Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Category: Software (Page 1 of 5)

Backing Up Production Machines

Photo courtesy of  Jaymis Loveday

Photo courtesy of Jaymis Loveday

Last time we talked about my thoughts on upgrading (or not upgrading) your production machines. Today, I’m going to talk about creating a safety net for them. Again, these are lessons I’ve learned over 25+ years of managing mission critical systems, so learn from my mistakes. 

Maintain a Current Clone of Your Drives

Hard drives will fail. Usually at the worst time. Like Palm Sunday morning. Yeah, that happened. Even SSDs, which are proving to be pretty dang reliable, will fail at some point. The only way to get back up and running quickly is with a full image backup. For all my mission critical production machines, I had a small hard drive with a full, bootable clone backup on it. I used to have several to manage, but after a while, I just bought a 1 TB pocket drive and partitioned it to back up 2-3 machines on one drive.

On the Mac, you can use a program like Super Duper for my favorite, Carbon Copy Cloner to keep an exact copy of the drive. On Windows, you can use Ghost or a similar program. If the main drive fails, or an upgrade breaks stuff, you can boot from the backup, and effectively unwind time. Any time I made significant changes to the machine, I would update the clone, but only after I verified the changes worked properly. If an update went south, we broke out the backup and rolled it back. 

For those of use that find Macs make better PCs than PCs do and need to backup your Bootcamp partitions, my IT guy told me about a cool program called WinClone. To use it, boot into the Mac OS, and run WinClone. It will compress and clone your Windows “drive” and save it as a file to another drive. Should Windows go south, you can simply restore the Windows drive and it will be like nothing never happened.

This is great for the OS and applications, but you can easily lose files like ProPresenter songs, for example. But I have a solution for that, too.

Use Dropbox for Libraries.

I set up a Dropbox account for my important show files. I wrote a full guide to this in an article called Back It Up: Presentation, but the gist is that you store (or maintain a cloned copy) of your show files, songs, templates and maybe media in a Dropbox folder that is automatically updated to the cloud. If you have to blow the drive out and restore from a clone, Dropbox will put your library files back. I don’t think I would ever run a production machine without Dropbox.

Maintain Incremental Backups

I really like Time Machine, especially lately. It’s a lot lower overhead than it once was and can really save your bacon if you delete or mess up a file. But, don’t run Time Machine backups during the service. Time Machine can be processor and disk intensive, and it’s highly possible that it will mess up your media playback. I prefer to keep Time Machine on an external drive so I can simply leave the drive turned off during the service. If you simply must have it on an internal drive, use Time Machine Scheduler to avoid service times. But honestly, an external drive is easier. Time Machine won’t even try to back up if the drive isn’t there, so it’s foolproof.

Clone Before Updating

Before we upgraded our production machines to a new OS, I went through and cloned all the drives. I did this so we could go back if something didn’t work. It’s a whole lot easier to simply restore the clone than it is to downgrade the OS, then Time Machine everything back. When it comes to upgrading, clones are your best friend. And honestly, drives are cheap enough now, you can easily maintain several versions of the clone if you want. Do one right before you update, then one right after. Small pocket drives from WD and Seagate are perfect for this task. At under $100 each, you can afford to have several for each machine. 

Hopefully this has helpful for you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to update some of my backups…

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Upgrading Production Machines

Not what you want to see on Sunday morning...

Not what you want to see on Sunday morning…

We got to talking about this topic on one of the recent CTW episodes, and I thought it would be a good post. When I was on staff as a TD, I had a pretty strict policy regarding our production machines. Now that I’m working as an integrator, I dread the days following a major Mac OS update. That’s because I know I will soon be getting calls that start with, “We just upgraded all our iMacs to latest, greatest OS X… and fill in the blank software doesn’t work right anymore…” At that point, all I can say is, “Yeah, I usually don’t upgrade right away. Or ever, really. But you have a full image backup from before the upgrade, right?” Silence…

So in the interest of preventing said calls and emails, let me give you a few pointers on how to manage production machines. These are lessons I learned—many of the them the hard way—over 25+ years of managing production computers. It’s important to note that production machines are different from office computers. If an office computer goes down, you may not be able to get to your email for a little bit (except through your phone), but otherwise, nothing bad really happens. 

If a production machine goes down on Sunday morning, bad, bad things happen. If you upgrade on Friday and break something, the next 36 hours will be stressful. You really don’t want to be beta testing new software on the weekend. Here’s my guide to keeping your sanity with your computers. 

