Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: November 2013 (Page 2 of 2)

Church Tech Weekly Episode 172: Some People Need a Crutch


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Are “authentic” and “good” mutually exclusive? Is it possible to over-rehearse? Why do we think “good enough” is, well, good enough in church? We tackle these questions and more this week.

More… 

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.

DI’s: Active vs. Passive


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I was asked a question on Twitter today that I felt would make a good post. The question came from @tmlhjg and went like this:

“What is the advantage of phantom power DI’s?”

I’m going to rephrase that to, “Why choose an active or passive DI?” Before we get to that discussion, we should define what a DI or Direct Injection (aka Direct Interface) does. 

A DI connects high impedance sources to the console.

When we have to hook up instruments with high impedance outputs—keyboards, guitars, practically anything with a 1/4” jack—to a mixer, we could just run a long 1/4” cord. But, most of the time, those outputs are unbalanced and, being high impedance, will pick a lot of noise and loose a lot of signal along the way to the console.

What a DI does is simultaneously lower the impedance so the signal can travel farther, and balance it so it’s more resistant to noise. A DI works this little bit of magic either through a passive transformer circuit or some active circuitry. With that little bit of theory out of the way, let’s compare the two designs. 

Passive DI’s require no power to work.

Requiring no power is one of the big advantages of passive DIs over active. There is no battery to die, no amplifier to overload and distort; you just plug it in and it works. Unlike active circuitry which can distort when the incoming signal is too hot, a transformer simply saturates somewhat like a tube. This saturation can sound quite pleasant, and often DIs will be chosen for a given application based on how they sound when they saturate. 

With a passive direct box, it’s also easy to eliminate ground loops caused by DC offsets, or varying voltage potential on the ground pin between the stage and console. A simple ground lift switch safely lifts pin one, breaking the loop. This can be done on active units, but it requires more design and circuitry (and more cost) to keep from loosing phantom power when pin one is lifted. 

By the way, never use a ground lifting adapter on a power connector. Those so-called “cheater plugs” may stop a ground loop, but also leave the device in question dangerously ungrounded, which could kill someone. Use a DI instead.

Active DI’s need power, but can do more.

With active circuitry, a designer has the option to do some tone shaping on the signal, or increase the gain before balancing the signal. There are even some clever examples like the Radial JDX which not only captures the signal coming from the guitar head, but also the back electro-magnetic impulse from the loudspeaker. To pull that off, you need active circuitry. 

We have a couple Avalon U5 active DIs that even require 120 volts to operate because they are a high voltage Class A design with all kinds of tone shaping possibilities. They sound fantastic and have a price tag to match.

Most active DI’s will run from either batteries or phantom power, the later being the preferred choice. Almost all consoles now have phantom, and that provides a much more stable, reliable and powerful source of power for active DI’s.

When to use one or the other?

Generally speaking, if the source is active like a keyboard, a passive DI will work great. Passive devices like bass guitars and some acoustic guitars will be better served with an active unit. A specialized pickup like a piezo-electric will need a specially designed, active DI to really maximize the sound. 

But those are general rules of thumb. Ultimately, it comes down to matching the right tool for the job. If budgets are tight, passive DIs will work just fine. If you can afford a good active DI, like a Radial J48 for example, and it sounds good with your bass or acoustic, then use it.

My even more general rule of thumb is that an expensive DI will most often sound better than a cheap DI. Sure, you can find cheap ones under $25, and they will balance an unbalanced signal and give you output. But compared to something a little better (think $50-150), it won’t sound as good.

On the other hand, we use a lot of affordable yet very decent DIs (Whirlwind IMP 2’s—about $40) in our student rooms, and they work just fine. For students playing relatively inexpensive instruments, I’m not sure it makes sense to spend $200 a channel on Radial JDIs. However, on our main stage where we have professional and very serious amateur musicians with instruments that cost more than a good used car, I have no problem spending more. There, we use Radial ProD2s for keyboards, and Avalon U5s for bass and acoustic guitars. 

Listening tests.

The best way to choose one over the other is to listen to them with your source and your PA. Sometimes, differences that show up in a studio just aren’t that apparent in a live sound setting. If all goes well, in an upcoming post, we’re going to pull out some of our DI inventory and I’ll record some tracks and post them here. Stay tuned!

