Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Category: CTA Classroom (Page 2 of 9)

Advice From An Old Guy: Do Your Research


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Those that know me are aware that I have a pretty deep sarcastic streak. So imagine my joy years ago when I learned of http://lmgtfy.com. What is http://lmgtfy.com? Let me Google that for you. I have to say, I’m a little disappointed that they removed the snark from it. Back when it first came out, it would show you how to use the Google then add, “Now, was that so hard?”

I admit that on more than one occasion, someone emailed me a question that would have been very easily answered by a quick Google search and I sent them a lmgtfy link. Sometimes, I just have a hard time with simple questions. Or, questions that someone could answer for themselves with less than 2 calories of effort.

Research First, Questions Second
Van sent me this topic suggestion and he and I have long lamented how many questions we get from people who are at the top of the question pipeline. Sending me or Van an email asking, “What’s the best PA?” is not a good question. Let me rephrase—you’ll not get a good answer from that question. And for the record, I’m going to preemptively tell you the answer is, “It depends.”

Now, if you are legitimately searching for a new PA for your space, I’m happy to help. However, it’s most helpful if you do a little research first. A quick Google search will turn up information about the various types of PAs—line arrays, point source,  powered, un-powered, flown, ground stacked—and where they are best suited. Armed with this knowledge, the dimensions of your room, and information on the style of worship you are doing, you can begin asking professionals for advice.

A better way to phrase the question would be like this:

“We are looking for a new PA for our room. Our space is about 80’ wide by 60’ deep with non-fixed seating. We have no acoustic treatment on the walls. FOH is off center near the back of the room. The stage is about 40’ wide and comes into the room 10’. Based on my initial research, I don’t think line arrays are the right fit, what have you used in that situation that might work well for us? Our budget is around $130K.”

I can answer that question, and I can do it with specifics. In fact, the answer you receive will help you make a much better decision than, “It depends.”

Look Up Simple Things Yourself
If I had a dollar for every question that went something along the lines of, “Do you know if product X will do Y?” I’d be able to another firearm to my collection. And here’s the dirty little secret; if you ask me that question, and if you get a response, I’m going to Google said product, download the manual and look (assuming I don’t already know off the top of my head). Here’s a ProTip—you can do the same thing!

It can often be difficult to differentiate between actual geniuses and those who know how to Google.

Though I’m increasingly coming to believe that social media is, by and large, a dumpster fire, the Internet is a great thing. Almost all the information in the universe is out there for the taking. And by opening your browser window, you can learn it all. I have but one caveat for you…

Avoid the Facebook Groups
Most of the time—and I’m probably going to cause some butt hurt here—the information you receive from most of the Facebook groups varies between unhelpful to worthless to incorrect. Consider our “Which PA is best?” question. I’ve seen variations on that query on Facebook, and the answers often go like this:

“We just put line arrays in. They’re great!”
“We just installed Adamson line arrays. We love them.”
“It depends.”
“Hire an integrator.”
“You should never use line arrays in a church. Point source are best.”
“Our church has K12s. They sound pretty good.”

None of those answers are helpful. Especially the last one—K12s do not sound good. Ever.

The Benefit of Research
Part of the blame is on the question asker—it’s simply a bad question. The other part of the problem is that most—not all, but most—of the people on those forums have a very limited world of experience. They simply don’t know what they don’t know. So it’s up to you to do some research, educate yourself and then ask actual professionals for advice. The double-bonus of this is that if you’re asking a true professional, you’ll get good advice—and you’ll know it’s good advice. And if you ask a non-professional, you’ll know they don’t really know what they’re talking about because their advice will be obviously bad.

Just know that when you ask advice, almost everyone has some inherent biases. That’s not necessarily bad, but you need to know. I’ve found it’s best to ask several actual experts before making a decision. Compare everyone’s suggestions and you’ll be able to arrive at a good conclusion. But it all starts with you learning something about the topic, then asking good questions.

