Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: February 2014 (Page 1 of 2)

Intentional Video


We’re in a series on being intentional about what we do. As I stated in the opening article, it’s very easy to get so busy doing tech that we forget why we do it. Last time, we talked about audio board layout, and why it’s important to think that through. Today, we’ll switch gears and look at video, specifically live video. 

Pet Peeves

Maybe I’ll just get these out of the way right now. Here are some things that really bug me when it comes to live video. Cutting to a new shot when there is no reason to cut to a new shot. Cutting from one shot to a nearly identical second shot. Zooming in or out when there is no reason to zoom in or out. Cutting to a shot of the keys player during a guitar lead. 

There are more, but those are things I tend to notice. There is a common thread to those peeves—there is no reason to do any of them. Except perhaps, you’re just dying to press those buttons beneath your fingers. Now there are plenty of reasons to cut to a new shot, or zoom in or out during a shot. But there should be a reason besides a shot being up for more than 5 seconds. 

Respond to the Content

A common mistake I see in live video is not responding to the content. I was one part of a live DVD recording for a major band that you would all know. I thought we did a great job shooting it; we had two front cameras, a jib, I was stage camera and there were a half-dozen POV cameras mounted about the stage. But then I saw the edit; it was horrifying. It appeared that the director wanted to use every single camera every 10 seconds. The pacing of the switch was so fast, it was dizzying. But it got worse.

At one point, one of the band members shared some of his testimony. It was a powerful story but again, the director insisted on switching every 3-4 seconds. Seriously. The guy is talking about how Jesus brought him through some pretty deep stuff and the director is switching every 3 seconds. 

I see the same thing happening in churches. Because we have three shots of the pastor, we feel we have to use all three, all the time. Maybe it’s because we don’t want the camera guys to get bored, or have the main camera operator get tired. But those are not reasons to switch! It needs to make sense. And don’t switch from a head to waist shot on camera one to a head to waist shot on camera two. Mix the framing up.

Pacing is Important

A fast song requires fast switching. A slow song calls for slower switching. Someone talking probably calls for no switching (or at least infrequent switching). When we get this right, the video doesn’t call attention to itself; all we see is the content. When the pacing is off, we notice the video. If shot selection is obvious, something is off.

Don’t feel the need to switch just because. Make sure you know where you’re going and why. At the same time, don’t get stuck over-thinking your cuts. Listen to the song, know what’s coming up and go with the flow. This is a really good reason for the video team to know the music as well as the band.

This directive calls for camera ops to be part of the process, too. Good camera people will feel the rhythm of the song and bring up shots that make sense. Pushes, pulls, pans and tilts will all be in time with the music. The team working together can make magic. But you need to know what you’re doing and why.

Every time you press the take button or move that t-bar, make sure you know why. The switch should be moving the song or message forward, not calling attention to itself. Don’t switch for the sake of switching, but don’t get stuck in the mud either. Match the pace of your switch to the content, and don’t feel like you need to use every camera every minute just because it’s there.

Next up: Intentional Lighting


Today’s 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.

The Soundbooth: The Four Elements Of Church Sound Redux – Part 2

This is the most sensitive and important part of the sound system. People are the deciding factor in the sound equation. Most people that volunteer for the sound ministry at church have a great heart of service. They are content to be behind the scenes and never be mentioned.
They spend long hours at rehearsals and practices for worship, skits, plays, women’s dinners, coffee houses, youth rallies and the like. They are also faithful to be at church, usually before anyone else to set up the stage, and the last ones to leave.


Intentional Board Layout

Last time, we introduced the concept of intentionality—knowing the why behind the what we do. As promised, today we’ll start the first of a short series of practical examples of what this looks like. In fact, this is the post that inspired this series; board layout. 

Based on some of the consoles I’ve seen, console layout is something that doesn’t seem get a lot of thought. Proper console layout makes mixing more fun, and can keep us from making big mistakes during a service. 

