Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: August 2011 (Page 2 of 2)

Saving Your Bacon with iCal

Any type of live production is fraught with peril. There are a ton of tasks that need to be accomplished in the right order, at the right time, for the service or production to run smoothly. Add in the pressures and complications of most church systems (often less that ideal) and working with non-professional volunteers (we love them, but it’s not what they do for a living), and it’s easy to forget a critical step and miss something. 

We’ve run into that at Coast a time or two. Even though we can multi-track the whole service (and we do), we still run a CD of the 9 AM service to have as an archive. Most of the time we remember to hit record, but it’s amazing how many times that CD burner is empty when we do. 

And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked out of the booth, down the stairs, through the lobby on my way to pre-service prayer only to realize I forgot to turn the lobby speakers amp on. So back up I go. 

Long-time readers will know I’m a fan of checklists, and we have checklists. But I think we’ve found a better way. I’ve written before about a few AppleScripts I’ve written to automate the recording of our services. Those little beauties are fired from iCal events and arm the proper tracks and start Reaper recording. No more missing the first half of the first song! 

It occurred to me the other day that we could use the same logic for reminding us of other things we need to do. For example, we have to do a little patching on the SD8 every week to make the holdbacks work (it’s really easy–I wrote a macro to do it–but it still has to be done). We usually remember it on Saturday when we’re setting up the board. But Sunday morning when we come in, it’s easy to just power it up and forget, despite the board tape reminder at the top of the console.

So, I wrote an iCal event to fire an alert on the screen of our recording Mac (which conveniently sits on top of the SD8) to remind me to patch the foldbacks. It goes off at 7:40 every Sunday morning. We have another event with a reminder that goes off at 8:45 to remind us to load a CD into the recorder. Still others remind us to start and stop the SPL logging (that’s 4 altogether; start & stop on Saturday and start & stop on Sunday). Since we’ve forgotten to upload the podcast after we edit it (mainly because we’re heading to the green room for food while it renders) we have an alert that reminds us to do that.

 

This is a list of the weekly reminders we have set up. As you can see, they’re all recurring events.

And of course, we have events to remind us to turn the lobby speakers on (5:25 on Saturday, 8:25 on Sunday), check the wireless mics (5:30 Saturday, 8:30 Sunday) and even stop the Reaper recording (6:15 Sat., 10:15 and 12:15 Sunday). 

We set all these events up as recurring events with message alerts that go off 1 minute before the event time. To keep the schedule from going crazy with overlapping events, we keep the duration to 5 minutes for each event. We’ve gotten to the point where anytime we say, “Doh! I forgot to [fill in the blank],” we write an iCal event to remind us. To make sure it all works, we have iCal set to auto-launch on start up, so it’s always running in the background (set that up in System Preferences -> Accounts -> Login Items).

Now you could say, “Why not just remember all this stuff, or use a checklist?” Well, we could. But the reality is, our services are getting more complex all the time (from a technical perspective) and quite frankly, I’d rather use technology to remind me to do the boring stuff so I can focus more processing cycles on the fun stuff, like mixing or spending time with my volunteers. 

What items to you need iCal (or Outlook) to remind you to do on a weekend?

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Hiring Technical Staff, Pt. 3

Last time around, we considered what often goes wrong when a church hires a TD (or other significant technical staff person). Today, I’d like to dig a little deeper into the process and look at some of the keys for getting the right person on the right seat of the right bus (with apologies to Jim Collins). 

Obviously, the process for hiring a TD will be different at every church, but I think there are some principles that apply universally for good results. This may not be an exhaustive list, but it represents the best practices that I’ve seen over the last few years (and the previous two times I’ve been hired).

Recognize the Importance of the Position

I think one of the biggest mistakes the church makes when hiring a TD is to fail to recognize how important the position really is. As I mentioned last time, a really good TD will make a difference for everyone at the church, though few will know it’s actually the TD who’s responsible. The church is good at realizing that the student pastor is important, as is the children’s pastor and the worship leader. The TD needs to be in that same class of importance. That means there needs to be a proper salary range (in the same ballpark as those other leaders). 

