Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Category: Uncategorized (Page 3 of 6)

The Soundbooth: The Four Elements Of Church Sound Redux – Part 2

This is the most sensitive and important part of the sound system. People are the deciding factor in the sound equation. Most people that volunteer for the sound ministry at church have a great heart of service. They are content to be behind the scenes and never be mentioned.
They spend long hours at rehearsals and practices for worship, skits, plays, women’s dinners, coffee houses, youth rallies and the like. They are also faithful to be at church, usually before anyone else to set up the stage, and the last ones to leave.


Church Tech Weekly Episode 175: Pay It Backwards


The best way to learn this trade is from someone who has already mastered it. This week we talk about mentoring; being a mentor and having a mentor. We all need to be building into the next generation of technical artists.


Today’s post is brought to you by Sennheiser.
For more than 60 years, the name Sennheiser has been synonymous with top-quality products and tailor-made complete solutions for every aspect of the recording, transmission and reproduction of sound.

Roland Mixer Announcement

At 10 AM PST today, Roland Systems Group will announce a brand-new audio console. Watch the announcement live at LiveStream (click below). 

Note, the webcast may show a password protection box. That should go away as we get closer to the actual webcast time.

Click the graphic above to view the LiveStream.

Click the graphic above to view the LiveStream.

Three Ways to Mic a B3 Organ

The Hammond B3 is one of those iconic sounds of modern music. And by modern I mean since about the 1950’s or so. The Hammond B3 was the invention of Lawrence Hammond. A serial inventor, he figured out that the synchronous motor he used in the first electric clock could produce musical tones. In 1934, he unveiled the Hammond model A. They were originally sold to churches as a substitute for pipe organs. 

A simple block diagram of the Leslie 122 speaker.

In 1954, Hammond introduced the B3. When paired with a Leslie 122 rotary speaker, the sound was born. Starting with Jimmy Smith, Booker T. Jones, The Rascals and dozens of other bands in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the B3 became a staple of jazz, R&B and rock music. The combination of the tone wheels that can produce a full chord of harmonics with a single key and the dual rotating speakers of the 122 cabinet produce a distinctive sound that is unlike any other. 

This is captured from a video, but it shows the inside workings of a Leslie 122 speaker.

I encountered a real, live B3/122 combination for the first time at a music festival where I was stage camera man. I don’t recall the artist that was on stage, but I’ll never forget walking past the 122 for the first time and being transfixed by the sound. Since then, I’ve been enamored with the rich, full and complex tones a B3 can produce. 

Over the years, the churches I’ve mixed for have used synths to generate a B3 sound. And while the new ones are getting pretty good, there’s nothing like the original. My friend Bob Heil is an avid organ player, having started playing as a teenager. Over the few years I’ve known him, he’s given me a few suggestions on how to mic a B3 (really, we’re mic’ing a Leslie 122, which is driven by a B3, but most people just call it the B3). 

The rotating horn of a 122. Fun fact, only one horn produces sound. 

When I arrived at Coast Hills a bit over 3 years ago, they were using a pair of AKG C414s to mic the B3, one on top, one on the bottom. This brings up a key point; a Leslie 122 has two speakers, a top rotating horn (known as the treble speaker) and the bottom, bass speaker, which is pointed down and fires into a rotary drum with a scoop in it. As the two speed drum goes around, it utilizes the doppler effect to create a distinctive sound. Incidentally, the rotating horn actually has two horns on it, but only one produces sound. The other is there for balance. Fun fact.

Anyway, with two mic’s on a B3, you do get some sense of separation between the lows and highs, and you can tell it’s a B3, but it doesn’t sound great. Here is a recording from early 2011. At this point, we hadn’t yet moved the 122 into an isolation room, and because we’re using 414’s, there is plenty of bleed in the mic’s. Also, because we’re only using a single top mic, you don’t get any stereo imaging. Here’s what it sounded like back then.

