We’re still on the road answering your questions. This week, it’s mixing in stereo, creating space in a mono mix, favorite movies, podcasts and food and maybe a few surprises.
We’re still on the road answering your questions. This week, it’s mixing in stereo, creating space in a mono mix, favorite movies, podcasts and food and maybe a few surprises.
The new DLive consoles represent the first in the joint development process between Digico and A-H. These new live consoles have some great features as well as an incredible price point. To learn more, visit the A-H DLive website.
One of my favorite activities is getting to meet with younger TDs from time to time. When someone asks me if I would be willing to have lunch or coffee with them, I always try to say yes—though it may take a few weeks to get it scheduled. Sometimes during those meetings, I will get asked, “What things should I be doing to be a better TD?”
I think there are a lot of things we can do to be better, but one of the biggest is very simple: Be prepared.
Remember the Boy Scouts
I never made it to Scouts, but I was a Cub Scout and a Weebelo (which is a really terrible name for a group of boys if you ask me). But I did go on more than one campout and earned quite a few merit badges. The phrase we heard over and over again was, “Be Prepared.” It’s good advice, especially for technical artists.
Prepared for What?
The next obvious question is what should we be prepared for? Here’s a short list. The stage should be completely set and line-checked before the band arrives. If your band or worship leader is known for throwing extra inputs at you at the last minute, you should have some extra lines out ready to rock before the band arrives. It means having the wireless mic’s and IEM packs ready with batteries in place, checked and working, before the band arrives. The console should be set up and patched with all your routing set and ready before the band arrives. See a pattern here?
You should know what songs you’re doing this weekend, and the lyric files should be built and ready in ProPresenter (or whatever you’re using). Sermon notes should be ready before the service starts. The pastor’s wireless pack or mic should be tested and ready to go before he gets there and straps it on.
You should have extra batteries ready to go, close to the stage in case one goes down. A spare mic is never a bad idea, either. It should be powered up, patched, checked and ready to go before service starts. Any videos that will be played should be played all the way through before the service starts. All the cameras should be powered up, running and working properly before the service starts. Same with the lights. If you program your lighting in cue lists, run through the entire cue list prior to doors to make sure you don’t have any weird cues or transitions.
Basically, you should be as ready as humanly possible before everyone gets there. And that means one thing:
First In, Last Out
As part of the tech team, you are most likely to be the first one there. I usually arrive a solid 1-2 hours before the band shows up every weekend. We could do it in an hour, but I like the extra time to double-check things, fix any problems and just hang with the team. It also allows troubleshooting time in case something doesn’t work as expected. Having that extra time saved us more than once; and the best part was no one else ever knew there was even a problem.
Finally, I think it behooves us as technical artists to know the songs every bit as well as the band. So much of what we do is tied to the music, and we have to know lyric cues, instrument solos, overall feel and vibe and how to mix it. It bugged me to no end when my engineers showed up clearly not having listened to the music. That didn’t happen more than once or twice.
So there you go. A quick way to get better. Be prepared. You’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll look to your team and to your boss.
We’re still on the road answering your questions! This week, we talk about how to practice as an FOH engineer, the difference between manned and unmanned cameras, which conferences to attend, using effects and debate the Roland M5000 vs. DiGiCo SD9 and S21.
Last week was the big InfoComm show. As I wandered the show floor, I kept having the same conversation with different guys I met up with. It went something like this:
Me: “Hey! How’s it going?”
Them: “Great! You?”
M: “Great! How’s the show? Seen anything exciting?”
T: “It’s a good show, some good stuff, nothing too thrilling.”
M: “Yeah, me too.”
I even took the conversation further and asked a few people why they thought it was we weren’t seeing anything too exciting. I wondered aloud if I was just getting old and cynical and nothing really excited me anymore, or if there really isn’t that much new and exciting coming out lately. My friend Mark Hanna summed it up well, “It’s a little bit of both, I think.”
In My Day…
I remember just a few years ago when Van and I started doing trade show videos, we would shoot 20-30 videos each show. And that was 3-4 shows a years. Imagine, there were at least two years when we shot a solid 75 new product videos! In the last five shows, I haven’t shot 20 videos total. Again, it’s hard to tell if there just isn’t much new or if I just don’t care as much anymore.
