Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: May 2014 (Page 1 of 2)

CHCC Remodel: Conduit

The other day, I updated you on the renovation we’re in the middle of at Coast Hills. I figured it might be helpful to give you some details on specific sub-systems. Today, we’ll hit the one that has plagued me from the day I walked through the doors the first time almost 5 years ago: Conduit. 

Skimping on Conduit

Based on the lack of conduit in the original building, one might conclude there was an EMT shortage back in 1994. There was not a single continuous run of conduit from the tech booth to the stage. Nope. Not one. We had our electricians cobble a few runs together a couple years back, which enabled us to get most of our signal wire in conduit, but most of those runs were close to 250’ by the time it was all said and done. Keep in mind, the tech booth is about 90’ from the stage—albeit on the balcony. 

We had cables draped over the edge of the balcony for cameras, and all our audio cables were run above the decorative walls on the side of the room. Part of my goal for the remodel was to put in more conduit than I could imagine using. 

That might seem wasteful at first, but keep in mind that conduit is relatively inexpensive, and there’s a lot we can’t imagine right now when it comes to technology. I never like to have all my conduit full on day one; that really doesn’t leave any room for growth. I also didn’t want future tech guys to curse my name the way I have whoever laid out the conduit the first time…

Doing the Calculations

It might seem like figuring out how much conduit to install is like black magic—only a few know how to do it. But it’s not really that hard. There are a few pieces of information you need to know; how many cables you need to run, and their outside diameter (OD). Once you know that, you can do some quick math to figure out how much area each one takes up. Next, figure out the permissible area of your chosen conduit size, and do some division to figure out how much of it your cables use up.

Or, you could just do what I do and use a conduit fill calculator. 

The best fill calc I’ve seen is from CommScope. It’s an elaborate spreadsheet that will let you fill a conduit with multiple types of cables with different diameters, and it tells you how full various sizes of conduit will be. I did some mild modifications to it and pre-filled the ODs for the four types of cable I’m doing on this job. That way, I don’t have to keep looking them up. You can find the OD spec for a cable on the manufacturer’s website. 

Count the Cables

I built another spreadsheet to count how many cables needed to run from where to where. For example, from the stage to the booth, I currently need the following:

  • (4) 20A circuits
  • (2) Analog Audio
  • (4) Digital Audio
  • (8) Cat5s
  • (8) Coax (SDI and MADI)

Based on that, I punched the quantities into the calculator. I learned I can combine the audio cables into one easily enough. Those six would be about 25% in 3/4”, 15% in 1” and under 10% in 1 1/4”. The eight coax measured out about the same. The eight Cat5 add up to the biggest section, almost 30% in 3/4” but only 16% in 1 1/4”. Based on that, I decided that I could use four 1 1/4” conduits to run power, audio, coax and Cat5 (each in their tube). To plan for future growth, I doubled that count, and added two 2” for good measure. 

Again, the big expense in this job is trenching the floor; materials are cheap after the hole is dug. But it’s really expensive to add more later.

Run Conduit Everywhere

The time to run conduit is when the building is open. Since the underside of the balcony tech booth is open, I had them add five conduits on each side to connect the pull boxes on the back wall to the front wall. I also had them add four new runs to connect the new pull boxes. New conduit runs to the tech booth in our community room, which we use for overflow a few times a year, and we ran conduit to our cry room for the TV in there. Each of the lobby TVs had a conduit run as well. 

At this point, the conduit is a structural element. 

At this point, the conduit is a structural element. 

Inside the booth, I have three 12”x12” boxes with custom panels on them. I had 36 D-Size cutouts cut in the panels so I can populate them with whatever I want. Connecting all these boxes is a ring of six 1” conduits. Again, I don’t expect to use more than three right now, but it’s never easier to put in conduit than now when the booth is being built. I also have conduit coming down from the upstairs booth to the downstairs one, along with big (2 1/2”) conduits for the 26 pin cable for the cameras. 

Don’t Skimp on Conduit

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Don’t skimp on your conduit runs. On a job the size of ours, conduit install can easily add tens of thousands of dollars to the job. That seems like a lot of money. However, I’ve had to have the guys come back and add one or two runs here and there when the building is not torn up, and it’s not hard to spend $2,000-3,000 for a few runs. Now that seems like a lot of money. 

