

The booth will be nearly square at roughly 22′ x 22′. Our plan is to put audio, lighting, ProPresenter and a camera position in the booth.  Video will remain upstairs, at least for now. While I could fit FOH, lighting and Pro across the front, we’ve decided to put Pro behind lighting. We have the depth and it will be a lot more functional. FOH will be in the front left corner, which will put the mix position just out in front of the front edge of the balcony. It will also be a good ways beyond the back wall, which should minimize any low-end buildup issues.

Lighting will be on the front right corner, and for the first time ever, the lighting guys will be able to see the lights from the audience perspective. In between will be our control station; real time audio monitoring, Wireless Workbench, audio playback, and the M-48 controls. 

Solid Desks

One of my biggest frustrations with our current booth is that we have tens of thousands of dollars worth of gear sitting on $20 tables from Costco. No more! The new desks will be made from a solid 4×4 frame, with all the joints being half-laps. The tops will be two layers of 3/4” plywood glued and screwed together. 

Both audio and lighting will be on wheels so we can pull them back to get behind the desks when needed. Through the tops, we’ll put a continuous cable slot along the front edge. That slot will sit atop a piece of slotted cable duct to keep everything tidy. Any cables that come out of the duct will be gathered up in TechFlex in lengths long enough to pull the desks out. 

We will have two 14-space racks on wheels in the front. These will hold all the rack gear we need (with about 6 spaces free of future expansion). Again, all cable will be service-looped in TechFlex.

Lots ’o Pipe

One of the biggest weaknesses of most booths is the lack of conduit–both internally and to and from. We aim to fix that with this one. We sat down a few months ago and added up all the cables we can think of that need to go down to the new booth from the old booth. We did conduit fill calculations and basically doubled the number needed then added two more. We will end up with eight 1 1/2” conduits running from the old booth to the new one. These conduits will connect two large pull boxes, one up and one down. 

Once we get downstairs, we will be placing four 12”x12” boxes in the booth; three across the front and one next to ProPresenter. We will run six 1” conduits through all four boxes. Each of the front boxes will get an additional 1” home run. 

Out of each 12-by, we’re going to place an additional two 4” square boxes just above desk height. Those will be fitted with Middle Atlantic box adapters that give us six D-sized knockouts. The 12-bys will be covered in custom plates with 36 D-sized knockouts. 

We calculated we’ll be less than 1/2 full on any of the plates when we open, so we have a lot of room for growth.

Tie Lines Galore

While we’ll have plenty of room for growth, we plan on starting with a good number of tie lines between each station, and with video up in the upstairs booth. 

I want to have easy ability to run audio and video to any location without pulling new wire. Of course, if we find ourselves using a tie line regularly, we’ll pull in the cable we need and dedicate the circuit. 

More Power

Because you can never have too much power, I’m having the electricians pull six 20-amp circuits from our isolation transformer. Those circuits will be distributed throughout the booth for easy access. 

I have about 40 hours into designing this booth, but really it’s a lot more like 20 years. I’m really excited about it and can’t wait to see it come together. We start building as soon as I get back from Echo, so I’ll be posting pictures of our progress as we go. But I thought you’d enjoy a sneak peak as to what’s coming. Stay tuned!

 

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Church Tech Weekly Episode 157: More Butter, Less Toast


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How to train volunteers is one of the most frequently asked questions here at CTA. Tonight we tackle that one, and talk about what ages to recruit for your tech team. Some great information on this show… 

More… 

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.

Improving VBS


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Yesterday I re-posted an article I wrote three years ago about VBS. As I re-read and edited it, I realized we have made significant strides in making VBS a little less work and a lot more fun. To be sure, it’s still a ton of work, and it can be frustrating at times. And even though I’m recovering from my VBS hangover, I feel a lot better about this year than I did three years ago. These are some of the reasons why.

Build Friendly Systems

Back then, we had yet to embark on our complete system overhaul. Then, our systems were not adaptable, or easy for the uninitiated to use. Everything was in “make it work” mode, and it was often hard to do just that. 