Part of it I’m sure is sitting through literally hundreds of dog and pony shows with manufacturers telling me how great, exciting and new their products are. Each new product promises better this and better that, and it will make my job easier than ever before. Problem is, I’m not sure it’s true.
Gear is Nice, but Give Me Skill
More and more, I am convinced—and I’ve written about this before—that it’s not about the gear. Thinking that some new console will finally make it easy for volunteers who have no prior mixing experience to mix like a pro is folly. To hope we’ve found a PA that is so good we don’t need to care about room acoustics is amusing. 4K video cameras and a switcher will not magically make your IMAG look as good as the Passion Conference.
The Last 10%
To some extent, I wonder if we’ve reached the last 10% of innovation in AVL systems. One of the guys I work with suggested that it seems we’re seeing more combining and re-packaging of technology. Take this thing, that other thing and some other thing over there and combine it into one and voila! It’s amazing! But really, we’ve had all that before, it’s just a re-packaging. And that’s fine, it’s just not groundbreaking.
To be sure, this happens in most mature product markets. Lately, as my love for coffee and espresso has become an obsession, I’ve been researching espresso machines. The machine I bought was released in the early 2000s. There have been no major advances in the art of espresso making in quite a while. Unless you count the little pod machines that don’t really make good espresso anyway. But when it comes to classic espresso—14 grams of finely ground coffee pressed to 30 pounds, extracted at 195 degrees between 8-10 bar for 25 seconds—there isn’t much new.
When I look at mixing consoles, video switchers and cameras, there’s not much “new.” There are refining of techniques, subtle enhancements and slightly better ways of doing things (and definitely lower costs), but few groundbreaking advances. Again, this is not a knock on our industry, it’s a sign it’s maturing.
Like I said, what we really need is a way to improve the skill set of our operators, not new equipment to operate. If we can figure out a way to package that and sell it for a lower price, we’re on to something.
What do you think? Are you gear fatigued? Or am I just old an cynical?
I read a post a while back on Phil Cooke’s blog that struck a chord with me. You can read the post here, and if you look at the date, you will get some idea of how long ideas sometimes sit in my queue before I get to writing the post. They say the best comedy is funny because there’s so much truth to it. I think the same is true of really good blog posts; it’s powerful because it’s true.
Complaining Doesn’t Help
I had a friend who, when asked how he was would say, “Can’t complain. Doesn’t do any good anyway.” I always thought that was interesting. He really did try not to complain much, and I think it was because he realized it didn’t really help. According to Phil’s post, 78% of the people who were fired from their jobs last year were fired not because they weren’t good at what they did, it was because they couldn’t get along with others. He asks a poignant question; “How much time do you spend complaining about a problem to people who can’t solve it?”
When You’re a Hammer, Everything Looks Like a Nail
Technical artists are problem solvers. We come up with creative solutions to all kinds of crazy things. Sometimes we’re figuring out how to execute a creative service idea and sometimes we’re figuring out how to cram a 40 input band into a 32 input board. With no extra budget.
But the thing that can be tricky is that after a while, everything starts to look like a problem. When something isn’t done the way we’d like to see it, it’s a problem. When someone has an idea for a service opener, it’s a problem. When we don’t get the budget we think we need or deserve, it’s a problem.
And the problem with problems is that we tend to focus on them instead of a solutions.
You Solve Problems
As you consider all the things that are “problems” at your church, remember that you are a problem solver. Instead of simply complaining about it, come up with a solution. Your solution may not be implemented, but at least you were working on helping instead of simply complaining. We can either complain a lot and never see anything get better, or we can come up with a solution.
As a boss, one of the things that was really frustrating to me was when my reports simply complained about how hard their job was. On the other hand, when one of my guys came into my office and said, “Here’s a problem we’re having, and here is how I propose we solve it,” he was my hero. After a few of those interactions, it become, “This was a problem, and I already fixed it.” Those are guys I keep around. The complainer? Not so much.
So rather than complaining to people at your level on the org chart—which may only be the facilities guy in many churches—start having constructive conversations with people up the food chain to see if you can develop a solution. Not only do solutions-oriented people get things done, they become invaluable to a good organization. Those are the guys who don’t get downsized.
