Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: November 2010 (Page 2 of 2)

Christmas at Coast Hills

As a church, Coast Hills has a long tradition of putting together fabulous Christmas Productions. Last year, an amazing team of people dreamed up, wrote and directed a broadway style show called Gunch. It’s a loose adaptation of the Grinch story that was inspired by the fact that when Grinch was written, it was designed to present the Gospel. The publishing company didn’t think it would sell, however, so the story was changed. Our team decided to pick up that torch and write a new story that did tell the Gospel in a clear, compelling yet entertaining manner.

This year, Gunch is back. I wanted to call it Gunch: Reloaded, but I was outvoted. Still, that’s what it is. The overall story arc is the same, but we’ve filled in some of the gaps. We’re telling a little more of the backstory this year, primarily through a character called Baxstori. It’s going to be a great show; but more importantly, it’s a great opportunity for our congregation to invite friends and share the story of redemption with them.

From a production standpoint it’s a big deal. Most of the burden falls on set design/build, lighting and audio. Let’s look at our input list, shall we?

Gunch Input List Click on the image for a PDF versionSorry it’s so small, click it to open a PDF Version. With my two foldback channels, I have 40 inputs of band & vocals. That’s a fair amount to manage and you can bet there will be snapshots involved. The green block near the end is wireless; 16 channels in all. I actually have 21 people who will be on headset or hair mics and we’ll be swapping packs (along with input gain, EQ and dynamics using snapshots) among them. Primaries get their own set for the entire show, while secondary and tertiary characters will share. Managing all that will be our wireless mic wrangler—we’ve created a position just for that.

Because we’ll be using backing tracks, played back from ProPresenter with a click, I actually have two click channels. The drummer will control one of them using a small click generator, and I’ll be feeding the other one back to them on the click channel in the M-48s.

We have a 8-member pit chorus of vocals that will all be on wired mics and will hear using wedges. The rest of the band will be on the M-48s. I think this is going to improve our sound immensely by eliminating at least 8-10 wedges on stage. And since the band will be on the floor in front of the stage, this is a big win.

Speaking of stage, below is a preliminary design for the show. The model was built in SketchUp and will serve as a decent guide for actually building the real set. I love using SketchUp because it allows me to spot problems before they occur. The giant chef’s hat looking thing will A: not actually look like that and B: be a screen we project on. One of the reasons it won’t look like that is because the supports would be visible. We have a new design in process that will be incorporated soon. We also determined that it will not likely stand up on it’s own, so we’ll be beefing up the bracing. Again, it’s nice to think about that in 3D and not when you’re scrambling to build it in a week.

Lighting is going to be a lot of fun this year as we will be renting in 36 ColorBlasts (in addition to the 12 we already own) and 6 VL2500s. The large structure on stage right is known as Trash Mountain, the home of Gunch. We’ll be covering that in white foam, strapping all manner of toys to it and uplighting with the ColorBlasts. The two walls, long and short will also be lit with ColorBlasts. We’ll hang 4 VLs over the stage and 2 in the house. As the show is almost 2 hours long, contains 14 scenes and an intermission, there will be a lot of programming.

Gunch Set Drawing Being able to pre-viz in SketchUp is a great feature.We’ve already been cutting out and painting the dozens of flats that will be required for the show and this weekend the construction crew will be starting work on a set of stairs we need, a giant present to be used as a prop in one of the songs and a set of six pews. The weekend following Thanksgiving, we’ll strike the entire stage and get it ready for the build. We take one whole week to build the set and the rest of the props. The following week, we’ll set lighting, program, build out audio, run a band rehearsal, a tech rehearsal, a cue to cue rehearsal and finally a dress rehearsal. On Friday it’s lights up for the opening night, followed by 4 performances on the weekend.

We’ve sold over 2500 tickets to date, putting us on track to sell over 4,500. The next few weeks are going to be a ton of work, but I can’t wait to see how it all comes together, and more importantly, what God does with it!

