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How long should our sound system last?

Articles, Media, Stewardship, Technology - by - May 27, 2011 - 16:59 Etc/GMT+5 - Be first to Comment!

In general, we have found that the median life cycle of audio equipment is around 10 years.  Some pieces will last longer, others will require maintenance or refreshing to continue to perform to specs and some things will need replaced much sooner. Environment, handling and maintenance, and materials and workmanship directly affect longevity of components. Indirectly, the experiences and expectations of people effectively shorten product efficacy.You could call this the “inside, outside, upside down” theory of life cycle of audio systems.

Ten steps to Holy Week preparation for the Media Director from a Media Director

Excellence in the Arts, Media - by - March 15, 2011 - 15:36 Etc/GMT+5 - Be first to Comment!

Church bulletins are calling people to the Lenten season of reflection and preparation for Holy Week and the most important Christian holy day, Resurrection Sunday. This season is a time when the technical staff can get stressed out, because we know if anything goes wrong, everyone will look at us. Full Story

re-train our mind

Media, missional lifestyle - by - February 9, 2010 - 13:17 Etc/GMT+5 - Be first to Comment!

At the Verge 10 conference we were introduced to each main session by a very creative video featuring Alan Hirsch introducing the topic. Besides incredible content in the videos, I was impressed by how easy we can be trained to read from right to left, bottom to top, randomly, etc while watching the videos. And even more, how easy it is to catch pieces of words, fast moving word and silly phrases while we are exposed to the content in multiple media (video, text, sound, lighting) at the same time. How often do we limit ourselves based on what is normal for us when we could be more creative, produce pieces that would inspire, hold the audience attention and get the message across in a memorable way?  How can you make your next video better?
[Sorry, the original video has been removed – I will update this when it becomes available again, but here is somebody’s cell phone version.]

(photo by Verge photography team)

Doing It Old School

Media - by - October 26, 2009 - 16:03 Etc/GMT+5 - Be first to Comment!

Keep it Simple

Sometimes we get so caught up in the latest gadget or what tool we need to accomplish whatever it is we are trying to do that we miss seeing other ways of accomplishing the task. You have a screw to remove and no screw-driver? What about those vise-grips in you hand?

Other times we have a problem and we go diving in looking for the solution in deep inside the equipment when we should have checked the power cord first. Twice this weekend I was guilty of looking too hard for the solution. Full Story

Technology in Ministry (Part 1)

Media, Technology - by - September 25, 2009 - 17:03 Etc/GMT+5 - 1 Comment

When discussing Media Ministry, we often get hung up on how to use technology and media better in our worship services, which is a very limited part of our life as a Christian.  Each media / tech ministry has slightly different missions & goals, but in general we seek to help others minister through the use of technology and media, to spread the gospel beyond our abilities to do so in person and to lift up Christ in the arts and creativity.  So let’s step outside the box of the worship center and look at, how a church can use technology outside the worship services and how our media ministries can support those endeavors.  Full Story

Changes, New Sites, New Info

Foldback, Media - by - August 10, 2009 - 10:56 Etc/GMT+5 - Be first to Comment!

As part of our ongoing upgrade, we have completed another set of changes in some of the websites related to this blog (mediaartsdad.com), the High Pointe media ministry and where you can expect what information to show up. Full Story

IMAG strategies, foibles and fumbles

Excellence in the Arts, Media, Technology - by - May 26, 2009 - 15:00 Etc/GMT+5 - 1 Comment

We have worked hours on producing graphics for a particular moment in a service: an outline, a Scripture, the perfect illustration for a main sermon point. The time comes to put up the graphic, and the computer just won’t cooperate, the wrong button is hit, a popup freezes the screen… there is a fumble and a recovery, and the image is up in all its glory— but the speaker has moved on, and the image is no longer relevant. It distracts. Full Story

Motion Graphics and Story Telling

Media, videos - by - February 26, 2009 - 02:53 Etc/GMT+5 - Be first to Comment!

This is a slick video using motion graphics to tell a “story”.
How well does it hold your attention?
How long before you start getting the feel / mood of the “story”
How far into the video before you start to “understand”?

(HT http://www.basisbild.de/flickermood/)

Why do we struggle with our online mix?

Excellence in the Arts, Media - by - February 11, 2009 - 15:00 Etc/GMT+5 - 2 Comments

I get questions about our broadcast and recording mixes, and thought I would try to answer some here. Some of these apply to our live mix as well.

