Category Archives: Tech Talk

Sound advice

My Favorite question “How do you know what all those knobs do?”

Those of you who know me, know I’m an audio geek.  It doesn’t pay the bills, but I love working “Front of House” mixers (the sound board that the crowd hears in a live venue).  In most venues for me it’s really an “All of House” (does the main P.A., monitors, and recording all in one spot), but it sounds cooler to say I’m working FOH today.

My main gig of course has always been houses of worship.  I haven’t mixed for large crowds, but I’ve mixed for some rowdy ones and with bands and configurations that could be dropped into a crowd of thousands.

With that being said, I have some advice for sound techs and church leaders trying to make sense of the sound man (or woman).  None of this is in any certain order.

  • Take it seriously.  I’m serious.  The PA system is not a toy, and can make or break a worship experience.  I’m all about some fun, but when the real deal is going on, it’s not about me, the band or even the preacher. It’s all about those people in those seats having an un-distracted experience with their Savior and with the Word of God.
    • One of the most embarrassing times I’ve had in a sound booth was when I didn’t take what I was doing seriously.  I was in my short stint at Bible College, and was on rotation to sit at the sound board for one of my classes.  All it required was making sure the lecturer had a mic with a good battery and that everyone could hear.  That’s it.  One channel, turn it on, turn it up and don’t let it feed back.  Nothing to it.  Got it, team leader!  So what did I do? I decided to play with the effects unit thinking no one would notice.Unbeknownst to me, this female speakers voice was reverberating, delaying, and even probably talking in demon sounds for the people in the front rows.  I couldn’t hear it though because I was too far back to realize it was coming through the main speakers.

      At the end this guy came back to me and said “Hi! My name is Mike.”  I stuck my hand out with a goofy grin and said “I’m Teeee…” He interrupted “and that was distracting” and grabbed his wife’s hand and walked on past me.

      It was one of those moments that replays in your head 25 years later and makes you slap yourself everytime you think of it and say “stupid, stupid, stupid!”  BUT I won’t forget the lesson: Take the job seriously, no matter how large or small the task!

  • Be prepared, be on time and be available.   Find out ahead of time what’s on the song list, or what the event plan is.  Find out ahead of time what is needed for that event/service. Is it going to be an unplugged/acoustic set, or will it be a full band with tracks, cues, click and everything else.  Set up a rough layout of the sound board before everyone is ready to start practicing.  Don’t hold up the rest of the practice or event!  Have you heard of a nickle holding up the dollar?  Well, you my friend are the nickle if you don’t take it seriously enough to be prepared.Being available means for things that aren’t your job.  A good example is a couple Sundays ago, we were at announcements and offering time at our church and some people came in who couldn’t find seats. The ushers were busy getting ready for that. Simultaneously, the worship director and I both noticed these people needed seats. So the lighting guy (who also happens to be my son Luke) and I jumped out of the booth and grabbed a dolly load of chairs and went to work!  You’re a part of the team, not just a production tech. Be willing to jump in there and help wherever needed and whenever there’s a gap to fill.
  • Be sensitive. I don’t mean wear your feelings on your sleeve.  I don’t mean lose track of where you are and just “lose it in His presence”.  I mean be sensitive to what is going on in the moment, in that experience.  Is it a song the crowd is getting into?  Maybe bring the master fader back and let the congregation become part of the mix.  Is it invitation time?  Don’t let the band give everyone volume shock between the speaking and the invitation song.  (I literally have the band/vocals halfway down below their normal position during invitation). At Big Church, our subs are along the front of the stage.  During prayer time, people come up there to pray.  So if people are up there, the subs come down a lot so it’s not my mix “shaking their burdens loose.” Is the speaker exhorting the congregation while they are shouting or the band playing?  Make sure you turn that mic up WAY above the crowd and /band, and bring it down as they come down.
  • Be Humble. Don’t buy a t-shirt that says “I’m humble” to prove you are humble.  Just be humble. While I always joke that when I turn the bass up, everyone gets saved, the sound tech is there to give as much of a distraction free experience as possible.   You are a team member, a vessel, and someone God uses.  BUT keep in mind, God used a donkey in the Bible too.
  • Not all venues/churches are alike. Your church may not have tracks, clicks, and cues with in-ears and foldback screens telling everyone what to do.  Your church might be a piano, and an organ with a 12-voice choir.  Your church might have that 1960’s campmeeting style congregational singing.  Don’t expect to mix the same in one setting that you would in another.  Think about what makes THAT type experience sound the best in its own style and deliver!
  • Keep one eye on the worship leader, and one eye on the pastor.  Is the worship leader struggling as if they can’t hear something?  Is a singer grabbing an ear because they can’t hear their own voice?  Grab your trusty headphones and solo their monitor mix and see what they might be hearing! Is the worship leader changing songs spontaneously?  Gotta watch at all times!The other person I’m ALWAYS watching for is the person speaking.  In our church it can be one of 3 people at any given time.   So I’m watching the side stage in case they decide to step up and say something spontaneously, or for when they are ready to step on stage to preach. I NEVER have the speakers channels muted.  They’re only turned down just a hair to prevent feed back transitioning from the floor to the stage.  I do this so I’m not caught off guard and there are never waiting on me to turn on their channel, and the crowd isn’t subjected to squeals and screeches out of the blue.
  • The vocal is in front of the mix.  Now we get to the details of how I mix.  Drums/bass ride together and have a foundational element to the mix. Pad tracks and keys are a glue that bring a horizontal feel to the song.  Electric guitar is distinct and sits just above middle if you think of the audio spectrum from top to bottom, highs to lows.   Vocals are out in front.  Doesn’t mean its necessarily louder, but often times it is.  It I always mix the band, and then make a vocal mix that I make sure is coming at you, just in front of everything else.  Even in a mono P.A. this can be done if you practice enough.One trick I use, I learned from watching this video by Dave Rat.  He’s FOH engineer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  I compress the band in subgroups, then my vocals individually to control them but yet to give enough headroom to stay out font.  Having a digital board, at least a Behringer X32 makes it easy to accomplish this without having to ride faders.
  • Set it and leave stuff alone!  Get your mix together, and trust it.  Make small adjustments when needed, such as when lead vocals change, or the style of song changes.  But for the most part, let the mix breathe on its own.  You shouldn’t have to flip, twist and slide every fader on every song.  Don’t worry about adjusting stuff that already sounds good and has found a place in the mix.  Electric guitars are one thing you shouldn’t have to mess with.  If that guitarist has a good processing rig, just set it flat, get your gain set and blend it in.  You shouldn’t have to do much at all!