In the early days of mixing, engineers noticed on larger consoles that channels farther from the master had more noise in them. So it made sense to put the money channels—usually the vocals—nearest to the master. As the master was on the right, that meant the left-most channels became home of the drums. After all, who would notice noise in the drum channels? 

Somewhere along the line, a somewhat common layout emerged: drums, bass, guitars, keys, vocals. As consoles and input count continued to grow, the master section began land in the middle of the console instead of on the right. In that case, usually the band fell to the left while vocals and effects fell to the right.

Back then, you plugged a mic into a channel and that’s the fader it was on.  Today, with digital consoles, it’s easy put any channel on any fader. But before we do any patching—digital or analog—spend some time thinking about why channels go where they do. 

Why You Do Is More Important Than What You Do

I’ve seen all sorts of, um, interesting channel layouts on consoles. Drums spread all over the place, the lead guitar next to the pastor’s mic, vocal effects in the middle of the keyboards. It’s as if someone just patched inputs into the first open channel or floor pocket without any thought at all.

And while there are all sorts of ways you can lay out your console, the first consideration is to make sure you do it on purpose. Don’t just shove inputs into any old channel. Take some time to think about it and patch it in a way that makes sense. Keep all the drum channels together, and then keep the band together. Having all the vocals next to each other makes it a lot easier to find them. Put the channels you adjust all the time closest to you, so you’re not reaching all the way to the end every time. Think about how you mix, then organize the channels in a way that supports what you do.

For Example…

There is no “right” way to organize a console. But here are some ideas of how to do it. I like to start with drums (kick, snare, hat, toms, overheads), then bass, guitars, keys, vocals and finally effects. Other channels—speaking mic’s, music playback, video and other utility channels—are either to the right or left of effects. 

I have my current console set up with my VCAs on the right, which puts my vocals right in the middle in front of me. My preference is to mix more on channel faders than VCAs, but I know others who prefer the opposite.

I also know guys who put the bass right next to the kick because they like to work those two together. I keep my bass in my guitars VCA; others put in with the drums or dedicate a VCA to just kick and bass. 

I base my layout on my band, my preferences and my equipment. Change one of those elements and the layout is likely to change. But the intentionality that goes along with developing the layout won’t change. It’s all very much on purpose.

Stay Consistent

When I mix on analog consoles, I still follow the same basic layout. The advantage of a consistent layout is that I can mix almost any band on any console and without looking know where the faders are. In contrast, I’ve watched other guys mix and spend half their time searching the board for the guitar fader, only to miss the solo. 

Regardless of how you choose to layout the console, once you come up with a plan, stick with it. Adapt and change as needed, but maintain as much consistency as you can.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about our board layout. Our current layout is the result of hundreds of hours of mixing, and careful consideration of what is going to be easiest for my other engineers. Think about your layout and adjust it until it makes sense and works for you.

Next up: Intentional Video

Gear Techs

The Intentional Tech


One of the most challenging aspects of doing production in a church setting is that church happens every week. During the week we have meetings, stuff to fix and install, TPS reports to file and a host of other things to get done. It’s pretty easy to drop into mechanical way of doing things. Sometimes, we do things because we’ve always done them that way. Other times, we do whatever we inherited from the guy before us. 

Lately, we’ve been having a lot of conversations about intentionality. That is, exploring the why behind the what we do. It can be a bit of a rabbit hole to go down sometimes, but I think we do need to figure out why we do what we do. 

Intentionality Brings Life

I read a story one time about some of the experiments the Nazis did on people in concentration camps. One was to have the prisoners move a pile of rocks from one end of the compound to the other. After they finished, the soldiers ordered the prisoners move the rocks back. Once finished, you guessed it, they had to move the rocks back. Moving rocks back and forth with no clear purpose drove more than a few prisoners mad.