You get one chance to get conduit in the building when it’s open. After that, you will either fight the building for the next 10-15 years or enjoy how easy it is to add cable. The choice is yours!

Field Guid to AVL Renovations: Commissioning

Well, this turned out to take longer to get through than I expected. But here we are, at the final post and the final stage of the project. After figuring out the system objectives, developing an initial budget, landing on key technologies, working out the design, installing the gear, it’s finally time to fire it up and see if it all works. 

This is probably my favorite part of the job, to be honest. I love seeing the gear light up and enjoying the fruits of our labor. And in most projects, there is a lot of labor…

It might be too late to bring this up, but I feel it is important to raise the question, why do churches like to launch a new campus—with all the new technology, processes and people—on big weekends like Christmas and Easter? I certainly get the concept. Those are the biggest weekends of the year, and great ways to build momentum. 

However, it’s pretty rare to spend months on a project, weeks of install and perhaps a week to get everything talking and not have any issues. Even if the installers did their job perfectly and all the gear works, chances are, your tech crews will still be getting used to the new system. Your band may need some time on a new personal monitor mixer. Even your kids ministry may benefit from a weekend or two to get up to speed on a new check-in process.

A Modest Proposal

Instead of making the first weekend in the new or newly remodeled space one of the biggest of the year, why not plan on having the project done a few weeks early so you can work the bugs out? This is a good idea for many reasons. For starters, you’ll likely have a lot of guests on that big weekend. You want their first experience with the church to be a good one. Give your teams the chance to make it a great experience. 

You may also find that the initial tuning of the PA wasn’t quite right once the band and congregation got in the room. Having a week or two to really dial that in will make it better for all. A soft launch gives all your teams time to adapt to the new environment, which will enable them to be more friendly and helpful on the big weekend. 

Get Some Help

As with design and installation, having some help for commissioning the system is a great idea. Your integrator will likely want to turn the key for the first time to make sure all is well and you’re happy. On complex installs, you may also get manufacturer support. 

Commissioning is a great time to learn all you can about the new gear. As a tech, you should be there as much as possible while they get things set up. Ask questions, look over their shoulders and pay attention. After they leave, you’ll be responsible for running and maintaining the system, so you’d better know it reasonably well. 

It might also be a good idea to work into the contract to have the integrator send someone back down a few weeks or a month after opening weekend to tweak, adjust and train. Sometimes you’ll have questions after a weekend or two that you didn’t have at first. Having someone come back a few weeks later will ensure that you are really up to speed on everything. And if the PA needs to be tweaked a bit, that’s a great time to do it.

Ultimately, your integrator and manufacturers want you to be happy with the install. If you have issues, make sure to bring them up and give them a chance to fix them before going nuclear on social media. Good integrators will be very reasonable to deal with and make sure your experience is a good one. 

The End?

This may be the end of this series, but the story goes on. It’s rare that a church buys AVL equipment only one time, or never remodels their building. I strongly suggest doing a de-brief after the project is done to see what you can learn to do better next time. There will be a next time, and you owe it to yourself and future staff to get better each time. A remodel project is not a small undertaking, there will be bumps along the way. But when you approach it with the right attitude and open communication, it can be a great experience. Hopefully this guide has been helpful.

If you want to see all the posts in this series, click here. They’re in reverse order due to the way Squarespace sorts posts, but at least they’re all in one list. Enjoy, and happy remodeling.


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.

Memorial Day

Image courtesy of  DVIDSHUB

Image courtesy of DVIDSHUB

Today is Memorial Day. While some confuse it with National BBQ Day, it’s supposed to be a day when we reflect on the sacrifice of those who died in battle defending our nation. I was curious about the origin of the day, and came up with this:

Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

While the first observances of the day are disputed, in 1966 Congress declared Waterloo, NY the birthplace of Decoration Day. Stores were closed and residents flew flags at half-mast. The whole town honored and commemorated those who had served in the Civil War. You can read more of the history of the day at the Veterans Affairs site

According to Wikipedia, over 1.3 million US service men and women have died in conflicts since 1775. Another 1.5 million have been wounded. Today is the day we pay tribute to that large body of individuals. 

