Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: February 2014 (Page 2 of 2)

Hire an Integrator or DIY Install?


“Should we do this A/V/L install ourselves or hire a contractor?” is a question I’m asked all the time. Too often, the question is decided based on dollars. On paper, it looks like hiring a contractor is a more expensive option, but this is rarely the case when all factors are considered. The illusion of cost-savings comes from the fact that most churches (and many companies) don’t factor in the cost of labor for their staff. But there is always a cost, and a wise manager will take that into account. This isn’t to say that doing a job in-house is always a bad idea; it’s simply a matter of weighing the options and determining the best approach for a particular project. Here are some guidelines that I use when trying to decide how to proceed.

Do the job in-house when:

You Have the Skills In-House

Some churches have highly skilled tech staffs, and it makes total sense to use that skill set to do the work of an install. The team will be working with the equipment day in and day out anyway, so installing it makes sense. Having people on staff who can lay out cable runs, pull said cable, solder, interconnect and commission systems is a blessing to many larger churches. If you have the skills, by all means, proceed.

You Have the Manpower In-House

Sometimes a church has one or two highly skilled people on staff who could do the install, but is that enough? Depending on the size of the project, more hands may be required. Often, larger churches will have larger tech staffs who can put in significant time on an install, so again, this makes sense. 

You Have the Time

Larger churches with sizable tech staffs have those large staffs because the church is very busy doing ministry. If the project is not extremely time-sensitive, it’s entirely possible that this team can get the job done. Deciding two weeks before Easter that you’d like a new video system may not allow the in-house team enough time to get the job done, however. 

The Budget is Tight

Sometimes we have to do installs within a tight budget, and the easiest way to save money is to self-install. Even factoring in the costs that really do exists with self-install, it’s often easier to stomach that bill than paying a contractor. Sometimes it can even mean the difference between getting the job approved or not. 

Note that the order of those criteria is intentional; budget is last in my decision-making process. We ended up doing a self-install last year in our kids and students wing. We have the skills; since it was summer, many of my younger volunteers were out of school and could help pull cable; time was a little tight, but we made it work; and the budget was definitely tight. It took a few long days to get it all in, but everyone is very happy with the result. 

Hire a contractor when:

You’re Hanging Things Overhead

Very few church tech staff are truly qualified to hang hundreds (or thousands) of pounds of speakers or other stuff over people’s heads. And even if you are, why would you want the liability? Even for our kids remodel, I hired a contractor to fly the speakers and hang the TVs. I could have done it, but I don’t want to take the risk that anything could go wrong.

Time is Tight

Some projects have very tight timelines and the in-house staff doesn’t have the bandwidth to get it done. This is a perfect contractor job. They can bring in additional installers who do this every day, and will probably do better work in less time. This year for our remodel, I’m having an integrator do some of the work because we’ll be short-staffed, and I won’t have the time.

Manpower is Limited

A solo technical director will probably have a tough time installing a complete A/V/L system by himself. Even if he can pull in some volunteers, it’s going to be a long, hard install. Churches that don’t have professionals on staff will almost always come out ahead when they hire a reputable contractor.

The Church Wants to Protect Its Staff

Some churches are wise enough to know that pushing the staff to the limit all the time will not result in long-term employees who are committed to the organization. Sometimes it’s a smart call to let your highly-qualified, fully-capable tech staff leave at 5 while someone else does the install. As a church leader, would you rather have energized, fully-engaged and excited or tired, disengaged and aggravated staff? You make the call.

Sometimes a hybrid approach is best; install what you can and bring in a contractor for the rest. I generally recommend hiring the rigging, because it’s just safer. But pulling cables, installing amp racks, consoles, patch bays and the like can easily be handled in-house, especially if the install company has helped with the design, making sure things are well thought out. 

This decision-making process is not hard, but it should not be taken lightly. It’s almost never as easy as, “We’ll save so much money…” so be sure to think it through. You may find that at the end of the project, everyone will be better off if the install was handled by professionals. Or maybe not.