ReMix: Practice Makes Perfect

Earlier this week ProSound Web re-publised one of my earlier articles (one that I had forgotten about). It seemed to generate some buzz so I started wondering what else was laying back there in the cobwebs. I found this post that originated over three and a half years ago. It’s pretty good and with a few tweaks, suitable for remixing. Enjoy…

It’s a phrase we hear all the time, right? Practice makes perfect. Actually, it doesn’t. Perfect practice makes perfect. Regular old practice just ingrains the same mistakes into your mind. But I digress. It’s commonly understood that if you want to get better at something, you need to practice. But now it’s time for one of Mike’s #1 pet peeves —people serving in the technical arts at church who are not committed to getting better at what they do. This boggles my mind.

We expect that the worship team will practice their music individually, and corporately prior to the service (and if they don’t shame on them—but that’s another post). This practice not only familiarizes them with the music, but also hones their skills as a musician. The same holds true for drama people. We would expect the preaching pastor to continue to improve not only their hermeneutics, but also their presentation skills, so as to engage their audience more completely.

As for the tech team, we expect…{insert crickets sound effects here}. Well, what do we expect? Too often, we expect too little, even of ourselves. If you’re a tech person reading this, what have you done in the last month to improve your ability to perform your task? Some might argue that it’s difficult to “practice” the technical arts. To some extent I agree, you can’t practice mixing if there’s no one on stage. But how about coming out for rehearsal time and work up a mix, then play with some outboard gear? Or consider investing in virtual soundcheck so you have more opportunities to improve your chops. Lighting people can spend hours playing with different combinations of lights to see what effects they can come up with (I know, I’ve seen them do it at our church…).

How about continuing education? I’ll talk on sound (because it’s my passion) but the what I’m about to say carries over to every discipline. I’ve been doing sound and live production for over 20 years, yet almost every week (sometimes every day), I learn something new, or pick up on a new technique. How? Because I spend a few hours a week reading magazines and web sites devoted to sound and live production. Right now, I get 5 technical magazines (all free) delivered to my house each month. I’ve also taken on-line classes on sound engineering (all free). There are numerous classes and seminars you can attend that are not free, but very good.

When training is offered at your church, do you attend? Are you willing to show up when it’s not your weekend to watch over the shoulder of someone else and maybe learn something? See, here’s the thing: What we do is very difficult, and it’s not for everyone. Making great sound in an imperfect room even with good equipment is every bit as difficult as playing piano. Creating compelling and effective lighting effects that enhance not interfere with worship is just has hard as singing a solo. So why would we think we can hop in there once a month (or once a week) and “just do it?”

I once had a conversation with a sound tech (a few churches back) about music. I had just finished running camera for a Christian music festival. I was listing off some of the bands we shot that week, the Newsboys, Third Day, Michael W. Smith. After each one, he said, “Hmm, not familiar with them…” Really? So what kind of music do you listen to? “I don’t really listen to music much.” And he was a sound tech!? Nope, that’s not good folks.

Remember, we’re serving the King here. He didn’t skimp and give us seconds when he gave it all for us. How can we give our best to our earthly employers during the week, then come in and give leftovers to God? Call me a fanatic, but I don’t think we can.

Advice to Would-Be TDs

Sound technicianphoto © 2010 mikael altemark | more info(via: Wylio)

A few weeks ago, my friend Duke Dejong wrote a great post giving advice to young TDs. It’s a great read and I concur with everything he says. In this post, I’m going to back up a step and offer some advice to those folks who are thinking of a career as a TD. There’s an oft-repeated story in the TD world here in SoCal. Someone was considering taking a TD job at a church in the area so he went with another TD friend to a well-respected TD of a large church for advice. When his friend introduced him as someone considering becoming a TD, the veteran TD immediately asked, “Why?” And so goes my first point.

