Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: August 2013 (Page 2 of 2)

Be Solutions Oriented


Not that kind of solution...

Not that kind of solution…

One lesson that’s taken me a while to learn in my role of a TD is that we need to be solutions oriented. By that I mean, when our pastor or boss comes to us with an idea or problem, they want it solved. By us. That’s why we are on staff. That seems obvious, but something we as techies tend to do is start coming up with possible obstacles, problems, and reasons why it won’t work/can’t be done. And that’s a problem. It’s not beneficial to be in a position of always telling your boss why you can’t do something. Instead, what you want to do is solve their problem.

Loose The Defensiveness

Often times, we think that when our boss comes to us with a challenge, it’s an attack on our competency or ability. We may immediately start wondering why we have to change this or that, and jump into a defensive posture. The mood very quickly becomes adversarial and now our boss is put into a position of having to defend his request, and may well pull the “boss” card.

Other times, if we don’t have a solution to a problem right off the top of our heads, we’ll again become defensive. Instead of feeling like we need to defend our existence, or come up with an answer on the spot, simply acknowledge the request and promise to start working on the solution. Many times, requests that seem unreasonable in the moment, turn out to be perfectly justifiable after some thought. When we sit back and think about the situation, more often than not, we’ll come up with an elegant solution. It’s what makes us good at what we do. So don’t add unnecessary pressure to the situation. 

Now, that model works well for requests that have a little longer term timeline; think days to weeks. However, sometimes we’re confronted with something that needs to change right now. How do we handle that?

Just Do It

To borrow a phrase from Nike, Just Do It. Unless it’s illegal, patently dangerous or morally wrong, just do it. When the pastor walks up to FOH and says it’s too loud, don’t engage in a debate on SPL levels, weighting or the spirit of the music. Just turn it down. Have the discussion later. When your boss says the moving lights are hitting people in the eyes and it’s annoying, change the animation programming to get them out of people’s eyes. 

A key element of being a good TD is being able to choose your battles. Not every hill is worth dying on; in fact, most aren’t. Every time you engage in an argument in the moment of conflict, you burn precious capital. If you do that often enough, you’ll find you have no capital left. We need to preserve and build up capital so that when it comes to a battle we really do need to win, we have the backing and track record to pull it off.

Present Solutions

Let’s take volume as an example (because it’s easy and common). If the pastor asks you to turn down the volume, do it. Afterwards, see if you can find a few minutes to engage him on that. Start asking questions about why he felt it was too loud. Was it too loud overall, or just certain parts? Was it a frequency thing? Is there too much stage volume? Too many guitar amps on stage? Remember that these are diagnostic questions, not a sneaky way to tell him he’s an old fuddy duddy and needs to get with the times.

Once you diagnose the problem, start suggesting solutions. For example, if you determine that the overall volume wasn’t the issue, but instead the tuning of the PA is producing pain at certain frequencies, you can suggest bringing someone in to help you fix that. Don’t go all audio-geek on him, but explain what’s going on and how it can be fixed. Pastors like that.

Build Trust

It takes a while to demonstrate that you’re a team player. The sad fact is that most pastors have had plenty of run-ins with the tech people. Many pastors are predisposed to not trust the tech guys, or consider them part of the team. That’s mainly because too often, we’re not. We’re too busy pushing our agenda to focus on what’s best for the church. So sometimes, we need to set our agenda and preferences aside and just get along. As we do that, and solve the problems the pastor thinks are important, we build trust.

Once we demonstrate that we’re on board with his plan, only then can we start interjecting some of what we think needs to happen. At the end of the day, it’s really about building healthy relationships; and it will be those relationships that will move everyone forward.

Today’s post is brought to you by myMix. myMix is an intuitive, easy-to-use personal monitor mixing and multi-track recording system that puts each user in control of their own mix! myMix features two line-level balanced 1/4″ TRS outputs and one 1/8″ (3.5mm) headphone output, the ability to store up to 20 named profiles on each station, 4-band fully parametric stereo output EQ recording of up to 18 tracks plus stereo on an SD card. Learn more at myMixaudio.com

And 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. 

Relating to Non-Technical People


Updating your cache…

Photo courtesy of Tax Credits 

I was reading an article a few weeks back about normal people who use computers and the power users (AKA IT guys) that support them. The article talked about the routine problems normal people had using computers and how challenging it was for IT guys to help them; not because the IT guys couldn’t solve the problem, but because the IT guys couldn’t understand how the normal people ran into that problem in the first place. For example, let’s say your browser is acting up. Most tech-oriented people know that you should try flushing your cache. Normal people, however, think cache is what you get from an ATM machine. Or if a peripheral is acting up the IT guys might suggest updating a driver. To a normal person, a driver is someone behind the wheel of an automobile. Can you see the disconnect?

