Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: November 2014 (Page 2 of 2)

It’s Called Mixing…


Photo courtesy of  mtneer_man .

Photo courtesy of mtneer_man.

Several years ago, my friend Dave posted a tweet about a few of the things he did during a service. It went something like this: “Push up the snare for the open. Duck the hat down for the verse. Push the guitar for the bridge. Drums up for the breakdown. It’s called mixing.” I’m paraphrasing and don’t remember any of the exact phrases except for the end one, “It’s called mixing.” I’m probably going to sound like an old guy here, but I sometimes fear we are losing the art of mixing. I see a lot of younger guys spending a lot of time tweaking all the plugins in the virtual rack instead of building and maintaining a great mix. In my day, I may not have walked uphill both ways to school in the snow, but we did actually have to plug in our plugins. And we were lucky if we had a couple of them. 

More than Effects

Mixing is so much more than stacking up virtual vintage compressors, EQs and tubes on every channel. Sure, those things are nice and I enjoy having a virtual rack full of compressors of many variations available when I mix. But those things are the icing on the cake, not the cake itself. If we don’t get things like gain structure and overall musical blend right from the start, plugins only make a bad situation worse. Expecting our plugins to mix for us is a little bit like expecting FinalCut Pro to edit a video for us. 

More than Set and Forget

I’ve watched more than one sound guy push the faders up, make some minor adjustments to the gain and EQ then stand there with their hands on the wrist rest, watching the service. They totally missed opportunities to add some dimension by pushing up the guitar between vocal phrases, or highlight a cool bass riff, or pop the drums out during a bridge. I’ve heard the lead vocal go from too quiet to too loud because they wouldn’t touch the fader. That’s not mixing; that’s guarding the console. 

More than The Sound Guy

I’ve long said that the guy or gal behind the mixer is every bit a part of the band. We can enhance the arrangement, add dynamics and make a mediocre band sound pretty good. By carefully crafting a mix then staying with it as the song unfolds, we have the opportunity to play our instrument in concert with the band. This is just one reason why sound engineers should know the music. When you know what’s coming up, you can prepare for it and make it better. Even when mixing unfamiliar material, having a working knowledge of music theory is most helpful. 

I got to thinking about this a few weeks ago when I found myself mixing for the Night of Illumination event in Nashville. Brady Toops was the artist, and while I’ve heard his music before, I’m not very familiar. The system was an old JBL club series PA and a Yamaha MG24. Not the best system I’ve worked on. With no compression and nothing but on-board effects, it was a lot of work. But it was fun! And by all accounts, it sounded great. Brady and his guitar player are great musicians, and starting with good source material is always welcome. And while the input count was low, I rarely stopped moving my hands. 

Without compressors, I had to resort to an ancient techniquemanually riding the vocal. I also rode both guitars and pushed the foot actuated tambourine thing up and down as needed. It was honestly some of the most fun I’ve had mixing in a long while. 

It’s easy to get into a mode where we rely on all our fancy digital tools to do most of the work for us. But I challenge you to turn off the plugins and just mix for a few weekends. Or at least pull up some tracks and try it. Getting back to the basics of building and maintaining a solid mix without assists will make you a better engineer. Then the plugins really do become the icing on the cake.

Holy Discontent


I’ve never been that big of a sports fan. I’ll watch the occasional football or basketball game, or maybe some beach volleyball, but I don’t follow it. I enjoy racing, but don’t follow that closely any more either. I’ve never understood the levels of fanaticism that goes along with some sports, especially high school football. Especially in Texas. No offense to any Texans, but I just don’t get it. So I ignored Friday Night Lights when it was on TV. 

But enough people told me I should watch it that I finally relented. Turns out it’s some of the most well-written TV I’ve ever seen. While football is there as a subtext, it’s a lot more about the complex character development in an excellent ensemble cast. I watched the whole series last year, and decided to go through it again this summer. Season 1 is very good, season 2 is a bit of a sophomore slump, but when you get to 3, 4 and 5, it picks up and just keeps getting better all the way to what is perhaps the best series wrap-up ever. 