It also means you approach the search with the same gravity that you would a worship leader or associate pastor. Slow down, take your time, pray through it thoroughly and make sure you have the right person. If you go into it thinking it’s a simple part-time position and you need to “just get someone in here to run sound,” you will be disappointed. 

Keep Expectations Realistic

I have seen some job descriptions for TDs that boggle my mind. Some churches expect the TD to be an expert in all manner of technology, both in it’s operation, design, repair and maintenance  (including IT), be trained theologically, be an expert motivator and equipper of people, perform the functions of a pastor while keeping every single A/V system in the building fully functional at all time and be available 6 nights a week for various functions and rehearsals.

Most TDs I know are pretty high-capacity people, but churches that put that load on their TD are setting them up to fail. I once interviewed at a church that wanted the TD to start in July so they would have time to recruit and train a team of technical volunteers who would be ready to start serving by the fall ministry kickoff. I said, “The fall of next year, right?” I tell you the truth, growing a volunteer technical team from 2 to 6 is every bit as difficult and time consuming as growing a children’s volunteer team from 20 to 100. 

If you hire a guy (or gal) who really knows their stuff and has a track record of success, let them run their department. Don’t second-guess their equipment choices, or their picks for vendors. Believe them when they tell you it will take XX hours and $XXXX to get the job done and help them figure out how to make it happen. When hiring a younger TD with less experience, make sure he or she has the access to qualified vendors; don’t demand they figure out how to do it cheaper. Trust me, you don’t want them experimenting with possible equipment choices because you won’t let them hire a good system integrator. Also, make sure they are getting connected with other, seasoned TDs in the area. Church Tech Leaders is a great way to make that happen.

Get the Right Fit

This could be one of the most important elements of the process. The fit of a TD to the staff is so critical, it can’t be understated. As a TD candidate, one of the first things I ask myself when interviewing at a church is, “Can I work with this group of people?” This is not a value judgement; it’s a realistic assessment of whether I believe our personalities will gel and if I’m on board with the overall ministry philosophy. Make sure you explore this in depth when interviewing.

The only real way to find this out is to spend plenty of time with your candidates at least the final two or three. Bring them and perhaps even their wives and families out for a visit. Make sure they can fully observe a weekend service, meet the rest of the staff and volunteers. Then ask everyone they interacted with what their take on that candidate was. 

You will be better off in the long run hiring a person with a little less skill who fits really well with the team than a rockstar tech who is difficult to get along with. You don’t have to become best friends, but you shouldn’t dread the thought of going to lunch with them either.

Hire People Builders

This is another area where churches miss the mark: They tend to hire great (or at least good to OK) technicians who are lone rangers. The job of the TD is to Technically Direct. Direct implies that he’s not doing everything by himself (though he should be pretty proficient from a hands-on perspective); rather, he’s building in to other people who are doing much of the work.

Training non-professional people to do highly complex technical tasks like run lighting and sound takes a long time, a lot of patience and the ability to teach (not to mention develop systems and processes that volunteers can actually use). Make sure your prospective TD has those qualities, at least in raw form. If they need help developing them, get them help. 

There is so much more to this topic that I’m going to roll it over into next week. In the next installment, we’ll take a look at job descriptions and how to set your prospective new TD up for success.

What do you look for in a successful TD candidate?

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Hiring Technical Staff, Pt. 2

Following up on my previous post of hiring technical staff, today I’d like to share some thoughts on hiring “the man,” the Technical Director. A lot of churches get this wrong, and I’d like to help. It may sound like I’m railing on churches in this article, but I’m really not. Churches are generally pretty good at hiring pastoral staff, ministry directors and even worship leaders. But we tech people are just different, and the role of TD is still a very new one; there just isn’t a lot of collective knowledge in this area yet. So keep that in mind, OK?

At the risk of blowing my own horn (and all TD’s horns collectively), a really good TD has the ability to significantly improve the weekend worship experience for everyone in the room. That sounds like an overstatement, but it’s really not. And the TD can make that difference not because of his mad mixing or lighting skills, but because a really good TD will develop systems, processes and people that will make the weekend run more smoothly and enable everyone from the worship leader to the pastor to do their job more effectively. On the other hand, a not so good TD will make everyone’s lives miserable. 