Some of the information for this article came from the excellent FAQ section on the Radial website. Spend some time poking around there for more DI education.

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The Monster Guitar



One of the great things about digital audio consoles is the ease with which you can double-patch things. I’ve written about my vocal smash process before (short version, I double-patch the lead, compress one heavily and layer it with the normal channel), so this time we’ll talk guitars. 

A few weeks ago, we did a song that had two very distinct guitar parts. During the verses, the electric was darker and more open. But come the chorus, a second guitar shows up and is much brighter and driving. At least that’s the recorded version. Our challenge was that we only had one electric guitar. To help beef up the chorus, I used my Monster Guitar channel.

The Monster Guitar channel is simply a second copy of the lead electric guitar. But, I process it quite differently. In DiGiCo land, we have several options to effect the channels. Sometimes I’ll use a DigiTube on the monster, but not usually. Normally, I employ four things to help the guitar stand out; delay, EQ, compression and the Audio Enhancer.

A little delay sounds like another guitar. I’ve played with this a bit and have found that adding about 50 milliseconds of delay sounds about right. Less than that starts sounding a bit odd to me, and more sounds like a tap tempo delay. I want it to sound like a second guitar playing the same line. I normally time it to the tempo of the song, and usually it’s a 1/16th o 1/32nd note, depending on tempo. But I try to keep it in the 50-65 msec range.

I normally EQ it brighter. Usually. Sometimes if the main channel is a bit bright, I’ll EQ the Monster darker, but typically I’m trying to add some more sparkle to the high end. I like to use a wide bump centered somewhere between 2-3 KHz that can be anywhere between 2-5 dB. 

Compress it like a smash channel. The Monster is normally compressed pretty hard; 6-8-10 dB of gain reduction is not uncommon. I want to be sure this channel is filling in the holes in the dynamics, which makes the guitar stand out for a section. Like a smashed vocal, it makes it more present, not necessarily louder. Also, I flip my EQ to come after the compressor so I’m still getting the brightness I want.

Audio Enhancer? What’s that do? A while back, I was showing someone around the SD8 and we saw that FX plugin. I hadn’t use it, so I didn’t know. So I tried it on a few things. Turns out, it’s sort of a 3-band tube drive kind of thing. Which, it turns out, works great on electric guitars. I insert this after the EQ and Comp to give me some, well, enhancement. I play with the settings until it sounds right for the song.

When all those things add together and I bring up the Monster Guitar channel, the electric sounds bigger and more full. In the song I mentioned above, it sort of sounded like we had a rhythm guitar plus another playing lead, even though there was but one guitar player on stage. That was the effect I wanted. 

I also use this for various guitar solos, intros and outros when I want the guitar to pop more. I rarely use it for a whole song, however, as it can be too much. But your mileage may vary. Even if you don’t get to mix on a DiGiCo, you can still do most—if not all—of this on your console. You’ll just need to find an effect that gives you the results you want. Give it a shot this weekend, and let me know how it worked out.

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Leading When You Disagree


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There will be times as a technical leader when you have to lead your team in plan that you don’t necessarily agree with. No, I’m not talking about anything heretical here, but perhaps you have to enforce a volume limit you think is too low. Or maybe it’s a limitation on how to use moving lights. Or possibly moving backgrounds are verboten. Take your pick. While you might not like it, you have to lead your team in the implementation of these procedures. This can be tricky—but it’s not impossible.

I haven’t always been good at this (in fact I’m still growing in this arena). Several years ago, at another church, the leadership of the church decided to bring in an integrator that I disagreed with, and that caused me much consternation. I made the mistake of passive-aggressively complaining to my team, which got back to my boss and led to a series of meetings that I’ll be happy to never have to repeat. 

I learned a few things from that experience, and hopefully I’m a little wiser at this point. 

Remember Your Job

In times like those, it’s important to remember that your job is not to lead the church. Your job is to support the pastor’s vision—and when I say “pastor” I mean the leadership of the church. He (or they) will be judged on how they led the church; you will be judged on how you supported his (or their) leadership.

While you can certainly advocate (in private with your leaders) for your point of view, when it comes to leading your team, you need to stay positive and help them see how these “limitations” support the mission of the church. 

