Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: January 2012 (Page 2 of 3)

CTW NAMM Coverage: Gepco RunONE

When I was at NAB last spring, I talked with Gepco about a new cable they were working on that included data, digital audio and power lines in one jacket. RunONE is now a real product and is available in a variety of configurations. 

Some of the example configurations of RunONE.

The basic configuration consists of a single run of power along with two, eight or twelve lines of 110 Ohm audio. Because it’s 110 Ohm, it can carry standard analog mic or line levels, digital audio or DMX (a single stringer for LEDs anyone?)

You can also get a version that includes not one but two Cat5 data cables in the same jacket. I really wish this cable was available when I built my inexpensive stage boxes a few months back. The loomed version is fine, but we still have to run power to the musician, and it would be nice to have it all in one jacket.

Add in an EtherCon and we’re pretty much set for our needs….

I’m not sure how they cracked it, but they managed to keep the 60-cycle hum completely out of the audio lines. They demonstrated with real-time analysis (I didn’t get a picture, sorry!) that showed absolutely no interference of the power into the audio lines. It was pretty amazing. 

UPDATE: Thanks to Jeff (in the comments), we have a YouTube video that shows how they manage “spectral sheilding.” Pretty cool. The video is not great, but it’s a good illustration of how it works.


Clean stagees have become a passion for me, and this is one more step in the right direction. RunONE is available now; pricing will depend on the cable configuration.

CTW NAMM Coverage: Presonus QMix

We’ve been a little rough on the Presonus StudioLive mixer on the last few episodes. But the truth is, they provide a lot of bang for the buck and will find a home in many a church. And to be fair, Presonus continues to improve and innovate that product line, so we should really given them credit. 

QMix is a free iPhone app that gives users the ability to mix Aux sends for monitor mixes. Running in conjunction with the new version of Universal Control (1.5.3 as of this writing), you pair the iPhones with the computer connected to your StudioLive. You can assign permissions to each iPhone and give them the ability to control one mix only. It’s really personal mixing on a small scale.

The mix app has some clever features. In landscape mode, the user can easily adjust eight channel levels at a time. The app is very responsive and seemed to work very well. 

Turn the phone to portrait mode and it becomes a “more me” control. It’s possible to assign multiple channels to “more me’ and turn those up as a group. If the musician gets to the top of “more me,” and the musician still needs more, the app will turn down other inputs to give the results needed. Very clever.

CTW NAMM Coverage: WaveMachine Auria 48 Track iPad DAW

This is one of those products that I’m not exactly sure what it would be used for, but it’s really cool. If you’ve ever had the desire to record, mix, edit and render out 48 tracks of audio on your iPad, your wish is fulfilled. Auria from WaveMachine Labs will let you do all that and more. With “vintage inspired” channel strips and the ability to run VST plug-ins (some restrictions apply), it’s a pretty complete package.

As an iPad, app, it’s pretty amazing. It’s very responsive and when I played with the tracks they had loaded up, it sounded really good. I tweaked the EQ and comps and was pleasantly surprised at how good they sounded. The demo was running a full 48 tracks on an iPad 2 and it felt very responsive. 

The interface looks fantastic and certainly has that vintage feel. An iPad 2 is recommended, and iOS 5 is required. Using the Apple Camera Adapter, you can use quite a few class-compliant USB audio interfaces to get audio in and out. 

Like I said, I’m not sure why you would use this instead of Reaper, Logic, ProTools or any other DAW, but isn’t it nice to know you can if you want to, right?

CTW NAMM Coverage: Roland VR-3

You’ve probably seen the Roland VR-5 audio/video mixer already. The VR-5 gives you 5 inputs, the ability to mix video and audio, prepare a stream for U-Stream or Livestream and record to USB. The VR-3 is similar, though it’s a bit scaled down. 

The VR-3 is a four-channel composite only switcher with a small multi-view touch screen. It’s very compact and like the VR-5 can send a web stream ready video data stream out the USB port. Unlike the VR-5, audio does not follow video, so you will have to mix both video and audio if you need that capability. 

The VR-3 has a few key features that make it very interesting. It’s very small and portable, which would make it perfect for remote productions. It can even be battery powered for unplugged switching. The touch screen makes it easy to take shots to air by simply touching them. It has a mulit-view output which puts the quad view from the touch screen on an external display via composite video. 

