Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: February 2015 (Page 2 of 2)

Because Other Churches Do…

Photo courtesy of  Medill News21

Photo courtesy of Medill News21

Recently I received an email that is not at all atypical. A reader was wanting to add a position to their weekend team and wondered if I could provide them any help with a position description. The key phrase in this query was, “as I’ve seen other churches do…” That sent my mind in all sorts of directions. And as often happens, it’s going to come out as a post. 

Know the Why Before You Add People

Spoiler alert, “Because other churches do it” is not an acceptable answer. The position in question was a weekend service producer. Honestly, I’m not much help there because while we did have that position at Coast Hills, we got rid of it. Twice. Ostensibly, the position was supposed to help keep rehearsal on track, watch for transition trouble, keep the stage clean and lead the pre-service walk through. Afterwards, they would run the debrief and see to any changes.

In reality, most of us on the team were already really good at keeping the rehearsal moving, and as we did the same basic service every week, there were no transitions to watch. Any of the staff could (and did) lead the pre- and post-service meetings, and there were rarely any changes. So the position was largely a figurehead, and the people doing it just ended up being frustrated. 

Now, I’m not against service producers; we just didn’t need one. Some churches do. But if you can’t articulate what tasks need to be done that aren’t getting done—and would be accomplished by this new person—don’t add a person. If you have some general ideas bus need help organizing them, by all means, ask others for similar job descriptions. But if you have no idea what the person would do, think long and hard before you start asking someone to give up their weekend to sit around and watch rehearsal. 

Not All Churches Are The Same

This is a big one for me. I hear from so many people who want to do things the way the church at that last super-groovy conference did it. For example, I’m heading out to Seeds next month, and while I love the guys at COTM, they have very different production and staffing needs than most churches. It doesn’t make them better; it makes them different. Not all churches need to staff and produce like COTM. Or Northpoint. Or Saddleback. Or whoever the hot church of the month is. 

Sure, you can learn from them, steal ideas and modify them to suit your organization. But don’t think that because the big church has a given weekend position that you also need it in order to be successful. In fact, that’s one of the things I love about the guys at COTM. They’ll say at Seeds, “This is just what we do. It doesn’t mean you should do it, too. In fact, you maybe shouldn’t.” Two years ago, Whitney George said, “People are always coming here asking us how we do things. That’s the wrong question. They need to ask why we do things. That is much more beneficial to you.” 

Always ask the why questions first. Why do we need this new position? Why should we consider changing this to that? Why does Super Mega Church do this, and what can we learn from it? Once those questions are clearly articulated, you’re in a much better position to ask for help with specifics. 

So, to answer the original question, can I help with details on a weekend service producer? Not really. In the context of the churches I’ve been a part of, it was an unnecessary position and I lobbied for cutting it years before we did. But, that’s just me…


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Mic’ing Easter, Pt. 2

Last time, we talked about some of the things you’ll run into for the big Good Friday/Easter weekend; specifically, vocal and instrument mic’s. And that’s all good, but what happens when you have more things to mic than you have mic’s?

What To Do When You Run Out Of Mic’s?

Easter is a great time to rent mic’s. It’s hard to justify the purchase of a big mic locker if you only use some of the specialty mic’s once or twice a year. Microphones are one of the cheapest pieces of audio gear to rent, and most large cities have a couple of production houses that have a good selection. Don’t be afraid to go outside your city if you need to, either. Mic’s aren’t heavy or expensive to ship, so you can get them from almost anywhere. 

If you are unsure what mic to use for a particular purpose, ask your rental house, or contact an engineer at a nearby church known for good sound. Keep in mind that everyone has opinions on the best mic for a given purpose, and you may have to compromise based on budget and availability. 

The Wireless Option

Often, people will want to try to put everything on a wireless mic for big productions. I generally advise against this, for several reasons. First, wireless is hard. You have to frequency coordinate everything, deal with batteries and hope your antenna distribution system is up for the task. Second, they simply don’t sound as good as a wired mic. Instruments and sources that don’t move, have no real reason to be wireless. 