Now that I have your attention, let’s look at how a church typically hires their fist TD. The church starts and grows. As it’s growing, willing volunteers step up to manage the technical requirements of the service. As the church gets bigger and the production needs become more complex, the church struggles to find volunteers who are willing to devote the necessary time and energy required to keep the system going. Eventually, they decide to hire someone.

The first place most churches look is within the ranks of volunteers. These are the guys who have been “running sound” for a few years and have served well. A church might say to one of these guys, (and they’re typically young guys in their early 20’s…), “Hey, why not come join our staff and get paid to do what you’re doing already?” The guy says yes and they’re off. 

At this point, the new TD likely has no actual technical training, nor is he afforded any by his new employer. The church puts him in charge of all the other volunteers (whether he has the ability to lead, train and develop or not) and gives him dominion over all the technical systems of the church (though he may or may not have any real understanding of how they all work). He is paid a pittance of a salary because, “He used to do it for free,” a pittance he accepts because he used to do it for free. Finally he is given almost no budget.

After about a year or two, it’s not working. The TD is frustrated from working 50-60-70 hours a week, he can’t get the resources he needs to move the church forward and the church isn’t happy with the way he’s not developing volunteers; this despite the fact they’ve never trained him to do so. The church finally fires said TD (who will often leave the Church for a while, sometimes for good) and looks for another victim, er, TD.

The second TD is usually from another church, often currently in the situation as a first TD. He’s hoping the grass is greener over there. During the hiring process, the church will share all their disappointments with and shortcomings of the “old guy” with the new recruit and make all kinds of promises as to how this will be better than the new guy’s current situation. The salary might get slightly larger, but often works out to a few dollars more than minimum wage, because after all, it’s just tech.

The new guy comes in, maybe with a little more skill and knowledge than the previous guy and begins tearing out all the old work. By this time, the volunteers are suffering from whiplash and begin to leave. As the volunteers leave, the TD’s workload goes up. The pressure from leadership increases to not only deliver higher production values, but also to build a bigger volunteer base. Oh, and the budget hasn’t grown any, either.

After a year, maybe two if this guy is tough, the TD and church are once again at loggerheads (I’ve always wanted to use that word!). By this time, the church is pretty much done with this guy, and the TD is likewise ready to quit. He does, or is fired and the search begins anew.

At this point, if the church is smart, they realize this is actually a pretty important position and starts looking for a really qualified candidate with a successful track record. The budget is finally increased to pay someone who is old enough to have a family what they should be paid–which is to say, something closer to what the pastors are getting paid, and farther from the receptionist’s salary.

This TD will come in and slowly repair the damage that has been done to this point, both from a systems and people level. It will take years, but he’ll get the job done. After about a year, the worship team will begin to look around and realize how much easier rehearsals and worship services are now, and how much smoother things are running. The pastor will realize he’s not fielding constant complaints about the volume, or the TD’s bad attitude. Even the congregation will notice that the worship services just feel better, though they won’t be able to articulate why.

It is about this time that the church fully realizes the TD role is a very important one and needs to be treated well. Any future TDs will have to live up to this guy’s reputation, and that will further the work of the Kingdom.

This took longer than I expect to unpack, so we’re now in a three part series. Next time, I’ll finally share a process churches can follow when hiring TD that will help them to skip the first two painful parts and get closer to the happy place of the third TD.

Or maybe I’m just imagining this… Does any of this sound familiar to anyone?

Next time, we’ll touch on some factors that seem to help get the right fit. 

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Hiring Technical Staff, Pt. 1

I find it ever-amazing how often the questions I get asked by readers match up with things I’m going through at the time. In the last few months, I’ve had several people ask me how to hire technical staff. Those questions have led to a few phone calls and some interesting discussions. And here I am this week, in the interview process to hire a new ATD. God sightings anyone?

As I thought about this article, I’ve decided to break it up into two smaller ones. This post will focus on adding additional technical staff to a team. I’m assuming a TD is in place and he or she is hiring an ATD, an audio director, video director, etc.. Later this week I’ll share some thoughts on hiring a TD.