Don’t Upgrade Unless You Have To

Most of the time, you don’t have to upgrade your production machines. When I was at Coast Hills, most of my machines were running the latest version of 10.6 until early 2014 when we upgraded to 10.7. Why? Because it worked. If everything works on the OS you have, don’t upgrade it. I really like computers that start up and go to work every time without any fanfare. Avoiding unnecessary updates helps this.

My triggers for updating the OS are twofold: First, if some production software updates and introduces new features that I really need, and it requires a newer version of the OS, then I’ll update. Second, if the OS update introduces new features I really need, I’ll update to that version after the next version comes out. I like to stay about 1 version back at least. 

Don’t Upgrade Right Away

Computer code has become so complex it’s almost impossible to catch all the bugs and problems in a program before release, let alone an operating system. Apple is pretty good, but there is no way they can know how a new OS will affect every user. And many churches are still using older hardware and peripherals like audio or video interfaces, and a new OS can break the drivers for a while or forever. This is perhaps my #1 rule of OS updates: DON’T UPGRADE RIGHT AWAY. Let others beta test it first. 

I stay behind by at least one version because that allows time to get drivers and software updated and working solidly. Remember, we prefer reliable performance to fancy new features. 

Turn Off Auto Updates

One of my biggest pet peeves for production machines is auto updates. Windows used to be the worst at this, but now Apple has joined the fun in the last two versions. Unless you configure it properly, both OS’s will happily install new software or system updates all on their own and that can easily break things. Until I figured out how to turn it off, we kept having Windows kick up a message saying it would reboot the machine in 10 minutes to install updates every Sunday morning! Google it to learn how to turn that off. 

This does mean you should stay on top of a manual update routine, especially for security updates. But do that on Monday or Tuesday, then test everything thoroughly during the week to make sure it works. If you leave your computers on all the time, you really need to be careful of this. The last thing you want is to come in on Sunday only to find your software updated and no longer works right.

Verify All Software Will Work—Including Drivers

I just upgraded my studio Mac Mini to Mavericks, mainly because I installed a second screen and wanted to take advantage of the updated Spaces functionality. I waited so long because I wanted to be sure all my audio interface software would be good. I use this machine every week for CTW, and it has to work.

If you use an external peripheral that relies on driver software, be sure it’s approved for the OS you want to use before upgrading. I’ve heard from several people that they decided to upgrade their OS and now some critical external piece doesn’t work anymore. Remember, unless you have to upgrade, don’t. 

Those are a few suggestions for the upgrade process. If you take anything from this, it’s don’t upgrade. At least not unless you absolutely have to. Next time, I’ll give you some suggestions for creating a safety net for your computers. In the meantime, my friend Joel Smith has written a great guide on keeping ProPresenter machines working reliably. You should go read it. 20 Steps To Maximizing ProPresenter For Mac


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Good-Sounding Sermon Podcasts Pt. 2

Last time we talked about what we wanted to accomplish with our podcasts; limited dynamic range, minimum file size and maximum quality. Today, we’ll talk about how we get there. Like most things, it’s a multi-step process to achieve the best results. But before we have anything to edit, compress or publish on the interwebs, we must first record something.

Record as Close to the Source as Possible

If you are working with a digital console and are using a virtual soundcheck system, you are already in great shape for recording the message. That’s how we do it at Coast Hills, using our RME MADIFace to run the audio directly after the A/D conversion into the MacBook Pro and on into Reaper. As I wrote recently in Automating Reaper (Again), I record a 2-track board mix of all three services, and a discreet track for our pastor on both Sunday AM services. I use the discreet track for the podcast; the 2-track is backup only.

Since we’re recording speech (for this purpose anyway), I don’t worry about getting to 192 KHz or anything crazy. 48 or 44.1 KHz at 16-24 bits is just fine. Our system runs at 48 KHz, 24 bits, so that’s what we record as a series of WAV files. WAV’s are uncompressed, so the quality is quite good (AIFF files would also be a good choice). You want to record uncompressed if at all possible. 

If you are using an analog system, don’t fret. Use the direct outs—or in a pinch, the output of the insert jacks—to come directly out of the pastor’s mic channel to your recorder. You really want to pick off the output before EQ, compression, or other processing. The reason for this is that most times, you are making EQ and compression adjustments on your console for the room—which is where most people are listening. However, those same settings may not work for the recording, and there are advantages to making some EQ and compression choices specifically for the podcast.