Why You Need RF Coordination

This is my spectrum scan, along with the channels WWB has assigned.

This is my spectrum scan, along with the channels WWB has assigned.

I’ve been saying this for a number of years now: Technical Directors—paid and volunteer—are going to need to learn RF coordination. The RF landscape is as hostile as it has ever been, and it’s only going to get worse. Even if you are only using a half-dozen channels of wireless mic’s or IEM’s in your facility, you need to know how to coordinate them. Let’s talk about the why first. 

Wireless gear doesn’t automatically play nice with other wireless gear. It takes work, time and careful consideration of frequencies to have more than a few channels in one room at a time. There are a lot of very technical reasons for this but to keep it simple, we’ll distill it down to two main problems. First is interference. When two transmitters are operating on identical or near identical frequencies, they will interfere with each other. The corresponding receivers are going to have trouble figuring out which signal to listen to, and the result will be either no signal out of the receiver (because it was muted) or noise, static, pops and even other signals leaking through.

The second issue is intermodulation. A classic two-to-three intermodulation is when two signals from two transmitters (that might work fine by themselves and with each other) combine to form a third signal that also happens to be the same frequency as another wireless device. This third, created signal will interfere with the legitimate signal just as if it was created from a device directly.

There are other wireless issues that we have to deal with, but most problems come down to those two. Thankfully, while dealing with these issues is important, it’s not impossible. And today, we have better tools than ever to sort it out.

Wireless manufacturers are there to help. The best, first place to start is with the manufacturer of your wireless equipment. They typically offer lists of frequencies that are safe in your area (typically based on the zip code), and are calculated to play nice together. If you have a small number of wireless channels (under 6-8, say), you can usually make things work well by going from this list. 

Most modern wireless gear will let you perform a scan and will choose clean channels based on interference in your building. This is also good to do, though I recommend sticking with the channel list as you choose clean channels. If you simply scan on each device, you may well end up with a 2-3 inter mod. Compare the channels chosen with those on the list provided by the manufacturer. 

Use software for larger installations. Once you cross the 6-8 channel barrier, you really need to use software to coordinate your frequencies. Again, most manufacturers offer free software to do this. We use a lot of Shure equipment (along with Sennheiser in our ancillary rooms), so I use Wireless Workbench 6. 

WWB will let me connect to my UHF-R wireless mic’s, use them as a scanner to scan the room, then build a list of compatible frequencies based on the scan. It can also build lists of compatible frequencies for other company’s equipment (and even consider other rooms as different zones). WWB can also import scans, which is what we did. I asked my Shure rep to stop by one day with an Axient Spectrum Manager to do a full-spectrum scan. Once we had that, I loaded that into WWB and can coordinate frequencies based on what is happening around me (or at least, what was happening that day). 

If that fails, pull out the big guns. Companies like Professional Wireless Systems and Kaltman Creations make hardware/software packages that will not only scan the entire spectrum, but also develop lists of compatible frequencies for you. These systems are not inexpensive, but in a large installation (30-40 channels and up) they can be life savers. 

I’ve been hearing from a few people who have large installations of 40+ channels who have never done a frequency coordination. They simply scan for a new open channel every time they add another device. As you might expect, this doesn’t work very well. As the system grows, so does the need for proper coordination. If you are really unclear on how to do this, contact the manufacturer. Quite often, they can send a rep your way with the tools needed to get things sorted. 

Wireless is hard. If you can wire something, do it. It’s going to get harder as we go. For those cases when you do have to go wireless, make sure everything is coordinated properly and your musicians and pastors—not to mention the congregation—will be a lot happier.

Gear Techs

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.


Making Wireless Systems Work

Far too common an occurrence...

Far too common an occurrence…

I don’t know why, but things seem to come in waves. Lately, the wave has been wireless mic’s. I’ve heard from several people who are having trouble with their systems, and most of the problems revolve around two main issues; improper design & installation and frequency coordination. Today, we’ll tackle the first issue; next time we’ll hit the second one. 

