Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: March 2016

The Buddy System

I think black and white really captures the moment.

I think black and white really captures the moment.

So here we are in the week after Easter. I know many of you are tired. Exhausted maybe. You worked really long and hard hours in the week(s) leading up to Easter and pulled off some amazing services that God used to change lives. That is a great thing. At the end of Sunday, you probably felt elated, drained, thrilled and spent. But you saw results, and the work was worth it. 

A funny thing happens in the days following, however. At least it always did for me. I always spent the week after a big weekend recovering, and I started to notice some odd feelings creeping in. I would start to question, did I do too much? Or too little? Does what I do make a difference? Did anyone actually notice all the extra work? Am I really any good at my job? Do I even like my job? I wonder how much those guys at the convention center who drive the forklifts get paid? 

A number of years ago it occurred to me that I might not be alone in those thoughts. Now, I’ve told you this many times before, but it bears repeating. When you start getting into that kind of thought process, you need to phone a friend. For me it almost became a ritual; I would set up a lunch or two with some fellow tech directors later in the week following Easter. To say this was helpful to me is an understatement. 

We do unique work. The tech department is unlike any other in a church. It’s hard for anyone else on your staff to really understand what Easter week looks like for you. However, any other tech guy knows. As I would have lunch with any number of guys I knew in the area, we would usually start commiserating with how many services we did, how many rehearsals, how many late nights. I often tried to pick a lunch with one friend who was at a much bigger church so I could feel a lot better about my work load (thanks, Greg!). 

Then we’d move on to other general stuff, and usually end up asking the question, “So how are you, really?” That’s when it started to get real. And in the safety of being around someone else who really gets it, we could open up. I was surprised as any when guys who I thought had the perfect church job would tell me about some of the BS they were going through that was not unlike the BS I was struggling with. 

And at the end of that couple of hours, we always walked away feeling better. There’s something about talking this stuff through with someone else who gets it that is like a full reboot for our internal computers. It’s a combination of validation, I’m not crazy, and maybe my job isn’t as bad as I thought all rolled into one. Picking a restaurant with some really solid food is a bonus. 

I write this to encourage you—again—to get out and meet with other tech guys in your area; this week or next. OK, it’s Thursday, so next week. That still counts. And if you want to stay healthy in your job all year long, have lunch every month or two. I can’t tell you how many times Van and I talked each other off the ledge those six years I lived near him. Even now, living 2,000 miles a part, we’re only a phone call away, and we use that technology. And even now, as a systems integrator, I get together with other SI guys semi-regularly. Today, in fact. 

Being a TD can be a lonely job, but only if you isolate yourself. Find another TD and get to know each other. Who knows, you may gain a life-long friend!

DPA Microphones

God Sees Your Service

Image courtesy of  W H

Image courtesy of W H

I was thinking about all the effort that went into the Easter weekend. Based on my Twitter and Instagram feeds, it appears big lighting looks were the theme of the year. I saw a bunch of posts from guys and gals who were putting long hours and doing great work. Sometimes that work is noticed…sometimes it is not. 

A big part of the problem with serving behind the scenes is that you are, by definition, supposed to be pretty much invisible. Most of the time, we technical artists are OK with that. We’d rather not be the ones on stage, talking to the crowd; or even in a big room full of people if we’re honest. We like to be in the background, and that’s OK. But there’s a problem with being invisible.

We tend to feel invisible, too.

I’m sure it’s happened to you (and if it hasn’t, it will) on a Sunday afternoon that while you’re picking up the stage, eager congregants will come up and tell the worship leader, band and pastor what a wonderful job they did. They’ll go on and on about how much they love to worship, and how much they got out of the message. This is all good.

But it can sting a little, too.

We know that we helped make the service happen. Shoot, we may have even made the band a sound a lot better than they really are (reverb covers a multitude of sins, and sometimes turning down a guitar is better than turning it up…). We made sure the pastor’s slides were made, and displayed at the right time. All the mic’s worked exactly the way they were supposed to. The lighting complimented the music, and the service was technically excellent. 

And nobody noticed.

Those are the times when we don’t enjoy feeling invisible. 

It was after one of those weekends that I happened to be reading through a passage in Mark 9. One verse in particular caught my attention and re-framed my perspective (the Bible is cool like that).