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Advice From An Old Guy: Find a Mentor


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I mentioned this back in Learn your Craft, but I’m thinking of this in broader terms. One thing I lament in most churches is that no one is pouring into the tech guy. Tech guys (and gals) are usually so busy doing the work of the ministry that no one is ever ministering to them. Having someone pour into you is a big deal, and will help you do this job a lot longer.

Mentors can take many forms. Sometimes, you need someone to help you learn a technical skill. In that case, getting together weekly with a pastor from another church isn’t going to help you much. If you need to hone your craft, find someone who is really good at it, and see if they’ll spend some time with you. This would be a Yoda-like figure; someone who teaches you how to use the Force. Or, how to mix.

You may need someone who can encourage you. This might be your Barnabas. That could be almost anyone, but ideally, it’s someone who is on staff at a church. And probably not your church. Sometimes this is another TD. For many years, Van and I have been each other’s encourager. I can’t even count how many times I called him and asked to go to lunch so he could talk me off the ledge. He did the same with me. We still do that for each other.

I’ve had more of a spiritual mentor in the human form of my friend Roy for going on 7 years now. When I first got to know him, I saw something in him that I needed in my life. I asked him if he would spend some time with me, and for some reason he agreed. For several years, we got together every other week for lunch. ProTip; always pay for your mentor’s lunch/coffee/drinks. Sometimes he encouraged me through a tough time. Other times, he challenged me to reshape my vision. Still other times, he affirmed what I was doing. One of the few things I miss about leaving California is getting together with Van and Roy.

Don’t Be Afraid
A lot of guys are afraid to ask others for help. I don’t know why. Well, I do. But get over it. Find someone you can talk to. I would strongly suggest your mentor be a good 10 years older than you; or at least have 10 years more experience than you. Getting together with peers is great, and I strongly suggest it. However, you need to spend time with someone who knows more and has done more than you.

Don’t think this has to be a lifetime deal, either. Sometimes, people put too much pressure on a mentoring relationship. They think it has to be a weekly face-to-face meeting for life. That’s great if you can do it—and I’ve had the privilege of doing weekly breakfasts with a couple of older guys in the past. I think we met weekly for about 3-4 years. That was a tremendous time of learning and growth for me. But when it came to for all of us to move on, we did and remain friends.

Advice For an Old Guy
I’m going to change it up here and suggest that if you are an old guy, you start looking around for someone to mentor. The best mentor relationships are often developed when the older selects the younger. If you can find someone younger than you to pour into, you both win.

I remember talking with one of my bosses years ago and we were discussing how great it would be if everyone in the Church had someone 10 years older pouring into them and 10 years younger to pour into. As I’ve said over and over, this production business is a craft. It’s best passed on from the master to the apprentice. If you’re a master, you need to find an apprentice. Don’t simply sit around and complain that those young whipper-snappers don’t know anything. Find a whipper-snapper and teach them something.

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Advice From An Old Guy: Learn To Troubleshoot


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If there is one thing that has bothered me for years as a TD and continues to bother me as an integrator, it’s the lack of basic troubleshooting skills many TDs have. I literally cannot tell you how many calls and emails I’ve received that basically go like this:

Caller: This thing isn’t working.
Me: OK, what have you tried?
Caller: Tried? What do you mean?
Me: Tried to figure out where the failure is? What troubleshooting steps have you already taken?
Caller: I came in, it wasn’t working, I called you.

Awesome. I’m 3,000 miles away, and I now have to try to troubleshoot your system, blind and remotely. The number of times it’s a cable that was plugged into the wrong port is astonishing. Or it’s a bad cable. Or someone changed the configuration. Usually, it’s an easy fix. But figuring that out remotely is challenging. Especially when I don’t know your entire system—and you don’t either.

Point A to Point B
Troubleshooting is not really that hard. If it’s a piece of equipment that has a computer, microprocessor or any kind of a brain, turn it off, wait a minute and turn it back on. That solves 40% of all issues. If that fails, you need to trace the signal path back to the point of failure. This is not hard. Usually.

Let’s say your green room TV isn’t working. First, check to see that it’s set to the correct input. Check a known good source into another input, then into the input you’re trying to use. TV is good? Ok, move one layer up. If you have an SDI-based video system, you probably have an SDI to HDMI adapter behind the TV. Check that. Does it have power? Does it pass signal in another application? Is the HDMI cable OK? If all checks out, move up the chain.