Wireless is harder than you think. Once you move beyond one or two channels of wireless in a building, you need to make sure things are designed to work together and are installed properly. While it’s true you can stack a bunch of receivers with their 1/4 or 1/2 wave antennas at FOH and they will work—some of the time—it’s not the right or best way to go. 

And as an aside, the plural of antenna is antennas. Bugs have antennae, wireless mic’s don’t. Antenna, antennas. Got it? Ok. Moving on.

The problem is, once you start putting all those antennas next to each other, they start causing interference with each other. Fire up enough channels and you are sure to have issues. 

The answer is proper antenna distribution and combining. A lot of people get confused on these two terms, so let me start by defining them. Antenna distribution is used for wireless mic’s. Basically, you take a couple of specialized antennas—usually using long periodic dipole arrays (LPDA), AKA paddles—spread them out so they cover the intended area and run them into an antenna distribution system. Most antenna distributors will output the signal to 4-8 wireless receivers. They typically have a cascade out to connect to a second distro in case it’s needed. 

An antenna distro will cost anywhere between $1,000-3,000+ depending on the system. Some will say, “But Mike, those are so expensive!” Yes. They are. Wireless is hard. And expensive. That’s why we wire everything we can. And there is no sense spending $10,000 on wireless mic’s but trying to save $2,000 on antenna distribution. The system simply won’t work well. Do it once, do it right.

When it comes to wireless IEMs, you are dealing with transmission antennas. That means you need an antenna combiner. The combiner is similar to a distro, only in reverse. It takes the outputs of 4-8 IEM transmitters, and combines them into a single antenna signal that goes out to the antenna itself. 

Like distros, combiners are expensive. If you want to do more than a few channels of wireless IEM’s, you’ll have to get over that and pony up. You also need to use the proper paddles. You can’t use an active paddle with an antenna combiner as it’s a transmit antenna. 

Use the right antennas, cable and settings. It’s important to note that while wireless antenna systems use BNC connections, they don’t usually work well with video cable. Antenna cable is 50-Ohm; video is 75-Ohm. Use the right cable. If the cable runs get long, you’re going to want the expensive RG-8 (or better) cable to minimize loss. 

And don’t assume that when using an active antenna that the +10 dB setting is better than the 0 dB setting. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendation and use the setting to compensate for the length of cable only. Setting the gain higher than necessary only increases RF noise and reduces performance. Use the minimum number of antennas you can to get the coverage you need. More will only cause you grief.

Talk to the right people. When building wireless systems, the best place to start is the manufacturer. They want their equipment to work and all have tech support departments who will help you get the right equipment, offer advice on installation and design. Reputable integrators are another great source of help. Third party companies like PWS are also great resources. 

The bottom line is that wireless is hard and expensive. I cringe when I hear of churches putting drummers on wireless IEMs. Or wanting to have 30-40 channels in their main room so everything can be wireless. Even stuff that doesn’t ever move. And because they want to do it on the cheap, they wonder why it doesn’t work. 

You can do hundreds of channels in a room (consider the Super Bowl). But it takes a lot of work, specialized equipment, people who really know their stuff and expensive wireless gear. Wire what you can, and make sure your wireless system if of good quality, designed well and installed properly. 

But even then, you still have to do proper frequency coordination. And we’ll tackle that next time.


New Resource: The Wide Guide


I don’t often do posts like this, but I also don’t like to have rules I can’t break once in a while. Most of the time we’re talking about gear, processes and better ways to do things. But today, I want to share with you a new resource that is not only a great resource, but it’s written by a good friend. 

The Wide Guide is a new ebook written by Luke McElroy of Orange Thread Media and TripleWideMedia.com. As you might expect from the title, it’s a book about doing wide-screen media. While some might release a blue-print for wide-screen, Luke—who has a bit of an obsession with the color orange—released an orange print. So there you go.

