Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: December 2015 (Page 1 of 2)

A Healthy Christmas

Image courtesy of  JD Hancock

Image courtesy of JD Hancock

It’s Wednesday, December 30. Christmas Eve was just a few days ago—which means one of two things for the average church technical artist. Either you’re feeling rested, refreshed and ready to take on the new year, or you’re still sitting on the couch in your pajamas eating peppermint bark and watching The View. The Christmas season can take its toll on the church tech if we’re not careful. My last Christmas as a full time TD ended in a vastly better place than the year prior, and there are reasons for that. Hopefully some of this will be helpful if you’re still crashed on the couch. 

Christmas Gone Wrong

One Christmas in particular was tough for me; my ATD had left for a better gig and I wasn’t able to bring a new one in. All my contractors had also left town, and my volunteers weren’t ready to make a huge contribution to audio yet. We launched into a whole new Christmas Eve service that was supposed to be simple, but was anything but. I had also hurt my back at the beginning of December, which slowed me down a lot. By New Years Eve, I was still lying on the couch, only I had finished all the peppermint bark and had moved on to the wretched Russel Stover variety pack. It was a dark time.

It required the better part of 10 months to figure it out, but I think I finally came up with a plan to help avoid that post-Christmas malaise. And believe it or not, it’s not too early to start planning.

Remember How You Feel Right Now

Humans have short memories for pain. Normally this is a good thing (think childbirth). But when it comes to unhealthy behavior, it’s easy to forget how bad we end up feeling when we fail to prepare properly. One of the key things I did that year was to write an e-mail to myself using FutureMe.org. I considered posting that e-mail here, but then I re-read it and remembered this is a family-friendly blog. I had that e-mail delivered a week before Thanksgiving, enough time to course-correct. It was a vivid reminder of what happens when I overcommit, fail to plan and take on too much. If you did any of those things this year, document it, and have it delivered to your inbox in November. You’ll thank me later.

Now is also the time to come up with a plan to do next year better. Chances are, while it’s still fresh in your mind, you can think of things that you should have done to make life easier. Write that down. And don’t forget to look at it in October. Yes, start working on Christmas in October and your December will be much more pleasant.

Plan to be Better

Here are a few things that I did better this year that has left me in a much better place. I don’t want this to sound like I’m bragging, or have this all figured out; instead I hope this list can serve to spark some ideas on what might help you next year. 

Start Earlier: Thankfully, Christmas Eve service changed little between years, so I knew what we were getting into. By Thanksgiving, our input list was mostly done, my starting show file was complete (including starting snapshots for all music), the set was designed, and the schedule for December was in order. All the rental equipment had been lined up and new equipment purchased. 

Three weeks before Christmas, we built the set. Two weeks out, we hung the cords for the lights and set up the Christmas tree. By Christmas week, all we had to do was put bulbs in the cords, hang the walls and set the stage for audio. It made for a good week. We even took Thursday morning off, and when my ATD got sick and had to go home for a day and a half, it didn’t kill us. I didn’t get my Friday off (like I hoped), but it wasn’t a crazy long day, either.

Enlist More Help: The previous year, we were severely limited in people to help. I resolved to delegate more, and not take on too much. I intentionally let a few things go that I normally would have put a lot of time and energy into (though they are not really my job), and I backed off on how much we tried to accomplish. I also had an ATD around, who could tackle a myriad of tasks while I was working on other things. Of course, my LD was there a lot to help as well, and we had a great presentation and video team that committed many hours to making the service great. 

Let it Go: Like I alluded to, I let a lot go that year. Mostly, it was stuff that either wasn’t my job anyway, or high-investment details that no one would notice. At times, we TDs tend to obsess over details that only we notice. Sometimes that is admirable, sometimes it kills us. Learning to discern the difference is an important lesson. I could have spent twice as much time refining my mixes as I did, but given our poor PA and acoustics, I would have been the only person that noticed. That may have made me feel good in the moment, but it was time I didn’t have, and being worn out on Christmas Eve would have left me more grouchy and less in the spirit. How much is that worth?

