Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: October 2013 (Page 2 of 2)

Critics or Prophets?


Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the National Worship Leader Conference. It happened to take place a convenient 8 miles from my house—something I wish were true for all conferences I attend. While much of the conference was geared toward those who stand on stage, there was plenty of content for those of us who lead worship from the tech booth.

One of my favorite sessions featured Ian Cron, author of several books including Chasing Francis. I think that book should be required reading anyone who is involved with the weekend service. But I digress. 

Ian talked about a lot of things, but the center of his message was on the dichotomy between being a cynic and a prophet. He reminded us that it’s pretty easy to be cynical these days. Just turn on the evening news and it doesn’t take long for the most optimistic among us to start feeling cynical. 

Even in the church, it’s easy to be cynical. And it’s not just those outside the body of faith, either. Christian culture is often the most cynical out there. Sadly, some of the biggest cynics are worship leaders and creatives. 

We talked about some of the “confessions of worship leaders” on last week’s podcast. I recommend you take a listen. As Ian talked, I kept thinking about the idea that worship leaders and creatives are some of the most cynical. Now, I’m admittedly cynical. But he got me thinking why that might be.

I think part of the reason that tech leaders tend to be cynical is because we’re wired to see problems. Normally, we see a problem, and fix the problem. However, often the problems we see lie outside of our area of responsibility. When we see problems with church leadership, how our buildings are laid out and maintained, how our pastor teaches or worship leaders lead, there isn’t a lot we can do. So, we become cynical. After a while, we become the grumpy tech guy.

However, Ian challenged us to be cynical about our cynicism. 

Rather than being cynical about what we see, we should instead be prophets. The reality is, most of the time, the things we see as being wrong, broken or simply a problem, really are wrong, broken or a problem. And we have a choice; complain and be cynical or become a prophet that helps come up with solutions. 

Near the end, he reminded us that when it comes to great revolutions, it aways starts with the artists. In fact, in other countries, when a revolution comes about, they always round up the artists first. We have a great opportunity to help shape the new future of the church. He also pointed out that prophets also loose their jobs. But I think I’d rather go down trying to make a difference instead of simply grumbling about all those problems. 

I’m not sure exactly how to live this out, but I’m willing to give it a shot. Perhaps we can hold each other accountable. What do you think?

UPDATE: After I posted this article, my friend Stephen Proctor wrote a similar summary of this challenging message. I suggest you stop on by his blog to read it. Good stuff! END UPDATE.  


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Church Tech Weekly Episode 167: Leprechaun Weekend


We’re live at the National Worship Leader’s Conference! And as such, it’s time for a deep discussion about worship, being encouraged, having a network and being cynical. Get your notebook out, you’ll need it!  


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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.

Adding a Master Screen to the SD8

I have been mixing on a DiGiCo SD8 for a little over 3 years now, and I really like it. It sounds great, I like the workflow, and I’m addicted to the flexible architecture. The touch screen makes it easy to get to most channel job functions, and the snapshot system can’t be beaten. For us, it’s a great everyday console. Even when I had an SD10 in here a few years ago, I was happy to get back to my SD8. But then the SD5 showed up.

We Always Want More

It’s natural, right? The iPhone 4S was a great phone. Until the 5S came out. I really liked my SD8 until I got to mix on an SD5. After I sadly packed up the SD5 to ship back (and after I considered putting my SD8 in the case—maybe they wouldn’t notice…), I sat down and thought about what it was that I really liked about the SD5, and what the SD8 was missing. Aside from the wonderful SD-Rack preamps (which would be an expensive upgrade), it really came down to two things: The dedicated center master screen and the extra macro keys. 

Of course, there is more; more channels, more busses, more effects, etc., but I don’t really need that stuff for normal weekends. But the master screen and more macro keys, yeah, those I could use. So I stared at our current set up for a while, and then it hit me. I could make it happen.

More Mileage From The Remote

We’ve been using a remote computer for the SD8 for some time now, mainly as an interface for iPad mixing. The remote software can completely control the audio engine of the desk, and I can VNC in to the computer and control it. Works great. 

But then it occurred to me that the Mac Mini we use (Bootcamped to Win7) has dual monitor outs. The main output has a 23” Cinema display on it. But there is a spare output. Hmmmm…What would happen if we hooked up another 19” display to that output, put the remote Master screen window on that and mounted it in front of the console? Boom! Instant Master Screen.

