Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Category: Presentations (Page 1 of 7)

Three Common Lyric Slide Mistakes

While I may be an audio guy at heart, I got my start in this business doing large-scale speaker support presentations for very large companies like Stouffer Foods and Nestlé USA. Those years of having to get text formatted correctly on screen—which back then meant getting it right on the 35mm slide—formed the basis for how I treat all lyric support to this day. 

Perhaps because so few people are actually educated on this topic (yes, educated; it’s different from being “trained”), I see a lot of mistakes when it comes to laying out lyric slides. Today, I’m going to hit the top three I see all the time. Each is very simple to fix and requires almost no extra time to do correctly. 

Drifting Baselines

Notice the text on the right is just a little higher?

Notice the text on the right is just a little higher?

This one really drives me nuts. The baseline is the line at the bottom of a line of text. The base of the line. Get it? I see a few different problems here. The first one is very common, and it’s a mistake that happens when you import a block of copied text. Let’s say you have two four-line slides for the verse. The first is fine, but after the last line of the second slide, there is an extra return. ProPresenter sees that return and raises the text by one line. Well, not technically one line in this case, because the text is centered vertically in the block, so it’s like a half-line. Which is actually worse. This will cause the second slide of text to be higher than the first. If you were cutting between slides, it might not be as noticeable, but most people dissolve, and you’ll clearly see the text step up. The fix is easy; remove the extra return and the text returns to normal. 

Here's what you see during the dissolve. Note the text stepping up. 

Here’s what you see during the dissolve. Note the text stepping up. 

The other issue I see is when people start moving the text blocks around in the text editor. Don’t do this; stick with the templates unless you’re going for a specific moving line of text effect. After you build a song for the first time, it doesn’t hurt to select all the slides and apply the template to them to make sure everything is where it’s supposed to be. 

Splitting Phrases

This also really drives me nuts. Most worship songs are written in singable phrases. There is a bit of a trend in some newer music to be more free-form, but we’ll ignore those for now. Take the song, None But Jesus. The verse of this song is made up of three phrases. However, the phrases are not of equal length. But this is how it is to be sung. See the example below:

However, sometimes an edict gets sent down from on high that all slides shall have four lines on them unless it’s the end of a section. And that can lead to a very unfortunate formatting issue as we see below. 

This is just hard to sing that way. And I can almost guarantee your lyrics operator will have a tough time trying to figure out when to advance. Listen to the song while you build the lyrics, figure out where the natural phrasing breaks are and break the slides there. Your congregation and your song words operator will thank you. 

Dumb Quotes

I’m probably showing my age here now, I remember when we actually cared about typography and making words look good. I’ve asked Renewed Vision for an automatic smart quotes correction option, but I got blank stares when I did. Maybe it’s not a big deal to most, but as my friend Andrew Stone says, it’s the details that take us from good to great. 

What’s a smart quote and what’s a dumb quote? Look at the example below.

As you can see, smart quotes actually open and close the quotation. The quotes will look different depending on the typeface selected, but you can see how much better they look than the dumb quotes. Reading a slide with dumb quotes is like singing a song with a 1 second burst of square wave thrown in every so often. It’s jarring and ugly. 

So how do you get smart quotes? Well, you either take advantage of the programming library Apple has thoughtfully included and simply turn them on, or in the case of applications that don’t have that, you can use the following key sequences for both single and double quotes. Don’t forget to use them for apostrophes, too. 

This issue for me is a bigger deal at Christmas when more people use older typefaces to set the mood. Dumb quotes are really jarring in a lovely block of text set in Baskerville Old Style. 

So there you go. Three of my most commonly seen lyric slide mistakes. To be fair, these happen in Easy Worship, Media Show, Proclaim or PowerPoint. Though if you use Keynote, you can turn on smart quotes. Boom. Let’s get another 5-10% better this Christmas season, OK?

