Since Monday was our SoCal TD Meet Up at Planning Center Online, we gathered the group and talked about how to stay connected with our hearts during service, and why planning plays such a crucial role for us.
At Coast Hills, the biggest service of the year—from a production standpoint anyway—is Good Friday. In addition to ten band members, we also had six vocalists, all of whom needed monitors. The band is easy; we own eleven Roland M-48’s, so we were even able to keep one at FOH this year for troubleshooting. This actually came in handy. But vocals have always been a challenge.
Wireless is Hard
Frequent readers of this blog know that I like to wire as much as possible. Wireless mic’s and IEMs have their place, and we use them every weekend. But whenever possible, I like to wire them. Every year for Christmas and Easter, we end up with more vocals than usual on wireless IEMs, and it’s always problematic. Our wireless mic’s perform flawlessly, but our wireless IEMs tend to drive us nuts with weird little issues. An added challenge is that we currently own four wireless IEMs and we had six vocalists. I started looking for a solution.
We could have rented additional IEMs, but we still have antenna placement issues. I have a PWS Helical antenna in the truss, but it’s aimed downstage where the singers normally stand. For Good Friday, they would literally be underneath the antenna. We had no good angle to cover them all, and I wasn’t confident a 1/2 wave would do it.
Then it hit me. The vocalists don’t move. They don’t need to be wireless. So I made a call.
Headphone Amps for the Win
At NAMM, we looked at some new products from our friends at Elite Core Audio. One was a very cool single rack space 4-channel headphone amp, the HA4X4. It uses the same high-power headphone amp that lives in the PM16 personal mixer. I’ve used those in the past and have been impressed. It occurred to me that two of these units would be able to feed all six vocalists; we would just need to break out a few more of our headphone extensions—from Elite Core, of course.
Hidden in Plain Sight
Because the HA4X4 is designed to be rack mounted, and the vocalists would need access to the controls for level (at least initially), we needed to come up with a solution. We built a two simple stands; a particleboard base and two 2x4s. We spaced the 2x4s at rack distance and set the headphone amps on then. A shot of black spray paint made everything disappear.
We happen to have a 12 channel input snake on the upstage wall that we normally use for drums. Since the drums were in a different spot, I broke out some turnarounds and various XLR to 1/4” snakes to drive the headphone amps.
We set the headphone amps between the chairs which gave four of the six immediate access to their levels. The two in the middle had to ask for adjustments, but it was simple and easy. I mixed all six from FOH using stereo auxes, and everyone was happy. In fact, several of them commented that their mixes where better than they have ever had. Best of all, no dropouts.
It Sounds Good and Loud
I listened to some of the mixes through the HA4X4 and loved it. The amps are very powerful and get loud. In fact, I would suggest you really watch how much level you send them as you could easily do some damage to people’s hearing. Max level on the control shouldn’t take someone’s head off.
Another cool feature of the HA4X4 that I didn’t notice at NAMM is that each of the four headphone jacks has a 4-position selector switch. This switch allows you to choose any of the four inputs as your source. While we didn’t need it, it might have been handy to troubleshoot a mix issue from the stage. We could have plugged into the fourth, unused output of either amp and selected any of the three others to listen to.
Best of all, the HA4X4 is only $120. So for less money than a rental of a few IEMs for the week, we can buy eight, high-power headphone amps. That makes good sense to me.
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One of the highlights of our Easter service for me this year was our acoustic set. “Set” is probably an overstatement; it was a single song. We did All Sons and Daughters’ Your Glory/Nothing But The Blood. As we were brainstorming the best way to do this, we hit on the idea of doing it sort of bluegrass style with the musicians clustered around a single microphone.
As we talked about it, we didn’t think we could pull that off, but I thought we could do two mic’s in front for the vocals and guitars. A small acoustic drum kit (kick, snare, hat) would be in a rolling platform we could bring in for that song. We would have the bass and cello players stay where they were, the keys player could play accordion from keys world. It sounded great in theory; but we’d never done anything like this before. So we thought we should test it.
Figure-Eight for the Win. Almost.
We own a pair of AKG C414 IIs. As multi-pattern mic’s, one of the options is figure-eight. I thought it would be cool to position the two guitar players facing each other on one mic, and the two vocals facing each other on the other. In our testing, it seemed to work OK. But when the rest of the band got there, it wasn’t happening. We muddled through rehearsal, but I don’t think anyone was really happy with the result.
