Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: July 2015 (Page 2 of 2)

Training ProPresenter Ops

Image courtesy of  Renewed Vision.

Image courtesy of Renewed Vision.

A few weeks back, I mentioned the ProPresenter operators I had while I was TD at Coast Hills. We had a great team and as much as I visited other churches, would put them up against lyric operators anywhere. It was a rare occasion that they got lost or behind on lyrics and did a great job staying ahead of the song—we’re leading worship, remember, not trailing it. Someone asked how we got the team to that point. It wasn’t really that hard; I just fired all the bad people.

Seriously, our process was pretty simple. When I arrived there, we had a part-time graphics person. She was running Keynote on two machines (one for confidence and one for main screen) and was quite good at it. She left for a new gig a few months after I got there and we switched to ProPresenter. The woman I hired was also very good at it and she was very receptive to training volunteers. So that’s what we did. She trained and I encouraged. It was pretty much that simple.

Times Change

Over time, we had to cut budgets and my part-time graphics position was eliminated. So that left me to continue to build that team. Part of the reason for the power of that team was that we carefully selected people to do it. Not everyone can run lyrics. Read that again. I know it looks simple—just press the space bar. In reality, it’s one of the hardest jobs in the tech booth. The operator has to stay focused 100% of the time. That is, unless they know the songs cold. So, we carefully chose people that knew music. We always posted the songs to Planning Center every weekend and I strongly encouraged the team to listen to the songs and get to know them before showing up for rehearsal.

Know The Music

We spent way more time teaching the team how to cue slides in time with the music than we did on how to operate ProPresenter. My ATD and I did most of the work to get the songs built each week, so for the most part, that was done. The team knew how to make changes, but really I wanted them focused on getting the words up on screen at the right time.

With new team members, they would sit and watch an experienced operator for a few weekends before getting hands on. Then, they would sit with experienced members and cue slides during rehearsal. It was during this phase that we could tell if they were going to make it or not. Some people have an innate ability to pick up on this, others do not. When new volunteers simply couldn’t figure out when to hit next, we moved them into another position on the team. 

Sometimes, they would hesitate; they would follow the words instead of lead. If that was happening, I would wander over and sit with them for a while to make sure they understood they were the worship leaders. The lyrics have to be up on screen before people sing them. I made sure they knew this. 

It’s Just Time

Really, the secret to success was how much time we spent with them. I payed really close attention to how they were doing as they came up to speed, and when I felt they were falling behind or not paying attention, I talked with them. We held the bar high and if they started to slip, I talked with them. I was never harsh or demeaning, but always made sure they understood this was a big deal and I needed them to do a great job. Pretty much all of them got it and rose to the occasion.

There were some that did not rise up; and we moved them on to either other positions on the team or another ministry altogether. This is something that I feel some TDs struggle with. They keep have someone on the team who clearly isn’t doing a good job, but won’t remove them because they need the position covered. However, I think sometimes God will withhold providing us a new, better person because we’re afraid to remove someone who shouldn’t be there. 

That’s pretty much it. There is no secret sauce, no written curriculum, no magic incantation. We spent time with our team members and made sure they understood what we needed them to do. If they didn’t or couldn’t keep up, we moved them on. It’s simple, but perhaps not easy

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.

CTA Review: UE SoundGuard

More and more churches are getting rid of the wedges on stage and switching to in-ear based monitoring systems. Generally, this is a good thing. It greatly reduces stage wash in the house, makes for a quieter stage overall, and can do a lot to protect the hearing of musicians and engineers alike. With a custom IEM, you’ll get somewhere in the neighborhood of 24-26 dB of passive noise reduction; which takes a 105-110 dB SPL A stage down to a safer and more manageable 80-ish. Of course, this is assuming that the musicians have the discipline to keep the volume reasonable in their ears. And that feedback never happens. Or a mic never falls over. Or some random, insanely loud bit of digital noise never sneaks into the IEM mix. 

I admit that once or twice I have pushed the wrong button on the console and sent musicians scrambling to rip their ears out. Thankfully, both times I caught it quickly and no one was hurt. But I do know someone who lost a significant portion of his hearing in one hear because he was leaning down to adjust a guitar pedal when piercing feedback erupted from his wedge (thankfully, I was not the engineer on that one). 

As more and more musicians go to IEMs, they have to start thinking about protecting their hearing. A deaf musician has a harder time making a living, or simply enjoying their craft. We can and should be diligent as engineers to do everything we can to protect them (and our hearing as well), but sometimes bad things happen. 

Ultimate Ears has been making custom IEMs as long as almost any company and saw a need to help musicians protect themselves. At NAMM they unveiled a small box called the Sound Guard. It’s under 2” square and about a half inch thick. It comes with a belt clip and two 3.5mm jacks; in and out. A short jumper cable connects the Sound Guard to the wireless receiver or wired cable, and the IEMs are plugged into the output jack. It’s powered by a pair of CR2450 batteries, and runs about 20 hours on a set. Though I’ve been using mine for what seems like a lot longer than 20 hours on the original batteries.

