Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: February 2011 (Page 1 of 2)

We Get To Do This

Last week I was asked (perhaps more like roped into) speaking at our Coast Hills Creative Community. We hold these about once a quarter and invite everyone who is involved with the weekend service; band, tech, drama, photographers, hospitality, artists, etc. It’s always a great night getting to hang out with the whole team. According to the run sheet (yeah, we have a run sheet, we’re still planners after all…), my segment was the “Inspirational Message.” After plenty of prayer and Bible study, this is the short version of what I came up with.

And I have to tip my hat to my friend Van Metschke for putting this phrase in my head. The student ministries team at South Hills signs there e-mails with “We get to do this,” and it’s really stuck with me.

We are all called to Worship God.

  • Psalm 99:5  Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy.
  • Psalm 96:9 Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.
  • Psalm 100:2 Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
  • Psalm 100:4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.
  • Psalm 132:7 “Let us go to his dwelling place; let us worship at his footstool”
  • Psalm 95:6 Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;

The Bible is full of references just like that. Clearly we were made to be in a worshiping relationship with God, our creator.

Bad things happen when people don’t worship God.

So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them. The Lord said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the Lord’s fierce anger may turn away from Israel.”

Numbers 25:2-3 MSG

People worship all kinds of things besides God today; cars, houses, jobs, money, spouses. Those things are not evil in and of themselves, but when we set them up as gods, it becomes a real problem.

When we call people to worship God, we may be saving their lives.
That sounds like it might be an overstatement, but I’m not sure it is. Certainly from an eternal perspective, it’s true. When people don’t worship God, they are worshipping something else. And that something else is bound to disappoint. When it does, they seek something else, or find themselves very empty.

What happened was this: People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life. They traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand.

Romans 1:21-23 MSG

Worship happens throughout our lives, and in the corporate singing of praise.
Years ago, a worship pastor once told me that the weekend should be a celebration of the worship that’s taken place in our lives all week long. Worship should be how we live our lives. Worship the way we love and serve others. Worship is the giving of our time, talent and treasure. Worship is doing what God has called us to do, whether that’s working at a church, working in the corporate world, raising your children, or going to school. When we live our lives in obedience to Christ, we are worshiping God. And when we come together as a body on the weekend to engage in corporate worship, something special happens.

The hurting find rest and solace.

The broken to find restoration.

Those who are in a good place get to celebrate what God is doing in their lives.

It is a glorious thing!

Not everyone gets to lead God’s people into worship.
Everyone is called to worship, but not everyone gets to be part of the worship leading team. We do! How cool is that!?

In OT times, only the Levites could lead corporate worship. And to join that team, you had to be born into it. If your name didn’t end in Levi, you may as well not finish filling out the application. Today, we can be called into it. That’s pretty significant! And make no mistake, if you are involved in the weekend service production in anyway, you are called to be part of the worship leading team. We all do that in different ways, but each part is important.

We create an atmosphere of worship.
When I talk with our team and other TDs and churches about the role of the worship team on a weekend, I use the phrase “Creating and atmosphere of worship” a lot. It’s what I believe we do. We can’t make people worship, but we can create an atmosphere that is conducive to the worship experience. How many times have you gone to church as an regular congregant and just had a million things on your mind?

What we do is create a place where all those things can be set aside and people can commune with God.

We get to do that!

We come together and offer up our collective talents, gifts and abilities to God and He makes something wonderful of that in people’s lives.

We get to do that!

Our worship pastor said a few months ago that we incite people to worship. We are that spark, that catalyst that can cause someone to move from not considering God as part of their lives to worshiping Him.

We get to do that!

Everyone’s part is important.
The lighting guy sets the mode with illumination levels.

The sound guy makes sure the band and vocalists are heard.

The presentation gal make sure we all know what words to sing.

The band and vocalists draw people into song.

The camera team gets to bring that experience to our satellite campus otherwise known as the balcony.

The photography team preserves those experiences for the future.

The hospitality team makes sure the band and tech team are well-fed and energized. As a side note, don’t ever minimize the value of that. Musicians and tech people (especially tech people) get cranky when hungry. Your role is vital!

