Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: October 2011 (Page 2 of 2)

Doing More With Less

This is a topic that many of us in the tech world are dealing with these days. We are continually asked to do more with less. This is common problem, and can perpetuate a cycle that will burn us out if we try to actually do it. Over the years, I’ve been in three churches that started off great, and quickly turned into a “Hey, you’re doing a great job, so now you need to do 2x as much with 1/3 the resources.”

To keep from working ourselves to death, we need to learn to delegate.

The trick is getting started. How do we decide what to “farm out.” What jobs can I reasonably expect a volunteer to do, and what jobs to I need to keep on my plate. Though you may find yourself in a similar position of demands exceeding your ability to meet them, your answers may well differ from mine. Part of the process is to determine who I can call on, what their gift mix is and how much time they have available. I need to find people who are passionate about our church, and who have the time to give to it. It helps if they actually have skills as well.

Another issue is figuring out how to parcel out tasks. Do I turn them over completely and stay hands off? Or do I set up the process then provide oversight to my team leaders. Again, this is going to depend. I’ll give you an example. At my previous church, I was responsible for the set up and take down teams each week. After spending a few months learning their jobs, recruiting additional volunteers and developing a process for scheduling and set up and take down, I looked for community members to lead those teams. I found 2 highly capable women and pretty much turned over leadership to them. They took over the sending out of reminders each week to the teams, confirm everyone, finding subs as needed and directed the teams each Sunday. I helped out only when needed and continue to recruit. What originally took a lot of my time ended up taking less than 30 minutes a week. That’s leverage.

Another area I wanted to delegate was training. I had wanted to get a regular training regimen going, but I didn’t have the time. So, I looked to my most capable volunteers and asked them to start leading regular training sessions for the teams. I helped out with content, subject matter and scheduling–at least up front. I spent more time on training than I did on setup and take down, but it was a greatly reduced workload.

I’m learning to sub-out equipment installation as well. As much as I love unboxing new gear, running cable, programming and all that, I simply don’t have the time. If we go forward with a planned kids and student ministry area renovation next spring, I will be bringing in an integrator to do most of the work. I’ll spend some time with them getting the plan together, but I want them to pull cable, install and commission the gear.

Some of the best advice I ever received in this area was from a Worship Pastor I worked under. At that time I was a 10 hour a week Tech Arts Director. I was trying to figure out how to get everything done, and I wasn’t succeeding. She told me I needed to determine the things that only I could do, do those things, and lead others in doing the rest. That was good advice. I’ll admit that I haven’t always done well with that, but now that I’m entering a whole new season of doing two jobs for the price of one, I need to get back to that methodology.

So what about you? Are you being faced with doing more with less? How do you prioritize what you have to do and what you can delegate?

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DPA D:fine Mic: First Thoughts

I can honestly say I’ve been waiting for this mic for almost two years. I first met Bruce Meyers, then President of DPA, US at WFX in 2009. I had been a huge fan of the 4088 and 4066, and desperately wanted to move our pastor off of the e6 to a DPA. However, he didn’t like dual-ear designs and wouldn’t wear one. When I talked with Bruce about that, he said they were working on a solution and it would be ready when it was right. Right as defined by those fanatical Danes who make the mics. 

Well, it took them almost two years, but they did it. They came up with a single ear mic that is not only more secure than almost any single ear design out there, it’s also more comfortable and less obtrusive. And it has the same great DPA sound we know and love. At least that’s what we were told. I was anxious to try one. 

If you haven’t seen the Parkour video that DPA released last month, you really should watch it. It’s one of the best demos I’ve ever seen for a mic. When DPA sent me an omni version of the mic a few weeks ago, I immediately put it on and did some serious Parkour to see if it really stayed on that well. OK, the first part of that sentence was true. I did put it on. I was struck by how easy it was to get it to fit, how secure it was, and how little I noticed I was wearing it. 

The cable clip is a new design. Instead of being the classic pinch-clamp design we’re all used to, it looks more like two small guitar picks. The surface that would hit your neck is very smooth and not at all abrasive. It’s a little detail, but I want to buy a dozen of these clips for all the rest of our mics, and for the cable on my UE7s. 

