Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: March 2010 (Page 2 of 2)

Rechargeable Batteries—Why You’ve Been Burned

This has been one of the most fascinating topics I’ve ever written about. As I’ve been Twittering and reading conversation threads on the CTDRT boards, there seem to be three camps of people in the rechargeable battery debate. The first group has used them for years, loves them and wouldn’t consider going back to alkaline batteries. The second group has never used them, though most have heard the horror stories and are leery. The third group has tried them, and had bad experiences. The phrase, “I’ve been burned too many times, I’ll never trust them,” has been thrown around dozens of times just in the last few weeks. This post is for the second and third groups. If you’ve been burned, I’m going to explain why, and if you’ve heard the stories, I’ll show you how to avoid them.

By way of introduction, know that I have been using rechargeable batteries in wireless mics (and a lot of other stuff) for almost four years. I’ve tested them, and have gone through hundreds of services using rechargeable batteries without a problem. Yes, hundreds of services. Far too many people have one bad experience, don’t investigate the cause and swear them off. The fact is, I’ve had just as many ProCells die on me at the wrong time as I have rechargeable cells–and in each case, it was always been my fault—I simply forgot to change them.

There are four things you need to know in order to get the most out of rechargeable batteries. Failing to understand and implement these things will guarantee bad experiences. However, trying to stretch a ProCell for 2 weekends worth of services is a bad idea, too. Keep in mind that rechargeable batteries behave differently than alkalines. Expecting them to be the same will only frustrate you. However, follow these guidelines and you’ll have great success; and save a ton of money.

Use Good Batteries

This is one of the key factors in getting good results. A lot of people went down to K-Mart 10 years ago, picked up a $10 pack of four NiCd AAs and a charger, tried them in their mics and went down in flames. That explains 50% of the “bad experiences.” To use rechargeable batteries in wireless mics, you need to use a more modern chemistry, Nickel Metal Hydride, or NiMh. The batteries need to be rated for at least 2000 mAh (I like 2500 and higher). mAh stands for milliamp hours and is provides a guide as to how much energy the battery can store. If you pull open your junk drawer and find a bunch of 1300 mAh NiMh batteries that are 5+ years old, that may explain the other 50% of the “been burned” statements.

A ProCell is rated for somewhere around 1800 mAh. The modern, high quality batteries from Sanyo, Powerex and Ansmann (with ratings from 2700-2850 mAh) absolutely blow ProCells away; as I showed you the other day with the test results. Even a 4-year old Ansmann 2700 beat a ProCell by almost 4 hours. And these newer batteries are rated for between 500-1000 charge cycles. Figuring one or two cycles a weekend, that could easily mean 5 years or more on one set, provided they are taken care of.

If your experience with rechargeable batteries does not include these newer batteries, you simply don’t have enough experience to make an informed decision. Sorry, but it’s true. You really need to check out the winners of the battery shoot out before making a decision.

So good batteries are important, but there is another component.

Proper Charging

The second key component to proper use of NiMh batteries is the proper use of a  good charger. Using a cheap “rapid” charger will not fully charge the cells, will overheat them and shorten their life. Modern, smart chargers are readily available, easily affordable and will charge the batteries at the correct rate to fully charge them, while avoiding over-heating. They will then switch to a trickle charge mode to keep them at peak capacity.

So what is a “proper charge rate?” Most battery manufactuers recommend a charge rate that is between 0.5-1.0c. That is to say, the charge rate should be one half to full capacity of the battery. So, if a battery is rated at 2000 mAh, the recommended charge rate would be 1000 mAh, and max charge rate 2000 mAh. A full charge will take from 1-2 hours at those rates, respectively.

If you have the time and want to extend the life of the cell, charge at .25c. Sanyo recommends a charge rate between 300-500 mAh for their Eneloops (rated at 2000 mAh). Charging at those rates will give you somewhere between 500-1000 cycles, according to Sanyo. The other batteries I tested have similar ratings.

