Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: January 2011 (Page 3 of 3)

Winter NAMM 2011: Shure Kicks It Up A Notch

Shure Axient The big news was Shure’s Axient SystemOf course, the big news was Shure’s Axient system. Billed as a “game-changer,” it will certainly set a new standard for interference free wireless mics. Shure’s done up a whole mini-site just for Axient, and I encourage you to check it out for more details. The summary goes like this: Axient is an active system that monitors for, detects and automatically changes frequencies when interference comes along. During the private demo we saw, the Shure rep was speaking into an Axient handheld. They switched on a second handheld tuned to the same frequency and in well under a second, the system detected the interference, and changed channels, restoring the clean audio.
Note that the system is changing channels on both the transmitter and receiver, and doing it automatically!

Shure ShowLink Access Point Shure’s new Show Link Access PointTo make that work, you employ the ShowLink AP, which enables the system to remotely control the transmitters, and you can make adjustments to them from Wireless Workbench 6 as well. ShowLink operates in the 2.4 GHz band and can talk to up to 16 transmitters at once. Another amazing feature is Frequency Diversity. The new handheld can transmit on two separate frequencies at once and the Axient receiver will take those two frequencies, monitor them and send the best one out the single audio output. If interference hits one channel, the receiver switches to the other one (inaudibly) and picks a new frequency to replace the bad one. For for the “money” mic, you now have real RF redundancy.

Shure Axient Rechargeable Batteries Modular recharging stations for Axient batteries.The system is also compatible with UHF-R transmitters, so you can dual-bodypack the talent and do frequency diversity as well. They’ve also developed some pretty impressive Lithium Ion rechargeable packs and chargers for the new components. Availability is said to be “Spring,” with cost being “at a premium to UHF-R.” So it’s not going to be cheap. But when you absolutely have to have rock-solid wireless, Axient is going to be the choice.

Shure P10R Shure P10R, part of the PSM1000 IEM systemContinuing on with Shure’s announcements, we also saw the new PSM1000 wireless IEM. The new flagship in their PSM line, the 1000 is built around a single rack space dual transmitter and the new true diversity P10R receiver. The PSM1000 should have all the audio and even better RF performance than the PSM900 (which I picked as the winner in last summer’s IEM shootout). It also has some cool new features including a 70 MHz tuning bandwidth, the ability to do a full scan of the tuning spectrum and transmit that data to the transmitter for analysis, programming or uploading to Workbench 6.

Shure PSM1000 Shure PSM1000 TransmittersWe saw a single pack do a full scan of the spectrum, the data being sent via IR to the transmitter then watched as the transmitter picked 4 good frequencies and programmed all for units in the rack. It’s pretty impressive. This product should be available shortly at a price higher than the PSM900.

CTA Classroom: Improving Videos With A Tripod

It’s Friday and that must mean it’s time to go back to class. This week, I’m reviving a post I wrote a long time ago. I’ve not written much on video lately, which is a shame because it’s what I spent most of my professional life doing. So here are a few tips on improving the quality of your videos with the use of a tripod.
Camera operator setting up the video cameraphoto © 2009 jsawkins | more info (via: Wylio)
Have you ever had this experience? Someone hands you a tape that was shot on a missions trip, or student event, or other ministry outing. You are requested to go through said tape and “make a video.” This happened to me some time ago. It was a student missions trip to New York City. Since it was student ministries, we sent them off with a small, Digital-8 camcorder. As I scanned through the 2 hours of footage, looking for a shot (yup, a shot), I thought about the need for a tripod. You see, all the footage was shot with the camera moving. It never stopped. Just watching it gave me vertigo. Out of 2 hours, I found less than 3 minutes of usable footage. Now, this is not to pick on our intrepid camera man here, but let’s talk about how to avoid this.

Here’s the deal—watch some TV, or a few films and here’s what you’ll find (save the “reality shows”): You’ll find well composed, static shots. Most of the time, the camera doesn’t move and if it does, it’s on a tripod, SteadiCam, dolly or crane. If and when it does move, it moves slowly and smoothly. Doing this takes practice and good equipment. A while back, I wrote a post called, Being Excellent with Less. In that post I suggested that if we don’t have the personnel or equipment to do a certain task, we should scale the task back to the point where we can achieve excellence. Don’t have a $50,000 Chapman crane for your camera? Then put it on a tripod and work with what you have. Don’t have a tripod? Get creative—the most usable footage we got from the students was when the camera was set on a table and the students shared their experiences.

