Sunday, November 30, 2008

On My Mind

I honestly can't remember exactly when I last blogged something other than a Reverb post. In many cases, that's because I've had little to write. A few times, I've wanted to write but not had the time. Somehow, tonight I have the time. Here are some things on my mind lately, some related to church tech and some not:

How to Maximize My Times With God - I'm finding mornings to be less and less effective for reading my Bible and praying as I grow older. I'm considering moving to evenings or noontimes, when I'm more alert, have less things pressing in on me, and have fewer time constraints.

How to Blog More - Writing is good for me, even when it does little for you. How can I make the time to write more?

A Collaboration Group - I'd like to gather six to eight tech-director-like people from our vicinity who want to share experiences and grow together in leadership. What qualifications should be required to participate? Would anyone want to participate?

A Recent Message by Jerry Bridges - Last Sunday's message by Jerry Bridges has been on my mind a lot in the last seven days. I still say it is probably the best message I've ever heard on serving the church. Ever. I hope we get apply these truths at Covenant Life a little more in the next year.

My Family's Plans for Christmas - I'm very excited about some changes we've made to our family Christmas traditions. We're moving our gift-giving to the kids earlier in December, so that we can focus them on giving to others for the majority of the month. We were going to do our little family gift exchange tomorrow, but illness and lousy weather have prevented us from getting our tree. Thankfully the kids are too small to know the difference, and we've got time!

What's been on your mind lately?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

11.23 Overdriven

Ben always has the tougher job on this Sunday-in-Review posting thing. I get to write everything I think, and then he has to think of more to say after that. I usually steal his thunder. So, here is a short note from Ben, primarily answering my question about lighting.



One Minor Lighting Note

On the production sheet, we left room for a closing song, meaning the cues went as such:

Cue 6: Sermon with house at 65%
Cue 7: Band with house at 50%
Cue 8: Sermon with house at 50%.

I had the lighting operator go from cue 6 to cue 8 because there was no song but then realized that doing that actually brought the house lights down for no reason because there was no closing song.

So the lesson is... if there is a modification like this during the service, don't simply go to the cue because there may not be reason to. And if you realize this and the producer tells you to go to that cue, then simply tell him (me) that we don't need to go to that cue.

Other than my mistake, Phillip did an excellent job preparing the lights and cues Saturday night. Great job, Phillip!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

11.23 Reverb

November 23rd was quite the Sunday. In case you've forgotten all that happened, or you weren't able to attend, here's the reminder rundown:

General Comments

First, I want to express my gratefulness for the entire team this weekend. Everyone accommodated the non-routine activities of this Annie Moses weekend with eagerness and excellence. The sound crew came in early and did a load-in instead of a setup. The video team came in early on Sunday to learn the special song. They went from "Hurry up!" (during the Annie Moses song) to "Don't move a muscle!" (during Jerry Bridges' message) without a complaint.

Second, I want to congratulate the video team on two things.

1. You did an excellent job on the Annie Moses Band song. I mean that sincerely, in spite of the frantic calls you might have heard from those of us up in the booth.

Let's put this in perspective. We do a complex live song with IMAG about once or twice a year. Since each team serves only once per month, that means each team experiences this about once or twice every four years. There is no way anybody is going to do a perfect job on something he does only once or twice every four years. Yet Grant was very pleased with the result, commenting that it definitely added to the experience and did not distract from it.

So, for all the moments when you thought you didn't get the shot, just know that the overall effect served the congregation. Your hard work was a blessing to others, and I'll bet you all become better camera ops in the process.

2. You won the prize. You didn't have any "focus toward you" moments. We'll be taking you all out to lunch in the not-too-distant future. Excellent, excellent, excellent! What tips do you have for the other teams? How did you accomplish this?


Sound

The sound crew did a great job this weekend. The Annie Moses Band used their own mixer and mics, which simplified our responsibilities in some ways but also complicated mixing at the same time. Thanks, Jim, for accommodating them so well. The vocals were really bright in the first service, but their mixer - who was very humble and gracious, as well as slightly ill - made some good adjustments for the second service.