There’s probably a DA or matrix router in front of the converter. Make sure the router is patched correctly. Check the output of the router or DA. Let’s say that output the cable to the converter is plugged into isn’t working. Bypass the DA or router and try a working output from the switcher. Do you get a picture? Likely, there is a problem in the router or DA. No picture? The cable or connectors may be bad.

Troubleshooting is simply moving up and down the signal path until you find the point of failure. Approach it with an open mind, and don’t assume anything. I’ve been burned before because I assumed the “easy stuff” was all working correctly. Does the remote need new batteries? Did the power get unplugged? Did a cable get unplugged? Is phantom power on? Did the wireless packs get put on the correct music stands for the right musician? Are you patched into the right DMX universe?

Things Change
I know it worked last week; but unless the items in question were under your direct control in the intervening hours, anything could have changed. Or, you may simply have a gear failure. Can you see how knowing your system and your gear assists you in figuring out why something went wrong?

If you learn to troubleshoot, not only will you be able to get things up and running faster, you’ll also look like a smart, competent tech. I’m not saying you should never call in someone for help; but you need to have run through a pretty good list of things before you do. You should also have a very good idea of where the failure point is.

It’s often a good idea to consider this question when you start troubleshooting a previously working system, “What changed?” It goes like this:

Caller: Our entire Dante system stopped working!!!
Me: OK, what changed?
Caller: Well, our IT guys were out this week and reconfigured all the switches and plugged them into the house network switches.
Me: Well, there’s your problem.

See? Troubleshooting is easy. If there’s a computer involved, it’s often IT’s fault. Turn off all automatic updates to all tech computers. Yes, I know, viruses and malware. Whatever. AV software often is slow to be updated when the OS changes. Don’t update the ProPresenter iMac to High Mavericks Yosemite Sierra on Sunday morning before rehearsal. In fact, don’t ever update anything past Wednesday. That’s not troubleshooting per se, just free advice.

Think Logically
I tend to think in steps. For me, troubleshooting is easy because I think in terms of step 1, step 2, step 3… Others think more fluidly. Ideas come in random order and they may start in the middle of a story and work out to the ends. That’s fine when you’re writing a song, but when troubleshooting it’s imperative you start at one end and work up the chain, piece by piece.

You may be tempted to pick a spot in the middle and test something, then try something else, then something else. You may even get lucky once in a while and find a problem. But I promise you, over the long haul, starting at one end or the other will yield results faster and more accurately.

Learn to troubleshoot and you’ll be a better tech.

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Advice From An Old Guy: Learn Your System


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Once you clean up, learn your craft and show up on time (that is, early), it’s time to learn your system. Few of us have the luxury of walking into a new church job and getting to completely revamp the entire AVL system. Most of us will walk into whatever system is there and have to get to work. That means you’re going to have to spend some time getting to know how your system is put together.

Signal Flow
Depending on how competent the designer and installer of your system was, it may be easy or hard to figure out the signal flow of your system. Also, it’s possible the person before you didn’t know how anything was supposed to work, so they jacked it all up. That may mean you need to bring someone in for a day or two of help troubleshooting and mapping out the system. Or, you can do it yourself. Either way, you need to know how your system works.

Why? Because if you don’t, what will you do when something breaks? I had a rude awakening to this in my last church. About 3 months in, we came in on a Sunday to find the DSP that drove the house right hang was dead. I very quickly had to troubleshoot and then re-wire the system during rehearsal. It would have been a lot faster had I known how it was all put together. As it was, I wasted a lot of time figuring out which outputs of the DSP did what.

In that same church, the TD that followed me ran mic lines through the seats from FOH to the stage for something or another. When I pointed out that not only had I installed a half-dozen tie lines for that very purpose, but there were also three empty 2” conduits running that path, everyone was dumbfounded.