Why, anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice.
Mark 9:41

I take comfort in the fact that God notices when people give a cup of water to someone in the name of Christ. Surely he notices the hours we put in working on the mix, the lighting, or slides. No doubt he sees and is pleased with what you do each weekend.

Somebody, does indeed notice. 

So take courage, my fellow technical artist. Just a few verses later, Jesus reminds us that “Many who are the fist will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:31). Maybe, just maybe, those who received all the praise in this life will be surprised by the praise those who served in the shadows receive in the next.

Get some rest this week…you earned it!

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Filled with Deep Joy

Image Courtesy of  Ken Dyck

Image Courtesy of Ken Dyck

The other day I was going back through some devotionals and notes looking for something that would be encouraging to you, the humble church tech, who is working his or her tail off getting ready for Easter. I came across this passage from 2 Corinthians along with some notes my friend Roy Cochran shared. Roy has an incredible gift of getting to the heart of the artist and speaking great truth that encourages and empowers. 

While I’m not in the thick of it this Easter, I remember too well the long hours, lack of sleep, stress and spiritual attack that Easter season brings. Even if things are going great and you’re having fun, the work is still taxing and the hours long. My prayer is that this passage encourages you today and next week as you serve the King. 

Companions as we are in this work with you, we beg you, please don’t squander one bit of this marvelous life God has given us. God reminds us, I heard your call in the nick of time; The day you needed me, I was there to help. Don’t put it off; don’t frustrate God’s work by showing up late, throwing a question mark over everything we’re doing. Our work as God’s servants gets validated—or not—in the details. 

People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly…in hard times, tough times, bad times; when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; when we’re telling the truth, and when God’s showing his power; when we’re doing our best setting things right; when we’re praised, and when we’re blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all.

2 Corinthians 6:1-10

Does that strike a chord with anyone besides me ? Some key phrases in this passage stick out to me. 

Don’t frustrate God’s work by showing up late, throwing a question mark over everything we’re doing.

Working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love…

When we’re doing our best setting things right; when we’re praised, and when we’re blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God

If you work in church tech, chances are you can relate to some or all of that. I was encouraged to know that what we experience is not a new problem. The Apostle Paul himself struggled with the very same things. And while the Church still really doesn’t know what to do with us techs, God does. He appreciates what we do. He appreciates what you—yes you—do! And is pleased when we do it with a joyful heart. 

I don’t have much more to add to this; I think it speaks for itself, really. So my fellow church tech, take heart! What you do is important, critical even. The gifts you bring to the Church are being used to advance the Kingdom. Don’t give up hope. While we may not be recognized by the world, we are acknowledged by God. We may have nothing, but we have it all!

DPA Microphones

Back It Up For Easter

Image courtesy of  Jon Ross

Image courtesy of Jon Ross

This is one of those quick-hit posts that may save you a lot of headaches. A few years ago, we spent the entire week before Palm Sunday setting the stage, hanging fixtures and programming lights. It was a long week, but we got a lot done and we were ready to go for the Easter week rehearsals. 

On Palm Sunday morning, my lighting tech started having problems with the console. Some cue stacks wouldn’t fire, and some lights weren’t responding. He rebooted and it stopped working altogether. Several more power cycles and re-boots and we were able to set a few quick looks and save them in to our ETC Paradigm for playback from the touch screen (really glad I had 6 recordable scene buttons set up before that day!). That got us through service. It wasn’t great, but there was light. 

After services I grabbed my IT guy and we determined fairly quickly that the hard drive on the console was dead. That would be the hard drive with all the programming for Easter on it. Yeah, that hard drive. 

We ordered up a new computer (the existing one was coming up for replacement anyway) with an SSD and a backup drive and IT got it configured by Monday afternoon. Thankfully, Thomas, my LD had backed up most of his work to his hard drive before leaving the week before. So he didn’t have nearly as much to do in order to be ready for rehearsals. Still, it was a nerve-wracking few days. 

Moral of the story: back it up! If you don’t have at least 3 copies of every media and show file in at least 2 different media, you are at high risk of losing the show. Because if a drive or computer is going to fail, it’s going to fail right before a big weekend like Easter. Don’t fall prey to that. Some simple backups strategies will save your sanity.


There’s really no reason why you shouldn’t have all your show and media files in Dropbox. It’s free for 2 gigs, which is more than enough for most everything important. I personally pay for the pro version every year and have a Terabyte of storage at my disposal. After each programming session, copy all your files to Dropbox and you’ll have several copies of them (especially if you have that Dropbox folder set up to sync to your laptop or desktop computer). 