I noticed one little thing at the end of the first service: Ken opted out of the song, but our crew was up there already to move the keyboard and the pulpit. Perfect! That was a mistake, in a sense, but it is the type of mistake I want to make. I'd rather be ready for the transition and be called off than be waiting for some sign and then hold up the transition. Thanks, guys, for being on top of it.


Lighting

I wish I had something to say about lighting, but I was barely paying attention. (Note: I wasn't the official producer this weekend, so stay tuned for Ben's Overdriven post in the next couple days.) This is good, though, because noticing nothing is the goal. Anyone else have any lighting thoughts?


Video

I already covered the main things I wanted to say about video. Excellent work. Josh wrote in his notes that we missed or were late on a couple slides. Let's make sure to listen carefully for slide cues.

Minor note: we tried out a new "feature" for the Discovery Land video room. They were able to watch the cameras on the television with a small picture-in-picture window showing the lyrics, slides, and sermon notes. Was anyone in there to say whether it was helpful or not?

I think that's all I have. Anyone else have any comments, suggestions, encouragements, or disagreements?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

11.16 Overdriven

Here are Ben's thoughts on this last Sunday, since he was the official producer.

Band


I loved this weeks band and arrangements. It goes to show that small details and melodies, such as Josh's electric cello line in the turn of Amazing Grace, go a long way to keep things uniquely fresh. The slight delay on the cello added a nice fullness to the sound as well. Delays aren't just for guitar players.

Danny's accordion is also a very nice addition to the overall sound. It adds a nice synth-like pad that can only be generated from an accordion. Very nice! Any accordion players out there...don't shy away from experimentation as long as it doesn't turn to a distraction.

As for Jesse's drumming, I thought it fit very well. He was playing hard, but it didn't feel overwhelming or out of place at all. If the overall level is hardly breaking 95dB, then I say keep it up! Great job mixing, Dave.


Lighting

I really liked the warm feel on stage with the appropriate color levels. Times of singing certainly are not contingent upon color and feel, but they do make a big difference. Very nice, Craig!


Details

Most importantly: No flies on the projector this morning.

My only staging thought is on the pulpit swap: make sure the stage tech who takes the one pulpit down and the stage tech who takes the other pulpit up don’t follow each other. In other words, they each should have their own path, so they don’t run in to each other on stage, have to wait for the other, etc. This whole pulpit swap thing really needs a name as it has become quite a point of discussion among the team from week to week, especially since Josh made humorous reference to it last week! We'll give out a prize to the one who coins the most creative name.

I saw Jon reach up to quickly adjust his DPA mic many times while he was preaching. Was there something not adjusted correctly beforehand that we could have taken care of? If so, we should make it a point to take care of that beforehand.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

11.16 Reverb

We had another wonderful Sunday together, singing to the Lord and hearing his word proclaimed. As a reminder, here is what happened...

General Notes

Before I get into the details of this past service, I want to cover a few items that have been bouncing around in our blog discussions for the last few months.

Checklists | Even though we've been using our checklist system for a while, now, I do still review everyone's checklists each week. I've noticed a general downturn in the completeness of these checklists. As a reminder, the checklists have two purposes: 1) to help you remember the many details for which you are responsible; and 2) to help me identify whether mistakes we make are system problems or execution problems. When you don't complete your checklist, not only do you risk missing a responsibility, you also reduce my ability to see where our systems and plans are weak. With that in mind, please make it a high priority to complete your checklists each weekend.

Sidebar for last weekend: For various reasons, I didn't have checklists printed out for the lighting and sound crew on Saturday. I apologize for that. Just know that my comment above is not directed toward those Saturday checklist items that didn't get marked off.

Sharp Focus Award | We don't have a winner for the sharp focus award, yet, but everyone does seem to be getting better. I noticed only a few out-of-focus shots this time. Remember, I'm taking the first crew to hit perfect focus every time out to lunch after their next serving slot. Week 4 IMAG team, you have the chance to take the prize this coming weekend!

