Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: February 2012 (Page 1 of 2)

Presentation: Cuing Slow Songs—Remix

On Monday, I re-posted my updated version of cuing fast songs. Today we’ll get to slow songs. As I reviewed the original post from 3 years ago, I decided that my cues should happen earlier than they did. So in the good examples, I’ve re-positioned the cues to where I think they should go now. I’ve also tweaked the measure counting to make it easier to follow.

OK, we’re back at it again with another example of cuing slide lyrics for songs. This time, we’ll tackle a slower song, You Alone from David Crowder’s The Lime CD. This song is tricky not because it moves so fast, but because it moves so slow. There needs to be a balance between getting the lyrics up at the right time and changing them in a musical fashion.

Changing slides (or switching cameras for that matter) in a musical manner is one of the hardest things to teach. I would go so far as to say that some people will never “get it.” It takes being able to count, almost instinctively, and know the music well enough that you can stay ahead without being obnoxious.

Let’s start off with a not so good example. This is how the song might be cued by someone who doesn’t really know the song, or have a good understanding of how it needs to move musically. Sorry it’s over 2 min, it’s a slow song.

What you can see from that is the slides lagged behind every time. Again, this fragments worship, and causes those in attendance to sing, stop, jump in, stop, etc. It’s not smooth or easy. Also notice there was a four bar bridge in which the previous verse just hung on the screen. This is confusing for people. We expect that if there are words on the screen, we will be singing them, if not right this second, sometime soon. Yet, here we are with a 15 second interlude with the words hanging there like old wallpaper. Not ideal.

So what’s the remedy? First, as always, we need to stay ahead of the game. Second, there should be a blank slide inserted between the two verses. In our example here, I’m using a black background. In real life, I would have some type of photographic/graphic background behind the words, and we’d go to that. Let’s run another example with my suggested cuing points.

Hopefully, you notice the difference. The real question is how do you decide where to cue a slow-moving song like that? For the answer to that question, we need to dive into a little music theory. First you need to know that songs are broken up in to measures (or bars). Each measure has a specific number of beats in it. This song is written in 6/8 time.  This means that each measure is made up of 6 eight notes, and the beat happens on 1 and 4.As you listen to the song, you can count along; 1,2,3,4,5,6; 2,2,3,4,5,6; 3,2,3,4,5,6; 4,2,3,4,5,6. That represents 4 measures. I change the first number in each sequence to remind me where I am. As you can see, I wrote this incorrectly the first time which just proves that I really didn’t pay much attention during music theory class. Thanks to Keith for helping me get it right.

Just like video editing of music numbers, visual changes should happen on the beat (I can’t stand music videos that are not cut to the beat, they’re so jarring). With a song moving this slowly, it’s easy to change on the 4th beat of a measure and still have the slide up at the right time.

Here’s another example with some beat markers thrown in to illustrate the point. Note that the song actually has an 8 bar intro, and I’m just showing you 4. The top number is the measure number, the bottom is the beat within that measure.

This is where taking a few minutes to talk to the worship leader (and even better, listen to the songs ahead of time) comes in very handy. If you know that a song has a 4-bar intro, you can count right along and get the words up just before the lyrics start. If there is a 4-bar instrumental between verse 1 and verse 2, you know to put a blank in and count along. I will often even label my blanks “4-bar Instrumental” so I remember.

Someone asked last week what the rule for blank slides is. I’m not sure there is a rule, but my general practice is if it’s 2 bars or more, I’ll throw in a blank over an instrumental. This particular song has a 1-bar break between the first and second phrases of the verse, and when I played with it, it seemed more disruptive to dip to a blank, then come back 3 beats later. But for the 4 bar, a blank is a definite improvement.

Again, these are not hard and fast rules, but they should give you some guidance on best practices. Every song is a little different and can be interpreted a few different ways. The goal, however, needs to be a seamless appearance of lyrics at the right time that feels like it’s connected to the music. Get that right, and you’re one giant step closer to creating that environment of immersive and engaging worship.

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Presentation: Cuing Fast Songs—Remix

Back about three years ago, I wrote a few posts demonstrating how to cue lyrics for fast and slow songs. Today, I have some fairly new presentation operators that I’m training, so I was going to send them the links to those posts. Before I sent those links, I thought it would be prudent to read them and re-watch the videos to see if I still agreed with what I wrote. If found a few thigns I didn’t really like anymore. So, I re-edited the videos and am tweaking the posts. Today, we’ll revisit the fast songs, and on Wednesday we’ll take a look at slow songs. 

