Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: February 2010 (Page 1 of 2)

IEM Webinar: The Good, The Bad, The Rope Ladders

Dave, Jason and Mike discuss the benefits and challenges of in-ear monitors on the church stage. Though IEMs can be a great help in reducing stage volume, they can also cause some problems as well. In this lively discussion on IEMs, we talk about how to get the most from a move to IEMs and when you might want to hold off. Listen here or subscribe to the iTunes feed and receive it as a podcast.

Download this Episode (below) or Subscribe in iTunes

Church Tech Arts Webinars: IEMs

Da-Cappo DA-12 Earset Mic

The DA-12 earset mic from Da-CappoRecently we had the opportunity to test a few mics from Da-Cappo. I’ve been hearing more and more about them of late and was immediately interested in trying one out when my rep offered. We had two different models, the standard DA-12 and a shorter-boomed child’s version. Normally we use the Countryman e6 for earset mics, so that was the point of reference in our system. In the past I’ve also used AT-892s and DPA 4088s, both of which sound better, in my opinion, than the ubiquitous e6. But I digress.

The first use for the DA-12 was our Christmas Production, Gunch. We had a live narrator for much of the show who spoke into an AKG 414. That of course, delivered a smooth, rich sound. At the end of the play, the narrator needed to walk out on stage and wrap up the story. Thus, his voice needed to be similar to the 414. I chose to put the DA-12 on him and we were not disappointed. I won’t say the DA-12 sounded exactly the same; it did, however, sound really close. With just a little EQ tweaking to warm it up, we had no trouble convincing the audience they were listening to the same person.

The next test was to give it to our pastor for a few weeks. The first week he used it, was a little put off by it’s design; under the ear rather than over, with a big silicone pad that fits behind the earlobe. After a week or two, he really liked it. In fact, when I had to give it back, the first weekend without it he said, “What happened to our normal mic?” He was bummed when I told him it was gone. He reported that it was very comfortable to wear, and it never barn-doored out as e6s are prone to do.

Sound-wise, the mic sounds good. Really good, in fact. We noticed significantly less high frequency smearing than with the e6. We found ourselves using a lot less EQ to make our pastor sound like himself than we do with an e6. One thing we did notice, at least initially, was a tendency to get more breath pops and sounds with the longer-boomed regular DA-12. While the boom length is adjustable over a limited range, it doesn’t stay pulled back very well. Since I had a child’s length DA-12 CE sitting there as well, we tried that. It worked perfectly. No more breathy sounds and the small rubber ring around the boom kept the mic capsule from rubbing on his face. It’s nice to have the ability to chose from different boom lengths for different-sized faces.

The mic itself is built well and connects to the Kevlar reinforced cable by means of a threaded micro-connector. I like this a lot more than the connector on an e6. At the other end is another threaded micro-connector that mates with an adapter. There are a wide range of adapters available for all sorts of wireless transmitters. The upside is that it’s great for rental houses to simply stock adapters to send out with gear. The downside for churches is that it adds about $80 to the cost of the mic.

Speaking of cost, they run a little more than a regular e6 (by maybe $100 or so). Personally, I’d say they are worth it. The first weekend back on the e6 was a bit of a letdown. We we missed the DA-12. So why didn’t I buy it? Honestly, I’m waiting for the single ear version of DPA’s 4088 to come out. When it does, we’ll try it out and see which one Pastor Ken prefers. Then we’ll be buying one of them.

The bottom line is that Da-Cappo has a solid product on their hands. I would have no problem recommending them to anyone looking for an upgrade from the e6.

Sound Techs and Worship Leaders

Recently I was asked the following question, “What’s the most important part of the relationship between a FOH engineer and the worship leader?”

There are a number of aspects to that—and any—relationship, many of which are very important. It’s great if the worship leader and sound tech are great friends and hang out all the time; but it’s not necessary. It’s certainly easier if both enjoy the same styles of music. If both share a lot of common interests it’s easier to establish communication metaphors to explain what they’re talking about, but again, it’s not necessary. No, I’d have to say the most important aspect is trust.