Corporate worship can change people’s lives
I had a worship experience some years back that changed my life. After working way too hard for way too long at my church, I attended with Willow Arts Conference. Standing and singing “O Praise HIm” with 7,000 others on Wednesday night changed how I do ministry. That conference caused me to re-think my schedule which I believe kept me from leaving the ministry altogether.

Is there a better calling?

But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter. “It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship

John 4:23

We get to do this!

CTA Classroom: The Soundcheck

Paul Clark & the Word of Life Church Bandphoto © 2009 Word of Life Church | more info (via: Wylio)
Soundcheck time can be one of the most productive times of the weekend from an audio standpoint. It can also be one of the most frustrating. I have seen a soundcheck turn normally mild-mannered and reserved musicians and engineers into angry combatants. My brothers, this should not be. Soundcheck can be very efficient, productive and dare I say fun; but we have to do a little work first. Because there are so many different ways to do a soundcheck (and so many different church situations), I’m not going to prescribe one “perfect” way. What I want to do instead is offer a series of suggestions that hopefully apply to all situations, and you can create your own plan. Sound good? Here we go…

Line Check First
Few things will frustrate your musicians more than having to stop soundcheck to troubleshoot a bad cable, DI or patch. Before the band even arrives, go through and line check every single line that you’re using that weekend. Even if it’s the same cable you used last week, in the same channel with the same processing. We typically don’t check the actual DIs themselves, but we do pull the mic cable out, attach a 57 to it and make sure we have signal. If it’s an active DI, make sure phantom power is on. And don’t forget the wireless mics. Make sure those are on and working.

Declare Your Intentions
A few minutes before soundcheck is slated to start, I will get on the talkback and say something like, “Hey everyone, good afternoon. We’re going to start soundcheck in 2 minutes, so if you could get plugged in and in place with your ears in and ready to go, it would be great!” Once we actually start, I’ll say something like this, “Hey guys, we’re going to go through each channel one at a time so I can get levels. Once you hear the level stop changing, you can set it in your ears (we use personal mixers). If we can have only the instruments I ask for playing it will make it go really quickly. Let’s start off with the kick.” Making sure everyone knows what is coming up will help them stay focused. This is important because as we all know, most musicians are very ADD.

Stay Organized
Some like to start from the bottom (drums and bass) and work their way up to the top (vocals). Others work in reverse order. Personally I prefer and normally do the former, but which way you go is up to you, and depends on your situation. Whatever you do, stay organized. Don’t start with the kick, then do piano, then guitar, then snare, then vocals, then cymbals. Develop a logical order that works through each instrument and stick with it. Use the same order every week. I suggest you talk through this order with your worship leader in advance as well, just to make sure what you’re doing works for the musicians as well.

Work Quickly, With the Big Picture in Mind
What you want to do during soundcheck is get the levels dialed in to roughly where everything should sit in the mix. You might do some quick EQ and on drums perhaps tweak the gate or comp. But do it quickly. No one wants to hear the drummer hitting quarter notes on the snare for 15 minutes. Ideally, you’ve paid attention to where your gate and comp settings should be and have already preset them so you’re only tweaking. Same goes for gains, if you can manage it (digital consoles are great in this regard). If you have 30 minutes for soundcheck and you spend 25 getting the drums dialed in, it will be tough to take care of the rest of the band in the remaining five minutes. Get things close and move on. You can always come back and tweak settings after rehearsal gets underway.

Pre-Build Monitor Mixes
If you’re mixing monitors from FOH (and even if you aren’t), it’s not a bad idea to pre-build some rough monitor mixes before you start. I know most of my vocalists well enough to know roughly what they like in their monitors from week to week, so I’ll normally start a mix before they get there. Then it’s a simple matter of tweaking. It also really helps musicians through the soundcheck process if they can hear themselves right away. Start with the gains and monitors a little lower than you think you’ll need, and work up.

