Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: February 2010 (Page 2 of 2)

New Danger for Wireless Mics in Churches

Kirk Longhoffer posted an informative article at Church Tech Matters about the future of wireless mics. You should already know about the relocation of the 700 MHz spectrum (if you don’t, click on the DTV & Wireless tab above). And you should already know about the upcoming TVBDs (TV Band Devices; formerly White Space Devices). These TVBDs are going to deliver the next round of internet experience to users everywhere. The trick is, they will be using spectrum slotted between existing DTV stations—right where we put our wireless mics.

In order to stave of a global meltdown of wireless mic usage, the FCC is going to develop a Geo-Location database that will allow users of wireless mics to register with. When a TVBD comes on-line, it is supposed to check the database and avoid in-use frequencies around it’s current location. So far so good (except, how will the TVBD know to avoid frequencies while it checks the database? Hmmm…)

Now the other shoe is poised to drop. The FCC is apparently looking to exclude churches and other houses of worship from the Geo-Location database. So that’s just great. The largest aggregate user of wireless mics in the country and they’re looking to exclude us. “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.” Fantastic.

According to Kirk’s post, we have the opportunity to comment on this risky scheme until Feb. 22. Send an e-mail to wirelessmicrophones@shure.com to get some more details. Please comment to the FCC on this issue, and go read Kirk’s post for more details. And perhaps buy some additional interference-free wired mics…

February Webinar Announced—IEMs

This month, Dave, Jason and I will be tackling what I think will be a really fun topic; IEMs. We’ll lay out some strategies to think about before making the switch, discuss how IEMs affect stage noise, debate the challenges of IEMs as well as some miscellaneous notes. We’ll also be taking your questions, some come with them ready.

Given the extremely poor performance of TokBox in the last few months, we’re going to try something different. This month, we’ll be broadcasting on LiveStream. All the details are being worked out, but the good news is you’ll only have to go to our LiveStream channel at 10 PM EST, 7 PM PST on February 23 to view the webinar.  We will of course be tweeting reminders and a link when we start, but this will hopefully prove to be a more robust solution for us. Though it limits a little of the “sitting around the table” feel, it also removes the 20 person cap and really annoying delays and feedback loops. We can also do a little more with graphic support, which should be good.

So mark the date: Tuesday, February 23, 10 PM EST, 7 PM PST on our LiveStream channel. See you then!

My Thoughts on the iPad

It’s been nearly two weeks since Apple unveiled the iPad. And quite frankly, I’ve been surprised. Not so much at the technology, but at the vitriol that has been hurled at Apple. In the days following the release anyone spending any time at all on Twitter or Facebook or the blogosphere would think Apple killed a small child’s favorite cat in front of her and molded it into the iPad. I un-followed a few people last week over their exceedingly negative posts. Not because I’m such an Apple fanboy, but because their tone about everything became as bitter as three-day-old truck stop coffee. And I just don’t need that kind of negativity in my life. People, it’s just a computing device. It was never intended to be a path to self-actualization. Get over it. Go outside, get some sun.

Much of the haters angst centers around a few main gripes; no Flash, no multi-tasking and no built-in camera. That and the fact that it’s a “closed OS” and forces you to do things the Apple way. Let’s take those in reverse order.

Closed OS

Seriously? Do you know Apple at all? The iPhone is essentially a closed OS and has been since day one. It’s elegant and beautiful and if it does what you need it to, you love it. If it doesn’t, you don’t. The Mac isn’t much different. You either want the computer to just work and not bother you, or you want to work on and tweak your computer. If you were expecting a Windows-like tweak every single parameter in the OS experience, well duh. You should be disappointed.

No Camera

The iPad was conceived as a content consumption device, not creation. Perhaps for iChatting and Skyping a camera would be nice. But the tablet seems to be best used on the lap or on a tabletop, in which case the camera would be rendering the inside of your nostrils beautifully. Maybe an external one will come along later.

