Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: August 2013 (Page 1 of 2)

CTL Tech Leaders Retreat: Are You Going? You Should!

It’s hard to believe that summer is coming to a close. Even harder to believe is that we’re one month away from this year’s Tech Leader Retreat, sponsored by Church Technical Leaders. Two years ago, it was a privilege to be part of the retreat when it was held in Dallas. Last year, I couldn’t make it, but this year I’m excited to once again be a part of the panel.

What is the Tech Leader’s Retreat? Well, in a nutshell, it’s an intense, 5-hour opportunity for each of us to become better leaders. Though I was on the panel two years ago, I found myself making constant mental notes as other panelists shared their experiences. And this year’s panel is better than ever. 

But it’s not just panel discussion. Throughout the afternoon, we’ll break up into smaller table groups and you’ll have the opportunity to talk with each panelist, pick their brains and get your questions answered. That’s my favorite part of the day, honestly. 

I count many of these guys as personal friends, and I can tell you, there is a ton of wisdom there. I strongly recommend you block out October 1 on your calendar to get yourself to Dallas and hang out with us. It’s a great opportunity to learn from each other, and be encouraged in the work we do. And, if history holds true, there will be more than a few laughs as well. 

I hope to see you there! For more information, visit the Church Technical Leaders TLR info page. And you can save 10% on your registration!

“They Hit a Sprinkler Head, Water Everywhere…”

For the last few weeks, I’ve been planning a series on backing up your tech booth. My plan was to go down the list and run though some of the things we’ve been implementing that give us a full backup of as much as we can reasonably do. So it was kind of funny to receive this text on Monday night:


So while the tech booth was OK, the auditorium is not. As I write this, the demo crew is in the building tearing down soaked drywall in the lobby, ripping up carpet in the auditorium and removing the fabric from about six rows of seats. Because it was sprinkler water, it had been sitting for a while. It was pretty smelly and gross, so the whole place needs a bit of Fabreze. The decision was made to not have service in the auditorium this week—so what to do?

Thankfully, there is a Christian school next door to us, and they have graciously allowed us to meet in their gym. So we’re breaking out the portable system and taking the show on the road. But this got me thinking (again…); what do we do if something big breaks? Or a sprinkler head is torn off and we can’t meet in our room? What is our backup plan? As the saying goes, the show must go on. But how do we do that?

Software Backups are Easy

At least 75% of my backup posts are going to be focused on backing up software and files. That’s relatively easy, and if you’re not doing it, you’re really being foolish. And after the upcoming series, you will have no excuse. So get on that, OK? Every file in our tech booth is backed up in multiple places, accessible by multiple other systems. If we had lost all our computers in the flood, a single trip to the Apple Store would have had us back up and running in day or so.

But that’s software…what about hardware?

Keep Some Old Gear Around

Or in our case, we actually have some new gear. Over the last 3 years, I’ve slowly built a nice little portable system with pretty much everything I need to do a small service. So on Saturday, we’re simply grabbing the portable system plus our wireless IEM rack and taking it next door. Tying into the school’s projector is easy (VGA), and we have our own PA. 

So while there was some discussion of downsizing the band a little bit to make it easier, we’re not compromising much. For the most part, the service will be similar to what we normally do, save lighting. 

If you don’t have a stock of other gear you can put in to service in a pinch, it might be a good idea to develop a relationship with a local rental company. When I saw the text, I really didn’t panic because I knew that if we had to I could have an entire system delivered by Wednesday if need by. Before I new for sure the tech booth was safe, I had already started thinking of who I was going to call first for gear. I even had a pretty good idea of what I could get on short notice. But that’s because I have relationships. We say it all the time, relationships are key—build them before you need them.

Plan For The Disaster Before It Happens

That will really be the focus of the series on backups. As I said, I’m not panicked about this because we have a plan. In my time as a TD, I’ve lost FOH consoles, processors, lighting consoles, amps, speakers and now, the entire room! If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will. What will you do when it does?

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.