Get the Vocals to Sing
There are few things as unhelpful during soundcheck than having vocalists speaking, “Check 1,2…” Guitar players constantly noodling is a close second, but I digress. I like to have all the vocals sing a chorus while I dial in gains. We’ve told our vocal team, don’t worry about your monitor mix just yet, simply sing. Usually we’ll have the piano or guitar play along for pitch, but it should otherwise be only vocals. Have them keep looping until you have their levels dialed in. Of course, starting with rough gains and monitors makes this go faster.

You’ll notice a consistent theme running through this post; get things ready beforehand. The start of soundcheck is not the time to be peeling out the board tape and labeling the desk. By the time the band is set up, you should have completely line-checked, roughed in your gains and pre-built rough monitor mixes. Starting from scratch can be a good thing once in a while, but if you know roughly where things end up each week, starting a little below that makes things go a lot faster.

We have our soundcheck down to about 20-25 minutes right now, and that’s with a full band with 2-3 vocal monitor mixes. Soundcheck doesn’t have to be a painful process. Take some time to develop a system that works well for you, pre-build as much as possible, then communicate clearly to the band. Soon you’ll find it going more smoothly and both you and the band will have more time for rehearsal.

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Interesting Finds for the Week: Feb 24, 2011

Here are few things I found on the web this past week. Sorry it’s a day late; it’s been a busy week…

Here’s What You Do If Locked in a Vegas Hotel With a $150K Slo-Mo Video Camera | Co.Design
This just cool. Make sure you watch the video…

TidBITS Home Macs: Mobee Magic Charger Makes Batteries Disappear
Contactless recharging for the Magic Mouse. Now we need to get this tech moved to wireless mics…

Why Can’t Death Be Beautiful, Instead of Just Depressing? [Slideshow] | Co.Design
Interesting thoughts on how architecture affects our perception

Reaper Navigation Tutorial
Very useful video on navigating in Reaper. I learned a lot in the first 2 minutes. There is an entire series of videos available.

This probably never happens in your church, but it’s a pretty funny look at the “strained” relations that sometimes develop between tech and musos…

The Art of Telling Stories
Read the article substituting “church” for company and “members” for employees.

Being Solutions Oriented

One lesson that took me a while to learn in my role of a TD is that we need to be solutions oriented. By that I mean, when our pastor or boss comes to us with an idea or problem, they want it solved. By us. That’s why we are on staff. That may seem obvious, but something we as techies tend to do is start coming up with possible obstacles, problems, and reasons why it won’t work/can’t be done. And that’s a problem. It’s not beneficial to be in a position of always telling your boss why you can’t do something. Instead, what you want to do is solve their problem.

Loose The Defensiveness
Often times, we think that when our boss comes to us with a challenge, it’s an attack on our competency or ability. We may immediately start wondering why we have to change this or that, and jump into a defensive posture. The mood very quickly becomes adversarial and now our boss is put into a position of having to defend his request, and may well pull the “boss” card.

Other times, if we don’t have a solution to a problem right off the top of our heads, we’ll again become defensive. Instead of feeling like we need to defend our existence, or come up with an answer on the spot, simply acknowledge the request and promise to start working on the solution. Many times, requests that seem unreasonable in the moment, turn out to be perfectly justifiable after some thought. When we sit back and think about the situation, more often than not, we’ll come up with an elegant solution. It’s what makes us good at what we do. So don’t add unnecessary pressure to the situation.

Now, that model works well for requests that have a little longer term timeline; think days to weeks. However, sometimes we’re confronted with something that needs to change right now. How do we handle that?

Just Do It
To borrow a phrase from Nike, Just Do It. Unless it’s illegal, patently dangerous or morally wrong, just do it. When the pastor walks up to FOH and says it’s too loud, don’t engage in a debate on SPL levels, weighting or the spirit of the music. Just turn it down. Have the discussion later. When your boss says the moving lights are hitting people in the eyes and it’s annoying, change the animation programming to get them out of people’s eyes.

A key element of being a good TD is being able to choose your battles. Not every hill is worth dying on; in fact, most aren’t. Every time you engage in an argument in the moment of conflict, you burn precious capital. If you do that often enough, you’ll find you have no capital left. We need to preserve and build up capital so that when it comes to a battle we really do need to win, we have the backing and track record to pull it off.

