Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: June 2010 (Page 1 of 2)

The New System

Those of you that follow me on Twitter may have heard that we finally have approval to update our FOH/Monitor system. I’ve been talking about bits and pieces of it over the last few months, so I thought I’d write up the entire plan. If this doesn’t get too long, I’ll get into the why. But first, let me run through what we’ll be replacing.

The Old System

We currently have a Yamaha PM-5D RH EX at FOH and an M7-CL 48 at monitor world. Most of our musicians are on wedges, EAW SM-12s driven through three KT 9848 processors feeding QSC amps. It’s all good stuff, the problem it, it’s all pretty complicated and spread out. To do even a simple event with one or two monitor mixes, we need two operators. And since FOH is in the balcony and monitor world up on a deck over the stage left wing, it’s a lot of running up and down. Though the 5D is a good desk, it’s not volunteer-friendly, nor is it particularly fast to work on. And when paired with the DSP-5D, doing any kind of pre-configuration is tricky at best.

The New System

The new system will be based around a Digico SD-8, fed by a DigiRack on stage with 48 mic pres, 8 analog and 8 AES outputs. I chose the DigiRack over the less-expensive MADIRack because the MADIRack is limited to 48×24. The DigiRack will do 56×56, and once in a while we need a little extra I/O. Monitors will be converted to RSS M-48 personal mixers for the band; vocals will stay on wedges mixed from the SD-8 for now. I had been planning on using Avioms, as Digico makes a card for the DigiRack. However, when I saw RSS was coming out with the S-MADI Bridge, I immediately switched. The MADI Bridge will enable me to feed 40 channels right from the DigiRack into the monitor system, and set up 16 stereo groups for the musicians.

FOH will be moved down to the main floor (finally!), which will make mixing monitors a lot easier. We’ll have several Mac Mini’s at FOH running various control software; one for the Digico remote, one for the RSS monitor remote and one running LAMA for real-time FFT and SPL monitoring. I like Mac Minis for this task, even if I need Windows (which the SD-8 and RSS snake do) because they’re small, cheap, we have a bunch and quite frankly, they run Windows better than most PCs. Plus, I can put them on a rack shelf, side by side, saving valuable desk space. I’m planning on buying an iPad for use as a remote surface, simply RDP’ing into each of the computers at FOH. Since the SD-8 is already based on a touch screen interface, the iPad will be a perfect match.

One key component of the new system will be the multi-track recording rig. A 17” MacBook Pro (chosen because unlike the recent 15” models, the 17s have ExpressCard 34 slots) will be connected to the SD-8 with a RME Madiface. We’ll record tracks into Reaper and be able to play them back as a virtual soundcheck. Since the SD-8 is based around MADI, this is a very easy solution for virtual soundcheck.

Another thing we’ll do that will be a lot of fun is install Synergy on each of the Mac Minis and the MBP. That will allow us to use a single keyboard and trackball to control all four computers. I’m planning on building a “monitor bridge” that will locate a line of lcd screens above the SD-8, and we’ll just mouse from one screen to the next. From a user’s perspective, they won’t even need to know they’re running separate computers at all.


My initial plan was to install the SD-8 first and use it just as FOH, then move it to the floor, then install the M-48s. This kind of got blown up based on the timelines required by the buyers of the current system. As it stands now, will need to mix monitors (for the whole band) from FOH for a few weeks before we get the M-48s in. And because the S-MADI Bridge won’t be available until November, we’re going to need some type of interim solution.

Next weekend (Independence Day, ironically) will be the last day for the PM-5D as it needs to be in Minneapolis by July 9. Either our new SD-8 or a loaner will arrive on July 7. It won’t move downstairs until the beginning of August, as we’ll wait for VBS to wrap up. By mid-August, we’ll be switching to the M-48s.