Personally, I like chargers from BTI, Maha or Ansmann; especially the ones that have selectable “soft” charge rates. I buy enough batteries that I can spend 4 hours charging them, so I charge at 500 mAh. Once the batteries are well charged, it’s important to know how to utilize them properly. And that brings us to…

Proper Cycling of Batteries

To ensure good results (“good” defined as the mic not dying mid-service), it’s important to use the batteries properly. Fully charged batteries should always go straight from the charger to the mic. Once the charger is empty, it should be re-filled with another set of batteries. When the service or event is ended, remove the batteries from the mics, and charge. If you have enough charging bays, you can simply alternate from one set to another. However you do it, you always want to go from charger to mic.

The reason is that NiMh batteries will self-discharge over a period of 30-60 days. So while you may not lose a lot of capacity from Sunday to Saturday, you’ll be down 10-20% or so. Why push it? Charger to mic, and charge immediately afterward. Keep a set on the charger all week and you’ll always have fully charged batteries to work with.

Some are concerned about the “memory effect,” the loss of capacity that happens when NiCd cells are recharged before being fully depleted. NiMh cells have no significant memory effect, so charge them when you’re done using them. Don’t stretch them farther than needed.

Good chargers include a refresh cycle that will fully discharge each cell, then fully charge it again. It’s a good practice to do this every 3-4 months. This procedure will prolong the battery’s life and ensure top performance.

Understanding Discharge Curves

Another main factor in the “I’ve been burned” phenomena is the different discharge curves between an alkaline and NiMh battery. An alkaline battery drops off in a pretty linear fashion. A NiMh, on the other hand, quickly drops from full voltage to something less than that and holds there for a long time. When it drops off, it drops of the cliff very quickly.

Discharge curve of the Eneloop (blue), a Sanyo NiMh (black) and an Alkaline (pink). I grabbed this from Sanyo’s Eneloop website. Most battery meters in wireless mics are calibrated to the discharge curve of an alkaline battery. As the voltage drops off, the meter can predict approximately how long the battery is likley to last. However, with a NiMh, the voltage holds, then falls off very quickly. This is why it’s not uncommon to see a NiMh battery go from 4 bars to 0 in 5 minutes. The meter has no idea how to know where the battery is.

Some newer mics have battery meters that can be switched between alkaline and NiMh (the Shure UHF-R does for sure), and those can be a help. But there’s still no substitute for doing some testing and finding out how long they last in your mics. Once determined, you know how often you need to change them, regardless of meter rea
ding.

For example, I know that the Powerex and Sanyo 2700 mAh batteries will run a good 12-14 hours in our mics. So, I can feel confident putting them in Saturday afternoon for rehearsal and letting them run through end of service (about 4.5 hours total). I can then put in a fresh set Sunday morning and be fine through the end (about 5 hours total). I don’t expect to ever have one go down, unless it’s a fluke. But again, that happens with ProCells, too.

Those are some basic principles for the proper care and feeding of NiMh batteries. As I said, if you haven’t tried them lately, you’re throwing money away.

Battery Shootout—Mike’s Picks

If you’ve missed the previous two posts on rechargeable batteries, you need to go back and read about the test, and the result. Got that? OK, good. So now we’ve run the test, analyzed the results, it’s time to pick a winner, right? Sure, fine. But let me remind you what didn’t win: The ProCell. It was beat by every rechargeable I tested, including a 4-year old abused battery from home. With that in mind, there are really no losers. However, there are a few standouts. And since we just wrapped up the 2010 Winter Olympics, we’ll hand out some medals. First, the Bronze.

The Bronze Goes To: Ansmann 2850

As I said earlier, I was a bit surprised that this cell didn’t outperform the two lower-rated cells that beat it. After all, it has a 150 mAh higher rating. But in my research, I’ve learned that the mAh rating is only a guide for power storage, what we need to know is power delivery. And while the Ansmann 2850 held up well at 13.25 hours, it wasn’t enough to beat the top two. Still, it beat the ProCell by 3.5 hours, which is no small achievement. And one thing I can say with confidence about Ansmann batteries is that they last for a long time; consider the 4-year old abused 2700 batteries I tested, they ran for 13 hours as well. You’d go through a lot of ProCells in 4 years, so this is not a bad choice at all. I now have 8 of these in my inventory, and I’ll be curious to see how they hold up over the years.

