A Word To The Wise When Thinking DIY

I’ve seen and heard some really scary things done with a “do it yourself” AV systems approach

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.

 

Getting A Handle On Church System Maintenance, Upgrades & Lifecycles

Get people on board, start the discussion early and have a plan.

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.

Insuring Consistency From Service To Service

The benefit of keeping everything in its place and in working order

Talking with worship technicians and worship leaders, I often hear the complaint that from week to week, the quality of Sunday morning services varies.

Some of this stems from training, such as when there’s a problem and the tech doesn’t know how to fix it. Some of it is skill; for example, some sound engineers just have a better ear and command of the equipment than others.

The skill level of musicians may also vary, usually due to lack of experience and thus confidence. When they know a song, no problem, but when they’re unsure, they hold back and can become tentative.

But in my experience, there’s another primary contributor to the problem of inconsistency: equipment status and organization.

Example: It’s five minutes before the start of the service, and the sound engineer is sweating bullets, being told to set up for an additional four musicians that the worship leader hadn’t mentioned until just now. No time for sound check, no time for even a simple line check for these new players.

The mics and direct boxes are quickly located, plugged in, and positioned, and then the engineer high-tails it to the sound booth in time for the start of the service.

Rough estimates are made requiring the input gain and monitor levels, a quick prayer murmured, and the channels are unmuted for the opening song.

Then, and of course, “it” happens: that infamous bzzzzzzzz that makes everyone’s hair stand on end!

This particular time, the problem is the additional bass player’s direct box. Time for a split decision: mute the channel or quickly get to the stage to check find the cause, likely the line cord on the bass, or the direct box is faulty (or set wrong), or the direct box cable is bad, or…?!?

With so many potential trouble spots, and so much else going on during the service, the choice is likely going to be to mute the channel and be comforted by the fact that at least some of the sound coming from the bass rig is still being heard in the house, so the player’s efforts aren’t completely wasted.

Was this entire situation preventable? Of course! And, as usual, it’s the simple things that matter most.

There are at least five things that could and should have been done prior to this “sweat and bzzzzzz” fest:

1) Basic maintenance. All cables and cords need to be checked on a monthly basis. In addition, these should be treated properly (wrapped correctly) and organized (hung in a single, logical location). I recommend a peg board, where cables are sorted by type and length. This way, they can be easily found, even in pressure situation, and will work correctly.

There should be at least two spare cables for each variety of cables (and connectors) being used.

2) Organization. Staying with audio, it’s vital to know exactly how many inputs, and what type, will be required for each and every service. And all of these must be set up and tested ahead of time.

3) Communication. Techs should regularly interface with the worship leader and never be shy about asking if anything new or unusual is coming up. Do this early, and as often as necessary. It beats being surprised, and, it also beats having things go wrong on Sunday.

Still, last-minute stuff can and will happen. Working sound at my church recently, I noticed on the worship order that a missions report had been scheduled, and it would be delivered by someone we weren’t outfitted with a headset/lavalier mic. This was 10 minutes before the service.

So I walked up to the stage and quickly arranged for one of the vocalists, at the appropriate time, to hand off her vocal mic to the person delivering the report, and then to collect it when he was done. Nothing genius, but a last-minute solution that worked smoothly and well. When the time came, I was ready to quickly adjust that particular mic channel to adjust for the new person’s particular voice and mic handling.

4) Plan ahead, and always have a “plan B.” Normally the above scenario would not have been an issue because we always keep a spare “just in case” handheld mic on a stand on the stage (discretely out of the way). But at this particular point in the service, it was already going to be used by someone else on the worship team.

5) Have a party! (You didn’t see that one coming, did you?) Once every few months or so,  the entire tech team should get together to go through all of the equipment, making sure it’s all there, working properly, and organized. It really helps to make this a fun, festive event, with pizza and cold drinks and some time for everyone to “just hang.”

Keep these five things in mind, and you’ll see a dramatic improvement in consistency from service to service.

 

How Loud is Too Loud?

Your congregation’s perception of what is “too loud” during your services can be heavily influenced by quality of mix, sound system, acoustics and musical dynamics.

Sitting in the tech booth during a service on a recent Sunday, I had an “a-ha” moment. Not a big one, but still a good lesson.

