Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: February 2012 (Page 2 of 2)

Tunnel Vision

'Tunnel' photo (c) 2008, Martin Abegglen - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/


When mixing live sound, it’s easy to get lost. One minute you’re enjoying the hard-won fruits of your labor, the next you’re completely enveloped by the sound of the electric guitar. An entire verse can go by with you zeroing in on that super-fly guitar sound, when suddenly you snap back to reality and realize the vocal is getting buried. And the drums are too loud. That’s tunnel vision. 

In truth, it happens to all of us. I caught myself this past weekend doing that very thing. I was tweaking my lead electric effect just a little bit and found myself thinking, “Wow, that guitar sounds really great. It’s almost like there are two guitars up there and they’re totally shredding. I should go out on tour. I wonder if VanHalen needs an FOH guy…” 

Then suddenly I realized the lead vocal had gotten lost as the band ramped up for the big bridge. The overall balance of the mix had changed and because I was focused on one element of it, the scales tipped. It wasn’t a complete disaster; I fixed it with a few quick fader moves and all was well. 

However, it was a good reminder that we need to stay vigilant against tunnel vision. Of course, during rehearsal, it’s healthy to zoom into a particular instrument or vocal to make it sound really good. But during the service or show, we need to stay zoomed out more than in. 

My mental trick for keeping the right perspective on this is to continually look at the band, and go through the mix to see if I can hear everything. By scanning the stage and the mix, visually and aurally, I’m able to keep from getting lost in a particular instrument. It’s rather like maintaining situational awareness while driving. You need to know what’s happening all around you, not just in front of you.

Don’t get lost in making that kick drum sound huge; it’s easy to do but you’re in danger of loosing everything else in the mix. And by the way, when did the kick drum become the lead vocal anyway? That’s another post, I guess. Yes, make the kick sound good, but make it sound good in relation to everything else in the mix. It should be a cohesive balance. 

This weekend, don’t succumb to tunnel vision. Maintain situational awareness and keep the entire mix sounding great. What is your cure for tunnel vision?

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.

Church Tech Weekly Episode 84: A Super Bowl Sunday

This week, we talk football! Well, not really. But we do talk about the half-time show, the importance of art in the church, and maintaining the proper attitude toward other’s art.


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, and broadcast companies. We offer a free rechargeable evaluation for any church desiring to switch to money-saving,  planet-saving rechargeables. Tested and recommended by leading wireless mic manufacturers and tech directors. 

Listen To The Music

When I was in Junior High School, the Doobie Brothers had a hit entitled, Listen To The Music. That sentence gives you two bits of information; first that I’m an old guy, and second, today we’re talking about listening to the music. 

I’ve written about this before, but wanted to go into a little more detail this time. If you are a tech working on a service, I believe it’s pretty important for you to know the music almost as well as the band does (or depending on your band, better). If you’re a presentation tech or camera operator, you might think this only applies to the FOH guy (or girl); but that’s not accurate. Every tech on the crew for the weekend needs to know the songs. What you need to know about the songs will be different, but everyone needs to know them.

The video team needs to know the song so they know who will start it, who will sing it and who will take the solo after the second chorus. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the video team camping out on the piano during a guitar solo. I think, “Guys, did you not listen to the songs? The guitar solo is in the same place every time…” If you’re a camera op, you shouldn’t need to be told that there is a piano fill coming up after this verse; you should know that and be ready to get over there. Directors shouldn’t be reacting to the song as it’s unfolding; when you know the song, you know what’s coming next.

The lighting team also needs to know the song. Listening to the song during the week will help you think about what color the song is. Is it a huge, upbeat song demanding lots of energy, or a quiet reflective one that requires subtlety? Knowing the music will make it easy to hit cues on time. Is that a 4-bar bridge or an 8-bar one? Know it in advance.

Presentation people obviously need to know the song. Their life is hitting cues, and knowing the song makes it easy to get the words on the screen at exactly the right time (which is to say a little early—I even made a several videos demonstrating this…here and here). If you know the songs by heart, you’ll know where the lyric lines break, and you won’t have to spend as much time paying attention to the screen; cuing will be second nature.