I decided to simply relax and try to enjoy the season more. I found that by lowering my own crazy-high standards to a level that still surpassed everyone around me, I was able to rest more, spend more time at home, spend more time talking with my volunteers and the band, and feel a whole lot better about the long day when it was done. 

I didn’t resent Christmas, which is a big deal for me. I still have a way to go when it comes to keeping a proper perspective, but these are a few ways in which I improved. Hopefully, this will be a catalyst for you if you find yourself in a bad place in the post-Christmas recovery. If you do, get some rest, spend some time in prayer and reflection and come up with a plan to not repeat those mistakes again next year. You’ll be glad you did! And don’t forget, Easter is early this year…


The End of the Moving Sidewalk

Photo courtesy of  Nick Fisher

Photo courtesy of Nick Fisher

I love moving sidewalks. Whenever I’m trucking through an airport trying to get from A13 to B47 as quickly as possible, I always take the moving sidewalk when available. I love the feel of the wind at my face and that sense of superior speed and time management I feel when I blow past others walking on the non-moving walkway. I walk quickly normally, and I always walk on the moving sidewalk (stand right when I’m coming, OK?), so I can really make some tracks. 

But like all good things, the moving sidewalk eventually ends. Dismounting the moving sidewalk requires skill and balance, lest you face plant into the now stationary terra firma. Christmas week (or the few weeks leading up to Christmas, depending on your church) is a lot like walking quickly on a moving sidewalk; especially for church techs. We move pretty quickly all the time, but come Christmastime (and Easter, for that matter), we really get up a head of steam.

Then, just like the end of the moving sidewalk, it all comes to a halt. Today is the Monday after Christmas, and I suspect most of you feel a bit like I did—face planted into the no-longer-moving ground. As an experienced church tech, I’ve lived through this before; and I’d like to share some survival tips for you. 

First, however, I want to give you permission to feel tired, used up and generally spent. I also want you to feel free to not do anything productive for a few days. I know that goes against your very nature; you’ve been running so hard over the last few weeks that doing nothing—yes nothing—feels entirely wrong today. It’s OK. Sit down, relax, and don’t try to do anything. It’s harder than it sounds, but completely necessary.

To help with this, I want to give you a list of things I enjoy doing—or not doing—the week after a big push at church. You don’t have to do (or not do) all of these things, but consider this a starter list to give you some ideas. Here goes: 

The Top Ten Things To Do (or Not Do) During Christmas Break

Sit on the couch and watch TV.

This is one of my favorites. I love to binge-watch an entire season or seasons of a show on Netflix.

Lounge around and listen to music.

Cue up some of your favorite tracks, sit back, relax and take it all in. So peaceful.

Take a nap.

Sure, it’s only 9:30. AM. But take a nap anyway.

Go see a movie.

We always get movie tickets for Christmas. It’s nice to go every once in a while.

Take your wife out to dinner.

You don’t want to cook, and she could use the break. And you probably haven’t seen each other in two weeks anyway. It doesn’t have to be fancy…

Go to the beach.

OK, if you’re in the midwest, this can be tough. But there’s something about the action of the waves that’s very calming.

Take a nap.

It doesn’t matter that you just woke up from your 9:30 nap. Take another.

Have lunch with friends.

There is something restorative about sharing a meal with friends. 

Go shooting.

Almost every year between Christmas and New Year’s I head to the range with the pistols. It’s both exhilarating and relaxing. 

Take a nap.

Hey, we’re tired. Get some rest.

Consider this post official permission to not do much of anything productive this week. Rest up, get recharged and you’ll be in better shape to thrive in the New Year. 

What do you do to relax this week?

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Merry Christmas

Photo courtesy of  Five Furlongs

Photo courtesy of Five Furlongs

Well, here we are on Christmas Day. If you’re reading this, you made it. You pulled off the 2, 5 or 25 Christmas Eve services. Hopefully all was calm and all was bright. This year, I was able to simply attend a Christmas Eve service with my family for the second time in about 12 years. It felt really good, and it was a wonderful service. 

Today, I don’t have a lot of profound things to say, other than Merry Christmas. It has been a year full of crazy change for me and my family and I truly appreciate all of you sticking with us through it. I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting so many of you at conferences, trade shows and other gatherings this year. I appreciate your emails, tweets and post comments. My prayer for you this day is that you get to relax, spend time with loved ones and enjoy a wonderful Christmas. 