You can record to a CD (we do an archive CD of our 9 AM service each week for backup), but I really prefer to record straight to the computer since we’ll be editing and processing the file there anyway. Even an inexpensive USB interface like a Lexicon Alpha (about $65) will get you great sounding direct recording. Combine that with a laptop, Mac Mini or inexpensive PC and a copy of Reaper and you’re in business. If you’re stuck with a CD, rip it into DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software for further editing and processing.

Process for the Web

What works in the room may not work online. You will have to do some experimentation here, but I tend to high-pass our pastor fairly high (up around 130-140), and boost the upper mid’s by 1-2 dB. I’m trying to add a little bit of clarity to make it easier to listen to in loud environments. But be careful here because you can easily make it annoyingly bright. 

I suggest you try some settings, encode a section of the sermon and listen to it on several platforms to see how you did. EQ settings that work in your 7506’s may not work on a cheap set of computer speakers, so check it out. And don’t forget many people will listen to the podcast with Apple’s cheap, white earbuds. 

Since my pastor’s voice is recorded pre-EQ, I do some subtle changes to make him easier to listen to. Then I hit it with the compressors. Currently, I’m using R-Channel from Waves to do both EQ and compression. I will say the R-Channel compressor is one of the more transparent ones I’ve heard; I routinely have it hitting 12+ dB of gain reduction and it’s really tough to hear. 

Before I had that plug in, I achieved results almost as good with a combination of ReaEQ and ReaComp—both plug-ins come with Reaper. Most DAWs have basic EQ and compressors built-in, so play with those first before you go spending money on plug-ins. However, it would be worth it to sign up for Waves mailing list; they often do super deals on individual plug-ins and you can pick up one or two that will rock pretty cheap. 

Limiting for the Win

The final step is to use a mastering limiter to really clamp down the dynamic range. I was using JS: LOSER MasterLimiter (included w/ Reaper) for quite a while along with ArdazMaximzer5. The MasterLimiter allows you to set a maximum level (I went with -.01 dB) that it will allow; it’s a brick-wall limiter so nothing gets over that. It will also do some compression to keep the signal level up. The Maximizer does some other magic to raise the overall level without driving it over the limit. That combination worked really well, and sounded pretty good once we got it dialed in.

This is the rendered audio file (in this case, a stereo AIFF for the CD ministry folks). The MP3 is a mono version of the same thing.

Then I picked up the WAVES L3 UltraMaximizer. And that was pretty much that. After setting a few sliders, I can pretty much crank the level like crazy and it sounds amazing. I showed this picture last time, but you can see how little variation in the waveform we have on the rendered file, indicating very little dynamic range. If this were music, I would be upset, but for a speech podcast, it’s about perfect.

Rendering to MP3

Most DAWs can render out to an MP3 file. If you have the option to use the LAME encoder (which you have to do in Audacity or Reaper), use it. It’s a great encoder that produces better-sounding MP3s at lower bitrates than most other encoders. As I said last time, I use the 48 kbps CBR setting, and render in mono. I haven’t had any problems with mono files anywhere, and given that it’s spoken word, stereo unnessisarily doubles the file size.


I got to these settings (and all the ones I didn’t tell you about) by doing a lot of experimenting. I intentionally didn’t show you all my EQ, compression and limiting settings because they don’t really matter—they are all specific for our pastor. If you spend a few hours working on a chunk of the message getting the processing settings right, then tweak your rendering settings, you’ll end up with great results. Then don’t forget to save those settings as presets so you can use them next week.


I’ve mentioned a ton of stuff in this article, but here is a recap of what I recommend for this process. If you have something else that works, by all means, keep using it. If you’re looking for a place to start, consider this list.

Audacity (Free recording/editing software; good basic and free)

Reaper (Full-featured DAW; $60 for non-profit use, incredibly powerful, still easy to use)

Lexicon Alpha (simple 2-track USB audio interface; about $65)

ArdazMaximizer5 (Free maximizing plug-in)

Waves L3 UltraMaximizer (amazing maximizing plug-in; $350, but look for it on sale)

Waves R-Channel (amazing channel strip; $175, but look for it on sale )


If you want to hear the results of this processing, you can check out the Coast HIlls media page. Listen to the MP3 files, those all have processing similar to what we’re taking about here. Keep in mind, since we have most of this stuff in presets, it takes about 5-10 minutes to edit, process, render, upload and post our podcasts. Once we did the hard work, the weekly stuff is easy.