Complain Up, Not Down

It’s really tempting to vent your frustrations about a policy you disagree with to your team. Don’t do it! It’s completely toxic and will cause division in your church. If you have issues with the program, always complain up the chain of command, never down. You need to lead your team based on the direction you receive from your boss/pastor. Even when you don’t personally like it.

Few things will undermine your ministry as quickly as pitting your tech team against the leadership of the church. Wise pastors will root that out quickly, as well they should. I know people who have been fired for this. 

Do A Good Job

Often it can seem like these leadership-imposed limitations keep us from doing our jobs effectively. But that’s only based on one interpretation of doing a good job. In this case, I encourage you to lead your team well, build unity and deliver excellent results week after week regardless of the limitations.

This builds tremendous trust with your leadership. As you build this trust, you will have the opportunity to have a greater voice in the way the service is put together. You may even find that over time, some of those “limitations” get lifted as you work together.

I’ve found over the years that one big thing that separates the highly-respected, mature technical leaders from the rest is the ability to implement a policy they don’t agree with, and do it with grace and a positive attitude. This is one of the greatest tests you will come up against as a technical leader—and it’s a test you need to pass.

 

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 171: Podcast Left or House Left


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It’s easy to fall into the same routine for our weekly services. But what if we approached them with more intentionality? How can we be stirred up by what we do? This week, we learn some lessons on that from the SALT conference. 

More…

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One Team, Two Disciplines


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I remember it like it was yesterday. I had been working part-time as an FOH engineer at a large church for a few weeks, and I was there to mix some weeks and keep things on track the rest of the time. But this weekend, the train was running downhill with no brakes and there was a sharp left curve coming up. 

This weekend, we had, let’s say “issues” with the monitor mix. After a few rounds of tweaks and adjustments, someone on stage answered the question, “What would you like in the monitors?” by yelling, “THEY NEED EVERYTHING IN THE MONITORS! THEY JUST NEED IT MIXED CORRECTLY!!” 

Though over 6 feet tall, and one of the nicest guys in the world, I looked back at the volunteer FOH guy and watched just crumble.

As I think back on it, what we had there—at that time—were two teams; and the relationship was very adversarial. You could feel it in the room. It was uncomfortable. And no one wanted to deal with it. Except for the new media coordinator and me. How we did it is another post, but what I want to talk about today is the concept of being one team with two disciplines, not two teams. 

We are all part of the worship team—musicians, vocalists, techs, creatives—all one team. When the team is functioning correctly, there is no “us and them” because there is only “us.” The tech team doesn’t exist to simply make the band look good, we are all there to be part of the team that makes Jesus look good. 

When we are one team, we are constantly building up each other, not tearing down. Our motivation is to better the overall experience, not gain an advantage over the “other side.” It’s not about getting what we deserve (something we probably don’t want, but that’s a deeper theological conversation), but about figuring out how we can best encourage our teammates. 

Both disciplines—tech and music—are vitally important to the worship experience. We expect the musicians and singers to come prepared; knowing charts, songs & lyrics. But what about the technical artists? How do they prepare? How do they practice? Do they think they have to practice? Do they consider themselves part of the worship team or have they been marginalized as “monkeys who push buttons?” 

Sometimes the tech discipline marginalizes themselves. We hide in the tech booth, talk only to each other and say “No” a lot. Sometimes, the stereotype of the grumpy tech guy is more accurate than it should be.

Other times, we are marginalized by the church. Many churches think nothing of paying the worship leader and often musicians because they know that is one way to ensure a level of quality for their worship service. But many of those same churches won’t employ a technical director, because “it’s just tech, how hard can it be. They expect volunteers—many of whom have no training at all—to somehow engineer concert quality sound on substandard equipment.

Regardless of the situation, we need to take the initiative to build community. In every case I’ve been at a church with difficult relationships between musicians and tech, we as the tech team made the first move, and that resulted in a better situation for everyone. It can be a long, trying road at times, but it’s worth it.

Not only does it make your job easier each week, the experience for the congregation is improved as well. I’m not a highly relational guy, so this takes a lot of work for me—and I suspect the same is true for many of you. But just as tech is becoming a champion of helping churches work together, we need to champion the cause of team unity. 

One team, two disciplines. That’s the biblical model of unity. Imagine how much more your team can accomplish working together?