For big events, we often switch our worship leaders from the usual wireless mic’s we use for services to wired just to give us a little more security—and to accommodate the additional vocalists we always end up with. The rule of thumb should be, if you can wire it, do.

Mic’s Can Make The Difference

It’s really amazing how much difference the right mic can make, even if the sound system is less than ideal. On the other hand, if the sound system is good, a poor mic choice will produce harsh and brash results or make it sound like there is a blanket over the speakers. I’ve watched many a production and thought, “Oh that voice would sound so much better on a different mic.” 

And it is important to note that we’re not talking about “good” mic’s and “bad” mic’s here; we’re talking about the right mic for a particular source. I’ve personally replaced $2,000 worth of mic’s with ones that cost less than $400 on our Leslie cabinet and the resultant sound improvement was dramatic. It’s not that the expensive mic’s are bad; they were simply not the best choice for that instrument. The cost of the mic is a surprisingly unhelpful indicator of whether or not it will be suitable for a source. 

It’s almost always going to come down to experimentation and a willingness to try something that doesn’t seem like it would work. My current favorite snare mic is marketed as a tom mic; but I love it on the snare. We tried it based on the recommendation from a friend who though, “I wonder what this would sound like here?” 

Preparation is Key

Of course, Easter Sunday morning is not the time to be trying out new mic’s or looking to rent them. You must start working on this now. By the time you read this, we’ll be less than two months from Easter. There is no better time to start figuring out what you will have to put mic’s on, and which mic’s to use. And remember, this is the fun part of our job!

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Mic’ing Easter, Pt. 1

Now that we’ve collectively caught our breath from the Christmas season, it’s time to look forward to the next big event on the Church calendar; Easter! For some, the Easter weekend won’t be as intense as Christmas. For others, it will be more so. During my time at my last church, we did two no-spoken-word Good Friday services, followed by five Easter services over the weekend. While the Easter weekend services are similar to our normal—except we add a few extra band members—Good Friday brings out the whole team and then some. 

Many church audio guys will find themselves having to mic different or unusual instruments for Easter, something is both a challenge and a lot of fun. Like any mic’ing situation, it’s important to match the right mic to the source. There are some who eschew the process of proper mic selection and just throw any old mic up on stage. While that’s one approach, I’ve found that carefully selecting each mic and getting it positioned correctly will result in a far more natural sound, require a lot less EQ and generally blend better with the rest of the mix. 

Not All Vocals Are The Same

Many churches stock only one type of vocal mic. While this makes mic selection easy (or does it?), it may not lead to the best sound. If you are working with your regular vocal team members, you should have a pretty good idea of what they sound like. Taking a little time to experiment with different mic’s often leads to dramatic improvements in the sound for each vocalist, which in turn creates a better vocal blend. 

For Easter, if special singers will be bought in, I’m not above trying a few different mic’s on the singer until I hit on one that sounds good. How do you know what sounds good? Flatten the EQ (save for perhaps the high pass filter) and have them sing. If you’re close with no EQ, you have a winner. If your EQ curve looks like a roller coaster at Six Flags, you may want to consider trying a different capsule.

We have several regular worship leaders we have played with different capsules for each. Sometimes our first guess is the right one; other times a mic we would never have suspected would work turns out to be the winner. Don’t be afraid to try things; the worst that happens is you switch it back.

Many Horns and Stringed Instruments

I don’t know what it is about Easter that brings out the orchestras, but we often find ourselves mic’ing string sections, horns and woodwinds. And while it’s true that any mic on a violin will get sound, using a purpose-built mic will not only be easier to set up—they typically clip on the bridge and require no stand—they will sound a lot better to boot.

While most of the time we use dynamic mic’s on stage, condensers rule the orchestra pit. Several manufacturers make either instrument-specific mic’s or ones that have interchangeable mounts for various instruments. For violins, violas, clarinets and oboes, we typically use small condenser mic’s with a flat frequency response. 

