A Well-Rounded Shape

We are not here to mix. We are here to PUMP YOU UP!

We are not here to mix. We are here to PUMP YOU UP!

Mike has done a fantastic job of creating a blog that deals with many aspects of a technical role at a modern church, so we’re going to diverge from the tech side of what we get to do for a moment. His goal for ChurchTechArts is to be wholistic in nature and I would like to help further his vision. Some of us are full-time at a mega church. Others volunteer a few hours each month at a small church. Most of us are somewhere in between. Even though we all come from a varying degree of backgrounds, there are many things we can agree on. We can all agree that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. Most of us can agree that bacon makes everything better. Can we also all agree that being healthy is important? I submit that we cannot effectively serve God if we are not physically, mentally, and spiritually fit.
You might be thinking, “But Isaiah, I eat my vegetables and I get at least seven hours of sleep each night.” (Seriously though, who can really say that?). There’s so much more we can be doing to take better care of ourselves!


Round is a Shape, Right?
Each November, Open Enrollment for benefits comes around and I am reminded how much I hate paying for medical coverage. I’m not saying I want it to be free for everybody, but it’s still a pain to deal with and it isn’t cheap. For the first time ever, I’ve opened a life insurance policy for myself and my family. I’m 31 years old, married with an eight-year-old daughter and would hate it if, God forbid, I was suddenly taken from them. I mean, I’m only 31. Who dies at 31? Lots of people do, unfortunately. It was an eye-opening experience to really be thinking about my own mortality and how badly I really don’t want to leave my family behind because I chose to eat poorly and not exercise.
About six months ago, my wife asked me to go to a CrossFit Foundations Class. I figured I’d humor her and go just to say I went. I really didn’t want to be there. I had always thought people who did CrossFit had a little too much of the Kool-Aid, you know? Who else has seen the CrossFit fail videos on YouTube? Well, I went and it wasn’t that bad. Just kidding. It was awful! I realized how out of shape I was. All we did in the Foundation Class was go over stretches and several of the movements using a PVC pipe in place of a barbell. I could barely walk later that day! I couldn’t believe it. From that moment on, I knew I needed to take better care of my body.
My wife is also a big proponent of having a healthy gut and tracking your macronutrients. She’s way smarter than I am when it comes to knowing what to eat vs what to stay away from. She researches all this stuff and even makes her own bone broth and kombucha. Our kitchen often looks like a science lab and she’s the wild-eyed scientist. You know what’s crazy? It works! Since she uses ingredients that aren’t processed but rather are full of nutrients, I feel better and healthier. I have more energy and don’t get sick as often. Can’t complain about that!


Upping Our (mind) Game
I’m not talking about mental health here because that’s a very different, very serious subject. No, I’m talking about keeping your mind sharp so you can be your best for God.
We’re good at what we do. I don’t believe I’m being arrogant or prideful with that statement. Chances are, we wouldn’t do what we do if we weren’t good at it. I’d be willing to bet that most of us want to be better at what we do. How do we improve our game? We learn and we seek knowledge. We ask advice. We read. We investigate. We find a mentor. We attend a class. You get the idea.
As long as we’re on the topic of keeping our minds sharp, this is a great time to bring up getting enough rest each night. Our brains just don’t seem to work as well on four hours of sleep each night as they do when we get seven or more hours. I turn into such a jerk when I average 5-ish hours of sleep for more than a few nights. Also, vacations. Take them. Or at least make it a staycation. Either way, your mental state will be much better.
Who else worked 60+ hours the week leading up to Christmas? I am ashamed to admit that I pulled two over-nighters that week to get our new set done and installed. I, like most of you, am a workaholic and will keep working until the job is done. Nobody asked me to stay and push myself to the point of exhaustion. Don’t be like me! I was physically and mentally fried to a crisp.


Being Spiritually Healthy
Given that we do what we do at a church, it would make sense for us to read our bible and pray regularly, right? I’ll be honest, that is a discipline that I am often lacking in my own life. Reading my bible has always been a struggle for me. I’m not sure if you can relate or not. I must keep my prayers short otherwise my mind starts to wander and all of a sudden I’m thinking about how awesome Rogue One was instead of actually talking to God.
Spiritual health isn’t just about reading your bible and praying. Nope. It’s also about being in community with fellow believers who can help keep you in check. People who you can be yourself with and who have been given the authority to speak into your life when you’re being a jackass to your wife (speaking from experience here). My wife and I are in a community group with four other couples and I need them to be able to call me out on my crap when I’m out of line. They can do that because I’ve given them the authority to. Knowing that there are people who care enough about me to speak truth into my life helps to keep me humble and ultimately, makes me a better leader.