This is a topic that I feel pretty strongly about. Know that up front. How many times have you been in a worship service, singing a new song, and been unable to sing it because the lyrics on the screen trail the worship leader? Even if it’s a song you sort of know, it is really hard to sing along if the lyrics are not keeping up. Don’t believe me? Check it out…

This is a clip from the David Crowder song “Undignified” (I didn’t ask him if I could use it, so don’t tell him, OK? But if you find out, David, know that I have purchased all your CDs. Nothing but love here!). I have cued the lyrics the way I see a lot of people cue them. Now, even if you’ve sung this song at the top of your lungs in your car as much as I have (which is to say, a lot…), try to sing the song the way the lyrics are coming up on the screen–just as you would in church with a song you don’t know well. See how it goes.

That wasn’t too easy, now was it? The problem is simple: By the time the 1/2 second dissolve takes place, and our eyes scan back up to the first word on the new slide, he’s already onto the second line. That means we sing in fits and starts, and it’s awkward and uncomfortable. After a while, people stop singing altogether.

So how do we fix it? The answer is twofold. First, for songs this fast, I change the dissolve setting to .3 seconds (sometimes even .2). That gets the new slide up faster. Second, I cue earlier–typically in the space between the second to last and last word on the slide.

Take a look at this version and see how much easier it is to sing along with.

Here’s something that we often forget: People read a lot faster than they talk (or sing). Within a few seconds of a lyric slide hitting the screen, the audience has already read it. That’s why we can change to the next one before they’ve finished singing–they’ve already read it. By cuing the song a little early, it gives the singer a chance to get the upcoming words “in que” if you will before they need them.

Since it might be hard to see exactly when I cued those slides, I have a third version here with yellow arrows on the cue points. If I were running ProPresenter, I would hit the spacebar when we got to the arrows. Take a look.

I should also point out that in the second and third version, the first lyric slide hits the screen before David starts singing. This is important. We need to give people a second or two to get the words cued up. This can be accomplished by either A) knowing the song and arragement very well (ie. there are 8 bars of instrumental between the chorus and verse—and you know how to cound bars), or B) watching the worship leaer. Most will give a pretty clear signal that they’re getting ready to sing in a second, you just need to watch for it.

Another thing to notice that I treat two short, fast words (ie. my king) as one word and cue at the beginning of “my,” instead of “king.” The reason is simple; “my king” is sung as myking. If you wait until you get to “king,” you’ll be too late. When the song has a phrase break in it, such as between “nothing Lord is hindering this passion and my soul,” {breath} “And I’ll become…” you have a little more leeway in cuing. With those types of phrases, you can make the slide change happen during the breath.

Next time around, we’ll tackle an approach to a slower song, and learn how to cue slides in a musical and seamless manner.

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.

MacBook Air 11″: Initial Thoughts

OK, I admit it; I’ve been coveting a MacBook Air ever since it was released back in 2008. The concept of a sub-3 pound laptop that was just an inch thick was appealing. Now, I should give you a little history. The first time I ever used a laptop was on a business trip in 1992. The company where I was IT manager (among other things) had just bought a whole slew of new Macs and our VAR (remember VARs?) threw me a PowerBook 140 to play with for a few weeks. I think they were hoping we would buy a few, which we did eventually. 

The PowerBook 140 weighed almost 7 pounds, had a 16 MHz (that’s right, MHz) 68030 processor, 8 Megs of RAM and a 640×400 greyscale screen. I bought my first laptop in March of 2001. It was a PowerBook G3 (AKA Pismo). The G4’s had just come out and the G3 was a steal at $1450. Again, it weighed just over 6 pounds, had a 400 MHz G3 processor and a 14” screen. 

I’ve carried a variety of MacBooks and MacBook Pros since then, and while they’ve always been faster than the ones before, they’ve not been much lighter. My work-issue laptop is a 2009 MacBook Pro, 2.8 GHz with a 15” screen. It’s a great machine and continues to serve me well. But after schlepping around my 6-pound MBP in my giant Swiss backpack (filled with all kinds of other gear I might need someday), I decided to slim down. 

