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Tech Tips

Tech Tips

Our resident production consultant, Bob Nickerson, offers insights, opinions and experience to help improve your sound environment.

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To DVD or Not To DVD

Knowing your video formats can avert a Sunday catastrophe!

I had a situation when I was on staff at a church—during a service, no less—that’s worth retelling. It could save lives, because avoiding this one mistake could keep your tech crew from killing someone in the church. 

First, today’s lesson:

1. A disc with video on it does not make it a DVD. DVD is a designation of a particular method used to record video information onto a disc. Some others include: BLUERAY, VCD, WMV, MPG1-4, AVI, DIVX, MOV and RM. There are more but you get the idea—the list is extensive. 

 2. All disc formats are not interchangeable. Any of these formats can be recorded onto a disc that will look exactly like a DVD in its physical appearance. However, only two of these formats, BLUERAY and DVD (and VCD), can be played in most DVD players (assuming you have a BLUERAY player). The only way to tell what format you have is to either know the source of the disc, have the accompanying literature that tells you what format it is, OR put it in a computer to check the properties of the file on the disc. 

Why This Matters

Let’s get back to that situation. A disc, intended as a sermon illustration, was brought to the sound booth to be played on our DVD player 5 minutes before the service was scheduled to start. This is a major no-no! It was inserted into the DVD player and “DISC ERROR” popped up on our monitor.

My Technical Staff went the extra mile to make things work. With the opening worship already starting, the disc was taken into the TV Control Room where arrangements were made to play it back on the PowerPoint computer. Crisis averted? No, not really. 

What one person could have done required the efforts of four people while they were all occupied with jobs they couldn’t stop doing to concentrate exclusively on this situation. 

The Tech Team couldn’t stop showing the worship lyrics to get the disc ready for playback. Both things had to happen on the same computer simultaneously while the rest of the crew was involved in videotaping the service—also happening simultaneously. 

Then at the moment of playback:

1. One person had to freeze the PowerPoint presentation. 

2. Another had to switch audio inputs to avoid an ear-numbing feedback in the Sanctuary.

3. A third person had to switch the video input so the clip could be seen.

4. Then the first person in the chain started the disc.

After viewing the clip, the screen was frozen, the audio and video were switched back and PowerPoint was re-set in rapid succession to allow the preacher access to his PowerPoint slides in a timely fashion. Simple, huh? 

This 4-person, multi-step process could have been much easier than that. The alternative was:

1. One person would switch the projector input and press play on the DVD player. 

2. After viewing the clip, that same person would then press stop and switch the projectors back to PowerPoint. 

Whew! Fun ride, eh? Wanna go again?!!

Don’t Ever Assume (you know what they say about that)!

While this is focused on DVD’s and the events of that day, the issue is universal. Most Technical Staffs are tremendously talented and can do almost anything. But at some point, YOU have some responsibility to know what you are working with, technically. If you don’t know, it is incumbent upon you to seek the expertise of your Technical Staff in a timely fashion to make sure that what you want to accomplish will be accomplished. 

Unless you have as much hands-on experience as your Technical Staff, please DO NOT assume that you know what you have or what it can do. You may have done or used something at home, in some other place or in another facility, but that means little or nothing 5 minutes before an event!

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Lower Stage Volume Means Higher-Quality House Mix

Here's my resume:

1974-1989: Professional touring/recording musician 

1989-2004: Church technical director 

2004-present: Production consultant/audio engineer 

All of this experience has made me a firm believer in controlling stage volume as much as possible. However, equipment or "gear" is only one part of the equation. The other part? People.


We’re All in This Together

Any resolution of an audio dilemma requires a commitment from all concerned to adapt their personal preferences to reach a common goal. I can't stress enough the need for musicians (instrumental and vocal) to take "ownership" of their part particularly as it relates to creating the overall sound. BUT, don't get stuck focusing on your individual part alone! 

It's very easy for a musician to get used to his or her “sound” and have little or no concept of how it affects the overall mix. Bass/low frequency can be very tricky for musicians as there is so much "feel" involved with it. 

Musicians and technicians alike need to listen with "big ears", to learn to hear a mix and not just individual parts. They need to ask why a song in any particular style sounds and feels the way it does and begin to see how their part (vocal or instrumental) fits with all the other parts in the mix.

I think the Bible refers to this in 1 Corinthians 12, if I may paraphrase: 

"Now the band is not made up of one part but of many. If the bass should say, ‘Because I am not a keyboard, I do not belong to the band,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the band. And if the drums should say, ‘Because I am not a guitar, I do not belong to the band,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the band? 

“If the whole band were a drum, where would the sense of melody be? If the whole band were vocalists, where would the sense of groove be? But in fact, God has arranged the parts in the band, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 

If they were all one part, where would the mix be? As it is, there are many parts, but one band. The soundman cannot say to the musicians, ‘I don't need you!’ And the musicians cannot say to the soundman, ‘I don't need you!’... If one part insists on having only his or her "sound", every part suffers with it; if one musician plays or sings his part to fit into the overall mix, every part rejoices with it.” 

I think you get the idea.