Present Solutions
Let’s take volume as an example (because it’s easy and common). If the pastor asks you to turn down the volume, do it. Afterwards, see if you can find a few minutes to engage him on that. Start asking questions about why he felt it was too loud. Was it too loud overall, or just certain parts? Was it a frequency thing? Is there too much stage volume? Too many guitar amps on stage? Remember that these are diagnostic questions, not a sneaky way to tell him he’s an old fuddy duddy and needs to get with the times.

Once you diagnose the problem, start suggesting solutions. For example, if you determine that the overall volume wasn’t the issue, but instead the tuning of the PA is producing pain at certain frequencies, you can suggest bringing someone in to help you fix that. Don’t go all audio-geek on him, but explain what’s going on and how it can be fixed. Pastors like that.

Build Trust
It takes a while to demonstrate that you’re a team player. The sad fact is that most pastors have had plenty of run-ins with the tech people. Many pastors are predisposed to not trust the tech guys, or consider them part of the team. That’s mainly because too often, we’re not. We’re too busy pushing our agenda to focus on what’s best for the church. So sometimes, we need to set our agenda and preferences aside and just get along. As we do that, and solve the problems the pastor thinks are important, we build trust.

Once we demonstrate that we’re on board with his plan, only then can we start interjecting some of what we think needs to happen. At the end of the day, it’s really about building healthy relationships; and it will be those relationships that will move everyone forward.

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Mixing with IEMs Update

Since I wrote the original article on mixing with IEMs, I’ve been mocked, dismissed and told that this is a terrible idea to try, let alone recommend to anyone else. As it keeps coming up on Twitter, (and again the concept was thoroughly derided) I thought it would be good to write an update of how it’s working out for us. The naysayers will likely be disappointed as we are still doing it and getting great results. In fact, we continue to get compliments on the mix almost every week  even though there are three of us rotating through FOH with slightly different styles.

Now when I first wrote the article, it was really a, “I didn’t think this would work, but here’s an interesting finding” piece. I couldn’t really explain why it worked, it was simply clear that it was working. However, after doing some analysis and thinking about what’s going on in our room, I’ve come to a conclusion. But first, I should qualify this as saying that this works great for us, in our room, with our band, and our PA. I’m willing to admit that we may be the only venue in the world where it does work (more on that in a minute). Regardless, here’s why I think it works for us.

First off, we have a perfect storm of bad FOH locations. In our room, FOH is in a balcony 20 feet above the audience, 90 feet from the PA. We have a PA that was not designed for our room, and is hung incorrectly. The top boxes (EAW KF750s) are aimed directly at the FOH position. The bottom boxes (KF 755s) are pointed at the front section of seating on the floor. That means the whole back section of the house is entirely off axis of the PA. We have a 10 dB SPL difference between FOH and the back section of seating and 6 dB SPL between FOH and the front. In case you’re not hip to how big of a difference that is (the SPL scale is logarithmic), it’s a lot! And because of the way the boxes interact, the frequency response between the floor and the balcony is completely different. And don’t get me started on the side walls (slanted, but the wrong way) and the hard back wall with no treatment on it right behind us.

We’ve spent hours and hours trying to tweak the PA to create a more even sound across the seating area and in the balcony, however nothing short of a complete re-hang will fix it. And even that solution will put the FOH position off-axis of the mains, and leave us again not hearing what everyone else hears on the floor. As an aside; kids, this is why you pay for a proper design of your PA and don’t just hang any old cabinets in the air willy-nilly.

The net result of all those factors is that what we hear in the balcony is nothing like what everyone else hears on the floor. Seriously; it’s not even close. We may as well be mixing in a different room on different speakers (in fact, we are…). However as it turns out, the frequency and dynamic response of our UE7s closely approximates what the PA is actually doing on the floor. This is clear when we build a mix with the IEMs in, then pull them out to listen at FOH, then go downstairs. The mix built on the UE7s sounds OK at FOH (and often quite a bit bright), but downstairs it is remarkably similar—and remarkably good.

