Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: January 2012 (Page 3 of 3)

Church Production Technology: Fading Away?

Last week I posted a link to an intriguing article written by Rachel Held Evans. Though she is in her 30’s, is progressive and likes Mumford and Sons, she is more interested in being part of an “uncool” church than a super-hip one. Her thoughts on churches being “too hip” challenged me and got me thinking—again—about the role of technology in the church.

Now while it’s true that I’m the Technology Director of a church, I’ve been spending a great deal of time thinking about how we sometimes over-use technology—and I’m speaking of live production technology; audio, lighting, video, presentation. I wonder if sometimes we use technology as a crutch, or if it even becomes a distraction to our audience. To put this discussion in its proper perspective, I think it best we take a trip down memory lane to look at the progression of technology in the church.

To begin, we shall go all the way back to the end of the nineteenth-century. Back then, when it got dark at night, even in the city, it was dark. In populated areas, going outside at night could be dangerous because it the baddies would come out at night. Thus, most people stayed indoors after the sun went down.

At some point, somebody figured out that if you put natural gas in a network pipes distributed around the city, you could set up street lamps, creating a measure of safety that would extend the shopping and social life downtown. Every night, the lamplighter would come along at dusk and light the street lamps (this was before automated piezo-electric igniters). This was a new technology that intrigued people, and everyday citizens would come out of their homes just to watch the lamplighter light the street lamps that banished the darkness from their fair city.

Observing this phenomenon, some hip, young pastor (who surely wore skinny jeans, had a tattoo and used hair product) saw a light go on in his own mind. “If people come out to see this bloke light street lamps, I bet they would come to church at night if we had lights there, too!” And thus, the first Lighting Director was established at the local church—as was the Sunday evening service. 

It’s not that popular any longer, but up until the end of the 1990s, many churches had Sunday evening services. By then, they had no idea why they were doing it, other than the fact that they had “always” done it. But the roots of the Sunday evening service lie in a new technology (at the time) which proved to be a valuable outreach tool.

Imagine the church bulletin (printed on recycled paper using the Papyrus typeface): “Think street lights are cool? Invite your unbelieving friends to see our fully lighted Sunday evening services! It will blow their minds!” And certainly for a time, it was a great outreach toll. Then it became a tradition, and then it went away.

More recently, sometimes in the 1980s or early 1990s, another young, hip pastor (no doubt with long hair and parachute pants) realized a lot of people enjoyed going to rock concerts. And perhaps while attending a U2 concert and marveling at the RoboScans, he had the brilliant idea. “Dude…if we put these lights and a big PA in our church, we could get more young people to come. It would be awesome!” And thus, the modern church movement was born.

Now, obviously, I’m over-simplifying this for the purposes of illustration. But it’s always important to keep things in perspective. And while the “rock show” style of worship service has been very effective (and I believe will continue to be for some time), the times they are a changing. I see this in our own church, and in the younger people who are there. I hear about it from others in their 20s and 30s who attend other churches. And it’s pointed out in the above mentioned article. 

What does it mean for production technology in the local church? Well, it means a lot. It means change, and change is not all bad. It does mean that we need to prepare for and stay ahead of it, however. And those are some thoughts I’ll unpack in the next post. 

Your assignment: Go read Rachel’s article and start thinking about this some more.

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.

Reaper Render Templates

Last time, I wrote about using Project Templates to speed up your Reaper workflow. Today, I’m going to talk about another feature I’ve been waiting for since I started using it: Render presets. 

Like many of you, I record the message each week, do a little editing, then need to export a couple versions of the finished product: Our info center still needs to burn CD copies of the message each week, and we need an MP3 to upload to the web. In the past, setting that up required a trip to the Render dialog box, and the changing of quite a few variables. Today, in version 4, it’s as easy as picking a drop down. Here’s how it works.

The first thing we did was create a few project templates to give us the track settings, routing and basic render settings for our normal weekends. You can read more about creating those templates in my previous post.

