Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: May 2009 (Page 2 of 3)

Sound Check–Who’s In Charge

Last week, on Audio Monday, I wrote a little blurb about how I think a successful sound check should go. Several people brought up a valid question in the comments: Who’s in charge of a sound check? While the answer could be, “It depends,” I would say 97.6% of the time in church settings, the FOH engineer should be in charge. I’ll deal with the other 2.4% in a minute.

It’s For the Engineer

The sound guy should be in charge of sound check because he (or she) is the reason there is a sound check in the first place. The band needs to play, vocalists need to sing, videos need to roll–all so the engineer can properly set gain and levels, and sometimes monitors. Given that reality, who knows better what to start with first, and when to move onto the next channel than the engineer?

The worship leader might know when they have enough in their monitor, but they really don’t know when the gain, EQ, compression, gating and anything else is set properly. So relax and keep on strumming.

It’s Good for the Team

Often times, sound guys (and gals) get treated like second class citizens. Sometimes, this is deserved–most times it’s not. Having the band take 10-15 minutes and defer all their attention to the FOH engineer is a good reminder that they too are part of the team and deserve some respect. I speak with a lot of engineers who have great relationships with their bands. Sadly, that’s not the case in all churches. A properly run sound check will go a long way in boosting the engineer’s credibility score, especially if the worship/band leader is on board. Everyone is better off in the end for it, believe me.

The Other 2.4%

In rare cases, it may be beneficial for someone else to run the sound check. This is typically only true when the engineer is just learning how to actually engineer, or if they are new to the church, the system and the band. In this case, I’ve found it very beneficial to take over the sound check myself and lead both the band and the engineer through it. This has a few benefits.

First, for the band, because they are comfortable with me, they feel good that someone they trust appears to be in charge. This calms a lot of nerves. For the sound guy, it allows them to focus on getting around the board, getting gain set, EQ and the rest without trying to remember the musician’s names or what order to go in. It’s also good for establishing consistency. I want my engineers to run a sound check the same way, and by leading the through it, they learn the way I want them to do it. They learn how to properly address the band, and work through any issues. As a bonus, it gives me something to do besides stand there with my hands in my pockets.

In even rarer cases, I would cede this control to the worship leader but only on two conditions; 1) the church doesn’t have a tech team leader (either staff or volunteer) to take on this role, and 2) the worship leader knows something about sound.

If those conditions aren’t met, the sound guy needs to stand up, take the reigns and learn how to run a good sound check. It’s really not as hard as you might think.

Reaching Out

I’ve written about this before but this is a subject that bears repeating. Being a Tech Arts Director is a pretty lonely job sometimes. You might be the only one on your church staff who has any technical knowledge at all. Even if you work at a larger church with a tech staff, it’s hard to vent frustrations without creating a bad vibe. Often times we’re asked to do things by leadership that will take vastly more time and effort than anyone appreciates. And sometimes, just dealing with the day to day interaction with non-technical people can get irritating (“Yes, I’ll show you how to log into the network again…”).

That’s why it’s so important to develop relationships with other like-minded people. In the last 8 days, I have had 6 really encouraging phone calls or video chats with good friends of mine. They live all over the country, and most I’ve never actually met in person. One of the great things about being a geek is that we are into technology. I’ve met so many cool people through Twitter and this blog. A year after connecting with them online, I call all of them my friends.

Meeting in person is even better. I’ve started to get together with a few guys locally once every month or two. My goal is to expand the circle even further, and make it more regular.

The reason for this is simple; we need to interact with other people. Now, that sounds simplistic, but read that again. We need to interact with other people–people who get us. People who get the frustration we feel when the producer asks (2 hours before doors open), “Can we have the moving lights sweeping and spinning all over the room during the worship set?” People who understand that recruiting, training and retaining quality sound guys (and gals) is tough. People who can nod their heads empathetically when we talk about the “great idea for a video” our pastor had…on Friday afternoon.

See, the danger is, we don’t talk to others about it. Because let’s be honest; this job can be frustrating sometimes. And if we don’t talk about it, that frustration starts to turn to aggravation. Then it starts to become anger. And eventually people start asking, “Why is the TD always so angry?” Ultimately, we are in danger of becoming the guy who always says, “No!” to any suggestion because we’re ticked off that no one understands how hard that simple little idea is. The next step is unemployment.