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Good-Sounding Sermon Podcasts Pt. 1

I listen to a lot of podcasts. Several hours a week, I’m at the gym working out (which is why I’m so buff), listening to a podcast. One thing that drives me nuts is having to constantly adjust the volume on my iPhone because the level of the podcast is all over the place. I used to listen to a lot of sermons from other churches; some large churches that you would have heard of, others were smaller. But I stopped after a while because so many of them had terrible audio. The levels were inconsistent, or distorted, or noisy, or there were other issues. 

Now, it’s true that many churches have this dialed in. But I get e-mails from people fairly regularly asking for help in getting the sermon sounding good online. So I figured I’d let you into our process, which I think creates some pretty decent sounding podcasts. But before we get to the how, let’s consider the what. What do we want to accomplish?

Here is a typical weekend sermon recording waveform. This is where we start.

Squash It!

I can’t stand music that is over-compressed, with all the dynamic range taken out (which is why I tend to listen to older music). However, when it comes to podcasts, I really don’t want dynamic range. When I’m huffing and puffing on the elliptical, I don’t want to keep turning the volume up when the pastor gets quiet, and having my ears blown out when he gets loud again. 

Others may disagree with me (and I’m sure we’ll hear from some), but I want to limit my sermon podcast’s dynamic range as much as possible. I’ve found this makes the audio far easier to listen to in the car, on the computer, on a walk or at the gym (which is where people tend to listen to them). 

And this is where we end up. Notice the waveform is almost completely solid. The volume varies very little.

There are many ways to get to a very limited dynamic range, and we’ll talk about them in the next post. But here is something interesting. You might worry about loosing the cues that come from varying levels of speech if the dynamics are squashed. As the pastor softens up and gets quiet to make a poignant statement, you may think it needs to be quieter. However, I’ve found that the tonal qualities of the voice can convey those cues regardless of the level. 

And let’s be honest, people are going to be turning the volume up to hear it anyway if they are in the car or working out. So my philosophy is to do the work for them, and keep the volume consistent.

Minimize File Size, Maximize Quality

I try to keep my sermon podcast file sizes down below 15 MB. They download quickly, even over 3G, and don’t take up a ton of room on the MP3 player. To get there, I use the LAME MP3 encoder—which is one of the best available. For a long time, I used VBR (Variable Bit Rate) encoding on my podcasts, with the quality level set to 20 (which equals roughly 48 kbps, average). However, I recently learned that iTunes has a problem playing VBR files; well technically, it’s a problem pausing them. It seems that pausing a VBR-encoded file will cause iTunes to back up some amount of time before playing back. How much it backs up depends on how far into a program you are. It’s not the end of the world, but it is annoying.

So recently, I’ve switched to CBR (Constant Bit Rate) encoding. After doing some tests, I found it very difficult to distinguish between VBR at 20% and CBR at 48 kbps. There was a tiny bit of difference at the high end, but this is speech we’re talking about, not high quality music. Both sound more than acceptable on both my UE7s and our NS10 monitor speakers, and I heard no difference through the speakers in my MacBook Pro. So for now, CBR it is. Side note; it seems that iTunes 10.7 has a better time with VBR files, but I know a lot of people are still using older versions. Given that I don’t hear any penalty in quality, and the file sizes are very comparable, I’m sticking with CBR.

So that’s what we’re going for; minimal dynamic range, low file sizes, high quality. Next time, we’ll talk about how we get there.

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Avoiding Software Update Headaches


When I started doing live production in my church 20+ years ago, every piece of equipment we used was hardware-based. When we turned it on each weekend, it worked pretty much every time; unless we had a hardware failure. A hardware failure meant you were out of business until it was physically fixed (unless you had a backup). The good news of that system was that generally speaking things were pretty much the same week to week. You wouldn’t come in and find that a software update broke something. Today, it’s a different story.

If you have a smartphone, chances are you can’t use it for 7 minutes before an update badge appears in your app store. It is a rare day when I can turn on my computer and don’t have some app telling me there is a new version available for download. Most of the time when I’m on my laptop, I’ll just hit “Update” and let it do it’s thing. On a production machine, it’s a different story.

