Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Category: Renovation (Page 1 of 2)

CHCC Renovation: The Lobby Video


It's gratifying to know that the video was done before the floor was!

It’s gratifying to know that the video was done before the floor was!

For the last 10-15 years, the Coast Hills lobby has been the home of some really high-tech video. A pair of 27” CRT displays flanked the doors to the sanctuary. They were fed by—wait for it—RF modulated video, originally from the Panasonic MX-50, which was all composite. Yeah, it looked awesome. 

A few years ago, we upgraded to a Ross Crossover Solo, but I didn’t update the video because it kept getting cut from the budget. Thankfully, we had a flood. One of the CRTs was destroyed (Yes!) and the other mysteriously stopped working. Hmmm…

So it was time to update when we re-did the lobby. Somewhat on a lark, I did a Sketchup design of the new lobby to help leadership visualize what was being discussed. In that design, I stuck four 55” flat screens on the side walls, and four 42” flat screens in front of the doors for digital signage. We ultimately trimmed down to two screens on the right of the lobby, but that was it. 


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Routing Needed

The previous CRTs were fed the same signal from a DA. I wanted to be able to address each screen individually. That meant a matrix switcher. I spent a fair amount of time going back and forth between which one to buy and ultimately decided on a Blackmagic Compact VideoHub, a 40×40 SDI matrix. When I installed it and fired up the software, I immediately regretted it. The software is very flaky and after 3 hours, I never did get VideoHub Control to work. Thankfully, the other VideoHub software works, though only through USB. While it will work, I will not likely use any more of their products. The bitter taste of poor implementation lingers long after the sweetness of the low price is gone. Next time, Ross or For-A.

Anyway, each TV in the lobby—and the building for that matter—is its own destination on the router. That means we can route program, ProPresenter, or any of our four digital signage channels, or any other source to any TV. The wiring is more complex, but the flexibility it provides is pretty great. 

Digital Signage Choices

I looked around at plenty of options for digital signage. We could have used ProPresenter with a couple of Dual Head2Gos; or AppleTVs or even four Mac Minis with Keynote. But I settled on DigitalSignage.com. They provide signage for many restaurants, hotels and other retail venues. It’s not the most elegant user interface, but it is very powerful. There are robust scheduling rules that make it possible to come up with really custom signage for each event during the week. The service is free, and they sell custom-built players. We went with the MediaBox 200, which is basically an Intel NUC with a Core i3 processor and dual HDMI outputs. 

Two of them give us access to four channels of digital signage. It’s all accessible from the web, so it’s easy to manage. The only trouble we had was with our firewall. We had to assign static IPs to each MediaBox and open up those ports so they could communicate with the cloud server unencumbered. 

Again, time will tell if that was a good choice or not, but I can report that their tech support is pretty good and the system does work as advertised once it’s configured correctly. 

Monitor Options

While you can go to Costco or Amazon and buy a cheap display for your lobby, we chose to buy LG commercial grade displays for our install. The cost is about 30%-40% more, but the power supplies are more robust, and the displays are warranted for use in commercial installations. If the display was only going to be used occasionally, or was for a weekend only use, I would likely go consumer grade. But these will be on 10-12 hours a day, 7 days a week, so they need to be robust. They can also be controlled via RS-232 if you like.

As the router is SDI, and the displays take HDMI, we had to convert. I used the Monoprice HD-SDI to HDMI converters for this job. At under $100 each, they are the most budget-friendly options around, and they seem to work just great. I’ve had one around for testing for over a year, and we’ve had no issues with it. My guess is we’ll have the occasional power supply go bad on them, but we’d have to replace all of the 3-4 times before it would have made sense to go with a more expensive option. I don’t think that will happen in the next 5-7 years. But I could be wrong…

So, that’s the lobby. Next time, we’ll talk about the PA and the lobby speakers.

“Gear

Today’s post is brought to you by myMix. myMix is an intuitive, easy-to-use personal monitor mixing and multi-track recording system that puts each user in control of their own mix! myMix features two line-level balanced 1/4″ TRS outputs and one 1/8″ (3.5mm) headphone output, the ability to store up to 20 named profiles on each station, 4-band fully parametric stereo output EQ recording of up to 18 tracks plus stereo on an SD card. Learn more at myMixaudio.com

The Story of Redemption in Furniture


One of the projects I undertook during our renovation was the building of the tech booth desks. I’ve spent the last three years cribbing design ideas from various tech booths around the country. I integrated those ideas in with the needs I saw regularly as a TD. Last time, I talked about the design specifics and construction details. This time, I want to look at it from a different perspective. 