Both have to believe they’re on the same team and are going for the same result. When trust is established and solid, each understands they have the other’s back. Neither has to operate from a position of fear, and both are free to speak into the other’s role because the point is to make it better. Trust is a wonderful thing.

Trust can take a while to earn and establish however, and it takes some work. I think that’s why so often it does’t exist in those engineer / worship leader relationships. To build trust, you need to spend time with each other. You need to talk through the goals of the ministry and learn about the other person. You need to be willing to be vulnerable and put down any pre-concieved notions about the other person. That’s not always easy.

Sometimes trust is built on the battlefield. I’ve been in situations where there was no trust between the worship leader and the tech booth. It was a battle each Sunday to pull off a service. Over time, with the application of steady determination to provide quality tech support, trust was established. The worship leader began to back down and trust the tech team. As that happened, the tech team began to respect and trust the worship leader. It took about four months (and included at least one weekend where I almost walked out saying, “Mix it yourselves!”), and was a lot of work. In the end, it was worth it.

When the relationship is built on trust, it’s a wonderful thing. When it’s not, everyone knows it and feels uncomfortable. There are a lot of churches that want to upgrade equipment, get better musicians, maybe even replace the worship leader or sound guy when instead what they really need to do is build trust between those two.

I’m blessed to be in a situation right now where both our worship leader and I trust each other quite well. Because of that trust, we work together very smoothly and each of us is ready to defer to the other at almost any point. It’s not that we don’t have strong opinions about our fields, it’s that we know we’re going for the same result, and we’re willing to do whatever it takes to get there. I can’t tell you how much easier that makes the weekend.

IEM Webinar Tonight

Tonight, Feb 23 at a few minutes past 10 PM EST, 7 PM PST, Jason Cole, Dave Stagl and I will be leading a webinar on IEMs. We’re going to talk about developing a plan to migrate to IEMs, what benefits and challenges come out of such a transition and spend some time discussing the best practices for Aviom and similar setups.

Due to the technical difficulties we experienced on TokBox last time around, we’re going to try something new. We’ll be streaming this webinar on LiveStream. This will remove the 20 person limit and hopefully make a better experience. If you go there a little early and create an account, when you ask questions in the chat window, your name will appear instead of “Guest21.” Up to you, however. We’ll answer as many questions as we can.

To view the webinar, simply go to the ChurchTechArts page on LiveStream. We’ll probably start about 5 min after the hour as I have to shuttle my daughter to Bible study tonight.

#Installation Fail—Wiring

On the heels of my last post on getting installs right, it seemed like it was time to re-visit our old friend, #Installation Fail. It’s been a while since we had some fun with, how shall we say, creative installations. I’ve been collecting these for quite some time now, and I won’t reveal where they came from. Consider this a primer on how not to install cables.

The good news is there’s plenty of cable should the equipment need to be re-located.At least I can’t chalk the above mess to a professional installer. The next photo however…well, it’s just the way the installer left it.

Bushings? We don’t need no stinking bushings. Or the cover for that matter.
Man it was nice of those plumbers to put those pipes there for the cables to run over.And just to prove the A/V guys didn’t favor plumbers over HVAC guys…

We’ve got speaker cables going over HVAC and electrical! Score!!Yes, we’ve seen all sorts of creative installs. This is one of my favorites. Props for using conduit. But feeding an extension cord through it to plug into a dimmer? Hmmm…

Hey, at least they put the extension cord in the conduit…Sometimes however, conduits seem hardly necessary.

This isn’t so much an “installation” as a lack thereof…
I really have nothing more to say about that one.

Remember, if you have any “creative installation” photos, send them along. I’ll happily post them and keep the source secret to protect the, uh, guilty.

That’s Not Right, Tear It All Out

I was watching one of my favorite home-improvement shows the other night; Holmes on Homes. If you’ve not seen it, check it out. Mike Holmes is a contractor who gets called in by homeowners in trouble. Typically, they have hired a contractor to do a job and it’s either botched or abandoned. The homeowners are out of money and often their house is uninhabitable. Mike’s job–Make it Right. And he does. He often goes above and beyond the call of duty to put the house back in shape. In the end, the homeowner gets another chance. And their house is put together the right way.