Finally..

HAVE FUN!  You should feel like you are part of it.  Laugh and enjoy your time, and the power of making things sound good.

Well, here’s really the last one…

When all else fails, blame the lighting guy.

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WiFi vs Internet. Wait, what?

Grandpa, tell me about the good ole days…
Once upon a time, there was a product called “Internet” that service providers, such as the company I work for, provided.  It was fast, reliable, and easy to support.  Customers would buy it and plug their computers in. If they were savvy enough, they would even buy a wireless router, plug it in and set it up per the instructions they got with that router.
But I don’t want Internet, I want WAAHFAAAAAH!
Now, no one shops for Internet. I worked for another company a few years ago. The owner was good friends with a guy in town.  He found out this friend didn’t have our service. Offended, he asked his friend “Why don’t you have my internet?”  His friend’s reply:  “Because the phone company has WiFi, and I need WiFi.”  The guy had NO clue.
People nowadays don’t know what Internet is, thanks to (of all things) the Internet.  We service providers have to advertise it as something else just so they don’t overlook us. We have to call it WiFi.  WiFi isn’t the Internet, but you can’t tell the average consumer this.
What’s wrong with this?
When you sell Internet, that’s easy to support.  If a customer can’t get online, it’s either the internet connection to their home is broken, the modem is broken, or the customer needs to troubleshoot their equipment inside their home.  End of story (should be, anyway).
When you sell and label your product “WiFi”, the airwaves that you can’t control, the devices they can’t put the right password into, and the printer they use twice a year all of the sudden become your (Yes, YOUR – Mr Internet Service Provider) responsibility. Here are some common examples:
Someone puts in a 2.4ghz baby monitor, or the church next door buys 2.4ghz wireless mics interfering with the signal and next thing you know:  “The WiFi is broken – call the cable company!”
OR Someone puts the WiFi router next to the microwave oven, and Johnny’s Fortnite game crashes when Susie heats up some mac and cheese, then a phone call hits our dispatch voicemail with “that Dad-blanged Cable company needs to get out here NOW and fix our WiFi!”
As a service provider, you are forced to do one of two things.  1) Sell the internet, package it with a WiFI router, call it WiFi.  Sales go through the roof, but be ready to deal with all the complaints because of WiFi’s inherent weak points or  2) Sell the internet, tell customers it includes a WiFi router, and try to educate them on what all that means.  Still get the complaints because “my WiFi worked fine with XYZ.com” (even though they told you when they switched, they had nothing but trouble with XYZ’s crappy WiFi).
The answer, in my opinion, is customer education AND marketing.  You have to advertise WiFi somehow, or they won’t know what you’re selling.  You also HAVE to tell customers you are selling internet with a WiFi router that will only be as good as the environment and devices it’s placed with.
Herein lies another issue  
The other providers are putting in modem/router combos.  The customer might for some reason have had better luck with that unit than yours.   However, you also know that if the customer has a 4000sf home, the basic wireless N combination modem/router is probably not going to be enough.  They expect the ISP to handle it all.  The right product is a modem (remember those, from the good ole’ days?), and a Mesh WiFi system to distribute signal throughout their home.  But that requires us investing 3x as much (or more) than the modem/router combination unit, and convincing the customer they need to pay a higher equipment fee for it.  Then there’s the risk of 6 months down the road, the customer will get an ad from XYZ.com (remember them?) for 1/3 of what they are paying, not mentioning their speeds are 1/3 of what they are paying for.  The customer forgets that it’s the same crappy company they left 6 months ago, and because you couldn’t give this fancy mesh router out for free, writes up a bad review because you “ripped them off” because their video game wouldn’t go online sometime in the middle of the night 2 months ago,  leaves your company. Not only do they leave, they keep your $300 mesh router and make you have to send them to collections nailing the coffin that they’ll never come back.
Consumers need to be educated!
ISP’s need people to spread the word.  We control everything to the modem.  Everything beyond it, what connects to it, etc is not in our control.  Consumers should invest in their own infrastructure.  The power company doesn’t care if you don’t have enough amperage to your kitchen to power your fridge, nor would you expect them to care (I hope?).  They just care that they are providing enough to the side of your house.
Big companies advertise “The fastest WiFi available” and “The Most Reliable WiFi”. There’s no such thing.  WiFi is not controllable. It’s an open radio frequency.
Just think “CB RADIO.”  Remember that?  People could talk over each other, florescent lights interfered, etc?  That’s EXACTLY what happens on Wifi.  Consumers need to get used to the fact it is that way, and it will only get worse, the more people use WiFi around them.
That’s my rant for the day.