When Plans Change

Photo courtesy of  Dennis Sitarevich

Photo courtesy of Dennis Sitarevich

You know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. It’s not uncommon for plans to change. Sometimes, a project we’ve put a lot of time an energy into planning gets cut. Or the person we thought we were going to hire takes another job; or the budget gets cut and you can’t do it. There are many such situations we’ll likely face as technical leaders. It happens to all of us, and it happened to me a few weeks ago.

Back in July, I wrote about the new tech booth we were planning on building. It was to be beautiful; two station deep and two stations wide, with plenty of interconnectivity, tie lines and lovely new furniture. And it would be on the floor of the room—where the people sit. What a concept. It was a great plan. Until it wasn’t. 

The day the project was to begin, it was put on hold indefinitely. There were multiple reasons for this, which I won’t go into here. However, it hit me broadside and threw us all for a loop for a bit. I decided—probably wisely—not to write about it until now, after I’ve had some time to process. As I’ve talked it through with several people I trust to tell me the truth, I have walked away from that experience with some insights that may be helpful when this happens to you.

It’s OK To Feel Hurt

I’m not going to lie, I was pretty upset when the project was scrubbed. And I think that’s a perfectly acceptable initial response. I had spent a good 100 hours on the design, thinking through everything I could think of, not only in the physical construction, but in how it would be wired and connected. I had invested significant, and I mean significant amounts of mental and emotional energy into the project. And when it was shut down, it hurt. But notice I said “initial response.” 

While it is OK for it to hurt for a while, we need to work through the offense and move forward. If we stay offended and hurt, our work, health and family will suffer. We simply can’t stay mad about our project being cut. Get upset, talk it through, process with people you trust, then forgive and move on. It’s the only way you’ll be able to stay in this for the long haul—because believe me, it will happen again. 

So how do we move past this? I think a big part of it is in how we look at things.

See The Big Picture

In this case, it was clear the project had to be put on hold. In light of some other plans that are being developed, it made no sense to move forward with a new tech booth before that other stuff is worked out. So while I hated to see my project shelved, it was the best decision for the church.

And that’s one thing that we always have to keep in mind; what is the best decision for the entire church, not just our ministry, department or personal preference. The old saw, “You can’t always get what you want,” is true in ministry as much as it is anywhere. We have to maintain the ability to step back from the hurt, from the disappointment and see how things fit into the bigger picture.

Even if we can’t see it now, we have to trust God to weave it all together for good. When I was downsized a little over four years ago, I knew it was the best thing for the church, even if I couldn’t see how it would be good for me. A few months later, I was moving to the best weather in the country and near to one of my best friends. And we’ve had a great time these last four years! 

But that’s not all. Sometimes, if we look, there is a hidden silver lining in the disappointment. 

Look For The Upside

Though we may have to look from another angle to see it, there is often an upside. As I wrote last time, I got to take a vacation in the summer for the first time in a long time. Since I had scheduled my whole August around building a tech booth, when that stopped, why look at all those free dates on the calendar! I have the vacation time, so off I went. 

In 2009, being downsized lead to a great break in my routine; I was able to take almost two months off to rest, look for a new job and move. I also ended up here, which has provided me with some great opportunities. And I no longer see −10° on the thermometer in January…

When things don’t go the way you planned, remember, it’s OK to be upset, but then we have to move on. See the big picture and look for the upside. And trust fully in God; none of this is a surprise to Him. What does he have waiting for you now? It could be even better than you dreamed. 

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 162: Geeks R Us


This week, we geek out with Mike Johns. It’s all about AppleScript, Automator, MIDI and how you can find ways to automate and simplify almost anything in your tech booth. Save time you didn’t know you had!


Today’s post is brought to you by Ultimate Ears. Housed within a custom shell designed to fit your ears, high quality multiple armature speaker systems provide an unparalleled sound environment, as well as 26 dB of passive noise cancellation.

Taking a Break: Results

One of my favorite shots from my photo walk in Pasadena. 

One of my favorite shots from my photo walk in Pasadena. 

This year, I did something I haven’t done in a while; I took a week off in the summer. It’s been 5 years since I’ve taken a week off during the summer, and to be honest, it felt pretty good. I didn’t do anything much—had lunch with my friend Greg, wandered around Pasadena taking picture of cool houses, spent an evening with fellow artists at a Grove Gathering—but it still felt great to let my mind unwind for a bit.

