Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: September 2015 (Page 1 of 2)

Try New Things


Photo courtesy of  Alan Levine

Photo courtesy of Alan Levine

One thing about working in the church is that it happens pretty regularly. Every week, in fact. That can be good because you get plenty of opportunities to practice and hone your craft. But it can also be bad because it’s so…routine. For the most part, church services don’t vary much. Most churches get into a rhythm and stay there. Three songs, announcements, offering, message, dismissal. It’s a formula, but it works. People know what to expect. But it isn’t necessarily a breeding ground for growing your skill set. That’s why we as technical artists have to stay self-motivated to grow. And the best way to grow is to try new things. 

Can The Best Get Better?

When I was in high school, I really liked the band Rush. Still do, in fact. I remember listening to Moving Pictures, Exit…Stage Left, Signals, Hold Your Fire over and over again. I saw them live during the Moving Pictures tour, and was blown away. Neil Peart, the drummer, was particularly notable. I’ve always been fascinated by drummers, and Neil is arguably one of the best in the business. The guy is simply a monster and has a seemingly unbelievable ability to disconnect his arms and legs and play four completely separate rhythms at once. I don’t know how he does it, but it’s amazing.

While watching a documentary on the band a while back, I learned that about 15-20 years into his career, a time when most would consider him one of the best rock drummers in the world, he decided he wasn’t playing up to his potential. He found an instructor and started taking lessons. He changed his entire technique and sure enough, became a better drummer. It takes a rare mix of drive and humility to want to improve when you’re already that good. 

We Have To Try

The thing that struck me the most about Neil’s story is that he was willing to try to get better. It’s completely possible that it wouldn’t work. It’s possible that messing with his technique would make him a worse drummer instead of better. But he tried anyway. He tried something new, and he grew. 

I have found that most times, when I try something new I grow. Not everything I try ends up the way I thought it would. I’ve tried mixing techniques that have failed miserably. But I learned from them. No matter what the outcome is, we always learn when we try something new. Sometimes all we learn is to never do that again. But that is a lesson. 

Some friends of mine recently had a baby. We visited them the other night and it was fascinating to watch her crawl around the floor. She tries everything. Usually, she tries to eat it. But she’s learning at a tremendous rate. The other night, I think she learned that a remote control has no nutritional value, but is fun to chew on. That’s something. 

We should have the same innate curiosity as a baby. Try a new audio effect. Try a new lighting look. Try a different font for your lyrics. If we are serious about getting better at our craft, we should be constantly seeking out new ideas to try and trying them. Simply reading about something on this or any other blog but never trying it defeats the purpose. 

I am a demonstrably better audio engineer than I was 5 years ago because I’ve spent hours talking with other audio engineers and trying things out. 

Don’t Be Afraid

Don’t ever be afraid to try something. It might work; it might not—that’s not the point. Try, learn, grow, repeat. Do that for a few years—or better yet, the rest of your life—and you’ll be better at whatever it is you’re doing. If you’re not getting better at what you do, what’s the point?

Today’s post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

SALT Special for CTA Readers


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Ok, so you guys know that Van and I are big fans of the SALT conference. Not only is it’s organizer and leader, Luke McElroy, a good friend of mine, it’s one of those special conferences that truly seeks to inspire and refresh technical and visual artists in the church. I love the sense of community that happens each year, and I have met many of you at the previous two conferences. This year for me, it has the added bonus of being 20 minutes from my house. I’m digging living in Nashville!

SALT is Coming!

We’re at the end of September, and SALT is just a few weeks away. The conference is almost sold out for the year, but we have a deal for you. Luke has generously made available a special discount code that will save you $20 off each and every ticket you buy. Use the code AUDIOROCKS to save $20. 

What Can You Expect?

If you’ve never been to SALT and you’re on the fence about coming, here are some things you can look forward to:

• There will be over 45 classes on topics such as ideation, creative leadership, audio and technical planning. The lineup of people teaching these classes is amazing. Luke and his team have done an incredible job of bringing in people who are not only great at what they do, but have a genuine passion for helping others get better. Hanging out with the instructors is one of the highlights for me. 

• Keynotes include Erwin McManus (Mosaic in LA), Blaine Hogan (Willow Creek) and Alex Seeley (former Planet Shakers). These are creative, passionate people. I don’t know about you, but I need to be inspired frequently. This is a great way to be encouraged and inspired.

