Archives for category: live production

I’m a Mac guy. I own all sorts of Apple products.

I will admit right now that I am severely caught up in the “coolness” of exclusively purchasing Apple products. There is something affirming about sitting at a table at a coffee shop with an over-priced cup of ethically-traded, shade-grown coffee and opening up my laptop so that the soft glow of the Apple logo bursts forth from the brushed silver casing of my MacBook Pro.

With that said, I want to share my opinion on something.

Over the years I have used a variety of different technologies to display words at a church. When I was a kid I changed transparencies on the overhead projector that shown on the white walls inside our sanctuary. I’ve used Powerpoint. I’ve used SongShow. I’ve used MediaShout once or twice.

I have never used a program that had an interface that worked quite as well as ProPresenter loaded on an Apple computer.

At the church I used to work at I purchased an iMac loaded with ProPresenter. For years we had used a PC running SongShow. That method worked well, but there was a pretty long learning curve for volunteers running the software. I would make a volunteer do at least 3 “practice runs” with SongShow before I let them use it on Sunday morning.

With ProPresenter I can give someone a 3 minute tutorial on Sunday morning before a service and trust them to do a decent job of running the slides.

It’s just a lot easier to navigate in a live setting.

Take it or leave it.

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I’ve been avoiding writing about the role of a sound technician (or audio engineer) for a long time… mostly because I am a sound technician and I don’t want to come off as self-important. Forgive me if I convey those kinds of implications. That is not my intention.

Your sound technician is extremely important to your church (how’s that for humility?). Your sound technician has a rare power to completely shut down the progress of a worship service. He (I’ll use the male pronoun here because I am drawing from personal experiences. I fully recognize that woman could just as easily be a successful sound tech.) has a hand in every single thing that goes on during the service. In most churches the sound tech is rarely (or never) allowed to take sick days or vacations. This is because there is usually not a second person at your church that can operate the sound board.

In the most basic form, your sound tech allows everyone in the service to hear everything that is going on. However, if they embrace their job as bigger than that, they can potentially be a serious part of the artistic composition of the worship service.

A good sound technician is hard to come by, especially for what a church is willing to pay. If 90% of your worship services do not have a noticeable sound issue (mic clips, feedback, video without audio) you are extremely lucky.

Tell your audio engineer that they are doing a great job. It will be a pleasant break from hearing “the drums are too loud” over and over and over and over.

Being a Christian isn’t pretty. It isn’t easy. It isn’t fun. Being a Christian is messy business. The founder of our religion (whom we are supposed to emulate) was beaten, tortured and nailed to a cross. The early Christians suffered similar fates. Still to this day Christians are murdered for following the teachings of Jesus all over the world.

Why, then, do we spend so much time making church pretty and comfortable?

I know, I know… we want to be seeker sensitive. We know that if the facilities aren’t clean and the pastor isn’t cheery that people won’t come put their butts in the seats. I get it.

However, I can’t help but wonder what it would look like if we portrayed the Gospel in its full, nasty, gritty, disgusting, depressing, revolting glory.

Good Friday is coming up soon. This is a perfect opportunity to embrace the suffering of Jesus in our church’s communications, music, and art. What is your church doing to prepare itself for the somber remembrance of the darkest day in the history of the world?

Here is an opportunity for you to learn from a mistake of mine.

A few months back our senior pastor decided that he wanted to use a white board to visually illustrate a point that he was making. He drew a diagram with dry-erase markers to explain that we are currently living in an overlapping period between the two times that God comes to the earth. He asked me to project video of the diagram onto the projector screen so that people in the back could see more clearly (we don’t usually use IMAG at our church… just for special demonstrations like this).

We had done this several times before.

Like every other time that I had done this, I set up my camera, placed the white board in a well-lit area, and was ready to go. We dealt with two problems:

  1. The markers were not chisel-tip. They were fine tip. That means that the lines that they produced were extremely hard to see on the screen.
  2.  Someone grabbed “washable” markers rather than “dry-erase”. The pastor drew his first diagram and then tried to erase it… the ink smeared all over the board and stopped him in his tracks. The sermon hinged on his ability to draw a second diagram. He just stalled until someone could grab him a wet paper towel. It was awkward.

The moral of the story? Rehearse all of your props… no matter how low-tech they are and how many times you have done them before. There can always be an unexpected variable.