Getting mic’s close to the source is another trick for better sound. If you find yourself running short of violin mic’s, you might try using a headset mic on the player. The capsule ends up pretty close to the ear of the player, which is a great spot to hear the instrument. Clip-on lavaliere mic’s also work well in a pinch. 

Once you get into cellos and basses, the options open up quite a bit. Larger diaphragm condensers and even dynamic mic’s often work well with those two. But don’t rule out small clip on mic’s, however. Horns are often best mic’d with dynamic elements, if only to handle the sound pressure levels. But again, we are seeing a new crop of purpose-built condenser mic’s that sound great on horns of all shapes and sizes, often with custom mounts that clip right on the bell. 

Again, any mic will “work,” but getting a great orchestra sound is a lot easier with the right mic’s. Of course it helps to have great players and instruments, too.

So that covers some of the scenarios you’re likely to face. What do you do when you run out of mic’s or are asked to make everything wireless for that big weekend? We’ll tackle that next time.


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If You’re Going to Help, Help

Photo courtesy of  Betsy Weber

Photo courtesy of Betsy Weber

I saw some posts last week on the old inter-webs that made me think back to an experience I had in High School. I loved wood shop class; in fact, I took the required one, then went on to take all the other elective classes offered. I took to working with wood like a fish to water. I would even spend study halls in the shop working on my building projects. One day, a friend of mine was struggling with his project. He really didn’t like shop, and just wanted to get it done. He asked me for help.

I said yes because I almost always say yes, even when I don’t want to help. And I really didn’t want to help; I wanted to work on my project. So I rather half-heartedly stood near him and watched him work. When it came time for glue up, things started going…badly. I ignored it and kept saying, “Yeah, yeah, that’s fine.” But it wasn’t fine. About then, our teacher, Mr. Brown, happened by, saw what was happening and put the brakes on. After correcting my friends mistakes, he looked at me and said, “Mike, if you’re going to help, help. But don’t set him back.” In my case, I knew better. I just didn’t really care enough about his finished product to fix the problems. 

I’ve also seen another kind of “help” throughout my career. It’s what I like to call, “well intentioned, but terribly uninformed” help. And that was what I saw in that post last week. Someone posted pictures of a new speaker “system” they installed and it took about 3 seconds to realize that it was not going to sound good and was likely dangerous. This person used speakers that weren’t rated for flying over head and flew them over head. They crossed the speakers in the middle and the subs fired in opposite directions. All I could think of was Mr. Brown saying, “If you’re going to help, help. But don’t set them back.” 

Here we have $3,000-4,000 of the congregations tithes and offerings hanging the air, unsafely and in a manner that has no chance of working well. Now clearly, the person who installed this wants to help their church. Unfortunately, they don’t even know why this install is a bad idea. So ultimately, it’s not helpful at all. Not only will this not sound good, at some point the church will have to bring something else in and do it again, spending more of the congregation’s money. 

I’ve Been There

I know you may think that because I worked at a larger church with larger budgets that I don’t understand the struggle small churches face. But that’s not true. Yes, I spent 5 years at a larger church with a large-ish budget. However, I also spent 20 years at small churches with small to no budgets. Most of my career has been taking out systems like the one previously described to put in something that actually does work. So I get it. But here’s the thing: 

Churches that never seem to have the money to do things right the first time always find money to do it again. And again. 

And I get it that you want to save your church money by doing things yourself. How hard could it be, anyway? But when you install something improperly, unsafely or that just doesn’t work, you’re not saving the church any money. It’s all going to have to come back down. Buying something twice is always more expensive that buying it once. That’s just how math works. 

There is No Shame in Asking for Help

Most of the best technical directors I know—and I know a lot of them—don’t do system design by themselves. Very few are good at it; and these are guys with years of experience at large churches. When it comes time to install a new system, they hire a company that does that stuff well. Sure, they have ideas and input, but they trust the experts. This is even more critical at small churches. Yes, it may cost as much to design and install a small system as the components themselves. But, it will be safe and sound good from day one. That actually is help. 

So let’s be champions for doing things right the first time. That doesn’t mean horrifically expensive; just do it right, once. If you’re going to help, make sure you’re actually helping.

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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