Finally, the FOH guys really need to know the song. Whenever I’m mixing, I like to listen through the song set a few times during the week—even for the songs we do regularly (meaning I’ve mixed them dozens of times). I want to know a few things about each song: What instrument(s) is(are) leading the song. What is the rest of the instrumentation like? What kind of vocal effects were used? Are the vocals way out front or set deeper in the mix? Who is taking the solos? 

What you need to know will depend on how your band interprets the recording. Our band goes for a pretty close version of the CD. So I try to make it sound as much as possible like that. Of course, we don’t always have the same orchestration the band on the CD did, so I have to make some adaptations. Sometimes we have a sax player who will take guitar solos. We don’t often have two guitars, so I have to consider how I’ll augment our single one. Some weekends, we have percussion so I need to figure out where that’s going to go.

Coming into the service really knowing the music makes all of this a lot easier. Most of the time, I know each line of each instrument (especially if it’s one we’ve done more often). A few weeks ago, we were rehearsing a song, and as we arrived at the bridge, I instinctively pushed up the piano for the fill, only it wasn’t there. Sure enough the worship leader stopped and reminded the piano player about the fill. 

If we are going to take our roles as “part of the worship team” seriously, we need to know the music as well as the band. And when we get it right, the entire experience is enhanced for everyone. 

How much time do you spend getting to know the music for the weekend?

From Good Tech to Great Tech; It’s the Details

One of my favorite movies is Saving Private Ryan. It’s an epic tale of overcoming the odds and accomplishing a totally outrageous and impossible goal. In a lot of ways, it’s a great metaphor for what we do as church techs; except no one is shooting at us. But that’s another post. 

During the first half of the movie, a running plot thread is to figure out where the Captain is from. The new guy, Upham, starts asking everyone in the squad for intel on the Captain. After striking out with everyone, Upham gets to Caparzo, who offers this classic movie line:

“You got to pay attention to detail. I know exactly where he’s from and I know exactly what he did ‘cause I pay attention to detail.”

Of course, Caparzo was full of it, but I love the sentiment. He watched, he observed and he drew conclusions. And that’s our theme for today; details.

I have worked with hundreds of techs over the years, both in the commercial and church worlds. Some were really dreadful (oddly, most of those were in the commercial world), most have been pretty good, and a few were (and are) great. The other day I got to thinking about what separates a good tech from a great one. And I thought of Caparzo—it’s all about paying attention to details.

A good FOH engineer will put up a solid, musical mix; he’ll hit cues pretty close to spot on; batteries in wireless mics won’t die; and no one will be fully aware of his presence. A great engineer however, makes sure every single cue is seamless; will never leave a mic on as it’s being put back on a stand; adds that little extra “pixie dust” to the mix to make it sparkle; and makes sure the walk out song fits the mood at the end of the service.

All minor details to be sure. But it is the details that separate good from great

A great lighting designer will not only choose appropriate colors and moves for a given song, but he’ll also ensure that no fixtures are creating unwanted glare in the audience that would cause distractions. A great presentation tech not only gets the words up a little early each time, but also hears the turn in the music indicating the band is looping back to the bridge (even though they didn’t practice it that way) and gets the words on the screen early anyway. The great video director not only picks the right shot for the moment, but also makes sure it’s perfectly in focus before taking it to air.

In short, they pay attention to detail. And all those small things make a big difference. 

Now, I don’t expect every tech I work with to be great. Being great as a tech takes an incredible amount of work, discipline and dedication, and the fact is, not everyone wants desires to be a great tech. I get that, and am fine with it. I don’t expect my volunteers to spend hours pouring over every last detail; I simply expect them to do their best and turn in a good, solid job. 

But if you’re a full-time church tech and you really want to stand out, pay attention to detail. If you want to never really worry about having a job, notice and correct things before anyone else even notices them. Plan for every contingency so that no matter what happens on stage, you can handle it with ease. Stay completely focused on what is going on, thinking two to three steps ahead so you’re never caught off-guard. 

Do this long enough, and it become second nature. You won’t have to work to notice details, you just will. And suddenly you’ll find you are a great tech, ‘cause you pay attention to detail.

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