As an aside, a new church won’t fix it. The next church staff you join will be just as clueless to the nature of our jobs as the last one. It’s not their fault–we’re just special. No, you don’t need a new job, you need to talk to someone who can say, “Dude, I’ve been there and it sucks. Let me pray for you.” Because when you hear that, you are reminded that it’s OK. Someone else has been in your shoes, and they’re still standing. Someone else is coming along side you to help you through a tough time. Someone else just gets it.

So reach out. Get to know some other tech directors. Use Twitter. Send some e-mails. Make some phone calls. Have lunch. You’ll be a better TD for it… I promise!

Document Your Procedures

I’m in the process of documenting the things I do weekly. Seems like a trivial task at first. Then today I spent an hour documenting, in great detail, my off-site back up system. It didn’t take that long because it’s complicated; rather, it took a while because I had to actually slow down and think each step through. Steps I take for granted as easy, like creating a disk image, had to be written out step-by-step so someone with less experience with Disk Utility could do it and not goof up.

I’ve started documenting the process of creating, moving and archiving weekly worship graphics, but that one is so complex to write out (yet so simple for me to do it) that it’s going to take a while. It involved 3 computers, an external hard drive and our server. It’s really easy for me (I build all the graphics, move them around and archive them in under an hour easily), but it’s a ton of steps.

So why document? I can think of a few reasons:

I Won’t Be The Last Person To Do This

As much as we’d like to think we’re indispensable and  will never leave our current post, the truth is we aren’t and we will. Someone else will come behind you and have to figure out what you were doing. It seems like common courtesy to me to help them out. Some would argue that I’m spilling all my intellectual property and giving away all my secrets. Whatever–it’s the church–I’m over it.

I Want To Go On Vacation

I like my work, but I don’t want to be there 52 weeks a year. So I have a choice; I can figure out how to do 52 weeks worth of work in 49, or hand off 3 weeks worth of work to someone else. I can only do that if I can hand them a document and say, “Do this.” If I create those documents now, going on vacation is easier later.

It Forces Me To Think It Through

On more than one occasion, as I’m writing my documentation, an easier way of doing something occurs to me. Sometimes, we start doing something one way because it’s expedient, but not efficient. Writing out each painful step of each process gives you the opportunity to examine it and consider why it’s there in the first place.

It Helps My Recall

Documentation helps in two ways: First, writing it out drives it deeper into my brain. Second, having it written down means if I forget it, I don’t have to re-create the wheel. This is especially helpful for once a year processes. Being able to turn to a page in a notebook saves a lot of those, “Wait, how did I do that last time?” moments.

It Makes My Ministry More Transferable

I really consider what I do ministry. Writing it all down means I can share it with others, or take it with me when I go somewhere else. Someday I’ll start a new position in a new church and if I have a whole notebook of documented procedures to start from, I’m half-way there. Modifying existing protocols is easier than starting from scratch. It also makes me a more valuable candidate; if I show up and say, “I have a whole book full of process we can start working on right away,” it’s a lot more impressive than leading with, “We’ll figure it out when I get there.”

I truly believe an exercise like this adds a lot of value, both to you and your organization. What processes do you need to document?

Some Useful Tools

As a certified Mac geek, I enjoy collecting new applications. I just checked and I have well over 150 applications on my MacBook Pro. A quick scan through the Applications folder tells me I should probably clean a few out. There have been a few bright lights over the last few months, though, and I thought I’d share them with you.

Note that some of these apps were part of the MacHeist 3 bundle. If you missed out on that, you can still get the individual apps, but you’ll pay more for them. Others have been out for a while, and continue to improve and be totally useful for me. So here we go…my current list of favorite applications:

Evernote

This one is perhaps my favorite because it’s so darn useful for so many things. Essentially, it’s a place to put things you want to remember. I use it when I researching gear, jotting down ideas for blog posts, taking notes when talking to vendors, and capturing those late-night thoughts. Here’s what I love about Evernote

  • It syncs to my online Evernote account, so I can create notes on my laptop, desktop and iPod Touch, and they all say up to date and accessible from any platform.
  • I can capture photos, web pages (with links) and annotate pages.
  • It will do word recognition from captured photos or web pages so I can search for things easily. Even if I can’t remember what interface I was looking for, I can search for Interface and it will find them all. Very cool.
  • It’s fast and light-weight (which is important to me, because I normally have 10-12 apps open at any given time).