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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

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ProPresenter–Color Coding Slides

Last time I told you how I like to break up lyrics in slides for easy reading. Today we’ll tackle another ProPresenter operational topic; color codes. I’ve seen this happen so many times it has become tragic. The worship leader, sensing the congregation is ready to repeat the bridge one more time loops back. The ProPresenter operator however, was expecting the final chorus. Those lyrics are triggered and sit there while the ProPresenter op frantically ties to find the bridge slides. Sometimes it takes so long, the WL has gone back to the chorus before the bridge slides ever make it to the screen. That is not a great way to stay non-distracting. 

Now, I understand the conundrum. As an operator, you’re staring at a screen full of grey tiles with itty-bitty words on them. You’re reading and trying to find the right slide, but you just can’t find it. What are you supposed to do? Take advantage of a feature that has been around for a long time; slide labels and colors. 

I wrote about this 6 years ago, but I still see it happen so often I figured I better touch on this topic again. The good folks at Renewed Vision have made it easier than ever to build custom label lists that have colors associated with them, so it takes just a minute to label and color code your whole song. Here’s how it works. 

Colors for Easy Identification

As you can see in the above screen shot, it’s pretty easy to tell right off the bat where the different sections of a song are. I settled on a  standard color scheme many years ago and it’s served me well ever since. You can probably figure it out by looking at the image. 








You can use whatever color scheme you want as long as it makes sense to you and is consistent. After a few weeks behind the computer, the operators get to know the color code instinctively. Once they have it down, it takes mere seconds to locate the right slide when there is an off-script change. There were times when I would be mixing and would see our WL motion to the band he was going to repeat something unexpectedly. Before I could even motion to the ProPresenter op, they would already have the slide on the screen. That’s how it should work.

Name Your Slides

You can also apply labels to slides. In addition to the colors, I always made sure to label them Verse 1, Verse 2, Chorus, Bridge, etc. It’s just one more item for the brain to latch onto when looking for a slide in a hurry. If a verse is broken up into multiple slides, it would be labeled Verse 1-1, Verse 1-2. We experimented with Verse 1-A, Verse 1-B for a while, but I think I like the numbers better. 

Honestly, getting to that level was more important in Ver. 4 than in Ver. 5 & 6. Version 5 brought arrangements which make it easy to clump all the slides for Verse 1 into a token. When you’re building an arrangement, the tokens keep the verse slides together and in the right order. 

I know this may seem like a little thing, and it might seem tedious at first to start labeling and coding your songs. However, you only need to do it once, and after that, you are ahead of the curve. I used to say I would put my ProPresenter ops up there against any other church anywhere and they would be some of the best. Part of that was the fact that we trained hard and they really cared. But making it easier for them to succeed is the TD’s job, and it’s one I gladly take on.

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Phrasing Song Lyrics

I’m going to talk about one of my pet peeves when I visit churches; poor phrasing of song lyrics on the screen. What do I mean by poor phrasing? I consider phrasing the way the lyrics are formatted on the screen. I’m not talking about font selection, color, backgrounds or animations and transitions (those will probably all be other posts someday). I want to talk about how the lines of lyrics are presented. 

I ran into this a while back when visiting a church. The phrasing of the lyrics was pretty random—in fact, I’d guess they simply copied the lyrics and used the “Import Copied Text” feature of ProPresenter and hit save. While that will get lyrics on the screen, it doesn’t make the song easy to sing. 

Songs have Phrases

Almost all songs, and certainly most worship songs are written in phrases. 

Give me faith

To trust what you say

That you’re good

And your love is great

When you see that on the screen, you know how to sing it. However, if the phrasing is messed up, it makes it really hard to sing—especially if it’s a new-to-you song. Think about it; when you have a new song in worship, the congregation is not only trying to figure out the melody, but the phrasing. You can make it easier to figure out the phrasing by putting the words on screen the way they are written to be sung. Let me give you an example.