The second time though I began to more clearly see the story arc the writers devised for the final three seasons. I didn’t catch it the first time, but it was so clear the second time through. From the first episode of season 3 to the final episode of season 5, the writers were building discontent into the lives of the Taylors so that when it was time to move on, they were ready. 

I think God does that for us as well. 

I’ve seen it happen in my life and I’ve seen it in others. We reach a point where we are just discontent with our current situation. We may not be unhappy, and it may not even be a bad situation. But we know there is something more out there calling us on. We most likely don’t know what it is; we simply know what we’re doing is not as fulfilling as it once was. 

Little things that never bothered us before suddenly take on more significance. Going to work is no longer as fun as it once was. The routine we have found ourselves in starts looking more and more like a rut. And a rut is really just a grave with the ends kicked out. We become frustrated with what is happening but feel somewhat powerless to do much about it. 

That is the time to really start paying attention to what God is doing in your life. 

Sometimes we want to run from the awkwardness that is holy discontent. But I would suggest we should bask in it. Sure, it’s uncomfortable, and we may find ourselves losing sleep. But the times of greatest discontent in my life have preceded the times of greatest change; and that change was always for the better. 

I’m just not sure I would have been as willing to change had I not been so discontent, however. You see, we often find ourselves in a really comfortable place. The job is good, the schools are good, the family is good; life is good. But it’s not great. And God is calling us to great. 

There is a lot of inertia in good. Most of us are resistant to change and would rather stay where things are predictable and safe than head out on a great adventure. So God uses holy discontent to prepare us to move out of the comfort zone. Having just come through a period of discontent, I can tell you it’s not easy, but it’s good. I know many people who are struggling with feeling like something is not quite right, and I want to encourage you to hang in there and wait for God to reveal what is next. Lean into this season and trust that God will bring about the change He desires. It will be worth it in the end. 

Oh, and not to give anything away, but if you haven’t watched Friday Night Lights, you really should. When you get all the way to the end, you’ll see one of the best edits in the history of TV. When you see it, you’ll know what I’m talking about. And if you have seen it, no spoilers!

Roland

Today’s post is brought to you by Ansmann, USA, 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. 

CTA Review: Pathway DMX Ultimate Converter

It may seem like DMX is the universal language of lighting control. And for just about any fixture or dimmer made in the last 10 years or so, it is. But there is still a pretty large installed base of older dimmers and probably a few fixtures that speak another language. A few months ago, I ran into such a system. The church was built in the 70s and had an old dimming system that still worked, and that they couldn’t afford to replace just yet. But they needed a new console, so we installed a Jands Vista S1. That worked just great with the new LED lights we installed on stage, but when it came time to tie into the existing dimming system, I discovered it wasn’t DMX, but AMX. 

Enter the Rosetta Stone

It was just a few months earlier that we met with the Pathway Connectivity rep. We were looking mostly at their DMX over Cat 5 systems, which are excellent. Almost in passing, he mentioned that the also had a translator box that would convert DMX to just about anything else. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but that conversation came back when I saw that 4-pin XLR starring back at me. 

Van and I have long been asking for a Rosetta stone for the audio world; one that would take in any digital format and spit out any other digital format. Aside from licensing, it doesn’t seem that hard. But what do I know. While that doesn’t really exist in the audio world—save perhaps for the KlarkTeknik DN9652—it does in the lighting control world. 

Protocols For Days

The DMX Ultimate Converter will convert DMX into the following formats:

  • DMX512/1990 and DMX512-A
  • AMX192 – all versions
  • Kliegl( K96 & K100)
  • Colortran (CMX & D192)
  • Electro Controls (ECMux)
  • Micro-Plex 1 & 2 (NSI and Lightronics/Leprecon)
  • Strand D54
  • AVAB – 240 & 252 channels

The back of the unit provides several 5- and 4-pin output connectors for the various protocols, as well as a DMX through. The front of the device has an easy to read LCD menu and a set of controls for selecting the various modes. After a brief skim through the manual, it’s quick and easy to get what you want out of it. 

Helpful Tools, To Boot

It is pretty much a plug and play operation, but they have thoughtfully included several tools that will make your life a lot easier. There is an Analyze Input mode that will show you the values of your incoming DMX signal so you can be sure you are sending what you think you are sending. This is especially helpful when setting up the patch for a legacy system. 