Again, I will point out that we’re not just plugging in our ears, closing our eyes and mixing. Wally Grant pointed out on Twitter (in response to a Dave Miller tweet) that he too thought this was crazy unless we were to give everyone in the house earplugs. We don’t of course; and to make sure we’re not going crazy with the mix, we have an FFT, real-time SPL and SPL logging running at FOH, and have for the past 6-8 months. We know how loud our music is supposed to be, and it’s an easy matter of glancing over at the meter and level graph to see how we’re doing. We also make it a regular habit of popping out the ears and listening live. And we have someone else in the booth listening who can suggest adjustments as needed (which is not that often). Interestingly, we used to get complaints on the volume almost every week. Those complaints have largely disappeared.

Now, would I rather have a properly designed and installed PA that provides even coverage over the entire room and have FOH on the floor so we can actually hear what everyone else hears? Absolutely!! But until someone is willing to write that $150,000 check to make it happen, we can either mix in a different acoustic space, on different speakers and get lousy, inconsistent results, or we can mix on our UE7s and enjoy weekly compliments.

Tim Corder hashtagged a Tweet saying, “Just because it’s on a blog doesn’t make it good.” (To which I wanted to respond, “Guys, I’m right here…I can hear you) But he is right. Just because it works in our room for us doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for everyone. However, the fact of the matter is in our room, it works. I’m even willing to suggest that we may be the only facility in the world where we get better results mixing on ears than mixing listening to the PA. (Actually I don’t believe that, but it is possible.) He also said it’s called “live” mixing for a reason. Again, I agree. I don’t mix dead. I’m listening to the music at the exact same time the congregation hears it. I respond to the band just like I would in any other setting and I watch the crowd to see how they’re responding. It’s all happening in real time; dare I say, live. I’m simply choosing to monitor the mix on a source that more closely approximates what the crowd is hearing.

Now, if you have a lousy FOH position, this technique costs nothing to try and may give you good results. It also may not. If it doesn’t work for you, put the IEMs back in the tin and try something else. All I can say with confidence is that it’s made a huge improvement in our place. In fact, this past Saturday during debrief, our Sr. Pastor commented (on his own), “The sound was awesome tonight.” I was mixing, and went back and forth between ears in and ears out all night.

Since I wrote this post, my friend Dave Stagl wrote a counter point explaining why he thinks this technique is flawed. As I said, Dave is my friend and I respect his opinion and skill. Dave makes a compelling argument and I agree with almost all of what he says. We’ve talked about this on a few occasions and while we may differ as to our approach, we agree completely on one thing; at the end of the day, the people who sign our checks need to be happy. And right now, even with two different approaches, my boss is happy, as is Dave’s.

And when it comes down to it, I’m not advocating this technique. I just think it’s interesting. If you don’t think it’s a good idea, don’t do it. I won’t be offended. Now, can we get on to more fun debates like whether that bottom snare mic is really necessary or if rechargeable batteries work or not?

CTA Classroom: The Proximity Effect

Today we’re going to take a quick look at a characteristic of directional microphones called the Proximity Effect.

The proximity effect is one that exists in microphones with any of the cardioid (cardioid, super-cardioid, hyper-cardioid, ultra-intersellar-cardoid—OK, I made that last one up…) patterns. As the mic is moved closer to the sound source, the low end response of the mic is boosted.

Proximity Effect Sample vocal mic response graph.

On this graph, the solid line represents the response of the mic at 12” from the sound source. The dashed line shows the response at 2”, and it’s clear how much the lower octaves are boosted. This can be desirable for vocals, as it tends to add warmth and a nice bottom sound. However, those boosted lower frequencies can also be overpowering and cause the sound to get what we often call “muddy.” Clarity can suffer at times depending on the vocal and the sound quality of the mic.

We need to be aware of the proximity effect for two reasons. First, when we’re using cardioid vocal mics (and we almost always are), if we’re hearing excessive low end in the vocal, we know exactly where to roll off that low end to bring it back down to a more manageable level. Second, if a vocalist is moving the mic all over the place, near and far, the low end response is going to change. That makes it difficult to get a consistently good sound. At that point, we need to have a quick discussion with them (and not via the talkback mic…) about holding the mic at a more consistent distance from their mouth.