Now that the Airs are fitted with Core i5 or i7 processors and SSDs, they’re performance machines. I have a good friend who works for Apple and has been carrying Airs since they came out. I spent about an hour with him talking about the pros and cons, and the workflow of having a small, light go-anywhere laptop for the road and a 15” at home. 

Now that I’ve had the Air for a few days, I can say my friend was right. It is amazing! I’ve used a lot of Macs over the years, including some big-honking Mac Pros. And the Air is the first machine that works as fast as I do. Apps launch so fast, I don’t even bother to keep them all running all the time (which saves battery life), and I love the fact that I can close the screen and stuff it into my bag right now without worrying about the hard drive. 

In fact, I bought a small little messenger bag from STM (my daughter calls it a “man purse…”) and even when filled with the Air and iPad (which can be used as a second display using Air Display), it weighs less than my backpack without a computer. 

The Air does have some limitations, chief among them storage. You can get it with a 480 SSD, but it’s pretty spendy. I opted for the 128, and after looking through my documents folder, determined I have been carrying around a lot of files unnecessarily. I started looking at modification dates and put the files I use on the Air, and the rest on a portable USB drive. The drive stays on the desk, but can travel with me if needed. To keep things in sync between my 15” “office” machine and the Air, I’m using DropBox. 

Initially I was concerned about the screen size—I am getting old after all. I compared the 11” and 13” at the Apple store and discovered that the 11” has such high resolution that it’s easy to see even though it’s a bit small. I plan on doing mainly writing, email and web browsing in the field and it’s easy to blow the fonts up as needed. The 13” seemed almost as big as the 15” so I went small. I have a 23” 1080P display in the studio that the Air hooks up to for doing anything that requires more screen real estate, and the graphics card has no trouble driving it. 

Thought it’s been only a week, I think I’m going to have a hard time ever going back to a conventional laptop. This little Air is so convenient, light and fast that it’s changing the way I work. I’ll have more reports on the workflow I figure out as I do so. But my friend Scott was right; it’s amazing. 

What’s your laptop story?

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Let Me Think About That

'no?' photo (c) 2009, Gail Williams - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I’ve learned a lot of things while working in church tech for the last 20 years or so. You might think those lessons would all be technical in nature; and you’d be half right. But I’m sure I’ve learned as much about myself and how to relate with others as I have learned about technology itself. 

Some years ago, one thing I learned (or perhaps more correctly, noticed) about myself is that I had a tendency to say, “No” to requests for various technical things. To some extent, it didn’t matter what the request was, my default answer tended to be, “No” and we would negotiate from there. The funny thing was, after I said, “No,” I would often find a way to accommodate the request. 

At some point, and I honestly don’t remember how now, this was pointed out to me. I began to consider this attitude and why I was behaving this way and I came to a surprising conclusion (at least for me); I realized that I didn’t actually mean, “No,” what I meant was, “Give me a minute to think about how to accomplish that.”

One thing I do know about myself is that I pride myself on coming up with elegant solutions to problems. I don’t really like “Git ‘er done” approaches; though I may fall back on them in a pinch. I much prefer to come up with a solution that works, and works well. Often those solutions take a minute or two (or an hour or two) to come up with. 

As I thought about it, I realized I was really just saying, “No” to buy time to come up with a solution. Sadly, it wasn’t received that way. Most people took my, “No” as—and you’ll find this shocking—a no. Finally it occurred to me that I could win more friends and influence more people if instead of answering, “No” all the time, I changed my answer to what it really was, a request for more time to think of a solution. Amazingly, it worked. 

My strategery (thank you G.W. Bush for giving us that great word) now  when someone asks for something is to pause for a second or two before answering. In that brief moment, I am parsing the request to see if it’s something I can answer quickly or if I need more time. After a pause, I answer. Some requests are easy; “Can I get more piano in my monitor, please?” Sure thing! 

Some requests take more thought; “Can I try in-ears instead of the monitor this week?” This was a real-life request I took a few weeks ago. A few years ago, my default would have been, you guessed it, “No.” And that no would have really been more of a, “If I had known about it before I set up the whole stage, yes, it would have been easy. But now, you waited until the last minute so it’s hard. So no.” But I’m a changed man—or at least a changing one. So instead I paused.

In that brief silent pause, I thought, “Hmmm, we’re already 10 minutes into sound check, switching will take 10 minutes, what are the ramifications of that?” OK, this is going to take a few minutes to run the scenarios.  I responded with, “Give me a second to think about that.” 