The tool I found the most helpful is the output test. This enables you to send level information individually to the channels of the output. So if you are working in an old dimming system, it’s much easier to figure out which lights are patched to which dimmers. By scrolling through the outputs, and lighting them up one at a time, you can easily construct a light plot that can be written into your new console. 

Sometimes the older dimmers and protocols don’t work at the same speed of modern gear, and to that end, you can adjust the timings to keep the buffers from overflowing. The instructions provided give you a clear procedure for making adjustments if needed. In my case, I simply plugged DMX in and out (this lived inline on the way to the DMX distro at the stage) and AMX out. I selected a DMX to AMX conversion and started turning lights on. It was surprisingly simple. A lockout function is also provided so no one accidentally adjusts the settings once everything is locked in and working. 

I spent a fair amount of time testing the system for lag or dimming curve anomalies and found none. When I moved a fader on the console, the lights responded immediately. If I programmed a long fade, the lights dimmed properly without any stutter. I couldn’t test this on all protocols, but for AMX, it worked great.

Saving the Day

When I first saw that 4-pin AMX connector, my heart sank. Initially I thought our installation was doomed. But when this little box showed up, it truly saved the day. After several months of continuous operation, I’ve not received a single call from the church that they’ve had any issues with it. While it’s not cheap—it lists for $1595—it’s well worth it as we didn’t have to spend tens of thousands on new dimming or all new LED fixtures. At least not yet. This isn’t a box everyone needs, but when you do need it, it saves your bacon.

“Gear

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.

Can We Really Please Everyone?


Photo courtesy of  DaveBleasdale .

Photo courtesy of DaveBleasdale.

The other day I was involved in a conversation in which someone said, “If someone leaves because it’s too loud, we haven’t done our job properly.” Now, I’ve heard this philosophy espoused on more than one occasion, and you probably have, too. It’s a commonly held concept that as tech people we should be invisible and no one should really notice we’re there. And I agree with that, at least in principle. We don’t want to call attention to ourselves, or the technology; we want to call attention to Jesus. I’m on board with that. 

However, does that really mean that if someone leaves because it’s too loud—for them—that we’ve failed? I’m not sure I buy into that concept. 

We have to establish our philosophy of worship; and that includes volume. I get so sick of the endless volume debate, and especially pastors throwing their tech guys under the bus because it’s too loud; especially when those same pastors have never established an explainable philosophy of worship. And by explainable, I mean that someone could explain it to a mad congregant who thinks it’s too loud. 

Pastors, if you’ve never sat down with your music and tech teams and established a good set of guidelines for how loud worship should be, you have no right to complain about the volume or send angry people back to the tech booth to complain. And by the way, this policy should be written down. And it shouldn’t be a single number; e.g.. “Worship shall be no louder than 90 dB.” You have a lot more work to do if you think that’s all it is.

Some congregations like it loud; and that’s OK. It’s also OK if some people are bothered by that. I know some churches who believe that during musical worship, they are celebrating the work God has done on earth through Jesus, and that celebration should be loud. To that I say, Amen! Now, there are other churches who prefer a more subtle, laid back and contemplative approach to worship, with more space for quiet and silence. To that I say, Amen!

I honestly have no problem with either approach, and I enjoy both at times. What I do have a problem with is a person who prefers quiet worship going to a church that worships loud and complains the whole time. Just because someone doesn’t like a particular expression of worship doesn’t mean it’s wrong, or that the tech guys have failed. 

You really can’t please everybody and it’s foolish to try. If your philosophy of worship is to not offend anyone, you will either end up offending everyone, or just doing a really poor job. It’s much like a football team that is playing to not lose; they rarely win. You have to decide who you want to be as a church and go all in with it. To do anything less is to squander the gift of uniqueness that God has given your congregation. 

Figuring out who you are as a church takes a lot of work and prayer, but the payoff is so worth it. When people know what you stand for, they will lock arms with you and work tirelessly to advance the cause. But when you are wishy-washy and can’t articulate why you do what you do, people will come and go without any real buy in. Figure out who you are, and own it. 

Well, at this point, I’ve probably offended more than a few people. But that’s OK. You can’t please everyone…

“Gear

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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