Then I talked with my friend Bob. He told me that one of his favorite methods for mic’ing a B3 is to use two mic’s on the top, rotating horn, located 90° to each other, and flip one out of polarity. A single mic picks up the low frequency at the bottom. As you might expect, the mic’s of choice were Heil PR-30s (he said 31’s, but I used 30’s because they’re a bit cheaper and the same element) for the top and a PR-48 for the bottom.

Our second (but really my first) attempt to get really good sound from the B3.

As it happened, I had just pulled my 48 out of the kick (replaced by an RE320, but don’t tell Bob that…), so that went to work on the low. I ordered a pair of PR-30s and set them up as described. We also moved the 122 to an iso room to really clean up the sound. Wow…what a difference. Take a listen.

That worked great for almost a year. Then I interviewed Bob again, and we again got talking about B3s. This time, he suggested I try putting the mic’s on opposite sides of the top cabinet and keep them in polarity with each other. The 48 stays down low. A few weeks ago, I gave it a shot, and again, wow. Now I’m really digging the sound. 

The stereo separation is more pronounced, and I actually exaggerate it in the PA by using the SD8’s ability to decode stereo sources as extra-wide. By doing that, the high organ sound is pushed way out to the side of the mix, where it creates some super-cool ambience, without getting in the way of the vocals. And when I flip on the new DigiTubes and crank them up (another new SD8 feature), it sounds amazing. I’ve said it before on the show, but I’m impressed that I replace the 414’s with three mic’s that combined don’t cost what a single 414 does. Which is why I love me some Heil microphones.

The current mic set up. And boy, does it sound nice!

The audio files in this post are straight off the pre-amp with no processing. I tried to upload AIFF files, but they wouldn’t play in a browser. So they’re 256 kbps MP3s encoded with LAME. You’ll probably want a good set of speakers or headphones to really hear the difference in the samples. Enjoy!

By the way, much of the research on the history of the B3 came from a video I found on Bobby Owsinski’s Big Picture Production Blog. 

CTW is brought to you by BargeHeights. Bargeheights offers cost effective lighting and LED video gear for churches. Coupled with unique visual design, Bargeheights transforms worship venues of all sizes.

Learning from the Legend, Robert Scovill

Last night I had the opportunity to attend a virtual soundcheck seminar put on by Avid. That might be a surprise to long-time readers of this blog, as you know I’m pretty committed to my DiGiCo platform. I originally had decided not to go, but two things changed my mind. First, Nick from Avid called me to see if I received the invite and if I wanted to attend (sidebar: Attention companies, the personal touch is always a great way to reach customers), and Robert Scovill was going to be leading it. 

So while I knew it was going to be a commercial for Venue/ProTools integration (which is fine, it’s their event…), I figured I would still pick up a few things. When I pulled out of the parking lot at 10 PM, I was glad I invested the time. The event was very well done, the food was great and I got to see some friends I hadn’t seen in a while. Here are some of my takeaways.

Good Process=Good Results

I was very encouraged to see that the process Robert uses to build a mix is similar to the process I’ve developed over the years. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I can mix as well as Parnelli Award-winning Robert Scovill. What I am saying is that the way I approach building a mix is similar to his, with obvious differences due to platform, workflow and the fact that he’s Robert Scovill  and I’m not. 

It was interesting to me that I heard things that I didn’t like, then he fixed them, pretty much the way I would have fixed them (at least in principle). Again, I’m not putting my self on par with him, but it’s good to get some indication that the craft one has been developing for 20 years is on the right path. And it’s always good to be reminded that gain structure is key.

Engineer vs. Producer

It struck me that Robert sees himself as more of a producer than an engineer when he’s mixing. He talked about many of the choices he made when shaping the tone of the various instruments on the stage to produce a sound complimentary to the style of music. Given his extensive experience in the studio and on the road, this makes total sense.