Cable vs Satellite – Which is the best deal?

You see the deals every day on TV and receive the post cards in the mail: “Switch to satellite and pay only $24.95/month.” But is it true?

The average Cable bill in the US is about $60/month plus tax according to FCC studies. The last cable company and current cable company I work for are about $50 plus taxes and fees for the “Expanded Basic” package.

In Cable, there are two tiers everyone gets when they sign up for cable. Basic – usually channels 2-23 on the dial (which is where your locals, educational, and shopping channels reside), and Expanded Basic. Expanded Basic is the tier where core channels as defined by the various programming providers are grouped. Contrary to popular belief, the programming providers (Discovery, Disney-ESPN, Viacom, Turner) are the ones who dictate what majority of your channels are in your lineup. The local cable provider has little choice in this. Usually Basic + Expanded is about 60 channels plus the HD Simulcasts of those channels, and about 40 digital music channels.

For most cable providers, no additional equipment is required to get this lineup, just a digital cable-ready TV Set.

Now let’s look at satellite providers. Their $24.99 deal they offer is their lowest-priced package and includes 120-190 channels. Look at their lineup, and you’ll see these channels include music channels, HD Simulcasts, West Coast duplicates of the same channels, and “filler” channels that add to the totals. Look closer, and you’ll notice core channels missing that your cable lineup does NOT include. You have to buy a pricier package to get them.

Taking about 10 minutes and going to Dish and DirecTV’s websites can tell you more. I did it, and found out DirecTV’s Entertainment package being offered at $24.95 was not $24.95. Add “Advanced Receiver fees” for 3 sets (even though they claimed the boxes were free) and the price quickly jumps to within a couple bucks of the Expanded Basic package we sell at CCC. After the first year, the bill jumps to over $70, then goes to over $90/month plus tax after the contract is up. Dish’s price jump isn’t as extreme but you’ll still pay over $75 for the “Top 120” after the contract is up. Rest assured, though, you most likely won’t get the channels you want for even that price. You’ll have to upgrade to a higher package and your savings you expected to get by switching to dish are out the window.

It pays to look at all of the details before you accept service from a satellite provider. Doing it online seems to give you a better story in writing, rather than calling. They won’t even talk to you without giving up your social security number anyway. Then they’ll skirt around the truth and not really tell you how much it is going to be. Once you take the service, you are locked into a contract for 2 years even if the “promo deals” expire during that period.

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