Your Work is Magic

I’m about to tell you something you already know, but perhaps haven’t thought about this way before. What we do is highly specialized, takes years of training to master and requires a certain personality to fully comprehend. You know that; but perhaps what you haven’t thought about is that the vast majority (and I mean 99%) doesn’t even begin to understand what we do. To them, it’s all magic. This poses all number of challenges for the TD and volunteer techie alike. 

Let’s say you get called into the women’s Bible study to help them figure out why they are having trouble with audio. You might look at the console and in 3 seconds determine that their gain structure is wrong, they’re not using a comp on the speaker’s mic and the EQ is adjusted improperly. Now, if I told you that, you would immediately understand what I was talking about and make the necessary changes. The poor gal sitting behind the console, however, is still stuck at gain what? 

They’re Not Stuipd

That’s what we’re faced with. And let’s not forget that the people we interact with are not stupid. They simply don’t work with the technology we do every day and because of that, we may as well be speaking a different language. In fact, this past weekend, I Tweeted, “Giving a few Audix heads a try this weekend. Really like the OM6 on our worship leader. Very smooth.” A little while later, one of our pastors replied, “huh dude? Huh?” He caught me in the hall later and said, “I don’t understand almost anything you tweet.” Now keep in mind, he’s a gifted pastor, teacher and great student of the Bible. But trying to explain the difference between an OM6 and an RC35 is like me reading the Old Testament in the original Hebrew. It makes no sense. I get this all the time from people on the worship team who’ve stumbled upon this blog. When they tell me they’ve been reading, it usually goes like this; “Most of the time I have no idea what you’re talking about, but it’s cool that you’re writing it.” 

The longer I do this TD thing, the more I realize that while my understanding of technology is important, it’s equally (if not more) important that I understand how to relate to non-techies. And that’s hard. I vastly prefer spending a few hours on TokBox with my friends Jason & Dave talking about the latest compression techniques–conversations that can go on for hours, literally!–than trying to explain to a women’s group leader how to properly EQ an e6 for maximum gain before feedback. However, as TD of my church, that’s exactly what I need to be able to do in order to really be successful at my job. 

Make Technology Accessible

As much as I enjoy practicing mixing with virtual soundcheck, calibrating projectors, and focusing lights, I also need to give time to thinking about ways to make these incredibly complex systems more accessible to more people, and coming up with ways to explain to non-technical people how to use them effectively. And few things will develop patience in us normally impatient TDs than explaining, for the fifth time, that turning all the EQ knobs all the way to the right is not considered a best practice.

So the next time you are tempted to get frustrated when having to explain a “basic” technical concept to a non-techie, remember to cut them some slack. What we think is basic might as well be a lunar landing to them. 

Today’s post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

Church Tech Weekly Episode 160: What I Wish I Knew


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Starting off in this business, we all have a lot to learn. This week, three veteran TDs (with 60+ years of combined experience!) share what they wish they knew when they started out. You might be surprised at the answers. 

More… 

Today’s post is brought to you by Sennheiser.
For more than 60 years, the name Sennheiser has been synonymous with top-quality products and tailor-made complete solutions for every aspect of the recording, transmission and reproduction of sound.

Helping Vocalists With Their Mixes


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Getting a vocalist’s monitor mix right can often be the difference between a smooth worship experience and a difficult one; at least from a musical perspective. The trouble is not typically lack of talent but an artist having a hard time determining what they really need in a monitor mix along with difficulty in communicating those desires to the engineer. In this post I want to give both vocalists and engineers some tips on getting a useful vocal monitor mix dialed in quickly.

One thing you should notice straight away is that I said a “useful” mix. By useful, I mean that there is enough of what the vocalist needs to hear in the mix, and not much else. A lot of times, things get off track by trying to create a CD quality monitor mix for a vocalist. While that may be a laudable goal, it’s not really useful. Let’s start with what vocalists need to hear in their wedge.

Time

A vocalist is going to need some time reference if they are going to sing successfully. Typically, this is going to mean snare and/or hat. I try to keep these fairly low, but present enough that the vocalist can easily pick out the tempo of the song. They really don’t need kick, toms or overheads, and more often than not, adding those to their mix confuses them (especially if you have a really great drummer who plays cool syncopated rhythm stuff). 

Pitch

Vocalists need pitch reference to get on the right note when they sing. Finding a useful pitch reference will depend on your band makeup and the song itself. Sometimes this means piano, sometimes it’s electric guitar. A lot will depend on the orchestration of the music. Here is where communication helps a lot. Talking to the band and finding out what is the best pitch reference for a given song (or preferably set of songs) may be necessary. I know sound guys like to hide in the booth, but getting a good monitor mix means getting out from behind the board and talking to the band. Get used to it.