When I talk with other technical artists, we all seem to share some fairly common traits, one of which is that we work too hard, too long. Last summer, I project-managed a major renovation, which caused me to work 54 days straight (and long days at that) with a single day off. Even though I took 2 weeks off after that, it was several months before I felt “normal” again. I don’t recommend working like that, by the way.

It’s pretty rare that I take actual time off; even when I do take a vacation, I’m typically still writing, researching or doing other tech related stuff. This time, I didn’t do that. I pre-scheduled three weeks worth of posts so I didn’t have to do much on the blog. We still did the podcasts, but those are just fun.

Mostly, I read, slept, watched movies and just enjoyed down time, clearing my mind. One of the books I’ve been reading has really been challenging my thinking, and that caused me to spend more time than usual in prayer (I’ll be talking about that more in a few weeks). Another book was just fun, Hackers—Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy.

But here’s the payoff; I actually feel refreshed and ready to start back to work now. As I write this, I’m on my last day of “vacation,” though technically, it’s my normal day off. I’m actually energized and ready to spin up and get some work done. 

I talk to a lot of TDs who are just tired all the time. I normally don’t realize how tired I am until I take a week off and shut off all the alarms and see how late I sleep (one day I slept until 10 AM—I haven’t done that in years!). We need time to decompress. Our jobs are higher stress and more taxing than we think they are, and we need to shut down for a while. 

To me, it’s a bit of a joke that summer is slow for everyone in ministry; it may well be for some people, but for tech’s, it’s typically just as busy—if not busier—than the rest of the year. It took a lot of self-control to actually take the week off, and not get involved with the projects I knew were underway at the church. But I’m glad I did. I actually feel good right now!

So I encourage you to do the same. There are still a few weeks of summer left. See about taking one off. If you can’t make it this year, put it on the calendar for next year. Take the week off when the kids are out of school so you don’t have to get up early anyway. Disconnect from your job (auto responders are great), shut off the Twitter feed, and just be for a while. You’ll be amazed at how refreshed you feel. 

Shoot, I’m even excited to get back to writing again! So look out; lots of ideas coming your way.

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

To Upgrade Or Not To Upgrade?

Wouldn't we all like a shiny new console?

Wouldn’t we all like a shiny new console?

That is the question. 

Whenever making new technology purchases or technology upgrades, it’s important to think through the reasoning behind them as well as the actual purchase/upgrade process. Here are five things to think about when evaluating technology.

Does the technology further or enhance our mission as a church?

In other words, what do you feel you can’t do now (or aren’t doing well) that is critical to your churches specific mission? Of course, this presupposes you are really clear on the mission of your church, but that’s another article. Too many churches want a piece of technology because the church down the street does or the church that hosted the last conference has it. But that’s not enough of a reason. Every church is unique and it’s incumbent upon the leadership to make sure any technology system will enhance and advance the mission. If it doesn’t, the dollars are better spent elsewhere.

Do we have, or can we recruit and train, the people necessary to run this system? 

New technology rarely requires fewer people. Depending on the system in question, the learning curve can be quite steep and will require a significant investment on the part of the volunteers to learn how to run the equipment well. Finding, training and retaining technical volunteers is one of the hardest jobs in the church; it’s not at all like training ushers. If you are currently having a hard time finding people to run the equipment you currently have, think long and hard before adding more positions to the weekend tech team.

Can we really afford this?

There are three ways most Audio/Video/Lighting systems are designed and installed; the right way, the ridiculously over-engineered way and the church way. The ridiculously over-engineered way is typically an obvious waste of money. Those systems are designed by people who don’t understand the church, what we do and what we need. Those systems are crazy-expensive and typically can’t be run by volunteers. They are super-cool, however. 

The church way is to take the lowest bid one can find, then cut some stuff out to make it cheaper. This typically results in an inadequate system that won’t really do what is needed, will frustrate the volunteers and leadership alike and will be replaced in 3-4 years at a total cost that ends up at least 2-3 times the cost of doing it the right way in the first place.

