Sometimes things can be going so well and then when something goes wrong. well…
As the new year draws near what challenges will you face?
I’m not rally a big fan of New Year’s resolutions, primarily because when I make them they tend to last about 1 – 2 weeks.
However I do like to take the opportunity at this time of year to re-evaluate, re-focus and re-energize what I’m doing in anticipation of the coming new year.
As I do this and reflect upon over a quarter of a century of experience of doing live production in some fashion or another, I find a desire to return to the absolute basics.
1. Just smile
No matter how frustrating, how intense or how upset I am at the time, just smile and walk away.
Every time I don’t do this I end up regretting how I act and what I say in the heat of the moment.
If I smile, listen and then walk away, I have the opportunity and time to process the information and take some of the emotion out of the situation.
2. Admit my mistakes
Every time that something goes wrong and I try to pass the blame on to someone or something else I end up asking myself “why didn’t I just own up to it?”
It can be difficult, because on one hand I want to be the leader, in charge, the one who makes thing happen. However, when things don’t go as planned, I don’t always want to be the leader and accept the responsibility. I want to blame someone or something.
In the end, it’s always best to admit our mistakes.
3. Build others up…all of the time
I have this habit of avoiding confrontation.
In doing this, I will sometimes not mention to a person that I am bothered by what they have done. That alone isn’t good, but it’s even worse if I were to go around and complain to someone else about what the person did to bother me.
I see this happen very often, and regrettably, have participated in it many times.
4. Improve my craft
Musicians rehearse, they practice at home and then with others they are playing within advance of a Sunday morning service.
What do I do to practice at my craft?
I do participate in some rehearsals but they are usually sound checks for the sound team and a quick run thru for the band.
One thing I can do is to get the music in advance, and actually listen to it, critically. I can listen and then plan and prepare as to how I can best reproduce what I’m hearing.
5. Further embrace digital
OK, I admit it, until fairly recently, I was a little intimidated by some of the digital consoles out there.
Part of the reason is that I had long used a premium analog console, so I didn’t have to mix on a ton of digital boards. I liked where I was and didn’t want to “embrace the change.”
Who would have thought that the kid, of so many years ago, that fanatically embraced digital processing would have been intimidated by a little ol’ digital console?
Eventually, I came around—in part, and perhaps a bit ironically—because of a New Year’s resolution a couple of years ago. If you’re in the same boat, perhaps this is the year.
Why let one of the least expensive aspects of a system be its weakest link?
Operating the sound system from the mix position during a recent Sunday worship service, it all began when the first note from our grand piano was distorted. Hmm…
We’d checked the piano channel and sound prior to the service, and all was fine. My first reaction to the distortion being produced was to reduce the gain on that console channel, thinking perhaps the piano player was nailing the keys very hard. Yet the problem remained.
Next, I did a pre-fade listen (PFL) in my headphones – yes, it was definitely distortion on the piano channel, no question about it.
To capture sound from this grand piano, we use a magnetic pickup from Helpinstill Designs, which sends the original vibrations of the strings (the source of the piano’s sound) directly to the mixing console. (If you’re struggling to reproduce a full, natural piano sound, these pickups are definitely an option to consider.)
Anyway, my next thought was that someone had accidentally bumped the pickup so that it was hitting some of the strings. Oh well, nothing could be done until the service ended, so I just did my best to work around and minimize the problem. But a quick look immediately after the service showed that the pickup had not been disturbed.
“It’s been said many times but bears repeating: “Technology is best when it’s transparent.”
As I’m sure is the case with many of you, my life is quite hectic right now, packed beyond capacity with things to do. Most of them are worthy things that I want and/or need to do, but they keep me hopping.
In response, I’ve chosen a very simple motto: “Simplify.” I plan to live by this simple (pun intended) maxim through the end of the year—at least. Simply (pun intended again), simplify means removing some of the clutter from my daily life and the complications that go with it. Continue reading “Cut Down On The Noise—Simplify”
A great mix is the sum of a whole lot of components in addition to pushing faders and twiddling knobs…
After mixing sound at worship services for more than three decades, and teaching dozens of others along the way, I’ve formulated these “10 steps to worship mix success” that have proven effective.