One of the things I hear often around the Visioneering offices is how we can tell a story through architecture. As I spent close to 100 hours building these desks, I had plenty of time to think about the story they tell. If you know me at all, you know I don’t do much of anything without intention. Building these desks, I made some very intentional decisions that not only led to a solid desk, but also tell a story. 

Be Where You Are

Sometimes, we think that in order to do ministry, we have to go to some exotic, far away place. But most times, we’re called to serve right where we are. While I could have used oak, maple, teak or my personal favorite, cherry for these desks, I chose Douglas Fir and Redwood. Both these trees are native to California and remind us we don’t have to go far to make an impact. 


We Are All Flawed

One thing we regularly hear from those outside the faith is that they don’t like church because it’s too fake. As Christians, we’re really good at putting on our happy face and hiding our problems when we go to church because we’re told that once we get saved, our lives should be happy and blessed. Except sometimes they aren’t.

The world still beats us up. We lose jobs. We lose marriages. Our kids screw up. Our parents screw up. We screw up. We can be abused. Life isn’t always easy. 

I’ve built a lot of furniture in my life, and normally, I try to make it perfect. But on this project, I intentionally left some flaws in place. While the half-lap joints are incredibly strong, they are not perfect. There are some gaps. I didn’t try to fill them in because I wanted them to be a reminder that we’re not perfect. And it’s OK. It’s OK to let people know things are hard right now. Of all places, the church should be a place where we can be broken, and be OK. I suspect tech guys know more about this than most, and I wanted this reminder present. 


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Jesus is a Strong Bond

For those half-lap joints, I used Gorilla glue. It’s billed as the world’s strongest glue and having used it for 20 years, I would agree. It’s an expanding, gap-filling polyurethane glue. When you spread it on the joint, it expands to fill the gaps. As I watched the glue expand during set up, I thought about how Jesus fills in some of the cracks and gaps in our lives. He creates an incredibly strong bond between us, the Father and other members of His body. 

I left the glue exposed in those joints to remind us about this. Again, it’s not perfect, as Jesus doesn’t make our life perfect. He does however, anchor us. Just as no one will ever be able to separate these two pieces of lumber, no one can snatch us out of His hands. 

God Doesn’t Only Use the Beautiful People

When you look at those on stage in many modern churches, you would be tempted to think that only the beautiful people can make a difference for Him. When we build furniture, we typically choose the best pieces for the front and the beat up ones for the back. While I did some sorting on this project, I decided to put a few pieces that were a little more rough out front. These pieces are still incredibly strong and will do their job faithfully despite not being as pretty as the other ones. I did this to remind us that we shouldn’t look only at outside appearances when choosing someone for a task.

Transparency Matters

I chose a clear polyurethane finish for these desks. Again, it would have been logical to paint them and use laminate for the tops. Had I painted them, I could have filled all the gaps, plugged all the knots and filled all the holes. But, I believe church is a place where we can all go, flaws and all, without having to cover it all up. At the same time, I did spend considerable time sanding off the rough edges and smoothing things out. I know God has smoothed off many of my rough edges over the years, and He continues to do so. I’m not yet perfect, but hopefully I’m a little less rough then I was. 

When we’re serving together, we shouldn’t have to hide our struggles. Often, God uses other people around us to smooth our edges, but that can’t happen if we show up looking perfect. 

I could go on about all the ways I see God’s story of redemption in these simple tables. Some may say I’m reading too much into this, or that I’m just lazy for not finishing them further. But I really do believe that everything speaks, and it’s really a question of what it’s saying. My hope is that these tables will keep speaking long after I’m gone.

Roland

CHCC Renovation: Tech Desks


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I’ve been posting a few pictures of the progress of my new tech booth desks on Twitter and they seem to have generated quite a bit of interest. So here’s a quick post on how I designed and built them. 

Designed in Sketchup

I typically use Trimble Sketchup for my design work. While there is a pretty good learning curve, it’s not terribly hard to use, at least as far as 3D programs go. It’s easy to draw in scale, which is critical for visualizing how everything is going to work. Plus, there is a huge library of previously built models that you can drop into the plan. I have iMacs, monitors, speakers and keyboards all over my model, which helps me figure out how big thing need to be.