The Silver Goes To: Powerex 2700

This is a tough call. The Powerex and the Sanyo 2700 both ran to 14 hours. They also have the added benefit of being the same diameter as a regular AA, so they slide in and out of the mics easier (the Ansmann is a tiny bit bigger and sticks in the UR2). Frankly, I would have no problem recommending them at this point. So why the silver? One reason: The Powerex held at 4 bars for 1 hour less than the Sanyo. Now, this may not be completely indicative of the actual voltage drop, and it may well change over the course of 6 months or a year. However, for now, the Sanyo gets the top spot.

The Gold Goes To: Sanyo 2700

In this round of testing, the Sanyo was the standout. It held at 4 bars for nearly 11 hours; over an hour after the ProCell was dead! And it still gave 3 hours of warning before it needed to be changed. I could actually run an entire weekend with one set of these (I wouldn’t, but I could). In fairness, the other two top contenders could do the same; I’d just feel better about doing it with these. They are also the same size as a regular AA, which makes it easier to get into handheld mics. The real test will come in a couple of years when we see if they still hold up as well or better than the Ansmann or Powerex.

Honestly, I don’t think you would go wrong with any of these batteries. The Powerex and Sanyo are $3.12 and $3.19 each, respectively; the Ansmann are $3.62. Over the course of 3-4 years, that cost is academic. Find one you like and stick with it.

UPDATE: 3/18/11

Reading back through this post has been interesting. After a year of use, either the Sanyos and PowerExs have grown in size (which is possible), or I was mistaken when I wrote this. Right now, my guys reach for the Ansmanns first because they slide in and out of the UR2 handhelds much easier. The Sanyos are very hard to get out (so much so that we rarely use them anymore), the PowerEx cells are in between the two. I have no explanation for this, other than it is possible the cells have expanded slightly due to the charge/discharge cycle. I recently re-tested these batteries, and found the Ansmann have held up quite a bit better over the previous year.

END UPDATE.

The rest of the field was composed of newer technology, low self-discharge formulas, namely the Ansmann MaxE and the Sanyo Eneloop. Both performed admirably, however, the top three clearly outclassed them. And really, that’s no surprise. On the other hand, either of these batteries would be great for applications where you need batteries in place for the long-term—they’re rated to hold 80% of full charge for up to a year. I’ve used Eneloops in my DSLR and found nothing compares to them. My Pentax is one of the most power-hungry DSLRs out there (meaning it draws the highest current) and the Eneloops radically outperform anything else I’ve tried; it’s all about matching the right cell to the application.

Next time I’ll go over some reasons why people have had bad experiences with rechargeable cells and how to achieve good results. Stay tuned.

Thanks to our sponsors

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two companies that made this test possible; Horizon Battery and Thomas Distributing. Both sent a variety of batteries and chargers in for the test. I’ve purchased from both companies in the past and heartily recommend them. David Schliep from Horizon was especially helpful. Also, in the interest of full disclosure and in accordance with new Federal guidelines, I’m required to tell you that Thomas Distributing gave me some batteries and two chargers for this test. That in no way affected the results, or my opinion of the batteries or chargers. I call them like I see them, and I have in the past purchased the same or similar equipment from Thomas.

Free Passes to NAB, Anyone?

I’ve seen a few people requesting passes to NAB on Twitter the last few weeks, and I’ve got good news for you. As a loyal reader (or even if you’re a new reader) of this blog, we can offer you free access to NAB this year. That’s right, free. OK, it’s not that big of a deal…almost anyone can score free passes if they try hard enough. But hey, we try to make it easy.

To take advantage of this amazing offer (read in my best Billy Mayes voice…), just head over to the Xpress Registration page of the NAB show website. The special offer code is A913, which should be pre-populated when you follow that link. But just in case.

While at NAB, you may want to check out the Technologies for Worship Pavilion. Put on by Technologies for Worship magazine, they have a decent selection of classes and equipment geared toward church techies. The TFW Pavilion continues to grow and expand each year and should be worth checking out again.