It’s important to note that the proximity effect isn’t all bad. We can take advantage of it when we need some extra low end. Keeping guitar mics right close to the cabinet will help emphasize the lower registers. And if we’re getting too much low end, before reaching for the EQ, try pulling the mic back a little bit.

The same can go for drum mics. Experiment with moving them closer and farther from the drum heads to see what kind of sound you get. Typically they work best pretty close, but sometimes backing them off just a little will clean up the low end overtones. Other times, keeping them really tight will help emphasize the low end (especially in floor toms) and give you some extra oomph.

I like to take a look at the frequency response graphs of mics I’m using to get an idea of how they will respond at various distances. Some manufacturers are really good at providing good data, others are not. However, more information is always better, so take a look at your mic manuals, or search them out on the manufacturer’s websites. Having a good idea of how your mics react will help you get the most out of them.

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Interesting Finds for the Week: Feb 17, 2011

I’m going to try an experiment. Once a week, on Thursdays, I’m going to publish a list of links I found interesting. I read a wide variety of stuff, so it may not all be relevant to you. But some of it could be useful. So here you go. If you find this helpful, let me know and I’ll keep it up.

Interesting Links for the Week

Virtual Soundcheck on the Cheap

As promised, today we’ll follow up Monday’s post, Training Audio Volunteers, with some thoughts on doing Virtual Soundcheck if you don’t have a DiGiCo or Avid console at your disposal. Disclaimer: This is not going to be exhaustive. There are hundreds of hardware/software combinations that will get you the same result. These are some ideas only. Also, it should be noted that “cheap” is a relative term. All of these solutions are going to cost money, real money. However, if you church is serious about raising the level of audio technician performance, it’s money well spent. On we go…

First, let’s define “Virtual Soundcheck.” Virtual Soundcheck is simply being able to record the band with each channel on it’s own track and then being able to play that recording back, in place through the same channels on your console. To illustrate with a very primitive example, let’s say your “band” is a worship leader with an acoustic guitar. To facilitate virtual soundcheck, you would need a way to record the vocals and guitar on separate tracks, and you want those sources to come off the board before any EQ or dynamics. Typically, you’re using Direct Outputs or the Insert Outputs. When you get ready to practice, you do a little patching (in software or hardware) and play back that recording through the same channels you use if the worship leader and his guitar were live in the room.

One thing should be immediately apparent here; the bigger your band (and the more sources you have), the more elaborate the system you’re going to need for virtual soundcheck. If you are running 30-40 inputs every weekend, this post is really not for you as that system is not going to be cheap. Rather, I’m focusing on those who run fewer than 24 channels per weekend (a number that is not arbitrary, as you’ll see in a minute) and using an analog board. Here are a few ways to get it done.

M-Audio ProFire 2626 M-Audio ProFire 2626
Audio Interface(s)
The simplest way of doing this job is with a USB or more likely a FireWire interface such as the M-Audio ProFire 2626, a Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 or similar interface with 8 analog inputs and 8 analog outputs. The first thing you’ll notice when shopping for an interface is that manufacturers get very creative in the way they count I/O. For example, the ProFire 2626 is listed as having 26 inputs and 26 outputs, which it does. But only 8 of them are analog. And if you’re using an analog console, that’s all you care about. If you have a digital console with ADAT I/O, you gain you an additional set of 8 useable channels.

Focusrite Saffire Pro40 Focusrite Saffire Pro40Now, the catch here is that there aren’t any interfaces with more than 8 channels of analog I/O (at least I can’t find any). So that means if you’re running 12 channels of audio, 4 get left behind. Unless you get creative. You might ask why you can’t just connect two 8-channel interfaces to your computer and send those inputs to your recording software. The issue is that most DAW software won’t support multiple I/O devices simultaneously (if I’m wrong on that point, someone please correct me—my knowledge of the intimate details of all DAWs on the market is not exhaustive). If your DAW of choice doesn’t support multiple I/O devices, there is a workaround, at least on the Mac.