Today, we have a very flexible, yet easy to use system. Because we’ve standardized so much, it’s easy for our volunteers to walk in and be successful even though the entire stage layout looks different. This is very important for us because unlike three years ago when I had seasoned veterans on the crew, this year, my oldest tech was 17. I had a Jr. High student running ProPresenter, and our lighting guy was training one of his friends how to run lights. My stage camera ops just entered Jr. High. 

And the best part of all this: By Tuesday, they were pretty much running the show with minimal input from me or Jon (my ATD). 

Better Up Front Communication

After that rough experience three years ago, we revamped our entire VBS production process. The team held weekly production meetings for a month leading up to VBS. That made sure we were all (mostly) on the same page. A few things still got missed, but it was pretty smooth over all. And the items that were missed were not major issues, and we all recovered quickly.

Team Development

We’ve spent the last year or so building up our student ministries tech teams. My ATD Jon has been doing a great job with that, and it showed this week. For set up the Friday before VBS, we had a small army of students on stage building sets, hanging lights, setting audio and painting props. It was amazing to watch. 

As I mentioned, our entire tech team was students. Because we’ve spent the time to build into them, they were able to run the entire show with minimal help. In fact, I was home mixing a CD Thursday morning while Jon and the team handled the entire day. This is hard work building teams, but it pays off big time. Especially on Friday when almost all of them stuck around to help put the stage back. We were done before 5 PM—a full 3-4 hours earlier than I predicted. 

Simplify, But Do It Well

In past years, we’ve tried to do massive productions for VBS. And I’m not saying those are a bad thing, but for us, we’ve found making things a little simpler is more effective. Rather than trying to pull off something we don’t have manpower for, we programmed a week that our team could really do a great job at. 

There was still a lot going on—the band was 9 people, and we still had a drama—but it was dialed back a bit. Instead of everyone being frustrated at not being able to hit too high a bar, everyone was excited that it came off so well. That built the team’s confidence, and we can aim a little higher next year. 

All in all, it was a great week. Hundreds of kids learned more about Jesus’ love for them, we raised over $12,000 for a children’s home in the Philippines, and our team did a great job. Though I’m not going to lie, I’m glad I have 51 weeks off before the next one…

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Surviving VBS—Remix


I actually forgot what we did that year... 

I actually forgot what we did that year… 

We just wrapped up VBS at Coast Hills. It was a busy week, and there was a lot going on. I didn’t have time to write as much as I normally do, but I was thinking back to a post a wrote a few years ago that is very appropriate for this week. I’ve edited it down quite a bit, so if you want to read the original, you can find it here. Reading back through this, we’ve made a lot of progress in the last three years. Tomorrow I’ll be talking about things we’ve done that have made VBS week a lot more fun. But for now, here’s a glimpse into my world from three years ago.

Last week was VBS for us. As it was my first VBS since coming to Coast Hills, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect (aside from a ton of really amped up kids screaming their cheers). I had some initial meetings with the kid’s ministries staff to talk about the details of the main sessions. Of course, when we actually got down to the first day, there were a lot of surprises. This is to be expected, however. One thing we need to keep in mind as techies is that when dealing with other ministries (and sometimes even the worship department), they always forget tech.

It’s not intentional, they just don’t think about it. Children’s workers are concerned with how their programs impact the lives of kids, not how it impacts us. And if you think about it, that’s the way it should be. With that in mind, that means we need to be really pro-active about getting the information we need to support them well.

Ask, Ask and Ask Again

As I said, children’s workers usually don’t think about how their decisions impact tech. That means we need to be continually asking for information. Because I had a few crazy-busy weeks leading up to SVBS, I was not diligent in asking for more information. I assumed if they had information to me they would give it to me. I was wrong. 

I should have verified the schedule. The run sheets indicated that the main session started at 10:30, so I planned for my team to be there at 9. Turns out that there was a leader meeting scheduled at 8:30 and the kids would all be in the room at 9:00. I should have pressed for a detailed schedule breakdown of every minute of the week, regardless of whether it directly affected me or not.

The truth is, they don’t know what’s important for us to know and what’s not. If something has not been communicated to you, assume you need to ask about it. Never assume they will tell you what you need to know.