Themselves

The only other thing a vocalist really needs to hear is themselves. Some need more “me,” others need less, but quite often I find their voice should be pretty close to the loudest thing in the mix. If you have a multi-part vocal team that is singing harmonies, they may also need to hear other parts so they can fit together well. Ideally, they would know their part cold, but the reality is they often need to hear the soprano part to properly sing the alto (and visa versa). 

That’s really all they should need in a vocal mix. Now sure, we can add keys, B3, percussion, violin and whatever else is on stage to their mix, but it doesn’t really help them. Most of the time, it just makes it harder for them to hear what they need to hear. 

A Few Other Tips

Remember that the faders go both ways. If you have a vocalist that keeps asking for more of something, followed by more of something else, followed by more of…well you get the idea, start asking what you can turn down instead of turn up. If they need more vocal, but then can’t hear their pitch reference, try backing their vocal down just a little bit. Sometimes small changes can make a big difference. 

Listen to their mix. In an ideal world, you will have a wedge of the same type the vocalists are using at your mix position (whether FOH or dedicated monitor). When are adjusting their mix, you should be listening to it. It also helps to go out on stage and stand next to them. If you can remote into your desk with your iPad or iPhone and make changes, you look like a super-rock star.

Spend time with your vocal team educating them on the best practices of building mixes. Don’t dictate from on high; work with them so they understand the concept. Most vocalists really do want to do a good job—it’s our role to help them do just that. It might even be helpful to go in on a practice night and show them the difference between a full band mix and the basics. That often is enough to convince them the simple approach is easier.

Remember, it’s not about creating a CD quality mix in their wedge. Vocalists, if you want to hear the song in all its glory, stand in the congregation or buy the MP3. When you’re singing, get the basics in your mix and you’ll sing much more confidently and accurately.

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.

Three Keys For Building Design


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Today I’d like to tackle a few suggestions that I always give to churches who are starting a building project. I always say the same thing, mainly because these are the areas I see churches skipping time after time. Skipping these things ensures two things: First, you and your congregation will not be happy with the performance of the sound, lighting and/or video in the room. Second, there will remain a healthy market for companies that specialize in fixing churches that were designed and built poorly. 

With that said, here are three things you cannot skimp on when entering a building project.

Fix the Acoustics Before You Build

First, the overall acoustic signature of the room has to be correct. This is where most churches skimp out. They let the architect design the building; which is fine except I’ve yet to meet an architect who has any real clue how acoustics work. A few do, but they’re the ones who design churches for a living and have acousticians on staff. 

The problem is most architects want the room to look nice and be easy to build. They never consider standing waves, comb filtering, reverberation time, reflections, and other nasty acoustical anomalies that will make it hard to get decent sound. Some argue that it can be fixed with electronics. It can’t. There is no magic black box that will suddenly cancel out the bounce off the back wall that makes it really hard for everyone in the room to hear what the pastor is saying. 

So I strongly suggest all churches have an acoustician look at the plans before they are finalized. Most of the time, it only takes a few tweaks here and there to make a huge difference in how intelligible the room will be, and most of the time the cost to build is the same or only marginally higher. Very few churches get this part right, and it’s why there’s a huge market for acoustical study and retrofit of existing buildings. I guarantee doing it after the fact will be more expensive by a magnitude of 3-4x.

Don’t Skimp on Infrastructure

The second thing to consider is infrastructure. Again, most churches don’t think of this. Audio, video, and lighting take a lot of wiring. If you leave it to the electrician to do it, you will be fighting the building forever. Especially if you are on a concrete slab. You need an easy way to get cabling from the tech booth to the stage; to speakers, to video projectors and to the dimmers. That means conduit. Conduit is cheap and easy to put in as the shell is going up. Afterward, not so much. Once you determine your needs for right now, lay out the conduits you need and make double-dog sure they get put in. Then add a few more empties just in case. And go big on the empties. Nothing is quite as frustrating as trying to figure out how to get a VGA cable down a 3/4″ conduit (unless you enjoy making up Mini-15 connectors…). Having a couple of empty 2″ conduits will make your life (or someone who comes after you) a lot easier in a year or three.

Get Your Systems Integrator Involved Early

The final thing (well, I could think of a dozen more, but these are the biggies) is to get your A/V/L systems integrator involved in the project now. Again, most churches wait until the building is up and drywall is being taped before considering who they’ll use for the A/V. Bad idea. As with the acoustician, the earlier you get the A/V guys involved, the easier, cheaper and better the final product will be. They will be able to tell you what kind of wire to have pulled while the building is open. They can work with the acoustician to get the speaker fly points set correctly. They will be on the watch to make sure a duct run doesn’t end up where you need to put a screen or projector. 