Thank you for all you do for the Kingdom. Most people have no idea what goes on in that little booth back there or backstage, but I do. I know all too well how hard you work, how many hours you put in to make it look like everyone just showed up to a magical evening. 

So kick back, relax and throw another Yule log on the fire. You deserve it. Merry Christmas!

Rehearsing Too Much?

I’ve been kicking this post around in my head for about three years now. That’s a long time to stew on a topic, but it’s one that I couldn’t come to a definitive conclusion on, mainly because I think it’s so multifaceted. The origins of this topic go back several years to Christmas rehearsal week. I got talking with someone in leadership about why we rehearsed so much. That person, as I recall, thought we really didn’t need all that time, and by rehearsing too much, we turned the Christmas Eve service into a show. 

Later, I got talking with some of the musicians about the idea. Interestingly, they were divided. Some felt the best services we had done were ones where the band—and thus, the tech team—basically winged it. Others felt when we really spent the time to get it very dialed in, where the music was completely internalized, everyone was free to have fun and do a great service.  I think there is validity to both concepts, but I have so opinions (shocking, I know). 

Wing It!

I agree we did some great services that were much less prepared than normal. Usually it was due to some outside circumstance; last minute changes, cancellations or a world event that led to the scrapping of the original plan and a short run up to a service. 

However, correlation often doesn’t equal causation. Those free-flowing services were typically staffed by our A-team of musicians. Theses were professionals who had played together for years, both inside and outside the church. We were doing songs and arrangements that were familiar. The tech team knew the songs, and the overall service structure was similar. 

And, often there was a point of inflection that caused everyone to be a little more sensitive to the Spirit that weekend. Add all those elements together and you get a “great service.” However, I’ve also been part of services where everyone winged it because no one bothered to plan and those were a train wreck. Sadly, for some churches, that’s the norm. 

Nail It!

The other option is to rehearse to the point where everyone is waking up dreaming of the songs. Each musician knows not only their own part inside and out, but everyone else’s as well. The tech team knows every chord change, every solo, every nuance and crescendo. 

I’ve done services that way, too—mostly big weekends like Christmas or Easter—and I can say that personally, I prefer this. Once I know exactly what is supposed to happen, I’m freed up to really enjoy the experience. I can be fully present in the moment, without worrying about what comes next. 

Watching musicians in this mode is great fun. They too are freed up to just play. No one is stressed anymore, it’s just a great opportunity to minister to the congregation through music. No one is thinking of it as a show, it’s a chance to be free musically. 

What’s Better? 

As is often the case, it depends. I think for most churches, a normal weekend service doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) require 8-10 hours of rehearsal timeUnless you’re doing a new song, running each one once or twice to make sure everyone has it is typically sufficient. 

But for big weekends, I can see putting in some extra time. In fact, I think we should. I’m totally willing to spend an entire day in virtual soundcheck for a Christmas Eve service because it will make the entire day better. I’m willing to deal with multiple rehearsals for the band and for a tech rehearsal because I know it’s going to make the experience better for everyone. 

Big weekends typically have a lot more going on, and much of it is outside the norm, which means more preparation. How much outside the norm is a whole different discussion, and one I may take up after New Years. But I think if we’re going to do a big production for Christmas, we owe it to ourselves and our congregation and visitors to know it inside and out so we can make it great. 

Can we rehearse too much? Maybe. But I doubt many every truly do.

A Healthy Pace

Image courtesy of  Robert Couse-Baker

Image courtesy of Robert Couse-Baker

A week from today is Christmas. For the average church tech—volunteer or paid—that means a lot of long days ahead—and probably quite a few in the books already. Whether you’re doing a major production or a lot of services, there is no shortage of work to do. 

I did church Christmas services for over 20 years, and to be honest, I like I was just getting the hang of it by the last one I did two years ago.

For most of those years, I worked way too hard and way too long. I didn’t take the time to actually enjoy the season, or spend enough time with my family and friends. 

A few years ago, I decided I was going to change that. Sure there was still a lot of work to do; but I’m learning that God is far more concerned about the condition of my heart on Christmas Eve than He is about how much I accomplished. 