After thinking about it for a few minutes (while continuing on with soundcheck), I had an answer; “I could set you up on ears, but it will take me about 10 minutes to connect everything and patch the M-48. That will halt rehearsal, and since we’re already behind, I’m thinking we should wait until next time. I’ll set you up with it next time you’re on, OK?” 

The singer’s reaction was just what you’d hope for, “Ok, sure, no problem. Next time would be great.” Instead of shutting him down completely with a quick no, I processed the request, weighed the options and came up with a measured response. In addition to explaining why we couldn’t do that now, I gave him a promise of accommodating the request at a future date, building good will. 

You’ll be amazed at how much trust and respect you can build with your teams if you take some time to consider your answers, give people options and explain your responses. I know I have.

How do you typically respond to tech requests? What is the reaction? 

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When Things Go Wrong

What happens when something terribly wrong happens during service? I’ve written before about having backup plans, and while looking through some old posts, I came across this one. As I read it, it was another great reminder about how we need to have contingency plans for our contingency plans, and how we need to stay on top of maintenance, and watch the details closely during each service. Read on…

Sometimes, things go really, really wrong during service. And for us tech guys, it’s kind of like a train wreck. You know you shouldn’t look, but you just can’t help it. Then you say, “Phew! At least I wasn’t mixing when that happened!” So here we are. In the middle of service, and the pastor steps up to pray. His mic is on, everything is working perfectly. And then…well, take a listen.

Bad, Bad Sounds During Prayer

I don’t know about you, but that makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Call me a perfectionist, call me paranoid, but I can’t stand it when stuff like that happens during a service. It’s just horrifying to me. Now, this pastor handled it well, but the mood was still broken. I always tell our tech volunteers that our job is to create an atmosphere of worship. People should be able to come and meet with God without having to block out explosive noises from the sound system.

OK, enough ranting. The question was posed to me, “What could the FOH engineer have done to either prevent this, or minimize the damage?” Personally, I’m a big fan of “prevent this.”But before we can prevent anything, we need to know what we’re dealing with. The initial diagnosis of the offending noise was a bad cable to the bass guitar. (I think we have an update, but I’ll save that for the end because it doesn’t help make my point–see how I am?)

Test and Fix Them Cables

So let’s consider the “bad cable” theory. How do we prevent a bad cable? For starters, test them. We just did this a few months ago. We pulled all the cables off the rack and tested them. Every single one. It took about an hour and a half. We plugged each into a cable tester and gave them a shake all up and down the length of each cable. Ones that failed were put aside, and were fixed them later. Ones that couldn’t be fixed quickly were thrown away. The way I see it, there’s pretty much no excuse to use bad cables more than once. And if you test them regularly, you can head most of this off at the pass. If all your cables are good, you won’t have issues like this. Except when good cables go bad…

Mute Them

My Bible says that on the 5th day, God created the fish, the sea, mute groups, and VCAs/DCAs. And He commanded that we use them. Often. That’s the rarely quoted 11th commandment, “Thou shalt mute all unused inputs until just a moment before they whilst be used, and promptly re-mute them again after they are done being used” (and we pronounce that “use-ed”). As you may have guessed, I’m a big fan of muting inputs, or turning them off when not in use with a VCA or DCA. I’m such a big fan that I will often not un-mute a mic (or fire the snapshot that brings that mic up) until the person is inhaling just before they are about to speak or sing. And as soon as they’re done, the input is off. This is important for several reasons.

During prayer, or speaking, there is nothing else going on in the system to cover up bad sounds. What kind of bad sounds? Well, how about the one we just heard. Or how about during a wedding and someone is prepping for a service backstage and starts plugging mics into channels that should be off (but aren’t). Or how about the guitar player that comes up during prayer and decides to tune, only instead of tuning clicks the tuner off instead of on. Those kind of sounds. If someone were to be following my “all inputs off except the active one” rule, and a cable went bad during prayer, no one would have been the wiser.

Pay Attention

Almost every board I’ve worked on has some type of signal indication light on each channel. If the band comes up during a prayer (their channels are all off, of course), and you glance down and see a channel meter or signal present light flashing when it wasn’t before, put on the headphones and take a listen through the PFL (or solo) bus (not in the house) and see what it is. If it’s a cable gone bad, don’t open that channel. And since the channel was already off during prayer, no one in the house knows it’s going bad. It’s our  jobs as FOH engineers to keep tabs on this stuff.