If you’ve been doing this for any length of time, you’ve been burned by an update that breaks something. Chances are, it’s happened just before a service and you were left scrambling for a fix. We all know not to update our audio consoles on show day (we do know that, right?), but sometimes seemingly innocuous updates on presentation, video and lighting computers can put us out of business.

To be fair, it’s hard for developers to imagine every possible software/hardware interaction scenario. Which is why it’s incumbent on us to make sure we don’t put ourselves at risk for problems. Here are some things I’ve learned (and am still learning) that help avoid taking a critical system down over the weekend.

Turn Off Automatic Updates

Almost every application has an option to check for updates at startup. Turn this off. It’s way too tempting to just click through the update dialog box on Sunday morning, only to find out something is broken. I turn off all application auto-update and update check features as well as the OS-level updates. Once I get a system stable, I don’t want an app upsetting the apple cart and breaking something, especially on the weekend. 

Most times, updates are a good thing, but I like to do them in a controlled manner during the week when I have time to test everything just to make sure nothing broke. I don’t always live by this credo, and when I don’t, I am often sorry for it. To keep things running smoothly, I will check for updates manually during the week, evaluate if the update is necessary or needed, then update with caution.

Keep Good Backups

I really like the Mac App store. It makes it so easy to manage all my app purchases, licenses and updates. However, it makes it really difficult to roll back to a previous version if there is a problem. And if you’re not using the App Store, chances are, your applications are doing in-place updates (downloading and installing the updates for you). Both of those update processes delete the old versions of the software (sometimes they just move old versions to the trash, so check there first). 

Having an up-to-date backup of your system will help ensure you can roll back if necessary. Time Machine is actually quite good at this; you can enter Time Machine and restore a previous version of the app (before the upgrade) as well as any pref files or application support files that may have changed (usually in user/Library/Application Support/app name or developer and user/Library/Preferences).

Don’t Update on Show Day

This seems very obvious, but again, it’s so easy to click “OK” on that dialog that tells you there is a new version available that has just a few minor improvements. Sometimes updates don’t actually break anything, but may still effect your workflow. Occasionally keyboard shortcuts change, or a dialog updates which could throw off a volunteer or break a script. 

Make sure you update during the week, giving yourself ample time to test everything if the machine is mission critical. And by during the week, I don’t mean at 4:55 PM on Friday. If it’s not a mission critical system, the rules are a little different.

I run LAMA on a Mac at FOH for RTA and SPL monitoring. But I don’t have to use it, so if something breaks, the show goes on. However, we have another Mac at FOH that runs Mixx (for walk in/walk out), Wireless Workbench and the Roland RCS software. Those have to work every weekend so I don’t update those applications (or that OS) lightly. 

We’re still running older versions of Mac OSX on many of our FOH machines because they are working just fine right now. At some point we will have to update them, but I won’t do it until I have to. 

Updates can be a great thing. The fact that we’re working on computers means that new features can be enabled by downloading software. However, things can also go horribly wrong if we’re not careful. Be safe, update with caution and give yourself plenty of time to fix things if they go wrong.

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Automating Reaper (Again)

Last week, Van and I were able to go to the National Worship Leader’s Conference in San Diego for a day. We had fun at the conference, but as always, the best part was hanging out with our friends. In this case, Daniel Murphy from Planning Center and Lee Fields. While we were hanging out in the green room waiting for Lincoln to go on, I got to talking with the band’s drummer, Mike. We got to chatting about how we use Automator and Apple Scripts to accomplish various tasks. I realized I have updated my automating process for our multi-track recording (we use Reaper) since I last wrote about it, and through I would update you.

I have to give credit where credit is due; my friend Isaiah Franco was instrumental in adding some of the new functionality to the script. While we used to multi-track all three services, we decided that was a waste of disk space. Instead, we now record a 2-track board mix of Saturday night (just in case something exciting happens), a board mix and direct feed of the pastor’s mic at the 9 AM service, and a multi-track of the whole service for the 11 AM. It occurred to me that recording 32 tracks of silence during the message was also wasteful, so I figured out a way to make that go away, too. But we’ll get there shortly.

First, let’s look at the new and improved AppleScript. And I should mention that each service’s AppleScript is fired from an Calendar event set to alarm 1 minute before the start of each service. Simply select “AppleScript” or “Open File” (depends on your version of OSX) from the Alert options and choose your script to run.

Click the image to download the actual script.

Click the image to download the actual script.