Mike is one of my heroes; partially because I too have seen so much shoddy work in houses, but mainly because I often find myself in similar situations. So often, I find myself in churches where things are done so wrong and I hear one of Mike’s favorite refrains, “That’s not how we do things, tear it all out.”

Disclaimer: Now let me stop here and point out that I’m not necessarily blaming previous tech guys or volunteers at the churches I’ve been to. Often times, things are done poorly because money is tight. We all know the A/V budget is one of the first things to get cut. Other times, the problems are due to volunteers just doing the best they know how. Sometimes they get in over their heads and just try to make it work. Some churches are ripped off by lousy install contractors. I get that. So please don’t take offense if I point out something you did on the cheap because budget was tight. I know you didn’t mean it. Unless of course you did know better, had the resources and did it wrong anyway–then you’re on my list. End Disclaimer.

 If you don’t do it right the first time, you’ll do it over and over.

 A lot of churches run out of money at the end of a build. When they do, it’s the A/V budget that is cut. That means the right wire doesn’t get pulled where it’s supposed to. Conduits are left out. Acoustic treatment or building details are omitted. I know it’s tempting to skimp on the PA when you have to buy children’s furniture. But think about this; it’s a whole lot easier to buy chairs and desks in six months than it is to put in another PA once the building’s done.

It’s a running joke (and a bad one in my opinion) that most churches are on their third PA. That means they paid for the wrong one twice, which means the right one cost them nearly 3 times what it should have. Thought you were saving money? Think again. How much of that money spent on the wrong PA could have been use productively for ministry?

At the very least, make sure you properly install wire and conduits where you need them. A lot of churches seem to think the guy with a cool home theater is qualified to install your PA.

He’s not.


He’s not.

Hire the right people and do it right.

Or you will do it again.

I promise.

Whatever you do, do it right.

I’ve seen so many bubble gum and duct tape solutions in my career that it really makes me sick. Cables tie-wrapped to the outside of an empty conduit. Wires run through un-bushed knockouts. Electrical panels overloaded and unbalanced. Cat-5 cables that were too short so they were joined by a coupler instead of re-pulled.This stuff is wrong. We can’t say, “Oh, it’s just church, don’t worry about it.” Instead we should say, “It’s church–we have an obligation to do this the right way.”

A perfect example is the lighting system at Coast Hills. Our current (and highly qualified) electrician looked at it and said, “There’s no point trying to fix the old system. It would take 2 guys a week just to figure it out. And in the end, we’d still say it all has to go. We’ll just start fresh and tear the old stuff out.” I have to tell you, I like this guy. He’s going to do it right. The sad thing is, we’re going to tear out thousands of feet of cable because it wasn’t done right. And we’re not talking preference here. We’re talking code violations a mile long and simple bad practices. And why? Because money was tight and it got skimped. Do I blame those responsible? In some ways, how can I–they didn’t know any better (except the electricians…). But we can learn from their mistakes.

Educate Yourself

When you hire contractors to do an install, first check them out. How many churches have they done? Go see their work. Make sure they get permits and be there for the inspections. I hate to say it, but don’t trust them. Check their work. Ask questions. Read up on codes and best practices and make sure they are followed. If you see sub-standard work being done, insist it’s taken out and done correctly. Don’t pay people that deliver sub-standard work. A good contractor will appreciate this level of attention to their trade. A bad one will want to leave before you fire them.

This is not a game. We are spending dollars–often a lot of them–that were given sacrificially by families to advance the work of the Kingdom. Every time we have to pay for something twice because it was done wrong the first time, we erode the trust people place in the Church. It is incumbent on you, the tech director to make sure the work is done right, and done once. Otherwise, someone like me will following in your footsteps and taking it all down and doing it again.