If It Ain’t Over Built…

My dad and I used to joke that we should start a construction company, and if we did, our motto would be, “If it ain’t over built, we didn’t build it.” In that vein, I used 4×4 Douglass Fir lumber for the legs and all cross pieces. Each piece is joined to the other with a half-lap joint and glued together with Gorilla glue. Gorilla glue is crazy strong, and it expands as cures to fill in any gaps. 

We cut the laps first on a sliding compound miter saw, then finished them with a router. With the saw, we set the depth to just under half the thickness of the wood and made repeated cuts to remove a bunch material. After knocking out the remaining slices of wood, I used a plunge router and spiral cutting bit to finish the cut to the right depth. Cutting the ones in the middle of the wood was easy. But the ones on the ends required a piece of 4×4 clamped to the work table near the end of the piece I was milling to hold the router up. 


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Mid-Span Support

One of my biggest issues with most tech tables is there is always something to smash your knees or thighs underneath the desk table. I didn’t want that problem with these. So I located the mid-span cross brace below the table top 12” back from the front edge. I figured this would be far enough that you could comfortably raise the chair up enough to get as high as you want to to mix without hitting anything. 

Most of the tables are under 6’ long, so I wasn’t worried about sagging; especially with two 4x4s holding up the top. But FOH is 10’ long, and that’s a long span for a desk, particularly one with so much weight on it. To fasten the top to the base, I used PL Premium adhesive and 4 1/2” Timberlock screws. Now, for this assembly to sag, the entire thing has to deform, which should be hard.

The top is made of two piece of 3/4” 8-ply plywood, that are fully glued together. I spread Titebond glue over the entire surface, and screwed them together every 12”. As FOH is 10’ long, and it’s hard to find 10’ plywood, I had to join a few pieces. I used a full 8’ piece on the bottom with a 2’ end, and two 5’ pieces for the top. Putting the seam right in the middle will hide it almost completely as the console will be sitting right there. Looking back on it, I should have used plate joints (also know as biscuits) for those seams. Next time…

They’re Strong & Mobile

Overall, the desks are pretty tough. I’ve sat on all of them, and there is very little deflection. Even the FOH desk hardly moves, and as the SD8 is 51” long, most of the weight will be about 3’ from each leg. So I think we’ll be OK. 

I put 3” locking casters on each desk as well. I have always hated having to climb behind the desk to work on the I/O of the consoles. So I decided to put casters on them, so it’s easier to pull the desk out and get back there and work. You can’t skimp on casters, and I found these for about $8 each at Home Depot. The desks roll very nicely and should last a long time. 

Here is the Sketchup file if anyone wants to see the actual design. I’m not going to post construction drawings for them because they take a lot of time to generate, and are only useful if your tech booth is the same size as mine. Grab Sketchup and modify the sizes to suit your booth if you want.

Roland

Today’s post is brought to you by Heil Sound. Established in 1966, Heil Sound Ltd. has developed many professional audio innovations over the years, and is currently a world leader in the design and manufacture of large diaphragm dynamic, professional grade microphones for live sound, broadcast and recording.

CHCC Renovation: Working with Architects

Blueprint from Flickr via Wylio
© 2007 Festival della Scienza, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

It’s been a little while since I updated you on the renovation at Coast Hills. As I write this, I’m one day away from the final week of install. As we work through this week, I’ll update you on some of the technical things we did, but in this post, I wanted to offer some advice on something I almost never hear anyone talking about; how to work with the architect and builder during your renovation. 

They Don’t Really Know What We Do

I had a revelation a few weeks back. Now that I work as an AVL integrator in an architecture firm, I realized that my aggravation with the architects who designed the buildings I worked in was misplaced. After having many discussions with the guys in our firm, I’ve come to realize that they are not tech guys. This may have been obvious, but it really hit me one day. The reason they don’t know how to design with the needs of production in mind is that they’ve never done production. 

This is not their fault, but it does put the onus on us as production guys and gals to clearly define our needs and make sure that those needs are incorporated into the plan. To be sure, some architects are more knowledgable than others, but it’s a mistake to assume they will know how to design a stage, tech booth or video control room that will meet your every need without any of your input. 

Communicate Clearly, Follow Up and Follow Up Again

I sent many, many emails to the architect on our project. I followed up with most of them. But the ones that I didn’t follow up on ended up being things that were missed. Even after I received confirmation that my curtain batten plan was to be included in the plans, I never actually checked the plans to be sure they made it. It wasn’t until I asked about it that everyone said, “Curtain battens? What curtain battens?” What followed was a tragically comedic email discussion about what materials should be used for the battens. 