In Audio/MIDI settings, you can create what’s called an Aggregate Device, which allows you to create a virtual device that is made up of two or more actual devices. You then chose the Aggregate Device as your I/O source in your DAW, and all the inputs and outputs on all devices that make up the Aggregate Device are available to the DAW.

So an example system might be made up of two Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 interfaces combined into an aggregate device and recorded using Reaper on a Mac Mini. That would give you 16 channels of recording and playback for around $1500, give or take. That seems pretty reasonable; at least until you consider the next option.

Hard Disk-based Recorders

There exist on the market a couple of hard drive-based recorders, most notably the Alesis HD24. This little 3 rack space wonder is capable of recording or playing back 24 tracks of 48KHz 24 bit audio. It has 24 channels of analog I/O (plus 24 channels of ADAT I/O) and costs about $1600. Really, this is the way to go. It requires no computer, is simple to set up and operate and is rock-solid reliable. Add 24 channels of TRS patch cables and you’re done.

Alesis HD24 Alesis HD24Other options include the Tascam X-48, which is a full-blown 24 channel workstation (and almost $5,000) and the excellent, but somewhat pricey JoeCo BlackBox, which will set you back almost $3,000 by the time you add a drive.

JoeCo BlackBox JoeCo BlackBox

There are a few caveats with any of these solutions. First, if your board has direct outputs, it’s a fairly simple matter to patch those direct outs to the inputs of whatever recording solution you use. Getting back in, however, will require some re-patching. You’ll want to pull your mic inputs, and patch the outputs from the recorder or interface(s) into the Line Inputs on your console.

If you don’t have direct outs, you’ll need to use the inserts. One cool thing about the JoeCo BlackBox is that the inputs are normalled back out to the outputs during every operation except playback. That means that for recording (or just sitting there), the insert signal is returned and you can continue to use the board normally. When you hit “Play,” it opens the normal and sends the recorded signal back to the return on the board. From a user interface standpoint, that’s really nice. However, it will cost you twice what an HD24 costs…

When using the inserts, you will likely need to push the cables into the console until the first click. An insert jack is a TRS (tip, ring, sleeve) connector, so it has 3 contact points. Most consoles use the ring as the send, so if you push a TS cable in to the first click, you get the equivalent of a direct out (albeit an unbalanced one). Pushing it in all the way will interrupt the signal, so you’ll only do that on playback.

Using inserts is going to mean a fair amount of patching and some experimenting, so don’t decide to try this out at 8:50 on Sunday morning.

Once you get the system up and running like you want, start recording your services in all their multi-track glory. Then during the week, you can practice and experiment just like the band is there, only they aren’t. Keep in mind, you won’t have any acoustic energy coming from the stage, so things like drums and vocals will be a little different. But this is still a great tool for training and experimenting with various processor settings.

Like I said, this isn’t exhaustive; I only intended to give a few examples. Hopefully though, it will get you thinking about how you can implement a virtual soundcheck system in your church.

This post is brought to you by Horizon Battery, suppliers of  award-winning Ansmann rechargeable systems that are used worldwide by Cirque du Soleil and over 25,000 schools, churches, theaters, broadcast companies, & businesses. Learn more about their pro-grade batteries and chargers by visiting their web site. Tested and recommended by leading wireless mic manufacturers and tech directors.

Church Tech Weekly Episode 34: Spectrum Foo

Mike and Van are joined by Karl Winkler of Lectrosonics. Now that we’ve made it through the 700 MHz transition, there is a new potential threat to our wireless serenity. Karl offers some great insights on how to prepare and what we can expect. Don’t worry, the sky is not yet falling, but we’re all going to need to get better at RF understanding and management.

Van Metschke
Karl Winkler

Picks of the Week:

  • Apple iPad (handheld wireless awesomeness) $499 and up
  • Desktop Connect (VNC/RDP remote access iPad client) $14.95
  • AC7 Core (Virtual control surface for iPad) $7.99

Theme song:

But I Play One on TV (I’m Not a Fuzoid) by Norm Stockton’s Tea in the Typhoon album.