You’re Not Getting Married, But Almost

The TD/ATD relationship is perhaps one of the closest ones on a church staff. Few other staff members will spend as much time together—both good times and under great pressure—than the TD/ATD. For this reason, I first look for someone who I really believe I can get along with. If you wouldn’t want to just hang out with a candidate for the job, you should think long and hard before hiring them. 

Yes, you will be his/her boss; but trust me, you’ll both get a lot more done, with a lot less stress if you can get along really well. I have people applying for this job that I like, but not enough to spend 80 hours with them during Christmas Production week. Think that through.

Enthusiasm Trumps Skill

Yes, having a solid, fundamental technical skill set is important. But when looking for an ATD, I look for someone who just loves to do what we do. I don’t expect them to be an expert in every discipline, but I do want someone who is eager to learn. Sometimes I’ll be doing the teaching, other times, I expect them to just figure stuff out. Either way, an enthusiastic learner will get the nod over a self-proclaimed “expert.”

Because I’m now an “old guy,” I intentionally seek out younger guys that I can build into. I’ve learned a lot in 20+ years of live production, and enjoy sharing that knowledge with others. There is no greater joy for me than seeing people who work with and for me become better at this stuff than I am. But that can only happen when they desire to learn. I can teach technical skills, but I cannot create a hunger for learning them.

Team Players Win

A Worship Arts team is (or at least should be) a tight-knit group of people. In our case, we really are. We are all different, but get along very well. We spend time with each other, do life together and work well as a group. Whoever I bring into this role has to be able to be part of the team. When I look around the table, I don’t want to be thinking, “One of these things is not like the other…” 

Yes, we’re all unique individuals and have our own viewpoints. But at the end of the day, we need to be able to move as a cohesive unit. Thus, any successful ATD candidate will be someone I believe will fit right in with the team.

Don’t Forget to Pray

This could either be the first or the last point (it’s probably both). I spend a lot of time in prayer asking the Lord who he wants me to hire. When I hired Isaiah, I was awake for 3-4 hours a night for a week talking this through with God. I had two good candidates, who each brought a unique perspective to the job. I honestly believe I made the right choice, and we’ve had a great, great year. 

This time around, as soon as he told me he was considering moving on, I began to ask the Lord to suggest possible replacements. I’ve already been praying for a month about this, and will continue to do so until the offer letter is signed. 

Ultimately, God is assembling a team of people at our church to work together to do what He’s called us to do. He’s doing the same at your church. Don’t miss that point. Sometimes the best candidate is the most unlikely (remember David?). When we add staff with clear direction from our ultimate boss, it will go well with us.

I could go on, but I’ll stop here. What factors do you consider important when adding staff?

Next time, we’ll talk about hiring a technical director. 

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CTA Classroom: Using Audio Delay

Most audio effects processors include a simple delay. Often, that effect gets overlooked because we typically reach for the plates, halls and other reverbs first. However, if you have the capability, adding some delay can create some very cool effects. 

For this post, I will contain the suggestions to vocals only. Guitarists often add tap delays themselves, and putting some tap delay on drums can be really cool (when done well). But those will remain out of scope for the time being (play with those on your own).

There are tons of uses for delay; I will focus on two today–thickening and echo. 

Fatten it Up

Sometimes getting a vocal to sit right in the mix can be tough. Turning it up doesn’t always help, and after you’ve applied some compression, EQ and perhaps even parallel compression, you may still want to round out the vocal sound a bit. 

This is quickly becoming a “go-to” vocal effect for me right now.In those cases, I will often turn to some delay. I started doing this more after listening to a Dave Pensado podcast when he talked about using a roughly 100 msec delay on a lot of his vocals. As he described it, the delay could be anywhere between 96-104 msec; whatever works for the song. For some reason, 102 often sounds really good.

This short delay has two audible effects. First, it makes it easier to hear the vocal (a very neat psycho-acoustical trick). Second, it can really round out a reverb sound. I typically combine the short delay with a reverb (I’m back to plates at the moment) and blend the two effects together into one. 