As church technical artists, some of our days can be stressful. Some of them are frustrating. We occasionally have a bad day at the office. Today is a good day to keep in perspective that a bad day at the office for us pales in comparison to what our troops face. 

To those who have lost loved ones on the battlefield, today we mourn with you. To those who have or are currently serving, we salute you. Your service frees us to do what we do. Thank you for your service.


Remodel Update

A few people have asked about our remodel project at Coast Hills. It is in fact underway, and I am still involved, though to the limited extent as project manager for AVL. The initial scope of the project was much larger, but as often happens, budget constraints led to some value engineering. In my new job of three weeks, I’ve already VE’d a few projects, so this is not uncommon. 

Click to see more pics…

The Architectural Scope

From a building standpoint, we have opened up the lobby quite a bit, and the tech booth is moving to the floor. The temporary thrust we built from Steeldeck has been replaced with a permanent one built from wood. We boxed in one side of the stage that used to be curtained off storage, and the baptismal side is now open. A couple of windows in the sanctuary were covered over (I called them the “interrogation windows” as they were half-silvered and looked out from the cry rooms). The damage from the flood is being repaired, and we’re closing in the balcony with high walls that go up to the roof deck. The existing tech booth will remain open to the sanctuary, and will house video control.

In the kid’s wing (the one we renovated two years ago), we’re opening up a wall to create an even larger, large group room—tearing out all the AVL we put in there, as well as my super-cool tech booth in the process. The new room will be 60’ wide and 18’ deep with the stage on the long wall. I’m not crazy about that from a tech standpoint, but the kids min people really wanted it that way. So there you go.

The Tech Scope

Because the tech booth is moving to the floor, we trenched the floor and installed all new conduits to the stage. There were never any conduits from the booth to the stage, so this is a welcome addition. Sadly, the electricians landed the conduit in the wrong spot, so we have a giant pull box inside the tech booth instead of inside the tech booth wall. It’s a good reminder of why you need to keep a close eye on the trades at all times. They partially relocated it to a slightly better location, but it won’t be as nice as it could have been.

We will be installing a new Bose RoomMatch PA in June. I decided to go with two 6-box hangs in a left-right configuration. It won’t be true stereo, but it will be more immersive than mono. We’re also hanging four dual-18” subs in the air in a cardioid configuration. The models look really good, and I can’t wait to hear what it sounds like. One thing that is unique about our system is that we’re using both symmetrical and asymmetrical boxes in our arrays. This gives us the coverage we need, while keeping the wash on the walls to a minimum. Bose is pretty unusual in being able to do that, which was another selling point for me.

We’re also going to be replacing our nearly 10-year old Christie Roadster S+16 with a new Absen 6.2 mm video wall. The backstage wall is moving downstage by about 12’, and we had no place to front project any longer. We didn’t have the room to RP either, and when we considered the cost and inconvenience of tearing into the back wall of the stage to build a projection room, we chose the video wall. We’ll gain a lot of brightness and have new technology. The original building had a heavy track system above the stage for a moveable upstage wall. The wall is long since gone, but we’re going to hang the video wall from it, which will allow us to move it upstage should we desire.

In the lobby, we’re hanging a total of 10 TVs, six 52” and four 42”. The 42” models will hang from the second story breezeway and act as digital signage. The remainder will be program from the main switcher. I’m also adding video runs to ancillary room so we can use them for overflow. A 40-square Blackmagic router will handle all the switching. 

Progress is Slow

I had hoped to be pulling cable by now, but the electricians fell behind this week. Instead, we built amp racks, demoed out equipment in the kids room and tried to get organized. Hopefully next week, we can actually pull some cable. Of course, when the PA starts to go in on June 9, it’s go time. We have to have at least audio relocated by then. We’re also re-hanging our truss the following week, so there will be more work to do lighting-wise. 

It’s a big project, and as I’ve said repeatedly, if you want a project like this done right, you have to watch the trades all the time. Trades will take the most efficient route to getting a job done, which may or may not be what you want. In the end, this will be a good project, and the technological upgrade to the room will be huge. By pointing speakers at people instead of walls and boosting the brightness of the screen by a factor of 4-5, it will be a much better experience for all. The fact that the FOH guy will be in the same acoustic space as the congregation is an added bonus. 