None of this is rocket surgery or brain science (or vice versa), but rather, a straightforward playbook that if followed will produce the results that you and other members of the tech team are seeking to deliver at every service.
And note that a lot of what I’ll be discussing is not about hands-on mixing. That’s because a great mix is the sum of a whole lot of components in addition to pushing faders and twiddling knobs.
Here we go…
1) Be prepared. Being prepared means “being all there,” ready to engage and do our best. Sound checks and rehearsals can be tedious, but they present us with the opportunity to get off to the right start.
For example, it’s a great time to make sure all tools and “stuff” are available and accessible, right down to the board tape to label the console. And if you know you’re going to get thirsty, have a bottle of water handy ahead of time. Continue reading “The Path To Worship Mix Success”
Several years ago, I was invited to be a presenter at an audio industry trade show, and while there, I greatly enjoyed meeting some fellow presenters.
In fact, after the convention center hall closed, eight of us audio “geeks” went to enjoy dinner together, and it turned out to be a fun—and instructive—evening on many levels.
At one point, as we were seated around the table, someone in the group posed this hypothetical question: “If you got a call to do an event, had to be there in an hour, and weren’t told much of anything about the performers or performance, which microphones would you bring?”
This was quickly followed up with: “And oh, by the way, you’re limited to three models. Any manufacturer, but only three different models.” Continue reading “Going With What You Know When The Pressure’s On”
Mix skills and system knowledge can be undermined…
According to worship leaders, what are the most important aspects of being a church sound operator?
I’ve been doing an informal survey on this topic, asking worship leaders for their views.
The answers have been surprising, at least to me. For example, to this point not one of them has mentioned that a sound operator should have musical talent. Nor have they brought up the value of having a critical ear when it comes to music.
Maybe it’s my own biases, but I thought these factors would at least rate a mention.
Here’s another one that hasn’t come up: knowing how to properly operate the equipment and system.
Perhaps the worship leaders I’ve surveyed are assuming that a sound person should already have these skills, and therefore haven’t mentioned them.
Further answers I’ve received in the survey—although they’re not at the top of the list—include the ability to mix well, keep volume under control, and function as “an extension of the worship team.”
Regardless, the number one answer I’ve received? Attentiveness. As in paying attention, or focus.
Number two? Attitude. As in always having a good one.
Now the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak, because it seems—to me—that both attentiveness and attitude should be givens.
If you’re helping with ministry (providing sound in this case), bringing a good attitude should be a no-brainer, and because in some ways the sound operator can “silence” the word of God being preached, you’d better be paying attention!
Yet consider these anecdotes…
One worship leader told me the story of a volunteer sound operator who’s been serving for 18 years, and is a great guy, easy to work with. However, this fellow has a consistent flaw: a soloist can walk out of the choir, go to center stage, stand behind the mic for several seconds, and still, the mic isn’t turned up until the third or fourth word of the solo. That’s definitely an attentiveness problem…
Another leader told me that one of his sound operators is so gruff that the worship team dare not ask him for anything. The result is that on any given Sunday, there might be no vocals in the monitors, or a mic is not provided for a performer, and so on—and yet no one speaks up because they’re afraid of getting their heads bitten off. Talk about an attitude problem…
These two stories reveal even further problems. In the first case, the sound operator should be asked—kindly—if he might not better serve by volunteering his time elsewhere, In the second case, someone with such a nasty disposition should be asked—kindly—to modify his behavior, and if that doesn’t work, he should be asked—kindly—to step down.
Let me sum it up this way. If you’re at a concert and the mix is pleasing, and there’s no feedback or missed cues, you’d likely think (and would be right) that it’s a successful event, at least from a sound reinforcement point of view. But if you’re at a concert and the mix is pleasing, but there are occasional squeals of feedback and some dropped cues, you’d likely be at least somewhat disappointed.
The moral of the story: sound operators should be able to mix musically and operate their equipment/systems competently, but these worship leaders make a very persuasive point: it all can be negated by lack of proper attention and bringing the right attitude to the gig.
