Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: July 2012 (Page 1 of 2)

Upgrading the Video System

Last week was a big week for us in the tech department. The system that has often been treated like the red headed stepchild was finally given a complete overhaul. Video has been on my list of things to upgrade for three years now (since I arrived here in 2009). But, budgets are what they are and we had other, more pressing needs. Finally, I scrimped and saved enough in my budget to buy that one big piece we needed for the upgrade, the video switcher. 

The finished product is looking pretty good.

Here is a rundown of the equipment we had:

  • (2) Hitachi Z-4000W cameras
  • (2) Sony Z1 cameras
  • Panasonic MX50 switcher
  • (2) Christie DS+5K projectors for IMAG
  • Misc. DAs, RF modulators and RF distros

So, the big item that had to go was the switcher. However, it was not as easy as pull out the MX50 and drop in a Ross CrossOver Solo. The real issue was that none of the cabling would pass SDI signals. So that meant we had to run all new coax. And they didn’t give us nice, convenient runs of conduit between the stage and the tech booth. So we had to get creative.

First, we spent a good half-day searching for conduit runs. We eventually found a couple that led to a trough, and if we re-routed some other conduit, we could get coax to the house left side of the stage and that projector. My ATD Jon and our intern Matt spent most of the day pulling four runs of Gepco VPM2000 cable up there. Yeah, it was not a fun pull.

The house right side was fairly easy. There was an existing 1” conduit that went from video control the projection room. Again, we had to re-route a few conduits, and extend some runs, but we got there. That pull only took about an hour to get four runs in there. At this point, we have new runs to both projectors, plus 5 camera positions on stage that we can hook into.

Then there was the mess of old cable. Because pulling cable through conduit is hard, most people don’t like to do it. That’s how we end up with this:

A bunch of unlabeled cables coming in from all over the place tied together into a big rat’s next on the floor. It all had to go. We decided to run all new com lines as well as video—first because we needed them, and second because we knew the only cables we’d need are ones we ran, and thus anything we didn’t run we could cut out. We probably pulled a good 500-700 feed of various lines out last week alone, and there’s more to go.

Once the cabling was cleaned up, we started on the layout. I’ve never liked the layout of our system (and I’m sorry I forgot to take pictures of the “before”). There was a equipment rack to the left of video where we housed preview monitors for the camera. Since we were going to use the multiviewer, the preview monitors wouldn’t be necessary. The rack was moved to the left, at the end of the booth. This pushed video over closer to presentation, which is good because once we start bringing graphics into the video, those two will need to talk.

We also freed up a lot of desk space for the FCP capture/edit station that also lives at video world. The edit station had two monitors originally, though we added a third using a Newer Technology USB to DVI adapter. The third monitor is to the right of the multiviewer, and will display a waveform monitor from Scopebox. Since our CCU remote units are right in front of the scope monitor, it will be easy for either the director or a shader to adjust the iris for our main cameras. I should note that right now we are feeding Scopebox with the program feed; but as soon as my new Decklink card comes in, it will get preview. 

The multiviewer has been our biggest challenge. I bought a commercial display from a friend and planned on using it with the DVI input (that I would convert from SDI to HDMI to DVI). Looking back on it, it was a flawed plan. The problem is the monitor is expecting an RGB DVI signal, and the SDI to HDMI converter puts out a YUV signal. So I bought a fairly inexpensive LED LCD display with a straight HDMI input. That worked fine, but it’s overscanning too much and cropping my signal. I think I’m going to bite the bullet and buy a production display with SDI inputs from Panasonic for use as my multiview. I was going to use the production display as a preview monitor, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Plus, it has blue-only mode and will (finally) give us a calibrated display in the booth.

Other new parts of the system include an OpenGear frame and a few cards. If you’re not familiar with OpenGear, I suggest you look into it, especially if you’re buying a Ross switcher anytime soon. If you buy a switcher and an OpenGear card, you’ll get the frame for a buck. Not a bad deal. With the frame, you can insert all kinds of cards into it and convert, distribute, embed, de-embed and route video all over the place. There is a card for almost every need, made by 27 vendors as of this writing. We’re using an SDI DA, an SDI to HDMI converter and an SDI to Analog card right now. Though I can already think of a few more that will be handy eventually.