No Multitasking

I’m convinced that roughly half the people complaining about that don’t even know what multitasking really is. And even then, half the ones that do don’t really want true multitasking as much as the experience of multitasking. From what I hear, the iPad is so stinking fast that switching from one app to another is almost as fast as having them all resident in RAM the whole time. Personally, I’m just as happy with the limited, Apple-approved quasi-multitasking on my iPhone. I think I would really like it on the iPad. There are a lot of good reasons not to multi-task; stability and battery life among them.

No Flash

Personally, I say a resounding, “Hip, hip, hooray!” Flash started out as a way to put cool little rich-media elements on web sites. It’s turned into a monster. Designers have been creating entire sites out of Flash to build their portfolios on the backs of companies and it’s a mess. Flash is a resource hog, unstable and a closed system. I’m glad it’s going away. In two years we’ll look back on Flash much the same way we now look at SCSI. I know Adobe has made a big deal of how many Flash sites are unusable on an iPad. However, further research shows many of them already have iPhone-specific versions that work just fine (perhaps better than their bloated Flash counterparts). Heck, even this site has a iPhone-specific theme now. So, no Flash, no problem.

The thing I find fascinating about the haters is for the most part, none of them have ever even touched the iPad. The reports I hear from people that have actually spent time holding it and working with it are completely different. It’s a product you need to experience to fully appreciate. And that’s why I think it’s going to be a success. People will wander into an Apple store, pick it up and start playing with it and say, “This is amazingly cool. I have to have one.” Sure, it’s a lot like a big iPod Touch. But remember, the iPod Touch is a really cool device. Blow it up and make it significantly faster (for about the same amount of money as the first one, you’ll recall) and you’ve got a lot of potential.

Speaking of potential, next time, I’ll lay out a few use cases for the iPad in a church setting. And yeah, I have a few of them!

System Design With a Tight Budget

A week ago, we held a webinar with Jason Cole, Dave Stagl and Bob Nahrstadt of Next Creative media. The topic? System design. You can listen to the audio here. One of the main takeaways from that webinar is that most of the time, the best course of action for a church to take when considering designing a system is to hire an outside professional. Generally speaking, most churches lack key people on staff who can put together a really good system design that will work well for the long haul. I am in favor of that approach, even though I consider myself pretty good at system design. I’ve done a lot of it and have a lot of resources to pull from. Still, when it came time to come up with a new lighting system design, I called in a pro. I had a lot to say about the design, and my fingerprints are all over it; however, it is largely our lighting consultant’s design.

With that said, sometimes you are backed into a corner by budget and you really have to put something together on your own. When you find yourself in that situation, what do you do? Here are few things I did when I was in that situation a year ago. We were getting ready to move into a 350 seat sanctuary and I had less than $50,000 to do lights, sound and projection in a space that had zero infrastructure. And that $50K was for all three, not each. All we had to start with was a few mics and DIs. Here is how I looked at it.

Get Wise Counsel

The first thing to do is get some other eyes on the project. Before going further, I’ll say this; choose your advisors carefully. As Bob pointed out in the webinar, get advice from people who have walked where you want to go. Asking the guy with a cool home theater to help design an IMAG system is asking for trouble. However, if you become part of the CTDRT, you will have a wealth of people you can talk to who have done a lot of equipment installation and evaluation. Talk with them. Take them to lunch if they’re local and pick their brain. In my case, I had a good audio guy and a lighting designer at our church. We spent a lot of time looking at options together. That was time well spent.

Evaluate Every Component

When budgets are tight, you simply must look at every piece of gear in the list. VGA DA is not good enough. You need to know if it’s a 1×4, 1×6 or 1×8. Make sure you buy exactly what you need. Design on a budget is a series of trade-offs. If you have your heart set on a digital console, you’ll have to trade out dollars somewhere else. When dollars are scarce, nothing is off-limits. You really need to look at everything to find the best options.