We had traded worship bands for the day with our sister church. Our band was playing at their place, and vice versa.

One of our front of house people, Justin, traveled with the band to do the mixing. Just as our service began, I received a text from Justin that simply said, “Running a service at 85 dBA. A new record!” I glanced over at the Smaart app running on my iPad, and our levels were hovering around 88 dBA.

This was during a mellow song; moments later we were doing 90 to 95 dBA. Just then, Justin texted me again: “Update. I was able to get it to 80 dBA. It seems to have pleased the masses.”

This “conversation” (via text) got me thinking about the “how loud is too loud” conversation that’s a constant among church tech folks.

I realized this:

1) Since we’ve installed a new loudspeaker system and acoustical treatment, we’ve been running a bit louder yet haven’t received a single complaint (or for that matter, even a “suggestion” to turn it down).

2) Dynamics really do play into perceived level.

We all know that if the sound is pleasing, we tolerate more level. Think of your morning alarm clock at 90 dBA versus your favorite song on the car radio at 90 dBA—it’s a BIG difference in how you react to those sounds.

Watching as our meter hit 97 dBA, I thought “wow, it just doesn’t seem that loud.” Clearly, it was a combination of a good mix, excellent system, and the acoustical tightness of the room. (Lends credence to getting the the best system you can and mixing it loud!)

But the “a-ha” moment occurred when the band played a familiar song in a very different way. It usually starts out loud with a big guitar riff and big drums. However, this band began it with acoustic guitar only. I glanced at the meter and it read 72 dBA, and the sound was good and the level “felt” appropriate.

Then without warning came a huge downbeat, with everyone hitting it hard and then taking off. But the meter read just 86 dBA. What?! It had to be wrong, because it sure sounded like 92 to 95 dB.

The answer is obvious, however. The contrast was so great that the perceived change in volume was greater than the actual change. Kind of like when you walk out of a dark space directly into sunlight—once your eyes adjust, it’s not usually painfully bright.

The band used this type of dynamic very effectively throughout the service, bringing it way down for the quiet parts and then jumping on louder passages. They were quite skilled at it, and the new system was able to reproduce it very well.

When things got quiet, it still sounded full and rich, and when things got louder, the system responded accurately and without compressing or distorting. I watched the front of house mixer, Trevor, keep his right hand on the control group that we call program (basically everything but vocals). He wasn’t shy about riding the control group to also help accentuate the band’s change in dynamics.

So the lesson is clear: give dynamics more credence to add power and emotion to the mix.

I realize these observations aren’t earth shattering, but it’s a valuable reminder to mix to the appropriate level for the sound system. Don’t push it if the system can’t handle it. Also make sure that the system has enough headroom so that it can respond to these types of changes in level.

It’s also vital for us to bear in mind how we can best help accentuate the dynamics that a band is already producing on stage, to take advantage of that while resisting the temptation to overmix and overprocess.

Loud where it should be, soft where it should be—use the dynamics to make it all the more powerful.

 

10 Things Worship Leaders want from Church Techs

While nothing replaces knowing the tech side of the audio craft, there’s a lot more to being successful in the role.

Over the last 30-plus years, I’ve served on numerous tech teams at various ministries and have learned many things – many of them the hard way.

While nothing replaces knowing the tech side of the audio craft, there’s a lot more to being successful in the role.

Here are some things I’ve picked up along the way, combined with the results of an informal survey of worship leaders about what they want most from techs.

1. Pay attention. Attentiveness is the number one thing worship leaders value.

They want to know that someone cares and is looking out for them. When that’s not the case, it usually leads to animosity that manifests itself at rehearsal (worship leader yelling, “Hey, gang – down here. Yeah it’s me. I need more monitor!) and at services (frustrated look on worship leader’s face as he tries to discretely signal that he needs more monitor). It’s a recipe for disaster, resulting in frustration on both sides.
The solution is to stay consistently focused on what’s happening (of course) and to develop practices to make sure it happens. For example, learning to mix with your head up. Dave Rat, a top front of house engineer in the concert world, positions his console sideways in relation to the stage and even created his own console “Braille” system. This allows him to mix by touch, without continually looking down at the board, so that he can stay concentrated on the stage.