All told, the system conversion took almost 100 man-hours to complete. We build a ton of custom cables (I always build my own) for video, audio and com. We routed all our video cables in neat bundles using TechFlex F6 and labeled everything. 

We still have some issues to work out, such as what format to run everything. I was going to to 1080i (upconverting our main cameras), but our projectors won’t take HD SDI signals (though they will take HD analog signals). The multiviewer doesn’t look great in 480i, so we may end up upconverting that at some point (we’ll see how the new display looks). 

Our projectors are scheduled for replacement in 2015, and the cameras the year after that. At that point, we’ll run the entire system in HD, but until then, we have a fully upgraded backbone that looks tremendously better than the old composite video-based system we used to have. And don’t worry, I’ll be doing more in-depth write ups of the CrossOver, the OpenGear system and Scopebox as we get a little further down the road.

Today’s post is brought to you by 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.

Rat Soundtools

It’s been several years now since my friend Erik turned me on to the Rat Sniffer/Sender. Since then, I’ve used my set dozens of times in multiple venues to troubleshoot bad cables, bad patches and other audio system weirdness. I knew my friends at Rat were working on some additional versions of the venerable XLR Sniffer/Sender, but until a few weeks ago, didn’t realize the line has expanded quite a bit. My super-friendly sales rep, Daniella, emailed and asked if I’d be interested in taking a look at the new offerings. Do bears have fur? Yes please! 

The next day a box showed up with an NL4 Sniffer/Sender, a 1/4” Sniffer/Sender and a new item I hadn’t even heard of, the 3-way Mic Switcher. If you are unfamiliar with the Sniffer/Sender concept, let me introduce you.

On the left is the NL4 pair, in the middle the 1/4” set and on the right, the classic XLR combo that started it all. The XLR is a good basis to start from, and is probably the most likely to see the most use. The Sniffer is simply a machined aluminum barrel with an XLRM on one end and three dual-color LEDs on the other. One use case is troubleshooting or testing a snake. Stand on stage with your Sniffer, plug it into snake channel 1 and have someone at FOH turn phantom power on. If the line is good and patched properly, you’ll see three green lights. No lights means you’re likely in the wrong channel (or someone ran over your snake with a bobcat). 

If there is something wrong, you’ll start seeing red lights. I’m not entirely sure how the logic works, but the pattern of green and red lights will tell you what might be wrong, once you consult the decoder chart. Dave Rat thought through almost every conceivable problem with a cable; pin swaps, shorts and opens. I’ll demonstrate this in a minute. 

All three Sniffers work similarly, plug the cable in and read the code. Now if you’ve been working in the sound industry for more than about 20 minutes, your first question will be, “How do you get phantom power down a 1/4” or NL4?” That’s where the Senders come in. If you’re troubleshooting or testing an XLR snake without a console, you can use the sender to supply phantom power so the Sniffer can read it. Same with the other versions.

The concept behind this split tester arrangement is brilliant. If you’ve ever walked onto a stage with a rats nest of unlabeled cables being able to trace them back to FOH, and test them at the same time is great. Same for NL4s or even 1/4” cables. Sometimes a cable goes through a wall and getting both ends in close proximity for a traditional cable tester is tough or impossible. With these tools, it’s easy. 

They’re all built solidly and should survive many years on the road. Powered by button batteries, none of them actually use any power until you make a complete connection with them, so you don’t have to worry about the batteries running down in your bag. In fact, I’ve had my XLR set for 3 years and have never changed the battery.

Here’s my example of how it works. In the picture below, we’re testing a 1/4” cable. Three green lights and the cable is good (the lights are green, the cable’s clean!). 

However, if there is a problem with the cable, you’ll start seeing red lights. In this case a red b light, which as you can see from the chart below is either a Tip-Shield Swap or Short. Upon closer inspection, you can see that someone jammed a paper clip into the connector causing a short. Problem solved!



