Well, here we are; about two weeks into the new year. A lot of people make New Year’s resolutions, which last until about, well, today. I’m not a big fan of resolutions; however, I do like to make some goals for the year. As you probably know by now, I’m a big believer in continual growth and learning, and that is what this series is about.
I would like to propose five things that we as technical leaders can do this year that will not only improve us individually, but also elevate our collective craft. Ready to get started? Here we go…
Have you ever sat around with a group of other technical leaders for a few hours? At some point, the conversation always turns to how busy everyone is and how much we’re working. It often turns into a contest to see who is working the most.
“Yeah, I’ve been working 50-60 hours a week the last few months…”
“Oh I feel you. We did this big holiday thing and I worked like, 70 hours a week for weeks.”
“Yeah, I worked 80 hours last week…”
Now, if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that pace is unsustainable. We simply can’t work 50, 60, 70 hours a week, month after month, year after year and expect to survive. Sure, those weeks come around a few times a year, but they cannot be the norm.
I will often ask my fellow techs if that high-workload pace is really driven by leadership or if it’s self-imposed. Most of the time, people look at me funny when I ask that. But really look at that question. Is anyone really asking you to work 70 hours a week? Or are you just doing it because you think you have to? It’s a legitimate question.
A few weeks ago at our staff meeting, our Senior Pastor talked about pace. He reminded us that we have to find out the pace that we can sustain for the long term. And here’s why this is important: You don’t really accomplish much of lasting value in ministry if you can’t do it for the long-haul. Like, years. Five to ten years.
If you burn out at your church in 18 months, then jump to another church where you hope it will be better, then repeat the process, you’re not really serving the local church(es), or the Church well.
We have to remember that this is a long game, and we’re not going to get everything done this week or next. I have projects that have been on my to-do list for 3 years. I’ll get to them someday, and the reason I will is because I’m trying to maintain a pace that will ensure I’m here long enough to get those items done.
So my first challenge to you in the new year is to work less, and challenge fellow technical artists to do likewise. I envision a meet up that goes more like this.
“I’ve had a good few months, not really working more than about 45 hours a week lately.”
“Oh, that’s great. I’m down to about 37, myself.”
“How long have you been there?”
You see, I’d rather have eight years at a steady pace than eighteen months flat out. It’s quite a lot more productive. I know this easy to write and harder to implement. So over the next few posts, I’m going to suggest some ways to make it happen.
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It’s all about making stuff today! Our guest is well known for his creative hacks including a giant real-time Instagram wall for Passion 2013, switching video with an arcade controller and much more. Learn how to hack your way to a better tech booth.
Today’s post is brought to you by GearTechs. Technology for Worship is what they do. Audio, video and lighting; if it’s part of your worship service, and it has to do with technology, GearTechs can probably help. Great products, great advice, GearTechs.
In addition to the 4099 d:vote mic’s DPA sent me to use for Christmas, they also asked if I would like to try out the new d:facto vocal mic. I had to think about it for about a millisecond before saying, “Yes please!” I had played with the d:facto a little bit at InfoComm and while the test there was hardly in-depth, I was impressed with how good it sounded.
The d:facto is a super-cardioid, pressure gradient, handheld condenser microphone. One of the biggest problems with many condensers on a live stage is that they tend to pick up everything. I’ve heard some condenser vocal mic’s act like drum kit mic’s more than vocal mic’s. And when you’re trying to mic a vocal, that’s not a good thing. For Christmas, our worship leader was located right in front of the drum riser, which was flanked by the percussion riser and the woodwinds riser. If there was a chance for other stuff to end up in his mic, this was it.
I never really noticed much bleed in his mic during the rehearsals or the services. But it wasn’t until I went back and listened to the recordings that I was struck by how little bleed there was. Even during some loud segments, I didn’t hear a lot of drums there; a little yes, but not a lot.
Mark’s voice was very detailed and clear. The d:facto doesn’t have as much proximity effect as I’m used to with other cardioid mic’s; which was nice because I used less EQ on his channel. I always like to get the cleanest sound possible at the source, and EQ as little as possible, and this mic made it easy.
When you look at the frequency response and pattern traces of the d:facto, you are struck by the same things you normally expect from DPA mic’s. Ruler-flat response (in this case with a slight 3 dB rise at 12 KHz), and a really well-controlled pattern. Not all mic’s will respond to all frequencies the same; DPA pays great attention to phase response, which leads to very well defined patterns. On a live stage, this can make you or break you.