But I got to thinking that perhaps I don’t often approach it that way when I’m mixing. To be sure, some of those decisions take time to figure out, and it helps to have great tools at your disposal (he employed a pretty impressive array of plug-ins to produce some equally impressive results). But even without a SansAmp plug-in, I can still shape the tone of the bass to complement the song. 

As we talked about on CTW (episode 112), listening to a wide variety of music will help you with this. Again, I was encouraged to broaden my palate so that I will have a larger library of sounds to choose from when I put a mix together. 

Virtual Soundcheck is a Great Idea

Robert talked about inventing the concept of virtual soundcheck back in the ‘90s. Today, it’s pretty easy for most of us to put together a VS rig (especially for digital mixers; if you’re still analog, check out this post). Last night’s seminar got me thinking of ways I can use VS more effectively. I don’t have a mid-week rehearsal to record and tweak. However, I think it would be beneficial for me to spend an hour or two each week reviewing the past week’s mixes, trying things and honing my skills. 

He also talked about having the artist (in our case, the worship leader) come out and listen to and talk about the mix. Exposing ourselves to that kind of scrutiny is scary, but it’s a great way to grow as an engineer. Plus, once they know we are working hard to make them sound great, they will play and sound better (psychology, it’s crazy-cool!).

Overall, it was totally worth the investment of 5 hours of time (including travel). Should you receive an e-mail for an Avid Virtual Soundcheck seminar, I encourage you to go. Also, sign up for the webinars Scovill does. Yes, they can be very Avid-specific. However, I’ve learned many things from them that I can apply to my workflows, so don’t let that turn you off. 

I’ve written before (and will again) that as technical artists, we cannot stop learning. When you have the opportunity to learn from someone who knows more than you, by all means, take it. You won’t be sorry!

Today’s post is brought to you by the Roland R-1000. The R-1000 is a multi-channel recorder/player ideal for the V-Mixing System or any MADI equipped console or environment. Ideal for virtual sound checks, multi-channel recording, and playback.

Changing Your Mind

Photo by  jurvetson

Photo by jurvetson

I read an article in Forbes the other day that I found interesting. It was an interview with Jeff Bezos (you know, the guy who founded and runs that little company called Amazon) when he spoke at the 37 Signals HQ. The quote that triggered the Forbes piece and this article is this one: 

Bezos “said people who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds.”

I have run into quite a few people in the production world in general, and the church production world in particular, that seem to be averse to changing their minds. They get settled into an idea, process, or opinion on a company and stay there. Forever. You see this on Twitter when someone asks for an opinion on a piece of gear, especially a new one. Even if it amazing technology, if it was made by a company someone doesn’t like, it will be trashed. 

The Bose Roommatch speaker system is a great example. A few years ago, I would have had a tough time recommending a Bose product in a professional setting. Their earlier systems were pretty poor. However, this is a brand new product with a ton of engineering behind it. And it sounds quite good. And it’s at a price point many churches can afford. I have changed my mind about Bose professional (at least about that product). And I think it’s a good thing. 

A while back, I wrote about my current vocal effect process. It’s evolved and changed over the years into what it is today. I’m very happy with the results I’m getting, and I teach it to my volunteers and other churches. But I also list the caveat that I may change it tomorrow if I come up with a better solution. 

Jason Fried, the co-founder of 37 Signals, elaborated on Bezos’ comment:

“He doesn’t think consistency of thought is a particularly positive trait,” Fried explains of Bezos. “It’s perfectly healthy—encouraged, even—to have an idea tomorrow that contradicted your idea today.… the smartest people are constantly revising their understanding, reconsidering a problem they thought they’d already solved. They’re open to new points of view, new information, new ideas, contradictions, and challenges to their own way of thinking.… This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a well formed point of view, but it means you should consider your point of view as temporary.”

I love this line of reasoning. Smart people—smart church techs—are constantly opening their minds to new ideas, new people and new ways of doing things. The best and smartest tech directors I know are the ones who are constantly working to improve things they thought were already pretty dialed in. 