If you are part of CTDRT, it’s looking like there will be at least one if not several meet ups planned during that week. Search for CTDRT on Twitter to stay posted. I’m still up in the air about attending. Our church has cut all conference and travel out of our budget, so it would be on my own dime. Even though I’m only 5 hours away, I’m not sure if I’ll make the trip or not. Maybe if someone else around here wants to go.

So there you have it. Free NAB registration. Just one more way we try to add value here at Church Tech Arts. All I ask is that you send me some swag…

Battery Shootout—The Results Show

Last time, I explained the test parameters, the setup and listed the batteries under test. Go back and read that post if you want to see the test conditions (yes, I had the battery meters set correctly to match the chemistry of the batteries). Today it’s time for the results show. Based on the traffic on Twitter last week, this could be more eagerly anticipated than the American Idol results show. And we’ll get to the results right after the break. I’m kidding. Sit down, Ryan.

So let’s get right to it, since you’ve probably already looked at the graph (can someone figure out a way to reveal a graphic only after the reader has reached a certain point in the post?). The bottom line, the ProCells lost. Big time. In fact, the worst rechargeable battery beat the mighty ProCell by an hour and fifteen minutes. The best rechargeables outlasted the ProCell by three and a quarter hours. Surprised? Actually I am too.

Quite frankly, I’m most surprised at how long all of the batteries ran. I set the test up so I could have audio driving the mics for about seven hours. I figured most of the batteries would be dead by then. Surprise! All but one of the NiMh batteries were still at 4 bars at 7 hours (the MaxE was at 3) and the ProCell was at 1. Since I had to set the stage for our mid-week bible study, I set the mics in our audio storage room and let the test go until the batteries all died. Much to my surprise that last two shut down at a staggering 14 hours! Let’s look at the graphs… By the way, the red line is the point where the mic switched off. Once a data point drops below the line, the mic is no longer transmitting.

I took data points at 15 minute intervals; I figured that would be enough resolution for live work. If you try to cut battery life closer than that, you’re braver than I (or just crazy, not sure…). Based on this graph, a few things are pretty clear. First, any of the batteries are more than capable of safely keeping a mic running for 2-3 church services. Second, there are three tiers of batteries here. The top contenders are the Ansmann 2850, the Sanyo 2700 and the Powerex 2700. The middle ground is occupied by the low self-discharge Eneloop and Max-E; no surprise, they’re rated at 2000 mAh and 2500 mAh respectively. The bottom rung in performance is clearly the ProCell.

Another thing that becomes clear is how different the discharge curves are between chemistries. The Alkaline drops off in a very linear fashion; it looks pretty much like a staircase. The top NiMh batteries drop slightly off full voltage quickly but then stay there for a long, long time before plummeting off the cliff. The low self-discharge batteries are sort of a middle ground. I have a lot more to say about these characteristics, but I’ll wait until Friday.

Since it’s a bit difficult to see how each battery actually performed, let’s take a look at each graph individually, starting with the top batteries, in alphabetical order.

As predicted by Robb MacTavish on Twitter, the PowerEx was a top contender. Though only rated at 2700, it bested the Ansmann 2850 (though 45 minutes is pretty academic). One of the things I like about the PowerEx is that it held at 4 bars for a solid 10 hours! It also took 4 more hours to drop to 0, meaning you have a lot of warning to change out. I would have no qualms about using these in a service, or for three in a row.

The Sanyo actually performed a little better than the PowerEx but since S comes after P, it’s listed second. Like the PowerEx, it held at 4 bars for nearly 11 hours. In fact, the ProCell was dead before the Sanyo dropped below 4 bars. How about that? Again, there was ample warning on the meter before it died. But it’s probably good practice to change them out at 3-4 bars anyway.

