Dave Horn

Dave Horn

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Monday, November 05, 2012 01:59 PM

You might not need a new sound system, after all.

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Saturday night, I woke up in the middle of the night with a revelation.  We'll call it an especially "small-R" revelation. 

Several weeks ago, our church purchased a new electronic drum kit.  And a new kit deserves new cables and new direct boxes, right?!  Ever since, the kick drum has sounded truly anemic, everywhere except the headphones.  It's been awful for me.  I recommended the kit, I bought the direct boxes. 

One weekend, one of our vocalists even asked me, "Dave, what happened to the kick drum sound?"  I told her that I didn't know for sure, and that I thought that maybe the kick sound for that particular electronic kit was not so good, but that I'd figure it out. 

Trust me, I've blamed everything from the drum beater to the trigger to the kit.  Finally on Sunday at 4:00AM, it dawned on me.  It was that direct box.  We've used the Rapco DB-100 direct box for years with pretty good results.  With the new drum kit, I threw in a couple new direct boxes, and those were the newer DB-1.  A-ha! 

In a moment of audio snobbery, I had had enough.  "No more cheap gear!" I promised myself.  In the middle of my 4:00AM fog, I thought, "New version, made in China, undoubtedly cheapened to make Rapco more money, a 'conspiracy.'"  I even considered what I'd say to the folks at Rapco and was planning how to do our own recall of the DB-1's from those of you who had purchased one. 

So Sunday morning, as we wrapped up sound check, I was again discouraged, and looked down to the channel strip where I had added +10dB of 100Hz, trying to make anything good out of the kick drum and just shook my head.  "Could that direct box really sound that bad?", I thought to myself. 

The first Sunday of each month, the choir sings.  I noticed that a few of the choir members were on their way in, so I checked those channels to see what adjustments I might need to make.  As you can expect, I use a high-pass filter (bass roll-off) on the choir mics to prevent feedback.  Just for kicks, I began to look at each channel just to see how those filters were set, and then it hit me. 

I quickly selected the kick drum channel, and what do you think that I saw?  The high-pass filter was set at 130Hz, for the kick drum. 

Unknowingly, and sadly unchecked, I was rolling off virtually all of the low frequencies that make a bass drum a bass drum.  I can hear my thoughts, "It's an electronic kit, it's plugged into the same channels on the console, nothing ever changes, why bother to check the channel settings?"

I wouldn't get to hear the worship band again until the first note of the worship set, and a rush of thoughts kept me distracted with myself.  "How could you have missed that?  Could it really have been so easy?  It took you how many weeks to figure that out?  How could you think the worst of one of your main suppliers?" and on and on. 

On about the fifth measure of the first worship song, I backed down my +10dB boost at 100Hz, as I rolled the high-pass filter down from 130Hz to 0Hz.  The sound came together quickly, and as it turned out, I added back +2dB at 100Hz.  The kick sound was perfectly solid and deep, just like it should have been all along.  

When something isn't right, take the time to figure it out, especially when what you're hearing doesn't make sense.  At about $35, the Rapco DB-1 is a great, inexpensive direct box.  No, it doesn't compare to a $199 Radial JDI, and if it did, there's be something wrong - maybe another conspiracy to make excessive profits by one of our suppliers.  Not a chance on the conspiracy part. 

With equipment, you get what you pay for.  The DB-1 works really well for electronic kick drum, as long as the sound technician has his head on straight. 

And we don't need a new sound system, after all. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012 09:03 AM

Taking church back to school?!

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Remember to breathe!  That's good advise, and as we're reminded today by our guest columnist Mike Sessler, it's also good advice to remember to pray.  Last week, we wrapped up the back to school and back to church "tech crunch" season. In all of its busyness, summer 2012 brought us a fantastic variety of projects, and all, in one way or another, stretched us to become better at what we do. Some days, we were lots more tired, too.

A trend that we're noticing is that churches are growing larger by becoming smaller. That seems counterintuitive, of course. I'm hardly a church growth expert, but many churches today have made a shift to take church (if you will) to the people, as opposed to trying to get people to "come to church." I think that it's working.