Several months ago, I was guest mixing at a church. The church was in a sermon series entitled “The One Thing I Could Teach You.” As I sat listening to the message, it struck me that it may be a good idea to broach that topic here. I began thinking about the hundreds (over 1,500 at last count) of posts I’ve written over the last eight years. I tried to think about how to distill that down to the one thing I would say to a TD, volunteer or staff. There are so many things to say, but I think I boiled it down to this:
Don’t Do This Alone
If you recall listening to the podcast back in the early years, you will remember that we had an ongoing joke about how long it would take us to start talking about relationships every episode. It all comes down to relationships, we’d say over and over. I still think that’s true.
Most of us that gravitate toward the technical arts are introverts, and we don’t typically have large friend circles. However, that’s not an excuse to do this alone. Being a technical artist at a church can be a lonely job. There is often no other person on staff with you, and it’s very unlike most other staff jobs. It’s easy to feel like you’re the only one. But it doesn’t have to!
Unless you live way, way, way out in the sticks, there is likely another church nearby. At that other church, there is likely someone who does what you do. Get to know them. Go to lunch with them. Start a relationship. You need someone to talk to.
It’s Not As Hard As You Think
I remember coming to SoCal six years ago, knowing no one but my friend Van. And he lived 45-120 minutes away, depending on traffic. Fairly quickly, I began to meet the TD’s at other churches; even ones significantly larger than Coast Hills. It turns out that they have some of the same struggles I did. As we got to know each other, we became friends, and found ourselves going out to lunch every few months. That was hugely helpful—for all of us.
I say this—and I’m being careful not to name drop here—not to impress you with who I’m friends with. I want you to know that as the TD of a smaller church, I was initially intimidated by meeting the TD’s of these much larger churches. But it turns out, they’re just regular guys who love to do what we do. And they have struggles and challenges just like I do. Sometimes, they would call me and say, “Hey, can we talk?”
As I’ve had the privilege of traveling the country and getting to know TD’s at all sizes of churches, I would tell you that most are very open to getting to know other guys. It just takes a phone call. Or email. Someone just emailed me and said he was coming to town and wondered if I would have time to grab lunch. I said, “Sure!” He told me he was a bit surprised and impressed that I said yes to meeting a total stranger. But I do it—as often as I am able—because others have done so for me. I think you’ll find most guys are the same.
Find a Ministry Partner
In addition to getting to know other tech guys, I strongly encourage you to get close to someone on your team. In every church I’ve ever volunteered or worked for, I always made sure to have at least one other person who was my right hand man. I always want someone to partner with when doing ministry. For a season, it was my ATD. In other times, it was a key volunteer that I spent a lot of time with. Find someone you can relate to, and do the work of ministry together.
So that’s it, the one thing I could teach you. Do this with someone else. You will never be sorry for the investment made in serving with someone else.
Mike and Van continue the drive cross-country and talk about the difference between an abusive situation and normal TD stuff; the best practices for switching from analog to digital and ponder whether to high-pass the bass.
Last time I told you how I like to break up lyrics in slides for easy reading. Today we’ll tackle another ProPresenter operational topic; color codes. I’ve seen this happen so many times it has become tragic. The worship leader, sensing the congregation is ready to repeat the bridge one more time loops back. The ProPresenter operator however, was expecting the final chorus. Those lyrics are triggered and sit there while the ProPresenter op frantically ties to find the bridge slides. Sometimes it takes so long, the WL has gone back to the chorus before the bridge slides ever make it to the screen. That is not a great way to stay non-distracting.
Now, I understand the conundrum. As an operator, you’re staring at a screen full of grey tiles with itty-bitty words on them. You’re reading and trying to find the right slide, but you just can’t find it. What are you supposed to do? Take advantage of a feature that has been around for a long time; slide labels and colors.
I wrote about this 6 years ago, but I still see it happen so often I figured I better touch on this topic again. The good folks at Renewed Vision have made it easier than ever to build custom label lists that have colors associated with them, so it takes just a minute to label and color code your whole song. Here’s how it works.
Colors for Easy Identification
As you can see in the above screen shot, it’s pretty easy to tell right off the bat where the different sections of a song are. I settled on a standard color scheme many years ago and it’s served me well ever since. You can probably figure it out by looking at the image.
You can use whatever color scheme you want as long as it makes sense to you and is consistent. After a few weeks behind the computer, the operators get to know the color code instinctively. Once they have it down, it takes mere seconds to locate the right slide when there is an off-script change. There were times when I would be mixing and would see our WL motion to the band he was going to repeat something unexpectedly. Before I could even motion to the ProPresenter op, they would already have the slide on the screen. That’s how it should work.