Doing it the right way will cost more than the church way, at least initially. However, a properly designed system will perform better, be easier to use and will last far, far longer than the budget bid, value engineered system. Trust me on this; I’ve spend my career tearing out and re-doing systems built the church way. It’s never cheaper.

The point is, make sure you have realistic goals in mind, then be prepared to pay what it takes for a well-designed and installed system. Don’t skimp, but don’t go overboard as well.

Has my contractor/installer/system integrator worked with a large number of churches in the past?

This relates to the last question; it’s important to work with a company that understands the church setting. What we do every weekend is vastly different from a TV station, a theater or a high school. Don’t make the mistake of hiring a company only to find out yours is their first church. It’s not the same, and it will cost you.

Also, unless you have highly qualified technical people on staff, don’t even think about doing a major system design/install by yourself. I’ve ripped out many such systems put in by well-meaning but very ill-informed and unskilled volunteers. What works in your living room won’t work every weekend in a church production setting. Yes, you can buy a video camera at BestBuy for $300. No, it won’t work to do IMAG in your church. Don’t waste your money; hire someone who knows what they’re doing.

Do you have a realistic timetable?

I hear from churches all the time who want to install a brand new lighting system, or new cameras, or a new PA—and it’s three weeks before Easter. This is a recipe for disaster. Major system upgrades should take a month or more to design and spec out. Installation could take several weeks depending on the scope of work. And this is assuming you really know what you want and need. Add time if you’re figuring it out as you go. 

A good integrator will work with you, ask lots of questions and present several options for you to consider. That takes time. Getting the equipment shipped in (sometimes it has to be built first), running wire, even modifying steel structure in the case of a large PA takes time. Let the integrator set the timeline and give them the time they need to do it right. Trying to rush a major system wastes money, you’ll miss things that should have been caught and you will not likely end up with the best system for you.

What is your process for thinking through and evaluating upgrade options?

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.


Photo courtesy of  crushhhh

Photo courtesy of crushhhh

A reader in the Long Beach, CA area contacted me this week. It seems some men wandered onto the stage after the service and started “breaking down.” What they were really doing was ripping off. They ended up walking out with various stands, microphones and other easily carried equipment before anyone noticed. A musician questioned them and the men responded they were with the tech team. 

I’m posting this for two reasons. First, if you’re a church in Orange County, CA, be on the lookout. They were in Long Beach last week, but there’s not telling where they might be this weekend. Second, this is a good reminder that we should always be aware of who is on our stages, and who is breaking down. 

It’s not that hard to put on some black t-shirts, and wander up on stage right after the service and start taking things off. Depending on the layout of the room, it would be pretty easy to grab a bunch of gear before the real team gets there. 

So it’s a good idea to spread the word to not only your tech teams, but also your band. If the a band member sees someone on stage they don’t recognize, they should start asking questions immediately. Because, as we all know, the band and tech team are all one team—clearly they should know each other!

I plan on raising the point this weekend and the next few with our worship team so everyone knows to be on the lookout for strange faces. Most of us can’t afford to have gear walk off, so keep an eye on your stages this weekend.

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.”

Sometimes We Just Need Time

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! 

What About Harder Requests?

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 while back. 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 intend 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?

Today’s 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.

And by Bose Professional Systems Division, committed to developing best-in-class products, tools, and services to create original audio experiences. The chief advantage products like RoomMatch® array module loudspeakers and our line of PowerMatch® amplifiers offer for worship are clear natural sound that makes voices and music seem more real.

Church Tech Weekly Episode 161: I Wish I Could Dis-Function That


It’s all about installs this week. We talk about installing a slick Dante-based audio system with the Yamaha CL, ETC’s Net3 Protocol, a cost-effective video wall and some do’s and don’t’s for installations. 


Today’s post is brought to you by BargeHeights. Bargeheights offers cost effective lighting and LED video gear for churches. Coupled with unique visual design, Bargeheights transforms worship venues of all sizes.

Working Within Volume Limits


The topic for this post comes from a reader who wants to know what he should do when faced with the requirement to mix no louder than 85 dB SPL peaks. That’s right, 85 dB peaks.