Mid-Week Tech; The Illustrated Guide

By popular demand (at least on Twitter), here’s an illustrated guide I created for running our Mid-Week Bible Studies. All that’s needed is a wireless mic or two, house lights and one other area light, and a CD record. However, our system is overly complex and not volunteer friendly (FOH is a PM5D-EX). So, rather than spend a ton of time answering phone calls, I decided to take some pictures and make it really easy; just follow the guide. Really, it’s an elaborate instruction book on how to turn the system on and off. The fact that it takes 10 pages and 40 pictures to do it is a reminder that our system is way too complex. Gotta work on that…

This is not a guide on how to mix, how to light or how to do anything at all fancy with sound or lights. It’s basic, “turn the mic on, wait 45 minutes, turn the mic off.” I already built a scene in the 5D that sets up the headamp, compressor and EQ to make the wireless sound pretty close. This is a a “nothing fancy” service, so my goal was to create a guide that just about anyone could follow and be successful without much help from me or my team.

I also added to the Downloads page in case anyone wants it later.

Devising a DropBox Workflow

With all my thinking of the upcoming iPad and wondering how I could use that in my daily life, one thing I’ve been working on is a way to be able to keep my most-used files accessible when I don’t have my computer with me. In my idealized workflow, I would have a computer in my office at church and an iPad that I take with me wherever. All my needed files would be accessible from home or Starbucks. But how to make this happen? More to the point, how to make this happen without me having to remember to move my files to the cloud all the time?

I toyed around with using iDisk, part of the MobileMe package. It’s potentially viable, but a bit slow at church because our internet is slow. And I’m not sure I want to be working in the cloud all the time. I tried iWork.com, but it’s really Apple’s version of Acrobat.com, which is to say pretty useless. Google Docs is out because I really don’t like working in their interface. I wanted to be able to take my iWork documents with me and have them accessible on my iPad (I’m writing this like I have one…and I don’t, and may not even get one, but for the sake of argument…).

Then I saw the little DropBox icon in my menu bar. I really haven’t used DropBox much, though I always liked the concept. If you’ve not heard of it before, it’s a web-based service that also includes a desktop app. Install DropBox on your computer (Mac or Win) and it creates a “DropBox.” What ever you drag into that folder will be synched with the DropBox in the cloud. You can share it, log in via a browser to get it, or have it synch back down to another computer using the same login. It’s all in the background and very seamless. Best of all, you’re always working locally; and as soon as a file changes, it’s updated in the cloud. No thought process at all.

The trick for me is that I’m an organization freak. I like my files neatly organized into folders so I can keep track of them. Here’s a look at my Coast Hills folder (for managing all my work-related files).

A place for everything, everything in it's place.

I go to this folder more than any other, so I put it in my sidebar and even have Finder set to open this folder every time I create a new Finder window. In order for DropBox to work, however, I needed to put my folders in the DropBox folder. That messes with my system. I could put the entire Coast Hills folder in there, but I have a lot of files I don’t really need to synch to the cloud (audio samples, for example; very big). And I didn’t want to split my folders up. Then the lightbulb went off—Aliases!

Notice the little arrows on the icons in the top folders. They're not folders, but Aliases to those folders.

I’ve tried to put Aliases from folders into DropBox, but that just copies the Alias, not the files inside. But why not put the actual folders in the DropBox folder, and create Aliases back to them from my Coast Hills folder? That way, as far as my workflow goes, when I open Coast Hills, I see all my folders, even though they’re physically located (as much as anything is “physically located” on a hard drive) in my DropBox folder.

The actual folders & files reside here.

When I open the Alias of “Outside Events” which is in my Coast Hills folder, the OS takes me to the actual folder in DropBox, as you can see from the path dropdown.

I'm really tricking myself into thinking the files are in Coast Hills. But they're not.

This way, my workflow stays in-tact, I don’t have to do anything different and my files are automatically synched with the cloud. I can even get them on my iPhone if I want. Yeah, there’s an app for that.

Every file is right there; easy to open, view soon, edit in iWork on the iPad.

DropBox is also cross-platform; which makes it a great way to get files from your Mac to a PC or visa-versa. And it’s kinda like off-site backup to boot. Oh, and did I mention it’s free? Well, for the first 2 Gigs anyway. Right now I’m using 4%.