Gear
Sometimes we’ll go in to a church to revamp one system and while I’m there I’ll get questions about other systems. When I start inquiring how things are put together or how they are using a particular piece of gear, I’ll get looks like I’m from outer space. You may not have to be intimately familiar with each and every piece of gear, but it’s a really swell idea to know why it’s there and what it does.

It’s also really hard to troubleshoot when you don’t know what you’re working with. It’s important to note that I’m not chiding you for not knowing what all your gear does on day one. But I can tell you that I’ve looked like a genius on more than one occasion because I can use the Google. Plug the model number into the handy Google search bar and you’ll learn a lot. You might even be able to download a manual! Once you know what this piece of gear does, you’ll know when it’s not working. Or maybe that it’s not properly deployed. Or maybe it has capabilities that you didn’t know about and you can do more without ordering new gear. That also makes you look really smart.

Knowing your gear also makes it easier for your integrator to help you expand the system. I’ve shown up to more than one site and said, “Gosh, I wish I had known you had _______.” Sometimes that means things are easier. Sometimes, not so much.

Also note that I’m not demanding you know every single make and model by heart. You just need to know roughly what you have and how it works. When I was re-building my video system, I knew every single piece of gear and how it all went together. But a year later, when we moved on to audio, I probably couldn’t have told you every model number of every piece of gear in the system. However, I knew the principles on which it was built. Also, it helps to have drawings.

Knowing your system is key to successfully running a technical department. Like all things worth doing, it takes a little time. But trust me, it’s time well spent.

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Advice From An Old Guy: Learn Your Craft


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Mixing sound, lighting design, video production (live and post), graphic design—these are all crafts. They all take a tremendous amount of time and dedication to learn and master. I’ve visited churches and had the FOH guy ask me which plugins I would recommend to make their sound better. I invariably tell them they don’t need plugins, they need to learn to mix. You shouldn’t be buying a ton of new intelligent lighting fixtures if you can’t make your static lighting looks look amazing.

While listening to a podcast the other day, Steve Anderson (of That Shooting Show) said the following:

“Technique is the middle of mastery. Technique is not the end of mastery. Mastery is not simply an encyclopedic knowledge of techniques. True mastery is the embodiment of principles.”

That really resonated with me. Being a master of audio mixing isn’t simply having an iLock with the Platinum package on it. It’s not simply knowing 10 different vocal mic’s or 5 ways to mic a snare. It’s knowing the principles of sound, music and mixing, and applying them to the situation at hand. That is developing your craft.

Time, Dedication, Effort
You can learn a lot about mixing by attending an MxU daylong event. One of the things that becomes apparent pretty quickly is that Andrew, Jeff and Lee have spent a long time honing their craft. I’ve been talking with Andrew and Lee about mixing for nearly 10 years now, and I know that we’ve all learned from each other, and from other people. When we all sit down at a table to talk mixing, it’s a free exchange of ideas with everyone contributing. We then go back to our respective consoles and try the ideas. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But we’re always learning.

It’s not a plugin. There is no magic EQ that will make your vocals sound good (so stop asking on Facebook, OK?). You don’t need another mic or console. You need to take time to learn the fundamentals of mixing and music. That will take a long time. You can’t learn by reading Facebook groups. You need to sit down in front of a console with a hard drive full of tracks and mix. Thankfully, this is very easy today. Figure it out and do it.

It’s Easier with Help
Learning a craft is always easier when you have someone who can guide you along the journey. This is increasingly hard to do today because there is a shortage of guys in the Church today who really know what they’re doing. But if you can find someone who will give you honest feedback, you’ll grow a lot faster.

But you still have to do the work. If you want to learn to mix, listen to music. A lot of music. Preferably music that was produced in the 1970’s-1990’s before master limiting compressors ruined music. If you want to learn lighting, watch a lot of concert videos. Watch musicals. Watch any live event that has lighting. Pay attention to what is being done and what is not being done. Sometimes restraint is the better part of lighting.

If you don’t know how your equipment works, get someone in to teach you. This will probably cost you some money. But there is no better investment than you can make into yourself than learning your craft. Ideally, your church sees value in you getting better at your job and will fund this education. But even if not, it’s worth it. When I worked at a church with a staff of 40 and a $4M annual budget, I took vacation and paid my own way to conferences and training because the church didn’t see the value. But I did.