Source Every Piece of Gear

This sometimes doesn’t go over well with dealers, but I multi-source everything, especially when dollars are tight. Often times I’ll buy mics from one place, DIs from another, processing from a third and cables from a fourth. It all comes down to who has the best price. Sometimes you can get a package deal, but often dealers will give you good pricing on one component, then run a bit high on others. Again, you may have to shop everything to really get the most for your budget.

Consider Total Cost of Ownership

Sometimes the least expensive piece of equipment is not the best value. Video projectors are a great example (though by no means the only one). Projector A might have a lower initial price than Projector B; however, lamps and filters for A may be 2x the cost compared to B. Consider what it will cost you to own each piece of equipment for 3-5 years. Wireless mics are another example. Mics that run on AA batteries will cost less to operate over the course of a year due to battery costs. Keep things like that in mind.

Spend Big Money First

When budgets are really tight, make sure you spend the big dollars up front. In our example, spending $10K of our budget on a digital console might seem like a lot, especially because it would have meant we needed to skimp on a few other things and do without for a bit. However, it’s a lot easier to find money in chunks of $500-3,000 than it is to find another $10K down the road. But I would rather do without moving lights for 6 months and have the right console for 5 years than the wrong console and moving lights right out of the gate. Think long-term.

Again, often times a consultant can be a huge resource when you have to spend money wisely, and I recommend you go there first. Even with a consultant on board however, these are good principles to keep in mind.

Yamaha Announces M7CL-48ES

Yamaha recently introduced an addition to the M7 line with the M7CL-48ES. It’s basically an M7 but with only 8 analog inputs and 8 analog outputs on the control surface, along with an EtherSound port to connect up to three 1608ES Stage Boxes. So instead of eating up your three card slots with EtherSound cards to connect your 1608 ESs, you plug them right into the EtherSound port. I guess it’s Yamaha’s way of entering the mid-range digital snake range.

M7CL-48ES will be available this spring.My guess is they are feeling the pressure from Allen&Heath (with their iLive series), Soundcraft (Vi series) and Roland (M400 system). Though Yamaha started early in the control surface/stage box game with the now-discontinued PM1D, they haven’t really done anything since then (with the possible exception of the poorly executed PM5D-EX). This new product at least gives them the ability to create a 48×24 stage box connected and remotely controlled via a single Cat-5e cable, a real boon to installs with no room for a new snake pull and touring sound companies who want to lighten the copper load.

It’s not hard to add three stage boxes to a regular M7, though it does eat up all your card slots. And while that configuration does give you 96 mic pre’s and 40 outputs, both versions of the M7CL-48 remain limited to 56 input channels (48 mono + 4 stereo line) and 27 mix busses (16 Aux, 8 Matrix—which may as well be Auxes, L, R & M). FOH magazine reports MSRP to be around $22,000, but it’s unclear if that includes the 1608ES Stage Boxes or not (my guess is not—those normally sell for around $3,500 ea.). So by the time you’re done, it’s likely you’ll be approaching $30,000.

So is this worth getting excited about? Maybe; if you were looking for a mid-sized digital console with a digital snake, this is a good option. On the other hand, the iLive offers more input channels (64) and more mix busses (32). The Si2 is a 48×23 system, albeit with no digital snake, while the Vi4 is a similar 48×27 with both stage and local racks (plus really cool color displays). The Roland M400 is also 56×27, but it’s less than 1/2 the price of the M7 (and can be paired with the superior M48 personal monitor system).

It seems to me Yamaha has entered an extremely competitive market segment with another me-too product. Arguably, the M7 is the desk that created the segment, but time waits for no one. On the plus side, they also announced V3 of the software for the M7 which will include Direct Sends on Fader access from the M7CL knobs in Sends on Fader mode, Sends on Fader in M7CL Editor (finally—insert angel voices singing here!); new Recall Safe parameters (Input Patch, Output Patch, Direct Out Patch, Insert Out Patch); inclusion of VCM Effects (Comp 276/276s, Comp 260/260s, Open Deck, EQ601). Honestly, I’m more excited about version 3 of the software than anything else, especially the sends on fader mode in the editor. That will finally make mixing monitors using an M7 and a laptop or tablet a useful option.