Stay tuned for more updates as we get deeper into it.


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.

Procedure Documents

photo © 2008  E01  |  more info        (via:  Wylio )

photo © 2008 E01 | more info    (via: Wylio)

The other day, I was looking back over some old posts. I found my Hit By A Bus list article, and it got me thinking. As I prepared to leave Coast Hills a few months ago, I started documenting as many procedures as I could. As my former ATD had recently left, I knew my new ATD was going to be drinking from a fire hose the first few weeks. To make life easier for him and our volunteers, I started writing down how to do common tasks. 

A Clarify-ing Moment

Some time ago, I came across a program called Clarify. It’s a single-purpose tool designed to make step-by-step documentation. It uses a combination of screen grabs and text to create the document. While I could have created the documents in Pages, Word or almost anything else, Clarify has the advantage of being a step-based program. It forced me to think about the steps I went through for a given task. 

For example, here’s an example from our procedure for setting up the M-48s. You can download the PDF at the end of the article.

I tweaked the format a bit to match our logo. I like it because it really does walk you through the process step by step. 

Many Procedures, Many Documents

I built procedure documents for all kinds of things: The process for creating lower thirds for our video switcher, for example. We have procedures for setting up Reaper, editing and uploading the podcast, even editing the video in FCPX. All are broken out in simple, small steps that anyone with a moderate amount of technical skill can do. 

I complied all these documents in a 3-ring binder that lives in the tech booth. I told Matt when I left, “If you have a question about how to do anything, look in the procedure book first. If you can’t find it, call me.” So far, he hasn’t called. So I guess it worked. 

You Shouldn’t Take It With You

I think a lot of guys want to keep this kind of knowledge a secret, believing it gives them some job security. While that may be, it’s the wrong mindset. We’re here to build the Kingdom of God, not our own. We shouldn’t hide this knowledge under a bucket. We need to share it with our team, if for no other reason that you should take a weekend off once in a while.

Now, I know you’re going to ask, “Mike, can you post all your procedure documents?” The answer is, “Probably not.” That may seem in contrast to what I just said, but here’s why. Procedures are very specific. I’ve developed these process based on our systems, goals, and equipment. Some of it may be transferrable, but much is not. If you want to know how I’m doing these, look at the Patching M-48 document. All the rest of them follow the same format. Simply break a procedure down into steps and load it up with images. You can then sit back and watch the magic of other people doing your job.

Download Patching M-48s in PDF format.


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Field Guide to Renovations: Installation

We’re back at it again with our guide to renovations. Today it’s time to talk about the installation process. And since I’m getting into a pattern of saying controversial things in this series, we’ll kick this post off with another one. 

You Should Probably Not Install The System Yourself

Sound familiar? It should. Again, a lot of churches try to “save money” by doing the installation by themselves. Now, it’s possible to save money by doing some of the install, and I’m for that. But things that fly over people’s heads need to be installed by professionals. Period. 

I’ve been doing this a long time and know how to install a lot of things. But when it comes to rigging, I hire a certified rigger every time. I simply don’t want the responsibility of hanging hundreds to thousands of pounds over peoples heads. That is something that needs to be done right the first time. 

There Are Some Things You Can Install

Putting gear in racks, hanging lights, pulling cable; those are all things that you and your team can do. In fact, it’s good sometimes when you do it because you know better how everything fits together. It’s best when done under the supervision of the company that designed it—especially the cable pulls, you want to get those right. Doing things like that can save you some money, but there is a downside.

The Service Has To Go On

The weekends keep coming, week after week after week. Even during an install. So depending on how much prep time you need during the week, installing a system can become really disruptive. You may be in a situation where the installation will take place over several weeks and the service has to happen in the middle. That can be tricky to pull off, and it’s where a good install company comes in handy. 

They can help set the schedule and throw more people at it to make sure things get done and the system is useable come service time. If you try to do it yourself and hit a snag, and you can’t pull off a service, who takes the fall? Again, having a third party to throw under the bus can be a good thing. The install company can take some of the heat and help set realistic expectations. 