Now, let me take you on a bit of a side journey. I started doing production professionally in the mid ’80s. Back then, projection was in the form of 35mm slides. Lots of them. We stacked projectors up three or four high and nested them two and three deep. Then we laid them out three wide. It wasn’t uncommon to do a show that might have 21-27 projectors in either a 6-9-6 or 9-9-9 layout, all projected on a 30’ wide screen. It was glorious. We could get up to almost 15 fps, and the sound that made was incredible. 

Fast forward 30+ years, and we have some amazing tools at our disposal. The wealth of content and ideas for wide screen media is unmatched at any time in my career. The Wide Guide does an excellent job of giving you the tools you need to set up and utilize wide-screen content. It’s written in a field guide book format; there are eight chapters, each dealing with a different type of wide-screen projection. From triple-wide video walls, to edge blending to environmental projection, Luke does a great job of breaking each type down into the elements you need to know. Each chapter is fully illustrated and comes with a pro-con list along with some ways to save money, and a lengthly section of advice. 

A final chapter, “Gear Guide” actually names the names of the equipment you’ll need to pull this stuff off. I really appreciate it when authors use actual equipment names instead of generic ones. If I need Matrox Triple-Head-To-Go, I need to know that. A “commercially available single input, triple output converter box,” is not that helpful. Kudos to Luke for giving us the straight dope. He even talks about the software that is used to create cool video mapping effects, including the pros and cons of each. 

I would say that The Wide Guide is a book you’d keep on the shelf near your desk for quick reference. But it’s an e-book, so you’ll want it on your iPad, and your laptop so you can refer to it often. The pictures that start off each chapter will jumpstart brainstorming sessions and provide a great launchpad for those, “What if we did…” discussions. 

So, go buy the book. Luke is a friend, a great guy and has been on ChurchTechWeekly more than a few times. He’s a wealth of knowledge and has a heart to help the church use media intentionally. It’s only $10, so you’re giving up two fancy Starbucks drinks. Or just expense it. That’s what I’m going to do… Check it out at the TripleWide website. Oh, and just so you know, Luke’s not paying me to say this stuff. It really is a great book, and you really should go get it. 

Gear Techs

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.

CTW NAMM 2014 Coverage: Elite Core

You know Elite Core for their great PM16 personal mixing system, and maybe their snakes and cables. Oh, and the headphone extensions; can’t forget those. But the guys have been busy coming up with even more stuff that will make our lives easier on the stage. We shot a video of these new products, but it didn’t turn out well so I’m writing it up instead. 

Converta-Shell Ethernet Cables


Most personal mixers use Ethercon connectors for the RJ45s. They’re more rugged and lock in place more securely. But sometimes you need to connect an Ethercon on one end but you need a standard RJ45 on the other. In the past, that meant disassembling the Ethercon (and probably losing some of the parts…), but you no longer have the strain relief, and it’s a bit sketchy.


Now, with the new Converta-Shell cables, you simply twist off the locking housing and the end is a standard RJ45. The great part is, you still have the full strain relief and protection of a professional end. The cable is extremely high quality, fully-shielded and has a drain wire soldered to both ends. The cables lay out nicely and are fully ruggedized for the rigors of stage use. They available in lengths ranging from 3’ to 200’. 

PMA—Personal Monitor Amplifier

Let’s say you have a fancy new digital mixer that offers an iPhone app for mixing monitors. You think you saved a bunch of money not having to buy personal mixers or a monitor desk. But where do you plug the headphones in? Sure, there are some cheap headphone amps out there, but what if you want a good one but don’t want to spend a ton of money? Now you can get the new PMA. 


Based on the same high-power headphone amp from the PM16, the PMA is a box about the size of a DI with a mic stand threaded hole in the bottom. It has volume and pan knobs, a stereo/mono switch and headphone jack on the front, and a pair of XLR/TRS combo jacks on the back. In can be powered from a supplied wall wart of 9V battery. Best of all, it’s $80! They are also selling bundles with things like stand adapters, extension cables and earbuds.