Just this Summer, we have worked closely with churches in Columbus, Pittsburgh, Sioux Falls and other places that are planting what some might call satellite or multi-site churches.

Three of the churches have opened new services in local high schools. All have some challenges with the facilities and logistics, but having the opportunity to open a 1000 seat auditorium for worship in a matter of weeks is an exciting option. The church in Pittsburgh received a full audio system, based around the Presonus StudioLive and Electro-Voice speakers. For the other, we installed a three Da-Lite screens and Panasonic projectors, along with providing a bunch of video gear to make the portable video venue a reality.

Another Columbus church began its 4th local campus in a commercial strip mall/center with a new Soundcraft console, and existing JBL speakers. The first service went so well that they're already looking for another space, just a month after the first service. 700 seats wasn't enough. Nice!

High schools aren't always for church. In September, we commissioned a new football field sound system (subwoofers and all) for North Union High School in Richwood, OH. Thank you to the good people at Atlas Sound who came through like champs and helped us with a complete redesign -- just 10 days from start to finish.  How's that for cramming 4-5 weeks of planning into about a week? The athletic boosters and fans were thrilled 100% with the end result, just in time for Friday night football.

We've never done a church in a restaurant, but the crew pulled two weeks of 3rd shift work at a local Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant. Those are always an adventure. Imagine installing a combination of 70 new projectors, screens and TV's while keeping the restaurant open all but one day in a two-week period.

Add a conference room system, upgrading two large-format screens and projectors for a church in Cleveland, installing a complete audio system with Roland digital mixer and Electro-Voice speakers for rural church in Ohio, and the rest of the normal business we do on a national scale, and it's no wonder that I didn't have time for a vacation. 

Thank you to all of you who had a part. I'm glad that we could be helpful, and I'm glad to be sleeping more in the second half this month, as we prepare to upgrade a permanent audio system for the church with four campuses, and as we begin the design phase for a new church under construction here in Ohio.   

Monday, July 16, 2012 12:13 PM

Was that a dropout?!

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"There are times when you need to make sure that you're ___-ing..."  Was that a dropout?  I quickly looked over at the RF meters on the wireless receiver.  Solid.  Battery?  Solid, too.  Must have been my imagination.  Whew!  "And this principle is so important that you better make sure that you're really  ___-ing..."  

My pastor repeated the same phrase and in the same syllable of the same word, but we didn't hear what he said.  I haven't had a chance to debrief with him today, but whatever that was can't happen again.  Well, at least I need to make sure that I do my part to make sure that it doesn't. 

Today's post by Mike Sessler is a great reminder that more isn't always better, especially in the case of RF power.  As Mike explains, when setting up wireless systems, you should use as little RF power as is necessary.  Sure, it's counter-intuitive because we think that in order to have rock-solid performance that the sacrifice of battery life is worth the cost, but the actual cost might just be the hurting of system performance. 

More is also not better in terms of the crowding of the wireless spectrum.  10 years ago, we used to worry about whether all of our wireless systems would work together with each other, in the midst of the well-established broadcast TV uses.  And we sometimes had to change things around when the church across the street bought a microphone on the same frequency. 

To wireless systems for worship today, we're adding in-ears, wi-fi, HDTV, and there's a battle on for the "white spaces" -- the unallocated part of the wireless spectrum between the broadcast TV channels.  Those white spaces are where most of our current wireless microphones systems operate, and where more and more companies are proposing uses for that part of the spectrum that we hold dear. 

As Mike wrote, we need techs need to bone up on RF, in order to make sure that we properly coordinate new wireless uses into worship.  I've seen 15 well-coordinated wireless systems behave perfectly until 800 people's worth of cell phones arrive for the service.  Has your own iPhone ever given you fits when it induces a buzz into your audio system?  Multiply that times the number of people that come for any given worship service. 

Even less expensive wireless systems like the Audio Technica 2000 Series have automatic frequency scanning.  Those start at around $300.  Having your wireless system evaluate its own environment is a great thing.  Today, virtually all systems at this price point and above have similar features, but what will happen if things change again and we're blindsided by another decision by the FCC to sell off the frequencies we use?   That happened a couple years ago (and several years before that) and will probably happen again at some point. 