This is a nerd post. If you are not a sound engineer or a technical worker you probably wont care about what I’m talking about.

When digital mixer boards burst unto the scene about a decade ago, churches gobbled those things up. Digital mixers had one unique feature that their analog predecessors lacked. They had the ability to save your sound settings into “scenes” which allow you to recall all of your gain settings, fader levels, EQ presets, patching, monitor levels, and a whole host of other information. This is great for churches.

Most churches have dozens of activities going on in their sanctuaries. With the old analog boards, you would have to customize your sound from scratch every time you had to do something different. Every time someone different led worship you would have to change vocal EQ’s. Every time you had a play or a pageant you would have to reset all of your levels. Digital boards made it much easier to save your work and come back to it later.

However, the first generation of digital mixers have one major drawback: they were ridiculously, mind-bogglingly, painfully complicated. I just so happen to have one of the early generations of digital mixers as my in-house desk: The Yamaha DM2000. You can find me behind this beast every Sunday morning:

Look at all of those buttons! I’ve been using this board for over 3 years. I honestly only know how to use about 35% of its capabilities. My father-in-law, who is a very well respected live sound engineer in the Southeast United States recently said “There’s probably 20 people in the U.S. that know how to fully operate the DM2000.” It’s a great board and hasn’t caused us any trouble… I’m just overwhelmed by it.

Over the years digital mixers have become more and more user-friendly. Their interfaces have been designed to look and act a lot more like the old analog boards.

When your church buys a new sound board keep usability in mind. The features may seem exciting, but what good are features if you aren’t able to navigate the interface?

In 6 months my family is moving from Florida to Boston to be a part of a church plant called Aletheia. That means that I have 6 months to wrap up a bunch of loose ends in my life, mostly at my church. Here is my list of things I want to accomplish in the worship department at my church in this time:

  • Organize EVERYTHING. Our backstage area is a wreck (thanks a lot, Christmas). Our soundbooth is a wreck (thanks a lot… me). There are cables to be sorted, junk to be thrown away, and equipment to be inventoried.
  • Purchase a new guitar amplifier. The church uses a Fender Hot Rod Deville 4×10 guitar amp that I personally own. When I move I’m taking that sucker with me. I need to get that replaced.
  • Get EVERYONE trained on ProPresenter. I just bought an iMac loaded with ProPresenter for my church (finally). I haven’t even installed it in the sanctuary yet. I need to get everyone trained on it and then install it.
  • Replace our main projector. The front projector at our church is dying. It is about 6 years old. The technician I use informed me that the LED panel on the inside is slowing deteriorating and will eventually give up. This will be a huge undertaking and will cost a ton of money. If we can afford it, I hope to get a much bigger 16×9 projection screen.
  • Get our new Worship Pastor assimilated. We are hiring our first official “Worship Pastor” this year. We’ve had various worship leaders and technical staff for the last decade. They’ve done a great job. Now its time to have someone come take charge of the entire worship department. Whenever this person gets hired (hopefully soon) I will need to help them get accustomed to the environment before I take off.

I will probably continue to add to this list.

I am confident that everything is going to be incredible at my church this week.

Let me explain…

  • Every drummer that our church has is out of town this week. The only one that can come to practice can’t make rehearsal.
  • This week’s worship leader is sick.
  • My wife got sick and threw up all evening on Thursday. I am also sick, but not as bad.
  • During the week the keyboard player and one of the vocalists cancelled (because of illness) for practice.
  • Practice ultimately got cancelled and could not be rescheduled. The only practice that we have is one hour prior to the service. This practice will be held in a small room adjacent to the stage because there is an 8am traditional service prior to the contemporary service.
  • Charts never got sent out before hand.

So, with no formal practice (and lots of illness) our band will lead worship tomorrow morning.

So why am I confident that everything is going to be ok in spite of this hell week? This week has forced me to let go of my control over planning and scheduling. This week has forced me to trust that God will always provide… just like He promises. Things may not turn out how I want them to. That’s ok. God is bigger than my scheduling, my frustration, all of our sickness, and our general ineptitude.

The God that is the object of our worship is in control of our situation. It is a huge waste to spend our time worrying over details.

This week has forced me to start living like I actually believe the lyrics of the songs that we sing.