Bad Phrasing

Here is the song Give Me Faith from Elevation Worship. Click through the slides below and see if you can figure out how the song is supposed to be sung. I created these using the aforementioned method; I copied the lyric sheet and used Import Copied Text. However the lines broke based on available space is how the slides ended up. No other formatting was done. Click on the image to advance the slides. 

See how hard that is? Unless you really know the song, you have no idea where the pauses and breaths are. Without any visual indication, you’re left mumbling the lyrics hoping not to make too loud a mistake. In contrast, look at this.

Good Phrasing

Same song, same lyrics, but I spent about 1 minute tweaking the line breaks. Look at how much easier it is to know where to pause and breathe. Click on the image to advance.

Hopefully it’s pretty obvious how much better this is from an audience standpoint. I only added two slides, but it’s a lot easier to track with what’s going on. 

If you’re not familiar with the song, here is a version from Elevation with lyrics. Note that for the most part, the lyrics are laid out the same way I did them, but not exactly. This just goes to show there is some leeway in how you do it. I don’t disagree with how they did it, it’s just a bit different than how I did. I didn’t look at theirs before I did mine. 

Quick Tips

ProPresenter makes it really easy to format text this way. By opening up the Editor, you can simply place line breaks in the lines of lyrics where they fall in the song. Sometimes, when you start breaking up lyrics, you end up with more lines than are optimal. To quickly move text to a new slide, place your insertion bar where you want to create a new slide and press Option-Return. That will take all text to the right of the insertion bar and put it onto a new slide. Slick—thanks, guys! 

I generally try to keep my slides to 4 lines or less. More than that and it’s easy to get lost. That’s not a hard rule, however. If the verse ends up as 5, I usually won’t split it into a 2 and a 3. Too many slide changes can be as hard to sing as bad phrasing. On the other hand, if we hit 6 lines, I’ll usually break it up into a 3 and 3, or a 2 and 4. This is not a random choice, however; it’s based on the phrasing of the song. Sometimes phrases end up being two lines long, so don’t break a phrase in the middle and put the second half on another slide. 

Put your line and slide changes in natural breath and pause points in the song and everyone will have an easier time. It’s better for the congregation and for the operator. And it takes just a few minutes, thanks to some great software.


Upgrading Production Machines

Not what you want to see on Sunday morning...

Not what you want to see on Sunday morning…

We got to talking about this topic on one of the recent CTW episodes, and I thought it would be a good post. When I was on staff as a TD, I had a pretty strict policy regarding our production machines. Now that I’m working as an integrator, I dread the days following a major Mac OS update. That’s because I know I will soon be getting calls that start with, “We just upgraded all our iMacs to latest, greatest OS X… and fill in the blank software doesn’t work right anymore…” At that point, all I can say is, “Yeah, I usually don’t upgrade right away. Or ever, really. But you have a full image backup from before the upgrade, right?” Silence…

So in the interest of preventing said calls and emails, let me give you a few pointers on how to manage production machines. These are lessons I learned—many of the them the hard way—over 25+ years of managing production computers. It’s important to note that production machines are different from office computers. If an office computer goes down, you may not be able to get to your email for a little bit (except through your phone), but otherwise, nothing bad really happens. 

If a production machine goes down on Sunday morning, bad, bad things happen. If you upgrade on Friday and break something, the next 36 hours will be stressful. You really don’t want to be beta testing new software on the weekend. Here’s my guide to keeping your sanity with your computers. 

Don’t Upgrade Unless You Have To

Most of the time, you don’t have to upgrade your production machines. When I was at Coast Hills, most of my machines were running the latest version of 10.6 until early 2014 when we upgraded to 10.7. Why? Because it worked. If everything works on the OS you have, don’t upgrade it. I really like computers that start up and go to work every time without any fanfare. Avoiding unnecessary updates helps this.

My triggers for updating the OS are twofold: First, if some production software updates and introduces new features that I really need, and it requires a newer version of the OS, then I’ll update. Second, if the OS update introduces new features I really need, I’ll update to that version after the next version comes out. I like to stay about 1 version back at least. 