“I know we are just hearing the mic’d voices, but even in that a particular voice will stand out strongly above the others, which sometimes is not good.”

There are really a couple issues here.

1) The first problem is when the vocals just aren’t mixed right. This is very evident early during rehearsal where we are slowly dialing everything in a piece at a time, adjusting and re-adjusting. But by the end of rehearsal, or the end of the first song, this should not be a problem – unless

  • the sound tech can’t hear the problem (due to room acoustics, monitor system, other noise or issues distracting them such as training or a larger “problem”)
  • Someone who was not at rehearsal is singing during the service – this happens often and often takes a while to figure out what is going on and get them dialed in.
  • Sometimes the vocals standing out aren’t on a mic. We have had orchestra members singing, very strong choir members caught up in worship, audience members close to audience mics singing out, etc.

2) If the vocals are well mixed, often the person slipping out of key will stand out like a sore thumb. If the vocals have been blended well and they are all singing together, if one person is challenged by the song, they will stick out when they can’t quite get to that note, sounding louder than the rest of the group, even though they have been (and still are) blended in.

3) Sometimes people are just a challenge to keep mixed. We are dealing with 56+ channels of audio, trying to keep up with an ever changing landscape of sound. Theoretically, once everything is mixed, they should stay mixed, but in reality that doesn’t happen at all. Each song, each section of the songs require minor changes in the mix, not to mention changing styles, order of service etc. Throw on top of this challenging people, and they are going to stand out. This includes several who blend well, until we sing a song that totally gets them into worship, and they just start singing out. This includes a couple people who sing very softly if they don’t know the song, very strongly if they do… and that can even change within the song. This includes the person on the praise team who has a lot on his mind, and finds it hard to concentrate and is starring off into space, then snaps back and really sings out. Then add in musicians who can experience similar issues, and the mix can get out of hand. We do our best to ride the mix, but only have so many fingers….

“What are somethings we can do about the mix? ”

Honestly the practice practice practice is the best cure. And that goes for the source (musicians and vocalist) as much as it goes for the actual mixing. The best mixes we get are often things like musicals where the rehearse (and record it) go listen, come back and do it again, re-evaluate, go and listen again and make even more adjustments. This is one huge difference between an album and a live stream. An album they have gone in tweaked, tweaked, and tweaked over and over again till they are happy with it. With a live stream you have one shot. Broadcast is definitely trickier than live because of the encoding, compression, different listening environments, etc. A lot less forgiving than live.

Another problem we face is the mix environment – the better listening / mix environment you can work the mix in, the better it is going to sound in the various sound systems it will be played back on. Currently our audio room is REALLY BAD at this. What sounds good in there can sound terrible in the computer speakers in the other room. Our audio guys typically check the sound in their monitors, in the headphones, in the halls, and at the computer – all four sound a lot different (even though they are all the same mix) and the goal is to make them all sound good – very difficult. Thing about all the different ways people will be listening – everything from mp3 headphones to home stereos, to little computer speakers – all have very different responses and different listening environments, all have to be addressed separately. [we have tried and tried to fix our mix environment, but unfortunately the biggest limiting factor is space, then background noise.]

Then there is the room acoustics in the sanctuary. All the sound bouncing around the room and being picked up by the mics tends to either make it sound airy / hollow or muddy. This is why we try to put the mics as close to the source (instrument or mouth) as possible to minimize the background noise, but our room is really bad when it comes to acoustical environment for the PA and recording. Fixing the acoustics of the room involves tuning the room so it has an even reverberation field across all frequencies (low, mid and high frequency reverberation is consistent), reduce reflections back to stage (cleans up the sound in the mics and would help the musicians and vocalist feel like they could hear themselves better), even out the hot spots / dead spots and provide an environment that is controllable and varies less between full and empty, hot and cold, humid and dry… this is a process that is going to take some time and money.

The garbage in = garbage out principle applies also. Sometimes the problem is what is coming into the system. Recently we were dealing with really bad drum sounds, trying to adjust console eq and mix, when one of the audio techs suggested the drummer try a different kit setup on the electronic drums and that fixed the problem. Maybe some of the instrumentalist need to tune again or a vocalist is just having a bad day. Then occasionally there are those who really need to find a different ministry to serve with, one that matches their God given gifts and talents because singing, playing in the band or mixing sound is not for them.