It’s not a big production switcher, but if your needs are small, it’s a pretty compelling option, expecially once you get to know the price; $1995 list. Considering you can’t even buy a multiviewer for two grand, it’s an interesting concept. Take a closer look on Roland’s website.

Today’s post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

Remote Access with LogMeIn

I’ve been using LogMeIn for a good 5 years now, but I don’t know if I’ve ever written about it. More and more, we church techs are interacting with computers for critical elements of our jobs. Practically all our lighting, sound and video systems can be controlled remotely from a computer, so it makes sense that we be prepared to control those computers from outside the building.

We may be home on a day off when a problem arises, or we may need to access a system at a campus across town (or across the country). There are dozens of ways to do this of course, and if you have a rock-solid full-time IT staff, you can probably get VPN access set up which will work well. 

Often times, getting VPN set up and maintained so it works reliably can be challenging. In that case, a program  like LogMeIn is really helpful. To set it up, you visit www.logmein.com and sign up for an account. I’ve been using the same free account for 4 years now with excellent results. The paid accounts offer some great features, but I haven’t needed any of them.

Once you have the account set up, go to the computer you wish to remote into, sign into logmein.com and select “Add Computer.” This will trigger a small download and install some code on the target computer. Basically, it makes the computer visible to the LogMeIn system. Once the software is installed, you can access your account from any computer anywhere and remotely control that target computer. That’s it. Hard-core IT guys might scoff at this, but for a TD just trying to get by, it’s brilliant. 

I recently added the iPad app, LogMeIn Ignition to my collection as well, and it’s proven to be most excellent. There have been times when I’ve needed to log in to upload a file, fix an issue or change a program on a processor. With Ignition, I can grab the iPad, do what I need to do, then get back to my day off. 

As a real-world example of how I use LogMeIn, I’ll use my video podcast process. We typically post the 9 AM service for our video podcast. I do a quick edit before I go home on Sunday, and send it to Compressor to render. Since it takes a few hours to render the file, I don’t want to stick around and wait. So I go home. Around 4 PM, an alert goes off on my phone (usually waking me up from my nap) reminding me to upload the video. I grab the iPad, log in, launch Vimeo Uploader, drag the file in, hit upload and I’m done. 

I also have most of the computers that remotely control my systems set up with LogMeIn. If I’m out of town and the FOH guy is having trouble with the M-48s, I can log in and take a look at the issue and fix it. I can even access our student room’s lighting board and system/room processor. 

The thing I like about LogMeIn is that it gets right through the firewall and IP address issues that often plague remote access. In fact, even when I’m in the building, I sometimes use Ignition because I have computers that are multi-homed (running multiple NICs with multiple IP addresses), which confuses VNC apps. 

Again, if you have a rockstar IT guy who has plenty of time to help you navigate all these issues, you can make Apple’s Remote Desktop, screen sharing or basic VNC work just fine. But I’m not a hardcore IT guy, and our IT guy is really busy. Given that I can spend 2 minutes installing LogMeIn, and have it just work, I think it’s a great solution for small- to medium-sized churches. 

Oh, and I should mention that it’s totally cross-platform. You can control Macs from Windows, Windows from Macs, or whatever. So if you need remote access to your computers, give it a try.

How do you use remote access in your organization?

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.

Lining the Walls with Gold

Last week, in response to my post on technology fading away, a reader named Steve C left a thought provoking comment. I started to write a comment back, then I felt it turning into a post, so here we are. You can see his full comment on the original post, and I will re-print portions of it here. I’m doing this because I think he raises some valid questions. I don’t agree with his conclusion, but I think it’s always important to challenge our thinking with why we are doing this in the first place. 

And if you read this, Steve, don’t consider this an attack. I appreciate your questions and am glad to have the opportunity to explain my position on these issues. 

Here is a summary of his comments (printed verbatim, edited only for length):

How does a ridiculously expensive digital mixer really improve someone’s walk with Christ over a modest 16 channel analog mixer? IEMs? Really? How much does it cost to set up everyone with their own monitor? $1000?

I don’t see how improving any of that would truly bring anyone closer to Christ. If the relationship isn’t there in the first place, no amount of feel-good entertainment is going to get it going, and if the relationship *is* there, then it doesn’t matter if there’s an SD signal going to an old 13″ TV in the nursery. 