• Hear from the brand new Art of Audio track including Andrew Stone, Brad Duryea, Van, me and more! This year Luke asked me to help coordinate an audio track of classes. I called in some favors of some of our favorite audio gurus to make sure you’ll learn something new. 

• Community groups. One thing we talk about over and over again is how much we need community among technical artists. SALT is about the only conference that I know of that not only encourages community, but schedules it. You’ll get to meet and talk with others who are just like you, offering encouragement and the opportunity to encourage. This is one of the highlights of the week.

You Need to Be There

Of course, you also have the chance to hang out with Van, me, Duke and many other CTW regulars. We love meeting you guys and always look forward to the conversations we have. Basically, it’s a few days of refreshment, encouragement, inspiration and fun. Plus, you get to hang out in the greatest city in the world, Nashville. 

So here’s what you need to do; go to SALTNashville.com and register. Use the code AUDIOROCKS to save $20. Then figure out how to get here and where to stay. The website offers suggestions on both. Then get ready for a few great days that will keep you going for a long time. And do make sure to say hi to Van, Duke and me while you’re here. And come to our classes, or we’ll be sad.

Brand Loyalty to a Fault


Anyone spin anything on an RCA  anything  lately?  Image courtesy of  Beverly

Anyone spin anything on an RCA anything lately?

Image courtesy of Beverly

I believe in being loyal. When I was a TD, I built several key relationships with vendors, manufacturers and reps and funneled as much business as I could to them. Rather than shop every single purchase, I went to one of my two vendors, got a price, and if it felt right, I placed the order. Same with gear. Once I found a company that made products that worked for me, I stuck with them. We had the same make and model of wireless mic in every ancillary room in the building. We used the same DSPs, the same speakers and the same accessories. 

There is a lot to be said for being loyal to brands. It makes support a lot easier because most companies do things similarly, which makes problems easier to figure out. You have to stock fewer parts. And when you buy more from a company, they take better care of you, being a larger customer. So being loyal is a good thing. Until it isn’t.

Times Change

One of the challenges of being loyal to a brand is that times change. So do companies. Sometimes one company stays put with a given piece of technology while the rest of the world is busy developing newer and better versions. The eponymous blue personal mixer is a classic example. When it first came out, it was the shizzle. But over time, more companies entered the market and produced superior products. Locking into that brand for the long haul would have meant you were not getting the best product in the category after a while. 

Other times, companies change. Or more correctly, the ownership does. More than a few companies have been sold and the new owners are not nearly as passionate about creating great products as the old ones. More often than not, the new owners are really interested in squeezing out as much profit as possible, which may be great for the owners, but less great for the users. 

We’re starting to see this with several big companies right now. Products that were once the standards of quality in the industry are now looking less shiny as the new owners off-shore production in the name of lower prices and speed. Lower prices are good. Lower quality, not so much.

Sometimes a product or company that has had a bad rep turns around and starts making great products. I’ve seen too many people pass up on great products because they have a brand anti-loyalty. They so dislike the brand, they can’t bring themselves to consider that it’s a new day. Don’t miss out because of past experiences.

Stay Loyal, But Evaluate Often

What’s a tech guy to do? My advice is to stick with what works, until it doesn’t or something better comes along. It’s important to be continually scanning the horizon to see if the sands have shifted. The world of AVL technology is a competitive and rapidly developing one. New companies and products come along all the time. It’s important to keep an eye on what is working and what is not. 

Don’t assume the company or product line you loved 5 years ago is still the front-runner. Also, don’t assume that a company that made sub-par products 5 years ago is still doing that. Either or both may be true, but don’t assume that because it was, it is. Don’t miss a great advance in technology because you are clinging to the past. You’ll not be serving yourself or your church well.

Roland

Do You Really Need a System DSP?


I don't recommend this...

I don’t recommend this…

A long time ago, in a land far away, a system processor in an installed PA was a 15- or 31-band graphic EQ or three. If the system had some delay speakers, there may have also been a delay unit or two in the mix. Things were simpler then. At some point, loudspeaker processors came on the scene and were able to do cool things like signal routing, EQ, delay and limiting. Today’s DSPs are truly powerful boxes that do all that and more. 