Back to Mark’s voice; it took me a few minutes to tweak my multi-band comp settings and EQ to get it dialed in for his voice. Mainly, it was backing things off. As you can see from this EQ graphic, I’m not doing much with EQ at all. The deepest filter is -2 dB. We had no problem getting him to cut through the mix, and he seemed to enjoy the sound quality in his ears.
The current edition of the d:facto is wired only, and while not inexpensive at roughly $1,000, it is a great sounding mic. DPA have just unveiled the d:facto II, which is a refining of the original, and marks the introduction of a wireless handheld capsule. In February, it will be available for Shure style wireless systems, with Sennheiser coming in March (at least according to the website). No word yet on pricing for the d:facto II.
Is it worth it?
Well, that depends. Normally, I don’t like condenser vocal mic’s. However, if you really want a condenser, this is your tool. It sounds great, and the pattern control is exceptional. You can easily spend this much or more on other high-end capsules or wired mic’s, so I don’t think it’s out of the ballpark (at least in it’s class). Given that it can handle almost 160 dB of SPL before distorting, and will do what DPA mic’s are famous for—making your singer sound like them—it might be just the ticket. It’s a mic I would not mind at all keeping in inventory.
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My daughter gave me a great present for Christmas; the complete season of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (it’s on Amazon Instant…). It’s one of my favorite shows ever, even though it lasted but one season. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. It’s somewhat relevant to what we do in many ways. The premise of the show is really a look behind the scenes of the production of a weekly late-night comedy show a la Saturday Night Live. Like church, they have a show to do every week (yes, I know we don’t do a show, but the deadlines are the same). And of course, there is a creative team, and a production team (plus actors…).
One of my favorite characters is played by Timothy Bussfield; Cal is the director for the show, and every time I see him on the screen, I either laugh, or think, “That is a great attitude.” Cal is one of those low-key, funny, calm, can-do guys; the kind that you really want around. He reminds me a lot of some of the best technical directors I know.
As I’m watching through the series, I’ve taken a few notes. Here they are.
Cal is Unflappable
All kinds of crazy stuff happens in the world of weekly live TV. In the opening episode, the Executive Producer takes over the show, like in the movie Network. Everyone is yelling at Cal, but he remains calm and focused on what’s going on. In other episodes the power goes out and while everyone else is trying to figure out what to do, he stays calm and comes up with solutions (see #2).
All kinds of crazy stuff happens in the world of live church production. See what I did there? Sometimes someone who wasn’t supposed to speak walks up on stage. Sometimes someone who is supposed to speak ends up with the wrong mic. Maybe they were supposed to be on the stage and they stay on the floor. Maybe your pastor shows up with a whole new slide deck as he’s walking up to preach.
Staying calm is one of the best things you can do for you, your team and your leadership. If you start to panic, everyone else does too. If you stay cool, everyone else’s anxiety will be regulated and they can handle the situation. For some of you, this is hard and requires a lot of self-control. But it’s a skill worth cultivating.
Be Solutions Oriented
One of Cal’s favorite sayings is, “It’s no problem.” When a sketch has to move, a set rebuilt, time cut or time added, Cal always comes up with a solution. A good technical director will also be solutions oriented.
When a song needs to be changed out at the last minute, or the pastor needs another dozen slides 15 minutes before doors open or the worship leader needs to add another vocalist and forgot to tell you, how do you respond? Do you come up with reasons why you can’t do it? Do you talk about the deadlines that were missed, the problems such a change creates or do you say, “It’s no problem.”
What would happen to the reputation of technical people throughout the church if more of us responded with “It’s no problem,” more often?
When the stuff hits the fan (and it does sometimes in our world), we occasionally have to make up a plan on the fly. In addition to staying calm and working on a solution, Cal projects confidence. This is key to calming the nerves of the talent and the producers. Here is one of my favorite exchanges between Jordan McDeere, the network president and Cal. To set up the scene, they have to cut into the West Coast time delayed feed with a live segment to give an apology, and they have to remember to subtract 7 seconds for the delay. After developing the plan, this is how it goes:
Jordan: Is this going to work? Cal: Sure Jordan: You’ve done it before? Cal: A hundred times. Well, really no, never. But I can’t think of what the problem would be. Jordan: What could possibly go wrong? Cal: There you go.
You really have to watch it to get a real sense for how he pulls it off. At the end of this brief exchange, you’re convinced it will work. One thing we tend to forget is that those on stage are often insecure. In many ways, they are really putting their life in our hands and when we have to come up with a plan to pull off some magic at the last minute, it’s important to at least create the illusion that you think it’s going to work.