*Special note for drummers and bass players:

The transition to reducing stage volume (especially as it relates to bass/low frequencies) requires that you learn to feel with your ears and brain as well as with your body. It can be a bit of a faith walk early on. The low frequencies are still there but you're not going to sense them at lower volumes the way you would when things are louder.


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Is It Really Just Too LOUD?!?!

Is it you? Is it them? You'll never know until you really listen.

Occasionally after church, you might hear that dreaded comment: "It was TOO LOUD!" Naturally, your first thought is that the commenter is too old! But the truth is, everyone hears things differently, and to be fair—and address the problem—you need to take several things into consideration


You have to be honest and objective

  1. Have you been paying attention?
  2. Are you mixing for yourself or for the needs of the service?
  3. Do you have a personal problem with the person who is commenting?       

Is it too loud or not?

  1. All things being equal, the laws of physics dictate that it’s impossible for an entire service to be “TOO LOUD!” One person speaking (e.g., the pastor) is not going to be overall as loud as the Worship Band.
  2. If this is true, then let’s try to understand why someone might make such a statement.

Consider Impact Intensity

  1. An individual’s evaluation of an entire event may be based on a single moment of impact intensity.   
  2. A measurement of what a person experiences can change when their perceived environment changes rapidly.
  3. The experience can be interpreted as positive or negative based on the individual.   

When Comments Come, Ask Questions

Comment: The service was pretty loud last week.  

Ask: I’m sorry you were uncomfortable—may I ask you a few questions to help me do a better job? 

  1. Was it the entire service or a particular section?
  2. Did it ever seem to “get right” at any point?
  3. Where were you sitting?
  4. Was the tone irritating? (i.e. too much high end, too boomy bass)
  5. Could you understand what was being said clearly?

Lean on your team

It’s very important that you are not the “Lone Ranger” when it comes to discussions about volume. You need to coordinate with your Pastor and Music Leader to make sure everyone is on the same page. This happens even in the general market music world. That’s why, along with the talent, there are producers, production managers, system techs, monitor and front of house engineers, etc. As a team they collectively decide their volume parameters and collectively work to maintain them.


As “TechFolk,” our position often requires us to be mediators, educators and artists. It is no small responsibility, and continuing to learn will only make us better at wearing all the hats required to do our work well.

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Corner Audio & Video received some nice press recently in Mackie Audio’s dealer newsletter.

St. Ann’s Catholic Church Modernizes with Mackie’s DL32R 

Nashville, TN - October 2015... Founded in 1917, St. Ann's Catholic Church has thrived over the years, and as its congregation has grown, the campus has expanded to include a school, rectory, gymnasium, and several other buildings. Their current 500-seat sanctuary underwent a major renovation in the 1990s, and the church recently upgraded their audio system, adding a Mackie DL32R digital mixer with iPad control. 


"We came in to replace their speaker system, because they'd been struggling for several years with intelligibility issues," explains Larry Garris, owner of Corner Music Audio & Videoin Nashville. While replacing the outdated system with a Renkus-Heinz CFX-series center cluster, the conversation turned to the church's aging mixing console. "They were originally pretty set on staying with an analog console," says Garris. "The priest, who was nearing retirement, is a pretty progressive guy, and while we were in there working on the system, we took an iPad and showed him a bit about the Master Fader app and how it all worked. He got it immediately, and we agreed to bring in a DL32R for them to try out." 


"Once they saw how simple it was to operate, they were convinced," adds Corner Music's Production Consultant Bob Nickerson. "They have a lot of volunteers running the sound, so simplicity is key." 


As David Krause, one of St. Ann's audio leaders, observes, the DL32R has afforded the church a great deal of flexibility. "We offer both traditional and contemporary services," he explains. "We have at least four distinct groups providing music each week at St. Ann's. Each group has different personnel and instrumental lineups, and the different groups are typically positioned in different areas of the church during their respective services. The DL32R allows us to create and save various custom scenes, tailored to each group, and those can be easily accessed as needed. We can create a number of discrete monitor mixes so that individual singers and musicians can hear more or less of any active channels. For weekday Masses which might not include musical accompaniment, our Pastor can access a mixer view which shows only speaking microphones for a non-musician, user-friendly experience." 


Although the church rarely uses all 32 of the console's inputs simultaneously, the DL32R enables them to have setups for multiple ensembles connected, thus avoiding the need to plug and re-plug the system for each use. 


"The wireless capability was perfect for them, as their choir is in the balcony at the rear of the sanctuary," adds Nickerson. "Their choir director has full control from across the entire room. Their contemporary ensemble sets up at the front of the room, so the ability to switch snapshots is great for them." 


Krause agrees. "Controlling the system via iPadallows us to freely roam around the sanctuary to hear what the congregation hears at various points throughout the church and to make adjustments from any of those vantage points." 


"I admit to knowing very little about setting up or running sound," adds Music Director Marcina Clark. "But the DL32R allows us to create and save scenes specific to the needs of my ensembles, and those scenes are easy to access and use. I use the system for both an adult choir and a children's choir, in two different locations in the church. My choir mics are hard-wired but we have the flexibility to use wireless mics for solo voices and instruments. We've never sounded better!"

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