If you really want to get better at your craft, take a job as an assistant to a tech guy who is really squared away. You’ll do a lot of grunt work, but you’ll also learn more, faster, than under any other condition. This is how it should work, really. I wish we had more churches with highly skilled, senior-level tech guys who could hire a new ATD every few years to train up and send out. We’d have a lot better tech in the Church if we did that. Senior pastors, give that some thought, OK?
Ultimately, it’s up to you, though. You have to put in the time, you have to put in the effort, and you will probably have to pay for it. However, once you master this craft, you won’t want for work.

That’s a good thing.

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Advice From An Old Guy: Keep It Clean


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If cleanliness is next to godliness, there must be a lot of really un-godly tech guys. I am actually shocked sometimes when I walk into churches to meet with them and practically stumble across their stage because it’s such a mess. I’ve had to go troubleshoot systems yet I couldn’t get to the racks were surrounded by piles and piles of miscellaneous crap. I understand that a lot of that disappears once the work lights are turned off, but still. It’s the principle of the thing.

Few things say, “I don’t take my job seriously,” more than a messy work environment. When senior leadership is walking through a messy tech booth, or stumbling around backstage, it’s really hard for them to agree that you’re on top of your game. I’ve met with tech guys who lament the fact that no one takes them seriously. Then I see their stage and work area, and I immediately know what part of the problem is.

“I Don’t Have Time to Clean!”
Been there, done that. I’ve been on staff at three churches—and all of them were a mess when I got there. For me, job one was cleaning up and taking inventory. I had to know what we had, where it was and figure out how to store it effectively. Yes, it takes time. Yes, I had services to do and media to make. But spending some time cleaning will pay huge dividends down the road.
First, you can actually find stuff. So when the worship pastor surprises you with a last-minute addition, you know where to grab another DI, mic and cable. Instead of digging through 10 boxes of crap, you get what you need quickly. That’s a win.

Second, your team and your leadership will start taking you more seriously. When they see that you’re treating this like the professional job it is, they will step up their respect of you. Again, I know of what I speak. I came into three churches where the opinion of the tech department was pretty low. I was looked at negatively in two of them. But, after a few months when the stage was clean and safe, the storage rooms were cleaned up and things were working as they should, people started paying attention.

Clean is Safe
When we have people walking across our stages in the dark and there is crap everywhere, we are inviting a trip and fall. Now, the hapless worship team member may not sue the church. But, do you really want your team members tripping and possibly getting hurt because you were too lazy to clean up? To me, that’s just unacceptable.

Step one is organizing all cable runs, and consolidating them to as few bundles as possible. Step two is lining the stage with spike tape for safe walkways. Step three is building or buying snakes to minimize the number of individual mic cables running about.

Organization is Key
I’ll tell you from experience that one of the smartest things you can buy for your tech department is a rolling mechanic’s tool chest. The skinny drawers are perfect for mic’s, DIs and misc gak. The bigger drawers are for cased mic’s, Avalon D5s, tools, whatever. You can pick them up for a few hundred dollars to close to a thousand depending on how big you want. Being on wheels means you can easily move it between locked storage and the stage. Plus, they almost all come with keys so you can lock it to limit access.

You also probably need a bunch of shelves, stacking bins and a workbench. Again, all this is easily sourced at the home center for not a ton of cash. Once you are organized, you’ll know what you have and if it goes missing, you’ll know a lot sooner.

How Much Do You Care?
There’s an old saying, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” A sloppy, disorganized mess of a tech department tells everyone you don’t really care—at which point, it doesn’t matter how much you know. By caring for the stuff under care, people will begin to respect you.

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Advice From An Old Guy: Be On Time


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We used to have a saying back in the day; early is on time, on time is late and if you’re late, don’t bother showing up. The corollary is that, “call time” is the time we call your replacement. Normally, I’m a pretty laid back person and I don’t get too stressed out about my daily schedule. I work from home and can flex as need be. However, if I’m scheduled for a gig, church service or other production event at 1 PM on Saturday, I’m going to plan on pulling into the parking lot at 12:45. If I expect bad traffic, I’ll allow more of a cushion. But I’m not going to be late. I take my job seriously and I will do what I need to do on my end to make sure I end up there on time. Which is, of course, early.

