Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: September 2016 (Page 1 of 2)

I Don’t Know

I see this all the time. People speaking authoritatively from a position of ignorance. The internet is awesome for this. Just check out any of the online forums or groups. And pick a topic—any topic. I of course see this in church tech groups, but it exists everywhere. I also see it in every day life. I’ll hear someone make a fairly definitive statement that obviously comes from a place of no knowledge or background. But boy, are they convinced they’re right. My mom used to have a magnet on the fridge that said, “My mind is made up—don’t confuse me with the facts.” 

What does this have to do with being a technical leader in church? Quite a lot, actually. I’ve removed a large amount of equipment from various churches over the years, and I’m sure it was all installed confidently. That is, whoever installed it was confident in their choice. Even if that choice was not based in any kind of knowledge or experience. Even if it didn’t work. At all. That wastes a lot of money and undermines trust in our profession. 

Mr. Know-It-All

Why does this happen? Well, I think there is an unnecessarily engrained concept in most of us that we have to be right all the time. And we have to know everything about our jobs. Now, the truth is, it’s impossible to know everything about a subject. And if you ask people that have been doing a particular thing for a long time, they will likely tell you that the longer they do it, the more they realize they don’t know.

But not so when we’re starting out. We know everything! And that is a dangerous place to be. Look, I’ve been doing production/tech/design now for going on 30 years. I’m the expert. I get paid to tell churches what they need. And I can’t even tell you how many times I say, “I don’t know.” There are literally tens of thousands of pieces of gear in the AV universe, and it’s impossible to know the details of all them (let alone know that all of them exists!). Often times, the best thing I can tell someone is, “I don’t know.” But I don’t stop there.

Let Me Find Out

When I say, “I don’t know,” it’s almost always followed by, “but let me find out.” Then, I call or email someone who knows more about this particular thing or topic than I do. I have a deep contact file filled with smart people who I call when I don’t know something. Once I get an answer, I report back, and life goes on. The problem is solved and everyone is happy. 

But you know when people are not happy? When I (or someone like me) make up an answer that we think might be right and it doesn’t work out. Best case, we waste some time. Worst case, we break stuff. Find out the right answer and move on. There is no shame in not knowing everything. But there is in breaking stuff because you made up a wrong answer.


If you want to last in this business, you need credibility. One senior pastor I worked for once said to me, “Mike, I’ve worked with a lot of tech guys and they all come in and tell me the last guy didn’t know what he was doing and it all needs to be changed. Why should I listen to you?” That is a legitimate question. Two years later, he was listening to me. Why? Because I made smart decisions, after consulting with smart people that made real improvements. 

Know that when you start as a TD of a church, you start where I did. Why should anyone listen to you? Don’t burn the tiny little bit of credibility you have as the new guy by making stupid decisions. Don’t do things confidently out of ignorance. Get help. Find good advice. Make smart decisions. Don’t gamble your church’s money on ideas you think might work. And please, for the love of all that’s good and holy, don’t listen to every commenter in a Facebook group that thinks that XYZ product is the “best ever!!!” when it’s the only thing they’ve ever used.

Make sure the people you’re getting advice from actually know what they’re talking about. And a good way to tell is that they will often say, “I don’t know. But let me find out.”

DPA Microphones

CTA Reviews: DiGiCo S21

Here’s a quick video review of the DiGiCo S21 that I’ve been playing with for the last few weeks. 

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.

Developing Upgrade Proposals

Image courtesy of  Seiichi Kusunoki

Image courtesy of Seiichi Kusunoki

Recently, a reader reached out to ask if I would review and comment on a proposal to replace their aging analog mixer with a shiny new digital one. There were other upgrades as well. It was a well-reasoned proposal, filled with plenty of details, facts and figures. Anyone who took the time to read it would have all the information they needed to make a sound decision on whether to spend that money. My advice to him? Trash it and start over. Well, I said it nicer than that, but that’s the gist of it. I am known for my subtlety. 