Back in the day, we typically didn’t even have output EQ on the console, so some form of EQ and or timing was required between the desk and the amps. Larger boards may have had several matrix mixes that could do some gain shading, but for the most part, the console sent a mono or stereo mix to the processing. We’ve been doing something similar for with DSP systems as well. 

More and more amps are arriving on the scene with plenty of processing built in. And sometimes, depending on the situation, that can give you more than enough horsepower to get things sounding tasty.

But the question comes up now, with all those powerful processing blocks available at the console level, do we even need a system DSP? Like many things in audio, the answer is, “It depends.” 

You Don’t Need a System DSP

When you are dealing with a small PA, say two mains and a sub or two, you can probably get by with the EQ and perhaps output delay that’s in a modern, digital console. Most digital consoles have parametric EQ on the main and matrix outputs, and I’ve been finding lately that if I’m doing more than 4-6 filters on a channel, something else is wrong. Many consoles also have GEQs on the outputs, which would also be handy for trouble spots. 

If your subs are in a different timing plane than the mains, you can probably run the outputs through a matrix and put some delay on the outputs as needed. So for simple systems, you can probably get by without a DSP. Certainly if you’re in a small portable setup, not having a DSP will be one fewer thing to schlep in and out each week, one fewer thing to cable and one less thing to deal with. 

When we had the flood of ’13 at Coast Hills, we ended up meeting next door in a gym on Sunday. We had our portable JBL Eonsand subs on sticks and I brought my X32 in to mix on. I was able to get a decent tune on the PA with the X32 and everyone was happy with the results. But like I said, it was a simple PA. 

I also just put in a small Nexo PS system and used only the DSP in the amp to do all the tuning. Again, it was a simple system; two mains and a sub. Once I dialed in one side to my liking, I copied the EQ to the other side and dealt with the sub on its own. 

You Do Need a System DSP

Once the system crosses a few boxes or you get into fills, delays or multiple types of boxes, a system DSP really starts to pay for itself. I’m about to install a L’Acoustics system that will have a main L&R cluster, two side fills, four center flown subs and four front fills. And while it’s true I could do all the timing and processing I need to in the amps, I’m not going to. 

With modern matched components, it’s a lot easier to use the DSP in the amp to load the presets which make the speakers sound pretty darn close without anything on them, then use a system DSP to do room correction, timing, and overall tonal shaping. That’s what we’ll do in this case. The L’Acoustics amps will be loaded up with the presets for each type of speaker they’re driving, and a Symetrix Radius will give me delay and overall EQ. I’ll also be doing all my audio routing in the Symetrix. Again, I could do it in the amps, but it’s a lot easier in a dedicated DSP. 

You Need Someone Who Knows DSPs

When your PA gets to the size that a dedicated DSP is needed, I recommend you bring in someone who knows what they’re doing to set it up. You can do a lot of damage to your sound and the speakers if you don’t get things dialed in correctly. Things can get complicated quickly and having someone who knows how to properly set things up will save you a lot of grief down the road. 

This is perhaps a bit of an over-simplification of the process, but it’s a good starting point.

Today’s post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

Today’s post is brought to you by Ansmann, USA, distributor of Ansmann rechargeable batteries and battery chargers. Used worldwide by Cirque du Soleil and over 25,000 schools, churches, theaters, and broadcast companies. We offer a free rechargeable evaluation for any church desiring to switch to money-saving,  planet-saving rechargeables. Tested and recommended by leading wireless mic manufacturers and tech directors. 

Necessary Endings–Personal


Image courtesy of  natalie

Image courtesy of natalie

Today wraps up our series on Necessary Endings, inspired by the book of the same name by Henry Cloud. So far, we’ve talked about processes that need to end, and people who need to be transitioned off the team. Today, we’ll talk about what might be the hardest ending of all—when you realize you need to end your time in your current role.

For Example

Sometime in the winter of 2011-2012, God told me that my time at Coast Hills was going to come to an end in the spring of 2014. Now, it wasn’t an audible voice, but I remember like it was yesterday the day, time and place I knew that. I had been struggling that season, and was contemplating what was next for me anyway. So in a way it was comforting to know there was an end, but frustrating that it was two and a half years away. Those were a tough two and a half years for me. They were also a great two and a half years. 