Often when I’m working with churches (particularly smaller congregations), the issue of installing things themselves comes up. It usually revolves around the church purchasing the equipment (hopefully from me – on occasions churches have taken a design I’ve done and then gone online and purchased all of the equipment to install, and then to top it off they call me and ask for advice when it doesn’t work) and then pulling the cables, hanging the loudspeakers and hooking it all up themselves.
I’m all for having volunteers working alongside a qualified contractor. By doing a project in this fashion, the volunteers not only learn a lot about the system, they also get some real “skin in the game” and thus some ownership.
However, based on a lot of years of experience, I’m not a fan of a church doing an installation without the assistance of a professional. Under this scenario I’ve seen and heard some really scary things.
Recently I was at a venue where the ownership had obviously decided to try and save some money on the design and installation of a sound system. It has two loudspeakers that must have been purchased from the local music store – they were a portable design with handles for lugging them around.
To install these loudspeakers, someone came up with the great (not!) idea of throwing a tow strap over a beam and tying each end of the strap to the handles (see the photo above).
In a way, it’s somewhat amusing, but it’s also disturbing and more than a little frightening, because these speakers are hanging 20 feet above an area that people travel heavily, thus creating a huge safety issue. A qualified contractor would never install anything in a fashion that would resemble these hanging weights ready to fall.
Further, the coverage is awful. The loudspeakers are almost 80 feet apart, and as I walked through the coverage, I also determined that they must have a 40-degree horizontal coverage pattern (as I traveled into coverage, then out of coverage, then back into coverage…).
And the sound coming out of these loudspeakers resembles a total “frown face” EQ setting – harsh midrange and not much else.
So, how can you make a DIY successful rather than something resembling this example?
1) Don’t do any part of an installation that you’re not 100 percent confident that you can do correctly. This seems rather obvious, but a lot of folks do not seem to be able to correctly determine if they are competent enough or not.
2) Pay for and use the advice and instruction from a professional. Don’t just try to pilfer information – be up front with them and ask them to provide you with a price to consult you on the project. Note not all contractors will be willing to help with advice only because they’re not used to doing business this way.
And perhaps more importantly, they may be (rightfully) concerned about the liability issues involved by dispensing advice on how to hand loudspeakers. My suggestion is that any part of an installation that could potentially lead to a safety issue should be left for a professional to do.
3) Select a qualified professional that will act as a partner. Choose a contractor that will work with you in dividing the tasks and responsibilities for the project. For example, the volunteers at a church could pull in all of the cable, with the contractor doing testing and termination.
Saving money and having some ownership in the installation of the system is a good thing, just make sure that you can competently (and safely) perform all of the tasks that you set out to do.
Do you replace production/system equipment based on it being worn out or for new features and functionality?
When we get a new system or new piece of gear, often the last thing on our minds is repairs or the life cycle of the system.
In my view, churches are getting better at understanding professional A/V systems. I find that in general the market is more aware of the cost versus the expectation of the system, along with the willingness to spend the dollars to get it right (or at least as right as they can afford). I’m grateful for the improvement.
However an area where I see little or no improvement is in operation, maintenance and lifecycle replacement expectations.
It’s not uncommon for a church to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a great sound system and then never think about who is going to operate it, and just as importantly, who is going to be responsible for maintaining it. In fact, too often I see churches balk when one of the sound techs asks for a few hundred dollars to attend a tech training conference.
Another factor is the short(er) lifecycle of today’s equipment I don’t mean that stuff fails sooner; it’s more that technology keeps surpassing itself.
The church that I serve has been in a new sanctuary for only seven years. When the technical systems were designed and installed, digital consoles were in the early (and generally pricey) stage. HD video was being discussed but not widely adopted. Line arrays for permanent installations had just recently come into fashion.
All that said, my church has a great-sounding left-center-right main loudspeaker system, a premium 56-channel analog console, and a 12 x 16 rear-projection system that works well. Even so, we’ve started discussions on replacing some of our equipment. (Well, actually “repurposing” is more accurate, because the current stuff will be utilized elsewhere in the church.)
Part of the push to replace is based on age. The console is starting to have some minor issues (although nothing yet that can’t easily be repaired). But in reality, the big push is based on changes in both technology and expectations. We’ve started hosting concerts in the space, and the main system has a hard time getting over 100 dBA.