2. Positive attitude.

At one church I visited, all of the musicians were quite intimidated by the monitor engineer; in fact, he was so unpleasant that rather than interface with him, they were willing to live with horrible sound in their monitors, rehearsal after rehearsal, service after service. Don’t be this person!
It’s amazing how far good attitude goes. If the musicians know that you care about them and are working to make everything as good as possible, they’ll give you a lot of grace. And they’ll also be at their best from a performance standpoint.

3. It’s not all about you.

I’ve encountered several sound operators over the years who actually think the musicians wouldn’t be able to perform without them. Wrong. Someone else can and will step up. Being an accomplished tech is a wonderful thing, but the point is to be as useful as possible in supporting the efforts of everyone involved with worship. As top producer Quincy Jones famously said, “Check your ego at the door.” I call it “TnT” – Tech and Talent working together.

4. It’s not all about the gear.

A friend recently made this statement: “With great gear comes great responsibility.” His point is that with the right tools, there’s no excuse not to make it sound as good as possible. To this I add that no matter what gear is available, we still have you the responsibility to do our best. It’s easy to fall into the “equipment trap,” so avoid it.

I recently attended an arena event served by a million-dollar (literally) sound system. The first band sounded awesome. The second band sounded awful. The difference? The techs, not the gear (or the musicians). The first band’s tech team knew what it was doing while the second one did not, so a sophisticated sound system wasn’t going to save them.

5. Musicians are not the enemy.

Although at times, it can feel like they are. Some exhibit arrogance and condescension, unwilling to adapt while always ready with a snarky remark.

But it doesn’t matter. We need to make things work as well as possible for the greater goal. And the truth is, most of them want the exact same thing.

There’s no call to be a jerk in kind, or on the opposite end of the spectrum, a pushover. Be ready to kill them, but only with kindness. It takes two sides to go to war, so don’t complete the equation. (It’s also a war no one wins.) Speak to them with a calm, measured tone, and try to do so with grace and humility. Remember: none of us are perfect.

Further, communicate what you’re doing trying to do with their sound and why. For example, tell them you’re moving a monitor two feet to the left so that the output from the monitor is in the non-pickup area of the microphone, and will thus give them a purer sound with less risk of feedback. This type of discussion can go a long way to diffusing tension and reinforcing that you’re indeed working together.

6. Constantly improve your craft.

Musicians rehearse, they practice at home, and then with others they play in advance of services. We need to take the same approach, studying our systems, increasing our understanding of how they work, reading and researching and then putting it into practice.

Another thing that really helps is advancing the material to be used at the upcoming service. I try to get the music in advance, and actually listen to it, critically, and then plan and prepare as to how I can best reproduce what I’m hearing

7. Sometimes it requires long hours.

Get over it.

8. Sometimes it’s a thankless job.

Get over it. Both of these points tend to go together. A tech role can take an inordinate amount of time and it’s rare when anyone notices all we do. We often seem to be the first ones there, then buried in making things work, and then the last ones left to turn out the lights. But that’s the situation, and it’s not about us.

Currently, Todd Elliot, formerly a technical director at Willow Creek Church, is hosting seminars for techs across the country, and I encourage you to attend one. They’re called FILO (First In, Last Out), with Todd offering a lot of helpful advice. The key is not getting burned out – get away as needed, spend time with family and friends, and rejuvenate instead of being a martyr.

9. Relationships are really all that matter.

This applies to the tech team as well as worship leaders, pastors, musicians, and others. More than anything, it determines your success and longevity. For example, I often get together for lunch with our pastor just to check in and see how he’s doing as a person. I also find out how he thinks things are going and can get a feel for what needs to change. And I have his ear to talk about what the tech team needs.

10. Sometimes we just have to say no.

Of course, knowing how and when is the tricky part. Most tech people are servants. We want to make things happen, we want to please, we want to be a hero. This leads to making it tough to refuse requests, no matter how difficult.

For example, someone wants to patch in an additional vocal mic five minutes before the service starts. This can probably be done, but it interrupts other prep and there’s no chance for a sound check. In other words, it’s a recipe for unnecessary problems. So just because we “can” doesn’t mean we “should.” These things also have a tendency to set a new expectation, and where that stops, nobody knows.