Don’t Do It

If you’re considering a career as a TD my first piece of advice is don’t do it. Not because it’s not a great way to make a living, but it is one of the hardest. In fact, I would go so far as to say unless you’re called, and very clearly called, to this ministry, you won’t last. One of my early pastors and mentors once told me that no one should ever go into ministry unless they can’t do anything else. And by “can’t do anything else” I don’t mean “not qualified” or “incapable” but rather, you simply can’t be obedient to God and not go into ministry.

A lot of people think working in a church is super-easy as we all sit around praying for each other and singing songs, hymns and spiritual songs all day long. While it’s true we do pray for each other, and occasionally sing, the truth is, it’s a lot of work. The hours are long, the work challenging and even though almost no one else in the church has any idea what we do, how we do it or how hard it is, they all feel complete freedom to critique any and everything we do.

And now that every ministry in the church is using technology, we have far more demands on our time, even our our “days off.” Also, every time some piece of technology doesn’t work, it’s a crisis that we’re required to solve, preferably without spending any money.

I’ve worked in quite a number of companies in my career and I can tell you I’ve made a lot more money, worked a lot less and had a lot more time off in every other job. So if you’re coming into this thinking it’s going to be a great time sitting behind the board every weekend and playing in virtual soundcheck all week, may I suggest going to work for a sound company instead?

OK, now that I’ve scared the “not called” off, let’s get on to some useful advice.

Do Your Homework

A lot of TDs grow up in the church they start working in. They may have wandered into the tech booth one weekend as a teenager, figured out how to make sound and become reasonably proficient at it. A few years later, the church figures out they need a TD and offer the unsuspecting young sound guy the job. Too often, they leave, badly, a year or two later…

When getting started with your first church job, do a lot of due diligence. Make sure you spend plenty of time getting to know the staff dynamics and confirming that you can in fact work with them. A lot of churches are great places to attend, but not so great places to work. Sometimes the church is a fine place to work, but you may not fit in with the staff.

There is a temptation to think that because you’ve gotten along fine as a volunteer, you’ll fit right in with the staff. Sometimes this is the case and sometimes it’s not. Check it out. The truth is, most churches don’t really know how to hire a tech guy (as evidenced by the short average tenure of most TDs). Don’t assume that because they think you can do the job that you want to work there.

Make Sure You Get a Clear Job Description

A lot of churches skip this part. You need to know going in if they expect you to manage tech for the weekend services or deal with every single thing in the building with a power cord. Either can be OK, but you need to define that up front. Don’t assume that just because you’re working for a church that your bosses will have realistic expectations.

And I should point out that it’s not typically malicious that they don’t have realistic expectations; as I said earlier, they honestly don’t understand what we do and how much time “simple” things take. I once had a job where it wasn’t uncommon to get a request for a video for the weekend services 6 hours before the services started. As much as I tried to explain the immense stress this placed on the tech team, it continued. Go in with eyes wide open.

If the church doesn’t have a job description for the TD position (or it’s way too vague), find someone in the CTDRT who can get you an example.

Ask for Three Weeks of Vacation

And make sure all three weeks are available from day one and that they roll over. The truth is, you probably won’t take all three weeks (in my first 12 months here, I took 7 vacation days). But you have to have them available. We TDs work really hard, and while the rest of the church has seasons of business, our “seasons” never really end. If we’re not prepping for or running Christmas, Easter, VBS, Winter Camp, Summer Camp, Fall Launch, or the weekend, we’re re-building systems, training volunteers and filling out paperwork.

You will often find yourself working on your days off (even if from home, answering phone calls and texts) and you need the ability to take a week off and disappear. And you might need that week after two months, depending on what you walk into. Hat tip to my great friend Van Metschke for this one.

Ask for More Money

This sounds incredibly crass, but the reality is most TDs are the most over-worked and under-paid people on staff. Churches typically under-pay tech people because they don’t really value the position. I promise you, if you are really called to this life, you will earn every penny you’re paid (and then some). You may not get any more, but you should always ask.