Doing the same thing over and over again without any idea of why can feel a little like moving rocks back and forth. When we know why we are doing something, we are more engaged, more connected and energized by it. When we see a clear connection between production technology and the mission of the church, we don’t mind coming in early or staying late. 

Intentionality Encourages our Teams

Everyone on our teams needs to know how their service connects to the big picture. Even things that seem mundane can be energizing when we know the why. Why do we lay out cables the way we do? Why do we set lights and program them the way we do? Why do we choose the backgrounds we do for the songs? These tasks can either be empowering or demotivating depending on the why.

Do we make sure our teams know why we do what we do? It’s easy to train someone how to do a job, but harder—and more important—to train them why. But here’s the good part; once they get the why, they will do a better job, and they will see how their work connects with everything else.

Intentionality Builds Trust

When you have a solid rationale for what you’re doing, and can explain how it connects with the big picture, leadership knows you’re not just doing stuff because it’s cool. And if someone complains, it’s easy to diffuse because you know why you’re doing it and you can explain it. 

For example, we had someone call to complain about the volume of our services (which aren’t that loud…) a while back. We called her and explained why we run the services at the volume we do. We believe in keeping energy up and our style of music works better at higher volumes. We told her we track levels each week and are in no danger of causing hearing damage. We even suggested a few spots she could sit where it was less loud. 

What began as an adversarial conversation turned around as she began to understand the why. She came over to our side once she new we weren’t just rock ‘n roll junkies who liked things crankin’ loud.

The conversation would have gone quite different if all we could say was, “Well, uh, we just like it loud. Sorry…” 

Think It Through

I had a professor in college who said that to us often, “Think it through.” I think in many ways that phrase has informed the way I approach production. As much as possible, I like to know why I’m doing what I’m doing, and I like to do it with intentionality. 

In the next few days we’ll explore how that plays out in practical terms. While it is impossible to cover everything we do, I’ll tackle a few key things that will get you thinking. After that, the rest is up to you!

Next up: Intentional Board Layout


Today’s post is brought to you by DiGiCo. DiGiCo audio mixing consoles deliver solutions that provide extreme flexibility, are easy to use and have an expandable infrastructure, while still providing the best possible audio quality. Visit their website to learn more.

The Soundbooth, Truncated Posts & Broken Links

OK. So it seems there have been some issues with the posts. I know because I’ve been deluged lately with emails, tweets and comments on those issues. Apparently, this has caused some confusion, and for that I apologize. Andy Stanley once said that it’s unfair to hold people to expectations you have never verbalized, so I guess I can take responsibility for the confusion. Hopefully, this post will help clear things up.

The Soundbooth

Van Metschke, my good friend, fellow TD and partner in many things CTA, has been writing a blog called The Soundbooth for a long, long time. Seven or eight years, in fact. After a few year hiatus, he’s decided to move things over here to CTA and post weekly on this site. In fact, if you allow your eyes to drift up toward the top of this page, you’ll see a menu bar with The Soundbooth as one of the options. Clicking on that link will (unsurprisingly) take you to Van’s posts. He posts there on Thursdays. That’s pretty much his page. His articles live right there on that page. So if you’re looking for an article from Van, that’s where you go. TheSoundbooth.com will also take you to that page. DNS; it’s a wonderful thing.


As a side note, you might notice that on the main page, the short, “teaser” version of the post might say Mike Sessler at the top. That’s because I’ve been writing this blog for 7 years by myself and haven’t gotten used to indicating a different author. We’ll try to fix that for the future posts. But remember the rule; if the post title starts of with The Soundbooth: it’s written by Van. Clear as mud?

Truncated Posts

You may have noticed that some of the posts that appear on the main CTA page are truncated. There are two types of truncated posts we post there. The first is for ChurchTechWeekly posts. The second is for The Soundbooth posts. You can tell ChurchTech Weekly posts because they are titled, ChurchTechWeekly Episode XXX: … You can also spot The Soundbooth posts because they will be titled The Soundbooth:… Pretty clever, right?