But Muh Grace!
Now certainly there are those out there right now saying, “But Mike, it’s not that big a deal. We’re the church, we are full of grace. If someone is late, it’s OK. We love them and go on.” Sure, that’s fine. But think about this: If you are the TD and you’re late, that means there is a good chance that everyone else is going to have to wait for you to get there and get things going.

There may be 6-8 people in the band who are giving up their Sunday morning or Saturday afternoon waiting for you. The 4-8 tech volunteers who are doing the same will be waiting for you. That’s a dozen or more people waiting. For you. If you’re 15 minutes late, that’s 3 man-hours. In the church, we tend to think of time as free. But time is all we have. And when people consistently find their time is being wasted by others, they get frustrated. When they get frustrated, they eventually leave.

A Pattern of Behavior
Now, I’m not talking about the “once in a while, something really bad happened at home and you’re late once this year” situations. I’m talking about people who are habitually late. Nothing says, “I don’t take my job seriously” like being habitually late. And if you don’t take your job seriously, why should anyone else?

I occasionally hear from frustrated young TDs because they don’t get no respect. When I dig into it, I find out that they are always late, the stage is never set and ready when the band arrives and everyone is continually aggravated at having their time wasted. It’s not hard to see the cause the respect problem.

My Best Compliment
Several years ago, when I was a TD, we had a drummer who played with us about once a month. In addition to being a great drummer, he regularly played with a really big, internationally famous, Grammy-winning band. One day as I was chatting with him as he set up his cymbals, he said to me, “Mike, I gotta tell you; I love coming here to play. I can come in, sit down and play. Everything is set up—the monitors, the mic’s—it’s all perfect. Seriously, this is my favorite place to play. And I give a lot of credit to you and your team. Thanks for making this easy.”

I recount this conversation not to pat myself on the back, but to illustrate a point. Here’s a guy who plays international tours and really enjoys playing on my stage. A big part of that was because while he needed to be there at 2 (and he was always there at 1:45…), I arrived at noon. I allowed enough time to make sure the stage was entirely set and line checked long before the first band member ever set foot on it. Every weekend. Even when nothing changed from last week.

Why did I put so much extra time into this? Because that’s the job. If you need an hour to set and check your stage (and you need to check it—every weekend), you should allow yourself 90 minutes. Now it’s true that most weekends, you’ll be sitting around talking with your tech team for 30 minutes every week. But, having that 30 minute cushion allows for things to break or go wrong, last-minute changes or just getting to know your team. There’s no downside.

Contrast that to the TD that shows up 15 minutes before—or worse, 15 minutes after—the band does and is super-stressed out trying to get everything up and running as the band is setting up. Which TD do you think gets the most respect? One of the easiest things you can do as a TD to start to build the respect of your team, your band and your leadership is be on time. Which is to say, early.

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Advice From An Old Guy


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A few months ago, I was talking with a younger TD. We got to talking about the state of production and leadership in the church today. I mentioned that with all the traveling I do to different churches around the country, it has begun to depress me how things are looking. Sure, the pics on the ‘gram look great, but when the work lights come back on, everything is kind of a mess.

Like most challenges in the church today, I feel this is a problem of leadership—or the lack thereof—and lack of professionalism. When the concept of the Technical Director (or Production Director) began, nearly all of us had years of professional production experience outside the church before joining a church staff. Having either toured or done corporate production for a long time, we came into the church with the mindset that we were pros and ran the departments accordingly.

Then we all aged out. Being a church TD is definitely a young man’s game, and as we get older, we get too tired and too expensive. With church budgets shrinking, churches turned to younger guys with little or no experience outside of the church they grew up in. In and of itself, that’s not a bad thing. We all started somewhere. However, the current leadership crisis has led to a situation where there is no one to train the younger guys how to be professional TDs. I know a lot of old guys like myself who were explicitly or implicitly told that when our services were no longer required, our opinions, experience and knowledge wasn’t either.