You Have Two Jobs

Sound Guard does two things. First, it handles some impedance matching. One of the biggest problems with many IEM systems is that the output impedance doesn’t match up properly with the impedance of balanced armature-based IEMs. The Sound Guard fixes that. Without getting too technical, it cleans up the low end significantly, and improves transient response. I haven’t tried it yet, but I have heard from reliable sources that the Sound Guard really improves the sound of our favorite personal mixing punching bag, the Aviom A-16 II.

The second, and primary purpose of the Sound Guard is to protect against high-level, accidental transients. It acts effectively like a limiter, monitoring average sound levels and lowering the level of a spike to safer levels. This would include things like feedback, a mic falling off a stand, a cable short or burst of digital garbage. 

Sound Better

I have been testing the Sound Guard with various sources for the last few months and found that it does indeed make most things sound a little better. It’s not an, “OH MY GOSH!!!” improvement in sound, at least in the sources I’ve tried, but there is a noticeable improvement, especially at the low end. It’s cleaner, tighter and better. 

On the listening tests I did, it seemed like I could hear subtle details a little bit better than without SoundGuard. For example, I’ve been a fan of Lone Justice for almost 30 years, and have listened to Shelter hundreds of times. A favorite song is Dixie Storms, it’s just Maria McKee and her piano. It’s a beautiful song but I have never noticed the spring reverb they put the piano through. Now part of it is likely the UE11’s I’m listening with, but I felt like I could hear the corrosion on the springs, it was that clear. 

Protect Me

Because the Sound Guard has a limiter in it, I kept expecting to hear it clamp down on something at some point. I never did. Of course, I haven’t injected a high-level spike into my ears either. I’ve seen test results showing that it does clamp down on spikes and I will take their word for it. Plus, I don’t have a convenient way of testing it. 

So I did the next best thing; I talked to my friends at UE. They told me the limiter doesn’t kick in until approximately 109 dB. They originally set it lower, but the beta testers kept telling them to turn it up. I suggested a switchable setting perhaps between 100 dB and 109 dB. Of course, actual output will depend on the ears you’re wearing, but that gives you some options. I suspect this may be in the works at some point. 

Bottom Line

 The SoundGuard isn’t one of those products you simply must run out and get right now! However, for a musician that wears balanced armature in-ears, especially one who is plugged into a wireless pack or Aviom, it is worth the investment, if not for the sound improvement alone. RF spikes can hurt and can be damaging, and this little box will protect you from them. At $199, it’s not a no-brainer, but consider what your hearing is worth. I know I’m not giving mine back.

I have to mention–mainly to keep the FTC happy–that UE gave me a SoundGuard to evaluate. So technically I don’t have to give it back. But I really like it, so I’m keeping it. Disclosure over.

3 Keys To Success as a Technical Artist

Image courtesy of  Virtue Arts . Yes, I know there are more than three keys there. Do you know how hard it is to find a picture of three keys on Flickr that is useable for commercial purposes? Just roll with me, OK?

Image courtesy of Virtue Arts. Yes, I know there are more than three keys there. Do you know how hard it is to find a picture of three keys on Flickr that is useable for commercial purposes? Just roll with me, OK?

I keep a running log of ideas for blog posts. At any given time there are probably 75 or so ideas there, some of which are terrible. Today’s post has been staring at me for a long time. It’s been there so long that I don’t know where it even came from. But every week when I sit down to write, I see the prompt. For that reason, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. At long last, it’s turned into a post.

I generally hate doing numbered list posts, I really do. Maybe because the internet has become full of six keys to this and five principle for that. Ten things you can do to be better at this and seven things your spouse doesn’t know you need. Blah, blah, blah. But in this case, these three words keep coming back to me. So for better or worse, here are three things I believe you need to be a better technical artist. 


Working in the technical arts of any discipline is tough work. The hours are often long, we tend to be unappreciated and the pay is not great. Thus, you really have to want to do this. To be sure, it can be incredibly rewarding. Putting up a great mix that empowers a congregation to worship their creator is an amazing experience; one I never tire of. 

Because getting really good at this gig takes so long, you really have to want to put the time in. To be really great as a technical artist is no casual endeavor. If you want to show up on Sunday, push the faders up and stick your hands in your pockets, that’s OK, but you’ll never be a great engineer. I love hearing from younger guys who discovered ChurchTechWeekly and went back and listened to every episode. That is literally hundreds of hours of time invested in furthering one’s skill set. That’s desire. Or someone who is a glutton for punishment…


You’re never going to get far in this business without hard work. The guys I know who are killing it put in some long hours at times. This is not a sit around and wait for things to happen career. Of course there has to be balance, and we need to take time off to stay healthy. But when we work, we work hard. 