I went home and thought about it for a while. A few days went by and I decided I would rather have the mic’s in a wide cardioid pattern with the two pairs facing the audience. I suggested this to Justin, our worship leader and he completely agreed.
Cardioid for the Win. Really.
This actually worked. As soon as we tried it out at Saturday’s rehearsal, we all knew it was the right call. The musicians felt better leaning in to the mic as they were leaning in towards the audience. My gain before feedback went up quite a bit, which made everything sound better. I was running both mic’s through the two channels of Portico 5045 (aka “The Magic Box”), which further helped clean them up. This was what we were going for.
The Rest of the Band
House left to right, we had the accordion played by our keys player. I decided to bring my Heil PR-40 in for this one. It sounded really good and required almost no EQ. So that was easy. Our cellist has a pickup in his cello, so again, easy. For the acoustic drum kit, our drummer brought in a small kick a snare and hat. I put a Beta 91 in the kick and stuck an old SM-81 on a boom stand for the rest. I wasn’t concerned about getting a huge drum sound, and he played with brushes. It was more of a vibe. Our bass player brought in his Hofner, which has a nice fat sound that stayed out of the way of the vocals.
Lighting Sets the Mood
As is the trend these days, we went with a tungsten look for this tune. My LD Thomas did a great job creating a simple look with the movers, and added some Parnells for up-lights at the feet of the four up front. In contrast to the rest of the music set which was full of color and movement, this song was pretty sparse and simple.
For many, this song was the highlight of the service. I thought it carried the most emotion and weight and felt really good. The only downside to this song is that I don’t feel the mix on video really captures what was happening in the room. Our broadcast mix is really dialed for the big songs and speaking; but I didn’t have time to get this dialed in as well as I hoped. Still, it’s not bad, and I’m including it here for you to see what we did.
Some of my friends (cough…Andrew Stone…cough) don’t like accordions and mandolins, but personally, I’d do this again in a heartbeat. It was a lot of fun.
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For Coast Hills, Good Friday and Easter are probably our two largest productions of the year. A normal weekend doesn’t have a ton in the way of big production; just simple, solid and good. But for Easter, well that’s another story. We tend to pull out all the stops and go big. This year was no exception. We’ve forged a good relationship with a new rental vendor, Pacific Coast Entertainment, and they provided us with quite a few fixtures for the week.
Rather than me trying to tell you how we lit the services, I enlisted the help of my LD, Thomas Pendergrass to write most of this article. Thomas has been working closely with me for the last four years, though he’s been around a few years longer. As you can see from the gallery of pictures, the looks were pretty great, and added tremendously to the feel of the service. But enough from me. I’ll let Thomas fill you in.
I was privileged to design and program the lighting for the 2014 Easter services at Coast Hills Church. Since most of what I do is corporate lighting programming, I thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to design for the church for these special events.
Our Easter weekend consists of seven services total. The first two are Good Friday services which are almost the exact opposite of our Easter services.
The Good Friday service is a very dark, dramatic, and contemplative service without a single spoken word. Everything is communicated through video, music, and lighting. There is no front light on anyone throughout the entire service; everyone is backlit in silhouette.
Our Easter Services are not a lot different from our normal services, just a more “up tempo” music style and song selection with lighting to complement it. Since there is less than twenty-two hours between the last Good Friday service and the first Easter Service, very minimal changes to the rig occur.
In the past we have used a lot of drapery and scenic pieces for our Easter set. This year we decided to go with a more modern design and light the air instead of using any set pieces or fabric. Since there was no physical set, I focused on designing a lighting rig that would fill the air nicely and provide a lot of flexibility to create a variety of big beam looks. We ended up going with eighteen movers on the back wall with twelve LEDs in-between. The rest of the lighting was unchanged from our normal house plot so it made the install very easy and fast. The entire install only took about six hours with two-four guys working on it.