The XLR and 1/4” versions are only $45, while the NL4 version sells for $99. I’ve carried my XLR version out to many a gig with a set of male and female turnarounds (so I can test any combination anywhere in the house easily), and it has saved me hours of troubleshooting time. They’re well worth it. I think I’m now going to have my multi-talented daughter sew me up a pouch for all of them to go in my gig bag. 

The other toy in the box is the new 3-way Mic Switcher. While it was designed primarily for the touring world (plug a backup mic or two into the same input channel on the console), it could be very handy for the church world as well. Most of us have some kind of backup plan in case the pastor’s or worship leader’s mic goes down, and this could make wiring in a backup very easy. It’s a simple fanout of three XLRFs and a single XLRM all connected to a rotary “make before break” switch. Basically it connects B before disconnecting A so you never loose sound. It’s a silent switch as well. 

While I think is a great idea for backup mic’s it could also be very helpful for setting up various measurement mic’s in a venue. With this device, you could conceivably have 4 mic’s set up around a room with a two channel interface. Say you put the mic at FOH into input 1 and three remote mic’s into the switcher plugged into input 2 and now you can do transfer functions or simply see what’s going on “over there.” Kinda cool. Also built like a tank, the 3-way Mic Switcher lists for $99. 

You can find all the Soundtools (plus a few more I haven’t mentioned) at the Rat Soundtools website. Or give them a call and ask for Daniella. Tell her I sent you and she’ll take good care of you (actually she would anyway…).

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.

Facing Spiritual Attack

I don’t know if this has happened to you, but it’s become a pretty predictable routine for me. We do a big week of services—be it Easter, Christmas, VBS—and the weekend that follows is a tech disaster. Weird problems crop up that we’ve never seen before; equipment that worked yesterday doesn’t work today; and of course we’re all tired and a bit cranky from putting in a 70-90 hour week. What a better time for the enemy to call in an attack?

If I’m honest, I used to just get really pissed off those weekends. But more and more, I’m starting to see what is happening for what it is; spiritual attack. It really hit home this past weekend. We had just come off VBS, which was a very busy, but amazing week. Over 60 kids gave their lives to Christ, which is incredible. Hundreds more were encouraged and ministered to. New families were connected to the church, and we will undoubtedly see growth from all of that.

When we take that much ground from the enemy, he’s going to want to strike back. And what better way than to go after the tired and beleaguered tech team that’s just given their all the past week. When we’re tired, we have less patience, our decision-making process slows down, and we are prone to making simple mistakes. Throw in some crazy tech issues, and we’re in for a mess.

Now, I’m not one of those, “Looking for a demon behind every rock” kind of guys, but I do believe Scripture is clear that we are part of a battle that we cannot see with our eyes. When we strike at the strongholds of the enemy, he’s going to strike back. Understanding that will help us measure our response. Here are few things I’ve been trying to do more around these events (and I’ll admit right up front that I have not mastered this—this is a work in progress).

Expect the Attack, and Pray in Advance

Like I said, this has become a pretty predictable pattern. I can be pretty confident that we will have issues the next time we do a big event. So I should be praying about it in advance. Praying for protection, for my team, for my equipment and most importantly, for my attitude. 

Take a Deep Breath

I’m an INTP. The number one word that describes an INTP is “Competence.” I expect myself to be competent, others to be competent, and my equipment to be competent, ie. it needs to work. When I encounter incompetence, I get frustrated. When gear doesn’t work, I get frustrated. So I’m trying to learn to take a deep breath, slow down, and figure out the problem. 

Pray in the Moment

Recognize what is happening in the moment and pray about it. I’m not saying you need to stop rehearsal and hold a prayer meeting (though you might). What I find myself doing is praying on the way up the stairs to the tech booth. And usually it’s something like, “God, help me to not be pissed off right now, and help me to fix the problem.” That’s about it. I’m amazed at the power of that little prayer. 