Even if you’re scared to death that it won’t, you have to convince them it will. This is not being deceptive; it’s simply taking on the responsibility of making something happen that you are good enough to do. It’s also not being cocky—no one likes a cocky TD. It’s simply shielding them from worrying about the technical stuff that they don’t really understand anyway. Let them focus on their part, and it will all come together
Perhaps a good goal for 2013 is to remain calm, come up with solutions and project confidence. I believe if we do that, our stock will go up with our leadership.
By way of wrapping up, as I was writing, my friend Todd Elliott posted a piece entitled “Great Service is Everything” over at his blog. I suggest you read it as a follow up. It’s good stuff.
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Today we introduce a new feature, In the Lab. My hope for ITL is that we can get a little more technical and a little more visual. Sometimes it’s frustrating to write about things, knowing that a visual would be much simpler. So today, we’re going to be looking at the concepts of phase and time relationships.
The video is pretty self-explanatory, but there are a few things that I realized after I finished editing. It should be noted that if I had continued to add delay to the 440 Hz tone, it would keep cycling around from out of phase to into phase. Because the wave has a time constant—which is about 1.15 msec—multiples of that time will re-align the phase. And yes, I know that’s not the exact time, but it’s as close as I can get with that delay plug-in.
Also, it doesn’t take much phase shift to radically alter the sound. And phase shift isn’t always bad. At some point, I’ll demo the process to fake a mono source into stereo by adding a little delay. However, for certain sounds—a snare drum for example—can be radically changed for the worse by just a little bit of phase shift. We’ll tackle that in another episode as well.
Leave a comment if you find this kind of video useful. While fun to produce, they are a bit of work, and I want to be sure someone is getting something out of it. More to come; thanks for watching and reading!
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Last time, we started talking about my workflow for mixing a big event like Christmas Eve. After looking at the process for developing snapshots, let’s consider what we recall, and how to lay out the board.
What Do I Recall?
When it comes to recall, I have the option to recall every single parameter on the console on every snapshot. However, I typically don’t recall anything but fader moves. The console saves everything on each snapshot, but I only selectively recall what I need (in this case, fader moves).
On a complex service like this Christmas Eve, I recalled EQ and dynamics sometimes (we had multiple readers sharing the same body pack), head amp settings (we had multiple video tracks that varied a lot in level), as well as VCA and Group assignments (we had different people changing from a BGV to a lead vocal).
I also went one step further and recalled layer selections based on snapshots. For example, on my left bank of faders, I located drums, perc and tracks. However, we had tracks coming from Logic on the drum riser, and tracks coming from ProPresenter in the booth. I didn’t have enough faders to put both video and drum tracks on the layer. So I built one layer with drums, perc and drums tracks, and another with drums, perc and video tracks. When I fired a snapshot for a video tracks song, the desk switched to the second layer. Since the fader was in the same place for tracks, I didn’t have to mentally think about where I needed to go to adjust the tracks. It was always fader 11, but the console managed the bank selection for me through snapshots.
We also had some of our BGVs singing lead for various songs, so I did the same thing on the right fader bank. For one song, the first two faders of that bank were Gina and Dana. For another song, it was Michael and Angela. Faders 3-12 were the same on both layers, so it was easy to manage.
Another cool trick I can play with the SD8 is to mix and match inputs, outputs, groups and VCAs on a layer. On my center bank, in layer two, I placed all my BGVs (7 this year). I also put an Aux there that is labeled, Lead Vox. The output of that aux goes to a channel on the M-48s and makes it very easy for me to pluck a vocalist out of the BGV group and into a lead level for the musicians. With sends on fader, it takes just a second to bring people in and out of that aux send.
I did the same thing for click. We had a metronome, a click on the drums tracks, and a click on the video tracks. Rather than burn 3 channels on the M-48s for click, I mixed them down to an aux, and routed that to a single channel on the M-48. Because it’s an aux, it’s easy to level-balance the three clicks for a consistent experience for the musicians.
One more trick; I had three reader mics—kids and adults who read portion of the Christmas story. Actually, we had six readers, that shared three packs (each had their own DPA d:fine headset). Because it was a mix of old and young, loud and soft, confident and slightly nervous readers and because they were located right under a speaker cluster, I wanted to use our Portico 5045 “Magic Box” on those mics to keep feedback at bay. But I only have two channels of 5045, not three. So I created a group. I strapped a channel of the 5045 across an insert on the group, then fed my reader mics into that group. Now all three mics get processed, and I can use the other channel on the cello. I build a fader layer with the three reader mic inputs and the group on it and had the snapshot switch to that layer when it was time for readers.