The reason they are truncated is because I try to keep the main page very clean and have full posts for the main content. However, in order to make sure CTW episodes and The Soundbooth posts show up in the emails and on the RSS feed, I post a truncated version of them on the main page. 

Personally, I don’t like websites that post truncated versions of every post, making you click more every time. It’s great for page views, not so great for readers. That’s why I only do it for those two, special classes of posts (that have their own pages anyway). Make sense?

Broken Links

Finally, we’ve had some issues with broken More… links. I believe today I figured out what the problem is. It’s been a tough one to solve because we typically queue up our posts a few weeks out (Van already has the next month of posts written and scheduled), and we can’t test the link when we schedule the short version for the main page. 

Well, technically that’s not entirely true. I could test the link if I used the internal linking structure. However, I use a fully qualified link so that you can click on it from the email or RSS feed (that’s the point, remember?), and since the target post doesn’t yet exist, we don’t know for sure if the link will work.

Screen Shot 2014-02-21 at 10.11.22 AM.jpg

Like I said, today, I think I figured out what has been breaking the links. The solution is pretty easy to implement (if this is what it is), so here’s hoping we have this licked. However, on the chance that we don’t, I should point out that we have a pretty wonderful search engine on this site. It’s right over there on the right, just above the sponsor graphics. And if you were to say, copy and paste the title of the post you want to read into said search engine, it will in all likelihood, take you right to that post. Search is cool like that.

Why So Many Problems?

I can hear frustration in the voices of those who email, tweet and comment about all the problems. And here’s the deal. We’re not a big online publishing empire. I work on this website in my spare time on evenings and weekends (my weekends being Monday & Tuesday). I have a full-time job as a TD, and I have two girls; one in college, one in high school. I devote as much time as I can to this site, and spend many hours a week answering reader emails, writing posts, producing a podcast and working on the occasional video. I also write for three other magazines. 

I say all that not so you’ll feel bad for me—I do this because I enjoy it—but rather to point out that I don’t spend all my time checking, double-checking and fixing issues. I work hard to make sure posts work the way they should, but sometimes I’m in a hurry to get to something else (like my job) and I miss something. For that I apologize. We’re just doing our best here. 

If you can’t find a post because a link is broken, slow down, take a deep breath and go to the site. Chances are, it’s right on the first page. If not, use the search box, I’m sure it will come right up. You’re tech guys, you can figure this out. It’s what we do. 

Alright. That ends this informational rant. Hopefully I didn’t offend too many people. Thanks for reading; back to our regularly scheduled post on church tech next week. Have a great weekend!

Gear Techs

Today’s post is brought to you by Pivitec.Pivitec redefines the Personal Monitor Mixing System by offering components that are Flexible, Precise and Expandable. Ideal for any application from Touring and Live Production to fixed installation in theaters and Houses of Worship.

The Soundbooth: The Four Elements Of Church Sound Redux – Part 1

True or false? “The sound system and sound people in your church is the same as in mine.”

The answer to this question seems so obvious, but the sound system in each church was designed, purchased, and installed using very deferent criteria, one from another and most sound people have learned most of their audio knowledge with the sound system they work with every week. If this system is not properly set up from the start the operator’s ability to provide good sound is immediately compromised.


CTA Review: OWC Accelsior PCI Express SSD


As video resolutions go up, the files get larger. Larger files demand not only larger storage devices, but also faster ones. Having switched to 1080i video resolution last year, we’ve been struggling with the speed that FCPX handles it. Originally, I bought a 4-bay RAID 5 external drive that connects via eSATA. That certainly helped, but it still seemed that the thumbnails, waveforms and scrubbing was slower than it could be. I could switch to RAID 0, but the lack of safety scares me a bit. 