Drums in the PA | I had the pleasure of mixing again this weekend. I enjoyed the unusual band and arrangements. I tried to pay close attention to the level of the drums in the PA. Jesse was playing hard this weekend, but I tried to set the drums in the mix based on the more subjective intensity the provided as opposed to the more objective volume. I think the drums were definitely present in the PA throughout, but the overall level only broke 95dB once. What did you think of the mix overall, and the drums in the mix in particular? Remember, I need you to be especially critical of my mixes, so that I can grow and then help our mixing team grow.


Sound and Staging

Saturday evening was very productive given that the band was not as experienced with getting soundcheck done quickly and the overall time was shortened due to Jenn and Ricky's wedding.

I was mostly happy with the mix. I got one comment that the acoustic cello (yes, there was an electric one, too) sounded more like a violin than a cello during the first song. I definitely agree with that assessment. Does anyone out there have any suggestions on how I can get a really warm, full sound on an acoustic cello even when the musician is playing in the higher octaves of the instrument?

We had a ton of stage changes this weekend, and quick ones at that. I want to thank Nate and his team for being on top of it all, especially for getting up there quickly during the closing prayer to get all the band equipment back in place.

One note to all audio producers: let's keep the pulpit (or pulpits) down on the floor by the stage left confidence monitor, rather than over by the monitor board. When we are not going to use a particular pulpit any more, we can move it back to the monitor board area to declutter the front of the stage. But it definitely makes the transition smoother for the pulpits to come up and go down the front steps than across the stage.


Lighting

Lighting was great again this weekend. Craig took the time to refocus every light he used, and that really does make all the difference. He used fewer fixtures, only had them at 80%, and he still had a very bright and even stage.

Craig's attention to detail this Sunday also revealed a somewhat mysterious dimmer issue with some house lights in the left gym. Who wants a problem to solve this week?


IMAG Video

The video team had a hard job. Jon is a walker. I'd seen him preach before, but I hadn't noticed that he was such a mover. Camera 1 had it hardest, for sure, but all the camera ops were working. Thanks for trying so hard to keep up with him. In cases like this where we have a new - and quick - pastor, I will allow you to zoom out a smidge (just a smidge) in order to make following little easier. It's going to be tough no matter what, though.

As a warning, Jerry Bridges is preaching next Sunday, and he hardly moves at all. That can be hard, too. Camera ops, make sure to drink your coffee before coming in this Sunday.

We had a few slide and graphics transition issues this weekend. Because I wasn't on headset, I'm not sure I'm clear on what happened. I do know the team doesn't yet have a playback operator (any takers?). Does anyone on the video team have an idea of what happened? I want to make sure we are setting you up for success as much as we possibly can.


Your Turn

If you read this far, I want you to know how grateful I am that you take serving Jesus with excellence seriously enough to spend ten minutes each week learning how to improve. If you've read this far, would you please leave a comment, even if it is just a note that you read the post. I'm curious to know how many of you make it through my ramblings.

Better yet, join the conversation, and leave a comment with one thing you think we could do better next week.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

11.09 Reverb

What planned things happened this past Sunday?
What unplanned things happened this past Sunday?
  • Josh modified the New Members order on the fly.
  • Speaking of flies, we had another one on the screen.
  • We had our first Shure UR1 failure during a service.
Thanks for the Flexibility

First, I want to thank the team for their flexibility. This Sunday required agility due to a number of factors, including but not limited to:
  1. a last-minute change-up in the setup and rehearsal schedule
  2. poor communication on the part of staff members, including me
  3. several ministry mic moments in the first service
  4. a second service that was quite a bit different than the first
  5. a small insect that found it's way through the mosquito net in the second service

Sound

I'd like to say thanks again to the smallest auditorium* sound crew on our team: Jim, Mitch, and Dan took care of it all once again, even without a Saturday evening rehearsal.