Live a Little
I’ll also add this: live a little. Go out with friends. Eat a steak. Enjoy a milkshake. Feel free to have a drink (if you’re over 21). Just do it all in moderation and don’t punish yourself if you aren’t perfect in any of these areas or mess up on a goal. Get to know your body and give it what it needs and cut out what you can live without. God has given us only one life to live and we should respect ourselves enough to take care of our bodies.


I’ve rambled on long enough. Let’s recap really quick, shall we?
* Eat well and make healthy choices
* Be active
* Actually take a vacation
* Get enough sleep each night
* Keep asking questions
* Push yourself to learn more
* Read your bible
* Talk to God
* Get into a community group

For a while now I've heard Haley telling me how much misinformation is out there when it comes to developing a healthy diet. I'm so glad she's writing about her journey to eat better and live healthier. Take a moment and check it out! https://highfatfranco.wordpress.com/

Isaiah Franco

Isaiah Franco has been involved with church tech for over 10 years and currently on staff as the production director at Sandals Church in Riverside, CA. He’s a big nerd with an even bigger heart to serve the Church.

Tech Power

Image courtesy of Oran Viriyincy

Image courtesy of Oran Viriyincy

So a funny thing happened on the way to the website…Just as I was getting ready to post the last post of 2016, I got a notice that my security certificate was invalid. Knowing that I needed to touch up my domain config and enable SSL, I decided to click those buttons. What could possibly go wrong? Well, after knocking CTA out for a few days, we’re back. And now it’s 2017! But this is still a good post, so here it is the last post of 2016, and the first post of 2017…

As I was thinking of topics to wrap up the year, I wanted something powerful, something electrifying, something high-voltage. Then it occurred to me that I’ve not done a post on technical power. And since pretty much everything we use every weekend runs on power, it’s kind of an important topic. Power is also something often overlooked during a build or remodel. Many of the problems we have with sound and video can be traced back to bad power. There’s actually a lot to this subject, and I’m not sure I can cover it all in one post. But let’s see how far we get.

Go To Ground

At some point, all power ends up at ground. After it has done its job, power goes to ground. And that’s where problems tend to crop up. I’ve seen many a church wired up with the stage power coming off one panel and the tech booth power coming from another. Electricians do that because it may be easier for them, and they really don’t understand what we do. The problem comes in when there is a different ground potential on those two circuits and we connect them together with audio wiring (or video wiring, for that matter). 

How do we connect them together? Let’s say your amps are on the stage panel, while your mixer is on the tech booth panel. Connect your mixer to the amps with a balanced audio cable. The ground (shield) on said cable connects to the chassis grounds on both the mixer and the amp. Guess where those chassis grounds connect to? The ground pin in the outlet.

Now, let’s say we have 3-4 volts on the ground leg of the stage panel and 0 on the tech booth panel. That little voltage will flow over the shield and induce hum into your signal. 

It is for this reason that when we specify tech power, we always specify dedicated, isolated ground panels. An isolated ground isolates the neutral bus from the ground bus. I won’t go into technical details here, but it goes a long way to prevent what I just described. We also always specify this IG (isolated ground) power for the audio and video equipment. Lighting gets put on its own panel. In a pinch, if budget is tight and the lighting rig is small and LED, we can pull lighting power from a general-use panel. But never from the AV panel. 

Isolation Power

We also like to isolate the incoming power from the power company. I’m a big fan of using isolation transformers in front of my AV, isolated ground panels. This de-couples the tech power from the power company power and cleans it up a lot. While an Iso transformer can cost thousands to tens of thousands of dollars, it’s really good insurance. There’s nothing worse than hum or bitrate errors in your brand-new $300,000 AV system because you tried to save $7,500 on a transformer. 

Power Segregation

It’s important to segregate your power usage in the booth and on stage. In all the venues we design, I specify AV circuits and lighting circuits in the tech booth and on stage. The AV circuits should be clearly labeled (orange outlets are good) as IG and only AV gear gets plugged in there. Any floor-based lighting fixtures (along with lighting consoles and distro gear) get plugged into the lighting circuits. 