Again, we can’t assume the architect or builder know what we need from a production standpoint. Chances are, they’ve never actually built a production stage. We all have heard the stories about trying to explain to the electrician that yes, we actually do really need all that conduit. And yes, dedicated power really is important. It is up to us as the experts in production to communicate, communicate and communicate again. And don’t assume that because you specify Schedule 40 black steel pipe for battens that someone won’t think Schedule 40 PVC is acceptable. Trust me on this.

Choose Wisely

I’ve had conversations in the past with church leaders about choosing a builder. Many years ago, I was on the building committee at my church, and they wanted to hire an architect who had never designed a church before, and a builder who had only built one very traditional church building. Both were bad ideas. 

Make sure the architect and builder have actually built similar buildings to what you want. If they haven’t, they must express an extreme desire to learn about the needs of modern church production. If they think a church AVL system is a gooseneck mic on the chancel and a few speakers in the nave, and you’re looking to create a Hillsong-like experience every weekend, run away. Not that there is anything wrong with a chancel and a nave, but that is a whole different ballgame. 

This is a Big Deal

When we start talking about renovations or new buildings, we’re talking about dollar amounts in the hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. This is money given sacrificially by the members of your congregation with the idea that it would go to advance the ministry. When bad decisions are made and money is wasted, it’s bad stewardship, plain and simple. It is up to us as experts in production to stay on top of this stuff. Never assume, over communicate, follow up and follow up again. If you have a good building team, the end result will be a good one.

“Gear

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Field Guid to AVL Renovations: Commissioning


Well, this turned out to take longer to get through than I expected. But here we are, at the final post and the final stage of the project. After figuring out the system objectives, developing an initial budget, landing on key technologies, working out the design, installing the gear, it’s finally time to fire it up and see if it all works. 

This is probably my favorite part of the job, to be honest. I love seeing the gear light up and enjoying the fruits of our labor. And in most projects, there is a lot of labor…

It might be too late to bring this up, but I feel it is important to raise the question, why do churches like to launch a new campus—with all the new technology, processes and people—on big weekends like Christmas and Easter? I certainly get the concept. Those are the biggest weekends of the year, and great ways to build momentum. 

However, it’s pretty rare to spend months on a project, weeks of install and perhaps a week to get everything talking and not have any issues. Even if the installers did their job perfectly and all the gear works, chances are, your tech crews will still be getting used to the new system. Your band may need some time on a new personal monitor mixer. Even your kids ministry may benefit from a weekend or two to get up to speed on a new check-in process.

A Modest Proposal

Instead of making the first weekend in the new or newly remodeled space one of the biggest of the year, why not plan on having the project done a few weeks early so you can work the bugs out? This is a good idea for many reasons. For starters, you’ll likely have a lot of guests on that big weekend. You want their first experience with the church to be a good one. Give your teams the chance to make it a great experience. 

You may also find that the initial tuning of the PA wasn’t quite right once the band and congregation got in the room. Having a week or two to really dial that in will make it better for all. A soft launch gives all your teams time to adapt to the new environment, which will enable them to be more friendly and helpful on the big weekend. 

Get Some Help

As with design and installation, having some help for commissioning the system is a great idea. Your integrator will likely want to turn the key for the first time to make sure all is well and you’re happy. On complex installs, you may also get manufacturer support. 

Commissioning is a great time to learn all you can about the new gear. As a tech, you should be there as much as possible while they get things set up. Ask questions, look over their shoulders and pay attention. After they leave, you’ll be responsible for running and maintaining the system, so you’d better know it reasonably well. 

It might also be a good idea to work into the contract to have the integrator send someone back down a few weeks or a month after opening weekend to tweak, adjust and train. Sometimes you’ll have questions after a weekend or two that you didn’t have at first. Having someone come back a few weeks later will ensure that you are really up to speed on everything. And if the PA needs to be tweaked a bit, that’s a great time to do it.

Ultimately, your integrator and manufacturers want you to be happy with the install. If you have issues, make sure to bring them up and give them a chance to fix them before going nuclear on social media. Good integrators will be very reasonable to deal with and make sure your experience is a good one. 

The End?