I’ll walk you through what it’s doing. First, we hit escape twice, just to release any time selections or anything else that’s going on (which is good, since we edit the 9 AM for the podcast during the break, and we usually have a time selection, well, selected). The delay 1 simply slows the script down. We found that trying to execute the script at full speed was too fast for Reaper to keep up with. Since we fire the script a minute before service starts, adding 8 seconds isn’t a problem. 

Key Code 119  is End, which, as you might expect moves the current time indicator (CTI) to the end. Keycode 124 is right arrow, which we set up as a shortcut in Reaper to move one measure forward when hit with Shift-Command. That’s one of the things I love about Reaper; almost anything you can do in the app can be made into a keyboard shortcut. 

Next, we use M to set a marker at the current position (which makes locating the services easier). I set up Command-Option-C as a command to disarm all tracks. I do this because all of our scripts are based off this one and we don’t need to record many tracks the other two services. Then Command-Shift-A to arm all tracks, and start recording. 

For the 9 AM service, I have shortcuts set up to just arm tracks 1 & 2, which are fired from a slightly different script (same basic concept, though). But here is where it gets interesting. 

If I had a MIDI interface hooked up to this computer, I could fire a CC 1 and it would store that in the list of shortcuts for inserting a marker.

Finding the message in the middle of a long track can be tricky. We used to drop a marker at the start of the message by hitting “M,” but we just as often forgot. It occurred to me that the SD8 can send MIDI commands, and Reaper can listen for MIDI commands. It seemed perfect. I picked up a MOTU FastLane USB-MIDI interface and went to work. Telling Reaper to listen to a MIDI command is as simple as selecting the shortcut, then firing the MIDI command to it. 

I chose Control Channel (CC) 1 as my “drop marker” command. I then tell the SD8 to fire a CC 1 when I fire the Message snapshot. So in addition to turning off the band and bringing up the pastor’s mic, it also drops a marker in Reaper. But how to stop recording of the band tracks when the pastor is speaking?

Selecting all my band tracks, it's a simple matter of Shift-G to bring up the group dialog. Pick a group number (in this case 1), and click both master and slave arm. Done.

Selecting all my band tracks, it’s a simple matter of Shift-G to bring up the group dialog. Pick a group number (in this case 1), and click both master and slave arm. Done.

Reaper allows you to group tracks together in a master/slave collection; meaning that if you arm one of the tracks in the group, they all arm (or disarm). So I set up CC 2 to toggle the arm/disarm function of track 4. Why track 4? Because our board mix is always track 1, the pastor is always 2 and the band usually starts at 3. However, sometimes both pastors speak, which means I have another pastor on track 3, which pushes my band start down to track 4. Thus CC 2 will either arm (or disarm) the snare or the kick depending on how many pastors tracks I have. But it doesn’t matter because if you arm (or disarm) either of those, the rest of the band tracks follow suit.

I’ll put CC 2 commands in my snapshot list between the 9 AM and 11 AM services to toggle the band tracks on and off as many times as I need to. 

I’ve recently learned not all DAWs will let you disarm tracks on the fly while it’s recording. That’s a bummer for you ProTools users; but hey, Reaper is $60 for non-profits. 

Finally, at the end of the service, I fire a CC 3 from my walkout snapshot which stops recording and saves all tracks in Reaper. All in all, it’s pretty elegant. My next goal is to be able to start and stop our walk in and out music playback with MIDI and possibly do the same with video recording.

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CTA Review: Quiztones

One of the tougher things to teach young sound engineers is EQ. Not the concept of what the knobs do, but where and when do to it. Learning to identify frequencies is tricky business, and it takes time and experience to learn it well. Often times, I’ll be doing some training and demonstrate a cut at particular frequency and someone will ask, “How did you know it was 450 Hz?”

My answer is usually, “Well, I’ve been doing this for 25 years and I’ve learned some things along the way.” As I’m EQ’ing channels, I always pay attention to what frequency I end up at, so I can note it for later reference. I’ve gotten pretty good at it over the years, but I always strive to get better. The challenge has been, how?

Recently I was introduced to a program called Quiztones. When I first heard about it, I thought it was just what it sounded like; an application that plays tones and you have to guess what they are. Useful, but perhaps boring. Then I actually tried it. 

Now, keep in mind, I’m not a big gamer, but I found myself instantly addicted to the “game.” At first, I started off with the tones. You pick a quiz level, and the app plays a sine wave tone, then presents you with four possible choices. Pick the right one and you get 100 points. Get it right on the second guess, get 50 points, and so on. 