Stay Positive

Realize that if you are being attacked spiritually it’s because you’ve done some great work during the week prior. That’s a good thing! Now keep a positive attitude and work through the issues. Your team will respond better if you can keep your cool, and the problem will get solved faster if you aren’t yelling. I know this from experience.

Ask for Community Prayer Cover

I’ve been known to throw up a tweet asking for prayer once in a while. It’s amazing how effective that is. As members of the Body of Christ, we need to support each other. But I can only support you in prayer if I know what you’re going through. You an only support me if you know what I’m dealing with. Again, it doesn’t need to be a long, drawn out prayer vigil; just a quick ask for prayer and some quick requests to the Father will make a huge difference. I’ve seen it.

As I thought through all of this over the weekend, my attitude toward all the issues changed. I was still tired, but we got through the service, and our pastor thought it was amazing and had no idea we were having any issues (we really are the Men in Black). Sunday ran like a Swiss watch, so I guess the prayer worked. 

So when you find yourself getting beat up on a weekend, keep calm, pray and carry on (to paraphrase Facebook). What is your story of spiritual attack on a weekend?

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Extreme Church Makeover: Tech Edition

As church techs, it’s easy to get fixated on the things we don’t have. As we all seem to have some perfectionistic tendencies, it’s all too common to look past all the great stuff we have in our own buildings and see only the things we don’t have. Or maybe we have them, but we don’t like them. For me, it’s a PA; our speakers aren’t bad per se, but they are the wrong boxes for the room and they’re hung improperly, resulting in very uneven coverage and significantly less fidelity than I would like. And then there’s the mix position…

I’ve found the best cure for that ill-fitting perspective is to get out and see what others have to put up with. As our parents used to remind us when we were kids, there is always someone worse off than you.

Recently, I was introduced to a church down the coast that is making an incredible impact on a community of people who have been disenfranchised by most churches. A relatively young church plant, they meet in a historic theater. To say their A/V/L situation is less than ideal is being generous. Mismatched speakers are stacked on the lip of the stage; an old sound board mixes only two monitor wedges (also mismatched); the lighting is fluorescent work lights; and I’ve seen brighter projectors in small boardrooms. Clearly, they need some help.

And this fall, the SoCal chapter of Church Tech Leaders is planning on giving them some. For some time, it’s been on the hearts of a few of us to do what we’re calling an Extreme Church Makeover, and this seems like the perfect beta test. A few of us will run point, meeting with the church, dreaming a little bit, and we’ll develop a plan. 

That plan will come with an equipment list, of course, and the first place we’re going to look is in our own closets. Most of us have extra amps, mic’s, cables, speakers, processors and lights laying around that we’re not using. So we’ll build an initial inventory first. After that, we’re going to approach some manufacturers for donations. Once we have all the gear lined up, we’ll all head down there for a day or two of installation. 

I believe this will be a catalyzing event for the tech community in Southern California. Great bonds are built when a project is completed together, and this is a very worthy cause. It’s also a great example of local churches being the Church. And how cool is it that a bunch of churches are coming together to help another church—led not by the outreach departments or executive pastors, but by the tech teams?

Pray for us as we undertake this adventure. We’ll need God’s provision for equipment and the time to get it installed. We’re planning on documenting and covering this event extensively, so if you represent a manufacturer who could get on board, please contact me. You’ll get to be part of a great cause, with a tax deduction and lots of publicity. Send someone down to help and you’ll be rubbing shoulders with the top tech directors in SoCal. 

Personally, I can’t wait to see this unfold. God is doing something amazing in our tribe of church techs, and it is a privilege to be part of it. For more information, contact me at mike@churchtecharts.org.

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Clearing the Stage; Quickly

This is the full band set, with drama locations on either side of the stage.

VBS. Those three letters can strike fear into the heart of the most seasoned tech director. In our case for 2012, we had a lot to deal with. Each day consisted of two main sessions—an early morning and late morning—and each session had both live music (in some cases several sets)and a skit. In between, we rehearsed music and drama. Since the drama and band needed to occupy the same piece of stage real estate, we needed a way to quickly strike the band (or at least part of it). Here’s how we did it.