We’ll also be doing a lot of re-cabling. Right now, we have what seems like miles of 48+ channel copper snakes running all over the place. Almost all of them will be pulled out and replaced with a few 75-Ohm MADI cables. We’ll also be changing our drive lines to the system processors to AES, so the sound will stay digital from the AD at the pre all the way to the output to the amps.

To say I’m excited about this would be an understatement. And while it’s true, I would really like a new PA to go along with the new audio chain, we have no way to pay for that right now. By selling our existing system, I’ve almost completely paid for the new one, and we’ll have a system that’s a lot easier to use, and significantly more powerful. I suspect we’ll hit a few bumps in the road, like all remodeling projects, but once we’re done and have all the new processes worked out, it should make our lives a lot easier.

Configuring the SD-8 Surface

Today I spent some time adapting my Digico SD-8 show configuration for our SD-8 demo this weekend. When we buy one, we’ll be buying the 37 channel version (made up of three 12-channel fader banks plus a master). For the demo, they could only get me a 25 fader version (missing the left fader bank). It’s kind of a bummer, but I really want to get going on it, so I said, “OK.” When I started looking at my show, the real power of the system became apparent. I didn’t need to re-patch, or re-structure or re-do anything other than the surface layout. In fact, all I had to do was move some faders around and I was good to go.

Once this hit me, I realized that I don’t even need to come up with some magical fader layout that will work for every possible scenario; all I need to do is patch our “biggest-case scenario” and use that as my building block each week. I can then just shuffle faders around to meet the needs for the weekend. And the best part is that when I’m done with the surface, I can run a report from the desk that will give me my input sheet. So, it’s like a desk that was designed in this century! This will be so great for our setting in the church; I can create a layout that is easy to use every week.

So here’s a screen capture video I did today of the re-configuration of the surface. I hope you’ll be able to see the detail, but if not, you’ll get the idea.

Digico SD-8 Surface Configuration from Mike Sessler on Vimeo.

Upcoming Webinar: Mixing

Good news! We’re going to be running our June webinar in June! Dave, Jason and I will be talking this month about Sonic Space, Layers in a Mix, and Creating the Right Blend. This will be a lot of fun for me as I’ll be getting to talk with two guys who really know mixing about, well, mixing. I think this is going to be a great discussion!

Join us on the LiveStream channel (www.livestream.com/churchtecharts) this Tuesday, June 22 at 7 PM PDT, 10 PM EDT. And as always, if you can’t make it, the show will be available on iTunes or in the on-demand library of LiveStream.

Our Newest Addition: Church Tech Weekly

I am really excited to announce the latest addition to the Church Tech Arts empire: A weekly podcast entitled Church Tech Weekly (OK, maybe empire is overstating things a bit, perhaps network is a better descriptor). I’ve been wanting to do this for some time, but hadn’t hit on the right format to make it both useful and do-able. A month ago, I felt a plan coming together and through some prayer and plenty of thought, I think we have a good concept.

The show will be recorded every Sunday night and will feature one guest from a wide-ranging roundtable of guys I know and love to talk tech with. We’re going to keep the show short–right around 30 minutes–for two reasons; first, I know you are busy and don’t have time to listen to another hour or hour and a half show each week. Second, I’m busy and I don’t have time to produce a long show each week. We’re going to keep it simple; audio only with minimal post-production. What we say is what you’ll hear. I’m negotiating for a theme song, but that will be about it.

We’ll start off commercial free, though at some point, I may entertain doing a few interstitial ads the way Leo Laporte does on the TWiT network. Which means, if you’re a manufacturer or distributor of a product I like and use and would like some advertising, let’s talk

The show is available on iTunes right now, or subscribe directly to the RSS feed. You can download and listen to the first episode which features a fun and insightful conversation I had with Duke DeJong following our trips to InfoComm. We talk about the most interesting stuff we saw last week and provide some fun color commentary. It was a great conversation, and a fantastic way to kick off what I think is going to be an enjoyable podcast.