It’s a Wonderful Life

This post sounds like I’m an old, bitter TD. It’s not true. I love what I do. I am excited to get up every day and come to work with a fantastic group of people who I love and respect doing work I’m really good at. At this stage in my life I can’t think of anything I’d rather do. At the same time, I’m completely confident that God has called me to this life, and to this church. If that weren’t the case, I would be the tired, bitter TD that people become when they’re not called.

And should you join this ragtag group who gets to be called a TD, make sure you follow the advice in Duke’s post. And get yourself a group of other like-minded TDs that you can hang out with and learn from. The longer I do this gig, the more I’m convinced that the key to longevity is to have a few key relationships with other TDs.

One more thing; if you’re thinking about jumping into the TD swimming pool, give me a call. I will try to talk you out of it. If I cannot, then you are most likely called into one of the greatest adventures of all.

Shure + Audix = Good Sound

At Coast Hills, we’re blessed to have some pretty good equipment to work with. Our wireless mics, for example, are Shure UHF-R—arguably some of the best wireless in the world. One of the things I like about the UHF-R is the interchangeable heads. We have a variety of mics in our locker right now—SM58, Beta 87, RC-22, RC-35—but I’m always on the lookout for other options. I’m a big fan of the Heil RC mics, the 22 & 35, and have been using them regularly for quite a while. Our worship leader sounds great on a 35, and I love the way a 22 will help a male tenor voice cut through the mix.

I’ve been hearing good things about the Audix OM line, and while it’s possible to change heads on Audix wireless mics just as it is on a UHF-R, they’re not the same thread size or connector pattern. Dave Rat of Rat Sound recognized a need for putting the really good sounding OM mics on UHF-R wireless and came up with a solution. It’s called, simply, the AU-SH. It’s a nicely milled anodized aluminum adapter that will convert UHF-R into an Audix-sized end.

Au-SH Shure to Audix Adapter On the left, what a Shure UHF-R UR2 transmitter wants to see from a mic head; on the right, what an Audix OM mic head wants to see from the transmitter.Besides reducing the thread size for the smaller OM heads, it also contains a circuit board with spring loaded pins that do the necessary connector adaption. It couldn’t be simpler to use, simply thread it onto the transmitter, then thread an OM head on that. Just remember to do all that with the mic turned off…

When it’s all put together, it’s a nice looking transition. It looks and fits so well that none of our vocalists ever questioned that there was any adapting going on.

UHF-R with an Au-Sh and OM3 head Very tidy indeed.Thanks to my super-friendly rep Daniella at Rat Sound, I was able to play around with four OM mics for a few weeks. We were shipped two Au-SH adapters, and one each of the OM3, OM5, OM6 and OM7. I suggest you visit the Audix website for a complete description of all four models. Since we had limited time and only two adapters, I focused on the OM3,  and OM6. I chose those for background singers and my worship leader respectively. I went with the OM3 for the BGVs because the pattern is a little more open than the other three, though it’s still very tight. All of the OM mics are designed for use in a loud, live stage environment and exhibit excellent rejection from the sides and rear. They also demand good mic technique.

The OM3 sounded very good on both the male tenor voices I used it on. The first weekend, we had a male singer who typically sings quietly, and I was concerned about getting a good enough level from him. The OM3 sounded excellent; very smooth and natural and needed little EQ. The mic did a great job of isolating a quiet vocalist (though we also have a pretty quiet stage now). This past weekend, I used it on another tenor who sings out a bit more. Again, the mic sounded very natural with almost no EQ. I would give it two thumbs up.

The OM6 is a different story, though not necessarily a bad one. Our worship leader noticed the difference right away between it and the RC-35 he’s used to. The 35 has decidedly more low end to it, which he really likes to warm up his voice. Strictly speaking, the OM6 is more accurate, but perhaps not as good a fit for what we’re going for with Mark’s vocals. It is super-smooth and very easy to listen to, though Mark reported having to work a littler harder to get his vocals where he wanted.