Talk Directly to the Band

Or worship leader, or drama team, or anyone else who will be on the stage. Perfect example: We had a guy come in to lead worship; I was told it would be him and his guitar. So I prepped a DI, wireless handheld and a wedge. Monday morning, he walked out on stage wearing ears, a headset mic and carrying an iPhone (he was planning on playing back his tracks from that).

Lesson learned: I should have directly contacted him and found out exactly what his needs were. You can’t trust a children’s worker to communicate the band/worship leader needs from a technical standpoint. They aren’t techies and don’t know that those few subtle changes make a huge difference in how we set things up. We have to be the proactive ones.

Ask for a Map

This was another failing on my part. VBS tends to take over the entire church campus. Rooms that aren’t typically used for production often have production going on. Sometimes that includes parking lots. In our case, we needed staging and portable PAs on both sides of our building, outside. One of the funny thing about portable, powered speakers is that they require power. It’s a rare church architect that thinks far enough ahead to put power in the parking lot (anywhere useful anyway). That means someone will have to run power out there.

And that’s why we need a map. Get a building plan and have them indicate what is happening in every room (and don’t forget parking lots and outdoor spaces). If you see a giant recreation area in the parking lot, start asking questions about portable PA. See a drama in a classroom, start asking questions. This will save you a lot of last minute stress.

Pre-build and Plan

Thankfully, I stayed around late Sunday to pre-set a lot of what I knew. That saved me when it came to the stuff I didn’t. Had I asked more questions, I would have been closer, but at least I had a baseline. Don’t assume you can set it all up the first morning. There will be surprises, things you didn’t think about, and last-minute changes. Set up more than you think you’ll need, put out an extra wireless mic, stage a few extra portable speakers, round up a bunch of extension cords and anything else you can think of.

It’s also a good idea to have more help on hand than you think you’ll need, especially for the first day or two. That’s something I’m big on; and it saved me. My daughter is the master of prepping wireless mics, so I had her working on that. I brought in another guy to float and he was able to run around putting out fires while I re-built my monitors for the worship leader. My lighting guy is self-sufficient and I had an extra pair of hands at ProPresenter.

Hopefully that gives you a few ideas for surviving and even thriving during your VBS. If you’ve already lived through it this year, consider the next 12 months a time to plan for it next year.

 

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Church Tech Weekly Episode 156: Meat Coma


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In case you missed it (because I forgot to post this on Tuesday…) 

Audio networking is our topic tonight! We talk all about Dante, AVB, Layer 2, Layer 3 and even some “not really network” protocols like AES50, MADI and A-Net. Have questions about networking? We’ve got answers. And maybe some more questions… 

More…

Today’s 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.

An EPIC Mixing Adventure


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This week is VBS week at Coast Hills, which explains my absence from the blog this week. Normally I pre-write a bunch of stuff to stay up with it, but even the prep work this year kept me busy. And I didn’t expect this week to be as busy as it was; but it wasn’t all bad. 

Last year, we decided very late in the week to put together a CD of the worship band’s songs from the week and give it to each of the kids at the end of Friday. This was decided Thursday morning, so there wasn’t much time to do anything. This year, we knew going in we would be mixing a CD, so I did a few things differently. 

Prepare in Advance

Last year, I basically took the tracks, ran them through the SD8 and mixed them to another computer. I didn’t have time to do much more than that; it was really a rebalance of the drums and vocals more than anything. The end result wasn’t great, but time wasn’t on our side.

This year, I planned on mixing the tracks in the studio, so we made sure to start capturing the worship sets from Day 1. The week before, I pulled up last year’s tracks and started building my plug-in chains for each of the tracks. We didn’t have exactly the same band, but getting drums, bass and guitars roughly worked out was a big timesaver on mixing day.

I’ve been collecting plug-ins for a while now, and have plenty to choose from. Once I landed on a series of chains that I liked for each track, I saved them as FX Chains in Reaper. Just being able to call those chains up for each of the tracks got me in the ballpark when I started mixing. It wasn’t exact, as the band was almost completely different, but at least I had the tonal quality I was going for.