This is tragic because production is a craft—a craft that you learn best from someone older and wiser. I’m thankful to have had several older mentors as I was growing up in the business that helped shaped the way I approach production. Sure, you can figure it out on your own, but it takes a lot longer. And as tempting as it is, the internet is not much help anymore. There is so much mis-information out there that ranges from simply bad to truly awful.

The Facebook groups are mostly the blind leading the blind and often end up like many Amazon questions: Q—“Does this product do X, Y and Z?” A—“I don’t know. But I love mine!” Yeah, super-helpful. Thanks

As I was going on about all this with my younger TD friend, he asked me what I thought could be done about it all. I actually didn’t have any good ideas. Honestly, it’s a bit exhausting to think about. Sometimes, the questions I get make me want to retreat to my reloading bench and spend the rest of my days tweaking powder charges and overall lengths to squeeze the most accuracy possible from my rifles.

But then God got in my head and said, “Seriously Sessler, you complain about this all the time. Why don’t you do something to fix it?” So, here we are. I don’t know that I can fix the entire problem, but I’m at least going to contribute to a solution. This is the first post in a series of advice I would give to young TDs getting started in this business. Occasionally, I do run across guys who are eager to learn from someone with a little more experience. And since I’ve been doing this longer than many TDs have been alive, I may have a few things to contribute to the conversation.

Over the next unspecified number of days and weeks, I’ll be posting short, one-topic articles that will address things I think every TD or Production Director should know and do. Someday, I’ll take on the senior leadership crisis—but for now, I’ll stick to something I know a little bit about. Check back in next time for the first topic: Be On Time.

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Mike’s Mixing Axioms: #5 Timing is Everything


Photo courtesy of  David Lofink

Photo courtesy of David Lofink

Well, I bet you thought I forgot all about our final mixing axiom. I have not in fact forgotten, but have been really busy. In the past few weeks, I was part of a launch of a new church campus in Indiana, we kicked off a design process for another church in Indiana, and I took a week off to spend time with my daughter and her boyfriend who were visiting from California. In the midst of all that, writing this post took a back seat. Sorry about that! But here we are, at the final axiom. And perhaps it’s appropriate that the title is Timing is Everything.

I’m going to look at this from two completely different perspectives, both of which will make your services better. 

Time your Effects to the Song Tempo

This tip has made one of the biggest, subtle improvements to my mixes of anything I do. It’s a huge improvement because you can get really creative and layer in a bunch of great reverbs and delays which create a super-rich sonic landscape while not muddling up the mix—if it’s all in time! So often, I hear mixes that have a ton of delay and reverb in them, but because it’s not in time, it just “blurs” the sound. All those extra reflections and delays out of time make it hard to understand lyrics and can obscure instruments. However, when it’s in time, it just sounds good! 

I’ve written about this quite a lot, so I’m not going to go into great detail here. However, it’s one of those things that makes such a difference—and is so easy to do—that it’s worth mentioning again in a post about timing. 

Nail the Transitions

The other issue of timing has to do with transitions. In my view, transitions can make or break a service. Picture this; you’re in the congregation, the worship team is finishing up the last song, everyone is in a posture of worship. It’s time for the pastor to come up and pray. Except his mic is off. Suddenly the mic snaps on mid-sentence while the band abruptly cuts off. You’re immediately jolted out of worship posture to, “what just happened” posture. Bad transitions strike again.

It’s super-important that we not screw up the service by screwing up transitions. Set you console up so you can easily transition from worship to prayer without breaking anything. Maybe it’s just setting up a few VCAs to make it easy. It could be using snapshots or scenes. But whatever you have to do to make those transitions seamless, do it. 

Getting these transitions right means you need to be thinking ahead and be aware of what is going on in the service. You shouldn’t be surprised when the pastor comes up to pray. You need to be ready to make that transition, even if it happens differently than it says in Planning Center. As you approach the end of the last song in the music set, start thinking about how you’re going to go from band to whatever is next. As the video bumper is winding down, figure out the movements you need to make to get to the next thing. Think ahead, don’t wait until one element ends to begin contemplating what is next.