You owe it to yourself to check it out. It runs in Mac, Windows, iPhone, the Web, Blackberry and Windows mobile devises. Download it here.

My copy of Evernote. As you can see, I've been using it a lot. Click to enlarge My copy of Evernote. As you can see, I’ve been using it a lot. Click to enlargeTimes

Times is my new favorite RSS reader. It is one of two apps I use every day from the MacHeist bundle. The underlying idea behind times is to make reading RSS feeds like reading a newspaper. You can build pages based on whatever organizational structure you choose, then drop feeds into pre-defined “boxes.” New articles appear, and when you click on them, the page opens up right in Times (complete with pictures and video). It’s a very slick and clever user experience. I’ve added a half dozen RSS feeds to my list just because they’re so much fun to read in Times. Download it here.

One of my Times pages. Pretty much everything is customizable. Click to enlarge One of my Times pages. Pretty much everything is customizable. The articles grey out after you’ve read them. You can see I’m all caught up. Click to enlargeCaffeine

Caffeine is a simple app that does one thing; keeps your Mac awake. Have you ever been giving a presentation, and having stopped on a single slide too long suddenly seen the screen saver appear? Have you been video chatting and watched the screen dim? Or just sitting there reading/thinking and get annoyed at having to move the mouse every 2 minutes to keep the screen bright? Sure, you could go into System Preferences>Energy Saver and adjust your settings. But that’s annoying. It’s a lot easier to click the little coffee cup in the menu bar to keep the Mac awake. Simple, easy and free! Download it here.

It does one thing and it does it well. As you can see, I'm a bit of a menu-bar junkie... It does one thing and it does it well. As you can see, I’m a bit of a menu-bar junkie…Switch

This is another one-trick-pony that is crazy useful when it does what you need. Switch will convert just about any audio file to any other audio file. Need to edit a video using an MP3 file as a soundtrack? FinalCut Pro will import it, but then you have to render the audio. Every time you make a change, you have to re-render. FCP prefers uncompressed audio. Switch will give you an .aiff file in just a few seconds. It will also convert to about anything else you can think of in no time flat. There is a free version that does everything I need, as well as a paid version with even more features. It’s available for Mac, Windows & Linux. Download it here.

Convert any audio file format to any other in seconds. What's not to love? Click to enlarge. Convert any audio file format to any other in seconds. What’s not to love? Click to enlarge.Those are a few of my favorite apps right now. What are yours?

Cuing Slides–Slow Songs

OK, we’re back at it again with another example of cuing slide lyrics for songs. This time, we’ll tackle a slower song, You Alone from David Crowder’s The Lime CD. This song is tricky not because it moves so fast, but because it moves so slow. There needs to be a balance between getting the lyrics up at the right time and changing them in a musical fashion.

Changing slides (or switching cameras for that matter) in a musical manner is one of the hardest things to teach. I would go so far as to say that some people will never “get it.” It takes being able to count, almost instinctively, and know the music well enough that you can stay ahead without being obnoxious.

Let’s start off with a not so good example. This is how the song might be cued by someone who doesn’t really know the song, or have a good understanding of how it needs to move musically. Sorry it’s over 2 min, it’s a slow song.

What you can see from that is the slides lagged behind every time. Again, this fragments worship, and causes those in attendance to sing, stop, jump in, stop, etc. It’s not smooth or easy. Also notice there was a four bar bridge in which the previous verse just hung on the screen. This is confusing for people. We expect that if there are words on the screen, we will be singing them, if not right this second, sometime soon. Yet, here we are with a 15 second interlude with the words hanging there like old wallpaper. Not ideal.

So what’s the remedy? First, as always, we need to stay ahead of the game. Second, there should be a blank slide inserted between the two verses. In our example here, I’m using a black background. In real life, I would have some type of photographic/graphic background behind the words, and we’d go to that. Let’s run another example with my suggested cuing points.