Don’t Upgrade Right Away

Computer code has become so complex it’s almost impossible to catch all the bugs and problems in a program before release, let alone an operating system. Apple is pretty good, but there is no way they can know how a new OS will affect every user. And many churches are still using older hardware and peripherals like audio or video interfaces, and a new OS can break the drivers for a while or forever. This is perhaps my #1 rule of OS updates: DON’T UPGRADE RIGHT AWAY. Let others beta test it first. 

I stay behind by at least one version because that allows time to get drivers and software updated and working solidly. Remember, we prefer reliable performance to fancy new features. 

Turn Off Auto Updates

One of my biggest pet peeves for production machines is auto updates. Windows used to be the worst at this, but now Apple has joined the fun in the last two versions. Unless you configure it properly, both OS’s will happily install new software or system updates all on their own and that can easily break things. Until I figured out how to turn it off, we kept having Windows kick up a message saying it would reboot the machine in 10 minutes to install updates every Sunday morning! Google it to learn how to turn that off. 

This does mean you should stay on top of a manual update routine, especially for security updates. But do that on Monday or Tuesday, then test everything thoroughly during the week to make sure it works. If you leave your computers on all the time, you really need to be careful of this. The last thing you want is to come in on Sunday only to find your software updated and no longer works right.

Verify All Software Will Work—Including Drivers

I just upgraded my studio Mac Mini to Mavericks, mainly because I installed a second screen and wanted to take advantage of the updated Spaces functionality. I waited so long because I wanted to be sure all my audio interface software would be good. I use this machine every week for CTW, and it has to work.

If you use an external peripheral that relies on driver software, be sure it’s approved for the OS you want to use before upgrading. I’ve heard from several people that they decided to upgrade their OS and now some critical external piece doesn’t work anymore. Remember, unless you have to upgrade, don’t. 

Those are a few suggestions for the upgrade process. If you take anything from this, it’s don’t upgrade. At least not unless you absolutely have to. Next time, I’ll give you some suggestions for creating a safety net for your computers. In the meantime, my friend Joel Smith has written a great guide on keeping ProPresenter machines working reliably. You should go read it. 20 Steps To Maximizing ProPresenter For Mac


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What’s the Difference: LCD vs. DLP Pt. 3

Image courtesy of   Christie Digital

Image courtesy of Christie Digital

Today we’ll get to our final installment of LCD vs. DLP. We’ve covered some basic design differences, discussed the pros and cons of LCD, so today we’ll tackle the pros and cons of DLP. And I’ll tell you which one you should buy (spoiler alert, I’m not really going to do that; it’s not nearly that clear cut). But first, DLP; what’s good, and what’s not.

DLP Pros

  • High reliability. Because of their sealed optic engine and lack of organic or inorganic panels, they tend to last for a long time and look the same throughout the life span. 
  • No convergence issues. It’s a single chip, so you don’t have to worry about images not lining up. Of course, when you start looking at 3 DLP projectors, convergence becomes a factor again. 
  • No real screen door effect. At a given resolution, the pixel pitch tends to be tighter on a DLP than LCD. Thus, you are less likely to see the pixels. The image tends to look more homogenous. Again, at 1920×1080, these differences are shrinking a lot.
  • Higher apparent output. DLPs have a while slot on the color wheel to boost brightness. Thus, the image may look brighter than an LCD. This is deceptive, however. I’ve seen shootouts of projectors where a 5000 lumen LCD is clearly brighter than a 7000 lumen DLP. I suspect this has more to do with how “lumens” are calculated, however. 

DLP Cons

  • The rainbow effect. I mentioned this last time. Because of the color cycling that happens when the image is produced, some people can see a rainbow of color on the screen. 
  • Color saturation might not be as good as LCD. Again, this has to do with the way the colors are reproduced. There are some DLPs with exceptional color saturation, but they tend to be expensive. Lower cost units are often a little washed out. 
  • No grey. A DLP micro-mirror is either on or off, black or white. There is no grey. To produce a grey, the pixel as to be flashed on and off between black and white many times per second, and this can produce some artifacts. Whether this is a problem or not will depend on your content. 