The Nuclear Option

Sometimes really, really bad stuff happens and you have no control over it. It might be an unexpected power surge that fries a power supply (of course, you should be surge protected…). It could be quick brown or black out (it’s not a bad idea to have your FOH desk on a UPS…). Sometimes a piece of equipment fails in a catastrophic way. In any of those cases, I would say you have about 1-2 seconds to figure out if the problem is on an individual channel, or a group, or a mix bus that you can pull down really fast. If you can’t find it, you have to go nuclear and pull the mains down. In rare cases, even that won’t work, and you might have to take the whole system down. How you do that will vary from church to church, but do you have a plan for it?

Some would suggest that I’m making too big a deal of this. After all, these are relatively rare instances. I would argue that these are extremely rare cases (at least in places I’ve worked) because I make a big deal of this. The old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” certainly applies to the world of live sound, lights and video. If we maintain our systems well, take care of our equipment, pay attention and follow solid live production practices, we can make these hugely obnoxious problems a thing of the past. Go ahead, listen one more time…

Bad, Bad Sounds During Prayer

After I talked some more with my friend, he informed me that he has a caution light showing on the console, indicating a possible problem with the power supply for the desk. This could account for the noise. Time for a service call… And don’t put it off, either!

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Scoring Deals

I talk with techs all the time who tell me they need new equipment but don’t have the budget to make it happen. In this post, I’ll share some secrets I’ve worked out on finding equipment at great prices. Sometimes it takes a little work, but it’s always worth it.

A few weeks ago, I scored a really great deal. We have been in desperate need for a new IMAG camera for years—we currently have one rather nice Hitachi Z4000W and one very not nice Sony DXC-3000—and I’ve been running scenarios on getting a new one. Unfortunately, every one of them has been shut down because of the budget. 

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend of mine, and he said they just retired their Z4000 when they went HD. We stated talking price and settled on a number I felt was fair, and it was about half what my other scenarios were looking like. Then on a lark, my boss searched ebay for a Z4000. Lo and behold, there was one, in the exact same set up that we currently have. 

To make a long story short, we ended up winning the auction, and even after buying a few cables that we need, we came out less than half what my friend’s camera was going to be (sorry Mark!). The upshot of all this is that I could possibly have enough to replace our switcher if I play my cards right. 

It pays to be creative when looking for new gear. We tend to go immediately to our dealer network when we need new equipment, but sometimes some really great deals can be had if we do a little legwork. 

When I owned my video production company, we bought almost all our video decks from ebay. Almost all of them were great finds. Every once in a while, we’d get a dud, but overall, we came out tens of thousands of dollars ahead. 

Since I’ve been on staff at churches, I’ve tried to find creative ways to swap, barter and buy and sell equipment with other churches. Another friend of mine just scored a great deal on a used lighting console that he bought from a church that switched to another one. I sold our Yamaha M7 to a church in Oregon; we got some cash, they got a great deal. 

I often check with used equipment brokers when I start looking to upgrade equipment. Last summer, we picked up 10 used moving wash fixtures for about $8,000; not a bad deal. Sure they’re used and we had to buy a few belts to replace the worn out ones, but I expect these will last us several years before we have to do major work on them. 

I’ll put a list of brokers at the bottom of this post; some I have used, others I’ve not. It should go without saying, but do your research, and make sure you have a good inspection period. Of course when buying off ebay, check the seller’s feedback. I always like to ask a question to see if the seller is real.

If you are buying computers, particularly Macs, check out Apple’s refurbished store. You can typically get fantastic deals on the previous generation (especially right after a new model comes out), but even the current models can be found at significant savings. I just bought an Air and saved over $200 buying refurb. Every Mac I’ve purchased in the last 4 years has been a refurb and I’ve yet to have an issue.

The Church Tech Leader network has a marketplace area on the site and I’ve seen some good deals there occasionally. And as we always tell you, it pays to get to know the church techs around you. I’ve borrowed a complete 3 camera production fly-pack from a church in the area; that saved me thousands of dollars in rental costs. 

I want to hear from you; what are your strategies for finding good deals on gear?