Hopefully, you notice the difference. The real question is how do you decide where to cue a slow-moving song like that? For the answer to that question, we need to dive into a little music theory. First you need to know that songs are broken up in to measures (or bars). Each measure has a specific number of beats in it. This song is written in 6/8 time.  This means that each measure is made up of 6 eight notes, and the beat happens on 1 and 4.As you listen to the song, you can count along; 1,2,3,4,5,6; 2,2,3,4,5,6; 3,2,3,4,5,6; 4,2,3,4,5,6. That represents 4 measures. I change the first number in each sequence to remind me where I am. As you can see, I wrote this incorrectly the first time which just proves that I really didn’t pay much attention during music theory class. Thanks to Keith for helping me get it right.

Just like video editing of music numbers, visual changes should happen on the beat (I can’t stand music videos that are not cut to the beat, they’re so jarring). With a song moving this slowly, it’s easy to change on the 4th beat of a measure and still have the slide up at the right time.

Here’s another example with some beat markers thrown in to illustrate the point. Note that the song actually has an 8 bar intro, and I’m just showing you 4. The top number is the measure number, the bottom is the beat within that measure.

This is where taking a few minutes to talk to the worship leader (and even better, listen to the songs ahead of time) comes in very handy. If you know that a song has a 4-bar intro, you can count right along and get the words up just before the lyrics start. If there is a 4-bar instrumental between verse 1 and verse 2, you know to put a blank in and count along. I will often even label my blanks “4-bar Instrumental” so I remember.

Someone asked last week what the rule for blank slides is. I’m not sure there is a rule, but my general practice is if it’s 2 bars or more, I’ll throw in a blank over an instrumental. This particular song has a 1-bar break between the first and second phrases of the verse, and when I played with it, it seemed more disruptive to dip to a blank, then come back 3 beats later. But for the 4 bar, a blank is a definite improvement.

Again, these are not hard and fast rules, but they should give you some guidance on best practices. Every song is a little different and can be interpreted a few different ways. The goal, however, needs to be a seamless appearance of lyrics at the right time that feels like it’s connected to the music. Get that right, and you’re one giant step closer to creating that environment of immersive and engaging worship.

Easing Sound Checks

A sound check can be your best friend, or it can lead to a lot of stress (both for you and for the band). For the church sound volunteer, this is a make or break time. A well run sound check puts everyone at ease, gets your levels set up properly and dials in good monitor mixes for the band. A poorly run sound check will get everyone aggravated, add stress for the band, and set you as the FOH engineer up to fail. Obviously, the former is a more desirable outcome, so let’s consider a few ways to get there.

Arrive Early

Nothing will put you farther ahead in the sound check game than arriving early. Get there early to go over the set up, line check, label the board, check the monitors and generally make sure everything is ready. Scrambling to figure out why the bass is showing up on the click track channel will not make sound check go smoothly.

Know Your Setup

Have an input list. Label your board. Make sure you know which aux sends go to which monitor mixes. Figure this stuff out in advance, not when the band is standing on stage starring at you. Remember, planning will set you free.

Know the Musician’s Names

This is a little thing, but it makes a big difference. Instead of saying, “Hey bass player, can you play your, uh, bass please?” you can say, “Steve, give me some love on the bass!” People like to hear their name. Label the board with their names if you have to. And don’t forget to say thank you when you have enough from them. Instead of barging on to the next instrument, try this, “Thanks, Steve. Justin, can you play a little somthin’ somthin’ for me, please?” This helps, I’m not kidding.

Use a Talkback Mic

Again, small thing, big difference. If you don’t use a talkback, you have to yell to be heard. Do you like to be yelled at? Didn’t think so. Neither do musicians. Plus, if you work the talkback mic correctly, you can get your Barry White voice on and sound all smooth and cool. That makes you sound like you know what you’re doing. That is a good thing.

Proceed in an Orderly Manner

Instead of bouncing all over stage, run the sound check the way you’d build a mix. Drums, bass, guitars, keys, vocals. It’s not a bad thing to start off on stage and tell everyone what you’re going to ask for as well. Then they know what to expect and things will move faster.