What We Can Learn From The Opening Ceremony Fail

Last Friday night, with 66,000 people watching live and another few hundred million watching on TV, Canada presented us with a creative and well produced opening ceremonies. The environmental projection was quite stunning, and just as the producer hoped, the event felt much more intimate than many such events in the past. While it may have dragged a bit at a few points, overall, it was very enjoyable to watch. At least  until the critical moment toward which the entire night had been building. The moment that everyone wants to see; the moment that officially kicks off the games—the lighting of the Olympic torch.

If you have been living in media isolation for the last 3 days, you may not have heard that the cauldron was to be a four-legged device that appeared to be carved from ice. Each leg rose from the floor and joined in the center with the main cauldron. Except only three of the legs rose from the floor; the other apparently a victim of a mechanical malfunction. Now, I’m not here to rag on the production team for the mishap. However, the way it was handled can be a source of learning for us.

Play the Cards You’re Dealt

I’m quite sure everyone involved in the production was expecting all four legs to rise from the floor. All four legs, however, didn’t. At that moment, someone had about 20 seconds to make a critical decision (perhaps even less). They chose to try to diagnose and solve the problem. For about 3-4 minutes. While Bob Costas rambled on an on about the failure.

I would suggest that a better course of action would have been for the producer to get on the com and tell everyone, “We’re going with 3 legs, light the torch!” Then send someone down to the basement to make sure the 4th leg wasn’t going to suddenly appear. Had they chose that route, no one would have been the wiser—at least in the moment. Sure, afterwards people would have put it together and figured it out. But in that magical moment, the torch would have been lit to thunderous applause.

The same can happen in church settings. When something major goes wrong, if it’s not immediately apparent to the audience, change plans and go on. Quickly. Remember, the audience doesn’t know what’s supposed to happen; if you skip an element because something didn’t work, no one is the wiser and the mood is not broken.

Granted, sometimes this doesn’t work—such as when something falls, an element starts then stops or the like. But on a failure to launch, it’s better to quickly skip it and move on. And if everyone involved in the production is not on com, it’s a good idea to prep people in advance to that effect; if something happens, we may move on—be prepared.

Mums the Word

After a minute or two the look on Wayne Gretzgy’s face made it pretty apparent that something was wrong. However, Bob Costas going on and on about it for 3 minutes sealed the deal. Perhaps the worst thing someone on the platform can do during a failure like that is make a big deal of it. “Well, I guess we were going to watch a video, but it looks like the tech team is having some trouble. Why don’t you all turn around and stare at them while they try to figure it out.” Ever get that?

When I was in college, our department produced a massive multi-media extravaganza each year. We asked producers from all over the world to send us their best multi-image shows (shows produced with slide projectors, lots of them, as in 9-27). We presented them to the campus as a sampling of the best creative live media of the year. In my senior year, I was the tech director. I was responsible for figuring out how to present 12 different shows, of different configurations programmed on three different systems.

Rehearsal went well, we had a bunch of changeovers, including rerouting data tracks to different dissolve units. Everyone was on their game. When it came to the performance, we hit a snag. We switched from an AVL show to another show (the name escapes me now—I’ve banished it from my mind) and while the MC introduced the show, we tested the data link. My projection tech called up that we had no data. No data meant no show. 

With one ear in the com and one on the MC, we troubleshot the problem. As I heard the MC wrapping up, I clicked over to his IFB, told him we were having an issue and he needed to stretch. Without missing a beat, he launched right into a story about how the next show was created. Once we identified and fixed the problem, I told him to move on. He wrapped up the story and we went right into the show. The audience never knew anything was wrong. 

He completely had our back; instead of pointing out a problem, he covered it up gracefully. And no one was the wiser. 

Stuff Happens

To me, this is the big lesson; even with years to plan, weeks to rehearse, the ability to hire the best technical talent and a $30-40 million budget, something still went wrong. I would argue that what we do in church each week is significantly harder. We get one week, sometimes 30-40 dollars, and we do it with volunteers. So yeah, stuff is going to go wrong.