If you don’t have a tripod, you really should get one. They’re not that expensive in the grand scheme of things, and I would suggest it will make the second biggest improvement in your videos (microphones are #1). For a few hundred dollars you can pick up a tripod that will deliver excellent results with smaller DV and HDV cameras. Check out some of the lower-cost offerings from Manfrotto. They’re not nearly as good as my favorite Vintens, but they’re a whole lot better than trying to handhold your shots. If budgets are really tight, you could even use a super-cheap photography tripod; though they won’t pan and tilt very smoothly, it will at least hold your camera steady.

I’m guessing a lot of the readers of this blog don’t have a bunch of professional experience shooting videos, yet you are being asked (or are volunteering) to make them for an audience ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand. If that’s the case, how can you go about improving your work? First, realize there is very little truly original video out there. For the most part, there are accepted rules, and methods that generate good results. So watch some professionally produced programs (they’re free on TV!). But don’t watch them for the story line (at least not for this exercise), watch them for the technical production details. How did they frame the shot? How does the camera move? What angles did they use? How is it lit? Where was the camera placed in the scene? How do the people in the program interact with the camera?

I’ll let you in on a secret: professionals do this all the time. I once cribbed a really cool visual effect from CSI: Miami for use in a video for one of our students. I was watching a show on Discovery channel and saw a lower third title treatment I liked and created a similar look for another video. When I watch a film with really good cinematography, I will watch it again and study what the cinematographer did. Then I look for opportunities to use some of those techniques.

Here’s the why: The people sitting in our churches every week watch TV too, and they have high expectations. Imagine a couple coming into a church for the first time in many years only to see a poorly produced video that bounces all over the place, with poor audio, bad color and is poorly projected. Will that keep them from returning? I don’t know—but it can’t help. Remember, our job in the Technical Arts is to remove all barriers to an authentic worship experience. That’s why it matters.

Fighting Feedback

My friend Dave Stagl posted a great article on how to eliminate feedback from your spoken word mics. As is Dave’s style, it’s a bit geeky and he breaks out the big guns to make some measurements to help validate what he’s hearing and then help fix it. Even if you don’t own an FFT measurement system (or know what one is), there are still plenty of concepts in his article that will help you fight one of the soundman’s fiercest foes; feedback. Here’s the intro, click on the link to read the full story.

Feedback drives me nuts. It turns my hair gray. I hate it, but unfortunately it is an ongoing issue in live sound.

The biggest gain before feedback challenge for me has always been and still remains spoken word mics. 99% of our spoken word mics are presently head-worn Countryman E6?s, and even though they are head-worn I still refer to these types of mics as lav’s; whether it’s on the side of someone’s head or clipped to a lapel, the capsules are basically the same type of electret microphones. And unfortunately, they all tend to be omnidirectional mics. I have tried directional mics in the past and found them to be more trouble than omni’s.

Read the whole article.

The Big Picture

One of the hardest things for a TD to do, aside from trying to figure out how to please everyone when it comes to the volume of the worship set, is keep an eye on the big picture. Let’s face it, we TDs tend to zoom in to small details pretty quickly. If we or someone on our team misses a cue, we will hold on to that and lose sight of what a great service it was overall. Or if there is a component in our system, any system, that we know is not up to snuff, we’ll fixate on it until we can get it replaced.

It’s important to take a step (or three!) back from the equipment once in a while though, and see what’s really going on. This principle has many applications. When we remember to think in terms of the big picture, we keep our sanity and ultimately do a better job. Here are a few areas where it pays to see the forest, not just the trees.

The People Picture

The tech team is just that, a team. What we do in the technical arts needs to be about people first and technology second. We need to constantly encourage, build up, train, encourage, teach, encourage, mentor and encourage our team. This can be hard to do when it’s five minutes to service time and the lighting console lost communication with some of the lights; I get that. But even in that moment, how we respond to the people and situation will either build up or tear down our team. Make sure it’s the former.