I’ve seen installs completely burn out an entire tech team. I’ve been part of some of those, come to think of it! It seems like fun at first, but by the end of the third or sixth week when you’ve been working 12-14 hour days to get it done, it’s a lot less fun. Some guys don’t come back after that. 

This is an Expensive System, Treat it Well

After you spend tens or hundreds of thousands (or more) of dollars on your system, it only makes sense to have it installed professionally. That will ensure everything is done properly and works the way it should. It also sets you up to succeed going forward. 

I know the labor number on the contact can look big, but in the long run, it’s money well spent. Keep your staff healthy, make sure everything is done safely and to industry standards, and that it all works at the end. After the project is done, you have a team that is energized, excited and ready to rock the new system. Isn’t that what you really want? 


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CTW Listeners: What Do You Want To Hear About

Alright, faithful listeners (and occasional listeners, too). We’re just about out of topics in our show topics queue, so I thought I’d turn to you and find out what you want us to talk about. If you have ideas for a show, someone we should talk to, or a question you’d like answered, go ahead and leave it in the comments.

We do this show for you and we’d like it to be as productive and informative as possible. You ask for it, we’ll talk about it. Ready, set, go!

Field Guide to Renovations: System Design


This is our fifth installment in our series on renovations. Last time, we talked about selecting key technologies. If you missed the previous posts, go back to that one and you can get the list. Today we’re talking about design. Now, I’m going to start off by saying something that may be controversial and may offend some people. But I really believe this is the best advice. 

You probably shouldn’t design the system yourself. 

There are some churches that are blessed with someone on staff who can design systems. But that’s a different skill set than operating those systems. Most churches have operators and team leaders. I’ve seen quite a few systems that were “designed” by people who really didn’t have that skill set. Most of those systems need to come out. You and your church will be much better off if you bring in a professional for the design. And this is for several reasons. 

First, you will get a good design. A good design will have the components you need and omit ones you don’t. Everything will work together, will be easy to use and will meet the system objectives. Second, you will have someone to throw under the bus if things go wrong. If you as a volunteer or staff TD design the system yourself and anything goes wrong, it will be your fault. When a third party is involved, you can blame them. That might save your job. This is assuming you hire a good design firm to do the design and not the guys at the local music store. 

You Can’t Afford To Not Pay For Design

I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s true. I have been in dozens of churches and talk to people in hundreds who decided to “save money” and figure it out on their own. Almost universally, the church leadership is unhappy with the results, the tech team is frustrated and the congregation is missing out. 

There is a misconception that design is super-expensive and only the big churches can afford it. The reality is, a well-designed system will likely cost less in the long run than a poorly designed system. That’s because the church won’t be doing it 2-3 times. Moreover, the experience from day one will be better. When you bring in people who know what they are doing, they can work within your budget. Unless your budget is completely unrealistic, in which case go back and read the budget post. 

A good designer will help you make hard decisions and keep the project on track. Most churches can’t get everything they want in a system, at least at first. A designer will help you prioritize so you get the right equipment first, with a path to add later. 

Everything Else is Designed

Your HVAC system is designed; your electrical system is designed; your plumbing system is designed; heck, even the parking lot is designed. Why would you not want to design the AVL system? The sound system is at least as critical as the bathrooms when it comes to hearing the message from the pastor. Why would a pastor leave that task in the hands of a volunteer with no design experience? This is not to disparage volunteers, but again, I want to point out that operating is a lot different from designing. Pastors, don’t set your team up to fail. Get this done right. 

You Still Have a Voice

Good designers listen to their clients. As a TD or volunteer tech, you should have some say into how the system goes together and how it works. When you define your system objectives and identify key technologies, you get to speak into the process. When the design comes back, if you have ideas, be sure to voice them. Sometimes designers choose equipment based on preference or which manufacturers they work with. If you have a particular piece of gear in mind for a task, bring it up. Unless there is a good reason not to go with it, the change is easy in the design phase.

If you have specific ideas of how you’d like a system to lay out, or where to locate snakes, mixers, cameras and the like, by all means speak up. The designer needs as much information as possible. You are the one who works in your church and you know better than the designer does what the needs are. Make sure to let them know your thoughts. With good information, a good designer will give you a great system. And, more than likely, it will come in on budget. When that happens, everyone wins!


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