Steve, I know where you’re coming from, but I think you have to consider the context. Part of what we do comes from a desire to give God our best. We have historical and biblical context for this. Take a look at 1 Kings 6:20-22:

The inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty wide and twenty high. [That’s 30’x30’x30’ Ed.] He overlaid the inside with pure gold, and he also overlaid the altar of cedar.

Solomon covered the inside of the temple with pure gold, and he extended gold chains across the front of the inner sanctuary, which was overlaid with gold.

So he overlaid the whole interior with gold. He also overlaid with gold the altar that belonged to the inner sanctuary.

Did they all need to be lined with gold? I mean, how much did that cost? Did that improve anyone’s walk with God? Probably not. But it did send a message to everyone who walked through the door that these people were serious about worship.

In some circles the “poverty” mentality is the way it is. I once heard an elder pray for his pastor saying, “God, you keep him humble, we’ll keep him poor.” Some churches make a point about how little they spend on anything, but again, I have to wonder if that’s helping either. In fact, I believe it can even become a point of pride. It’s easy to point at a church like ours and say, “God, I thank you that we don’t waste money on technology like they do.” But listen again, that has a familiar ring to it. Jesus condemned such comparisons (Luke 18:11-14). 

Most of the church techs I know do what we do because we love God and want to give Him our best. We believe that one way we can best express both our worship of God and help communicate that to others is by creating the absolute best worship environment we can. We may not be lining the walls with gold, but we’re sure going to try and make it sound good. 

If my church had a “technology” system like the one you described in your comment, few would come to our church anymore. Why? Because some of them are shallow and demand a certain level of production to stay engaged. But rather than condemn them, I want to encourage them to keep coming. Over time, they will see that we don’t do it for show, but out of love for our Creator. We use art to worship Him. By coming week after week, God softens their hearts and their lives are changed.

You also have to consider scale. In a small country church of 60 people, spending $15,000 on IEMs (yes, that’s closer to the actual number) seems patently absurd—especially when the annual budget is $120,000. And while we may have spent a few hundred thousand over the last few years upgrading our technology, we’ve also spent over two million dollars on local, national and international outreach programs. 

And we’ve used technology to empower that outreach. Last summer, our VBS program—which utilized a lot of technology; full lighting, sound, video, Skyping in people from Africa—raised enough money to build a large group home and a school for 30-40 orphans in Africa. Did that change someone’s life? You bet it did! Not only the kids who now have a safe place to sleep, but the young believers at our church who learned a little bit about being generous and sacrificial. Did it require a big show of technology to enable that? Maybe not, but it was a huge part of the experience.

So yes, I think it’s important to wrestle with these questions. When is enough enough, and when is it too much? The answer will be different for every congregation. What works for us won’t work for you and visa-versa. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking we’re wrong and you’re right (or we’re right and you’re wrong). Churches come in all shapes and sizes with all sorts of congregations and missions. 

Thank you for raising the question. It’s helped me re-think what we do, and I’ve again come to the conclusion that we’re on the right track—for our church. 

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What’s Next for the TD?

Last week we asked if church production technology was fading away, looked at the changing face of church technology and suggested that technology happens in the margins. Depending on your perspective and tolerance for change, that series came off as encouraging and inspiring or a wild ride of doom and gloom. 

I hadn’t planned on following that series up with this article, but then I read an interesting piece in Fast Company called Generation Flux. By the way, if you don’t read Fast Company, I think you should. I learn a lot from them each month. Anyway, that article basically talked about how much change we were going to see in the next 10-20 years. We are in an era of unprecedented change—flux is their term—and it’s pretty amazing when you start to look at it.

That article was followed up by another one entitled, The Four-Year Career. That story outlined several people who have changed entire careers, not just jobs, every few years. As I read and processed all of this, I started thinking about how we as TDs will be affected, especially in light of the changes I see coming (and wrote about last week). 

As someone who’s career path closely resembles a “four-year career” individual, I had a few thoughts on staying employable in a world of vast change. And so you don’t think I’m just making stuff up, here is my career track: I worked at a grocery store, a print shop, produced corporate meetings, ran a video department for a denominational Christian Ed division, worked freelance IT and video production, started and ran a video company, built and ran a chain of tanning salons, sold in-home air purifiers, FOH at a large church, sold Gutter Helmet and windows, worked at an ad agency, edited video for a production company, worked as a TD in three churches, authored a successful blog, and I write for two magazines. And I’m just getting started.