I was kind of surprised that the Ansmann didn’t outperform the lower capacity Sanyo and PowerEx. David Shliep of Horizon Batteries advised me that the batteries should be conditioned a few times for maximum capacity. I ran them through 3 cycles on the charger; perhaps they need a few more. Still they held at 4 bars for 8 hours which would be amazing if the Sanyo and PowerEx contenders weren’t in the ring. And 13.25 hours overall is pretty respectable.

Though low self-discharge batteries aren’t really needed for wireless mic use (you should always pull from the charger and back fill the charger), I was curious about how they would hold up. The Max-E dropped off a little more like an alkaline battery, with each stop on the meter getting a little shorter. Holding at 4 bars for 5 hours, and taking another 6 hours to go totally dead, these wouldn’t be a bad choice. But I think there are better (and more cost-effective) solutions here.

I’ll admit it, the Eneloops were my favorite going in; they outperform anything I’ve tried in my DSLR. Their specialty is delivering high current and discharging predictably even under high loads. Though they dropped dead 30 minutes before the Max-E, I would rather have Eneloops in my mics. Why? Because they held at 4 bars for 2 hours longer than the Max-E. You get fair warning when they’re going to go (change them at 3 bars). They held up well considering their capacity is 700 mAh less than the top performers. However, for wireless mics, I’ll stick with the regular Sanyos.

Pulling up the rear is the old standard, the ProCell. If it weren’t for every other battery in this test, nearly 10 hours of life would be pretty impressive. In fact, it’s about what the UR2 is rated for. But since the top batteries beat it by 4 hours, it’s less impressive. The thing the ProCell has going for it is it’s very even and predictable discharge curve. And at about 40 cents, it’s about 12% the cost of the Sanyo 2700. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure I can get 8 charge cycles out of the Sanyo, after which I’m making money. Also, keep in mind that Cirque du Soleil uses rechargeable batteries (Ansmann 2850s to be exact) because they last longer than alkaline batteries. Guess that makes their audio guys as brave as the performers.

During the testing, I was Twittering throughout the day. While some were interested to see the data, many were not convinced. Some suggested the batteries wouldn’t hold up for more than
a few months. So I’m doing two things: First, I’ll be using these batteries in our services and keeping track of them. I’m marking them and will repeat this test with the exact same batteries every six months for the next several years. Second, to shortcut those results, I grabbed a few Ansmann 2700’s that I bought in 2006 for my DSLR.

These batteries have not been treated kindly. I have no idea how many cycles they have on them, but I have used them heavily, then left them in a drawer until they were almost completely dead, charged them at rates higher than recommended, then left them for dead again. To see how old, mistreated batteries would hold up, I threw them in the charger overnight then repeated the test under nearly identical conditions.  Here’s what happened.

I had no idea what to expect, but the results surprised me anyway. The voltage drop happened quickly, but then it stayed at 2 bars forever. In fact, I got tired and went home, cutting the test off at 13 hours. The mic was still running at 1 bar. My guess is it would have been dead in another 30 minutes or less so I didn’t mind shutting down the test. Like the previous day, I had 7 hours of music time to drive the audio components. Then we had a school district choir on stage for the final 6 hours, so there was some audio hitting the mic. And it still beat a brand new ProCell. This battery might make me nervous in a wireless mic because it would seem 2 bars wouldn’t last long. But that would be an incorrect assumption. It ran for 10 hours at two bars. And I was really nervous, after 4 years of use, I wouldn’t mind replacing it.

This post is insanely long, so I’ll save my conclusions for another post. Don’t worry, I have a lot more to say on this matter…

Thanks to our sponsors

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two companies that made this test possible; Horizon Battery and Thomas Distributing. Both sent a variety of batteries and chargers in for the test. I’ve purchased from both companies in the past and heartily recommend them. David Schliep from Horizon was especially helpful. Also, in the interest of full disclosure and in accordance with new Federal guidelines, I’m required to tell you that Thomas Distributing gave me some batteries and two chargers for this test. That in no way affected the results, or my opinion of the batteries or chargers. I call them like I see them, and I have in the past purchased the same or similar equipment from Thomas.