This is due to the very tight pickup pattern of the OM6; it simply demands excellent mic technique. If you back off it at all, you go away. On a loud stage with lots of monitors and side fill, this is a huge advantage; on our quiet stage with all IEMs, it takes more work.

And that’s pretty much the summary of my experience with those mics. They sound great if the vocalist is committed to staying right up on them, and when I say they sound great, they really do. I would put them against just about anything else I’ve heard. Like any mic, you might have to try a few models to get one that fits the vocal, but they all sound really good. On the other hand, if you have vocalists who like to back off, move around the mic or just don’t stay on it, there are other options out there that may work better. The downside is you will get more bleed into the vocalist’s channel. However, I’m impressed with the adapter, and am always glad to have more options for my wireless mics.

You can find the mic heads and adapters on Rat Sound’s online store; prices are as follows:



Church Tech Weekly Episode 21: Don’t Tweet That Gaff

Mike is joined by Van Metschke and Duke Dejong. The trio talk about how important it is to stay connected with other TDs, wrap up some thoughts on WFX 2010 and pull out some great picks of the week. (And yes, I know about the cyloning on Duke’s voice—We are working on a fix).


Van Metschke

Duke Dejong







The Webinars are Back!

I know you’re all excited; after a 2 month break, Dave, Jason and I are back with our award-winning webinar series. OK, so perhaps we haven’t won any awards yet, but a guy can dream, right?

But it’s true, we’re back this month with another webinar. And I think it will be a good one. This time around we’re going to be debating the relative pros and cons of analog versus digital mixers. At first glance, you might think this will be completely cut and dry as the three of us all regularly mix on digital boards. However, we each agree that there still may be a place for the analog console, at least in certain settings.

Then again, as the market becomes filled with really great digital choices, those settings shrink. It should be a really fun conversation. And as you may have noticed, the none of us are short on opinions…

Join us Tuesday, November 16 at 7 PM PST, 10 PM EST on our LiveStream channel.

Tech Arts Network

This post is a good month over due, but I wanted to make sure you knew about the Tech Arts Network. The Tech Arts Network grew out of several after-show conversations between Colin Burch, Van Metschke, Daniel Murphy, John David Boering and myself. We were happily recording episodes of FaithTools every once in a while, but kept dreaming about a network similar to what Leo Laporte has built. That is, a one-stop shop for all manner of podcasts for the church techie. We felt there was a need, but didn’t really know how to start it.

Then one day, Colin decided to take the bull by the horns and start building the site. What started out as just an idea has now grown into a small network with five shows already (we’re 30 days in, remember!) and several more in development. All of these shows are available at www.techartsnetwork.com:

FaithTools—The show that started it all. This mostly monthly show is a roundtable discussion of all kinds of tech related topics. You never know who will be on and what we’ll be talking about, but it’s always a lot of fun.

Church Tech Weekly—If you’ve been on this site at all, you know about this one. I’m quite often joined by Van and we have a semi-regular cast of characters who show up as we can get them on. We typically deal with one topic at a time, and shoot for a 30 min time length (though we almost never make it…)

Church TD Profiles—Ever wonder how other TDs got their start in ministry? This show will answer that for you. Van interviews TDs from all over the country and finds out how they landed in this role and what some of their greatest challenges and accomplishments are. It’s a great way to get to know your fellow TDs. A new episode comes out every week.

Church Spin—Hosted by Hal Swift ChurchSpin attempts to answer the question, How should the church be using technology anyway? This is also a weekly show with an ever-changing table of guests.

Church Grip—Rick Russell leads this short podcast that handles a single topic each week. If you’re short on time, but need to keep boned up on technology, this is the show for you.