Mixing One Song At A Time

I decided to break up the songs into individual project files. I did this because I didn’t want to automate all the FX settings on each track for each song. So before I broke it up, I listened through all the versions of the songs, and decided on the best takes. While I was listening, I was tweaking plug-ins. Getting EQ’s, compressors and effects roughly dialed during the audition process saved me time later.

With my baseline mix done, I simply stared with that project for each song. I saved it as a new project for each song, starting from the same place each time. I’m not 100% sure this was the best way to do it, but it worked for me. 

Build As You Go

As I worked my way through the tracks, I found I was doing the same things over and over. For example, my two female BGVs were very soft, and often had as much drums as vocals in their tracks. A gate cleaned that up, and after putting the gate in for a few songs, I saved it as a preset so it could be recalled quickly. 

I also took a tip from my friend Dave and stacked some of the tracks with multiple plugins. I had two different comps on the bass for example, and picked one based on the song. That saved me time in the mixing process. 

Mix With The Master In Mind

As I did my mixes with automation (the iPad app, AC-7 Core is great for that, by the way), I put a multi-maximizer on the LR buss set to do some gentle maximizing. I ended up bouncing 2-tracks of each song without the maximizer patched in, however. After a little bit of experimentation, I decided to render a 2-track of each song as a 24-bit 48KHz file. Those files all went into another project, and I laid them out in song order of the CD.

Now is when I used the maximizer. I inserted an instance on each track and made my adjustments on each song to get them sounding the way I wanted, and similar to the others on the CD. I knew there would be a good chance my volumes for each track would vary if I went for final versions from the individual projects. Putting in stereo versions of each song in a single project gave me the chance to keep everything consistent. 

The End Result

I’m very pleased with the results. It took me about 12 hours to audition, mix and master 12 songs, though I could have spent much more time. That doesn’t include about 3 hours the week before setting up plug ins. Given that the band was made up of Jr. and Sr. High students (and our 20-something Student Life Worship Leader), it ended up sounding remarkably good. 

As always, when I’m listening back to the finals, I hear stuff I would like to change. But then I remember we’re giving these to kids who are under 12 years old, and I’m not going for a Grammy here. Compared to last year, it’s a huge step in the right direction. And next year, it will be even better, as I have a better starting point.

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You Can’t Win Them All

As a technical director or technical leader, you will have many opportunities to make decisions. Some of those will be wrong. You probably know that, but I suspect deep down, you feel like you’re the only one who makes wrong decisions. In fact, based on the number of requests I get to help someone decide on a piece of equipment, you might be tempted to think that I never make wrong decisions. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I have and will likely continue to (occasionally) make a bad call. That’s something we have to get over.

In fact, we were just talking about one piece of gear I bought a while ago and how I wish I had taken a different route. I was trying to stretch my budget (yes, mine has been cut, too), and thought I had a plan that would work pretty well. It works OK, but by the time I got done, I spent almost as much as I would have on the other gear that I knew was better. And at some point, I’m going to change it out. It’s a bummer, but it’s life.

I just saw a quote that I believe should be attributed to Tim Cook of Apple. He said, “We’re going to try a lot of stuff. Some of it won’t be any good.” I really like that approach, especially if it doesn’t cost much to try it. I’ve bought a few things that I thought were great bargains and turned out to be absolute crap. But hey, it was worth a shot and we tried.

Sometimes, it appears to me that some technical leaders can get so paralyzed trying to make the “right” decision that they don’t make any decision at all. A problem goes unsolved, a need unfulfilled, all because they’re afraid of picking brand A over brand B. I mean, what if brand B is better? Or maybe there’s a brand C they don’t know about yet?

If there is one thing I’ve learned in talking with leaders at some of the largest churches in America, it’s that we all have to make the best call we can at the time, and hope it works. Some of those calls end up being wrong, and we do what we can to minimize the damage. 

So don’t feel like you’re alone in this. You will make mistakes. You will buy gear that doesn’t work the way you thought it would. The best course of action is to keep moving. Don’t get paralyzed something didn’t work out. Of course you should ask for advice, and having a great relationship with a dealer or two will keep bad decisions to a minimum. But if you mess one up, know that you’re in good company. We’ve all been there. 

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.

And 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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