Why I Hate Volume Limits 

I used to own a video production company. We were often hired to do video based on length. I always tried to talk the client out of imposing a length limit on a project saying, “The video needs to be as long as it needs to be, then it’s done.” I feel the same way about volume.

Ideally, the worship leader, FOH engineer and church leadership are all on the same page when it comes to volume. In that ideal world, the music will be mixed as loud as it needs to be to convey the power and energy (or lack thereof) required. The band, the song and the crowd will tell you how loud it needs to be. Go over that and it’s too loud; go under and it’s too soft.

Imposing a arbitrary limit on volume to me seems a bit like telling the pastor his sermon needs to be 3,000 words, no more, no less. But we live in a less than ideal world, and we have to live within arbitrarily defined volume limits. So what’s a sound guy to do?


The first thing I would do when faced with a limit like that is find out where the number is coming from. Is it based in an inaccurate reading of OSHA hearing protection guidelines? If so, educate yourself and have a rational conversation with your pastor. Help him to understand that 8 hours of exposure to 85 dBA SPL in a machine shop 5 days a week is a whole different animal than 85 dBA SPL peaks for 15 minutes of worship music.

If that’s not the case, dig a little deeper and see where the number came from. Did someone wander by the booth one day and see 85 on the meter and think, “That sounds about right?” Are people complaining that it’s “too loud?” Is it really too loud or are there spectral balance issues? Or perhaps the setter of the number doesn’t like electric guitar. Or drums. 

Acoustic drums will generate 85 dB peaks with the PA turned off, so you need to figure out where this is coming from. 

System tuning and spectral balance are huge issues that can be addressed and give you a to more leeway in mixing at an appropriate level. 85 dBA mixes can still be excruciating, while 100 dBA can be enjoyable if done well.

Live Within Your Means

Or in this case, your leadership. In my current church, I have a different definition of “too loud” than my Sr. Pastor does. Since his is lower, I have to adapt my mixing style to suit him—he’s the boss after all. The challenge for me is that his definition changes week to week.

I’ve been told it’s “awesome” one week at 92-94 while it could be “too loud” at 90-91 next week. So I’ve spent a lot of time working on getting my mixes right, the balance correct and the system tuned to his liking.

I’ve also adapted a different way of metering my loudness. I use a software program called LAMA, which can display both a standard SPL readout (I use A, Slow) and an average (I have chosen 10-seconds). LAMA allows me to set colors at various levels so I have my average number turn yellow at 85 dBA SPL, and red at 91, which gives me a “corner of the eye” indication as to where I am.

I keep an eye on the standard readout as well, and occasionally my peaks run into the low to mid 90s, but for the last month and a half, if I keep my 10-second average below 90, my pastor is happy. Personally, I’d be happier if it was louder. But I’m not paid to be happy; I’m paid to make him happy. I often say, “If you can’t abide by the limitations your leadership puts on you, then you need to leave.” Same applies here.

Again, I would talk to my pastor and find out where this is coming from. As him if it would be OK to try mixing to a 85 dB 10-second average and see how that feels. Address the spectral and mix balance issues; you might be surprised.

Beware Compression

The reader asked if he should compress the inputs, and bus compress the mix to give him the power he wants, while staying under the “legal limit.” To me, that’s a little like putting your phone on speaker and holding it in front of you while you drive. 

Yes, you could compress the inputs a few dB, then bus  compress a few more, then compress the master another a little further, and compress it again in the DSP. That would certainly raise your average SPL while keeping your peak below 85. 

However, it’s very likely that this technique will result in the perception that it’s even louder, which may cause your limit to be lowered further. You could also hard-limit your DSP so you can’t exceed 85; but again, if you suck all the dynamics out of the music, all the life goes with it, and it will also sound louder. This would be self-defeating on two fronts. 

At the end of the day, I think you’re better off dealing with the root cause of the problem rather than trying to figure out how to stay below an arbitrary number.

Today’s post is brought to you by DiGiCo. DiGiCo audio mixing consoles deliver solutions that provide extreme flexibility, are easy to use and have an expandable infrastructure, while still providing the best possible audio quality. Visit their website to learn more.

And 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.

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