So with technology moving so quickly, what should you expect when purchasing a new system?
One.) Don’t expect it to perform at its best without having qualified and trained personnel operating it.
Two.) Do expect it deteriorate without regular maintenance. I suggest having systems checked annually by a professional contractor, even if there are not any apparent problems.
Three.) Don’t expect it to last forever. Be realistic about the life expectancy of the equipment, and more importantly, recognize that the technology in most cases will become obsolete before it fails. I’ve read that the average life expectancy of an A/V system is as little as three to five years (especially when you’re talking about video projectors).
Four.) Do expect to need to educate the leadership at your church as to how and why the technology needs to be updated. Actually, this is an activity that needs to happen on a consistent basis – no one likes to be surprised with a big ticket purchase that was not anticipated.
How can you go about it?
1) Upgrade as you go, a piece or two at a time. This can be a great way to keep a system current. As new, beneficial technology becomes available, cycle out the older stuff.
For example, the system is working fine and sounds good, but the mixing console is coming up on 10 years old. So it could be replaced with a newer model, and at the same time, you can be planning similar transitions for loudspeakers, amplifiers and so on.
The main problem I see with this approach is that if the leader of the technical area is not the same person for a number of years, the upgrade process can suffer from lack of consistency.
2) Take the “big leap” and do an overhaul every 7 to 10 years. I’m currently working with a large church on a significant upgrade that has taken almost five years to come to fruition. Over that time span, the design has changed and the cost estimate has increased, but what has stayed consistent is the accumulation of money to do the project.
The key thing in making a significant upgrade happen is to have a vision, backed by a concrete plan to have the money available to do it. By outlining the project at the outset and then accruing a bite-sized chunk of the cost, year after year, the church has been able to do steadily accomplish its vision without having to do the typical fund raising, committee meetings and deacon approval.
To me, both ways work – it’s just very important that the discussion gets started early and that people are onboard in their commitment to technical system excellence.
What is Sunday morning really like to your church visitors? How does your facility fit your ministry? How to see your facility experience with fresh eyes.
I grew up in the church and have worked in some capacity for the local church most of my adult life. Much of that time has been devoted to the technical production side.
However, this year I was asked to step into the role of looking at the entire Sunday morning experience. Basically, what does someone experience from the time they drive onto our campus to the moment they pull out of the parking lot after service. As our church hosts many community events, I’ve added examining the public’s experience anytime they enter our facility.
The church I’m at is a great church. It’s growing in numbers, with multiple services held every Sunday morning. We have a building project underway and another in the planning stages.
We must be doing something right, correct?
As I’ve expanded my perspective outside of worship, and look at the overall experience, I find that we are doing some things right. But, yes, there is room for improvement.
Once I began observing the entire experience, it became overwhelming. I saw stains in the carpet. Fake plants that look like they are from the 1970’s (they might be). There are rooms that are painted dark and have no windows. There is not enough signage—- how does a guest find a restroom? Do people know where to go for information on where to bring their children to nursery or Sunday school? When someone simply walks in the door, are they greeted?
I found so many areas in need; I realized I had to create an order of magnitude and a priority list. I also knew that I was probably only seeing 20 to 30 percent of what really needed to be done. So, rather than hastily jumping in and starting (my normal mode of operation) I stepped back and decided to get a game plan and team together.
Game Plan for Facility Audit in 6 Steps
1) Facility Visual Audit
I had already started this process. In fact, as I mentioned, I was a bit overwhelmed and knew there was so much more I was not seeing. To get a complete picture I enlisted the help of others.
The church staff was a great start.
I took staff on a tour of the facility, and asked them what they saw.
We went thru every room, bathrooms, opened closet doors and also walked thru the outside campus. My list grew by 10x, but what also happened is people caught the vision.
Ideas began to flow; we could get a volunteer to patch the drywall were white boards were taken down and holes were left. If we got rid of tables in the lobby and added couches with seating areas it would feel more like home. Wow, does this bathroom in the back always look this rough? We need to make sure it gets cleaned.
It was a really positive time. The buy in and ideas from the staff brought energy to the process.