Sequencing

We will often use either relay panels or a motorized breaker panel for turning the system on and off. We like Lyntec, but there are other brands available. Sequencing allows you to press “On” and have the entire system power up in the right order (mixer and stage racks before amps). It goes back off in the opposite order. It’s also important to have both sequenced and non-sequenced AV circuits in the tech booth. Often, you will want to leave computers or other devices like UPS’s on all the time, and you don’t want them shutting down with the sequence. Speaking of UPS…

Split Your Power Supplies

It’s a good idea to put your critical gear on a UPS (uninterruptible power supply). This battery backup will cover you forfew minutes in the event of a short power outage or blip, and will give you time to shut down gracefully for longer outages. Mixing sequencing and UPS can get tricky, however. If you put your mixer on a UPS, you can’t put it on the sequence. It has to be manually powered up and down. 

Also, if your console—or any other piece of gear—has dual power supplies, don’t put them both on a UPS! If the UPS dies mid-service, and I’ve seen and heard of it happening more than once, you lose your console. Plug one power supply into the UPS so if you lose house power, the console stays up. If you lose the UPS, the console stays up.

Surge Protection

If you live in an area where storms are prevalent or your power isn’t very stable, surge protection is very valuable. Lyntec (and others) can install transient surge protection in the panels, and while not inexpensive, it might just save your $10,000 projector. We always specify TSP for our AV circuits, and if budget permits, lighting circuits as well. You can also do local surge protection if the budget doesn’t allow for panel-based TSP, though it may not be as effective.

A Balancing Act

Budgeting for all this power is a bit of a balancing act. Doing power correctly for a mid-sized AV system can easily add $25,000-30,000 worth of electrical gear to a project. If your PA/Mixer upgrade is a pair of self-powered $1,200/ea. speakers and an X32, that’s probably overkill. But if you’re spending a couple hundred thousand dollars on the system, it’s money well-spent. The key is getting it designed properly. I’ve seen some designs that are so grossly over-done that the church probably wasted $40,000 on power gear they’ll never use. On the other hand, going to small will limit you in the future. You have to know the long-term plans for the room. I like to have at about a half-dozen empty circuits in the panel board, unless the building will be greatly expanded. Only then are more appropriate. Then again, I’m working with a church right now doing a PA upgrade, and we need 6 new circuits for the amps, DSP and wireless rack. Having open space is a good idea. 

There’s probably much more I can say about power, but I’ll stop for now. Being that this is the last post of 2016, I want to thank you for reading this year—and in years past—and hope you’ll stick around for 2017. Next year, ChurchTechArts will be 10 years old, something I never envisioned when I started. Thanks to those that have stuck around from the beginning, and to all the new readers that just joined. I have some news for 2017 that will hopefully generate some excitement, but we’ll wait until next week for that. Happy New Year!

Mike's Mixing Axioms: #5 Timing is Everything

Photo courtesy of David Lofink

Photo courtesy of David Lofink

Well, I bet you thought I forgot all about our final mixing axiom. I have not in fact forgotten, but have been really busy. In the past few weeks, I was part of a launch of a new church campus in Indiana, we kicked off a design process for another church in Indiana, and I took a week off to spend time with my daughter and her boyfriend who were visiting from California. In the midst of all that, writing this post took a back seat. Sorry about that! But here we are, at the final axiom. And perhaps it’s appropriate that the title is Timing is Everything.

I’m going to look at this from two completely different perspectives, both of which will make your services better. 

Time your Effects to the Song Tempo

This tip has made one of the biggest, subtle improvements to my mixes of anything I do. It’s a huge improvement because you can get really creative and layer in a bunch of great reverbs and delays which create a super-rich sonic landscape while not muddling up the mix—if it’s all in time! So often, I hear mixes that have a ton of delay and reverb in them, but because it’s not in time, it just “blurs” the sound. All those extra reflections and delays out of time make it hard to understand lyrics and can obscure instruments. However, when it’s in time, it just sounds good! 

I’ve written about this quite a lot, so I’m not going to go into great detail here. However, it’s one of those things that makes such a difference—and is so easy to do—that it’s worth mentioning again in a post about timing. 

Nail the Transitions

The other issue of timing has to do with transitions. In my view, transitions can make or break a service. Picture this; you’re in the congregation, the worship team is finishing up the last song, everyone is in a posture of worship. It’s time for the pastor to come up and pray. Except his mic is off. Suddenly the mic snaps on mid-sentence while the band abruptly cuts off. You’re immediately jolted out of worship posture to, “what just happened” posture. Bad transitions strike again.

It’s super-important that we not screw up the service by screwing up transitions. Set you console up so you can easily transition from worship to prayer without breaking anything. Maybe it’s just setting up a few VCAs to make it easy. It could be using snapshots or scenes. But whatever you have to do to make those transitions seamless, do it. 