So the mic feels good, is secure and even the head is noticeably smaller than the 4066 or 4088. The real question is, how does it sound? Most of you know I have a bit of a mic addiction. I love trying out new mics. And most of the time, I’ll put a new mic on something and immediately hear a difference (though sometimes not), and like it or not like it. However, it’s pretty rare that I throw a new mic on a guitar cabinet or even a vocal and someone else in the room says, “Oh, that sounds good!”

In this regard the D:fine breaks the mold. I put it on before service a few weeks ago to line check it. Our service producer, who has been in a lot of services and heard a lot of live sound—though she should not consider herself a sound expert, was walking up the center aisle. As soon as I started talking, she immediately turned around and said, “Oh, that sounds good!” Our Associate Worship Leader said the same thing. 

After the service I asked my pastor how he felt about it, and he said he really liked it. It felt good and the sound was noticeably improved. His final comment was, “I think it helped me preach better.” 

As you can probably guess, that mic is not going back. It actually does sound really, really good. In fact, it’s hard to describe the sound of the mic at all because when I heard Ken teaching that weekend, it sounded like Ken, not a mic’d and amplified version of Ken. It sounded just like him, only louder. 

At some point, I’ll come back and do a thorough review of the mic. But I know a lot of you are interested in it right now. Here’s what I can say; go buy one. Yes, you’re going to pay somewhere in the high $500’s for it. And yes, it’s worth it. 

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Training the IMAG Team

I’ll admit it; I’ve struggled with finding ways to train our IMAG team. Part of it is time; since Isaiah left, I’ve been mixing almost every weekend, so I really can’t sit with the team during service. Part of it is schedule; we don’t have a midweek rehearsal, and even during our Saturday rehearsal before service, the lighting guys are programming and that makes meaningful IMAG training difficult. And it still takes me sitting over there, which I can’t do when I’m at FOH. But still, they need training.

A few weeks ago, I remembered someone telling me (and I wish I could remember who; if it’s you, please comment and I’ll give you credit) about recording a “TD Commentary” track over their line cut for the weekend. That seemed like a good idea, so I gave it a shot. First I’ll tell you how I do it, then a few things I’ve learned doing it, and finally the results.

The Tech

The process is actually pretty straightforward. We record a line cut of the service into FinalCut Pro every weekend. Apple thoughtfully includes a Voice Over tool (at least in version 7…) that makes it very easy to watch the video and record a track of audio. I will do a really quick edit, pulling the musical segments together for one service during the weekend. Sometimes I take two services if I think there is valuable material in a different service.

I have had a Blue Snowball USB mic sitting around my office for 2 years looking for a purpose. Turns out, it’s great for this. Once the video cut together, I mark in and out points for the commentary. Finally, I simply fire up Voice Over and talk into the mic. One word of caution; make sure you have the target track assigned properly. I didn’t the first time and had to sync it up manually. After that though, it’s worked great. When you stop, it drops the audio track in the target track.

I normally drop the level of the line cut mix down about 12 dB so you can hear the music, but don’t have to struggle to hear me. If you mess up, stop, and mark a new in point. The whole thing works pretty well.

The Lessons

The first team I did this for was all guys and they were eager to learn. I would comment on shots I liked, shots I didn’t like and how they could handle transitions better. The second team was 2 women and one guy. This team was doing a lot more wide shots than I wanted and I made the mistake of saying I didn’t like every wide shot. In fact, I was rather critical of this second time around. That led to my big teaching moment: Be nice.

I knew I was in trouble when I received an e-mail from one of the camera operators (a woman) that simply said, “Mike, we need to talk in person or on the phone.” I knew I had blown it. After talking with her, I discovered that I had really hurt her feelings and she felt I was trying to make her quit.

I was able to assure her that I did not want her to quit, and apologized profusely. We worked it out, and she’s still on the team. The big lesson is to stay as encouraging as possible. Even if you’re just watching the footage go by and commenting on it, you’re critiquing someone else’s art. Since that week, I’ve tried to say as many positive things as possible, and even when I have to correct something, I try to suggest alternatives instead of simply saying, “I don’t like this shot.” 