Case in point: On the weekend of our Christmas production, my lighting guy came up to me and asked, “Mike, is there any reason why I wouldn’t have control over any of the lights?” This was Sunday morning at 8:10. Service started at 9. We sat down in front of the console and began to troubleshoot. Honestly, I couldn’t figure out the problem. So I said to him, “Well, let’s write a few basic scenes to the Paradigm and we’ll run service from that today.” We did, and it was fine.

Now I could have thrown a fit, freaked out, panicked or asked him what he did to break the console. Thankfully, God gave me the presence of mind and grace to respond well. Were the lights everything we’d ever hoped for that service? No. But people could see and they still worshiped God. No worries.

The Technology Picture

Now that we live in the information age, it’s really easy to get gear envy. It’s also really easy to focus on one specific area to the exclusion of the others. I’m at heart an audio guy; I just love audio. I wish I could spend all my time tweaking my audio system, trying out new plugins and techniques, and demo’ing new mics. However, I also have to maintain lighting, projection, video and two other venues in the building. So I have to spread myself out.

I’ve learned my goal is not to have the “best” A/V/L systems in the country (whatever that means), but to faithfully support the mission of my church to the best of my ability using the resources given to me. Do I wish I could add another mic to the B3 and get it in an iso room? Yeah! But I have a few other things to do first. We’ll get there, but it takes a while.

I’ve learned to view my job kind of like a layer cake. The first layer is getting things that are currently broken fixed. The next layer is starting some training. Then we begin improving some things, followed by more training and more improving. We keep moving back and forth across all the disciplines until we get it all dialed in (right, like that’s going to happen!). And I’m learning not to let someone else from outside our church set the agenda. Just because some of my friends are installing new speaker systems doesn’t mean that’s the next thing we need to be working on.

This week, take a step back from your daily activities and take a long look at the forest. It’s probably in much better shape than you thought it was. Enjoy that view for a little, then get back to work. Enjoy…

Church Tech Weekly Episode 29: Game Changing Budgets

On this week’s episode, Mike and Van talk budgets. Some thoughts on how to create a budget, what to do when you start going over budget and how to handle large-scale capital expenses. If you are new to your church, or new to making budgets, this will give you some ideas on getting started. If you’ve been doing this a while, you may learn a few things on how to get larger projects approved.


Van Metschke

Picks of the Week:

CTA Classroom: Using Groups

Since it’s a new year, I’m going to change things up on the blog. I’ve noticed that my posts have gotten increasingly esoteric, and possibly only relevant to a small set of readers. So I’m going to set aside Friday’s post as more educational that will hopefully be useful to a wider cross-section. Rather than get all geeky talking about snapshots and scope and automation, we’ll hit things like using groups, gain structure, basic lighting techniques, presentation tricks and probably even some video tips. With that brief introduction, let’s get started. Today’s topic: Using Groups.

Groups Defined

A group, sometimes called a subgroup, is basically another mix bus that you can send the output of channel faders to. You could say that the Main Left and Right is a group—a stereo group typically. The signal comes into the input channels, the gain is set, it’s EQ’d and finally the output goes through the fader to a group; either the L&R main output— sometimes there’s a Mono option also—or you may have anywhere between 4-12 groups.

Most analog boards over 16 channels have at least 4 groups. Larger desks often have 8, the biggest may have 12. Typically, these are mono groups, though most of the time the output of the group can be panned left or right so if you use two of them you can build a stereo group. Usually, the output of the group is fed to the L&R mix, though some boards offer group outputs as well. If there is a matrix mix on board, the inputs of the matrix are usually the groups (including L&R).

Using Groups

To send a channel to a group, you typically push a button somewhere in the channel strip to assign that channel to the group. To save button count, there are normally half as many buttons as there are groups (plus a L&R button). If you want to assign the channel to Group 1, you would push the 1/2 button and pan the channel hard left. To get to Group 2, same button, panned hard right.

Often, the groups automatically are assigned to the L&R mix. Sometimes you have to engage a switch to send it there. If you’re unsure, break out the manual (blow the dust off it first…). Normally you can pan the group if you want.