Links to Brokers:

Sound Broker


Media Concepts

Broadcast Store

Apple Refurb Store


The Window and the Mirror

'room with a view' photo (c) 2009, vince42 - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

I recently started reading the classic business management book, Good to Great, by Jim Collins. I’ve read some his newer work (Great by Choice is a fascinating read), but never Good to Great. His books are easy to read and often cause me to put the book down (or in this case the iPad) and reflect on how I’m leading my teams. 

While I work at a church and not a Fortune 500 company, I think there are a lot of lessons we can learn from successful companies and CEOs. As Collins does so well, he distills years of research down to a handful of salient principles that, when applied correctly, can change the way you do business; or lead a tech team. 

One such principle is The Mirror and the Window. His research team found that the CEOs from the highly successful companies they studied are not the typical “rock star” CEO some envision; instead they display a unique and seemingly contradictory blend of humility and drive. When things go well, they look out the window at the team that made the success possible and give the team the credit. When things go poorly, they look in the mirror and take the blame. 

I’ve thought about this a lot as a TD. We’re professional techs, good at what we do and typically hit are marks with great regularity. Our volunteers however, tend to be school teachers, engineers, students, fireman or salesman. Unlike you and I, they don’t spend every waking moment developing and honing their technical skills. 

It’s really easy for us to throw them under the bus in a debrief. “Yeah, that Jim, he just never seems to get the shot in focus.” “Betty has a hard time keeping up with the song lyrics, what are you going to do.”  And if things go really well, it’s easy to take the credit. 

But that’s not what really smart CEOs of great companies do. And I don’t think it’s what smart TDs do, either. 

I’ve not always done this well, but more and more, I’m seeing my role as one who makes my team successful. That means training them well, developing systems and processes that enable them to do a great job and taking the heat when things don’t go as planned. 

Something amazing happens in teams when we as leaders share all the credit and absorb all the blame. It seems counter-intuitive, but it works in great companies and it works in great tech teams. 

The reality is, the ultimate responsibility for how well our services run from a technical standpoint falls to us. But if we want to be truly successful, we need to share the credit with our team. We obviously can’t do it all alone, and we’re nothing without a great team. 

When we give the team the credit, it builds them up and generates a huge increase in morale. When we take the blame, it also encourages the team because they know we have their backs and will come up with a way to make it better next time. 

How do you encourage your 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.


A funny thing happened on the way to the worship service the other night…

We had a night of worship scheduled for Wednesday evening, and along came a perfect storm. My presentation coordinator had been out sick, so I had to devote some of my normal prep time to getting ProPresenter set up for the volunteer who agreed to come in at the last minute. There were a few last-minute changes to the band that I needed to accommodate, and it was a big band at that. To fit everything into the M-48s, I had to get creative, which meant patching took longer than usual.

As we got closer to sound check, the band was all really (and rather uncharacteristically) late. Sound check started late, and we had some issues I needed to troubleshoot. The bigger band and significantly larger vocal team (along with a few last-minute changes) led to a longer sound check than normal. So by the time we got to rehearsing, we were a good hour behind. Oh, and the start time was based on a 7:00 PM start—except the service started at 6:30. 

For a service like that, where we will do a solid dozen songs, we like to have four to four and a half hours of rehearsal time. Last week we had three. I know I felt like I wasn’t fully prepared for the lights to go down when we started, and in talking to the band afterwards, they weren’t quite ready either. But something amazing happened.

It all came together. More importantly, it all came together at the same time in front of the congregation. I was talking with our MD about this afterward, and we both noted a few interesting things. First, we had a much larger crowd than we usually do for these. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it was a little more risky for the band, and for me.

On a normal weekend (or night of worship, for that matter), we rehearse enough to really get the songs and arrangements down, I have my snapshots dialed in, and we all press “play,” so to speak. But that night, we were still bringing it together as we went; and it was magical!

That experience has gotten me thinking about how we approach the rehearsal process. I certainly wouldn’t advocate showing up completely unprepared, or skipping rehearsal altogether. But I wonder if we sometimes get it too dialed in. 

I know by the time I get to the 11 PM service on Sunday, I have my snapshots so dialed in, I can pretty much just hit “next” all morning. I still mix, but I don’t have that much to do. And that’s because by the 11, we’ve run the song five times that weekend (three times in two different rehearsals, and twice in services). I don’t know what to do about that, but there is definite difference between what we experienced on Wednesday than what normally happens on a Sunday. 