I wrote an email to myself in 2011 after the Christmas season using FutureMe.org. I scheduled it to be delivered the day after Thanksgiving 2012, and it was a good reminder of why I was not going to kill myself that year. In 2011, I was exhausted and spent the first four days after Christmas on the couch. I was also pretty close to being ready to quit apparently (according to the email…); and I never wanted to feel that way again. 

From then on, I started on Christmas production a lot earlier than usual. By late November, I had my show file done for the audio console. And by the first week in December, I had ProPresenter basically done. 

My hope was that by spreading the work out a little more, I would be able to work a little less and enjoy the season a little more. It worked! I actually had fun that year, and after following that pattern the next few years, enjoyed another few Christmases before taking a break. 

My advice to you is to slow down, enjoy the season and let a few things go undone. The reality is that you and I obsess over details that almost no one notices, and leaving them alone won’t impact the service noticeably. If we want to be doing this for the long term, we have to pace ourselves. This is difficult for us hard-working technical types, but we have to try. 

Simplify what you can, pre-build as much as possible and maybe even say, “No” once or twice. Don’t allow business to obscure the significance of the Son of God coming to earth. Join me in enjoying Christmas this year.

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God With You

Image courtesy of  Kevin Dooley

Image courtesy of Kevin Dooley

Well, here we are, just a little over a week from Christmas. Most of you are already in the heat of the battle known as December. Now that I’m not in production mode all month, I’ve become a little more contemplative during this time of year. While reading over some of my old posts around this time, and mulling over the sermon from this past weekend, I got to thinking about the concept of Emanuel, God With Us. 

One of the thoughts that has really challenged me in the last few years is this: What if God doesn’t want me to do anything for Him? What if He doesn’t need me to serve Him or others? What if He doesn’t need me spend 80 hours a week working on the Christmas production for a month?


What if He just wants to be with me? With you?


Pause a moment and let that sink in. What if God really, down deep in the core of His being, just wants to be with you? 


Now, I can already hear the clamor. But we have to build sets! We have to rehearse! We have to hang lights! We have to… Those are all fine things, and they can even be fun. But what if we don’t have to do that? What if we simply need to enjoy His presence this season? What does that change?


Of course, many of you have earthly bosses who are telling you that there is much work to be done and you’re just the guy to do it. Perhaps. And perhaps they are the ones who should be pointing this concept out instead of me. Perhaps. 


You see, God doesn’t need anything from us to love us. It’s just like with our kids. I don’t need my girls to get me a present for me to love them this Christmas. I just want to be with them. Now that we live 2,000 miles from our kids, and we’ll only get to be with one of them for Christmas, this concept is really starting to sink in. 


For my daughter who can’t be with us, I don’t want her to do anything, I just want her to be here, to sit on the couch and talk. To hang out, To just be. Here. 


I think that’s how God feels about us sometimes. Maybe a lot of times. We can get so busy doing stuff ostensibly for Him, that we forget he just wants us to be with Him


Just a thought as you gear up for the last 10 days of Christmas…


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Three Common Lyric Slide Mistakes

While I may be an audio guy at heart, I got my start in this business doing large-scale speaker support presentations for very large companies like Stouffer Foods and Nestlé USA. Those years of having to get text formatted correctly on screen—which back then meant getting it right on the 35mm slide—formed the basis for how I treat all lyric support to this day. 

Perhaps because so few people are actually educated on this topic (yes, educated; it’s different from being “trained”), I see a lot of mistakes when it comes to laying out lyric slides. Today, I’m going to hit the top three I see all the time. Each is very simple to fix and requires almost no extra time to do correctly. 

Drifting Baselines

Notice the text on the right is just a little higher?

Notice the text on the right is just a little higher?

This one really drives me nuts. The baseline is the line at the bottom of a line of text. The base of the line. Get it? I see a few different problems here. The first one is very common, and it’s a mistake that happens when you import a block of copied text. Let’s say you have two four-line slides for the verse. The first is fine, but after the last line of the second slide, there is an extra return. ProPresenter sees that return and raises the text by one line. Well, not technically one line in this case, because the text is centered vertically in the block, so it’s like a half-line. Which is actually worse. This will cause the second slide of text to be higher than the first. If you were cutting between slides, it might not be as noticeable, but most people dissolve, and you’ll clearly see the text step up. The fix is easy; remove the extra return and the text returns to normal. 