As I said, we have other shows in development and we hope to continue to expand our offerings to cover all aspects of church technology. If you haven’t been to the site, check it out. Listen to a few podcasts and leave a comment. We’re working hard to make this a valuable offering for you, the church techie—let us know what you’d like to hear and we’ll work on it. Or better yet, start a show yourself and let’s get you on the network!

Relating to Non-Techies

I was reading an article a few weeks back about normal people who use computers and the power users (AKA IT guys) that support them. The article talked about the routine problems normal people had using computers and how challenging it was for IT guys to help them; not because the IT guys couldn’t solve the problem, but because the IT guys couldn’t understand how the normal people ran into that problem in the first place. For example, let’s say your browser is acting up. Most tech-oriented people know that you should try flushing your cache. Normal people, however, think cache is what you get from an ATM machine. Or if a peripheral is acting up the IT guys might suggest updating a driver. To a normal person, a driver is someone behind the wheel of an automobile. Can you see the disconnect?

I’m about to tell you something you already know, but perhaps haven’t thought about this way before. What we do is highly specialized, takes years of training to master and requires a certain personality to fully comprehend. You know that; but perhaps what you haven’t thought about is that the vast majority (and I mean 99%) doesn’t even begin to understand what we do. To them, it’s all magic. This poses all number of challenges for the TD and volunteer techie alike.

Let’s say you get called into the women’s Bible study to help them figure out why they are having trouble with audio. You might look at the console and in 3 seconds determine that their gain structure is wrong, they’re not using a comp on the speaker’s mic and the EQ is adjusted improperly. Now, if I told you that, you would immediately understand what I was talking about and make the necessary changes. The poor gal sitting behind the console, however, is still stuck at gain what?

That’s what we’re faced with. And let’s not forget that the people we interact with are not stupid. They simply don’t work with the technology we do every day and because of that, we may as well be speaking a different language. In fact, this past weekend, I Tweeted, “Giving a few Audix heads a try this weekend. Really like the OM6 on our worship leader. Very smooth.” A little while later, one of our pastors replied, “huh dude? Huh?” He caught me in the hall later and said, “I don’t understand almost anything you tweet.” Now keep in mind, he’s a gifted pastor, teacher and great student of the Bible. But trying to explain the difference between an OM6 and an RC35 is like me reading the Old Testament in the original Hebrew. It makes no sense. I get this all the time from people on the worship team who’ve stumbled upon this blog. When they tell me they’ve been reading, it usually goes like this; “Most of the time I have no idea what you’re talking about, but it’s cool that you’re writing it.”

The longer I do this TD thing, the more I realize that while my understanding of technology is important, it’s equally (if not more) important that I understand how to relate to non-techies. And that’s hard. I vastly prefer spending a few hours on TokBox with my friends Jason & Dave talking about the latest compression techniques–conversations that can go on for hours, literally!–than trying to explain to a women’s group leader how to properly EQ an e6 for maximum gain before feedback. However, as TD of my church, that’s exactly what I need to be able to do in order to really be successful at my job.

As much as I enjoy practicing mixing with virtual soundcheck, calibrating projectors, and focusing lights, I also need to give time to thinking about ways to make these incredibly complex systems more accessible to more people, and coming up with ways to explain to non-technical people how to use them effectively. And few things will develop patience in us normally impatient TDs than explaining, for the fifth time, that turning all the EQ knobs all the way to the right is not considered a best practice.

So the next time you are tempted to get frustrated when having to explain a “basic” technical concept to a non-techie, remember to cut them some slack. What we think is basic might as well be a lunar landing to them.

Church Tech Weekly Episode 20: Have We Solved Anything?

Mike and Van talk about what to do when things don’t go as planned. Or when they fail epically. Fresh off some crazy experiences this weekend, the two talk about how to handle those failings and the fact that people are more important than technology.
It’s also important to keep in mind that even though what we do as techs is important, God still works even when things don’t go as planned.




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