No One Cares

The first point I made regarding his proposal is that no one in leadership cares about making his life easier. I say that not to be a jerk, or to criticize leadership. They just don’t care. And frankly, I’m not sure they should. When we as a TD come to them and say, “Man, doing church every week is hard! I have to re-patch all these inputs, figure out how to make everything fit, allocate my two compressors most efficiently and just try to make it all work!” their response is likely to be, “Well yes, but we’re doing church every week, right? I mean, it does work?” The answer my friends, is yes.

I once wrote a proposal similar to our dear reader’s. Only mine was two pages longer. I’m an over-achiever. It was full of well-reasoned arguments as to why we needed to change out our perfectly functional 32-channel analog desk to a 48-channel digital one. I wouldn’t have to physically re-patch inputs and outputs, we’d have more compressors, more effects, I could build scenes that would set the board up for each of the four different bands…my life would be so. Much. Easier.

Later, I polled the board and found that not one of them read it. Not one. It’s true. No one cares. 

And why should they? I didn’t care about how many couples the pastor had to counsel during the week instead of doing message prep? I didn’t care about how many sensitive artists the worship leader had to console before they would go back to playing their instrument. And I didn’t care about whether the church could meet payroll or pay for my new mixer. No one cares. Unless it affects them.

Find Out What They Care About

Years later, after spending a few years in the trenches and talking to a lot of other TDs with way more experience, I had the chance to once again submit a proposal for a console upgrade. This time, my proposal started with conversations. Lots of them. I laid the groundwork for about 6 months. Then, after thoroughly researching everything, I presented a one page proposal with the numbers. It was basically a spreadsheet table and some bullet points. 

Our leadership at that time was really keen on transitioning away from staff/contractor led services to volunteer led. My proposal would make it possible to eliminate the contractors (saving almost $50,000 a year) and allow more people to involved in the tech team. It also set us up to eliminate wedges on stage, which were a constant source of frustration for our pastor who sat in the front row. 

It was approved in a heartbeat. Why? Because I didn’t focus on what made my life easier (though the new system made my life infinitely easier). Instead, I focused on the mission and vision of the church and how this upgrade—which cost real money—would further that. Fewer contractors, more volunteers, money savings, less stage wash, more clarity. These were all values that had been shared from the top down. Not once did I mention multi-band compression or dynamic EQ or snapshots. Why? Because no one cares. 

It’s Simple Alignment

When proposing upgrades, you have to be sure that upgrade aligns with the mission and vision of the church, and every dollar you spend will further that mission. Few pastors or boards will simply give you $10,000, $20,000, $50,000 or even $5,000 to spend just to make your life a little better so you can come in 20 minutes later on Sunday. That’s not a win for them. Show them how you can get more people involved in the ministry. Show them how this saves money in the long run. Show them how their lives get easier. That is a win. And that will get funded.

Elite Core

Go Back In Time

Image courtesy of  Rosenfeld Media

Image courtesy of Rosenfeld Media

I love the terminology we use in technology. Augmented Reality; Defragment; GigaFlops; Pre-Delay. If you’ve been around audio mixing—and particularly effects units—for any length of time, you may have seen the pre-delay control and wondered exactly how you can pre-delay something? After all, “pre-“ means before, and “delay” implies after. So it’s like saying, “before-after.” What’s that all about?

Before Delay

Perhaps the best way to think of pre-delay is “the time before the delay.” That is to say, how much time elapses before the delay (or effects) start. You typically see pre-delay on reverb units. The pre-delay control essentially allows you to create a gap between the time the reverb unit is first excited and when it starts spitting out it’s warm, rich, diffuse sound. 

When To Use It

Almost all signals can benefit from some amount of pre-delay. How much will depend on multiple factors. But first, why do we want a gap between the original signal and the reverb? Mainly it’s about articulation. If the reverb starts before or just as someone finishes singing a word, it can be hard to hear that word or phrase. Reverb by it’s very nature is diffuse and lacks clarity. When you add a lack of clarity (that’s a mouthful, huh?) to the end of something that should be clear, it makes it hard to understand.

Setting Pre-Delay

If you only have one reverb unit in your system and everything goes through it—that is, everything that you are putting reverb on, don’t put reverb on everything—then you will have to come up with the best compromise. Usually, the vocal will dictate how much pre-delay in that case. I find I like to have about 30 msec. of pre-delay on my vocal reverbs. That’s not a hard and fast rule, but it seems to work well most times. For drums, it might go a little less. Acoustic guitars might need more. Or less, depending on how it’s played and the tempo of the song. 