This may be the end of this series, but the story goes on. It’s rare that a church buys AVL equipment only one time, or never remodels their building. I strongly suggest doing a de-brief after the project is done to see what you can learn to do better next time. There will be a next time, and you owe it to yourself and future staff to get better each time. A remodel project is not a small undertaking, there will be bumps along the way. But when you approach it with the right attitude and open communication, it can be a great experience. Hopefully this guide has been helpful.

If you want to see all the posts in this series, click here. They’re in reverse order due to the way Squarespace sorts posts, but at least they’re all in one list. Enjoy, and happy remodeling.

Roland

Today’s post is brought to you by CCI Solutions. With a reputation for excellence, technical expertise and competitive pricing, CCI Solutions has served churches across the US in their media, equipment, design and installation needs for over 35 years.

Field Guide to Renovations: Installation


We’re back at it again with our guide to renovations. Today it’s time to talk about the installation process. And since I’m getting into a pattern of saying controversial things in this series, we’ll kick this post off with another one. 

You Should Probably Not Install The System Yourself

Sound familiar? It should. Again, a lot of churches try to “save money” by doing the installation by themselves. Now, it’s possible to save money by doing some of the install, and I’m for that. But things that fly over people’s heads need to be installed by professionals. Period. 

I’ve been doing this a long time and know how to install a lot of things. But when it comes to rigging, I hire a certified rigger every time. I simply don’t want the responsibility of hanging hundreds to thousands of pounds over peoples heads. That is something that needs to be done right the first time. 

There Are Some Things You Can Install

Putting gear in racks, hanging lights, pulling cable; those are all things that you and your team can do. In fact, it’s good sometimes when you do it because you know better how everything fits together. It’s best when done under the supervision of the company that designed it—especially the cable pulls, you want to get those right. Doing things like that can save you some money, but there is a downside.

The Service Has To Go On

The weekends keep coming, week after week after week. Even during an install. So depending on how much prep time you need during the week, installing a system can become really disruptive. You may be in a situation where the installation will take place over several weeks and the service has to happen in the middle. That can be tricky to pull off, and it’s where a good install company comes in handy. 

They can help set the schedule and throw more people at it to make sure things get done and the system is useable come service time. If you try to do it yourself and hit a snag, and you can’t pull off a service, who takes the fall? Again, having a third party to throw under the bus can be a good thing. The install company can take some of the heat and help set realistic expectations. 

I’ve seen installs completely burn out an entire tech team. I’ve been part of some of those, come to think of it! It seems like fun at first, but by the end of the third or sixth week when you’ve been working 12-14 hour days to get it done, it’s a lot less fun. Some guys don’t come back after that. 

This is an Expensive System, Treat it Well

After you spend tens or hundreds of thousands (or more) of dollars on your system, it only makes sense to have it installed professionally. That will ensure everything is done properly and works the way it should. It also sets you up to succeed going forward. 

I know the labor number on the contact can look big, but in the long run, it’s money well spent. Keep your staff healthy, make sure everything is done safely and to industry standards, and that it all works at the end. After the project is done, you have a team that is energized, excited and ready to rock the new system. Isn’t that what you really want? 

“Gear

Today’s post is brought to you by Heil Sound. Established in 1966, Heil Sound Ltd. has developed many professional audio innovations over the years, and is currently a world leader in the design and manufacture of large diaphragm dynamic, professional grade microphones for live sound, broadcast and recording.

Field Guide to Renovations: System Design


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This is our fifth installment in our series on renovations. Last time, we talked about selecting key technologies. If you missed the previous posts, go back to that one and you can get the list. Today we’re talking about design. Now, I’m going to start off by saying something that may be controversial and may offend some people. But I really believe this is the best advice. 

You probably shouldn’t design the system yourself. 

There are some churches that are blessed with someone on staff who can design systems. But that’s a different skill set than operating those systems. Most churches have operators and team leaders. I’ve seen quite a few systems that were “designed” by people who really didn’t have that skill set. Most of those systems need to come out. You and your church will be much better off if you bring in a professional for the design. And this is for several reasons. 

First, you will get a good design. A good design will have the components you need and omit ones you don’t. Everything will work together, will be easy to use and will meet the system objectives. Second, you will have someone to throw under the bus if things go wrong. If you as a volunteer or staff TD design the system yourself and anything goes wrong, it will be your fault. When a third party is involved, you can blame them. That might save your job. This is assuming you hire a good design firm to do the design and not the guys at the local music store. 