I bought a single monitor VESA mount for the screen to place it just beyond the right side of the surface. I normally park my snapshot window and FX rack on the screen, and we can get to all the system level controls right from there. It works surprisingly well, and we now leave the channel strip on the screen on the surface. I also picked up a Logitech trackball to control the remote computer.

But I Need More Macros!

The SD5 has this great bank of 10 buttons—each with LCD displays and assignable colors—with four banks to select from. The SD8 has a mere 8 non-labeled buttons. My friend Rick Russell told me about X-Keys control surfaces. After checking them out, I bought a 16-key X-Keys controller. Because I can assign macros to either the 8 buttons on the surface or F1-8, I programmed the X-Keys to act as F1-8. Suddenly, I have another set of 8 buttons ready for macros! 

The X-Keys is connected to the remote computer, and at some point, I’m going to figure out how to use the other 8 keys for something other than function controls. They give you a really nice macro editor; I just need to dig into it.

Better Labels

The SD8 has an area below the macro buttons for board tape. In fact, they even silk screened a piece of tape on there. We did that for a while, but after some time, the sharpie wears off, and it looks lame. While making up some acetate labels for our Crossover Solo, the idea hit me to use that as a label. I carefully put down a strip of board tape, and laid out my labels in Numbers. I printed them out on the transparency sheets, cut it up and taped it down with more board tape. They look great, and hold up well.

Wireless Control

In the picture, you see an Apple Wireless Keyboard. That’s connected to the remote computer, and used for text entry on the Master screen. The Magic Trackpad next to it actually controls the second Mac Mini we have a FOH. That Mac runs LAMA for RTA, SPL and Spectral History; Mixxx for audio playback; Workbench 6 for wireless monitoring; and the Roland RCS software for the M-48s. Using the trackpad, we can manage basic tasks without getting up from the console. 

So that’s my low-cost way to get a little more functionality out of an already great console.

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Lighting Console Set Up: Hog 4 PC Pt. 3

Last time, we talked about using Directories for quickly selecting fixtures, colors and positions. Today, we’ll wrap this series up with the heart of how we’re programming services now—using Cue Lists to make lighting more like ProPresenter. 

Use Cue Lists

I saved this as a separate issue because it’s completely changed the way we program. Thomas and I were talking about how to make programming easier for new volunteers one day, and he suggested using cue lists to make lighting more like ProPresenter. As you probably know, ProPresenter stores all your songs in a library. Once you build the song once, you simply recall it next time. We thought it might be possible to do the same for lighting. Turns out it works pretty well.

What we’ve done is go through and program our songs, and save them as a cue list. The next time we do that song, we simply re-use that cue list. The process for this is pretty simple. 

Our playback wing has 10 masters on it. That means we can load 10 cue lists at a time and link them together using macros. In this case, we use the Change Master (CM) macro at the end of each cue list to advance to the next one. So on a given weekend, we might have a group of cue lists loaded onto the masters that look like this:

1: Walk In/Walk Out; 2: The Everlasting; 3: This is Amazing Grace; 4: No One Higher; 5: Verbals-Greeting; 6: 10,000 Reasons; 7: Message; 8: Communion. 

It’s pretty rare that we have more than 10 elements in a service, and if we do, there are ways around that. But that’s another post. Setting the service up is pretty easy; we simply clear the masters from last week (though we typically leave 1: Walk In/Walk Out alone), then move the song and other element cue lists over the masters in the order we need them. 

Once the cue lists are in order, we set the Go Scene (GS) macro to the appropriate scene on the first cue of each list, and update the Change Master (CM) macro to go to the next master. It’s just a few keystrokes and clicks to make all that happen, and it’s easy to train volunteers to do it. If needed, we can tweak the cue lists to accommodate slightly different musician positions, or musical arrangements. But most of the work is done.

Important Safety Tips

There are few things to be aware of when using this method of programming. First, you want to be sure each cue list releases when you leave it and go to to the next one. There are two things you have to do for this to happen. First, there is an option in the cue list that must be selected. In the Cue List, click on the “Options” button and in the upcoming window, click the “Reset on Release” check box. That will let the cue list go back to cue 1 after it’s released by the next cue list.  

Second, the first cue of every cue list must set a hard value for every parameter of every channel. If it doesn’t, the desk will continue tracking values from the previous cue list, and that cue list won’t release. Thankfully, this is pretty easy to do. We set up a Group called Song Cue Touch which is every desk channel used. With all fixtures selected, you click on the “Touch” button at the bottom of the screen.  This doesn’t change any values, but loads the current value of every parameter of every fixture into the programmer. Merge that into the first cue and you’re good to go. 