This was an area that I spent considerable time training my volunteers on. Virtual soundcheck is a godsend here. I would cue up a transition point and let them run it again and again until they became comfortable. You may need to practice this as well. Spend some time during the week considering how to smooth out the transitions and the service will be better for it.

So there you go; Mike’s Mixing Axioms. Hopefully this has been a good series. I’ve got lots of ideas brewing for new posts as well as some big changes around here for 2017. Stay tuned!

Elite Core

Mike’s Mixing Axioms: #4–Make Good Choices

Today we’ll be continuing our series on Mike’s Mixing Axioms. These are things that I’ve been working on and working through for the past 20 or so years of mixing. As I said earlier, this is not Gospel, and there are very likely other ways to do things. But this is what I’ve been doing and it seems to deliver consistently good results. 

We’ve already considered the first three: Keep it Simple; Basics First; Less is more. Today, we’re going to talk about choices. 

Axiom #4: Make Good Choices

When my girls were younger, when they would head out with friends, I would often call out as they left the house, “Make good choices!” I was reminding them to make choices based on who we raised them to be. Sometimes those are hard choices, but we all have to make choices.

When it comes to mixing, we also have to make choices. Sometimes they are hard choices. I’ve had to mix musicians that were—how to say this—less than good. Let’s say they had great hearts. There are times when we have to make choices as to what is heard in our PA. In fact, every time we get behind the console we have to make choices about what is in the PA. It’s up to us to make good choices. 

Damage Control

When you’re mixing a “good hearts” band, you are effectively damage control. You are going to have to do your best to present them in the best light possible, and at times that will mean turning some people down or off. The tone deaf background singer probably shouldn’t be highlighted during the service. The guitar player who refuses to tune should probably not be leading the song. Sometimes, your choices become the lesser of two evils and you have to do what you can. It’s not ideal, but as I said in It Might Not Be Your Fault, you work with what you are given.

Good Choices

The game changes when you have a good band. In that case, you still have to make choices, but they become much more creative and you have a lot more to choose from. A lot of people get tripped up when they’re mixing feeling like if it’s on stage, it needs to be heard in the mix just as loud as everything else. In those instances, you’ll hear the acoustic guitar pushed way up too loud during a big rocking song because, well, it’s on stage.

Now, I can’t tell you when to turn things up and when to turn them down. There are simply too many factors to consider. However, let me give you a simple example. Take a song that starts out somewhat mellow, builds, and then breaks down at the end. And let’s assume you have a few electric guitars and an acoustic in addition to the rest of the band. What I might do is feature the acoustic in the beginning and ending sections and the electrics in the big middle. During the big middle, you might not hear the acoustic at all unless you really listen closely. Trying to push the acoustic into the big section of the mix might well just muddy it up or make it harder to hear the vocal. 

Again, I’m not trying to give you a prescription, but rather permission. I want you to have permission to not feel like you have to hear everything all the time. Sometimes things like keys and pads are just there, filling in gaps, and you’d really only notice them if you turned them off. That’s OK! 

How do you decide what to feature? Listen to the band, they will let you know. In a well-arranged song, something will lead each section. It may be the same instrument, or it may change. Follow along with the band and mirror their choices. 

Now sometimes, you get a good band, with really good players who all want to be soloists. I’ve mixed those bands as well. In those cases, you get to choose who is leading and who is background. You’ll have to pick the instrument that makes the most sense for the song and tuck the rest behind. 

This is one of the hardest things to teach, honestly. Some people just know what choices to make. Others have to learn, and some will never get it. The best thing I can tell you is to spend a lot of time listening to music critically. Take a song you like and listen to it over and over. Map it out; figure out what you hear in each section of the song. What is prominent and what is in the background? What is the lead and what disappears? Music is a language and like any language, we can learn it—it just takes time and practice. 

This axiom is probably the most vague and I apologize for that. Like I said, it’s hard to illustrate with words. Next time, we’ll get into the last one which is much more concrete. Until then, make good choices!

Elite Core

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