The delays on the SD8 have the ability to do feedback, which creates that “echo loop” sound, but I normally don’t use it. I like to keep it simple (and my room has enough flutter echo anyway). 

Audible Echo

Sometimes, certain songs can benefit from an audible echo. For example, I really like using a quarter note tapped delay in Your Great Name on the chorus to create an effect on the repeats of “Jesus.” 

I use this effect sparingly as it’s really easy to overdo. But having the words echo back after you sing them is a great way to reinforce what you’re singing. 

This delay equates to 3 eighth notes at 71 bpm in 4/4 time.

To set the delay times, you can either use a bpm to msec calculator (or perhaps your effects unit or plug-in works in bpm), or tap it using the tap button. Tap buttons will calculate the time between taps and set the delay to that. You simply tap on 1 & 3, or 1,2,3 & 4 or just on 1. Sometimes tapping on odd beats works too. Tapping every three beats on a 6/8 song often produce a cool effect. 

I usually tap the faceplate when I’m not tapping the button to maintain proper timing. Typically it takes one or two measures to get it dialed in. 

Cautions

Of course, like any effect, it’s easy to over do it. When using a thickening effect, be careful not to push it too far forward in the mix. You can really muddle up the mix doing that.

Same goes for the echo effect. It should be really subtle, and you should definitely not use it on every song in the set. Often times, I’ll use it only on the chorus, or I’ll change the delay time to very short during the verse and longer during the chorus. 

Listen to the song, play with it and see what sounds good. Just be cautious of the effect being noticeable. It should enhance the overall song, not become a focal point. Start with the levels really low and sneak it up to the point where you just hear it. Then stop. 

Also, don’t try to run more than one vocal through a delay unit at once. People almost never sing in perfect sync, so when you start getting a little drift, and those voices get delayed, it can really mess with clarity. Stick to a single delay line per vocal; I only use this effect on the worship leader.

Bonus Tip

On certain songs, it sounds really cool to run a high and low pass filter on the effect return. You’ll hear this in some popular music. We’ll do this in the delay itself on the SD8 because we can, but you can easily do it on the return channel. Because the sound will be very different from the original vocal sound, it’s more apparent so really watch the level. But it can be pretty sweet when you get it right.

What’s your favorite use of some delay as an effect?

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Surviving Budget Cuts

'International Money Pile in Cash and Coins' photo (c) 2011, epSos .de - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

This year was another brutal year for my tech budget. Last budget year, I had roughly 50% of the previous year. This year, I have about 60% of that amount. Which means that I’m now limited to about 35% of what we had two years ago. That’s a pretty significant cut. And we’re expected to do more than last year as well.

Based on discussions I’ve had recently with several other TDs, I suspect many of you are in the same place. It’s not a fun place to be in, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being pretty discouraged about it for a few weeks.

But a few things have changed my attitude about this situation (for the better) and I thought I’d share them with you, as you may find it encouraging. 

Sharpen Your Pencil

There is no better time than during budget reductions to get really good at budgeting, cost saving and smart projections. I’ve been able to save significant amounts of money by spending some money over the last few years.

I regularly point that out to leadership, reminding them that I’m not just “spending money,” I’m making investments that will return value in cost and labor savings. That makes it easier to retain budget items, or request special expenditures.

Also, smart savings can mean opportunities for stretching your funds. For example, last year I saved a ton of budget in our repairs & maintenance and contractors funds. I was able to roll that into some end of the year equipment upgrades. 

Gain Clarity

When our personal budgets get crunched, we have to make decisions as to what we can and cannot continue to do. Tech is the same way. It’s tough to carry out a campus-wide systems upgrade with a budget that’s 35% of what it was before we started upgrading. 

So I’m pressing leadership to prioritize what we’ll be upgrading. For me, it doesn’t matter all that much; I just need to know what the key issues are. We will get to it all eventually, but it will now take 3-5 years instead of 2-3. 