I am constantly re-inventing myself and have taken jobs doing things I’m not good at simply so I can get better at them. With that as a backdrop, here are some things I think you can do to prepare yourself for the next wave of change that is about to wash over us.

Broaden Your Skill Base

Last week, I posited that many churches will be placing less emphasis on high-level production on the weekend services. As production ramps down, it becomes harder to justify specialized techs. So if you’re an audio-only guy, I suggest you learn lighting, video and stage design. If you currently edit video, learn the other disciplines. The reason is simple; as change happens and staffs shrink, the ones who stay employed are the ones who can do everything. 

I regularly encourage you to develop your skill sets anyway, and to always be learning new ones. This is simply an extension of that admonition. Never stop growing, learning and adding tools to your tool belt. 

Learn to Develop and Lead Teams

As paid staff shrinks, we will need to increasingly rely on others to help us get the job done. Developing and leading teams will become more important than ever. Yes, it’s always easier to just do it yourself. And if you are the staff video editor, spending 20 hours working with a volunteer to edit a spot that would take you 5 seems like a waste of time. But when you’re the only guy and have to do everything yourself, having that volunteer trained and ready to go will save your life. 

No, they probably won’t do it as good as you would have. And yes, it will take longer and require more planning. But if you don’t enlist help, you won’t survive.

Have an Exit Strategy

When was the last time you went to a retirement party for a TD? Or a pastor for that matter? Or how about a worship leader? As an aside, worship leaders have it worse than us. Once they pass 40, they are quickly replaced by younger, hipper dudes with hair product and scarves for belts. And what is a “former” worship leader going to do now? Anyway, start thinking about your next act. Where will you go and what will you do when you’re not the TD of a church? It will happen, so start thinking about it.

What skills and knowledge do you need to acquire to move on? Start working on those now. It’s not being disloyal; it’s being smart and prepared. You need to take charge of your career path. This may sound cynical, but the church that you have sacrificed for—where you’ve worked week after week, often going far beyond the call of duty, working 50, 60, 70 hours a week—will send you packing at the drop of a hat with (maybe) a month’s severance for every year worked. It’s happened to me and it’s happened to a bunch of other guys I know. And it’s not just the church; that story is repeated in companies across all sectors. 

So be smart; prepare, plan and work a strategy that will set you up well for your next act. You never know what it’s going to be; but if you’re prepared, it can be pretty great!

What advice would you offer your fellow TDs in this changing world?

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Technology In The Margins

This is the third in a series of posts on the changing face of production technology in the church. In this post, I’ll delve into some of the reasons why I think the role of technology is changing. If you missed the first two posts, you can read them here, and here.

Church production technology operates in the margins; and that is an intended double entendre. 

On the one hand, those of us in the technology field are often “one step above the janitor” when it comes to performing our job. What I mean by that is this; if we do our job well, no one knows we’re there, much like no one ever notices the janitor—until the toilet is overflowing in the women’s room. This is not to minimize what we do in the technical world (or the world of the janitorial services, for that matter), but it is a realization that most of the time, we slip in and out unnoticed; we operate in the margins. At least until something goes wrong.

The other side of the margins equation is financial. Live production technology, when done well, is expensive. There is just no getting around it. Audio consoles, projectors, cameras, moving lights, infrastructure, it’s all really expensive. And the bigger the church, the bigger the price tag for the tech.

When times are good and the church has financial margin, it’s easy to spend money on tech. However, when the belt has to tighten, the margin starts to go away. As the margin disappears, so does our tech budget. Why? Simple; when faced with choosing between staff and a new camera, the church will (and probably should) always choose staff.

If the church has to choose between spending $90,000 to send meals to Haiti or buying a new PA (especially if the current PA is still making noise), the choice should be obvious. As much as we techs all like to get new gear, more and more, that is not a realistic option. At least not at the scale we’ve become accustomed to.

Those of us in existing large churches are now in a difficult position; we have an expensive infrastructure to maintain (and eventually replace), as well as a certain implied level of production value to provide each week. Yet we’re given fewer resources—both in staff and budget—to get the job done. 

And with more and more people in our congregation ambivalent about sound, lights and video, it’s harder to justify big buys in equipment. Moreover, we might even start to get pushback as we suggest large ticket items; not only from church leadership, but from the congregation wondering why we’re spending all that money on tech.