I didn’t realize until later that it would have been really unhealthy for me to stay there past my end “date.” At the same time, we had some great times, and I wouldn’t trade that time for anything. But, when it was time to move on, it was time to move on. 

The Change

I left the church staff and moved into the integration world, where I still work today, albeit at a different company. This is a path many of my peers have also taken. But I’ve also seen guys stay in a situation they shouldn’t, and have seen the negative effects of it. I’ve counseled people to leave their position, but they couldn’t bring themselves to do it. Months later, the whole situation blows up and they are usually in a really hard spot. 

One of the greatest gifts God gave me was the foreknowledge that I would be leaving. I think He did that because normally, I have a very high tolerance for pain, and tend to stick out difficult situations because I said I would. But what we miss when we do that is all the negative side-effects. It breaks my heart when I see guys stay in a situation too long then get blown up and find themselves out on the street with no plan. 

The Point

If you are in a situation that needs to end, end it. Start making a plan to end your current employment and start something new. How you do that will depend on your specific situation. But if you know your time is done at your current gig, head out. While we as technical leaders tend to develop a little bit of a messiah complex (“If I leave, this place will fall apart!”), you are doing more harm than good by staying there. You’re harming yourself and keeping the church from moving on.

This is a hard saying, to quote the Apostle Paul, but it’s the truth. I’m not going to try to come up with a ton of examples for this, because if you need to leave, you know it. You simply have to act on it. Yes, it takes courage, and more importantly, faith. But I promise you that nothing good comes from overstaying your call to a place. I’ve seen pastors do it as well, so it’s not just us. And the consequences are even more dire. 

Depending in your relationship with your boss, you may or may not want to tell him of your plans to begin to exit. Don’t leave anyone hanging, but don’t get yourself fired before you have something else lined up either. Again, I think those of you who know it’s time to go know what you need to do, you just need permission to do it. 

We all go through seasons, and it’s perfectly normal to end a job and start another. Most of us will serve at several churches over our TD career, and if we do it well, everyone wins. But no one wins when we drag it out. 

I really do encourage you to read this book, Necessary Endings. It’s one of the better books I’ve read in a while on this subject. We all have endings and beginnings in our lives, and this book helps you navigate them. It’s even been helpful in my family life, as we’ve had to navigate some life changes and relationship status changes. And the cool thing is, we’re seeing some very positive results. Endings usually precede beginnings, but you can’t get to the next thing if you’re stuck in the present thing. If you need permission to move on, consider this your go-ahead. Greater things are coming!

Roland

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Necessary Endings–People


Image courtesy of  woodleywonderworks

Image courtesy of woodleywonderworks

Last time, I introduced you to a book I’ve been reading, Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud. We talked about how sometimes we need to end a process we’ve been doing for a long time because it no longer serves a purpose or makes sense. And while some processes become sacred, those are a lot easier to deal with than the next item on our list. People.

Sometimes You Need to End People

OK, maybe that sounds worse than it is; you don’t really need to end them, but their role in the team needs to end. Something about what they are doing is causing more harm than good and it’s time to create an ending for them. This can look different in various situations, but the key is to deal with it swiftly and clearly. 

For Example

Years ago, I had a young man on my presentation team. By all accounts, he was great at running Media Shout (it was a while ago, OK?). He was pretty much always on each slide, and had a great sense of timing. He could read the worship leaders and knew instinctively when they were going to change something up. In short, he was on top of it. At least, when he showed up. 

A few months into my time there, he started showing up late for call. At first, it was 15-20 minutes, and he would text first. I put up with it for a few months, because he could catch up and still do a good job. But then, he started showing up later and later. One weekend, he was close to an hour late without any word. I finally called him, he apologized profusely and ran in late. 

We had a long talk that night after service. I told him that I was glad he was on the team, and he always did a great job. But I really needed him to be there on time. His lateness put a lot of stress on me, which in turn, put stress on the rest of the team. He apologized and promised to do better. You probably know where this is going. 

The Change

The next time he was scheduled—and I even sent him two reminders that week—he was late. So late in fact, he never made it. I tried to contact him and he never responded. When I finally did get a hold of him, we talked and I informed him he was no longer part of our team. While I appreciated the job he did when he was there, it was unfair to the rest of the team to continually show up late or not at all. 