It’s important that you un-assign the channel from the L&R mix if you’re going to be using groups. Otherwise, you double the channel’s level at the L&R mix, risking overload, and negate the purpose of using groups. If you’ve been playing with groups and come in one day to find no signal coming out of a particular channel, check the group assign switches.

Why Groups?

If you’re mixing to a mono or stereo system, it might seem like more work to use the groups; why not just send everything straight to the L&R mix? Well, you certainly can. However, if you have more than a few instruments on stage, or if you have a band plus a choir plus a number of people speaking each weekend, the use of groups can really make your life easier.

There are dozens of ways you can use groups and I won’t even begin to try to list them all in one post. I will present you a few examples of things I’ve tried which will hopefully give you some ideas. First up, consider a basic 4-group board such as a Mackie 1604VLZ (or the current 1642 VLZ3), a Yamaha MG32FX, or an A&H 2400 series.

A&H GL2400 Allen & Health GL 2400

A Four Group Option

With four groups, you can’t break things up too much. But you can make them useful. Consider this layout:

  • Group 1: Drums
  • Group 2: Guitars
  • Group 3: Keyboards
  • Group 4: Vocals

In this situation, you would assign all your drum mics to group 1, all your guitars to group 2, and so on. Anything that doesn’t fall into those categories gets sent straight to the L&R mix. The advantage of doing this is that you can now move entire sections of your mix around at once. If the drums are feeling too loud in the mix, you can pull them all back, while retaining the balance you’ve set up between the mics. Need some more keys? Push the group up and you’ll get both piano and synth, again, maintaing the relationship between them you set on the faders.

One other thing you can do is group compression. If you don’t have 32 channels of compression for every input channel (and with an analog board, you probably don’t), you can insert a comp on the group. When I was mixing on a Soundcraft Series Two 32-channel desk with 6 channels of outboard comp, I typically had one patched in on my Vocals group. It’s not as ideal as compressing each singer individually, and you do need to be careful how much you compress (that’s another post), but a few dB of gain reduction on the vocal group can keep untrained singers from getting out of place in the mix. Remember, less is more here, and the upside of compressing everything as a group is also the downside; everything gets compressed. A few dB of group comp on the drums can really help glue that together in the mix as well.

An added benefit is that you can now shut the entire band off in the house by pulling down four faders. Note that the group faders will not affect aux sends, so if the channels faders are still up and the channels un-muted, sound will still come out of the monitors. That may or may not be what you want depending on your situation.

Yamaha IM8-32 Yamaha IM8-32

An Eight Group Option

If your board offers eight groups, you have some more flexibility. Here’s how we had our Series Two laid out:

  • Group 1: Speaking Mics
  • Group 2: Vocals
  • Group 3: Drums
  • Group 4: Guitars
  • Group 5: Keys
  • Group 6: Brass Section or Vocal Team (varied by week)
  • Group 7&8: Stereo for CD, iTunes and Video playback

With this type of set up, you can easily tweak the mix using just the groups. Once the overall mix balance is set up, adjustments can be made on the groups to highlight different sections of the band for different songs. Having mixed for a few more years since then, here’s how I may lay it out today:

  • Group 1: Kick & Bass
  • Group 2: Rest of Drums
  • Group 3: Guitars
  • Group 4: Keys
  • Group 5: Brass or Vocal Team
  • Group 6: BGVs
  • Group 7: Worship Leader(s)
  • Group 8: Drama mics

I would sent speaking mics to the main L&R mix, along with all playback. The reason for putting the kick and bass together is that those two form the foundation of the mix. Since they’re tied together musically, it makes sense to control them together. I wouldn’t try to group compress them, however. If you did, every time the kick would hit, the bass would drop down. Better to use individual comps or none at all.

Other Advantages

If you have a matrix, breaking your band up to feed the matrix can be very useful. For example, let’s say you have some ceiling speakers in the lobby or a cry room. Sending the entire house mix to those speakers may cause distortion from all the low end, or the vocals may not be clear. But let’s feed it from a matrix that’s fed from the groups. In this case, you could lower the level of Group 1 and perhaps slightly bump the level of the vocals. If all your channels don’t end up in groups, you can start by sending the main L&R mix to the matrix, then supplement with additional groups to get the mix you need—“subtraction” happens by not adding a particular group to the matrix. Groups give you a lot of flexibility.

