The Department of Redundancy Department

Photo credit: b0jangles on Flickr

I’m a big believer in redundancy, and I’ll tell you why: Because stuff breaks. Things go wrong. Plans fail. And when it does, I want to make sure I have a backup. Like this past weekend for example; we had all sorts of weird things going on all day Saturday, but with some persistent troubleshooting and effort, things ran smoothly for service. Sunday morning appeared to be going well.

But when I headed up to the booth between services, I found my FOH engineer struggling with Reaper.  He was working on the podcast, which is what I was heading up to do. Something was clearly wrong. But first, let me back up a second. We record every service, but we typically use the 9 AM for the podcast. To make sure we get it, I record a two track board mix and a mono track of the pastor’s mic in Reaper. We also record a CD of the whole service, just in case. 

When I started looking at the Reaper project, something was clearly amiss. Somehow, the track had been split somewhere in the middle of the message, and when we dragged it out, instead of revealing the rest of the message, it simply looped. I thought this was odd, so I looked at the board mix. Same thing. So I went to Finder, found the raw recordings and dragged them into the project. Same thing. 

Now this was weird. I’ve never had an issue with Reaper messing up a recording, but I suppose there’s a first time for everything. Maybe it was user error—the FOH guy wasn’t that familiar with Reaper—or maybe something strange just happened. Either way, the recordings were gone. After messing with it for a bit, I decided to bail and just grab the CD. I’d rip it real quick and get on to editing. 

That’s when I noticed the CD-R was still sitting there with 79:59 left on the counter. Bummer, we forgot to hit start at the beginning of the service. So here we sit; our primary, secondary and tertiary recordings where useless. In fact, the CD never even happened. 

Thankfully, we also record every service to FinalCut Pro, and in the case of the 9 AM, to DVD. I walked down to video, did a quick edit, exported an AIFF of the message, copied it to the Reaper computer and set about editing the podcast. 

When things go well, we have 5 copies of the 9 AM message every week; a board mix, a mono track, a CD-R, a DVD-R and a FCP video track. On this particular Sunday, we had the first three fail. Thankfully, we still had backups of our backups. This is how I like to approach redundancy.

Some might think this is excessive, but in this case, it paid off. I didn’t have to explain to my pastor that we had to use the 11 AM because the 9 AM recording failed. I was instead able to carry on like nothing happened; and in fact, unless my boss or anyone else on staff reads this post, they’ll never know anything even did happen. And that’s the way I like it.

When it comes to stuff that only happens once, like the preaching of a sermon, I like to have as many chances to get it captured as practical. In the case of our message recording, it costs about 70¢ to record it five times on four different media. I’m good with that. 

Now, obviously we can’t have that level of redundancy with our hardware, but it doesn’t cost anything to set out an extra wireless mic in case something goes wrong with the pastor’s or announcement mic. In fact, I even wrote a wireless mic failure plan so all our producers know what to do if something goes wrong during a service. 

We keep extra batteries just off stage in case we loose a guitar or wireless pack. We can run our lights from the Paradigm touch screen in case the Hog goes out. I can mix from the remote computer in case the SD8 surface crashes. We can switch to a laptop in case the ProPresenter MacPro goes down. Though come to think of it, that’s not a near-line backup; I’m going to have to do something about that. 

Those are some things I do to make sure that when something fails—and make no mistake, things will fail. How about you; how to you prepare for equipment or process failure?

Today's post is brought to you buy Heil Sound. Established in 1966, Heil Sound Ltd. has developed many professional audio innovations over the years, and is currently a world leader in the design and manufacture of large diaphragm dynamic, professional grade microphones for live sound, broadcast and recording.