I spent a lot of time building and tweaking position palates for the movers. I made several positions that were just basic fan outs, fan ins, etc, which can be made very easily by adjusting fan and grouping settings (or whatever your console of choice calls it). I also made a few “organic” beam looks which took a lot of time to build. In these positions I try to make the beam looks “balanced” but asymmetrical, with no detectable pattern. As a more left-brained person, this is not something that comes very naturally to me and so it takes time, work, and more tweaking. Another thing to consider is where your movers are hitting. You may have an awesome looking beam look but if it’s abusing half the crowd, most of the time that’s not acceptable.
Many people have asked me what fixtures are in our rig. I prefer not to dwell too much on fixture makes/models/specs since our fixture choice really depends mostly on what our vendors have available and what we can get good pricing on. The design would look generally the same using VL2500s or Mac 700s or many other fixtures. Also, fixture choice depends a lot on the size of the stage and room—you don’t need VL3ks in a 300 seat room. But for all of you gear heads, here is a general equipment list of all the big items you see in this design.
- (18) Platinum spot 5r Pros (rented)
- (12) Colorblast 12s
- (6) HES studio colors
- (6) Martin Roboscan 518s
- (12) GLP Impression 90s
- (10) ADJ Flat Par tri 18x
- (24) ADJ Flat Par tri 7x
- (10) source four Parnels
- (6) source four Pars
- (30) source four Lekos
- (8) “Connells”
Mike again here. The Connells are our name for the pars on all-thread we modeled after Daniel Connell’s Dewey’s. It’s basically an old aluminum PAR64 can that we mounted on black-painted pieces of 5/8” all-thread.
One thing we did for both Good Friday and Easter that we normally don’t do on weekends is use haze. We used haze for two reasons. First, it really was the set. To light the air, we need something for the light to interact with. For us that’s our DF-50 hazer, which got a real workout last week. Second, we are given a little more leeway for Good Friday/Easter. We normally don’t run haze on the weekend because we haven’t been able to control it to acceptable levels for our leadership. However, after seeing how well it worked for Easter, that may change.
I’ve said this many times on Twitter, but Thomas knocked it out of the park with lighting this year. I had more people than ever tell me this was the best looking Easter service they’ve ever seen at Coast Hills. Everything fit together well and it simply looked fantastic. You can get a bit of a glimpse of the lighting on the video, though we didn’t get many wide shots.
In my mid-twenties, my wife and I attended a Baptist church in a small town near where we still live today. This church was almost one hundred years old at that time and had dwindled down to an elderly congregation of around one hundred and fifty or so. The denomination had installed a young Pastor and many of the long time parishioners didn’t really like him. Oddly though, this church also became a refuge for a small band of Christian musicians and since I mixed for some of these bands, my wife and I became a part as well. One summer, we decided to start a Sunday night service called “Nite Life” for our generation. It would be for people who didn’t like church and for those of us who wanted to do modern music in church. We even advertised on local rock stations. The first night was packed with a younger crowd, many of whom were smoking on the front steps before they came in. We had hit our target and we were all pretty excited. Down on the front row walked Myron Lilly.
I find my mixing style is an ever-evolving process. Like many FOH guys, I’m always trying new things and changing my approach. For Christmas, I took a calculated risk and re-used last year’s show file. That didn’t pay off the way I hoped it would. For Good Friday and Easter this year, I took a new approach, in more ways than one.
Back to Baseline
My starting point for Good Friday (and Easter) was our normal baseline show file. I had to do a fair amount of re-structuring to get enough IEM mixes for Good Friday. In past years, I’ve brought in a larger Digico console for FOH and put our SD8 at monitors. This year, we did it all from the SD8. So in addition to the nine M-48’s on stage for the band, I mixed six IEMs from FOH for vocals.
For Good Friday, I was mixing about 56 inputs between instruments, vocals and playback. I built a single stereo foldback aux to send all the local playback inputs back to the band and vocalists. A mono aux collected all the click sources (metronome, tracks and video click), and I had a mono group that I dynamically re-assigned lead vocalists into. That group made sure the band could clearly hear whoever was singing the lead vocal at the time. This group got a lot of use as four of the six vocalists led at least one song.
Since the service for Good Friday is very similar to the one we’ve been doing for the last few years (with a few song substitutions), I was well acquainted with the flow. In past years, I’ve made a point to record the rehearsal and spend a lot of time on virtual soundcheck, and have always ended up with a ton of snapshots.