Right now, the major wireless manufacturers are working on new technologies to adapt to known changes, but it's always prudent to make use of the best that today has to offer, when you have a "today" need.  Since the next potential threat to our successful use of the white spaces are mobile broadband devices, we think that it's wise to avoid those spaces, if you can -- even though they are "clean" today.  The easiest way to do that is to consider the 2.4GHz range frome Line 6 and the 470-506MHz range employed by both Shure and Audio-Technica. 

The 470-506MHz range is essentially safe from the proposed (but not yet approved) mobile broadband devices, as long as you're not in the 13 largest metro areas, where those frequencies will be used for permanent public safety uses.  2.4GHz is the same part of spectrum where wi-fi (wireless internet) traffic resides, but the new Line 6 devices pick their operating frequencies in a way that isn't affected by (and that doesn't affect) nearby internet traffic

So as you're planning for new additions, consider the Audio-Technica I-band frequencies with the 2000 and 3000 series, the Line 6 digital wireless product group as a whole, the Shure ULX on G3 and the Shure SLX on G4.  For now, those are as future-proof as you can get with what's available today.  And if you have older VHF wireless units (169-216MHz), you might want to hold onto them. 

Tuesday, July 03, 2012 01:41 PM

Don't put up with bad audio!

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Some days, I hang my head.  Some days, I beat it on the desk.  Not really, of course, but a couple weeks ago, I received a phone call about a local church and the issues they were having with their audio system.  The call didn't come from the church itself, but it came from someone who knew someone, who knew one of the guys our installation team. 

Let me preface this by writing that the church is new and is full of excitement, planted from another local church, and almost everything was going right -- except the audio system.  For the first few weeks, the problems were almost expected, I guess, but with each attempted correction things got worse, much worse.  After a couple more weeks of "fixes", the sound was so bad that one of the regional denominational staff called the mother church and said that something had to be done (or else), and then we got a phone call. 

Unfortunately for us, we hadn't sold the sound system to begin with.  To the other dealer's credit, they had put together a nice group of components, except that the people at the church could not successfully operate it (and didn't know how to set it up), so it wasn't much of a system. 

Once we arrived on site, we assessed the situation, moved the speakers to their proper location (and explained why), and made some adjustments to the system itself and to individual channels.  Within about an hour and a half, we had completed the changes and had walked through a basic system familiarization with the primary sound tech, and the system was behaving perfectly. 

Getting great results doesn't have to be difficult, but part of getting those results is having equipment that compliments the abilities of your tech team and that they're able to operate.  With just a short time of reviewing the basics of microphone and speaker placement, gain structure, and our special touches on the system equalizer, the church's sound tech was comfortable enough that he knew that the next Sunday's service would go well.  And it did. 

Whether it's an intermittent wireless microphone, feedback issues with the pastor's primary microphone, or just bad sound everywhere, don't wait until it's too late.  If the sound system is a distraction for your worship experience, reach out to someone who can help. 

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The other day, my parents bought a new TV and we got into a discussion that's applicable to projectors and screens in larger presentation environments, and even to your home computer screen.  The short story is that humans perceive screen height more than width, so it's important that you don't simply replace a older television or projection screen with another based only on the measurement of the screen diagonal. 

For the purposes of this illustration, a "wide format" screen or television will have a 16:9 aspect ratio (width:height), which is common for HDTV content.  A "standard format" screen will have a 4:3 aspect ratio, which is common to older computers and television. 

Have a 6x8' screen now?  Better get a 6x10'8" screen next time.  Don't get a 4.5x8'. 

Televisions are sold as 19" diagonal or 26" or 42" or whatever.  But not all 19" diagonals are created equal.  I realize that most of you are buying projectors and screens, and not 19" televisions for your sewing room, but you'll get the point.  I'm just using the math I used for my mom. 

A wide format 26" television is about as tall as a standard format 19", so if you are replacing a 19" television, don't buy a 19" wide format television, unless you'd be happy with a picture that feels much smaller.  Again, I realize that these sizes are much smaller than a projection screen, but you can use the ratios as the basis for your own math. 