I was experimenting at home with some video we shot at a trade show. I moved it between a USB 2.0 drive, a USB 3.0 drive and an SSD connected via USB 3.0. With every step up, the FCPX responded much better. Thumbnails generated quicker, and it was a lot easier to scrub and zoom in and out. So it occurred to me that this was all related to how fast FCP could read the data off the drive. 

While I sat there watching the render progress bar slowly creep up one Sunday, I flipped through my email and saw one from OWC advertising their Accelsior PCI SSD. I had already read how much faster SSDs were when connected via PCI instead of a SATA bus (and it’s proven true with my new 13” MacBook Pro Retina), and figured the same would happen with the Accelsior.

According to the OWC website, the Accelsior—which is available in capacities of 120, 240, 480 and 960 GBs—can read at speeds up to 820 MB/s in PCs and 688 MB/s in Mac Pros. I launched Blackmagic Disk Speed test to see what my current set up was doing. The RAID 5 we have running was reading at around 238 MB/s. Some quick math showed that 688 is almost 3x 238, so I decided to take the plunge and order one. 

The Accelsior is a simple PCIe card with two SandForce driven memory blades on it. The blades are replaceable, so if you want more capacity or if faster blades come out in the future, it’s a simple swap. The new version of the Accelsior also includes 2 eSATA ports on it, which is great as that let me ditch the eSATA card I had in the Mac. Genius. 

Once it was installed and the Mac was closed back up (this took about 2 minutes), I fired up Disk Speed Test. I was initially disappointed to see write speeds come in at 222 MB/s, but then I recalled that write speed is not the primary goal or strength of this upgrade. Then the read speed came up. The needle swung all the way over to the red, pegged out. I saw read speeds of 611 MB/s! I couldn’t wait to try editing. 

I copied a weekend capture file (we capture in ProRes 422LT, 1080i) over to the Accelsior and imported the clip into FCPX. I am used to it taking a while to generate thumbnails for the 85 minute file, but this was nearly instant. I dropped it on the timeline and again, huge speed gains for thumbnails and waveforms. Editing became very snappy, and I no longer felt I was waiting long times for the file to be updated.

We edit two versions of the service and this upgrade has easily shaved 10 minutes off my edit time. That might not seem like much but it’s really about 30%. Moreover, renders are much faster as well. Using Compressor, we render out both versions of the service to the Accelsior, and both are done hours earlier than they used to be. I used to dread editing the service because it felt like I was working in a vat of molasses. Now, it’s actually fun. I make decisions based on what is best for the project, not what will take less time. The only downside is that editing on my old 2009 MacBook Pro is now painful. 

While not inexpensive, at $400 for the 240 GB version, it’s not outrageous. I had considered spending $500 for a Matrox Compress HD, but that would only speed up rendering. The Accelsior speeds up editing and render, so it’s a better deal. 

For reference, I decided to test read and write speeds of the internal 6G SSD (from OWC) we have in the Mac Pro, as well as the RAID 5, and the WD 1 TB spinning disk. Write speeds for the SSD, RAID and Accelsior are all in the low- to mid-200’s, but the read speed is where the Accelsior clearly wins. At 611 MB/s, it’s considerably faster than the SSD (264) or the RAID (238). The poor single disk reads and writes at 107 and 98 respectively. 

It’s hard to find a reason not to love this upgrade. The only downside is the size. At 240 GB, it’s enough for us to capture both Sunday services (roughly 75 GB each), and render back both versions of the service (message only and full service). So each week, I use a program called Hazel to automatically move the render files off to a spinning disk (that gets backed up afterwards) and the capture files to the RAID 5. That way, we can keep 6-8 months of captured weekends online, and always be working on the fastest device.

If you’re looking for a way to speed up your FCPX workflow, and you have a MacPro (or a Thunderbolt-equipped Mac with a PCIe expansion chassis), give the Accelsior a shot.


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.

Church Tech Weekly Episode 185: Horrible Chest Thumpers


This week we debate whether 96KHz is better than 48KHz, talk about the new SSL Live console and discuss some rules of thumb for using EQ (many of which we break consistently).