First, we used Steeldeck stage platforms on wheels for the entire band. Steeldeck is a little pricey, but is rock-solid and the wheels roll like butter on a non-stick skillet. The band consisted of an 8’x8’ deck for drums (raised up to 2’ high), and three 4’x8’ platforms 1’ high for keys/guitar, vocals, and bass/acoustic. All the platforms were on wheels so we could move them quickly. But that’s only half the problem. The other half is cable management. And that’s where we got really creative. 

Taping the cables down meant they didn’t tangle up the band members, or get caught under the wheels.

Everything was hard-wired, so we cleanly wired all the mic’s and DI’s to the deck. All cables were run neatly and gaffed down so they wouldn’t go anywhere. We set the lengths so the male ends made it just over the rear corner of each deck so they could mate with a snake. We coordinated our snakes to cables so we didn’t have a lot of extra channels floating up there. We also labeled both sides of the connection with gaff tape and silver Sharpie using a simple letter code. A connects to A, B to B and so on. Simple is better.

Even if you don’t know the alphabet, you can still match the shapes…

On stage right, we used a 4-channel snake to mate with the three lines (stereo keys, electric guitar, which used an SGI). The center deck had four lines—three mic’s and an SGI for the other electric. Stage left held the bass and acoustic DI’s. We ran a six-channel snake up the center on the left side to connect both the center and stage left decks. We ran short XLR cables over from the bass/acoustic deck (we also stacked the DI’s on the right side of the deck to keep the runs short). 

The bass/acoustic platform connected to the center snake with two lines and a power cord.

Our drums are normally connected via a Whirlwind 12-channel snake with a MASS connector, so that was easy to disconnect if we needed to. We also ran our 4-channel snake back to four unused channels of our drum snake so we only had two main lines running out to all four platforms. 

The process of moving decks was simple and took only two people; my trusty assistant TD, Jon and a Jr. High volunteer. One of them unlocked the wheels while the other unplugged the cables. After that, it rolled right off stage. It took less than a minute to get a deck off stage. Because of the way the drama was set up, we never had to move more than one deck at a time, which made transitions really fast. Even re-setting from band to drama rehearsal several times a day was no big deal.

We probably spent the better part of an hour working out cable runs, patches and how we were going to implement this, but once it was done, it saved us a ton of time. In fact, we had the whole stage set so that we could clear all the band platforms in under 3 minutes if need be. Plan ahead; it really does make life easier!

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. 

The Brainlulator 3000

It’s VBS week, and that means it’s time to come up with some crazy props to support the programming for the week. Coast Hills is known for their creative dramas that weave the Gospel story throughout the week, and this year is no exception. This year, the theme is built around the concept of being a real hero; one who can do all things through Christ’s strength (Phil 4:13). So we have a league of super-heros who are out to stop Dr. W. and her sidekick Larry who are trying to take over the world. To do so, they need a device they can use to control everyone’s thoughts. Enter the Brainulator 3000 (and it’s successors, the 4000, 5000, 6000 and 7000). 

I generally get pretty free reign to design props like this, and for some reason, when the writers of the skit told me what they needed, this is what popped into my head. The concept was simple enough; take a spotlight, bounce it off a few mirrors and have it reflect onto the stage where poor Larry gets zapped into something else when the day’s experiment goes awry. In practice, the build proved a little more tricky.

First was the light itself. Our inventory is pretty limited; a half-dozen old Martin 518s and eight StudioColor 575s. I knew the StudioColor’s wouldn’t work, so I hoped a 518 would. My initial idea was to mount it horizontally on a pipe clamped to an upright pipe. However, we couldn’t quite get the right angle on it. So we ended up resting it on the deck on it’s back. Problem #1 solved.

I envisioned a series of mirrors on pantographs that would be adjusted into position as Dr. W. fired up the “laser.” Ikea sells a very inexpensive model, the Fråck. We bought four of them, and it’s a good thing we did. We needed three, and we broke one. OK, I broke one. But hey, we had a spare.