Coming up this weekend, I’ll be talking with Bob Nahrstadt of Moyer Sound about a few new digital signage solutions. New shows should be up on iTunes every week by Monday morning if all goes well. Please give it a listen and tell me what you think.

Also, if you would like to e-mail questions you’d like us to discuss, feel free to send them to ctw [at] churchtecharts [dot] org. Thanks for reading–and listening!

Love Languages for Techies

This post was originally published last week over at the Church Production Magazine blog. After some traffic analysis, I decided to post it here as well in case you missed it.

If you’ve been around the church for any length of time, you have no doubt heard about Love Languages. Dr. Gary Chapman wrote a book about these five ways we express love for each other back in the ‘80s I think. In case you are unfamiliar, the love languages are; Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service and Physical Touch. The idea is that we all have a primary love language by which we most effectively receive love. For example, a husband may receive love when he is given a gift; his wife may receive love through spending quality time with her husband.

The love language concept is very useful for people who are married or in a serious dating relationship. It’s also helpful to know how others around feel loved. Say you need to butter up a co-worker whose love language is acts of service. Do something for her that she normally does and she will feel love. As we all know however, techies are a different breed. We are not wired the same as regular humans, which causes most non-techies on a church staff to stay away, not really knowing how to relate to us. Being different, we have our own set of love languages. If you interact with techies on a regular basis, it would behoove you to learn these languages and figure out which one your techie responds to most favorably. With apologies to Dr. Chapman, here we go.

Words of Affirmation

This doesn’t look different, but the implications are far greater. Most techies only hear words of dis-affirmation; “The mic’s not working,” “The camera is out of focus,” “It’s too loud,” “The light is in my eyes,” “It’s too soft…” the list goes on. The quickest way to a techie’s heart is to tell them they’ve done something well. This is good advice for anyone, but it’s important to know that techies are used to dealing with a barrage of complaints on a regular basis. Thus, any time anyone has anything to say to them, they are typically on the defensive from the start. In fact, I know some techs who never hear anything from leadership except criticism. I suggest saying a few positive things here and there; it makes it a lot easier to hear criticism when it’s appropriate.

Be On Time

This looks similar to Quality time, but it’s quite different. Most techies I know are First In, Last Out (or as we say in the trade—FILO). At our church, my tech team arrives at noon on Saturday, and doesn’t leave until everyone else is gone. On Sunday morning we’re the first in again at 7:30, and are still coiling cables long after everyone else has a table at Chilli’s. We show up early because we want to make sure everything is set up and ready to go when the band arrives making sound check and rehearsal as quick and productive as possible. Want to exasperate a techie who’s already been there since 7:30? Show up late, then take your time getting your station set up, then act impatient during the soundcheck process. It’s no fun to sit around for 30 minutes with nothing to do while waiting for the band to show up, especially if we’re blamed for sound check running long (and we usually are). Be in place and ready to go when you’re supposed to be and your techie will feel very loved.

Decent Swag

Similar to receiving gifts, we like it when gear manufacturers show up with good swag, plain and simple. In the last few years, with the economy suffering, the quality of swag has gone downhill. This does not show love. If we’re going to spend a whole day on a show floor, walking around looking at gear and eating sub-standard convention center food, we want to at least take home some decent stuff. EV gave me a sweet little Leatherman mini multi-tool over Christmas. I felt loved. Yamaha gave me a really nice fleece coat. I felt loved. A pen with your company logo on it? Not so much. Unless it’s a Pilot G-2 .5 mm black. Then maybe. But I can get those at Staples. And it’s easy. So probably not.