Training Audio Volunteers

Noise boysphoto © 2009 Kjetil Aavik | more info (via: Wylio)

In most churches, front of house audio (FOH) is the most difficult tech job. It’s every bit as visible as song words (or presentation as we call it), and far more difficult to master. As the church get bigger, the band typically does as well, which makes the job that much tougher.

Finding volunteers who are willing to take the time to learn how to mix FOH can be challenging; I suspect most churches have only a handful of people in their entire congregation who even could do it, let alone who are willing to do it. Once you find them, it’s critical to train them well. Failure to train a volunteer is akin to setting them up to fail. Which means, if they fail, it’s our fault.

Sometimes churches will just have a new volunteer start showing up and stand behind the mixer with an existing operator. The existing tech may show them a few things—this control does this, that control does that—and a week or two later the unsuspecting newbie is thrust into the limelight. It’s not a great way to start things off—for anyone.

I’m occasionally asked how I train audio volunteers, and today I’ll pull back the curtain to that process (not that it’s that super-secret…). The first thing I always tell prospective audio volunteers is that this is going to be a process, a long process. I don’t expect anyone to go from, “Hey, I’d like to learn sound,” to mixing FOH solo in less than 6 months. Occasionally I’m surprised, and it’s possible that someone could do it if they were there every weekend. But most can’t be, so it takes 6-12 months to get them fully prepared to handle a weekend.

And when I say fully prepared, I mean that they could handle all the audio needs of a service if I wasn’t there. At the end if this post, I’ll include my current training plan at Coast Hills. But first, here are some general thoughts.

Start at the Beginning

As we know from The Sound of Music, that’s a very good place to start. Our audio trainees will spend a few months getting to know the mic locker, our cable storage system, our stage layout and learn to set up the stage. Only after they can set the stage by themselves with only the aid of an input sheet are they allowed to learn the mixer at all.

Too often, people want to start learning the mixing board right off the bat. I suggest this is a bad idea for two reasons. First, the FOH position is a servant position. As important as knowing the equipment and having a good ear is, a really great FOH engineer is a servant. FOH can also be viewed as a prestigious position, and putting someone in there too soon can lead them to forget why they’re there.

Second, when someone learns the mixer, but doesn’t have a very solid grasp of how the audio gets there, if something, anything, goes wrong, they have no clue how to fix it. Intimately knowing the entire signal path will make it far easier to track down trouble.

Use Milestones, not Time

Everyone learns at their own pace, and it’s important to not force people into the next level if they’re not ready for it. It’s also important to not hold people back. Some volunteers will pick this up really quickly and can move on to the next level sooner than others. Let them. Holding them back will frustrate them and you.

It’s important to have a series of milestones that can be agreed upon as points to move forward. For example, when someone can set the entire stage by themselves, they can move on to basic training on the SD8. Some people will get that in a month. Others will take 6 months; either is OK.

I promise every prospective sound volunteer that I will stick with them as long as it takes. It’s important to be in this for the long haul.

Now, some people are just not going to get it, and we need to deal with that separately. And we may find that some will never get to full-fledged weekend FOH engineers. But we’ll find people who can be great A2s or set up/tear down folks, and we’ll find people that can handle simple events, like our mid week service.

Don’t Train on Weekends

The weekend service is perhaps the worst time of all to train anyone. There is a lot at stake, we have deadlines to hit and if anything goes wrong, it’s bad. Plus it’s really hard to stop and talk during the service.

I always prefer to train during the week. We spent a few thousand dollars pulling together the equipment we need to do a virtual soundcheck so I can train people whenever. It sounds like a lot of money, but if you want well-trained audio volunteers, it’s worth it. Smaller churches can do this on a smaller scale, though it takes a little more work. I’ll work on a post covering that topic.

In our process, trainees will spend time behind the board with me getting to know it during the week. We’ll spend as much time as necessary for them to feel comfortable. They can ask questions, twist knobs and move faders to their heart’s content without fear of consequence.

Remember, this is a tough position. As my friend Van says, “It can take a year to learn to mix FOH, but it takes a lifetime to get good at it.” Don’t rush the process, tempting as it may be. In the long-run, everyone will be better off.

You can download our training plan and A2 position description by clicking on the links.

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