Practice for Sound Techs: 3 Best Multitrack Recorders for Church

How does your audio person rehearse? Can a sound tech practice their craft? The answer is yes, and here are several of the best options in today’s digital multi-track recorders.

How does your sound tech practice?

Your vocalists practice, your guitar player practices, your drummer well… he may practice, but how does your sound guy or lady, practice?

Assuming that you have a 5-piece band – there are at least 15 hours of practice that the entire band has put in.  This is assuming a 2-hour band rehearsal and that each musician practiced 1 hour on their own during the week.

I believe that is an extremely conservative estimate. Those 15+ hours can be wasted by a bad mix during the worship service.

So how does your sound guy practice?

Some would argue that in the above scenario, the sound guy did get in 2 hourw of practice with the band.

But really was it practice?

Sure, the sound guy was able to mess with the faders, play with some eq, maybe dial in a little compression.

More than likely, this was mixed with taking care of the band’s needs.  It was also pretty fragmented.  He could have been in the middle of trying to set the gate on the kick drum and the band stops.

A friend of mine jokingly refers to the stop button.  You are right in the middle of dialing in something and the band stops and leaves your hanging.  So, what is the solution?

Enter Virtual sound check.

Record, Practice, Perfect your mix.

Today most digital boards have a multitrack digital out.  The most common form is USB.

With inexpensive, or free software, you can record 32 or more tracks of live audio to a computer.  Waves Tracks Live, for example, offers a free version that is fully functional (you can pay $99 and get phone support and priority updates).

Once you have recorded the band, then you can flip the inputs on your console to digital in and playback the multi-track recording.

It is just like the band is there live.

Now you can take your time, mute everything but the kick drum, and really hear the changes that your compression settings are making on that input.

You can also replay a section as many times as you would like and listen to how it sounds as you change your settings.  You can do this with all of the channels.

You can turn everything back on and play with your overall mix.

No more having the musicians wait around or play individually as you tweak the sound.

There are also devices on the market that are stand alone, purpose-built.  They do not need a computer to operate and you do not have to mess with any software. The advantage of a stand-alone device is that you have little to no set up and no computer to lug around.

There are many multitrack recorders that can do a virtual sound check.

The following are three of the best fit units for the worship market:

  • JoeCo has Blackbox
  • Cymatic has Utrack 32
  • NemoSyn has Ndrive

JoeCo blackbox comes in 3 flavors, Analog, Madi and Dante. 
You hook up a hard drive to the usb on the blackbox and you can record full uncompressed wav files. Physically a single rack mount unit, the Black box is geared towards the professional user and requires an interface if you only have usb out on your console.

Being rack mounted It is the most “pro version” and is great if you are on tour and want to capture audio from the show.  Your recording length in limited by the hard drive size that you connect to it.  Cost for the Madi version $3995,00 plus hard drive http://www.joeco.co.uk/BBR_models.html

The Utrack 32 by Cymatic is a purpose built card that fits in to the popular Behringer X32 digital mixing console. 
Once inserted in to the board you simply hook up a usb hard drive, download the app, connect the Ethernet port on the card to a wireless network and then you the app to control the recording and playback of your files. Cost $499.00 plus hard drive http://cymaticaudio.com/products/recorders-players/utrack-x32

Nemosyn has the Ndrive a portable usb recorded that can connect to any mixer that has a usb multitrack out. 
(Behringer, Yamaha, Soundcraft, Allen and heath and others have mixers with usb connectivity for multi-track).  There is a large record button, a large play button and a touch screen to control playback and recording.  The unit records to an onboard SD- card.  Nemosyn ships the Ndrive with a 64 gig SD card.  Cost $599.00 (includes everything needed) www.nemosyn.com

Virtual sound check is the by far the best tool a sound guy can have to hone his craft.  One of the really beautiful things is that now the sound guy and worship leader can sit together and work on the mix together.

It is well worth the investment; with practice you can perfect your mix!

 

 

Sound System Upgrade From Good Enough To Great

Why do so many churches talk about middle of the road when it comes to system upgrades?

Why do so many churches talk about middle of the road when it comes to system upgrades?

I’d like to share two experiences, unrelated on the surface, that really got me thinking.

The first happened at a church that was talking with me about upgrading their sound system.