Once that’s all done, I record the service, do the editing I need to for the podcast, then create a time-range selection to mark my in and out times. Alternately, you could move the track into a blank project if you want to, but I’ve found it’s just easier to keep it all in the weekend project (and all the editing is non-destructive anyway). 

Check out some of the new features in the Output section (highlighted). You can do some cool stuff in there now.

I’ll open up the Render menu (using a custom shortcut I created; Option-Command-R), and enter the title of the file. You’ll also notice that in v. 4 the file name window is now separated from the path window. I really like this feature as it is much simpler to find and edit. As our project template pre-loads the Podcast settings, I simply add this to the Render Queue. 

These are the settings I use for our podcast each week.

Next, I re-open the Render menu and prepare for the CD file. To select the template, I click on Presets, then Options & Format, and my preset, CD AIFF. You can see that the options for the format all change, and the file will now be rendered as an AIFF file. Since our naming conventions are the same for both, I didn’t need to change that. Add to Render Queue and you’re set. Finally, I open the Render Queue—again with a custom keyboard shortcut—and hit Render All. Reaper goes to work rendering the files in both MP3 and AIFF formats. 

Note the different file type and output settings.

To create a render preset, simply set up a render with the options you want, then go to the preset button, choose your category and click “Save preset…” Note that you must add the file to the render queue or render it directly from the render dialog for the preset to be saved. I’m not sure why this is, but closing the dialog box without adding the file to the render queue will cause the preset to be lost. 

Set it up one weekend, and from that point forward, all you have to do is select the preset and you’re all set. 

Do you have any neat time-saving Reaper tricks?

Today’s post is brought to you buy Heil Sound. Established in 1966, Heil Sound Ltd. has developed many professional audio innovations over the years, and is currently a world leader in the design and manufacture of large diaphragm dynamic, professional grade microphones for live sound, broadcast and recording.

Reaper Project Templates

I’ve never really been a fan of ProTools. There I said it. I know, I know, almost every song I even listen to was recorded and edited in ProTools, but I find the interface obtuse. Like many things, it comes down to what you know; and I admit to not really knowing ProTools. But every time I try it out, it seems hard.

On the other hand, I took to Reaper like a fish to water. It was easy to get up to speed quickly and I continue to discover shortcuts, more efficient processes and easier ways to do things. Reaper is also heavily customizable. As I wrote in my post about automating Reaper recording, you can quickly and easily configure it to work for you.

Better still, the amazing team of programmers at Cockos continue to develop and advance the product. Project templates have been around since I started using Reaper, and they’ve saved me considerable amounts of time. Before we get to project templates, I want to make the distinction between track and project templates. Track templates save the layout, naming and input assignments of your tracks. A project template will save all of that plus the output routing, and just about everything else about your project. Note that a project template will also save media that might be in the tracks, so clear our any media before creating the template.

My starting point for a weekend with percussion.

On any given weekend we typically have drums, bass, keys (piano, synth and B3), our worship leader’s electric, his and background vocals plus a teaching mic in the mx. Depending on the week, we may also have percussion or winds. In Reaper then, I have two versions of my project templates; one for when we have percussion, one for when we have winds. If we have neither, I start with winds and simply delete that track.

To create a template, start laying out all the tracks you’ll need. I put my tracks in board order to make it easy to keep track of. I include both our teaching pastor’s channels, deleting the one who is not speaking each weekend. I also include tracks for as many BGVs as we’re ever likely to have (deleting the ones not used), as well as a tracks for backing tracks and extra guitars (again, deleted when not needed).

I go through and get all my output patching correct so that when I play back for virtual soundcheck, all the channels show up in the right place on the SD8. This is all done in the Routing/Grouping Matrix tab. Because I can, I also color-code my tracks using the same colors we use on our input sheets, and assign custom icons to each track. Once that’s all done, I save the template (File -> Project Templates -> Save as project template…). 