I also recruited a group of regular attenders and went thru the same process. Again with similar results.
As a final step in this process I invited a friend who was not familiar with our church and did the same thing. He saw many things the first groups had missed. Some were very obvious. They had become so used to seeing things that they had become blind to some obvious things. I also asked this friend to come on a Sunday morning.
2) Facility Functional Audit.
This turned out to be more difficult and tricky than I thought. My first go around was to just walk around on a Sunday and observe. Some things became obvious, like when someone came up and said, “Sorry, I’m new here, where in the world are the bathrooms?” After showing them the bathroom I looked around.
Yup, there was no signage and the location was not obvious. Other things, like it being 5 degrees hotter in the balcony than the main floor were going to take some work to figure out and correct.
I once again involved the staff but rather than take them around in a group, I met with them one on one and asked the simple question, “What about the building is hindering your ministry?”
This opened up some great dialogue and generated answers that I was surprised by and would have never thought of.
Also some very important things came up—- like how we were securing the children’s area, but not being very effective at it. To fix this problem involved moving one wall. A relatively simple fix that really increased the security of the children’s area.
3) Visit other churches.
This was my favorite idea. Previously I had been involved in an event for tech guys called church tech tours. You showed up at a church, toured its tech and production equipment, ate a quick meal together and then jumped on a bus and visited two more facilities, then returned back to the original location. At church tech tours I personally got tons of ideas and loved seeing what other churches were doing.
Turns out that church staff loved the idea, but coordinating schedules and the fact everyone was already overloaded made it difficult to do. So I chose the approach of just contacting other churches and setting up times we could visit. I sent invites out to the staff, and who ever could make it came along.
I also was very upfront and limited the total time including travel to 1-½ hours. Yes it made the tour of the other churches facility rushed, but in reality 90 percent of the time within the first 10 minutes people could see and get a feel for what that church was doing right and wrong.
As a side note I did circle back with the churches that were nice enough to let us come thru and shared with them the good and the bad. I think they all appreciated that.
My current goal, is to take one Sunday every other month and visit another church on a Sunday as be a “secret shopper” for them, if they would like. Or just visit and get ideas.
4) Look around at common gather areas.
Because of my tech background I can’t watch an awards show or concert without announcing what brand and model mic the lead vocal is using, what the main speakers are, etc. Well, now I can’t walk into any building without noticing how it looks and feels. I also watch how people move around in the space, what are the traffic patterns? Where are the restrooms?
I was surprised by how this little thing of just looking around educated me. From the restaurant where you had to walk uncomfortably thru the dining area to get to the counter to order, to the convention center that only had signs that said things like Aisle 1, or Smith Memorial Room with an arrow that could either have me stay straight or maybe take the fork to the left.
Simple, yet profound for me as I was able to apply some good stuff I saw. And the experience enabled me to see things and get ideas I never would have gotten without looking around.
5) Enlist the help of other professionals.
By now my list had gotten huge and I needed to prioritize. So, I also took the step of consulting professionals. Some were members of the church, some were not. Some we paid and some we did not have to. By bringing my list to the professional in I was able to develop a game plan as well as a start on the financial implications of what we needed to change.
The professionals in a lot of ways confirmed what I was thinking, but also they saw some cause and effect that I would have missed. Things like if you paint the walls, you have to do the carpet at the same time. I also found out I could improve our lighting quality and brightness in the sanctuary and have it pay for itself in 1 year thru rebates and energy savings.
It took time to seek out the professionals and meet with them, but it was well worth it!
6) Hospitality wins people over.
I noticed this on a Sunday while I was observing and really just looking for what was wrong and need to be fixed. What I saw was a guest who came thru the door and was greeted by a smiling face, then escorted to the children’s area, given a small tour, then delivered back to the sanctuary. Then this is when it happened. In my mind this cemented what really needs to happen.
The greeter, who met them and gave them the tour asked the couple if they had lunch plans. The greeter said that he was having some friends coming over after church, and that he would love to have the new family join them.
Touch down. At this point the ugly yellow color of our sanctuary walls that I hate… didn’t matter one bit. Especially on this Sunday.