To make this easier (you had to know this was coming…), we built a cue list entitled Song Start. The first—and only—cue of this cue list is all values touched with the lights in the default look. When we start programming a new song, we copy and paste this cue list into a blank slot in the directory and build from there. That way, we know the previous cue list will release.

The Why Behind the Cue

Some might argue that re-using cue lists every time we do the same song is lazy and boring. And maybe it is. But then again, we don’t re-arrange the song every time we do it, and I don’t mix it completely differently, just to “keep it fresh.” It’s also super-easy to update the song as needed to tweak it for a given weekend, and we do that regularly. But doing it this way makes everything go a lot faster and it’s a lot easier for new volunteers. 

As I said at the beginning of this series, this is not prescriptive, but descriptive. It’s what we’re doing, and we do this because it works for us and our style of service. If your style demands fresh and creative looks every time, re-cycling cue lists may not be for you. That’s OK. Our church prefers consistency to out-of-the-box, so that’s what we do.

At the end of the day, once we get a good look and program for a song, it makes sense to keep it that way. When it looks good and isn’t distracting, we’ve done well. And the average person in the pew will never remember the programming for a song we did two hours ago let alone a month ago. 

Read the Manual

I can already hear the keyboards clacking as you’re writing questions about the specifics of how we do this or that. Before you send those e-mails and comments off, do yourself a favor and read the manual. It’s pretty amazing what you can learn when you read the documentation. I’ve taught myself a lot of this by just clicking “Help.” You can probably do 90%+ of this on any modern lighting console by true way. But please, don’t write and ask me how to do this on a Chamsys or Martin or any other console. I have no idea. 

Finally, I have to give props to my LD, Thomas Pendergrass. Most of the ideas contained in this series were either conceived or stolen from someone else by him. I’ve thrown out a few suggestions and tweaked the show file a little bit, but the bulk of the work is his. You should follow him on Twitter, he’s really smart. Now…go light something!

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Lighting Console Set Up: Hog 4 PC Pt. 2

Last time, I talked about the philosophy behind our Hog PC set up. We try to make it accessible by doing much of the heavy lifting for our volunteers. While the Hog may not be terribly intuitive to use, it does have a ton of shortcuts that make programming going pretty quickly. While experience programmers might find it easier to simply key numbers into the keypad, a novice will do much better using the graphical interface. By setting up the palates in such a way that promotes easy selection, programming goes a lot faster, is more consistent and makes more sense to less experienced operators.

Physical Setup

We run our Hog PC on a Mac Mini Bootcamped to Windows 7. We have both a playback and programming wing on the system. A few years back, we bought two Acer 24” LCD touchscreen monitors, which makes selection a lot easier. While we have a bunch of window configurations saved (you can see the list on the top left), below is what we normally use for programming.

Click to enlarge (unless you have really good eyesight). 

Across the top, you can see the Color Directory, Group Directory, the Chosen Master Cue List, and the Scene Directory. Along the bottom, we have the Beam Directory, Position Directory, the Programmer and the Cue List Directory. I’ll get into what all those are shortly. It looks daunting at first, but once you break it down, it’s quite simple. Note the extensive use of color-coding. That makes it a lot easier to see groups of lights.

Use the Directories

The biggest thing you can do to make the Hog more accessible is to make extensive use of the directories. There a lot of them, and it might be helpful to explain how we use them. I’ll go in the order of our primary programming view.

The Color Directory is just what it sounds like. We don’t try to define every possible color, but instead create a constant palate of colors to chose from. The directory looks the same for every group of lights, but Thomas set it up so that when you choose the Impressions and Dark Blue, it looks as close as possible to the Flat Pars in Dark Blue. Of course, you can open the color picker and dial in colors that way, but the directory makes it easy to pick colors that match and work together.

The Group Directory is basically a quick selection tool for fixtures. Take the Impressions for example. You can either grab All Impressions or select them in thirds or quarters. We might use the later method for creating complementary color looks among groups of the twelve fixtures. Selecting 1/3 will grab four of them; 2/3 another four, 3/3 the final four. We also have quick selections for front light, side lights and all fixtures. You can set this up however you want; this makes sense for us.