Acts of Load-In and Load-Out

We techies do a lot of work. We move Steeldeck, road cases, cables, lights, speakers, mics, drum kits, guitar amps and so on. The guys and gals who work in a portable church setting are deserving of special recognition. The Bible tells us that many hands make for light work, and the same is true for what we do. If you see two guys pushing a bunch of cases in, ask if you can help. Please ask, because sometimes we have a system and your help doesn’t, well, help. Most times though, and extra set of hands of two can really make our lives easier. It’s also important to note that techies are not technically janitors, though that’s not apparent in our day to day lives. Almost every week we pick up bottles of water (most of them opened with .25 ounces missing–the classic one-swig per bottle), sandwich wrappers, broken drum sticks and various other detritus left behind by the musicians. If you want to share some love with your tech team, pick up your own trash.


That’s love in a dish right there.Specifically, bacon. Forget touch, we like to eat. As I said, we work really hard, and we do so for long hours. Having a steady stream of food makes the tech booth a happy place to be. I know of one non-techie church leader who used to regularly bring the tech team treats, lunch, donuts, coffee, whatever (Jan, you’re a hero to all techies everywhere!). Do you think her tech team was happy and would do just about anything? You bet! Here at Coast, we have a great group of volunteers who bring breakfast every Sunday morning. A big steaming plate of bacon sure takes the edge of a 7:30 AM call time. We also have people bring in lunch and dinner during really big production seasons like Christmas and Easter. I can work 12 hours a day a lot easier when lunch and dinner show up at regular intervals.

So there you go. A few quick thoughts on how to show love to your local tech crew. A well-loved and appreciated tech crew will move mountains for you; learning their love languages is an investment worth making.

The Coolest Thing I Saw at InfoComm

When I saw this in the Digico booth, my heart lept…If my blog layout had subtitles, it would be, “And why Aviom A-16II is now irrelevant.” Longtime readers of this blog will know that I’ve been a fan of the RSS M-48 personal mixing system since it was announced over a year ago. It sounds fantastic, has a ton of flexibility in signal routing, includes extras such as a built-in ambient mic, reverb, a 3-band EQ on each channel, a limiter, separate phones and balanced stereo line outs, and a record out function. The only problem has been it’s application has been somewhat limited since it works with the REAC digital snake system. This can be a good solution for analog mixing systems, or when used with the very competent line of M-mixers (M-400, M-380 and the new M-300) from RSS. However, for users of any other digital console, trying to use the M-48s required either a passive split, or a few extra D-A, A-D hops. That just changed with the introduction of the S-MADI Bridge.

This opens up the entire world of digital consoles for the M-48.The S-MADI Bridge is just that; a format converter between MADI and REAC. Since it’s doing simple format conversion, the latency is extremely low (well under 1 msec). And since every major digital console manufacturer is either based or supports MADI, the M-48 is now the simply the best personal mixing system on the market.

What makes the M-48 so unique is that it’s essentially a 40 channel digital mixer. It has the capability to present those 40 channels in any combination of 16 stereo groups the user desires. And that combination can be different for every user on the network. It took me a while to grasp exactly what that means, so let me show you how a system would be set up. In this case, we’ll use our new SD-8 as an example.

Hey, that even looks like an SD-8!As you can see, we take the MADI output of the console and send it to the S-MADI Bridge. In my case, I’ll simply copy MADI 1 to MADI 2 and in effect, send the first 40 inputs of my stage rack straight to REAC. I’ve had to do a little shuffling of my input patch to make it work, but since the SD-8 has a completely customizable surface, that shuffling will be invisible to the user. A single CAT-5 takes REAC to the stage and distributes it via an S-4000D distro. The S-4000D is controlled remotely either by an M-series mixer, or in our case, a PC running the remote control software. Here’s where it gets cool.

As I said before, each mixer receives all 40 channels. In software, you can select which channels go to which groups on the M-48. It’s really like assigning input channels to a group in a mixer, only in this case, you’re ticking off checkboxes in software. You could theoretically assign all 40 channels to one group, but that wouldn’t be very useful. Instead, we might assign all the drum channels to a stereo group 1, for example.