Battery Shootout Pt. 1

As a longtime proponent of rechargeable batteries, I have gotten into many, uh, discussions of their relative merits. Some people are curious about them and want to learn more. Others are pretty much biased agains rechargeable batteries of any type (except, presumably, the ones in their phones, cars, laptops, cordless phones, PS3 remotes, etc…). In fact, the phrase I hear most often with regard to rechargeable batteries and wireless mics is, “I’ve been burned too many times.” If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard that, I could get at least one, maybe two Venti Signature Hot Chocolates at Star bucks

So based on all that dissension, I decided to do some tests. Now, keep in mind that I’ve been using rechargeable batteries in wireless mics for almost 4 years. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had one die unexpectedly on me. Over the last 10 years, I can easily count the same number or more times alkaline batteries have died on me. I know that a good rechargeable battery will easily last one or two services in church. No problem, no worries, I never give it a second thought. But how long will they last when stretched? And how does that compare to a standard alkaline, in our case Duracell ProCells? I figured I would find out.

Here is my test procedure: Figuring that mics draw different rates of power based on the amount of audio they are dealing with, I would try to simulate real-world conditions. I set up a monitor on stage and put 6 mic stands around it. The mcis were identical Shure UHF-R UR2s with SM-58 capsules. Each was set to a +20 dB of gain to get the input stage hitting about where our vocalists run each weekend (without cranking the monitor to a really annoying volume…)

Each mic was placed the same distance away from the wedge and fed a steady diet of sound for the day.I had five NiMh batteries to test: Sanyo’s Eneloop, a low self-discharge battery rated for 2000 mAh; a standard Sanyo 2700 mAh, a Powerex 2700 mAh, my old-standby Ansmann 2850 mAh and a new low self-discharge battery from Ansmann, the Max-E rated at 2500 mAh. Most NiMh batteries will self-discharge pretty quickly if you let them sit around, which is why it’s recommended to keep them on the charge and always go straight from charger to mic. The Eneloops and Max-Es are formulated to retain up to 80% of a full charge after a year of non-use with no charging in between. I’ve used Eneloops for over a year in my digital SLR and can attest to the fact that they last forever. In fact, they last longer than alkalines in my DSLR. Eneloops also deliver a lot more current for a lot longer than most batteries, NiMh or alkaline, so I was curious how they would do.

The batteries in question.I set the battery meter on the UR2s to use a NiMh curve for the rechargeable batteries and left the “control” ProCell set to Alkaline. The reasoning behind this is that NiMh batteries (the most common chemistry of decent rechargeable batteries) have a different discharge curve than do alkalines. Whereas an alkaline has a fairly linear drop off of voltage over time, a NiMh drops from full voltage to an intermediate level, holds there for quite a while, then drops off quickly.

Discharge curve of the Eneloop, a Sanyo 2700 mAh NiMh and an Alkaline. I grabbed this from Sanyo’s Eneloop website.A lot of mics don’t have adjustable meter curves, which makes using rechargeable batteries a bit trickier. You have to know how long they’ll last, and change them regularly, regardless of what the meter says. That is the reason most people get burned. They assume that if it says 3 of 5 bars, it’s OK. However, it could easily go from 3 to 0 in 5 minutes if it’s near the end of the charge. The fix, change them before they do that. Easy.

Once I had my mics set up, I had to figure out a way to keep track of the usage. I’m pretty busy all day and didn’t want to keep checking in to see what they were doing. Since UHF-R mics can be remotely monitored by Wireless Workbench, I decided to write an Automator script that would take a screenshot every 15 minutes (then re-name it with the time the shot was taken). That way, I could set it up in the morning, let it run all day and go back over the pictures at my leisure. By the way, the script took me about 20 minutes to write–just one more reason to like my Macs… But I digress). I started about 10 AM and planned on running until about 5:30 PM when I had to re-set for mid-week Bible study. I honestly didn’t expect them to last that long anyway.

Each of the rechargeable batteries had been conditioned a few times before being fully charged and left in the charger for a few days. Conditioning is a function that a good charger can do; the battery is charged, discharged and re-charged again. That makes sure the battery is functioning at the highest capacity. Each battery was in the charger in trickle mode for at least 3-4 days before the test.