Even with all this automation, the workload was still pretty high (at least during the building stage). And I caution people to become really comfortable with your snapshot or scene system before trying to undertake something this complex. In fact, I highly recommend that you don’t recall anything but fader moves for a while if you’re just getting used to automation—especially with a highly granular system like Digico or Avid. If you’re not careful, you can really bury yourself and really mess things up. Start slow, and work your way up as you become comfortable. Even though I really know my console well, I still had to debug a few snapshots because I forgot to uncheck something.
But the beauty is once you get it dialed in, you can really use the computer to do a lot of the heavy lifting for you while you focus on the fun part; mixing. I found that once I got to the actual day, mixing was much more enjoyable and fun, and from all accounts, it sounded great. Because so much was in snapshots, my job was infinitely easier and I was able to relax and enjoy the service—all four times.
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I’ll just go ahead and say it up front; I’m a fan of DPA mic’s. It’s pretty rare I hear them on something that doesn’t sound good. In fact, I can’t think of a time that happened. So there. With that bit of bias out of the way, let’s consider our current test subjects, the d:vote series (or the 4099 as they used to be called). DPA has moved to trying to name everything d:something, which I suppose is OK; I just hope they don’t run out of clever words.
The d:vote line of mic’s is interesting; it’s actually one mic, and a bunch of different mounts. By appending a letter to the end of 4099, you get a different clip. For example, a 4099C comes with a cello mount. A 4099B comes with a clip for a double bass. They have mounts for the aforementioned bass and cello, plus drums, piano, sax, brass, guitar, violin (would also work for a mandolin), and a universal strap mount. There are two things I love about the d:vote mic’s: First, they sound great. Second, you can easily put them on a wide variety of instruments by changing mounts. If you have a limited budget but need to have the ability to mic different kinds of instruments (perhaps not at the same time), you could buy one or two 4099s and a bunch of different mounts.
I’ve tested the 4099G on guitar before (and you can read about it and hear it here), but this was the first time I was able to try it on cello. I’m a sucker for a well-played cello. Many years ago, I worked at a church that had a great cello player, and I loved what that melancholy instrument added to the sound. We used it for a few songs primarily, a very beautiful rendition of O Come Emanuel (all instrumental with cello lead), and Future of Forestry’s The Earth Stood Still.
Our cellist was touring with Future of Forestry up until the day before our services, so he knew the number. He also had a pickup installed in his cello which gave me a unique opportunity to record both and compare them. As we talked, he told me the main reason he uses a pickup is to get superior isolation on a live stage. And that makes total sense; it’s also backed up by what I recorded.
It Sounds Like a Cello
In the solo sections of O Come Emmanuel, the stage was quiet enough that the d:vote worked perfectly. However, once the volume went up, the pickup became the better choice. For the services, I patched both mic’s into the same channel, and used the Digico’s Alternate Input feature to switch back and forth between them. This way, I got the best of both worlds.
Listening to the d:vote was a wonderful experience. The sound was full and open, and sounded like a cello, just louder. I feel like I can hear the drag of the bow across the strings more and there is considerably more high-end (as shown in the spectrum still below). That high end really airs out the sound and I really like it. The pickup was considerably tighter, though it sounded a bit electronic. It should be noted that he ran the pickup through some effects pedals, which are adding a bit of reverb.
The spectrum shot shows what I heard, and what I did live. With the pickup, I added a bit of low and high end to the pickup to help it match the d:vote. The 4099 was flat (save for the HPF), and sounded great. With a little more time, I may have tweaked the EQ a bit, but the player wasn’t able to be there before show day, so it was “mic and go.” And that’s something I find DPA mic’s consistently excel at.
In the sound samples, I took them right after the A/D conversion. The only thing I did to the recordings is put a high pass at 120 Hz (using Waves RChannel), which is what I would do live. You’ll hear a little reverb on the pickup version, but I decided to leave the d:vote tracks dry. I put longer samples on here to make it easier to compare. This sample is of the solo cello part because it shows off the qualities of the mic the best. When the stage gets louder, the drums and percussion bleed in quite a lot, though in fairness, the player was sitting directly in front of both. A little physical isolation would have helped a lot, I suspect.
I forgot to take a picture of the mic on the cello, but it looked a whole lot like it does in the DPA product shot above. The mount is ingenious, and never moved. It took literally 10 seconds to put on the instrument, and was easy to tweak.
How About Congas?