The Scene Directory is a way to fire a look without using a Cue List. We use them primarily for setting our house lights. We’ve built “scenes” for each look we use during a service and fire the scene from a cue using the “Go Scene X” macro (where X is the number of the scene, e.g. GS1 fires the House Full scene). You can also fire scenes directly, which is handy for quickly lighting up an area (for us it’s Area 11, which gets used for communion set up).

The Beam Directory makes for quick selection of a moving light’s gobos. We don’t really use it that much any more, but if you have ton of movers, you can pre-build combinations that look good, save them in the beam directory and recall them with one touch.

The Position Directory is just what it sounds like, pre-set positions for moving lights. You can also use it for pre-set intensities for conventional fixtures. For example, we can select All Thrust in our Group Directory, then Music Keylight (Do Not Change) and it will bring those to the correct level for music. As you can see, we have positions preset for all our band positions, as well as some general position looks. We also have the levels for the houselights duplicated here if we don’t want to use scenes. 

Using directories makes it really quick and easy for both novice and experienced programmers to quickly build looks and keep lights out of people’s eyes. Also, as an added benefit, when we re-configure the stage, all we have to do is update the position directory, and all the programming stays the same. 

Next time, we’ll wrap this up with the most powerful feature we’ve employed to make programming very easy and fast for new volunteers: Cue Lists. 

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Church Tech Weekly Episode 166: You’d Look Good In A Sweater


We’re live from WFX this week! We talk about making it through tough times, getting on board with the vision of the church and how to solve morale problems (among other things). It’s a great episode with lots of laughs and truth. 


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Lighting Console Set Up: Hog 4 PC

With the update to version 4, it's fairly easy to customize the interface to work for you.

With the update to version 4, it’s fairly easy to customize the interface to work for you.

Last time I told you about our new lighting rig. Today, I thought I would answer the questions I’ve been getting about how we set up our lighting console. I’m going to do this in two parts—first the philosophy of why we set it up the way we did, and the second part on how we did it. It’s important to note that this is not the way to set up your console, or the way to build your cue lists. This is simply how we do it, along with the explanation as to why.

The Hog is Not That Intuitive

Actually, for a new user, no lighting console is all that intuitive. Except perhaps an old conventional console; push faders up, lights go on. But a modern console, be it a Hog, Vista, Grand MA, Avolights, ETC, Martin, whatever, is pretty daunting for a new user, especially one who has never done lighting before. So we need to find ways to make it as accessible as possible. 

I worked at Coast Hills for about three and a half years before I really learned how to use the Hog. I’m still no expert, but now that I’ve spent a few hundred hours on it, I know my way around it pretty well. Now that I know it’s language, I can figure out new things fairly easily. But at first, it made no sense to me at all. In fact, I really hated it originally. 

It turns out that it’s not all that hard to use, but without some basic instruction on how it works, it really makes no sense. I used the word language before, and that’s really what learning a lighting console is like; learning a new language. 

Make it Accessible

Just like all the work I’ve put in to my SD8 audio console baseline, we put a lot of work into our Hog show file (and when I mean we, I really mean my LD, Thomas). I tweak it a little bit here and there, but the vast majority is his work.

We make extensive use of palates, cue lists and directories (color & position). Anything that can be standardized is, and anything that we do every time, we build into a single button as much as possible. Our goal in this is to make it easy to bring a newcomer into use of the console. With very little training, they can begin hitting Go at the right time and start to learn how we design, cue and manage our lighting. 

We Do The Heavy Lifting

When a new volunteer starts with us, all they really have to do is hit Go at the right time. We pre-program the cue lists and put them in the right oder. As they start to get comfortable with the system and process, we have them start moving cue lists around. With more time, they are editing these cue lists, and eventually they are building their one cue lists. 

It’s a little more work for us up front, and it does take some time during the week. But there are two sets of good results that come from that. First, it helps me stay in touch with our system and what is working and what is not. It also maintains a good level of consistency—even after they start programming, they tend to program more like we do.

Second, it makes it easy for people to get comfortable with the system. It’s not intimidating to come in as a new person, because they only need to know one button. As time goes on, we train them in small chunks which makes it easy for them to retain the process.

Finally, we find people will self-select. Some people will never make good lighting programmers. But that’s OK. They can still come in, line the cue lists up and fire cues at the right time. Those are all critical tasks, and it is easy for most people to do. Others who take to it naturally will be programming in no time. 

The Set Up is Key

Next time, we’ll talk about how we set up the console so it’s fairly easy to use, despite the incredible power that lies beneath the hood.

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