Make Sure They Have What They Need

This is especially important if the band is using Avioms, PQs, HearBack or whatever. Don’t move on if they’re still dialing in their mix. It’s not a bad idea at the end of sound check to stop and ask, “OK, I got what I needed, are you guys all good?” Goes a long way.

Don’t Mess With It When You’re Done

This is a biggie. Once you get the gains and EQ dialed in, don’t mess with it too much. I say too much because quite often, musicians won’t play as loud or sing as loud as they will later on, and you’ll need to back off the gain a click to avoid overdriving the preamps. Or you could give yourself some room just in case. Either way, try not to mess with it. Same with EQ. Tweaking EQ all over the place will radically alter the sound in their ears, and make it sound like you’re changing gain. So get that dialed in early, then “freeze” it. Again, if you need to adjust slightly, do so. But don’t suddenly take 6 dB out at 800 Hz and expect to not get noticed.

There are a bunch of other tips I’ve picked up along the way, but those will wait for another day. Happy sound checking!

Recruiting Tech Team Members

uncle_sam-tech-team

There are few activities that tend to strike fear into the heart of a technical arts director quite like recruiting for the tech team. Large-scale productions for Christmas & Easter? No sweat. Running ProPresenter and TD’ing the weekend (’cause my volunteer didn’t show up)? I can do that. Programming moving lights on the fly? In our sleep. But coming up with ways to bring new people into the technical fold? Don’t I have a root canal scheduled?

Everyone wants to know how to recruit volunteers. Every interviewer asks it. And practically every TAD asks it once they actually get there. The plain and simple fact is that it’s hard. It’s hard to recruit volunteers for the church, period. People are way too busy, and we no longer live in a culture that values volunteerism. For the most part, people in this country are consumers. When they get to church, they want to consume, not serve.

Recruiting for the tech team is doubly hard because there are so few people who would be good at it. Take a church of 1,000 people. There are easily several hundred who have the right temperament and gifting to work with children. But tech? Easily fewer than 100 (probably 50-60). And chances are 10-20 are already serving. So your pool is smaller to begin with. Couple that with the litany of excuses for not serving–no time, not skilled enough, can’t handle commitment, and (my personal favorite) “don’t feel led”–and you have a recipe for a challenge.

I write all this not to discourage anyone, but to remind us that if we’re struggling with recruiting, we’re not alone. Just about every church I talk to has (or has had) a tough time finding volunteers. It’s not your fault! It’s just how it is. With that in mind, let’s talk about some options.

Network

I’ve found one of the best resources for new tech team members is my current tech team. Since we all tend to gravitate toward people like us, it makes sense that techies hang with other techies. So ask them! Once or twice a year I ask my tech team who they know that could do their job. Sometimes the results surprise me.

Use Technology

When I was looking for a church for my family (before I worked at one), I would check out the website in general and the tech/worship section in particular. Why? Because I wanted to know if there was a place for me to serve. Upper Room has a dedicated Technical Arts page on our site, complete with a volunteer application (a pdf that is sent to me when they finish it). I’ve picked up several volunteers that way.

Jared Wells of Westside Family Church in Kansas City has done something that’s been on my to do list for a while. They produced a video highlighting people on the tech team and why they serve. Selling the vision and making it look like a whole lot of fun is far more effective than begging for volunteers or shutting off the tech during a service to illustrate the need.

Personal Invitations

People like to be needed. When you meet someone who fits the profile of someone you’d want on your team, ask them. Sometimes they say yes.

Lower Time Commitments

Beckie Campbell of First Church of God Church in Vero Beach, Fl suggested lowering the time commitment that people serve. Rather burning people out and asking them to serve 2, 3, or 4 weekends a month, at First Church, people only serve once a month. That keeps volunteers fresh and also gives them plenty of time to attend church with their families. We’ve tried to follow that model at Upper Room as well, at least with tech. Interestingly, I’m running about 90-95% full on my tech teams, whereas our support teams run 3 weeks on , 3 weeks off and we are always looking for more people. So perhaps there’s something to that.

Invest in Relationships

Ultimately, it comes down to getting to know people, and finding out what they’re good at. That takes time, and it takes a commitment to being relationally connected. This is probably one of the hardest things for a tech person to do, because by nature, we tend to be on the weak side, relationally. But if we can find ways to get to know people, we will find people for our teams.