To be sure, this is not happening in all churches. I know several off the top of my head who are putting in new Pa’s, video systems and lighting rigs. As I said last time, I don’t think we’re going to see an overnight change, nor will it affect every church equally. But I do think we need to be prepared to think more creatively about how we do our jobs. We’re also going to have to do a better job tying our technology needs to the mission and purpose of the church. “Because the big church down the street has it,” will no longer give us much traction. 

I don’t want anyone to think this is a doomsday message, or that I’m condemning the use of technology in a church service. Instead, I think we need to consider why it is we’re doing what we’re doing. Is the model working at our church? Are we really meeting the needs of the congregation? Are we speaking the right language? Is that new tech we want justified because it will help us better communicate the truth of the Gospel or is the money better spent elsewhere?

These are questions we need to wrestle with. There is no right answer, either. There are certainly times when spending $60,000 or even $100,000 on a digital console is justified; and others where it is a gross misuse of Kingdom funds. My purpose in writing this series is not to condemn or condone big production, but to generate a discussion that gets us thinking about why we do what we do, and if our current model (at least at our/your local church) is as effective as it could be. 

What say you? How have you seen the need for production increase or decrease in your congregation? 

Today’s post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

The Changing Face of Church Technology

Last time, we looked at some of the roots of the modern church service. In this post I’ll give a glimpse into what I think are some significant changes that will be coming over the next 5-10 years that will effect what we as church techs in large contemporary or modern churches do every week.

First let me say that I in no way think our current model is necessarily bad. And by current model I mean the highly produced services that can often resemble rock concerts. Big, well played music, lots of haze and moving lights, a loud PA, video backgrounds, IMAG; those are all tools we use to engage our audience. And as long as the audience is engaged, they are a good thing. And to be sure, there is still a large audience that wants to experience that during their weekend service. This is good.

On the other hand, it’s important to recognize that there is also a growing number of people who don’t want that in their service. They don’t want a “hip” experience, they prefer people to come as they are, be who they are and if the singer hits a wrong note from time to time, oh well. To them moving lights are a distraction and they are less concerned about the mix sounding exactly like it does on the album. They come to church to be with other believers, both cool and uncool, to connect with God and to serve others. This is also good.

Again note that I’m not making value judgements. One is not better than the other, and I don’t want to pit one side against the other. Both are equally valid and both have their place. The problem arises when we want to force one into the other’s mold.

Our church is a great example of this. For many years, Coast Hills has been the place to come if you want to experience a great worship service. We hired the best musicians, employed professional technicians and spent thousands of dollars on sets to make the experience amazing. And it was! People came, lives were changed and the church grew. And then the church changed.

Slowly, over time—partially driven by economic realities, but only partially—the congregation began to realize they didn’t need that level of production each week. In fact, it started to become a distraction. What they really wanted was to see people they knew on stage leading worship. They wanted more time in the scripture, and more time to spend together. And so, our production has scaled back considerably.

I believe we’re seeing this happen in more churches, and at some point, this “less produced’’ style of weekend will become the norm. To be sure, this will be a gradual change, probably taking 5-10 years, but I think it will happen. And it will happen because many in the next generation doesn’t care that much about high level production in their church service. They come for different reasons now. And in some cases, high production turns them off.

Now I don’t think this means that we’re headed back to crappy sound and overhead transparencies (thankfully!). In fact, I think we as church techs will develop more fully in our roles, becoming truly invisible and non-distracting. The sound will still have to be good, but it won’t be the main reason people are there. The words still need to be on the screen at the right time, but no one will get fired if they make a mistake. We still need lights to see, but I think we’ll see a lot less ballyhoo and color chases.

I suspect there will still need to be a minimum standard that is met each week with regards to production, but that standard may be lower than it is now. 

Instead, I think what we’ll see is tech doing what tech really does best—creating an atmosphere where people can connect with God. The trick will be doing it in such a way that it doesn’t appear that we’re using a lot of technology. I believe we will get to a point where sound, lighting and video will just be there, like microwaves and wi-fi. Yes technology is important, but it’s not the point. It will still need to work, but it will be background.

Next time, I’ll talk more about why I think this change is happening and what it will mean for us techs. How have you seen production change in your church over the last few years?

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