We had Dropbox on all our tech booth computers, which meant every file from every system was on every machine. Local sync makes that fast and easy. And, with all those local backups, restoring is super-fast, too. 

Clone Drives

Another lesson we learned after the Great Lighting Console Crash of ’11 was that we needed to have fully bootable backups of the system drives of each mission critical computer. For Macs, I use Carbon Copy Cloner. We had another program we used to copy the entire Windows partition of Bootcamped Macs, but I don’t recall what it was. You can probably find it on Google. Norton Ghost is something you can use to clone PC hard drives. 

The main reason I clone drives is that it makes it faster to get up and running. Sure, you could start with a new computer, re-install all your software and configure all your settings. But that takes time, and you might not have it. That may be something you want to do, but if you need to get up and running fast, plug in the clone and get back to work.

Of course, for clones to be useful, they need to be current. We updated our clone drives every month. That way, we were never too far out of sync. When prepping for big weekends, we’d update the clones as soon as programming was done. 

Console Show Files

A show file will get corrupted at the worst times. I always save copies of my show file to a thumb drive when I’m done mixing. Even when I’m volunteering on a weekend at my church, I save the show file to my thumb drive Saturday night. At Coast Hills, we always ran an external computer sync’d to the console, and that show file was auto-sync’d to Dropbox on shutdown, which meant we had about 10 copies of the show file in just a minute after we shut the console down. Never hurts to have a spare. 

Hopefully this will give you the incentive you need to back everything up this week before you roll into Easter week. My hope is that this will save at least one person a lot of grief next week.

Elite Core

PA Design for Coverage & Intelligibility

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to teach a class on the above topic at NorthWest MinCon in the Seattle area. We had a a great group show up, and it was a lot of fun talking about the process of designing PAs. While I can’t condense the entire class into a single blog post, I thought it would be good to hit some of the highlights. Here are four design principles I employ when looking at a sound system design.

Even coverage throughout the seating area

We really want to see the same level and very similar frequency response in every seat in the house. Achieving that goal—perfectly—is nearly impossible. So we have to give ourselves a range. We typically want to shoot for a ±3 dB level in every seat in the house. That means the back of the house is likely to be no more than 6 dB quieter than the front row. And depending on your room and PA, it might be the sides, front corners or even center that is quieter. But the overall variation should not be more than 6 dB. With a good design and proper speaker selection, this is a very achievable goal. Often, we can get it down to ±2 dB. 

Minimize overlapping sources

Another key design principle for me is to minimize overlapping sound sources. Again, this is easier with some designs than others, but as much as possible, I want one speaker to cover a seating area. The exception to this rule is a stereo PA design, but that’s a whole different kettle of fish, and I’m taking a pass on that one for now.

The issue with overlapping sources is that you will almost always get some kind of phase cancellation, which can really mess with our even coverage goals. Delay speakers are one situation where we will have some overlap, and it requires careful attention during the commissioning process to make sure they sound even, natural and are in time. 

Keep sound in the seats and off the walls

This seem so simple, and yet, I’ve seen many, many designs where speakers are pointed at walls and not the seats. This is bad. In fact, in my last church, 8 of the 12 speakers were pointed at walls and not seats; as a result, 80% of the seating area was off-axis of the PA. The resultant sound was terrible. We had variations of 12-18 dB in our coverage, and the sound field in the seats was almost all reflected, not direct. Intelligibility was terrible and it simply sounded bad. No amount of EQ or DSP will fix that. Basic rule of thumb—point the speakers at seats, not walls.

More direct than reflected sound

A high direct to reflected sound ratio means the sound will be very clear. If you’ve ever been in a venue where it seemed like the speaker’s voice was right in front of your face, that system had a high direct to reflected ratio. The problem with high levels of reflected sound is that it diffuses the sound field, causes some nasty cancellations in the form of comb filtering and makes it really hard to hear what is said or sung. We can minimize reflected sound with a judicious use of treatment, and that should be part of the sound system design. But we also want to choose our speakers carefully, and position them properly to keep as much direct sound from hitting the walls—causing reflections—as possible. 

There is of course more to the story, but we’ll let this serve as an introduction. I’ll touch on some additional speaker system design points in upcoming articles.

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