Now, certainly there are other factors involved as well. God is clearly doing something in our congregation right now, and we can’t discount that. The larger band naturally led to more energy (and SPL) than usual. A full house (complete with the whole Jr. High group) also added to the experience. 

But I really believe the raw and fresh nature of the songs that were not over-rehearsed really helped as well. 

I’m still processing this, and I’d like to explore it more. Honestly, I’m not sure what to do with any of this, but it felt like something worth sharing. I’d like to hear from you; what is your experience with this? Can we suck some of the life out of a service by over-rehearsing or being too dialed in?

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My Current Vocal Effects Process

I’ve had several people ask me about my vocal effects lately, so I thought I’d write a post about it. A few caveats: First, this is descriptive, not prescriptive. I’m not telling you what you should do, but what I’m currently doing. Second, this has changed about 4-5 times over the last 4-5 years. My process changes to adapt to the hardware I have available. If Waves comes through with some of their stuff later this year, I may change it again. Third, I have tried to develop a process that delivers consistently good results quickly and easily and is easy to explain to volunteers who are not professional engineers. With that in mind, here we go.

First, a little about our band and music style. We always have one person leading the song. It may be our worship leader, or another member of the vocal team for the weekend, but one person is the leader. The rest of the vocals are background vocals, and they typically sing parts where appropriate. We are not going for a “vocal chorus” or the Maranatha sound; we’re lead and BGVs (not that the other ways are wrong, it’s just not what we do). 

I also believe it’s important to keep the lead vocal out front in the mix where the congregation can track with it easily. I’m not going for a main vocal with background music, but the vocal is always the center of the mix. I use a few methods to make that so, without necessarily making the vocal louder. 

So let’s take the lead vocal for starters. I have three things going on for the lead vocal (in addition to the normal channel processing, which would include some compression and EQ); a double-patched parallel compression channel (AKA. vocal smash channel), a plate reverb and a simple delay. 

The smash channel is accomplished by simply double patching the leader’s mic into two channels on the console. I compress the smash channel pretty aggressively, usually running 8-10 dB of gain reduction. I don’t add much makeup gain in my setup, but your mileage may vary. Because I can, I also flip my EQ to come after my compression and I add a few dB back at about 2KHz. This brings back some of the high end that gets lost with that much compression. 

With some leaders, I don’t use much smash, with others I use it all the time. The smash acts sort of like a Z-axis control, letting me bring the vocal forward in the mix without it just getting louder. It’s kind of hard to explain, but once you try it, you’ll immediately know what I mean. It’s not louder, it’s just more there. 

The leader also gets put through a plate reverb and a simple delay. I’ve become more enamored with plates over the years; they add just enough ambiance to air out the vocal, without becoming too spacey. Then I have a delay; the time of which is determined by the tempo the song. I’ll come back to that in a moment. Both of those effects are fed from an aux and brought back into the mix via a channel. I could insert the FX on the channels, but we often have different singers leading songs during services, and putting it on an aux makes it easier to move them in and out of “leader mode.”

BGVs are simply run through a hall reverb. Also on an aux, it is easy to control how much reverb is added to the mix. I use the hall to make the BGVs sound bigger than they are. On a normal weekend, we have 2, maybe 3 background singers, but I like it to sound like more. With some hall, I can make them bigger, and  by varying the amount of dry and wet keep them back in the mix, or pull them out more in front. I like to try to visualize the BGVs as a “bandshell” behind the leader, making it easier to hear the leader, while rounding out the sound.

As for setting decay times, I’ve adapted a process that I first leaned about from Dave Pensado. He talked about setting the delay to a 16th or 8th note of the song one time, so I gave it a try. I was happy with the result, so I keep doing it. I’ve found that about 90% of the time, I’m really happy with a 16th note delay on the lead vocal. It rounds it out without having a perceptible echo—unless the tempo drops below 70, then I shorten it up by ear (sometimes as short as 102 msec.).

Then one day I was trying to figure out a method to help my new volunteers with decay times on the reverb. I wondered if setting it by tempo would work. So I tried it. Again, I was happy with the result. Unlike the delay, which has a little more predictable time setting, I go with a value that equals either a half, three-quarter or whole note. Again, about 90% of the time, I’m happy with the result. 

All of this is a bit like the English language, however. There are some rules, and a lot of exceptions. Sometimes the tempo method I just described works great. Other times, it’s too much or too little. In that case, I change it. I was teaching this in a church a while back and I think I spent almost as much time telling to be unafraid to break the rules as I did explaining the rules in the first place. So remember, these are starting points and guides, not absolutes. 