You Can’t Afford To Not Pay For Design

I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s true. I have been in dozens of churches and talk to people in hundreds who decided to “save money” and figure it out on their own. Almost universally, the church leadership is unhappy with the results, the tech team is frustrated and the congregation is missing out. 

There is a misconception that design is super-expensive and only the big churches can afford it. The reality is, a well-designed system will likely cost less in the long run than a poorly designed system. That’s because the church won’t be doing it 2-3 times. Moreover, the experience from day one will be better. When you bring in people who know what they are doing, they can work within your budget. Unless your budget is completely unrealistic, in which case go back and read the budget post. 

A good designer will help you make hard decisions and keep the project on track. Most churches can’t get everything they want in a system, at least at first. A designer will help you prioritize so you get the right equipment first, with a path to add later. 

Everything Else is Designed

Your HVAC system is designed; your electrical system is designed; your plumbing system is designed; heck, even the parking lot is designed. Why would you not want to design the AVL system? The sound system is at least as critical as the bathrooms when it comes to hearing the message from the pastor. Why would a pastor leave that task in the hands of a volunteer with no design experience? This is not to disparage volunteers, but again, I want to point out that operating is a lot different from designing. Pastors, don’t set your team up to fail. Get this done right. 

You Still Have a Voice

Good designers listen to their clients. As a TD or volunteer tech, you should have some say into how the system goes together and how it works. When you define your system objectives and identify key technologies, you get to speak into the process. When the design comes back, if you have ideas, be sure to voice them. Sometimes designers choose equipment based on preference or which manufacturers they work with. If you have a particular piece of gear in mind for a task, bring it up. Unless there is a good reason not to go with it, the change is easy in the design phase.

If you have specific ideas of how you’d like a system to lay out, or where to locate snakes, mixers, cameras and the like, by all means speak up. The designer needs as much information as possible. You are the one who works in your church and you know better than the designer does what the needs are. Make sure to let them know your thoughts. With good information, a good designer will give you a great system. And, more than likely, it will come in on budget. When that happens, everyone wins!

Roland

Today’s post is brought to you by myMix. myMix is an intuitive, easy-to-use personal monitor mixing and multi-track recording system that puts each user in control of their own mix! myMix features two line-level balanced 1/4″ TRS outputs and one 1/8″ (3.5mm) headphone output, the ability to store up to 20 named profiles on each station, 4-band fully parametric stereo output EQ recording of up to 18 tracks plus stereo on an SD card. Learn more at myMixaudio.com

Field Guide to Renovations: Key Technologies


Well, we’ve taken a few weeks off from our series on renovations. In case you missed them or forgot where we left off, we started off talking about when the AVL guys should be brought into a project, how to develop some system objectives and how to get started on a ballpark budget. Today, we finally get to the fun stuff; choosing key technologies.

This is the point of the process that we start to pick out the big picture items of the project. Sometimes the church tech team has a good idea of what they want for these key components, other times, the integrator will make suggestions based on their experience and knowledge of the church. Either way, it’s time to start looking at gear.

Know What You Need To Accomplish

You read the post about defining system objectives, right? So you know what the system is supposed to do. I’ll use audio consoles for examples for this post because A) they illustrate the points well and B) I’m an audio guy at heart and I like audio consoles. But the same principles apply to lighting consoles, video switchers, projectors and video walls, cameras, etc. The questions vary, but the concept is the same.

We go back to defining our objectives. Start by asking these questions:

  • How many inputs?
  • How many outputs?
  • How many mix buses?
  • Do we do monitors from FOH, a monitor desk or personal mixers? Or a combination?
  • Do we need remote (iPad) mixing capability?
  • Do we want digital snakes? If so, which protocol? Or does protocol matter (sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t)?
  • What kinds of processing do we need?
  • Who will be operating it? Can we train our engineers to run it?
  • Is the system scalable? Does that matter?

Once we have an idea of what we want the system to do, we can start narrowing our choices. But first, I want  to hone in one question. 

Who Will Be Operating The Equipment?

This is a question that is often overlooked. Case in point: You probably know I’m a huge DiGiCo fan. I’ve mixed on an SD8 for four years, and I’ve used every other console they make. I’d rather mix on a DiGiCo than anything else. However, for a project we’re doing at Flexstage, I recommended a Yamaha QL over a DiGiCo SD9. And while my friends at DiGiCo might be bummed, the QL is the right choice for this church. 