When reviewing the footage, I will comment on almost every shot or transition I like, while only occasionally pointing out what I don’t like. And overall, it seems to be working.

The Results

I’ve seen a huge difference in our IMAG over the last month. Once the teams started hearing and seeing what kind of shots I want to see, they’re delivering them more and more often. The services are more consistent and it’s really looking a lot better. We still have some misses here and there, and I’ve not worked my way through all the camera operators yet, but it’s working. The directors know more and more of what I’m looking for, so they can direct more appropriately.

The reality is the best way to learn how to shoot and direct live video is to shoot and direct live video. There will still be mistakes, bad shots, and cuts you get burned on. But we see that all the time even in professionally produced stuff on TV. I’m OK with mistakes; as long as the overall product is getting better and heading in the right direction. 

Right now, I’m posting the videos in our Vimeo account and keeping them password protected because of the whole copyright issue. I’m currently only sending out a link to the team that was on for that weekend, rather than a general link for the whole team. My thinking is that if I do have to be critical of a few things, it’s better to keep it on the team. Once the overall services are closer to where I want them (and they’re getting there fast!), I will start sending the link out to the whole camera team so everyone can learn and be encouraged with what I’m looking for. 

I still think being able to sit with the team and help direct would be beneficial, but I just don’t have the time right now to do it. So this is the next best thing I can come up with. It only takes me 45 minutes or so after the service to do, and it seems like time well spent.

How do you train your camera team?

Today’s post is brought to you by the Roland R-1000. The R-1000 is a multi-channel recorder/player ideal for the V-Mixing System or any MADI equipped console or environment. Ideal for virtual sound checks, multi-channel recording, and playback.

The Trouble with Consequences

A while back, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, This Week in Tech, with Leo Laporte. One of his guests was Cory Doctorow, a writer, journalist and blogger. Several times during the show, Cory made reference to the problem people have making good decisions now when the consequences don’t appear for a long time. Take smoking; people smoke today because they won’t get cancer tomorrow—it may be 10, 20 or 40 years from now. People will post all kinds of embarrassing, personal or private information on Facebook today, not realizing that in a few years a potential employer will have full access to it. We humans don’t have a good natural sense of balancing the long-term consequences against a decision we need to make today.

What does this have to do with technology in the church? Plenty! I’ve been writing and fielding a lot of questions over at my blog the last few weeks in the area of system design and church construction projects. My advice is always the same, and it comes from some 20 years of experience working in the church production world; consider your choices carefully—especially with infrastructure—because you’ll live with them for a long time. 

Consider the church that doesn’t bother to have an acoustician review their worship center plans. It may have been beautifully designed by an architect (who has no real understanding of acoustics), and will look wonderful, but if the space has excessive reflections, standing waves, flutter echos, bass build up and other anomalies that produce poor intelligibility, it will not function well for the life of the building. What seemed like a good cost-cutting measure up front turns out to be a disaster and will likely lead to a multi-million dollar re-build of a new room because the first one didn’t work. 

It doesn’t have to be a big thing, either. A friend of mine was telling me the other day that in his church, the HVAC guys located the thermostat for the worship center on the back wall of the stage—hey, it’s easy to get at, right? Except when it needs to be adjusted during the service…

Or consider the church that put in a new PA that they got a great deal on. It wasn’t necessarily the right PA for the room, but it was a little more modern than what they had. Coverage is horribly uneven, and it creates significant echoes bouncing off the back wall, but it was a great deal. Sadly, it will be expensive to tear out and replace with a proper PA. 