The bottom line is that while it was nice to have the position filled, eventually, his being late caused way too much stress for me and the rest of the team. When I had to do his job before he got there, I was not available to help out with the rest of set up, which stressed out everyone else. Not knowing when he might grace us with his presence was annoying, and I’m sure I got snarky with others because I was ticked at him. 

The Point

We hate to fire volunteers. But sometimes, they are doing more harm than good. Having a position “filled” by someone who is constantly late, not good at the task, a jerk or difficult to work with is worse than not having the position filled. It poisons the rest of the team, and keeps others who would be better suited to the task from stepping up and serving. 

If you have someone who needs to be transitioned off your team, do it this week. Harsh? Maybe, but you’ll be doing yourself, and probably them, a big favor. If you need motivation, ask yourself if in 6 months or a year you still want to be dealing with the struggles with this person. Is there any indication that they will change? If not, move them on. Sooner is better. 

Speaking of moving on, that will be the subject of the next post.

Today’s post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

Necessary Endings–A Process


Image courtesy of  Insomnia Cured Here

Image courtesy of Insomnia Cured Here

I love to read. I typically read two dozen books a year or more. I wish I had more time for reading, in fact. Lately, I’ve tended to alternate between fiction, or fun books and business-type books. A few weeks in church, our pastor mentioned a book he had been reading which sounded very interesting. I immediately went to my Amazon app and put the Kindle version on my wish list for purchase when I got home. The book is Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud. I’m more than 3/4 of the way through now, and while there are a few standard business book clichés (you have to prune the rose bush…), it’s been very good.

The other night, after finishing another chapter, I started thinking about the concept of endings, and how it applies to the life of a TD. It occurred to me that there are probably three types of necessary endings you’ll encounter as a technical leader. And, because I’ve heard 10,000 sermons in my life, I will structure this series as an alliteration: Processes, People and Personal. Today we’ll talk about the first, and hit the other two later this week. 

Ending a Process

I’m not going to go into all the questions and diagnostics Henry goes into in the book—I suggest you buy it and read it. But I want to talk about when it’s time to change the way we do things. 

It’s been said that the last six words of a dying church are, “We’ve always done it that way.” I think the same can be true of a ministry, and in our case the technical ministry. Now, it’s true that change can be hard and many people don’t like it. However, we can get stuck doing something the same way over and over out of habit, without really noticing that it’s no longer effective. 

For Example…

When I arrived at Coast Hills in 2009, the tech team had gotten into a system of completely clearing the stage every weekend of every single cable, snake, wedge, mic stand and even extra risers. Then the next Saturday, we’d set it all up again. Most of it in the exact same place. At some point, that made sense; the church used to do a lot of outside events—sometimes several a week—which required a clear stage. 

But by the time I got there, we were doing a few a year. It simply no longer made sense to pull everything off the stage. But everyone was so used to it, it has a hard change. It was also hard work; it typically took 4 guys 90+ minutes to set up every week. Sometimes, we were cutting it close when it came to getting things line checked before the band showed up. 

The Change

As I looked over the process, it occurred to me that we were doing a lot of work and re-work unnecessarily. Within the first year, my new ATD and I embarked on building a bunch of new custom snakes that could live on the stage all the time. We build custom length cords for things that stayed in place, like the drum kit and piano. After a few months, we got to the place where we could have the entire stage set by one person in under 30 minutes. Think about that; we went from 360 man-minutes to 30! Talk about being more efficient. Strike was similarly speed up. 

We used all the extra time to come in later, and spend more time together as a team, and less uncoiling and re-coiling snakes. 

Now, you would think that everyone would be thrilled at this. But some weren’t. We lost a few of the old guys who were upset at the “new way” of doing things. But you know what, they were grumpy old sound guys who really didn’t do much but complain about everything all weekend anyway. So I was kind of glad to see them go.

The Point

Sometimes, you will find yourself in a situation where you have been doing something for so long that you don’t even know why. But things change, and if you’re not regularly evaluating what is working and what isn’t, you’re not as effective as you could be. And you’re probably working too hard, as well. Look over your processes. See if there are any that need to end. Are you still making cassettes that nobody ever pick up? Maybe CDs? What are you doing that you need to stop doing so you can be more effective? Find a way to stop it and move on. 

Sometimes, there will be a person holding you back. And that will be the topic of the next post.

Roland

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