This is by far, not the last word on this subject. If you have a method that’s worked for you, please share it with the rest of us in the comments. I think we all have things we can learn from each other, and this is a great place to start.

Revising the Backup Strategery

Yes, I used the non-word “Stratergery.” Ever since George the 43rd mis-introduced that word to the world, I can’t stop using it. Makes me laugh every time. But that’s not what today’s post is about. It’s about backups and how to avoid a long night at the office.

Most of you know I’m now the defacto IT guy at Upper Room. And you probably know we built a MacPro running Leopard Server (if you missed it, you can read about it here, here and here). We’re running an 8 drive, 8 TB RAID 6 for shared storage and Time Machine backup. I felt pretty safe using that arrangement. But I also wanted to protect the server boot volumes–mainly because if the server goes down, we can’t get to the shared storage. While building it was fun, re-building it would not be. So this was my solution to keep the boot drives backed up.

My Server Boot (System) Drives

As you can see, I created the main boot, or system, volume as a RAID 1. That means all the data that’s written to that single logical volume (it shows up as one drive on the desktop) is actually written to two 250 GB drives. Should one fail, I can immediately fall over to the other one with no data loss and nearly no downtime. I named that volume Tobias.

Lindsey is what I call the hot backup (Arrested Development fans are laughing right about now…). Lindsey is an identical 250 GB drive, but is partitioned into a 200 GB volume and a 30 or so GB volume (named Kitty) for log storage. I did that so a runaway process wouldn’t fill my system volume up with logs and break something. Lindsey is cloned every night from Tobias (originally using SuperDuper, now Carbon Copy Cloner).

Michael is our off-site backup. I have that mounted in a drive carrier that fits into an eSATA enclosure. I clone Tobias to Michael on Tuesdays and Thursdays. At least, that was the plan. That all changed last week.

Last week, I was mucking around trying to get Software Update Server up and running. I was having some problems, which I diagnosed as a permissions/sharing issue (not sure if it’s right or not, it’s still not working). Anyway, at some point, I propagated permissions to Tobias. This took a while. Afterwards, things didn’t seem right. Everyone was at lunch, so I decided to re-boot. It didn’t come back up.

After a while, I decided to try again, only switching over to Tobias 2. Same thing, no boot up. I switched to Lindsey. No boot. Something had corrupted the boot records of all three internal system drives. It was going to be a long day.

I pulled the boot drive from my MacPro editor and put it in the server (one big reason I went with a MacPro server, not an XServe…) and started up. It came right up. Tobias & Lindsey mounted. Odd. They’d mount, but not boot. I ran some repair tools. All was fine. Still not booting. I decided to go home for dinner and bring Michael back to save the company. Fingers crossed.

I cloned Michael to Lindsey (I figured Lindsey was shot, so what’s the harm). After moving 30 GB of files, I told it to restart using Lindsey. Eureka! It came right up! I cloned Michael to Tobias and we were back in business. Total downtime: Under 8 hours. Not too bad.

Here’s what I learned. I’m well prepared for a physical disk failure. A logical disk failure, however, could really leave me up a creek. The boot sector corruption that plagued Tobias had been transferred to Lindsey. Had I cloned Michael from Tobias after the corruption, I’d have been out of luck. I needed a way to snapshot the system drive so I could “roll back the clock.” Here’s what I do now.

Once a week, I create a 30 GB disk image on Michael named the current date. Once that’s mounted, I use Carbon Copy Cloner to clone Tobias to the disk image. Since Tobias only carries about 27 GB of data, I will be able to keep quite a few copies of it, as disk images, on Michael before I run out of room on that 1 TB drive. As more files are added to Tobias, I’ll increase the disk image size. Eventually, I have to trash some, but I’ll have at least 6 months worth of snapshots.

Lindsey still gets cloned twice a week, just in case. Chances are that drive will never get used, but it cost $52, and costs nothing to back up. I may eventually create four 50 GB images on there and write a series of tasks in CCC to rotate through backups. That would give me one more layer of protection and redundancy.