Suddenly, there are points involved and you need to choose carefully! Then I started digging a little more and discovered that they also have a whole variety of samples of everything from instruments to voices. You can choose from easy (+10 dB) EQ boosts, hard (+5 or -10 dB) or expert (+6 dB but at 1/3 octave). Again, it’s surprisingly addictive. 

If found myself doing two things; first playing it over and over trying to best my score, and second, getting better each time I played. We talk all the time about getting better at our craft. I think learning frequencies and being able to identify them quickly is one thing that makes you a better engineer (not the only thing, but it’s a component). 

It’s available at Audiofile Engineering’s website, and for iOS devices at the iOS App store. On the Mac, it’s $19.99. For iOS, it’s $4.99. Think of all the times you have an extra 5-10 minutes when you could pop in your ears with your phone and improve your mixing skills. It’s not a bad deal…

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Big Project Survival Kit

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you might be be aware that I’ve been made the project manager of the renovation we’re doing to our kids and students wing. It’s a big project on a tight deadline and budget. We’re combining rooms to make three large group meeting spaces (will full AVL) and dividing some other rooms to create smaller meeting spaces. We’ve got a demo crew, framers, drywall guys, HVAC, electrical, sprinkler, alarm, carpet, paint, door and of course, AVL contractors. 

We’re doing some of the work ourselves, though most of it is hired. As PM, I’m responsible for making sure all the trades are following the plan, coordinating with each other, and staying on time. And, we’re doing some of the largest weekend serves of the year this month for good measure (and I’m either moving or buying the house we’ve been renting just for a little extra excitement!). 

To survive this month, I am relying on a set of tools to keep me sane and make sure nothing falls through the cracks. Here is my toolkit to keep this all happening. 


Probably my biggest asset in this toolkit. I use Evernote for keeping track of ideas, lists of questions for the GC, subs or our leaders, making lists of stuff to order and tracking items we’re considering for the build. It’s great because it syncs between my MacBook Pro in my office, my MacBook Air, iPhone and iPad. When I’m laying in bed at night unable to sleep (which happens a lot lately) and get a great idea, I grab my phone and jot it into Evernote, confident it will be captured for later recall. I can snip entire HTML pages, add photos or other attachments to keep all my ideas in one spot. Best of all, it’s free.


I love spreadsheets, and Numbers is my favorite tool for making them. I have about four spreadsheets going right now for this project. One manages the budget, others track equipment lists, still another manages my timeline and I even set one up to calculate carpet cost options. Numbers makes it incredibly simple to develop formulas that will give you meaningful data. I love being able to run options and compare plans, and it makes it a lot easier to sell leadership on a course of action when I can show them the financial impact clearly. It even does cool charts. You can get it in the app store for about $20. Totally worth it. 

Google Sketchup

It’s not necessarily an easy program to learn, but spend some time to get comfortable with it, and you can accomplish a lot. I have modeled all three rooms we’re renovating, all to exact scale, so I can help our team visualize stage and tech booth locations, and even develop working drawings for both items. Today I used it to calculate the proper compound bevel angle for the cap to the tech booths. I spent almost an hour trying to do the math, then gave up and did it in Sketchup in about 15 minutes. Now when I build the booth, I’ll have accurate measurements. And if you’re looking for accurate models of common objects (like an iMac for example), you can find them in the model warehouse. That’s a huge timesaver. And again, it’s free!


I’ve tried a bunch of task managers, and this one is my favorite. There are others out there that are good, but I like this one. My favorite features are the ability to collaborate (I can add tasks to my ATD’s to do list), and synchronization. I have Toodledo on my iPhone, iPad and access it via browser on both Macs. It will do repeating tasks, sort by priority, you can create folders and set reminders. It’s free if you want to use it by yourself, and if you want to collaborate, it’s only $15/year per user. Totally worth it. 

Of course, I also rely heavily on e-mail (using Apple Mail) and the internet (Safari) and iCal to keep track of what day it is. But these four programs really help me keep things on track. I use all of them all the time, big project or not. But when the big projects hit, it’s good to be well versed in how this stuff works.

What are you project management survival tools?

Today’s post is brought to you by the Roland R-1000. The R-1000 is a multi-channel recorder/player ideal for the V-Mixing System or any MADI equipped console or environment. Ideal for virtual sound checks, multi-channel recording, and playback.

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