If you have multiple reverbs—as you are likely to on a digital console—you can customize the pre-delays for each effect unit and each purpose. But don’t get too caught up in this. If you have a mid-week rehearsal you can record and then play around with in virtual soundcheck for a while, you can dial in the pre-delay just perfect. But, if you’re in the situation I find myself in, which is to say we rehearse for an hour or so then have a service, just set a round 10-30 msec. of pre-delay and don’t worry too much about it. As you have time, you can grab some tracks and find a setting that works well for vocals, guitars, drums, whatever. Use that as your starting point and tweak if you have time. 

Pre-delay isn’t going to make or break your mix. However, if you add some pre-delay to your reverbs, you’ll find you can use longerand more reverb and still have plenty of clarity. And if you’re like me, that’s a good thing.

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.

Feedback is Not Always Bad

Image courtesy of  Loren Kerns

Image courtesy of Loren Kerns

Audio guys are taught to fear and loath feedback. We have parametric EQs, notch filters, magic boxes and feedback eliminators, all to keep feedback from rearing it’s ugly head. The mix could be great, the lighting perfect and the song words spot on, but if the pastor’s mic runs into feedback, you feel like you’ve failed. For most of us feedback=bad.

But Is It?

The feedback of which I speak in the opening paragraph is of course, the electro-acoustical kind. The mic picks up it’s own signal, it goes through the amplification loop and repeats, ending in a high-pitched scream. And I agree, that kind of feedback is bad. But not all feedback is. In fact, sometimes, feedback can be very helpful. 

Getting Better All The Time

Any sound engineer worth his salt should be striving to get better all the time. But how do we get better? How do we know if we’re making progress or just making things louder? One really good way to get better is to get some feedback. By asking others to critique our mix, we will learn valuable insights and hopefully, get better. The challenge is, we’re so trained to avoid feedback (the bad kind), that we tend to avoid all feedback (the good kind). 

Now, it can be humbling to ask for feedback. I’ve done this in the past, and sometimes go home feeling less good about my skill level. However, after the sting wears off, and I’ve processed the feedback, my mixing usually gets better. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of thinking we have this thing figured out and continue to do the wrong thing over and over again. 

Fundamentals Improvement

I recently took a shooter improvement class. I’ve reached a reasonable level of proficiency, but want to be more competitive in local matches. I knew I had a few troubles with my fundamentals, but couldn’t diagnose it. The instructor came into my bay as I was shooting the drill and told me exactly what I was doing wrong. It was like learning something for the first time. Almost immediately, my groups tightened up, and my times shrank. Asking for feedback made a huge difference and I won a stage few days later. 

The same has proven true with my mixing. You see, we tend to plateau in our skill level. We get to a level of proficiency, but can’t move beyond it. By asking others for some input, you might be surprised at what you’re missing, and suddenly, your skill levels up. 

Be Careful Who You Ask

Now, you can’t ask just anyone for feedback. I prefer asking musicians who aren’t playing that weekend. Preferably, I like to ask musicians with whom I have a good relationship. If we have a good relationship, I know they have my best interests at heart and aren’t simply looking for a chance to be critical. Ask not only for the trouble spots, but the good points as well. If you know you’re struggling with a particular aspect of the mix, ask about that specifically. You may even want to prep them with that. 

Ultimately, if you want to get better at what you do, you’re going to need some training. You can get quite a ways on your own with enough practice and hard work (not to mention natural talent), but if you really want to excel, you’ll need some help. Don’t be afraid of feedback. It might be what takes you to the next level in your mix.

Elite Core

Church Tech Weekly Episode 279: The Druids are not on the Recording

We’re talking Multi-site this week! How do you organize your gear, your teams, your leadership? Is central control better than a dotted line? What are the advantages of standardizing on gear? We tackle all this and more.


This post is brought to you by Nemosyn. The guitar player practices, the keyboard player practices, the vocalists practice, how does a sound guy practice? Nemosyn record. Practice. Perfect your mix. Visit their website at Nemosyn.com.

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