The SD9 is overkill and more complicated than their volunteers need it to be. The QL will give them capability they need with an easier to use interface. Personally, I’d take the SD9 any day (sorry, Yamaha…). But  for this team, the QL is the better choice. 

Don’t make the mistake of buying equipment that your team can’t use. I’ve seen a church wipe out their entire team because they bought a mixer none of them understand how to mix on. And without a full-time TD to take the time to learn it, the church was stuck. Think this through carefully.

Evaluate Your Options

The best way to decide between different choices is to try them out. Ideally, you can narrow the choice down to two or three then rent them for a weekend to see how they go. If that isn’t an option, go to a trade show and get your hands on them. Failing that, try to find a church in town that has the equipment you’re considering and go try it out. Most tech guys I know love to talk about gear, and will happily show you their system and tell you what they like and don’t like about it. 

Don’t expect your dealer or the manufacturer to give you free demos of your equipment, especially if it’s a smaller piece of gear. They may help you out with it to close the sale, but don’t expect it. Just don’t skip this step. Mixers, lighting consoles, video switchers, video walls, projectors, cameras; these are all expensive pieces of gear. Make sure you know what you’re getting before you spend your church’s money.

Pick the Building Blocks

After you do your homework and research, you should be able to pick out the big building blocks of the system. With those in place (on paper anyway), you can be sure they all work together. This is the time to make sure the personal mixing system you want to use will interface with your console of choice. Most cameras work with most video mixers, but be sure. 

Often, different pieces need to work with each other. For example, you might want to get your center screen graphics into the video switcher. There are many ways to do that, but it’s good to know how easy or hard (ie. expensive) it will be.

It might be good at this phase to simply pick out what types of equipment you’re going to use. For example, a digital audio mixer, a standalone, professional-grade lighting console, computer-based center screen graphics, a video system for streaming/recording only and a video wall. Or it may be an analog audio console, a conventional lighting board, no video and a projector for song words. Exact equipment choices can come later. 

Sometimes your choices will be motivated by preference. Just be careful to be sure your preference doesn’t put the church in a tough spot when you leave (and you will leave—someday). These can be hard decisions sometimes, so take the time to think them through. Consider every angle and talk to other users of the equipment. 

Once you settle on the key technologies, it’s time to start designing the system. And that’s what we’ll get into in our next installment. 

Roland

Today’s post is brought to you by CCI Solutions. With a reputation for excellence, technical expertise and competitive pricing, CCI Solutions has served churches across the US in their media, equipment, design and installation needs for over 35 years.

Field Guide to Renovations: Develop a Ballpark Budget


Develop an Initial Budget

Audio-Video-Lighting systems are expensive. There is just no getting around it. Even small systems can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, while large systems for rooms seating 2,000-3,000+ can easily run into the millions. 

One of the biggest mistakes I see churches making when embarking on a remodel or building project is not setting realistic budgets. I think this is due to a general lack of understanding of what the technology costs, and how many little—and often expensive—pieces need to be added to make everything work. As a quick example, in our little project to install a new PA, add a video wall, some lobby TVs and move our tech booth, I have to order over $1,300 in cable connectors alone! 

So many churches go into a building project with what I call the Best Buy budget. Someone from the church (usually not the tech guy) wandered through Best Buy and saw some amplifiers, TVs and speakers and came up with a “budget.” Or perhaps they just pull a number out of the air. Most times, those are woefully inadequate to do a good job, and everyone will be frustrated by the results.

Count the Cost

Luke 14:28 reminds us, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” We might get bids from builders, electricians, architects for the “big” pieces of the job, but fail to take into account the AVL. Perhaps the architect will add a standard percentage of the job for AVL, which may or may not be enough (it’s probably not).

Now, I understand the problem. Most pastors, and probably most tech guys, don’t spend their days looking at spec and price sheets for all manner of AVL gear. And most have no idea how much stuff it takes to make an entire system work. This is where having a relationship with an integrator comes in. 

It’s All About Relationships

Remember how I’m always talking about building relationships? Having an integrator or dealer that you work with regularly is invaluable when it comes to working up a budget. Because they spend their days designing, pricing and installing systems in churches, they can give you a rough idea of how much it will cost. 

Now, it’s important that I take a moment and remind you of something here. Integrators are in business to make a profit. If we expect to get good service, we need good integrators to stay in business. They are worth their time, and they should be paid for it. 