I could go on for another thousand words, but I’ll call it quits for now. Obviously, I’ve only scratched the surface of the use of groups, but as I said at the beginning, my intention was not to be exhaustive, but suggest some ideas that will get you thinking.

How do you use groups? Please feel free to share!

How’d They Do That? Audio Routing

I know, I thought we were done with this series, too. But then my ATD, Isaiah, pointed out that I never wrote up a post about how we did all the audio routing for the show, so now I’m obligated. Actually, we had some pretty interesting problems to solve with this. If you don’t own an SD8, much of what we had to do won’t apply to you, but perhaps it will give some inspiration for solving future thorny problems.

First, let’s start off with a little drawing.

Audio block diagram Seems simple enough, no?Our normal set up consists of everything you see there except the MADIRack. DIGiCo generously supplied the MADIRack for us because we were short on inputs. With all the wireless and a full band, choir, house mics, stage mics, tracks and click, we were well over 56 inputs. So, no problem, order up another 48. Inputs—check.

The challenge we faced was with outputs. Normally, we use a function on the SD8 called “Copy to MADI…” Basically, we copy MADI 1 to MADI 2; that is, the input channels of MADI 1 are copied to the output channels of MADI 2. They don’t pass Go, they don’t collect $100, they come in 1 and go out 2. We then feed the S-MADI Bridge (which drives our M-48 band monitor mixers) and the RME MADIFace for recording. DIGiCo thoughtfully included two sets of connectors for both MADI 1 & 2, so it’s a real easy hook up.

The problem is (as I’m sure you can see from the drawing) is that MADI 2 is now occupied by a MADIRack. Moreover, most of the channels we want to copy to MADI 2 are already coming in on MADI 2. You can’t copy a MADI bus to itself. To make matters worse, we couldn’t just copy MADI 2 to MADI 1 because we use the outputs of MADI 1 to drive our house PA and the 4 wedges (plus a backstage monitor, not shown).

My initial thought was, “Oh, no problem, we’ll just use the output of Insert A to send the band channels back out to the individual channels on MADI 2. We won’t hook up the outputs of MADI 2 to the MADIRack and all will be well.” However, when we tried it, all was not well.

First off, the SD8 didn’t like not having the MADIRack partially connected. Unless we hooked up the outputs, it refused to acknowledge they were even there. When we did hook it up, the SD8 thought there were only 8 output channels, a far cry from the 56 we’d need.

After playing with it for a while, Isaiah and Kevin discovered we could lie to the SD8. If we told it the rack in question was not a MADIRack, but a DigiRack, we could also tell it there were 56 outputs installed. Once we convinced the SD8 this was true, we could now patch the channels to all 56 outputs of MADI 2. Life was good. Nice work, guys!

At this point, the plot thickens. The S-MADI Bridge drives the M-48 personal mixers using Roland’s REAC protocol. REAC only handles 40 channels, so the S-MADI pulls the first 40 channels from the incoming MADI stream and sends them on. So we had to be very strategic in how we truncated everything down to 40 channels for the band. We ended up using 4 of the 40 channels for foldback; 2 mono and 1 stereo mix. Most of the instruments went directly out their channel Insert A output right back to the channel they came in on. For example, the kick came in on MADI 2:1, and went out on MADI 2:1.

MADI 2 channels 41-56 were used to direct the wireless mics, stage mics and house mics to the MacBook Pro we keep at FOH for multi-track recording (using an RME MADIFace). And we actually did end up recording almost a full 56 channels (I skipped the click, and one or two others…). To make that connection, we used the thoughtfully included Loop Out on the S-MADI Bridge to carry the full 56-channel MADI 2 stream to the MADIFace. Props to the Roland Systems guys for including that!

While it did take some fiddling and experimenting, we managed to pull off the entire show with this set up with nary a problem. We did run into a few limitations of overwriting MADI channels, but we figured out how to fix them quickly. There were a few head-scratching moments, but once we got it all sorted out, it was really easy to mix and run. Patching the inputs to Reaper took a little time, but I was even able to record rehearsal, run the tracks back into the SD8, tweak the mix and some of the cues, then re-set everything. It took more patching than normal (typically, we just click “Listen to Copied Audio” and the SD8 changes the input point from MADI 1 to MADI 2), but it did work.