When I work with people who are half my age and who start complaining about it being a long day once we hit 10 hours during Christmas prep week, I am pretty sure they are not cut out for this. In contrast, the ones who are there before I get there and stay after I leave are the ones who I am quite sure are doing great things. 


This one is a bit tricky. You don’t start off with skill as a technical artist. You develop skill as you put in hours. At least that’s what is supposed to happen. I occasionally meet guys who have standing behind the soundboard for 20 years and are just as clueless as the day they started. They never bothered to learn—really learn—what they were doing. Sure, they could push faders up at roughly the right time, but that was about it. Doing the same thing over and over for 20 years doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve developed skill. 

Skill is a weird mix of experience plus knowledge. Both take time and energy to develop. For some of us, the technical arts come pretty naturally and we pick it up quickly. But it still takes plenty of time to really get good at what we do. It’s that whole 10,000 hours thing. 

Skill doesn’t just happen, though. It’s intentionally acquired. You learn from other people. You experiment. You read. You listen. 

Now, I’m not going to suggest these are the only attributes of a successful technical artist. However, they are traits that all the successful ones I know possess. Something to think about as you ponder your calling…

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.

Listen to the Music

Image courtesy of  Gary Denham

Image courtesy of Gary Denham

About 1-2 times per month, someone emails me and asks how they can get better at mixing. I ponder this on a regular basis. To be sure, it can be a challenge to figure out how to improve on something when you only get to do it once or twice a week. If you were a guitar player, you could practice shredding at home during the week. If you were a singer, you could sing often and work on technique. But mixing is tricky. Not many of us have a mixing console at home, and for those in smaller churches, it can be hard to get access to the equipment, especially if you’re a volunteer. What’s an aspiring FOH guy or gal to do? This won’t be the only thing to do, but one thing I strongly recommend is to listen to music. A lot. 

The Beat Goes On

I still remember when I really discovered music. I was 10 years old. We had just moved into my grandfather’s house and my dad set up his Realistic Hi-Fi. I found his record collection and began listening. That summer, I mowed yards, raked leaves and did other odd jobs to save up money for a set of Koss headphones. I sat in our rocker/recliner for hours at a time devouring music. As I got older, my musical tastes expanded and I kept listening. Of course, I saved up for better equipment and by high school had already spent thousands of dollars on my set up. 

I can’t even begin to calculate how many hours I’ve spent listening to music, both critically and as background. I am sure one of the reasons mixing comes so naturally is that I know what music is supposed to sound like. 

Someone once relayed a quote from a sculptor—I believe it was Michelangelo. Someone had asked him as they admired one of his sculptures, “How do you know how to create that?” He is said to have answered, “I start with the big rock and chip away everything that doesn’t look like the result I have in mind.” 

Now, I probably butchered that quote, and it may not even be true, but I love the concept. He knew the result he had in mind; it was so clearly formed that it was a simple matter for him to remove what wasn’t supposed to be there. Mixing is very similar. If you know what it’s supposed to sound like, it’s a simple matter of using the tools at your disposal to make it sound like what it sounds like in your mind.

It May Not Be That Easy

To be sure, it’s not always that easy. One of the big handicaps church FOH guys face is the quality of the band is often not up to what you’d hear on a record. Having good source material goes a long way to making a great mix. Some Sundays you will be fighting to simply keep things under control—forget making it sound good. 

But if your band has even a modicum of talent, then you can pull together a good mix—if you know what it’s supposed to sound like. Just chip away the stuff that doesn’t belong there. 

Find The Time

Again, I know this is not the only step. You still need to figure out what EQ does, how compressors work and how to properly set up effects. You probably won’t get that from listening to music. But you will have a better frame of reference. And today, there is simply no excuse for not listening to lots of music. It’s everywhere. I recommend stuff made in the ‘70s and ‘80s as a great place to start, sometime before the loudness wars really started cranking up and limiting started squashing it all. But find stuff you enjoy and start listening. 

Listen critically, on decent equipment. Apple headphones don’t qualify. Spend $100 and get a set of Heil ProSet 3 headphones or spend a bit more and get some decent 3 or 4 driver in-ears. Or get some good speakers and break out the CDs. Start to pay attention to where sounds are placed in the audio spectrum. What is the relationship between the kick and bass. Where do the vocals fit? How do the keys and guitar stay out of each other’s way? Listen to how the mix is crafted. You’ll have a much better idea of what to do when you’re behind the console. Plus, it’s fun. And far more productive than watching another sitcom.


CTW InfoComm 2015 Coverage: Yamaha PM10

We’ve been waiting a long time for the new large-format console from Yamaha, and it’s finally hear. After months of rumors, we finally got our eyes and hands on the new PM10 Rivage. It’s a big console with some amazing features. To learn more, check out the Yamaha 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.

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