The second problem came when it was time to mount the mirrors. While the pantographs are plenty steady for putting on makeup, they moved way too much and were far to unstable when it came time to precisely position the mirrors. After some experimentation we decided to take the mirrors off the pantographs and mount them directly to the back board. It took a while to find the right size bolts, but thankfully Home Depot had them. Once the mirrors were secure, we could bounce the light from one to another and ultimately on to the stage. Problem #2 solved.


The makeup mirrors have both a flat and concave mirror, and we ended up using both. The first two are concave, which help to narrow the beam of light down, while the last one is flat for maximum reflection. It took some experimentation (and I think all of us were blinded at least once…) to figure out the right combination.


Then there was the issue of beam angle. I thought the 518 had a much tighter beam, but even at a few feet away, it opens up much wider than the first mirror. This wasn’t too noticeable until we added the haze. I should note we put our Unique 2 water-based hazer right behind the light to make the beams extra-visible. Once we did that, you could see the initial beam going right past the first mirror up to the ceiling. So we took some black wrap and made an iris. The first iteration worked great but cut down too much light. After we opened it up a little, we had a decent compromise of beam size and power. 

Finally, to give it that “mad scientist” look, I had one of my high school volunteers take a bunch of plumbing parts and come up with a crazy design. He painted it all different colors, and we used construction adhesive to glue it to the board. When all the elements combine—the light, mirrors, haze, plumbing, plus sound effects and other stage lighting effects—it works quite well. The kids loved it and the drama team was thrilled. Oh, and the total cost was about $30.

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.

Church Tech Weekly Episode 106: Tap Your Button


The musical portion of a church service is quite different from a concert. Because the why is different, the how must also be different. This week, we talk with a worship leader & a musician about the why and the how.


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Quick Tip: Building Dynamics

It’s Friday before VBS week so this will be short. I was going to Tweet something to this effect a few weekends ago, but figured it would make a better post. 

When you’re mixing a song that builds dynamically, don’t use up all your dynamics in the first chorus. The problem is simple; if the song is supposed to build all the way through and you pushed it up to 11 on the first time through the chorus, you now have no where to go as the song “builds.” In fact, it won’t really build because you peaked too early.

Imagine boading a roller coaster and staring up the big hill while you wait for it to start. Anticipation builds as the train pulls out of the station, you take a quick trip to the top of the first hill, then…as you crest the hill…you find the rest of the ride is basically at that height. Not quite what you were hoping for. That’s what happens when we run out of headroom too early in a song. (after that the rest of the analogy breaks down, too)

We do a lot of songs that go like this:

Verse 1—start soft, slowly build a little

Chorus 1—a little bigger

Verse 2—a little bigger

Chorus 2—bigger…


Chorus 3—HUGE!

End—either HUGE! or settle down

The tendency for younger engineers (and musicians of all ages) is to give it everything they have too soon. While that might feel good in the first chorus, by the time you get to the apex of the song, it’s unsatisfying. Ideally, the band and the engineer are working together to build the dynamics of the song as the tune progresses. The musicians should gradually be playing harder and more as it builds to it’s climax, while the engineer is slowing pushing those elements up.

However, sometimes the band gets too eager in the beginning. In those cases, I will actually pull them back at the beginning of the song so I have someplace to go (hey, someone has to be the adult…). The dynamics end up being a little off from a playing perspective, but at least I can manipulate the volume to create a sense of dynamics. 

So remember, just like good BBQ, you can’t rush the dynamics of a building song.

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. 

Baseline Show Files

I received a question via e-mail the other day that got me thinking that I should do a post about my baseline show file system. One thing I’m big on is getting technology—usually computers—to do menial tasks for me. Since all of our A/V/L technology is computer-driven these days, it makes sense to have it do as much work for me as possible. Enter, the baseline show file.

I also try to note if there any significant changes in the baseline using the Description field.