We also tried them out on congas, since I had the mounts. We normally mic our congas using a pair of AT Pro37R mic’s on a stereo bar. That doesn’t sound bad, but it can be a challenge to get them in the right spot. The d:vote’s use a clever rubber clip on mount that simply grabs onto the rim of the head and doesn’t move. My percussionist was skeptical, but he commented after the services were over (so that’s 4 rehearsals and 4 services) that they never moved even a little.
They are super-easy to position since the boom is very flexible, and once locked in, they’re set. Because they’re so close to the heads, there was less bleed than we get in our normal set up. For the sound samples here, I again took them right after the A/D conversion, and put a high pass at 120 Hz.
The differences are pretty subtle, but I hear better transient response with the d:votes. The Pro37Rs sound a bit muffled in comparison, but not terribly so. While the 4099s are more expensive, they are much easier to set up, position and they are not nearly as visually distracting as a mic stand with a stereo bar and two mic’s.
As I said, I like the mic’s. While not inexpensive, at around $500 list, they’re not stupid expensive. And if you need a mic system that can adapt to various instruments, there is nothing better. Two 4099s and a collection of mounts would make you prepared for just about anything.
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Occasionally I’m asked about my workflow for managing bigger events like Christmas and Easter. I thought I would do that in this post, but first, a little context. I mix on a Digico SD8, which has a great snapshot system (arguably, the best in the biz right now). On a typical weekend, we start rehearsal at 3:00 and are done by 4:20 with a service at 5:00.
That doesn’t leave me a lot of time to go crazy with snapshots; typically I simply build a starting snapshot for each song, one that sets the mix up for the beginning of the song. That way, no matter where I end the previous song, I am good to start the next one. I’ll also create snapshots for transitions like prayer, announcements videos and the message. A typical weekend will have 12-18 snapshots, largely dependent on how many transitions we have.
Start with Rehearsals
For Christmas Eve and Easter, we get to do mid-week rehearsals, which I track using virtual soundcheck (an RME MADIFace connected to a MacBook Pro running Reaper). With the whole band on the hard drive, I can then spend time working with the mix and refining my mixes.
On normal weekends, I don’t feel the need to do multiple snapshots per song. This is mainly because our bands are smaller and I can fit all the faders for every channel on the surface. It’s easy to mix songs live that way. But with the bigger bands for C&E, I end up with channels down a layer from my main layer. And sometimes, I need to build a segment or change the mix enough and I can’t do it with 10 fingers. In those cases I’ll use snapshots. Other times, I want to change the effects settings during the song—lengthen or shorten a reverb time for example. Also a great use case for snapshots.
Develop a Process
My process is pretty simple. I’ll start by listening to the recordings of the songs many times a few weeks in advance. Once I know the songs as well as the musicians do, I start to develop a plan for how I will approach them. During the rehearsals, I will not spend much time mixing. Typically, I’m making sure my gain structure is correct, the musicians are happy with their mixes and that the “tape is rolling.”
I also listen to the arrangement they are putting together. We don’t always have the same band configuration as the recording, so we move parts around. Once I know those moves, I know where do make the adjustments. The next day (typically), I’ll sit down in front of the desk with the tracks and the music in my binder. I like to watch the music and make notes as the band plays through with the faders just pushed up.
I take notes in pencil, noting what I want to feature during each section of the song. When I notice that there are more things that I want to change than I can physically do, I will mark a snapshot. Normally, I’ll listen to the song two or three times, making notes all the way through and developing my plan.
Build the Snapshots
With an idea of how many snapshots I need, I’ll quickly create those in the console. I’ll talk about what I recall in those snapshots in a bit. With the snapshots in place, I’ll play the tracks again. I step through my snapshots (which are all copies of the first one), making changes live. If I need to, I’ll stop the track, back up, and tweak some more. This is the beauty of virtual soundcheck; I don’t have to keep asking the band to play bars 34-65 over and over again while I figure out where the acoustic should be.
Depending on how much I’m changing, it may take two more passes through the song to dial each snapshot in. When I think I’m done, I’ll run it one more time for practice. The I repeat the process for the rest of the songs. It may take 20-30 minutes per song, sometimes less, sometimes more.
Now, while I may have 3-6 snapshots per song, I still mix throughout the whole song. This is not mix by numbers; I’m simply using the power of the console to make more fader moves than I can make at once. Often, the changes are very subtle, but there are a lot of them. I may drop the level of the acoustic, perc and winds and boost electric, keys and drums for a bridge. I could do that with VCAs, but moving 6 faders to the right spots for multiple rehearsals and four services is hard. Once I’m re-set, I start mixing from that point again.
Next time, I’ll talk about my recall parameters and board layout.
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