This year, I decided to try something different. I still spent time doing virtual soundcheck, but it was more getting individual channels sounding good, and then everything sounding good together. Rather than do a bunch of snapshots for each song as I’ve done in the past, I built a starting snapshot for each song or transition element. Most of those snapshots were moving vocals in and out of lead, changing effects parameters and setting up a starting point for the mix.
This is how I approach most weekends, and it turned out quite well. The way I used to do it was more theatrical; hitting a bunch of cues on the board for cues during the service. This year was more like a live show. I don’t know that one way is better than the other, but I did enjoy mixing this year more than the past. On the other hand, I was less engaged with the service as I spent more energy focused on the mix. Pros and cons…
Perhaps the biggest change was a reduction in the complexity. The more snapshots you have, the more things can go wrong. Channels get assigned to a wrong mix or group, and it can be maddening to get it fixed. With fewer snapshots, I had fewer issues.
The Live Mix
I took more risks during the services than I normally would, but everyone said it sounded great. Because I knew the music so well, I could really work with all the instrumentation. We had the opportunity to rehearse the program a full two times live before we did the first service, and I felt the band really had it locked in.
As I said, I did more live than I normally do for this service. The arrangement of the music gave me ample opportunity to highlight different instruments and vocals at various points of the service. It was a lot of fun. The only song I did a bunch of snapshots on was our last one, Jesus Paid it All.
The Big Finish
I’ve written about this before, but the way I approach this song is to start off with the vocals feeling very distant and reverb-y. As the song builds through first few verses and choruses, I bring the vocals up while shortening the reverb time and level. By the end of the song, it’s pretty much all faders up all the way, except for the vocal effects. That’s the loudest point in the service with everyone on their feet singing “Oh praise the One who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead!” It gives you chills.
The end, the song disintegrates into a single vocal and piano singing the last phrase followed by a heartbeat that thumps a few beats then stops. We end in complete silence.
I have to say, it was the best Good Friday I’ve been a part of during my time here. Not necessarily because of what I did, but because everything came together just right. Next time, we’ll talk lighting.
We’re back with our panel of pros to discuss the things that we do during the week to make the weekend smoother. So much of what we do comes down to planning and preparation. Take that seriously, and see what improves.
We take a look at the new-ish large format live console from SSL. With 192 processing paths, up to 972 inputs and a huge 19″ multi-touch display it is a formidable contender. There are quite a few features that make this console unique. Learn more at http://www2.solidstatelogic.com/live.
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Easter week is one of the toughest weeks of the year for most church techs. Typically, we’re gearing up for a bigger than normal service on Easter (and typically more of them). Many of us also have a Good Friday service or three to produce. And for some reason, it seems that the rest of the church staff has no idea that our workload goes up by 50% this week and so all kinds of other stuff gets scheduled between Palm Sunday and Easter just for fun.
I have had a hard time with Easter (and Christmas, for that matter) week for quite a while. For a long time, I looked at it as just another super-busy week that was going to keep me at work for 12-14 hours a day for a week. In the last few years however, I’ve come to see it differently. I’ve said before that it’s struck me recently that we get to do this. By that I mean, we have such a unique opportunity to share the gospel with hundreds or thousands of people this week in a very creative and compelling manner.
We get to do that!
Moreover, this is a week that we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We mourn his death on Good Friday. And we celebrate his resurrection on Easter.
Go back and read that again. It’s quite a week! Easter week is the culmination of what Jesus came to do on this earth. He came for this very specific purpose, to die in our place and pay the debt for our sin.
For my sin.
For your sin.
That’s significant. In fact, it’s everything. It’s why we do what we do. It’s why we work late, prepare, rehearse and plan. It’s why we have extra services. It’s why we settle in to the tech booth for hours on end.
Don’t miss that!
Don’t miss what we’re celebrating.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, his disciples asked him to quiet the crowds. He told them,
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
It has occurred to me that every week, our job as the Church is keep the stones from crying out. Jesus will be praised; the question is, will it be by His people or by the rocks and stones? We get to be part of keeping the stones quiet.
Don’t miss that!
Finally, remember the words of Jesus,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
For me, this has already been a long week. But it will be an amazing weekend. If we truly understand the truth of what we’re celebrating, we can’t help but be changed by it.
What else would you rather be doing this weekend?
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