From my perspective, the audio administration went nearly flawlessly. The stage moves happened at the right time. There was a stray music stand during the second service, but only because Mitch got nabbed to tape down some cables and didn't have time to get to it before Mark started announcements.

All the mics worked, except for the "failing" Shure UR1 beltpack in the second service. As far as we can tell, the mic was dropping out because the antenna itself had slowly become unscrewed. We are going to test it further. That's another item to consider when putting beltpacks on pastors: is the antenna securely screwed onto the pack?

Mitch and the team handled the mic dropouts well: They got Josh a wireless handheld to keep things moving, and then they switched out the beltpack with the backup at the next break in the action.

Jim, I thought the mix was good. I liked the sound of the acoustic guitar and the beats throughout the morning. After some discussions with Josh Davis, I have three thoughts from this last Sunday that apply to all the mixers:
  1. Whenever possible, listen to the songs before coming in Saturday. Log into planning center and go to the plan for that Sunday. Then, look in the upper right for the "rehearse" link. Scroll over that and you'll see an option for mp3 player. You can listen to any songs for which we have recordings posted online. Jim, as we discussed between services, the electric guitar has the melody line in the turn of "Praise the Lord," which we missed in the first service. Listening in advance probably would have reminded you of that detail.
  2. Whenever possible, make the most of "listen" moments. In other words, when the congregation is going to be asked to "listen while we sing...," we have a unique opportunity to excel. When people aren't singing, they will be more attuned to the sound quality, so we should make the extra effort to get a great sound even if only for one verse and a chorus. Now, to be fair, I didn't know that the band was going to do that, so Jim probably didn't either. It's hard to prepare for something you don't expect, so I'll try to find out when that is going to happen and let you all know.
  3. Finally, I want to share a thought on the drums. Because we have acoustic drums, there is always some bleed from the kit throughout the room. I think we tend to under-amplify the drums on account of that bleed. At some times, the drum volume may fit the mix well with very little amplification. However, not amplifying the drums can make them sound diffuse and lifeless. One way I think we can improve is to listen for the drums in the PA and mix for them there. While we don't want to make the whole mix louder just to crank the drums, I think we can have he drums present in the PA without increasing the overall level. I'm going to be experimenting more with it on my mixing weekends, and I'll share my findings.

Lighting


I thought the lighting was excellent this weekend. We underestimated the number of new members who would be attending the 1st service, so I think some were standing on the edges of the light. For now, I need to plan on having 60% of the people in the 1st service and 40% of the people in the second service.


IMAG Video


The video team had a challenging Sunday due to the many unplanned moments, especially in the first service. Thanks for adjusting to those changes and to the multiple commands when the fly showed up on the screen.

I want to apologize for not having enough lead-in on the video. Our video creation team is pretty good about this, but they didn't include it this time, probably because of some requests I gave them related to the ordination videos a few weeks ago. If there is ever no lead-in on a video, the playback operator can make it work by rolling into the video a few seconds, pressing pause, and then rewinding to the previous marker. This will leave the DVD output in black and allow for an immediate roll-in when the play button is pressed.

We are still waiting for a winner of the Team with Sharp Focus Award. All camera operators and camera directors can help each other by remembering to focus toward you each and every time you are going from music to IMAG. A blog-world friend of mine, after reading about our consistent fuzziness, recommended overcompensating by pulling the focus toward you until the whole screen is out of focus and then pushing the focus back the other direction until the foreground comes into sharp focus. I like it. Let's do it.

One last quick note for the playback/record operators: Make sure to record the entire second service, and don't stop the tapes for any reason during the second service. We are going to be using more video online, and our video creation team captures the video from the tapes instead of the DVD because the quality is higher. This last weekend, we were missing the first 30 seconds of the message, most likely because we paused the tapes while Josh did his bathroom break. The tapes are plenty long, so just let them roll.

Thanks, everyone! Any questions, concerns, or further thoughts? Please leave them here.

*Fun Fact: there is one smaller sound crew in the Events Center, week 4, which is now only two people, one of which is also Dan. Thanks Uncle Dan!