So those were the test conditions. How did the batteries fare? Did the rechargeables come close to the capacity of the alkaline control cell? For that, tune in next time–the results may surprise you!

Thanks to our sponsors

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two companies that made this test possible; Horizon Battery and Thomas Distributing. Both sent a variety of batteries and chargers in for the test. I’ve purchased from both companies in the past and heartily recommend them. David Schliep from Horizon was especially helpful. Also, in the interest of full disclosure and in accordance with new Federal guidelines, I’m required to tell you that Thomas Distributing gave me some batteries and two chargers for this test. That in no way affected the results, or my opinion of the batteries or chargers. I call them like I see them, and I have in the past purchased the same or similar equipment from Thomas.

A Seat at the Table

Today I was talking with Bob Nahrstadt of Next Creative Media as we made some plans for next week’s CTDRT SoCal Meeting. Something he said brought to mind a comment he made on our webinar a while back. He was talking about managing our technical ministry in such a way that we get a seat at the big table in our churches. Once at the big table, we are no longer relegated to being that guy who understands what all the knobs do, but doesn’t really get the mission.

When the TD is Balkanized into a purely technical role, the church misses out on being truly effective in the use of technology to advance it’s mission. When the TD remains Balkanized, it’s only a matter of time before he or she leaves, hoping to find greener pastures where they’ll actually have a voice.

Rarely does that work, however, so here are some thoughts on how to gain a seat at the big table wherever you are.

Ask the Why Questions First

We all love to go to trade shows, other churches or conferences and see the latest gear and production techniques. And it’s easy to get gear envy, come home and start asking for money to buy the super-cool whiz-bang latest toy you saw at the show. Hear me now and believe me next week; the fastest way to the Balkans is to constantly ask for money for new toys. When you become “that guy who just likes to spend money on gear,” it’s hard for leadership to take you seriously.

Instead, come back from a show (or just look around now) and say, “Why are we doing (fill in the blank).” And this is not a sarcastic “Why?” but a genuine, “Let’s really take a tough look at the reasons behind why we do what we do.” Instead of bugging your pastor or board about getting new moving lights, ask if you can spend some time with them to talk through the rationale behind stage lighting and what role it plays in the weekend experience. Chances are, they’ve never thought about it before and you’ll look like a genius.

Get Clear on the Mission

Not every church is the same. That should be obvious, but given how many people come back from a conference and try to imitate the host church, it apparently is not.  You as a TD need to be clear as to what the mission of your church is and how you can best support and advance it. There are a ton of iterations on this, but here’s one example.

My good friend Dave is Audio Director at North Point. That church has a very clearly defined mission and every equipment decision he makes supports that. My church, Coast Hills, is not North Point. We’re not better or worse, we’re different. I don’t make the same decisions he does because our mission is different. If I try to start buying all the same stuff Dave does, I’m going very quickly run into trouble because there will be a disconnect.

If you can’t (or don’t want to) support the mission and vision of your church, please, leave and find a new one. You and the church will be better off.

Build Trust Over the Long Haul

Getting invited to the table takes time. When I started at Coast, I went to lunch with our Sr. Pastor. After I gave him a quick outline of the issues I saw thus far, he said, “Every previous tech guy in your position here, and every one I know for that matter, has said the previous guy’s work is wrong and it all needs to be changed. Why do I believe you?” It was a fair question. I proceeded to lay out the process by which I approach every single piece of technology to make sure it fits in with the overall mission and vision of the church.

Then I didn’t buy anything. In fact, plans were already in place to replace our lighting system, add Avioms, replace the wireless mics and several other things. I put them all on hold. Why? So I could spend time making sure we were headed in the right direction. That simple move, in just six months has led to some solid credibility in the bank. We’re now moving forward on a few projects, some of which changed pretty significantly since my arrival. We’ll save a ton of money and get products that are better suited to what we do. A few years of that and I’ll be able to accomplish just about anything I want to (mainly because it will always support the mission and vision). 