Today’s post is brought to you by Pacific Coast Entertainment. Pacific Coast Entertainment is the premier event production company servicing Southern California and the western states. PCE offers a complete line of Lighting, Audio, Video, and Staging equipment for rentals, sales and installs. Where old fashion customer service meets high tech solutions. PCE, your one stop tech resource.

CTA Review: Ultimate Ears VRM Vocal Reference

The VRMs come with a cleaning tool and a small custom case.

The VRMs come with a cleaning tool and a small custom case.

Ultimate Ears is no stranger to custom molded IEM monitors. In fact, they’ve been making them for a long, long time. Their range spans from a dual-driver model all the way up to a rather pricey (but awfully good sounding) 6-driver unit. Last year at NAMM, they introduced the VRM series. VRM stands for Vocal Reference Monitor. Playing off the Capital Reference Monitor concept they came up with a few years ago, this custom IEM has a very tailored response. 

The first thing you realize when you start listening to these IEMs is that they are not designed for general music listening. In fact, if you want a set of ears that will work well on stage and double as a set to listen to music at Starbucks or on a plane, do not get these. Produced and mastered music sounds pretty ugly through these—and this is not a criticism. It’s actually the way they are designed. 

The idea behind the VRM is to create a tailored sound that makes it easy for vocalists to hear what they need to hear, and roll off the information that is not important. There are two versions of VRM, male and female. Obviously, the roll off will be different for the two models to account for the frequency response of the male and female voice.

Listening to the male versions, it seems to me that the low end rolls off somewhere around 200 Hz, while the high end rolls off past about 3 KHz. What isn’t immediately apparent—especially when listening to full-range music—is that the vocal range is incredibly smooth. Like butter. It’s almost spooky, actually. 

After I determined that I couldn’t test these listening to music, I took them to work and plugged into a few of our vocal mixes. Sure enough, it was incredibly easy to hear every detail in the vocal, and there was enough pitch and time information present that it would be very easy to sing with these in. Not being a vocalist, I spared our team from hearing me try, but there was a silky quality to the vocal range that is really hard to describe, other than to say it’s very, very good. 

At this point, you may be wondering, “Why not take a set of full-range IEMs and just re-create the high and low roll off’s with EQ on the monitor console?” That’s a valid question. In fact, I tried it. I took my UE7s and played around with some EQ until I approximated the frequency response characteristics. And it may have been a little easier to hear vocals, but they were nowhere near as smooth. Even after re-balancing the mix, I still couldn’t quite reach the level of goodness the VRMs produce—at least in the vocal range. 

I’m not sure what the magic sauce is, but the VRMs make vocals sound very, very good. I talked with a lead vocalist who used them for the first time and he went on and on about how easy they were to sing with, how much less strain he felt on his voice and how much better the overall experience was. 

You may recall when I reviewed the 1964 Ears Dual and V6 Stage that I didn’t like how short the stiffened portion of the cable that goes over the ear was. UE does a much better job with this; it’s long enough to get a good bend, which helps the cable flow back behind the ears easier. The cables are light-weight and flexible and are field replaceable. 

So, these things really do their intended job pretty darn well. The downside? They are really expensive. With a list price of $999, they are not a casual purchase. In fact, I’m pretty sure there are very few churches who will buy these for their vocal team. Which is too bad, because they really do work. But at a grand a pop, they are out of reach for most.

Now, it’s true that the VRMs are cheaper than say the UE11s or UE18, quad- and six-driver models priced at $1,150 and $1,350 respectively. And those high-end models do sound pretty amazing. So I guess it’s all relative. Whether or not they are worth it will be up to you to decide. But I can tell you the VRMs should help vocalists sing better. 

In the interest of full disclosure, and so as not to run afoul of FTC regulations, this pair of monitors was given to me at no cost. Though I have no idea what I’m going to use them for now…

Gear Techs

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.

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