Last year, we went through a complete lighting system overhaul. One of the reasons we had to completely re-do the entire system (conduit, wire, dimmers, control, the whole bit) was because the previous system wasn’t installed properly. Even the wiring was too bad to fix, so we started over. We spent a good 6 months on the design of the new system. This may seem excessively long; however, I wanted to go over every single drop, each network port and every other decision 3-4 times with a few outside people to make sure we were setting ourselves up to succeed over the long run. Since the budget was tight, we put money into things that will be hard to change later. For example, we pulled wire for over 120 dimming circuits, but only bought 80 channels of dimmers. We can easily slide dimmer trays in later, but adding wiring is a lot harder. We probably have 25-40% more networking ports than we’ll ever need, but it was easy to pull them while the electricians were there. I spent hours sitting in my office looking at drawings and trying to think about how the system would be used in 5-7 years. 

I understand the reality of budgets; but too often we tend to go for immediate gratification (moving or LED lights, digital consoles and such) when we should be thinking about long-term system functionality. It’s important that we as techies lead the charge for thinking about the long-term, if for no other reason that we’ll be the ones suffering the consequences if we don’t!

What’s your biggest infrastructure miss?

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Cranky Old Techs

'Old Uyghur man in Kashgar (Old Town)' photo (c) 2007, Oli Lee - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/Everyone knows a cranky old man; those stodgy curmudgeons that seem to have an innate ability to see the fault in everything. If the sun is shinning on a blue-sky day, they are upset because it’s too bright. If it’s raining, well, I guess that’s a given. Generally speaking, cranky old men are not fun to be around—at least for more than about 10 minutes. 

If you’ve been involved in production technology for any length of time, you probably know some cranky old techs (COTs). Those guys have been there, done that and are pretty ticked off about having to do it again. The cranky old tech may be lighting guy who doesn’t understand why the entire band can’t just hold on a minute while he tweaks the moving lights. For the third time. Or perhaps a sound guy who constantly mutters into the talkback, “A little more talent in the monitors, please!” For the COT, nothing and no one is ever good enough—or as good as they are. They constantly remind anyone within earshot that they have a long and illustrious career in their field and don’t need to be told what to do.

COTs are particularly annoying when they find themselves working in a church. Nearly any phrase they utter is preceded with, “When I was on tour…” or, “In the theater, we…” or, “At the network…” I always want to look at them and say, “Buddy, this is a church; it’s a little different here (or should be anyway).” 

I heard of a book (I think it’s The Way of Wisdom by Rohr, but I can’t find it to verify) that lays out two possible paths that most every man will take—and I’m going to greatly oversimplify this: In their 20’s, most men have some type of rebellious phase. It can be mild, or severe, but to some degree, they go against the flow. In their 30’s they settle down and come to some kind of heroic moment where they discover their purpose and pursue it passionately. It is when they hit their 40’s that the road forks. Some get bitter and angry that the world didn’t give them a fair shake. Others get wise, start the legacy process and begin to pass on what they’ve learned.

Techs follow a similar path. When starting out, they know everything, and wish to impress that fact upon everyone. They can be cocky and brash, but are typically productive. After a few years, they settle down, begin to take their craft seriously and look for more meaning in what they do. This is when many join the staff of a church, wishing their lives to count for more than just the glory of the show. After a while however, things may change.

Some begin to feel taken advantage of. They could make more money and work less in the professional world. Their gigs come around every 7 days and it gets old. The work is often the same and typically with sub-par talent. Instead of passing on the craft, they complain. When they get together with other techs, the focus is on what’s wrong with their church, not on the latest innovations in their field. They are as miserable as they make everyone else feel. They become a COT, and they’re about as much fun to be around as a cranky old man.

Others take a different path. After 15-20 years in the biz, they realize that they’ve learned a thing or two. They also realize their knowledge will do them no good when they’re gone. So they chose to pass it on. They begin to spend time with younger guys, teaching them the ropes. Instead of trying to impress everyone with their vast knowledge, they quietly come up with solutions to problems and are more than willing to flex. They see their experience as a gift that needs to be shared. Sure they could make more coin on the road, but they chose to make investments in others. These guys are the ones everyone wants to spend time with.

