Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: January 2015 (Page 1 of 2)

CTW NAMM 2015 Coverage: Shure PSM 300 & PSM 900HW

Shure has been busy updating the venerable PSM line, and recently introduced the hybrid digital PSM 300. With two available body packs and an attractive price point, it’s a great solution. Also introduced is the new hardwired version, the PSM 900HW. For more information, visit their website.


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. 

CTW NAMM 2015 Coverage: Shure Motiv Line

Shure has come out with a cool line of portable mic’s for use with iOS and Android devices, or any computer with a USB port. These small, high quality mic’s are great for field recording, podcasting, or capturing audio on a video. For more information, visit their website. 

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.

CTW NAMM 2015 Coverage: Ansmann Max E Pro Batteries

Ansmann has been at the forefront of rechargeable batteries for a long time. And while their 2850 mAH AA batteries offer tremendous run time, they tend to need replacing after 200 or so cycles. The new Max E Pro cells offer a good 8 hours of run time plus the capacity to be recharged up to 2000 times! For more information, visit their website.


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.

LED Fixtures Have Arrived

Almost every fixture in this shot is powered by LEDs...

Almost every fixture in this shot is powered by LEDs…

I remember attending LDI, the big lighting trade show in Vegas, a few years back. We re-named it LEDI because there were LED lights everywhere. That was probably 3 years ago. Back then, LEDs were still either good and really expensive or not good and cheap. Back then, most of the fixtures were simple RGB fixtures that had questionable color mixing, and middling output. White light was typically mixed from RGB and didn’t look good at all. My how things have changed. 

Enter Tri- and Quad-Color LEDs

One of the biggest improvements in LED fixtures is the advent of Tri-Color and Quad-Color LEDs. These fixtures mix the color before it leaves the lens so you don’t get the “dots of color” look from older fixtures. The wattage of LEDs has also gone up. A few years ago, .5-1 Watt LEDs were common, and they got more brightness by putting a lot of them in a fixture. Today, we see higher power quad LEDs; 5W, 10W, 15W and higher are pretty standard.

The prices have also come down. As production has ramped up, costs have dropped. Competition is also up. While there are dozens of cheap, Chinese knockoff brands (most of which I’d stay away from…), all the major manufacturers have been developing their LED lineup. That means there are almost always many options for a particular situation, which is good news. 

Moving Head LEDs

Three years ago, VariLite introduced an LED-powered VL fixture. At the time, it was really expensive, and while it looked good, it wasn’t nearly as bright as their arc-sourced fixtures. All that’s changed. Every major manufacturer now has LED sourced moving heads that are almost as good, and in some cases better than their arc-sourced versions. Because the power and heat loads are lower, the heads are smaller and lighter, which means their faster than ever. And again, costs are coming down to the point where they’re very reasonable.

That all applies to profile-type fixtures, but there are also a ton of simpler moving head LED wash fixtures out there that are really cool. Again, we’re seeing brightness, speed, color mixing and costs that were unheard of just a few years ago. I love putting these into lighting rigs now; they add so much visually, but so little from a budget standpoint. 

And Now, White LEDs

Even a year ago, I wouldn’t have thought we would be moving away from tungsten-sourced ellipsoidal and Fresnel fixtures. But again, here we are. Chauvet, Strand, ETC, Altman and others all have really good white ellipsoidal spots now. So good, in fact, that we haven’t put a single tungsten fixture in a church in over a year. Some of these use a single, custom warm white LED, others mix as many as seven colors to get a nice white. I was unprepared to be impressed with them, but after installing quite a few, I’m pretty much done with changing bulbs. 

These are about the only fixtures that still carry a price premium. While LED ellipsoidal fixtures are still more expensive, they offer great benefits such as not having to change bulbs, lower power consumption, less heat output and a more consistent light field. 

We are in the process of setting up our new warehouse, and when we’re done, we will be bringing in as many white LED fixtures as we can find and shooting them out. Stay tuned for that report. We also plan on doing the same thing for various PAR and wash LED fixtures. I hope to be able to get a bunch of those tests done this spring. 

Now, I’m sure there are some lighting purists out there who will argue that LED fixtures don’t yet have the dimming curve down, or red shift, or some other highly technical parameter that they long for. That may be true. But for the vast majority of applications, LED lights are good enough; more than good enough in most cases. They offer an excellent value proposition and often outperform non-LED fixtures. At long last, I think we can safely say the LED revolution we’ve been waiting for is here.

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.

Buy with Purpose

Though I’ve been doing this for a long time, now that I’m in the business of helping churches with their technology, I see a lot of depressing things. I’ve lost count of how many churches I walk into and see stacks of mismatched gear lying around, some of it not even connected. When I ask about it, the answers vary, but usually center around the theme of, “Yeah, that didn’t work like we hoped.” I’ve seen stacks of wireless mic receivers, their antennas touching and ask how they work. “Some work OK, but we get a lot of noise, dropouts and some don’t work at all.” Many of these tech booths are just a mess and to be honest, it breaks my heart. I see a lot of money wasted, visions not fulfilled and operator frustration. And most times, it could be avoided.

Beware the Internet

The internet has been a boon to the tech community. The relationships we have not with each other is fantastic and would not have been possible without the old inter-webs. The internet has made it possible for people to learn about products and processes they would otherwise have had a hard time with. It’s even possible to get advice from others. But, and this is a big but, not all the advice is good advice. In fact, I see a lot of really bad advice out there. Well-meaning people, with a very limited scope of knowledge want to help, but often end up steering people in the wrong direction. 