I’ve been doing this for about 6-8 months now, and like I said, I’ve been very happy with the results. It’s quick to set up for each song (I don’t ever get more than 2 runs through each song before a service, so it has to be fast), and it’s easy to show my volunteers.

That’s my method; what’s your story? How do you approach vocal effects? Who knows, I’ve changed my methods more than once—maybe I’ll adopt yours…

UPDATE: I realized later in the day that I should have pointed out the fact that our band plays to a click, so the stated tempo is consistent for the song, every time. If we didn’t play to a click, I would adapt as needed. END UPDATE

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On Being Critical of Others

'Angry' photo (c) 2010, Abhijit Bhaduri - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about our tendency to be hyper-critical of other people. I’ve thought about this off and on over the years, and it was brought back to the forefront when I came across a post on EchoHub that had generated quite a lot of controversy. A church in Texas created a pretty cool opener for their Christmas production using 54 iPads were moved around by a small army of people while imagery was mapped to the iPads and screens above. It was kinda cool and innovative.

But oh, how it stirred the wrath of the critical Christian. Several chided the church for it being a “waste of resources.” Another said for 700 man hours, it should have been “more awesome.” Still others questioned how such frivolity could possibly draw anyone closer to Christ. 

As I was contemplating my response to some of those comments, I started thinking about the steady stream of tweets I see during award shows and major events. So often, the harshest critics of anything are church techs. I mentioned this to a friend of mine and he corrected me, “It’s not just church techs, it’s Christians.” 

As saddened as I am to admit it, I fear it’s true. If the broadcast mix of an awards show doesn’t meet our exacting standards, Twitter lights up with an amazing amount of criticism (never mind the fact that there are a dozen places for a perfectly good mix to get squashed between the engineer’s monitors and your living room…). 

If a mic isn’t turned on at exactly the right time during a show, within seconds you’ll see Tweets, Facebook statuses and blog posts decrying, “These guys suck!” 

Now, let’s think about that for a moment. Say you’re the broadcast engineer for an event, and let’s say you don’t have a relationship with Christ, or a real desire to attend a church. You make a mistake on air, and in the coming days start seeing a vicious critique of your work broadcast on the internet. 

You might see things go by on Twitter and maybe even click on a few posts to see who all these people are who are crying out for your immediate resignation from ever mixing again. “Who are all these angry people? Hmm, there’s one. Huh, that guy works at a church. There’s another. ‘Christ follower’ it says in his bio. And another ‘church sound guy.’ 

Now put yourself in that guy’s shoes. Would you have any desire to be involved with the Kingdom of Christ after being publicly flogged for a simple mistake? Or imagine you were part of the iPad wall I mentioned earlier. After working hard to create something unique and cool for your church, how would it feel to be told it was not “as awesome as it could have been?” 

About a year ago, I ignited a fire storm when I shared an experiment I was doing at FOH. Because of our poor mixing position, I tried mixing the service on my UE7 in-ears and found the results—much to my surprise—quite good, at least in that setting. Like I often do, I shared my findings here, with the clear disclaimer that I don’t necessarily recommend it, but it seems to be working well and I find that interesting. 

That post was also published on ProSound Web and in Live Sound International, meaning live sound guys—both inside and outside the church—all over the world read it. Interestingly, the only negative feedback I received was from people inside the church. And man, was it negative! 

Now, I’m all for debating the relative merits of various techniques, but much of the criticism went well beyond the debate zone and deep into personal attack mode. And it all played out on Twitter and blogs for the world to see. As I write this a year later, I can still feel the sting of those posts. Also interesting is that I did receive a few notes of encouragement as the backlash unfolded—and every single one was from people outside the church family. 

Recently, I heard Bruce Smith ask a group of techs, “What would it be like if the tech team was the most spiritual team in the church?” I pose that question here as well. What would it be like if instead of publicly humiliating those who made a mistake or whose work wasn’t up to our standards, we encouraged them? I mean, it’s not like we’ve never missed a mic cue. It’s not like one of our “great” ideas has never crashed and burned. 

What if instead of being known as “those critical church techs,” we became know as “those amazingly encouraging church techs?” How would that affect the church? How would that affect the world? Just a thought…

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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