If you’ve ever been through the process of updating a system, be it sound, lighting or video, you know it’s a chore—or actually, a set of chores.
There’s the pursuit of determining what’s needed, soliciting proposals, selecting a proposal, getting the church/committee to sign off on it, overseeing the install of the new components, and then figuring out how to operate them.

I could talk at length about any one of the steps, but based on my recent experience, let’s start with a question (actually two): Why upgrade, and what are the expectations?

My meeting was with the head sound tech (volunteer) and the worship leader. We were primarily focused on switching to a new digital console and main loudspeakers. The existing stuff is almost twenty-years-old, still works fine and sounds pretty good (twenty years ago it would have been considered a near-premium system), but it is showing increasing signs of age.

As we talked the sound tech made a statement that I hear way too often. Paraphrasing it, he said, “We’re not looking for something excellent, or top of the line, but more middle of the road.”

Every time I encounter statements along these lines, I want to reply, “Sorry, I’m not the guy for you. Please see one of my competitors because they have the whole ‘doesn’t suck too bad’ thing nailed down.”

Of course, what I really say is “Well, let’s see what we can come up with” and then I start questioning them about their goals and needs, working to steer them to the best solution for the budget they have available. And if they don’t have a budget, I gently push them to establish a reasonable one.

My question: Why do so many churches talk about middle of the road?

My own experiences, both as a church member and as an A/V pro, have shown me that most/all churches striving for excellence are growing, while the ones doing the “mediocrity thing” are stagnant or shrinking.

The specific church I’m discussing here did its upgrade 20 years ago in an excellent fashion. They invested in the best they could afford at the time. (I remember it because I was involved with the project.) The minister of music (as we referred to them in those days) solicited a couple of proposals. It was a growing church, the place was pretty full, and he laid out the system needs while stressing that he wanted top quality. “I want these speakers to be hanging here 20 years from now,” he said, prophetically.

My proposal sought to meet his challenge. My competitor tried to go the middle of the road route. Of course, the minister of music did not want to settle for that.

A couple of years after we did the install, he said to me. “I never thought we’d get to use your company because you’re known as the provider of ‘Cadillac’ systems, but it turned out that you were less the 15 percent more than your competitor—and we knew with you that we would get something that would serve us well and stand the test of time.”

With that context and memory in mind, I move to my second more recent experience, where I was working front of house at a seminar at a mid-sized church. It was a very simple event, a headset mic and a handheld mic. Doing EQ on a mid-level console (only one band of sweepable EQ), I listened closely to how the system sounded. It was “just OK,” and there really wasn’t anything else I could do to make it better.

During the event, a church member who serves on the sound team stopped in to pick something up, and in passing he said, “Keep your hand on the fader—every once in a while the system just doubles in volume for no real reason, and if you don’t catch it the feedback is painful.”

Nice!

So now as I paid much more attention to the board, keeping my finger on the fader, I also began mentally adding up the cost of the system.

My conclusion was that for maybe 10 percent or so more investment, the church could have purchased far better equipment. Sound quality would be higher, and more than likely, they wouldn’t be having issues just five years after the installation.

It really does seem that with most things in life, it’s that extra 10 percent that takes things from good to great.

Something we all need to keep in mind when we’re thinking about system upgrades, because it can very much pay off in the long run.

Rating Your Total Church Experience

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.

What does a Worship Leader REALLY want? in a Sound Person?

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. Continue reading “What does a Worship Leader REALLY want? in a Sound Person?”

Sometimes You Need To Be Able To Dance As Good As (Or Better) Than You Mix

What can we do to sort it out, meet needs, and help them put on the best performance possible?

The venue where I serve as technical director has recently had a number of touring acts come through.

With each tour, there are always special technical requirements that the artists need, particularly in these tight economic times where few of them are able to travel with everything they need.

The last three events, the venue was responsible for providing the entire house system, and for two of them, I served as the front of house engineer.

When a tour group comes to a venue they never know what they’re going to get. Yes, the rider said six separate wireless in-ear monitor systems, but the venue only has two and is unwilling to rent any more. Yes, the rider said the PA needs to hit peaks of 110 dBA, but the installed system can only hit 95 dBA. I know, I know… Continue reading “Sometimes You Need To Be Able To Dance As Good As (Or Better) Than You Mix”