Here's what you see during the dissolve. Note the text stepping up. 

Here’s what you see during the dissolve. Note the text stepping up. 

The other issue I see is when people start moving the text blocks around in the text editor. Don’t do this; stick with the templates unless you’re going for a specific moving line of text effect. After you build a song for the first time, it doesn’t hurt to select all the slides and apply the template to them to make sure everything is where it’s supposed to be. 

Splitting Phrases

This also really drives me nuts. Most worship songs are written in singable phrases. There is a bit of a trend in some newer music to be more free-form, but we’ll ignore those for now. Take the song, None But Jesus. The verse of this song is made up of three phrases. However, the phrases are not of equal length. But this is how it is to be sung. See the example below:

However, sometimes an edict gets sent down from on high that all slides shall have four lines on them unless it’s the end of a section. And that can lead to a very unfortunate formatting issue as we see below. 

This is just hard to sing that way. And I can almost guarantee your lyrics operator will have a tough time trying to figure out when to advance. Listen to the song while you build the lyrics, figure out where the natural phrasing breaks are and break the slides there. Your congregation and your song words operator will thank you. 

Dumb Quotes

I’m probably showing my age here now, I remember when we actually cared about typography and making words look good. I’ve asked Renewed Vision for an automatic smart quotes correction option, but I got blank stares when I did. Maybe it’s not a big deal to most, but as my friend Andrew Stone says, it’s the details that take us from good to great. 

What’s a smart quote and what’s a dumb quote? Look at the example below.

As you can see, smart quotes actually open and close the quotation. The quotes will look different depending on the typeface selected, but you can see how much better they look than the dumb quotes. Reading a slide with dumb quotes is like singing a song with a 1 second burst of square wave thrown in every so often. It’s jarring and ugly. 

So how do you get smart quotes? Well, you either take advantage of the programming library Apple has thoughtfully included and simply turn them on, or in the case of applications that don’t have that, you can use the following key sequences for both single and double quotes. Don’t forget to use them for apostrophes, too. 

This issue for me is a bigger deal at Christmas when more people use older typefaces to set the mood. Dumb quotes are really jarring in a lovely block of text set in Baskerville Old Style. 

So there you go. Three of my most commonly seen lyric slide mistakes. To be fair, these happen in Easy Worship, Media Show, Proclaim or PowerPoint. Though if you use Keynote, you can turn on smart quotes. Boom. Let’s get another 5-10% better this Christmas season, OK?

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.

The Collision of Technology and Creativity Pt. 2

Image courtesy of  Ged Carroll

Image courtesy of Ged Carroll

Last time we started unpacking the conflict that can bubble up when someone on your staff, usually in leadership, has a really cool idea that might be hard to pull off. You know, because the technology to do it doesn’t actually exist. I pointed out that most people really have no idea how we do what we do, nor do they know how movies are made (like we do). Thus, they simply have ideas. And as the technical genius in the room, we need to come up with a way to make it, or something like it, happen. Here’s what I’ve learned about that process.

Find Out What the Real Goal Is

If we accept the premise that simply saying, “No,” or, “Yes, but…” every time is not the best response, what then shall we do? I’ve found the best way to respond to a request like that is to hear them out. I learned to love to start thinking about the possibilities. Usually, they are very excited when telling us about it, so I try to respond with, “Yeah, that would be cool!” After hearing them out—and it’s important to hear them out…all the way—then we can start asking questions. 

Our tendency is to begin telling them all the reasons why that can’t happen. We don’t have enough time/people/budget/talent. The technology doesn’t actually exist. But remember, most people aren’t like us. They don’t want to know why something can’t be done. They want to see their dream realized. 

So try to figure out what they actually want to accomplish. In the aforementioned example, the pastor who wanted Iron Man-style air graphics, really just wanted to be able to put some words up in front of people then add to them. Rather than just saying, “No, that was a movie, it doesn’t actually exist…” my friend added, “…but I can come up with something that will get the point across.”