Budget cut time is a great time to have a discussion with your leadership as to what is really important. Even when fully funded, we can’t do everything. With smaller budgets, we simply must let some things go undone. But don’t decide that yourself. Press leadership to make those calls–it’s why they get paid the big bucks. Plus, then they gain a deeper understanding of what you’re dealing with.

Remember Who Is In Charge

My mentor, Roy, said something to me a while back that has really stuck with me and encouraged me. He reminded me that Jesus is my ultimate employer, and He will ultimately take care of me.

I apply that same line of thinking to the budget cuts. The Bible says God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. A few weeks ago, we studied the passage where Jesus fed 5,000 men (plus women & kids) with a few loaves of bread and a fish or two.

When the disciples started complaining that they didn’t have any food to give the people, Jesus challenged them saying (in effect), “Really? We don’t have any food? What about those loaves and fishes?” And somehow, in the miraculous way that only He can work, He fed the entire crowd and they had leftovers.

So I’m learning to not worry too much about what my total budget number is. Sure it’s less than last year, but I had leftovers last year even though I had less to start with than the year before.

I have to believe that somehow Jesus will take what we have and feed the 5,000–or in this case, give us what we need. How is that going to work? I have no idea. But as Mother Theresa once said, “We don’t need to know, we are people of faith.” 

What’s your budget situation like this year? Are you seeing your production budget go up or down?

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I Need a New ATD

I knew this day would come; I had hoped it wouldn’t be so soon, however. They grow up so fast. I’m talking about my ATD, Isaiah Franco of course. He’s been “promoted” in a sense, and will soon be “the man” at Sandals Church in Riverside, CA. You can read more about his journey to this new position on his blog. While I’m bummed that I lose my right hand, custom fabricator and top-notch technician, I’m excited for him.

What this means is that I am in need of a new Associate TD. And since Isaiah will be leaving at the end of August, I need one quickly. Here are some particulars.

Details

The church is Coast Hills Community Church, which is conveniently located about 7 miles from the Pacific Ocean in beautiful Aliso Viejo, CA. For those of you suffering through mid-west summers, it’s about 75 degrees and sunny almost all year ‘round. 

Our worship arts staff is the best I’ve ever worked with. We get along very well, and everyone is insanely talented and good at their jobs. We’re all pretty mellow, but work really hard. Ideal candidates will have similar properties.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know we have a completely new FOH/Monitor system, a new lighting infrastructure and are constantly upgrading our systems and processes to make them better, easier to use and more effective. 

While our production values are very high each weekend, we don’t kill ourselves trying to outdo last weekend. Our goal is consistently excellent services that facilitate worship. 

So, what are we looking for? Here’s a full job description. In addition, here are a few general personality traits that are going to be important.

But What About You?

You should be technically competent. This is an ATD position, so I don’t expect you to know everything. However, having a pretty solid understanding of how professional A/V/L equipment works is a gold star.

You should have a deep desire to learn. As TDs, we can never know everything, but we should always be learning. If you think you already know it all, you probably should go to work for someone else.

You should have a good attitude. We don’t always get to do what we want in this job, and it’s important to stay positive even when you don’t get your way. The tech department is the first in, and last out, and you need to be OK with that.

Finally, it’s important that you are convinced you are called into this crazy ministry. This is the toughest job I’ve ever had, and the only way to do this for any length of time is to be called into it.

Brown M&Ms

I don’t have time to babysit someone, so I need a self-starter who can figure stuff out, take the initiative and follow directions. So as part of the application process, successful candidates will be able to tell me a little about the famous tale of Van Halen, brown M&Ms and why that might be I might be asking about that in an ATD job interview.

I’ve set up a special e-mail address for any and all applications, so please send your resumé and cover letter to atdjob@churchtecharts.org. Based on the volume of resumés I received last time, I may not be able to get back to everyone.

As this is an associate director-level position, we may not have relocation funds available, so know that going in. Also, the pay isn’t that great, and you have to put up with me as a boss. If you’re still interested, send me your info, and perhaps we’ll talk.

This post is brought to you by CCI Solutions. With a reputation for excellence, technical expertise and competitive pricing, CCI Solutions has served churches across the US in their media, equipment, design and installation needs for over 35 years.

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