And when it does, how we respond is infinitely more important than what happened. I know of churches whose post-service de-brief becomes a shouting match of blame-fixing. I know of techs whose jobs are threatened every time a lighting cue is missed. I know of volunteers who live in fear that any mistake, no matter how small and unnoticeable, will be publicly brought to light and harshly criticized. This is wrong.

If we can’t give ourselves and our people a break when something goes wrong, we should probably find another line of work. This is not to say we shouldn’t learn from mistakes; we should and try to prevent them in the future. But always remember to handle them with grace. Don’t discount 65 minutes that went perfectly because 1 minute didn’t. Really, you’re not that important. I say that to whoever thinks all this technical stuff should flow perfectly all the time.

What we do in the technical world is hard. It’s amazing it works at all. Don’t let one mistake distract from the dozens or hundreds of other things that went well.

Church Applications for the iPad

Last time I made some observations on the iPad, and have come to the conclusion that it’s really a viable platform. I’ll admit it; I want one. I won’t likely buy one, personally anyway, at least until the 2nd generation is released. Unless the actual production version adds a few things… But I digress. Today, I want to talk about a few applications that I think make a ton of sense for churches. So here we go.

Remote Mixing

Having gone digital a few years ago, I have become addicted to remote mixing. Perhaps it’s because the rooms I’ve mixed in are so bad and sound different in every seat, but I’ve really found a lot of value in being able to walk the room and tweak my EQ and mix. Plus, if I’m working an event alone, it’s nice to be able to walk up on stage and do some mixing of monitors on our tablet or laptop. I hate our tablet (an HP swiveling touch screen), and using my MacBook Pro means launching Parallels. However, an iPad with a VNC client would be really sweet!

This would be VNC. What if they actually built an app?
With a Venue, you can VNC in from your iPhone. It would be even better on an iPad. And if Digi (OK, I’ll start calling them Avid) built an app…well that would be killer. You could also do it with Yamaha, though it would entail opening up a lot more windows. And it’s pretty unlikely Yamaha would ever build an iPad app. But still, you could do it.

Studio Manager on iPad? Could work…Lighting Control

We use the Hog PC lighting console at Coast. Being a straight up Windows PC, it would no problem to VNC in to that as well. In fact, someone has already built an iPhone app to do basic control of the Hog, with a few tweaks it would surely be slick as all get out on the iPad. Or you could just VNC.

Sorry for the image quality… But come on, this would be cool!
I would much rather send Gary up in the lift with a $500 iPad than a $2000 laptop to tweak lighting settings. And the fact that it’s an inch and a half thick and weighs a pound and a half would be nice for both sound and lighting guys to work with. Though we’d probably fight over it… Might need two.

Child Check-In

I’m not thinking solely of tech people here. Most churches use some kind of child care check-in system now. And usually it’s on some large, convoluted cart or kiosk that takes up a lot of space and costs thousands of dollars. How much cooler to have smiling, friendly people greeting parents holding nothing but an iPad to check little Johnny in? Wirelessly print to a nearby Zebra printer and you’re good to do. CCB came out with an iPhone app a year ago; how hard would an iPad app be for check-in? SMOP (Simple Matter of Programming), baby!

Come on, who doesn’t want this?Laptop Replacement

I’ve been thinking through my own workflow lately. I realize that while I lug my MacBook Pro home every night, about 3 or 4 nights a week, I never take it out of my backpack. I can do so much computing on my iPhone that I almost don’t need it. And of the few nights I do use it, I think I could do almost everything I do regularly from an iPad with an external keyboard. Soooo, it might be cheaper for my church to provide me with a 21″ iMac for my office and an iPad (approx. $1700), instead of an MacBook Pro ($2200). And I would be able to get just as much work done, with less weight in my backpack. I’m not 100% sure on this; however, if I’m able to switch to a Venue in the next few months, I may try to put an iPad in the budget (for remote mixing, of course) and I’ll be able to test the theory. I’d be making heavy use of iWork.com, iDisk and perhaps DropBox to be sure, but I think it might work.

So there you go. A few good excuses to buy an iPad.

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