How often have you heard a live broadcast mix that sounds really good? I would say that we hear bad ones and mediocre ones much more often. Most of what we see on TV or hear on the radio (or online) have been recorded, produced, edited, perfected then broadcast (think Austin City Limits)… what other live music mixes are there out there: Think about half-time concerts at the SuperBowl (and that mix is usually pretty bad). New Years eve? Really can’t think of many other than churches.

“can we put microphones over the congregation to try to capture the congregational singing on the broadcast and recording?”

We have a pair of mics over the congregation. We mix these into the broadcast mix to provide a little more of a live feel for those listening. But sometimes we have to turn them off because they are just making the mix muddy or we have a lot of extra noise close to the mics. There is also the fundamental problem of how slow sound travels, and by the time the sound gets from the speakers / stage to where the audience mics are, it is picked up as a distinct delay. Remember microphones are just the EARS of the sound system, what ever your ears hear when they are at the microphone location, that is pretty much what the mic picks up.

Anywhere in the sanctuary is going to have sound from the PA system, room noise, etc that will become part of the mix when audience mics are used. So typically the audience mics are used to avoid dead air (say while we are waiting for someone to walk up to the pulpit and all the other mics are off), pick up audience reaction (clapping, laughter, a-cappella singing, etc). Once again, better room acoustics would help make audience mics more usable.

But I also like to remind people that there are some laws of physics we are working within, and there is only so much we can do to bend those rules (okay, not bend the rules, just work within the finer points of the rules). There are also principles of psycho-acoustics, audiology, and emotion all at play making a very convoluted, complicated web that is not always easy to decode and implement.

When is Church Too Loud?

Excellence in the Arts, Media - by - February 5, 2009 - 18:34 Etc/GMT+5 - Be first to Comment!

There is a chasm forming between “old timers” and the young folk in this Christianity business, and it happens – of all places- during worship. It’s not just generational lines, musical preference lines, or denominational lines.

Recently written in:
We have decided we need to attend church closer to home, instead of driving 45 minutes each way. Today, we go to a nearby one that seems very nice, is multi-ethnic, and is 3 minutes away from home. Perfect. Everything was fine before these two ladies got up to sing. Oh MY….the sound level was up SO HIGH that it nearly blew us out of the building. WHY do they do this? Of course the sound guy is like, 20. I’d like to have some hearing left in my old age, and for my children to still be able to hear when they grow up. I carry earplugs because of my last church in which they thought it was necessary to shake the walls or we weren’t “having church”. Thank God. I sure used them today.
To make it all the more frustrating, the Pastor was GREAT! Wonderful, dead-on, preaching/teaching that really encouraged focusing on the Lord and not ourselves.

Bob Kauflin at Worship Matters has a recent post on the subject: How Loud the Worship Team where he outlines 5 great points:
1. Cranking up the volume is just a cheap trick to add energy to a room.
2. When your intonation is not very good, turning it up only makes it hurt worse.
3. The speakers in most church PA systems cannot take that much energy.
4. Consider that you might be marginalizing older people.
5. Musicians—every one of them, including the singers—are accompanists to the congregation’s praise.

So what should a worshiper do when he or she believes that the sound is in fact too loud at a church? Feel free to talk to the Sound Guy or the Worship Leader. Most of them appreciate feedback- be sure to tell them when something sounds nice, too. Ask if he has a Sound Level Meter. This little black piece of equipment should be sitting on the sound board, pointing at the stage area. Ask him if you can help him collect data at different points in the room, to see if there really is in fact an actual physical sound problem. After you collect this data, if the sound levels are above 90-95dB (‘C’ weighted, slow response), then share these articles with the Worship Leader and Sound Guy (remember, the Sound Guy tends to be under the Worship Leader who has true control over how loud is the sound).

How Loud is Your Church?
Loud Church Music- A Medical Comment
Hearing is Priceless

Keep in mind that sometimes the sound level is not the problem, but it could be a musical problem (see #2 above) or a style issue (some styles of music just sound louder than others). The Sound Guy can’t control if a musician is going to squawk, so please accept those kinds of gaffes for what they are. Forgive and forget. Realize that chances are, the Sound Guy was not anticipating something hurting your ears, his ears hurt too, and he’s probably back there scrambling to fix what he can.