Remember that this will save everything—including media, window positions, audio devices, starting render settings and the like—so make sure you have it set up the way you want before saving the template. Once I built the first (I started with winds), I built the second based on the existing settings. I suppose I could also create a third— a minimal template that only has two background vocals; no winds, perc or additional guitars—that would speed up my set up some weekends. But it’s also just as easy to delete the tracks I’m not using. 

To use the templates, I launch Reaper (actually, it launches automatically when we boot up the Mac) and simply head to the File menu and select Project Templates. I pick the one I want and tell it not to bother saving the blank project that it opened. I go through the project selecting and deleting tracks that aren’t used, renaming the vocal tracks for future reference. Finally, I save the project, naming it for that weekend. The whole process takes about 30 seconds each week, and I am confident that when I play it back later, everything shows up exactly as it should.

If you’ve been starting from scratch every weekend with your track layout, consider project templates. If you have multiple band configurations on a regular basis, this will really speed up your workflow. While it does take a little time and experimentation to get set up correctly, the time you save every weekend from that point on will be more than worth it.

What hardware/software combination do you use for virtual soundcheck?

Today’s post is brought to you by DPA Microphones. DPA’s range of microphones have earned their reputation  for exceptional clarity,  high resolution, above all, pure, uncolored accurate sound. Whether recording or sound reinforcement, theatrical or broadcast, DPA’s miking solutions have become the choice of professionals with uncompromising demands for sonic excellence.

Christmas 2012: Start Preparing Now

Am I crazy? Start preparing for Christmas? It’s only January 2! What could you possibly prepare for Christmas—which isn’t for almost 12 full months! I know, it seems nuts to think about, but there really is a method to my madness. And I will now explain it. 

Christmas is one of those times that tend to stress our technical systems and processes. The bands are bigger, the sets grander and the technical needs greater. It is usually about two weeks out that you figure out what you can and can’t do; and what you wish you had the capability to do. Somehow, you pulled it off, though I can bet there was probably a good bit of bailing wire and duct tape holding it all together.

So it is now, in January, that we should take stock of those systems, figure out where our weaknesses are and start making plans to correct them. Case in point; last year after our huge production of Gunch!, Isaiah and I spent almost six months building additional custom snakes, cables and harnesses, running conduit, cable and plates. We added even more remote controls and networking and we vastly cleaned up our lighting grid.

That all looked like a lot of hard work at the time, but it payed off in spades this December. Since Isaiah flew the coop to be a TD at another church, it was just me and my lighting super-volunteer, Thomas. I had to be set designer, set constructor, TD, A1, and A2. Thankfully, we had put in a ton of time getting our systems up to speed, which made my job a whole lot easier. 

Rather than run cables all over the place, we dropped in our snakes and custom cables to create an incredibly neat, efficient stage. Everything worked pretty much as planned. The only exception was one snake that I really wanted to get new ends put on before Isaiah left, but we ran out of time. And that was the one thing that failed. So, guess what I’m doing in January!

January is also a great time to look at your systems because the pain of their weaknesses is still fresh in your mind. All of the custom stuff we built last year came directly out of needs we discovered during the Christmas production. 

Christmas will also bring out the areas you need to work on for training your volunteers. For example, even though I’ve been working with my A2s for a few months, they are still not nearly prepared enough to help out on a big show like that. Sure, they can help do basic set ups and things like that, but they’re not up to speed on a lot of the more specialized things we do on a big event. I need to make sure I spend some time going over that so the can be more help.

We didn’t get to utilize our other lighting volunteers that much because most of them are not comfortable hanging fixtures and running cable in the truss. Again, that’s an area we can train on. 

Trying to do big events like Christmas and Easter by yourself, with sub-par systems can be exhausting. Our systems are pretty good right now, but it was still exhausting. I’m not sure how many more of those I can do like that. However, by next year, I hope to have a few more things in place, plus some better-trained volunteers to help out. And maybe, just maybe I won’t end up sleeping my entire week off this year.

What weaknesses did you notice this year during Christmas, and how are you going to fix them?

Newer posts »

© 2021 ChurchTechArts

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