It’s also possible to simply go online and buy gear. Heck, Amazon will just about anything to you in 2 days for free. Again, unless you know what you are buying, you can make a lot of mistakes. Wireless mic’s are an easy example. I’ve found so many churches with wireless mic’s that don’t work because they just bought whatever they found online and didn’t bother to coordinate frequencies. My friend Karl Winkler actually took a support call from a church that didn’t even know the frequencies could be changed; they just used whatever the mic powered up with—until they bought another one on the same frequency. 

I’ve been telling people for years, get a plan together before you start buying stuff. Now that I’m in the business of taking out all this gear that doesn’t work, my resolve for spreading that message is stronger than ever. Don’t waste your church’s money; get some profession help first.

It’s Not More Expensive to Hire Professionals

A lot of churches buy their own gear because they think they are saving money. And maybe they are up front. However, in a few years when the professional is finally called in and all the mismatched, non-working and ineffective gear is taken away and replaced, how much did you really save? Here’s a secret, simple formula for you; 2x > 1x. That is, buying something twice is more expensive than buying something once. I hate telling churches, “Oh, I wish you had called us first before you bought that…” And I hate it not because we lost a sale; I hate it because I see money wasted. Please, call someone first! 

There are dozens of great integrators all over the country who make it their business to stay on top of trends in technology and can give excellent buying advice that I almost guarantee will save you money in the long run. Moreover, you’ll get better results with less frustration. 

This topic has been top of mind for me lately as we’ve been out visiting a lot of churches and I keep seeing the same things over and over. Now that we’re in the new year, with new budgets and everyone is itchy to start buying equipment, do yourself and your church a favor and get some professional advice before running out and buying stuff. It really will cost you less and deliver better results in the long run, I promise!


Today’s post is brought to you by Digital Audio Labs, The Livemix monitor system is simple for volunteer performers to use while providing professional tools for great mixes. Featuring outstanding sound quality, color touchscreen with custom naming, 24 channels with effects, remote mixing, intercom, ambient mics, and dedicated ME knob, Livemix provides more and costs much less than competing systems.

Backing Up Production Machines

Photo courtesy of  Jaymis Loveday

Photo courtesy of Jaymis Loveday

Last time we talked about my thoughts on upgrading (or not upgrading) your production machines. Today, I’m going to talk about creating a safety net for them. Again, these are lessons I’ve learned over 25+ years of managing mission critical systems, so learn from my mistakes. 

Maintain a Current Clone of Your Drives

Hard drives will fail. Usually at the worst time. Like Palm Sunday morning. Yeah, that happened. Even SSDs, which are proving to be pretty dang reliable, will fail at some point. The only way to get back up and running quickly is with a full image backup. For all my mission critical production machines, I had a small hard drive with a full, bootable clone backup on it. I used to have several to manage, but after a while, I just bought a 1 TB pocket drive and partitioned it to back up 2-3 machines on one drive.

On the Mac, you can use a program like Super Duper for my favorite, Carbon Copy Cloner to keep an exact copy of the drive. On Windows, you can use Ghost or a similar program. If the main drive fails, or an upgrade breaks stuff, you can boot from the backup, and effectively unwind time. Any time I made significant changes to the machine, I would update the clone, but only after I verified the changes worked properly. If an update went south, we broke out the backup and rolled it back. 

For those of use that find Macs make better PCs than PCs do and need to backup your Bootcamp partitions, my IT guy told me about a cool program called WinClone. To use it, boot into the Mac OS, and run WinClone. It will compress and clone your Windows “drive” and save it as a file to another drive. Should Windows go south, you can simply restore the Windows drive and it will be like nothing never happened.

This is great for the OS and applications, but you can easily lose files like ProPresenter songs, for example. But I have a solution for that, too.

Use Dropbox for Libraries.

I set up a Dropbox account for my important show files. I wrote a full guide to this in an article called Back It Up: Presentation, but the gist is that you store (or maintain a cloned copy) of your show files, songs, templates and maybe media in a Dropbox folder that is automatically updated to the cloud. If you have to blow the drive out and restore from a clone, Dropbox will put your library files back. I don’t think I would ever run a production machine without Dropbox.

Maintain Incremental Backups

I really like Time Machine, especially lately. It’s a lot lower overhead than it once was and can really save your bacon if you delete or mess up a file. But, don’t run Time Machine backups during the service. Time Machine can be processor and disk intensive, and it’s highly possible that it will mess up your media playback. I prefer to keep Time Machine on an external drive so I can simply leave the drive turned off during the service. If you simply must have it on an internal drive, use Time Machine Scheduler to avoid service times. But honestly, an external drive is easier. Time Machine won’t even try to back up if the drive isn’t there, so it’s foolproof.

Clone Before Updating

Before we upgraded our production machines to a new OS, I went through and cloned all the drives. I did this so we could go back if something didn’t work. It’s a whole lot easier to simply restore the clone than it is to downgrade the OS, then Time Machine everything back. When it comes to upgrading, clones are your best friend. And honestly, drives are cheap enough now, you can easily maintain several versions of the clone if you want. Do one right before you update, then one right after. Small pocket drives from WD and Seagate are perfect for this task. At under $100 each, you can afford to have several for each machine. 

Hopefully this has helpful for you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to update some of my backups…

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.

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