Thriving in an Inter-Generational Setting Pt. 2

Last Friday, I started digging into the challenges that come with trying to have inter-generational communities sharing the same space and equipment. The first step is to look at technology needs through the lens of the other group as well as your own. Today, I’ll illustrate with some concrete examples of what that looks like.

Here’s a concrete example. When I stared at Upper Room, the younger group used the theatrical stage lights and the older group didn’t (at least not very often). We had this horrible Behringer DJ-style lighting board and the only reason it was in the booth was because when the older church needed the lighting, they could figure out that board. In truth, it didn’t meet the needs of either community well. One day, I was rooting around in a storage closet and found an Expression 3 lighting board. I asked why we weren’t using that. The answer was the older community didn’t know how to use it so we couldn’t put it in.

Figuring this was a simple matter of training, I installed it. I showed people from the older community how to use it, and created a standard show file for them that they could easily load and use. And our lighting techs took to it like fish to water. It was a huge advance. About a month after the switch, someone from the older community pulled me aside and said, “Thank you for putting that board in. It’s sooo much easier to use. I don’t know why we didn’t do this earlier.”

And here’s another. When I stared, the monitoring system was a mess. There were some IEM transmitters in the booth, some backstage. Some were connected via tie-lines that were also used to drive a butt kicker for the older service (go figure, right?). Things had to be re-patched nearly every week, this despite the fact we had an M7 at FOH. Part of the problem was at Upper Room (the younger group) we used a smaller number of stereo IEM mixes. The older group needed more mono mixes. It was an ongoing battle to figure out what was where. For example, pack 4 might have been controlled by send 1. Through tie-line 2. Ugh…

So I spent some time with the worship leader of the older community. I learned what their needs were and how they used the system, and how they would like to be able to use it. I compared that to our needs. I took those two need “grids” and overlaid them on top of each other. What emerged was a way to set the entire system up so that simply loading a different show file in the M7 was all it took to fully utilize all the equipment in the most efficient manner for both. I spent a few dollars to make it happen (mainly in an output interface so we didn’t have to re-patch), but it was well worth it.

We tore out all the equipment at FOH, cleaned it all up and put it together in a very logical, easy to use manner. Everything was labeled and we built show files for both communities that digitally patched everything that was needed. Everyone was happy, and the number of complaints about “those other people messing up the system” dropped of precipitously.

I tried to approach every decision in that role with an eye to how it would affect both groups. At first there was suspicion that because my primary responsibilities lie with the younger group that I would always take the path that benefitted them. After a few months however, that prejudice was gone. I reasoned that if I upgraded technology for the younger group, it should be done in a way that benefitted the older group as well. That dissolved the “us” and “them” mentality pretty quickly. Before long, there was a lot of crossover with the technology and the experience for both communities improved.

The biggest danger in working with inter-generational communities is thinking the other group doesn’t want the same thing a yours does. In other words, “Those old people aren’t really interested in relevant worship,” or “Those young people just want to spend money and play loud music.” In reality, the older people are just as interested in relevant worship–relevant to the right age group. And the younger people just want to find ways to reach their generation more effectively and they’re looking for ways to do it better.

The goal of both communities is the same; they just go about it in different ways. Never lose sight of that. The first step is communication, combined with an attitude of a servant. If the younger group would say to the older, “We know you don’t rock like we do, but how can we help put together a system that will serve your needs as well as it does ours?” And the older one should say, “We’re not up on the latest technology, but we’re willing to learn if it means you’re more effective in reaching your generation for Christ.”

See how different that looks than the previous paragraph? Working in an environment like this is challenging; however, it’s also extremely rewarding. When both communities win and become more effective, it’s a feeling that far surpasses the one of simply getting your way.

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