Find a Solution That Accomplishes the Goal

Again, we have to keep in mind that your pastor doesn’t want to know why something can’t be done. They simply want to get across their idea. If we can help them unpack what it is they are trying to communicate, we can figure out a way to accomplish it without killing ourselves. 

Before telling them all the reasons why we can’t mic a 50-piece orchestra that won’t even fit in our room that only seats 350, and besides it’s only three weeks before Easter and we don’t possibly have enough time to pull this off (deep breath…), find out why they want a 50-piece orchestra in the first place. Maybe they just want a more full, classic sound for Easter. There are ways to make that happen that are possible. 

If your pastor wants an Andy Samberg-style video every weekend, you need to have a conversation about the process that it takes to produce it. Invite them along on a shoot and edit so they can learn how time-intensive it is. Find out what they want to communicate and find a way to accomplish it without killing yourself.

All this advice is based on the idea that we don’t start with, “No,” but that we’re finding a way to have a constructive conversation that ends with everyone feeling like they win, including you. Remember, this is the fun stuff. This is why we do what we do—to pull off the impossible; to make things happen that most only dream about; to create something from nothing. Give the ideas a chance, and work together toward a solution.


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The Collision of Technology and Creativity Pt. 1

Image Courtesy of  Charlie Wollborg

Image Courtesy of Charlie Wollborg

If you’ve been in church production for any length of time, there is a pretty good chance this has happened to you: You’re sitting in a service planning meeting and whoever is in charge starts throwing out crazy ideas of what they want to happen on the weekend. A friend of mine had his pastor ask to be able to have graphics appear in the air, then sweep them away and bring new ones on. You know, like in Iron Man.

My friend had to explain to him that the technology he was referring to doesn’t actually exist. It’s a movie, not real life. The pastor then asked how much it would cost to do something like that. He was serious. 

Grumpy Old Tech Guys

It’s easy to see how tech guys can get the reputation for being grumpy. Someone comes to us with an idea like that and the full expectation that we can pull it off. This weekend. With no budget. Or staff. Our natural reaction is to get upset and start explaining to them how clueless they are and why it can’t work. 

Now, I understand that those kind of requests can be frustrating. But getting upset and telling everyone off won’t help you or the church in the long run. What we have to do is find a way to bridge the gap between expectations and reality, between what our creative directors want and what can actually be accomplished within time and budget constraints. Doing that and making everyone involved feel like they are being listened to and appreciated can be a challenge, but it is possible. There are several things to keep in mind when something like this comes up.

It Happens to All of Us

Many times, we can feel like no one else has to put up with these crazy requests. We’re pretty sure no one has ever asked for two huge crosses on the stage for this weekend. And it’s already Thursday. You might think that no other worship leader has ever asked for a band that includes almost twice as many inputs as we have on the console (they have). 

So take courage in knowing that this crazy stuff comes up in many churches. If nothing else, know that other technical leaders are dealing with the same kinds of weird requests. I find just knowing that makes it more tolerable. 

They Don’t Know How Hard This Is

One of the downsides to what we do is that we often make it look easy. And our church leaders really have no idea how hard and time consuming even a normal weekend is. It doesn’t occur to the average pastor that the technical team working that big conference he went to last month was probably larger than the entire staff at your church. They also had several months to plan and prepare, along with a sizable budget.

But remember, their job is not your job. So when they come up with a crazy-creative idea that would make for an amazing sermon illustration or special service, they aren’t trying to make your life miserable. They really don’t know how hard it is. I say this not as criticism of them, but for your benefit. If we fly off the handle at them for coming up with this idea, it creates unnecessary tension. People tend to think that others are like them. And you may not have noticed this yet, but you are not like other people. We technical types will start working out in our heads all the things that it will take to pull off one of those wild, out-there ideas before we even hear the end. Most people don’t do that. They just have a cool idea.

No one likes being around someone who says, “No,” to everything. My friend Van says we are sometimes categorized as “dream killers” because we are always saying no to our pastor’s dreams. It’s no wonder there tends to be an undercurrent of distrust and tension between the tech team and the rest of the staff. 

So, what is the solution? Stay tuned for 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.

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