19" Standard Format has close to a 12x16" screen area.
19" Wide Format is about 9x16" screen area (3" less height).
26" Wide Format is 12x22" screen area (about same height as 19" standard).

So when you're thinking about new wide screens or televisions, make sure to get a screen that's at least the same height as what you're used to. 

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If there's anything predictable about the audio, video, and lighting business in 2012, it's that most churches aren't spending what the way they'd like to on technology for worship.  Big projects routinely turn into medium-sized projects, annual budgets get zeroed out, and people who used to spend $500 at their own discretion have to get board approval to spend anything at all.  It's not uncommon for a project plan that used to take 2-3 months from design to build to now take a year or more.  I can think of one project that's still technically on the books, but that has been delayed for almost three years, with the hope for "next budget year."   

That's just the way it is.  If you feel like that, know that you're not alone.  People stream out the door at Chipotle for $8 burritos, but the right technical "food" has become more than a luxury for many of us. 

What's my point?  Despite the times, you still need technology to empower the worship setting, and if you have needs and money's tight, you better get it right the first time.  Money no object, you should still get it right the first time. 

So what's "right"?  Three factors make up our equation -- what meets the need, what fits the budget, and what the tech team can use effectively based on skill levels.  "Right" almost never means the same as "cheapest."  It simply means right.  We've been known to recommend both more and less expensive equipment than what a client thinks he or she can spend. 

No matter what, our goal is always the same -- to get you the right equipment. 

Friday, March 30, 2012 12:26 PM

Clear the Stage

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A friend placed a link to this video on his Facebook page yesterday.  I've never heard of Jimmy Needham, but I've listened to this album a couple times and to this song about 10 times.  Maybe it'll speak to you, too.  

Tuesday, March 13, 2012 04:55 PM

The Virtual Tech Director?

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Today is the first 70 degree day of the new year in Columbus, Ohio. Yes, I know, Orange County and San Diego have sun and 70 degrees all winter long. And yes, I'm somewhat envious.

With the warmer weather, I am reminded that Easter production season is also arriving quickly, and with the increase in technical complexity comes the need for someone to think about how today's needs fit into what you hope to do in the future.

From the February blog post, you can see that we're working with a few churches on large-scale planning and strategy. When we enter into the strategy sessions, it's common to find that there's not a lot of planning going on. With a piece purchased from here and two from there and another from another place, proper integration and operation can become a quick casualty. 

That fact has led me to enter into discussions with a handful of people about becoming part of a "Virtual Tech Director" network.  

In short, a "TD" typically oversees the use of technology (most often audio, video, lighting) at a worship facility. Many churches don't have a tech director. In fact nearly all churches don't have one.  But all churches can benefit from better planning when it comes to equipment integration. 

Helping you with those decisions is a role that fill every day, at least to an extent.  In smaller churches, we often talk directly to the pastor (who didn't learn a thing about technology in seminary), so we serve the role as TD.  In somewhat larger churches, it's the worship pastor or music minister who most often gets tasked with the audio, video and lighting system. This person also didn't learn much (if anything at all) about technology and its use during his or her preparation to fill their role. Only at the largest churches do you find professional tech staff. These are the people who are as proficient at technology as the pastor is at pastoring and the music people are at leading worship. 

Would you like to be able to connect with people who have specific expertise that you need?  Even if you can't hire a full-time TD with 20 years of experience, would you like to know one who could help you?  Could your team use a training day on audio basics?  Might you benefit from one-on-one familiarization with ProPresenter?  Could a monthly video conference meeting help you keep your tech strategy in check?  Would your church host a regional training day for other churches?

In the last 20 years of business, we've come to know a lot of people. We know highly experienced audio techs, video production techs, lighting designers, lighting operators, video shooters, tech directors, systems contractors and integrators -- all over the country. And what we're exploring is whether you'd find value in being able to connect with them when you need them.

This idea is in its infancy, so if you have thoughts on how having a Virtual TD might be helpful to you, or if you'd like to become part of the "network", drop me a line to let me know what you're thinking.