This takes time; sometimes lots of it. Don’t rush or short-circuit the process. If you approach what you do with these principles in mind, your status will grow significantly. And your church will be better off for your increased contribution.

Producing The Webinars

I had a lot of questions about how we produced last week’s webinar on IEMs. It took a bit of testing and several different bits and pieces of software. The tricky part was getting both audio and video routed to LiveStream in a way that didn’t cause weird internal processing delay echoes. I was able to do the entire project inside my MacBook Pro, with the simple addition of an external screen to make it easier to see what was going on, and make it easier to route the video. Speaking of video, we’ll tackle the video first, since that’s easier.

Dave, Jason and I were on a TokBox chat in one browser (Firefox). To get the video from there into LiveStream, I used a free software package called CamTwist. I learned about CamTwist from Nick Rivero and Camron Ware last fall at WFX. Basically, it allows you to take your screen (or a portion thereof—which is what I did) and turn it into a video input that any other software package can see and use. I drew a bounding box around the three of us and and routed that to LiveStream. To make it easier to see, I put Firefox up on the top monitor and Safari ran the LiveStream Studio on the internal display. Video: check.

Audio was a little trickier. At first, I tried to mix the audio inside the box, with sketchy results. I used LineIn to route the incoming mic audio into another package called SoundFlower. That enabled us to internally mix all the audio from my mic and the TokBox for Dave & Jason and send it to LiveStream. The problem was, it created a short delay that we heard in our headphones. It was really distracting (especially for 3 audio guys), so we had to mix outside the box. Perhaps a diagram will help.

I took the Aux out of the 1202 into the line in jack of my MBP. That was routed to TokBox so Dave & Jason could hear me. I pulled their audio out of the headphone jack into a line in on the 1202. My mic and their audio was mixed together and sent to the M-Audio Mobile Pre USB interface. LiveStream picked that mix up and sent it to the world. I monitored the three of us from the 1202’s headphone jack.

Using the volume controls in TokBox and the mixer controls, I was able to get all our voices set at pretty much the same level. I also used Audacity to grab the USB interface input and record the entire session, which should be up on iTunes by the time you read this (or shortly thereafter).

So there you go. I know we had some issues with the audio lagging behind the video in LiveStream; I’m not yet sure how we’ll fix that. But at least the audio quality was significantly better this time around, and we’ll keep working on improving the process. Thanks for tuning in!

CTDRT SoCal Area Meet Up March 8

I’ve been twittering about this, posting to the CTDRT Google group and even e-mailed a few people but I felt I should also mention this meeting here. A week from today, on March 8, TDs from all over Southern California will be gathering in Orange County to encourage and learn from each other. I’ve been dreaming about having gatherings like this for 3 years now, and am excited to see it come to fruition.

Looking over those who’ve registered already (18 thus far), we have people coming from Pismo Beach to El Cajon, from Victorville to LA. We even have Bob Nahrstadt of Next Creative Media flying all the way from Atlanta to join us and buy lunch.

This will not be a conference; we’re not going to sit, facing forward all day listening to someone talk to us. We’re going to sit at round tables and talk with each other. The vast majority of our time will be listening to, encouraging and building into each other. If you are a TD anywhere near SoCal, I strongly encourage you to come on by next week. What we do is pretty unique, and it’s great to be able to get together with other like-minded TDs and build into each other.

Some of the guys will come here very tired and will need to be strengthened. Others will come excited and ready to go and will the the opportunity to encourage others. At at some point, the tables will turn—and then we’ll know who to call. We were not meant to do this ministry thing alone, and this is a perfect opportunity to create or build your network.

Here are some event details.

Time: March 8, 11 AM-4 PM. The meeting concludes at 4, and afterward, anyone who wants to stick around will have the opportunity for a facility tour followed by dinner at a local restaurant.

Location: Coast Hills Community Church. Here is a Map.

Cost: $0. Zero. Zip. Nada. Next Creative Media will be providing lunch. The cost of lunch is no longer an excuse!

Open To: TDs, Assoc. TDs and other Church Tech Staff

How to Register: Follow this link to the form, fill it out and we’ll see you March 8!

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