Getting these transitions right means you need to be thinking ahead and be aware of what is going on in the service. You shouldn’t be surprised when the pastor comes up to pray. You need to be ready to make that transition, even if it happens differently than it says in Planning Center. As you approach the end of the last song in the music set, start thinking about how you’re going to go from band to whatever is next. As the video bumper is winding down, figure out the movements you need to make to get to the next thing. Think ahead, don’t wait until one element ends to begin contemplating what is next.

This was an area that I spent considerable time training my volunteers on. Virtual soundcheck is a godsend here. I would cue up a transition point and let them run it again and again until they became comfortable. You may need to practice this as well. Spend some time during the week considering how to smooth out the transitions and the service will be better for it.

So there you go; Mike’s Mixing Axioms. Hopefully this has been a good series. I’ve got lots of ideas brewing for new posts as well as some big changes around here for 2017. Stay tuned!

Elite Core

Mike's Mixing Axioms: #4--Make Good Choices

Today we’ll be continuing our series on Mike’s Mixing Axioms. These are things that I’ve been working on and working through for the past 20 or so years of mixing. As I said earlier, this is not Gospel, and there are very likely other ways to do things. But this is what I’ve been doing and it seems to deliver consistently good results. 

We’ve already considered the first three: Keep it Simple; Basics First; Less is more. Today, we’re going to talk about choices. 

Axiom #4: Make Good Choices

When my girls were younger, when they would head out with friends, I would often call out as they left the house, “Make good choices!” I was reminding them to make choices based on who we raised them to be. Sometimes those are hard choices, but we all have to make choices.

When it comes to mixing, we also have to make choices. Sometimes they are hard choices. I’ve had to mix musicians that were—how to say this—less than good. Let’s say they had great hearts. There are times when we have to make choices as to what is heard in our PA. In fact, every time we get behind the console we have to make choices about what is in the PA. It’s up to us to make good choices. 

Damage Control

When you’re mixing a “good hearts” band, you are effectively damage control. You are going to have to do your best to present them in the best light possible, and at times that will mean turning some people down or off. The tone deaf background singer probably shouldn’t be highlighted during the service. The guitar player who refuses to tune should probably not be leading the song. Sometimes, your choices become the lesser of two evils and you have to do what you can. It’s not ideal, but as I said in It Might Not Be Your Fault, you work with what you are given.

Good Choices

The game changes when you have a good band. In that case, you still have to make choices, but they become much more creative and you have a lot more to choose from. A lot of people get tripped up when they’re mixing feeling like if it’s on stage, it needs to be heard in the mix just as loud as everything else. In those instances, you’ll hear the acoustic guitar pushed way up too loud during a big rocking song because, well, it’s on stage.

Now, I can’t tell you when to turn things up and when to turn them down. There are simply too many factors to consider. However, let me give you a simple example. Take a song that starts out somewhat mellow, builds, and then breaks down at the end. And let’s assume you have a few electric guitars and an acoustic in addition to the rest of the band. What I might do is feature the acoustic in the beginning and ending sections and the electrics in the big middle. During the big middle, you might not hear the acoustic at all unless you really listen closely. Trying to push the acoustic into the big section of the mix might well just muddy it up or make it harder to hear the vocal. 

Again, I’m not trying to give you a prescription, but rather permission. I want you to have permission to not feel like you have to hear everything all the time. Sometimes things like keys and pads are just there, filling in gaps, and you’d really only notice them if you turned them off. That’s OK! 

How do you decide what to feature? Listen to the band, they will let you know. In a well-arranged song, something will lead each section. It may be the same instrument, or it may change. Follow along with the band and mirror their choices. 

Now sometimes, you get a good band, with really good players who all want to be soloists. I’ve mixed those bands as well. In those cases, you get to choose who is leading and who is background. You’ll have to pick the instrument that makes the most sense for the song and tuck the rest behind. 

This is one of the hardest things to teach, honestly. Some people just know what choices to make. Others have to learn, and some will never get it. The best thing I can tell you is to spend a lot of time listening to music critically. Take a song you like and listen to it over and over. Map it out; figure out what you hear in each section of the song. What is prominent and what is in the background? What is the lead and what disappears? Music is a language and like any language, we can learn it—it just takes time and practice. 

This axiom is probably the most vague and I apologize for that. Like I said, it’s hard to illustrate with words. Next time, we’ll get into the last one which is much more concrete. Until then, make good choices!

Elite Core