I learned this first-hand a few years ago from an unlikely source; my commercial HVAC guy. Stan was in his mid-60’s. He has been installing heating and air conditioning for 50 years, starting as a teen working with his dad. He would always say to me, “Mike, if you ever have any questions about why I’m doing things this way, don’t be afraid to ask. I’ve learned a lot over the years, but I can’t take that knowledge with me.” He was always willing to share his knowledge, skill and on occasion, his tools. He was good at his job, and I called him in on every HVAC project I needed help with. 

So where are you on this path? Wherever you find yourself, it’s the result of a choice. And you can choose to be different. I’ve been doing live production for 30 years now, and I admit that a few years ago, I was becoming a COT. But God showed me a better way. Now that I’m trying to give back as much as I can, I’ve never been happier. I’m less stressed and more interested in seeing others grow than having my little part of the production go off perfectly. 

If you’ve not been around long enough to attain potential COT status, start thinking now about where you’ll end up. Will you go down the road of bitterness and grief as a taker, or return to the world the gifts you’ve been given? The choice is up to you.

Have you met any cranky old techs? How do you deal with them?

This post is brought to you by Horizon Battery, distributor of Ansmann rechargeable batteries and battery chargers used worldwide by Cirque du Soleil and over 25,000 schools, churches, theaters, broadcast companies & businesses. To learn more about their wireless mic batteries and battery chargers – and a FREE rechargeable evaluation, visit their website. Tested and recommended by leading wireless mic manufacturers and tech directors. 

The Right Questions

'Question mark in Esbjerg' photo (c) 2006, Alexander Henning Drachmann - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone asked me this question; “What do you use for…?” I know I’m not alone in this. Many guys I know at large-ish churches are asked that question all the time. It’s as if once a church reaches a certain size, they become the benchmark for how to do things. Certainly there’s some validity in that, and it can make for some very lively discussions when a group of TDs sit around a dinner table and debate the various merits of their choices of gear. I enjoy those conversations immensely and often walk away intrigued enough to investigate some piece of equipment I may not have previously considered.

With that being said, most of the time, I don’t really care that much what other churches are using. Well, that’s not true; I do care, it just doesn’t influence my decision-making process that much. You see, rather than asking what my friends are using and simply copying that, I try to find equipment that makes the most sense for our church, our mission and in our context. And those are the questions that we should all be asking when evaluating equipment purchases. Does this equipment make sense in our context? Here’s an example:

Someone asks me what we use for a FOH and monitor console. I tell them a DiGiCo SD8 at FOH and use Roland M-48s for monitors. “OK, great! Thanks!” is often the response. I’m left wondering how that was helpful. If someone were to ask some follow-up questions like, “Are you happy with those consoles?” my responses still wouldn’t necessarily be that useful. Why not? Consider the consoles our new system replaced; a PM5D and an M7. We had Issues with those desks but that was for our context; they really didn’t do what we needed them to do. It’s not that they’re inherently bad, they’re just the wrong fit. Unfortunately, they were purchased a few years ago because they were “the industry standard,” not because anyone thought about how they might fit in with what we’re trying to do. I know some people who are perfectly happy with those desks.

I have some good friends who mix on and are big fans of a particular digital console. I love talking with them about those desks and considered it as a replacement for our old setup. However, another one came into view that was a better fit because it does more of what I want a console to do. This doesn’t mean my friends are wrong or made a bad choice, and it doesn’t mean mine is better. It simply means I’m trying to find the best solution for my church.

So here is my suggestion: When you start looking at new equipment purchases, before you start asking what other churches are using ask yourself some clarifying questions.

What is the mission of our church?

How does this equipment advance that mission?

What do we want this to do?

What problems do we need to solve?

How should this equipment go about it?

What features do we need, and which ones do we not need?

Who will be using it and what is their skill level?

We could go on with a much longer list, but that gets you started. It’s important to develop your context before talking to others. Once you do, you’ll be asking better questions and instead of finding out what another church uses and copying it, you’ll be getting good real-world feedback of how that equipment works, what the support is like and how reliable it is. Then you’ll have some genuinely useful data points. You’ll be much better prepared to make a well-educated decision on which piece of equipment makes the most sense for you. And that’s far more important that finding out what the church down the street is using.

What questions do you ask before making a major equipment purchase?

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