Thursday, February 16, 2012 01:28 PM

Getting consistent results from tech volunteers

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I had a hard time thinking of article title that didn't sound like a Masters thesis topic, but I've been reminded this week of the importance of having uniform systems, procedures, and equipment in the worship setting, especially in multi-venue settings. 

Several years ago, I was introduced to a man who would become a long-term client for us.  He's still the tech director for a large church in the Columbus area, and at the time I was struck by his insistence that all of his systems for each of his venues be identical -- not just similar, but identical from an operational perspective.  Of course, his loudspeakers were different in each venue, but he had 3 venues with Mackie 32.4VLZ mixers, DBX Driveracks, sets of Sony wireless microphones, Marantz recorders and players, storage systems, physical layout, etc. 

What he shared was common sense.  In the design phase, he had decided that the church's technical execution of a service couldn't hinge on just one person, so by standardizing, all of his volunteers were automatically cross-trained and could work successfully in any venue. 

I marveled at the simplicity of his approach and the thought with which the systems were laid out.  I know; some of you turned your nose up at his choice of mixer.  He could have picked any mixer that would do the job.  It wouldn't have mattered. 

The main thrust of his thought process in design was that he valued the importance of successful technical execution, his time, and the time of his volunteers enough to make sure that the systems were never an obstacle to getting a predictably good end result, every time.  And better end results keep your volunteers volunteering, and you not having to train as much. 

Could he have selected a more complex mixer or equipment specific to each venue?  Sure.  But that would have required more paid professional staff (even part-time) and would also have limited opportunities for volunteers to successfully serve the church.  

Earlier this week, I met with a large church in the upper Midwest.  They flew me in to talk about adding off-site venues, to coordinate equipment between on-site venues and to evaluate systems, while talking through better ways to develop consistency across the spectrum of their worship experience.  It was like I had gone back in time. 

In just the past year, video streaming technology has made the addition of new worship venues a reality for many smaller churches, so since multi-site expansion isn't just for big churches anymore, the time and effort you spend in careful planning and design prior to purchase will be an investment you'll be glad you made. 

If you'd like to discuss ways to make your technology for worship experience more consistent for any number of locations, please call us anytime. 

Monday, January 16, 2012 07:28 PM

Half-time thoughts on technology for worship.

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When you reach your mid-40's (ouch, did I really admit that?!), you begin to evaluate things.  All kinds of things.  You ask questions like, "I've been doing this for 20 years, and do I really want to do it for 20 more?"  See the November 9 blog post.  You ask, "Is my work meaningful?" and "Does it add to God's kingdom?"  You even ask, "Am I really 'that close' to 50?"  Of course not. 

During the past several months, I've been energized by discussions with you about your future ministry plans, to help equip you in those, and to dream about what God might do.  We've talked about increasing the connectedness of your church both internally and externally via technology, and about the absolute potential to reach the ends of the earth from Anytown, USA.  There's no doubt that we live in an exciting time, and that technology plays a role. 

In Mike Sessler's article on the future of technology in the church, he asks some tough questions about whether technology has become a crutch and alludes to the question of its proper role.  Hmm...proper. 

On the surface, that's not exactly the type of article that has the potential to sell a lot of new equipment.  I could have easily skipped right over it and published another technical how-to article, in an attempt to load you up with more stuff.  If you think about it, selling more equipment is how we make our living.  But if you've read the blog for long, you know that getting you into the right gear is our part of your good stewardship of God's resources. 

Lots of vendors sell the same equipment that we do.  Even so, I like to think that we sell solutions that you can't find just anywhere.  Integrated solutions.  Solutions that don't exceed your need, that work well, and that aren't crutch-like. 

From time to time, we should all step back and remember that technology is not the Message itself.  Even a gear-guy like me recognizes that God somehow moves without LED lighting and HD projectors.  He does it all of the time, and doesn't need technology (or us) to do it.   Thankfully, He allows us along for the ride, if we're willing. 

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What others say

The new microphone worked great! The guy running our sound board yesterday said he didn't know the choir sounded that good! We will want to order at least one more.


Danny Dolan, All Saints Anglican Church