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Mixing on the Behringer X32


Here’s a screen cap from my show file, grabbed from the desktop software. 

So a while back I wrote a First Impressions piece (actually two—part 1 and part 2) on the X32. That was after a brief bit of use during a student worship event. My initial impressions were good, but would they hold up over the long-haul after using it some more? The short answer is, “Yes.” 

I’ve had the X32 for several months now, and it’s a surprisingly good console. This past August when we had a flood in our auditorium, we had to move services to the gym at the school next door. I set the X32 up at FOH and mixed the entire weekend—FOH & monitors—without incident. And dare I even say it was fun? 

I used an analog snake as we don’t have the digital one for the X32, along with our wireless IEM rack. I mixed stereo house and 6 stereo ears for the musicians. It was a smaller band, but that still meant two vocals, drums, bass, two guitars and keys. Last time I used it for a service, I simply set everything up on the console. This time, I went another route.

Offline software and iPad control

I downloaded the offline software (which can also be used to control the console) from the website and set about configuring my show file. Freed from naming channels by pushing and spinning a knob, it went quite quickly. The desktop software looks exactly like the software on the desk, so it also helps you learn it. 

After I had everything set up the way I wanted it, it took a few tries to get the right boxes checked to export the show to a USB drive. Once I got that, it loaded right up and I was ready to mix. The day of the service, I brought in my old Linksys router and plugged in the console. The iPad takes about 6 seconds to find and connect to the console, and it worked reliably.

Mixing a Regular Service

Well, perhaps I should put “regular” in quotes as it was a little more stripped down than usual, being that we were in the gym next door. Still it went very quickly. I had pre-dialed up some monitor mixes; that got the band going while I set gains. After my gain structure was set up (I was shooting completely in the dark, having never used the console with this PA before), I tweaked the outputs to hit the IEM transmitters right. After about 20 minutes, we went right into rehearsal.

I can’t tell you how many times I said, “Man, I like mixing on this thing!” I can’t tell you because I lost count. It’s really a nice desk to work on. Once I had a little muscle memory for common functions, it was very fast. I found the preamps sounded very acceptable—certainly as good or better than most analog desks in that price range, and better than most digital desks under $5,000. 

Having spent some time on it between the first time I used and this service, I was able to get my FX dialed up quickly enough. Again, I was surprised at how good they sound, especially considering the price point. 

The Proof is in the Sound

When the Saturday night crowd showed up and service started, I figured we were in for some goodness. Normally, in the large empty aircraft hanger we call our auditorium, the Saturday night crowd is pretty dead. While still a small group, they were clapping after songs, and seemed quite engaged with the worship. My PA was as basic as it gets; a pair of old JBL EONs sitting on top of JRX100 subs. I have a DriveRackPX driving them, and while I’ve spent a little time getting them sounding good, most of the EQ was done in auto mode.

Still, I had more compliments on how great it sounded for that single weekend than I have in the last year. Of course, it’s remarkable what happens when you point speakers at people instead of the walls, but that’s another post (and hopefully, we’ll correct that malady in our main room next spring…).

What’s Not To Like?

Honestly, every time I find something I am not crazy about, I remind myself of the price point. An MSRP of $2700 helps you forgive a lot, given the power. But really, there’s not a lot to dislike. I wish I could pair channels odd-even or even-odd like I can with my Digico, but then again, a PM5D can’t do that, so… 

It would be nice if the screen were a touch screen, but that would likely add at least several hundred dollars to the cost. And the iPad makes a great companion to it. The scene recall system is a little bit clunky, and requires a lot of clicking and playing with it to get the results you want. It’s not terribly hard, but it’s also not immediately intuitive. The menu structure is a bit odd, though when you’re actually mixing, there are quick access View buttons below every major section, and that helps you get around pretty quickly.  The USB recorder worked great, and I multi-tracked the whole service to my laptop using a single USB cable.

Final Thoughts

If you’re shopping for a new console and don’t have $10,000 to spend, you have to look at this. It’s not the right tool for every job, but there is a lot to like here. It’s a good-sounding desk that’s easy to work on once you acclimate to the layout. You’ll be stumped on a few things at first, but keep digging and you’ll find what you’re looking for. Pair it up with a Waves Multi-Rack and I don’t see how you can go wrong.

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.

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