Like other Elite Core products, it’s built like a tank, too. You’ll want a few of these, just to have I suspect.

HA4X4—Four Station Headphone Amp

Click to enlarge

So if you like the PMA, but want say, 4 of them, check out the HA4X4. It’s essentially 4 PMAs, in a single rack mount unit. For $120. That’s right, at a MAP of $120, you can power four headphone mixes with high-power, great sounding headphone amps. There are four sets of TRS stereo inputs on the back, and each headphone channel can select from any of the four mix inputs. They even included TRS Line outputs on each channel, so it can function as sort of a matrix router. 

Again, Elite Core has gone bundle-crazy and are offering this unit in a rack case, with a drawer, four headphone extension cables and four sets of ear buds for $500.

I can see using one or two of these for our Good Friday service where I have 6-8 vocalists upstage. They don’t move, so they don’t need to be wireless, but we’ve always had to figure out how to get the mixes from the console to the singers. Problem solved. Check another thing off the list for this year!



Many have been asking for a digital interface for the PM16 mixers. While we had hoped for a Dante or perhaps even MADI version, we got an ADAT for now. A lot of companies go with ADAT for their first digital interface because it’s common, easy to implement and doesn’t come with high licensing fees. It’s also pretty easy to get from many digital consoles to ADAT. The IMA-16A is a simple box with two ADAT ports (8 channels each) and an RJ-45 that goes straight to the mixers. It’s going to sell for about $700.

PowerCon Cables


Elite Core has also gotten into building PowerCon Cables. Available with both grey and blue (in and out) ends and Edison male and female configurations, they are using very high quality cable and Hubble Entertainment grade (all black) ends. You can get them in 14 and 12 gauge cables, and while not cheap, they are not much more expensive than you can build them yourself; and you don’t have to build them yourself. Or source the ends, which can be a pain. 

Procat Ethernet Cables


I’ve been building my own Ethernet cables for our M-48 mixers for years. And I’ve hated everyone I’ve built. The tactical cable we use is very hard to strip and terminate, and while it’s extremely rugged (we’ve run over them with the lift a time or two), they don’t really lay out or coil well. 

Again, Elite Core to the rescue with their new Procat Ethernet cables. Using rugged but flexible cable, these cable lay out well, coil like mic cables and are plenty durable. You can order them in custom lengths with any combination of Ethercon and/or RJ45 connectors on the ends. 

Like the PowerCon cables, they are not cheap per se. However, when you take into account the time it takes to make them, these are a good value. I plan on ordering some to replace some of our cables, especially the ones that we need to get to lay nicely. 

If you haven’t been by the Elite Core website lately, you should check it out. They have a ton of stuff available, and it’s a selection that might surprise you.


Today’s post is brought to you by Pacific Coast Entertainment. Pacific Coast Entertainment is the premier event production company servicing Southern California and the western states. PCE offers a complete line of Lighting, Audio, Video, and Staging equipment for rentals, sales and installs. Where old fashion customer service meets high tech solutions. PCE, your one stop tech resource.

Church Tech Weekly Episode 183: That, or Van Reads Trivia


Ever wondered how to get your broadcast mix to sound like the big Mega Church’s? Today we talk about that with three guys who really know what they’re doing. Even if you don’t have lots of gear, your audio for video mix can still sound great.


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.

CTW NAMM 2014 Coverage: Roland VR3-EX Video Mixer

A few years ago, Roland released the VR3 Mixer. This year, they announced the new version, the VR-3EX. Boasting HDMI inputs, some great new effects, and much improved audio mixing and routing, it maintains the ability to stream or record your video as well as giving you a standard HDMI output. With it’s built-in touch screen preview window, it’s a pretty cool little mixer, especially for the roughly $2,300 price point (even if it is SD-only).

Learn more at Roland’s VR-3EX page.

Gear Techs

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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