Here’s an input sheet if you’d like to see the particulars. This image is a JPG, but if you click it, you’ll get the full 4-page input/output list. Props to Isaiah for managing the list; it changed several times, and he’s done an amazing job programming the Numbers spreadsheet to make it all make sense (and make everything an “enter once, populate where needed” affair).

Input sheet This is only page 1. Click to view/download the full 4-page PDF.
OK, I think that’s it. I think we covered Gunch fully. Next time, we’ll be starting a new series I’m really excited about (mainly because it was suggested by readers!). Tune in Friday.

New Year, New Goals

Here we are at the start of another year. I’m not really a “New Year’s Resolutions” kind of guy; I prefer continuous quality improvement. Still the changing of the year makes for a convenient way to mark time and to re-think some strategies. In the last several days, I’ve been thinking about some of the things I want to accomplish in 2011, things that will hopefully start setting a new pattern of life for me. Perhaps there may be an idea or two in here for you.

Work Less

As a year, 2010 was one of the busiest ever for me. Starting in about February, I began working 50-60 hour weeks, and it never really slowed down. I only took one week of vacation (actually, I was scheduled for two, but ended up working almost all of the first one), and by December, was working 100 hour weeks for our Christmas production. I wrapped up the year exhausted and ready to be done for a while.

Thankfully, I had the foresight to schedule the first week in January as a week off (including the weekend of the 1st-2nd) so including the week the church was closed between Christmas & New Years, I’m taking a full two weeks off. That’s a nice way to start the year.

What I’ve learned is that as my hours go up, my effectiveness goes down. The longer I work crazy hours, the less I actually end up getting done, and the less I care about what I’m doing. I have less time for people, and get discouraged about what I’m doing. My goal for 2011 is to maintain a more manageable pace so as to keep my enthusiasm and energy high.

We probably won’t get all the projects done that we’d like this year, but hey, there’s always next year.

Live More

I’ve noticed that my life has become increasingly one-dimensional. I spend pretty much all my time in the realm of church technology; either working, writing about it, podcasting about it or organizing meetings with other TDs. I live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, and I’m not really getting to experience it. So this year, I want to get out more and see more.

My daughter, a senior this year, is really getting into photography, so I want to spend more time with her doing photo stuff. I’d like to spend more time with friends, cooking, eating, watching movies or whatever. Again, I find myself more effective in my work life when my non-work life has some other dimensions to it. Maybe I’ll even do a little more woodworking this year…

Be More Strategic

Last year, we got a lot accomplished. But it was rather scattershot. This year, I’d like to spend some time planning what projects we’re going to work on, when we’re going to do them and think through why we’re going to do them in a given order. As I said, we have a lot to do, and we need to use our limited time and money wisely. I want to make sure I’m investing my time, and the time of my staff, if projects that will deliver the biggest payoff and move us even close in alignment with the ministry goals of our church.

This will mean we probably won’t get much done in January as we need some planning time; but that’s OK. Ideally, that planning time will make the rest of the year more fruitful.

Delegate More

I’ll admit to being a bit of a control freak. I’ve been on a journey for the last several years learning to let go of things. As a recovering perfectionist, this has been hard. However, I’m learning to enjoy the joy of watching others accomplish things. When someone else gets something done, while it may not bee the way I would have done it, they grow and learn. And that’s more important than making sure it’s done exactly the way I want it. The reality is, I’m surrounded by some really wonderful and competent people, and I need to empower them to do more. All of this hopefully frees me up to spend more time doing things I’m called to do in this season of life.

So there it is, a few things I hope to work on this coming year. My goal in all of this is to make sure I’m moving at a sustainable pace. I want to be around Coast Hills for a long time, and the only way I can do that is to maintain some balance. If all goes well, my time here will be productive, enjoyable and meaningful. What else could one ask for?

Church Tech Weekly Episode 28: Portable Church

Mike is joined by Van Metschke, Dave Friss and Jason Cole. The subject of the day is portable church. The group talks about best practices for setting up tech for a portable church situation and again concludes that it’s a lot more about people than tech.


Van Metscke

Jason Cole

Dave Friss

Pics of the Week:

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