Choose your vendors carefully of course; make sure they have a proven track record of getting church design & install correct. Don’t skimp on the design and planning phase. Cut out equipment if you have to. You can always start with a cheap analog mixer and upgrade to digital later. It’s a lot harder to acoustically retrofit a poorly designed building. It’s better to start with just a few lights and add as you go than to be fighting too low of a trim height because the building wasn’t designed properly.

There is a lot to do when starting a building project. Sadly, the systems that churches rely on every single week to create powerful and engaging worship experiences are often afterthoughts at best. Don’t make that mistake. Your congregation will thank you later.

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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The Right Questions

'Question mark in Esbjerg' photo (c) 2006, Alexander Henning Drachmann - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone asked me this question;

“What do you use for…?”

I know I’m not alone in this. Many guys I know at large-ish churches are asked that question all the time. It’s as if once a church reaches a certain size, they become the benchmark for how to do things. Certainly there’s some validity in that, and it can make for some very lively discussions when a group of TDs sit around a dinner table and debate the various merits of their choices of gear. I enjoy those conversations immensely and often walk away intrigued enough to investigate some piece of equipment I may not have previously considered.

With that being said, most of the time, I don’t really care that much what other churches are using. Well, that’s not true; I do care, it just doesn’t influence my decision-making process that much. You see, rather than asking what my friends are using and simply copying that, I try to find equipment that makes the most sense for our church, our mission and in our context. And those are the questions that we should all be asking when evaluating equipment purchases. Does this equipment make sense in our context? Here’s an example:

What do you at FOH? 

UPDATE 8-14-12: I did a poor job of updating this post when I reposted it a few weeks ago. I’m not going to re-write the paragraph so it actually makes sense. If you want to read the original post, you can do so here.

Someone asks me what we use for a FOH and monitor console. I tell them a DiGiCo SD8 at FOH and use Roland M-48s for monitors. “OK, great! Thanks!” is often the response. I’m left wondering how that was helpful. If someone were to ask some follow-up questions like, “Are you happy with those consoles?” my responses still wouldn’t necessarily be that useful. Why not? Because as much as we love this set up, we bought it because it works well for our context. I have talked with many people who question our abandoning a dedicated monitor console for personal mixers. But for us, it works really well. 

I have some good friends who mix on and are big fans of a particular digital console. I love talking with them about those desks and considered it as a replacement for our old setup. However, when the SD8 came into view that was a better fit because it does more of what I want a console to do. This doesn’t mean my friends are wrong or made a bad choice, and it doesn’t mean mine is better. It simply means I’m trying to find the best solution for my church.

END UPDATE

A Better Idea 

So here is my suggestion: When you start looking at new equipment purchases, before you start asking what other churches are using ask yourself some clarifying questions. 

What is the mission of our church?

How does this equipment advance that mission?

What do we want this to do?

What problems do we need to solve?

How should this equipment go about it?

What features do we need, and which ones do we not need?

Who will be using it and what is their skill level?

We could go on with a much longer list, but that gets you started. It’s important to develop your context before talking to others. Once you do, you’ll be asking better questions and instead of finding out what another church uses and copying it, you’ll be getting good real-world feedback of how that equipment works, what the support is like and how reliable it is. Then you’ll have some genuinely useful data points. You’ll be much better prepared to make a well-educated decision on which piece of equipment makes the most sense for you. And that’s far more important that finding out what the church down the street is using.

What questions do you ask before making a major equipment purchase?

 

Today’s 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. 

Church Tech Weekly Episode 159: The Color Blind Lighting Guy


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As the title suggests, it’s all about audio this week. We talk about tuning PAs, the new Yamaha CL5 in use, and a surprisingly powerful and affordable mixing system that we really like. 

More… 

This post is brought to you by Shure Wireless. The new ULX D Dual and Quad wireless systems feature RF Cascade ports, a high density mode with significantly more simultaneous operating channels and bodypack diversity for mission critical applications. Visit their website at Shure.com.

Taking a Break


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For the first time in a long time, the old saw, “It’s summertime, and the livin’ is easy” applies to me. I can’t recall a summer that wasn’t full of some sort of project or change. And then suddenly, some plans changed and I have a month and a half of relative free time. So I’ve decided to do something I haven’t done in four years.

Take a break from writing.

Given my newly freed up schedule, I’m actually going to take some vacation time, and just relax for a bit. I am looking forward to some time to spend with my family, to think, reflect, pray and just mellow out. I’m honestly not sure how it’s going to go…

But don’t fret; I’m going to pull some posts back out of retirement and clean them up a bit so there will still be plenty here to read. We’ll keep up ChurchTechWeekly, since that’s just plain fun. Though if you’ve e-mailed me a question in the last few weeks, it’s likely going to be a few more weeks until I get back to you. 

Like you, I need a break, and this one is coming at a good time. So enjoy the back catalog, and have a great summer!

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.

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.

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