Name Your Slides
You can also apply labels to slides. In addition to the colors, I always made sure to label them Verse 1, Verse 2, Chorus, Bridge, etc. It’s just one more item for the brain to latch onto when looking for a slide in a hurry. If a verse is broken up into multiple slides, it would be labeled Verse 1-1, Verse 1-2. We experimented with Verse 1-A, Verse 1-B for a while, but I think I like the numbers better.
Honestly, getting to that level was more important in Ver. 4 than in Ver. 5 & 6. Version 5 brought arrangements which make it easy to clump all the slides for Verse 1 into a token. When you’re building an arrangement, the tokens keep the verse slides together and in the right order.
I know this may seem like a little thing, and it might seem tedious at first to start labeling and coding your songs. However, you only need to do it once, and after that, you are ahead of the curve. I used to say I would put my ProPresenter ops up there against any other church anywhere and they would be some of the best. Part of that was the fact that we trained hard and they really cared. But making it easier for them to succeed is the TD’s job, and it’s one I gladly take on.
I’m going to talk about one of my pet peeves when I visit churches; poor phrasing of song lyrics on the screen. What do I mean by poor phrasing? I consider phrasing the way the lyrics are formatted on the screen. I’m not talking about font selection, color, backgrounds or animations and transitions (those will probably all be other posts someday). I want to talk about how the lines of lyrics are presented.
I ran into this a while back when visiting a church. The phrasing of the lyrics was pretty random—in fact, I’d guess they simply copied the lyrics and used the “Import Copied Text” feature of ProPresenter and hit save. While that will get lyrics on the screen, it doesn’t make the song easy to sing.
Songs have Phrases
Almost all songs, and certainly most worship songs are written in phrases.
Give me faith
To trust what you say
That you’re good
And your love is great
When you see that on the screen, you know how to sing it. However, if the phrasing is messed up, it makes it really hard to sing—especially if it’s a new-to-you song. Think about it; when you have a new song in worship, the congregation is not only trying to figure out the melody, but the phrasing. You can make it easier to figure out the phrasing by putting the words on screen the way they are written to be sung. Let me give you an example.
Here is the song Give Me Faith from Elevation Worship. Click through the slides below and see if you can figure out how the song is supposed to be sung. I created these using the aforementioned method; I copied the lyric sheet and used Import Copied Text. However the lines broke based on available space is how the slides ended up. No other formatting was done. Click on the image to advance the slides.
See how hard that is? Unless you really know the song, you have no idea where the pauses and breaths are. Without any visual indication, you’re left mumbling the lyrics hoping not to make too loud a mistake. In contrast, look at this.
Same song, same lyrics, but I spent about 1 minute tweaking the line breaks. Look at how much easier it is to know where to pause and breathe. Click on the image to advance.
Hopefully it’s pretty obvious how much better this is from an audience standpoint. I only added two slides, but it’s a lot easier to track with what’s going on.
If you’re not familiar with the song, here is a version from Elevation with lyrics. Note that for the most part, the lyrics are laid out the same way I did them, but not exactly. This just goes to show there is some leeway in how you do it. I don’t disagree with how they did it, it’s just a bit different than how I did. I didn’t look at theirs before I did mine.
ProPresenter makes it really easy to format text this way. By opening up the Editor, you can simply place line breaks in the lines of lyrics where they fall in the song. Sometimes, when you start breaking up lyrics, you end up with more lines than are optimal. To quickly move text to a new slide, place your insertion bar where you want to create a new slide and press Option-Return. That will take all text to the right of the insertion bar and put it onto a new slide. Slick—thanks, guys!
I generally try to keep my slides to 4 lines or less. More than that and it’s easy to get lost. That’s not a hard rule, however. If the verse ends up as 5, I usually won’t split it into a 2 and a 3. Too many slide changes can be as hard to sing as bad phrasing. On the other hand, if we hit 6 lines, I’ll usually break it up into a 3 and 3, or a 2 and 4. This is not a random choice, however; it’s based on the phrasing of the song. Sometimes phrases end up being two lines long, so don’t break a phrase in the middle and put the second half on another slide.
Put your line and slide changes in natural breath and pause points in the song and everyone will have an easier time. It’s better for the congregation and for the operator. And it takes just a few minutes, thanks to some great software.