Don’t go to an integrator and ask them to design and cost out a system, the parcel out the buying of the gear to the cheapest vendor you can find online. In fact, the good integrators won’t even do a design until they’re under contract to do the job. And that’s a great business model. They may be able to give you a ballpark budget off the top of their heads for free, but if you want detailed analysis and design, expect to pay for it. 

Getting Into the Ballpark

As you start a project, it is important to have a ballpark idea of the cost for the AVL system. You can arrive at this a few different ways. The way I usually do it is to start by talking with my integrator and get rough numbers for big items—speaker systems, video walls, consoles, lighting rigs, etc. Then, I’ll spend a little time online getting pricing ideas for smaller items. I add in some padding for labor (which is usually a lot more than you think it is), cables, connectors, and glue (pieces that connect one big item to another). Finally, I’ll add 10-25% depending on the size of the job. 

That should get you in the ballpark. Start with that number to present to leadership. It’s always better to go in a little high because it will likely be cut down. If you go in too high, you’ll get shot down, but if you go in too low, you’ll get hung. To hedge my bets, I prefer to give a range. It’s easier to go a little over if your rough range is $150,000-175,000. You can probably get $185K if you need it. But if you say $130, you’ll never get $180 if you need it. 

Alternately, you can ask your integrator to give you a ballpark range. Just be sure to tell them all you are trying to do. Telling them you need a new PA and some projectors for the sanctuary is different one thing. Adding in full AVL in three smaller kids rooms, plus a lobby and overflow room is another. And be sure to tell leadership they can’t hold the integrator to the ballpark budget until a site visit has been completed and a full design worked up. This is just an idea here.

Hopefully that helps you get started. Next time, we’ll talk more about design.

Roland

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Field Guide to AVL Renovations: Develop System Objectives


We’re continuing on in our series of AVL renovation. I should point out that almost all of this applies to new builds as well—though I hear from more churches who are upgrading and remodeling than building. Last time we talked about design, or more accurately, where in the design process the AVL guys should be brought in (answer: early!). 

Today, we’re going to talk about one of the most oft forgotten aspects of an AVL system renovation: Defining the system objectives. Put another way, what do you want the system to do?

Don’t Ask the Wrong Questions

I hear from churches all the time asking for advice. I love to give advice, so I’m happy to oblige. However, sometimes, it’s really hard. I get questions like, “We want to upgrade our sound mixer to a digital mixer. Which one do you recommend?” Or, “Which projector do you recommend for a center screen?” Or even, “We have a 300 seat room, which speakers should we install?”

Those are all questions that are all but impossible to answer. The reason is, they are asking the wrong question. There are usually several options that I could recommend. But without knowing what they want the system to do, I can’t do anything but give you brands and products I like.

The Right Questions

Before you ask for specific equipment suggestions, ask yourself some questions first.

  • What benefit to we expect to see from this new technology? How does it advance the mission of our church?
  • How will this improve our services? Will this lead more people into worship or will it be distracting?
  • What do we want this new gear to do for us? How should it be better than what we have now?
  • Who will be running it? What is their skill level, and how quickly do they learn new things?
  • Are we getting into this because it’s cool? Or are there really good reasons for this new technology?
  • What specific capacities do we need? If it’s an audio console, think inputs, outputs, mix buses, FX, remote mixing, digital snakes, personal mixers, etc. For a projector it might be how bright do we need, screen size, resolution, inputs, ease of mounting and servicing, or even should we consider a video wall?
  • Do you have a budget? Is that budget realistic?

There are plenty more questions we could delve into, but most get pretty specific pretty quickly. That should get you started.

Develop Your Objectives

Armed with the answers to those questions, you should be able to come up with a pretty clear set of objectives for this technology purchase or upgrade. With that in mind, you can start looking at options. The field will narrow quickly when you have a good idea of what you want a piece of gear to do. 

You will often find several options that will suit your needs. At that point, it comes down to what brands the dealer you’re working with carries, or which ones may have better service options. Consider which one will work with your existing equipment and even which one you like more.

Most of the equipment I’ve purchased over the years has been chosen specifically because it meets my design objectives. Sometimes it comes down to two products and I choose based on the one I like better. Maybe it’s their software, the interface, or that I have a better relationship with the rep. Those aren’t top line criteria, but they do help you decide at the end.

Above all, know why you want to upgrade or purchase. When you know why, it makes it a lot easier to come up with the what. Next time, we’ll talk budgets.

Gear Techs

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