I’ve been known to blow up an entire system or process because I came up with a better idea for doing it. Of course, this needs to be tempered, especially in a setting where we have a lot of volunteers. We can’t keep changing things all the time, as it will drive them nuts. However, we should always remain open to new input that will cause our opinions to change. 

How does this line of thinking strike you?

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CTA Review: Scopebox

I’ve said it before, I’m a bit of a video snob. I learned how to edit on 3/4” U-Matic machines with an A/B Roll controller. Later, I moved up to M-II and a CMX style editor (some of you young guys don’t even know what any of that means…). My video education taught me to keep things within broadcast standards, because that’s where the good video ended up. A big part of an editor’s job back then was monitoring levels using a waveform monitor and vector scope. Those tools ensured that colors where what they were supposed to be, and black and white levels were within spec. Of course, we also had to line up various decks, and do a whole lot of other things.

Today of course, you dump some files from a card to a hard drive, drop them on the timeline and cut the story. No one cares much about levels, color or any of those pesky details (which is clearly evident every time I watch many of the second-tier cable networks). In churches, it’s really easy to put up a few cameras and a switcher and send the signal to a couple of projectors and call it video IMAG. 

Call me old-school, but I like to know what I’m looking at; and have an empirical reference to know that my whites are actually not overblown, faces are where they should be in level and my blacks aren’t crushed. Most churches don’t spend the $1,500-6,000 on a professional broadcast monitor that can be calibrated (or know how to properly calibrate the one they have), so it’s easy to end up with bad video on the screen. 

All of that to say, I’m still a firm believer in having a set of scopes available to monitor the video image before it hits the screen. Back in the day (and it’s still true today), a hardware waveform monitor/vectorscope would cost you at least $4,000, probably more. Today, with processing power to spare, several companies have virtualized the scopes. One such firm is Divergent Media with their product called ScopeBox. 


ScopeBox is a software video monitoring solution that performs all the functions of a WFM/Vectorscope, but does it in software. Paired with a video input card (we’re using a Blackmagic Decklink SDI), ScopeBox lets you keep an eye on your video signal. In addition to the waveform monitor (which tells you about the luminance, or brightness, values) and vectorscope (color), you also get RGB Parade, YUV Parade, both Luma and RGB histograms, a channel plot, HML balance and stereo and surround audio meters. 

Each instrument is quite customizable, and presents you with most of the options you’d have on a hardware scope, as well as some new ones. I particularly like the color mode of the waveform as it represents the luma values in color, corresponding to the color they actually are. It’s a great way to teach people what they are looking at. 

You can also include a calibrated preview of your video signal on the computer monitor (well, it’s mostly calibrated—it won’t adjust hue). You can save the palate and window locations, which is very handy for us. We have 3 monitors attached to our MacPro at video; one is used for Safari to control the projectors; one is for Media Express, which pulls program video in through an Intensity Pro card; with the third being dedicated to ScopeBox which gets the preview bus of the CrossOver via the aforementioned Decklink card. Once we launch the app, I recall our set up and the windows magically move into position—this is not a revolutionary feature, but it’s very handy.

I don’t have a hardware scope to compare to, so I can’t promise you everything you monitor with ScopeBox would be 100% accurate, but so far, it has proved more than adequate for getting properly exposed video up to our IMAG screens. The best part about the app is that it’s all of $99. We already had the Mac, and it took another $275 or so to get the Decklink installed. So for under $400, I have a very capable software scope solution that works quite well. 

If you don’t have any way of monitoring your video, I strongly recommend you look at something like this (Blackmagic also has a similar solution called UltraScope, though it’s hardware & software, and thus more expensive). We had an issue with the software not recognizing both cards, and support has been very responsive to getting us fixed up. I love supporting the small developer community, so check them out at DivergentMedia.com.

This 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.

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