Most of this post will be directed toward our audio console show file as it is the most extensive. But we also have baseline shows for ProPresenter, the Hog PC, and coming soon to FinalCut Pro for editing the video podcast (I don’t do one today because the edit is so simple).

We started baselining our show file on the SD8 even before we bought it. I was told by several people that if you use the same show file week after week, it can become corrupt, and you’re then screwed. So we decided to build a baseline, and while we’d start there every week, we save it as a new show file for every single weekend. This has several advantages. First, we avoid the corruption issue because we aren’t re-saving over the show all the time (more on that later). Second, we have a consistent starting point that is highly refined and very close to what we end up with each week. Third, we have multiple backups in case something goes horribly wrong. 

When we started, the baseline was really just the patch and basic channel layout. It’s now evolved into having our initial gain settings to within 3-6 dB of where they end up for most inputs (vocals vary the most), our consistent channels (drums, bass, guitar, keys, etc.) all have starting EQ curves which, again, are really close to where we end up each week, and we have our starting effects chains all pre-patched and set up. We are now going so far as to have some of our snapshots already populated, complete with the MIDI controls for starting and stopping Reaper. Basically, anything that I set up the same way every week gets added to the baseline so I don’t have to do it every week.

Baselines as Software

I consider my baseline a piece of software, and as such, we version it just like we would any software package. We’re currently at version 8.3, though this week we’re going to upgrade it to 8.4. I keep a list of things that need to be tweaked, and “bugs” that need to be fixed in Evernote. As I’m mixing, when I find something that needs to be adjusted (ie. my drum click input gain needs to be boosted by about 8 dB), I make a note. Once I have enough “bugs” to fix, I’ll update the baseline and rename it as the new version. 

My team is trained to call up the most recent version of the baseline, regardless of the number. Since we update every month or so, it’s never too far down the show file list. They are also trained to immediately save a new version of the show named for the Sunday of the weekend (or the date of a special event). 

Once the baseline is called up, we arrange the faders/channels as needed for the weekend and go on our merry way. Because everything is so close, soundcheck goes really quickly. I can count on the fact that my worship leader’s guitar and vocal are almost always spot-on, as is our pastor’s mic, the piano and the bass. The drums take the most tweaking as our drummers all have different playing styles. But even then, we’re really close.

Keep Safe from Corruption

Since we’re really talking about software here, it’s important to keep the show file safe from corruption. I don’t know how many times we can version our baseline before it goes bad, but we’ve decided to rebuild it from scratch about once a year. So far, this has worked out fine. It takes about an hour for two people to rebuild the show from a blank “factory fresh” show file. We basically re-dial all the settings in from the most recent version manually, and save it up.

We also learned the hard way it’s important to keep a backup of the show file. Since we run a remote computer synched to the SD8, we have the file on that hard drive, and each show file gets backed up to DropBox. However, if someone opens the baseline, uses it for the weekend and simply overwrites the baseline, it gets saved to the remote and updated to DropBox. In theory, we could go back a version in DropBox, but when it happened to us, we couldn’t get it back. So, we back up our backup.

Every time I update my show file on the console to a new version, I copy it to the remote. I then copy the new baseline to our SD8 Show Files folder in DropBox, and to the SD8 Baselines folder in DropBox. It’s not part of the normal workflow to ever touch the baselines folder, and it would be really tough to accidentally overwrite that one. 

Help for Non-Show File-Based Systems

I know many of you are working on consoles that don’t do show files, but instead work with scenes. When we had our Yamaha PM-5D, we did a variation on this theme. We had a starting scene that we worked from each week, and saved each weekend to a new scene. We could fairly easily update our baseline scene as needed. The downside was that the more scenes we had, the longer it took to sync the 5D with the DSP-5D. If I had it to do over, I would probably use Studio Manager to maintain a baseline scene, and copy it to the desk each week, writing over the “current weekend” scene each week. 

You may have to get creative with your desk to find a process that works, but once you start using a baseline show or scene, you’ll wonder why it took so long to get there. 

What is your baseline show file or scene process?

Today’s post is brought to you by 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.

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