The upshot for me is this: Drives are cheap and storage is abundant. Keep as many copies of important data as you can. Should this ever happen again, I’ll be back up and running in under 2 hours (it takes an hour or so just to copy the data), which isn’t too shabby.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, our shared volume, George, is cloned twice weekly to an external 1.5 TB drive called Oscar. Who says geeks don’t have a sense of humor?

It’s the Final Countdown

Cue up fire from my hands as I thrust them dramatically to the sky! (This is the first of a series of Arrested Development references this week–get used to it) While I couldn’t get Gob to join us today, I thought I would remind you, in case you’ve been locked in a tech booth somewhere with no internet, that we have but 37 days to vacate the 700 Mhz spectrum with our wireless mics and other stuff.

While I know that none of us (our church boards and finance teams especially) are excited about spending money to replace equipment that seems to work just fine, it’s something we have to do. The FCC has mandated that wireless mics be pulled out of the 700 Mhz spectrum by June 12, 2009, so we best get crack-a-lackin.

It’s also of note that most of the major wireless mic manufacturers are offering rebates to people who trade in 700 Mhz gear. Note that Shure’s program ends on December 31, 2009 (I wrote this before Shure extended the deadline, and I forgot to update the post. Thanks to Kirk Longhofer for reminding me). Sennheiser’s goes through Dec. 1 (which is odd, but OK).

Lectrosonics has a great article on the current state of affairs in the wireless spectrum. Jason Cole, Dave Stagl and I have all written quite extensivly about this as well. All is not lost, but changes are a-comin’. If you haven’t put together a plan yet, it’s about time to do so.

Presentation Cuing–Fast Songs

This is a topic that I feel pretty strongly about. Know that up front. How many times have you been in a worship service, singing a new song, and been unable to sing it because the lyrics on the screen trail the worship leader? Even if it’s a song you sort of know, it is really hard to sing along if the lyrics are not keeping up. Don’t believe me? Check it out…

This is a clip from the David Crowder song “Undignified” (I didn’t ask him if I could use it, so don’t tell him, OK? But if you find out, David, know that I have purchased all your CDs. Nothing but love here!). I have cued the lyrics the way I see a lot of people cue them. Now, even if you’ve sung this song at the top of your lungs in your car as much as I have (which is to say, a lot…), try to sing the song the way the lyrics are coming up on the screen–just as you would in church with a song you don’t know well. See how it goes.

That wasn’t too easy, now was it? The problem is simple: By the time the 1/2 second dissolve takes place, and our eyes scan back up to the first word on the new slide, he’s already onto the second line. That means we sing in fits and starts, and it’s awkward and uncomfortable. After a while, people stop singing altogether.

So how do we fix it? The answer is twofold. First, for songs this fast, I change the dissolve setting to .3 seconds (sometimes even .2). That gets the new slide up faster. Second, I cue earlier–typically in the space between the second to last and last word on the slide.

Take a look at this version and see how much easier it is to sing along with.

Here’s something that we often forget: People read a lot faster than they talk (or sing). Within a few seconds of a lyric slide hitting the screen, the audience has already read it. That’s why we can change to the next one before they’ve finished singing–they’ve already read it. By cuing the song a little early, it gives the singer a chance to get the upcoming words “in que” if you will before they need them.

Since it might be hard to see exactly when I cued those slides, I have a third version here with yellow arrows on the cue points. If I were running ProPresenter, I would hit the spacebar when we got to the arrows. Take a look.

I should also point out that in the second and third version, the first lyric slide hits the screen before David starts singing. This is important. We need to give people a second or two to get the words cued up. This can be accomplished by either A) knowing the song and arragement very well (ie. there are 8 bars of instrumental between the chorus and verse–and you know how to cound bars), or B) watching the worship leaer. Most will give a pretty clear signal that they’re getting ready to sing in a second, you just need to watch for it.

Another thing to notice that I treat two short, fast words (ie. my king) as one word and cue at the beginning of “my,” instead of “king.” The reason is simple; “my king” is sung as myking. If you wait until you get to “king,” you’ll be too late. When the song has a phrase break in it, such as between “nothing Lord is hindering this passion and my soul,” {breath} “And I’ll become…” you have a little more leeway in cuing. With those types of phrases, you can make the slide change happen during the breath.

Next time around, we’ll tackle an approach to a slower song, and learn how to cue slides in a musical and seamless manner.

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