Assigning input channels to groups is as simple as ticking off Xs.As you can see, I’ve chosen 10 channels to assign to group 1. The Bass get it’s own group, Mark’s electric guitar (a stereo feed) gets assigned to group 3 and so on. So that’s pretty cool, but what if the bass player wants a little more kick in his drum mix. One way to do that would be to assign the kick to it’s own group and assign the rest of the kit to another. An alternative (and much cooler way) is to simply change the mix of the group.

Personal mixing for your personal mixer.As you can see in this shot, I’ve kept the level of the kick and snare up, while dropping the level of the toms and overheads. What takes the M-48 from the realm of “pretty cool” to “off the shizzle” is the fact that this change affects no one but the bass player. That’s right, you can individually manipulate the group mixes of each M-48 on stage, without affecting any other one. You’ll also notice I’m doing some panning of the inputs as well. Remember that this is for this mixer only.

When I was laying out my previously spec’d Aviom system, I spent a good 3-4 hours trying to come up with some magical combination to fit my entire band into 16 channels.I made it work, but there’s a good chance someone will be unhappy. I took a crack at setting up a few M-48s and discovered that I can do just about anything I want and easily come up with a custom config for each band member, and have a few groups left over on almost every mixer. Behold the power of stereo groups.

And this is what I think makes Aviom irrelevant. One of the big features of the SD-8 is that each channel can be mono or stereo; it doesn’t care or affect channel count. The M-48 goes that one better by taking as many input channels as you want into a stereo group, in each personal mixer, which frees up all sorts of aux sends, groups and matrix mixes on your desk. I actually have more of all three of those now than I know what to do with!

Added to all the additional features the M-48 has, and it makes it pretty near impossible to recommend an Aviom personal mixing solution anymore. And in case you’re wondering, it sounds great! The first time I heard the mixer, I was thoroughly impressed with the full, rich sound it produced; which is in contrast to the somewhat thin, brittle sound the Aviom is known for. The A-16II suffers from a lousy headphone amp, which does it no favors. Since the M-48 has balanced line outs, it’s much easier to connect to IEM transmitters, powered wedges or unpowered wedges (though the latter will require a few extra cables on stage.

Honestly, I think grey was a good color choice.I’ve been an Aviom fan for a long time, but times change. They’ve stood still in the personal mixing market while others have innovated and overtaken them. Just as I view the SD-8 as a digital console designed in this century, the M-48 is what the Aviom A-16III should have been, if only it existed. Sorry Aviom, our new monitor system will be a cool grey color, not blue

700 MHz: The End is Here

In case you’ve spent the last few years hiding in a faraday cage, you are probably aware that the FCC has sold off the 700 MHz spectrum (from 698 MHz-806MHz), analog TV has come to an end and wireless mics are no longer allowed in the 700 MHz band as of June 12. As in June 12, 2010.

As I said, you probably know that, but if you don’t here’s what it means. If you have any wireless mics in your facility that are tuned anywhere between 698-806 MHz, you need to shut them down as of Saturday. The FCC has said that they will be looking for violators and will fine you pretty heavily if you are caught. They will be doing this because some big companies paid big bucks for chunks of that spectrum and they expect to have it all to themselves. Also, some of that air space is going to public safety equipment and they don’t want any interference.

In all fairness, it’s unlikely that a wireless mic inside a church broadcasting at 50 mW will cause interference to a public safety base station (100+ W), a mobile radio (50-100W) or even a portable (5-10W). Still, you don’t want to chance it. Is your leadership not yet convinced they need to power those old mics down? Read them this

“Operation of wireless microphones in violation of these rules may subject the user to substantial monetary forfeitures, in rem arrest action against the offending radio equipment and criminal sanctions, including imprisonment. Because any operation in violation of these rules creates a danger of interference to important radio communications services and may subject the operator to severe penalties, this advisory emphasizes the importance of complying strictly with these legal requirements.”

That’s from the FCC website, and I’d say they’re serious about this stuff. Also, Sennheiser and Shure continue to offer rebates on trading in your gear through June 30. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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