Does It Matter?

Maybe, maybe not. Again, for many applications, either a DLP or LCD projector could be perfectly acceptable. As I said, I’ve seen some LCD models that look so much better than DLPs it’s not funny. At the same time, I’ve seen some DLPs that are gorgeous. Like many things, it’s more about the price point than the technology. Once you start comparing projectors of comparable (and sufficient) price, the differences become more subtle. 

That’s not to say there aren’t choices to be made. It all depends on the application. For something like environmental projection, you can easily get away with an inexpensive LCD projector. When you start talking about IMAG in a large room, you have to start choosing more carefully. I’m not convinced it’s the underlying technology that has to be the key factor, though. I’ve been to enough NAB’s and InfoComm’s and seen enough LCD and DLP projectors to know either can look great. Often, it comes down to availability, price, suitability, lenses, service and what your dealer carries. The good news is, either technology can be more than good enough. And they keep getting better

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What’s the Difference: LCD vs. DLP Pt. 2

Image courtesy of   Christie Digital

Image courtesy of Christie Digital

Last time, we touched on the basic, underlying technology of LCD and DLP imaging systems. Today, we’ll look at some of the pros and cons. As I said last time, much has been written on this subject and I’m not going to exhaustive here. If you want a very thorough look at this, albeit from a home theater projector perspective, check out this article at Projector Central

LCD Pros

  • LCD projectors are generally less expensive than 1-DLP units at a given brightness. This is a general rule, and there are plenty of exceptions. But if budget is a big concern, look to LCD.
  • LCD generally has better contrast. This is relative, however. Keep in mind, you’re shooting the image onto a white screen. So the blackest the image will ever get is as black as the white screen ever gets. 
  • No rainbow effect. I sometimes notice a slight jitter in DLP images. It’s not always readily apparent, and I’m a trained observer. But LCD images tend to be pretty rock-solid. 
  • Better apparent resolution. Because the pixels are very clearly defined, graphics tend to look sharper on LCD projectors. To some extent, this is academic now that we’re getting up to 1920×1080 chipsets in both technologies, and given the average viewing distances. But there is a difference. 
  • Better color saturation. Because a DLP color wheel typically has a white slot in it to boost brightness, the color saturation can be lower. LCDs behave more like LED lights; the brighter they are the more saturated they get. 

LCD Cons

  • Lifespan of panels. We don’t really know how long the LCD panels will last before they start breaking down. We do know they break down and the colors start to shift. Newer inorganic panels seem to hold up better than older organic designs, but some are projecting the life of an LCD panel to be between 4,000-10,000 hours. That could be 1-3 bulb changes. Of course, a lot of those tests are being done by DLP makers, so… If you are using your projector for a few hours on the weekend, and occasionally during the week, this is probably not an issue. In a big command center where projectors are on 24/7 for years, this is a problem.
  • Dust. The LCD engine is not sealed, so it’s possible dust can get in there. This is less of a problem with pro-grade projectors that have good filtration systems. Still, if you have a dusty environment, be aware of this. 
  • Screen door effect. Because the edges of the pixels are so well defined, you can sometimes see the spaces between them. It looks a bit like viewing the image through a screen door. Again, with higher resolution and tighter pixel pitch, this is less of a problem than it used to be. 
  • Mis-convergence. Because an LCD image is made up of three images of different colors, they have to be lined up perfectly. If they are not, you’ll see fringing of color on vertical or horizontal lines. Again, with newer, pro-level projectors this is less of a problem. But it does show up on budget models.

There’s a look at the LCD. On Friday, we’ll wrap this up with a look at DLP pros and cons, and some concluding thoughts on which one is better.


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