Mixing Silence In The Dark

blackout

As I mentioned in my last post, this past Sunday we lost all power during our service.  It was the nightmare of every tech person I know.  Right after the second verse of the second song, we lost everything.

In all actuality, if we had planned the power outage, it could not have happened at a better time.  Our first song was relatively new to the congregation, and there is no way they could have continued singing that without the words.  Our second song was a new version of the old hymn, It Is Well.  The congregation went straight into the chorus as if nothing had ever happened.  It was a really powerful moment.  At the end of the song, our preacher came up and began his message without power.

One thing about our room, we have two giant walls of windows along the side walls of the room, but we have shades that we typically close during the service to darken the room and create a more intimate environment.  Of course, when the power shut off, the blinds were closed, and we had no way to open them up.  Needless to say, the room was very dark.

The power came back on about 5 minutes into the sermon, for just long enough to almost complete the power up procedures for the tech equipment before going out again.  After another 5 minutes of darkness the power came back on for good.

A few lessons to share from all the excitement:

  1. Go With The Flow: There are certain things you can’t really plan for.  I am sure we have some sort of power outage plan, but there is no way it could cover all the potential issues that might come up.  And it is good to have a plan, but in the heat of the moment, we just have to keep our cool and do what we can to make the service work.  Because we kept our heads, we thought to open the shades as soon as the power came back on.  This gave us natural light in the room while we waited for the lighting console to come back up, and prevented us from going back to complete darkness when we lost power a second time.
  2. Test Your Backup Systems: When the power goes off during a service is a bad time to discover that your battery backup for your console is not working properly.  For us, it should be set up to give us enough time to save our show file, and properly shut down the console.  It wasn’t.  I lost power to the console as soon as the lights went out. My digital console automatically powers up exactly how it was shut down, so when we fired the console up during the un-amplified sermon, every band channel was un-muted and turned up.  That created a rather loud pop that startled both the congregation and preacher.  Also, the loop track we use for worship started playing through the speakers immediately after the pop.  As the console continued the power-up procedures I muted everything, which saved me from any more loud noises when we lost power a second time.
  3. Communication is Key:  When the lights went out, the rest of the service became a series of audibles.  We were not quite Payton Manning efficient, but we did play better than Eli.  The original schedule had another song, communion, and offering before the sermon.  So when the preacher stepped up at the end of It Is Well, the rest of the team had to reschedule the rest of the service.  We wrote out the new service flow, and made sure everyone on the tech team had a copy, but we don’t have a dedicated confidence monitor to communicate with the speaker on stage, and we had no way of commuting with the ushers, who were sitting throughout the congregation with their families.  At the end of the sermon, our worship leader went up on stage a little early to communicate to the speaker that he would take over.  After the sermon prayer, the first words from the worship leader were, “as we prepare for communion…” which got the ushers moving.  It was a little clunky, but considering everything, it was a pretty smooth transition.  After communion and offering, our worship leader said, “as we sing this last song….” which communicated the new flow to the speaker, who got up to give the commission at the end of the service.  What made it all work was communication.  It took us a few minutes to figure out how to communicate the service flow to everyone, but it all worked out pretty well.
  4. It Is All in God’s Hands: From a purely technical standpoint, the service was a disaster.  We recovered well, which is the most important part, but we sure did not live up to our vision of creating a distraction free worship experience.  But, despite the problems, God crafted an amazing experience.  He showed up in a powerful way, and we experienced an incredible time of congregational worship.  It is a nice reminder that while our jobs and our tech ministry are important, at the end of the day, we are not necessary.  Even when everything goes wrong (or maybe because everything goes wrong?), God shows up and does something amazing.  That should take some pressure off of our shoulders.

I hope you don’t have an experience like we had Sunday, but if you do, I pray that God takes over.  Let’s use this as a reminder of what our true place should be.  Serving Him and His Church.

Happy Mixing,

Aaron

Advertisements

Back To The Grindstone

Grindstone

After two weeks of vacation following the birth of my daughter, I went back to work last week.  In some ways it is nice to be back, to have a schedule, and to get out of the house.  But it is hard to be away from my new baby.  But there are bills to be paid, and a growing mountain of things that needed to be done two weeks ago.

Because of the way everything worked out, my first day back at work was Sunday.  The original plan was for me to take Sunday off and come back Monday, but with everything else happening, that just did not work out.  So I walked in Sunday morning after two weeks off, suffering symptoms of sleep deprivation, and without the benefit of having run sound at rehearsal.  Overall, it was defiantly not my best Sunday.  At one point I sarcastically quipped that I had not struggled this much with a mix since High School.  While that was an exaggeration, it was not a great day.  I would love to whine and complain about everything, but I think I need to be more positive.  So I will share a few lessons I learned.

  1. Rehearsal is Important:  There is a reason that we have implemented an expectation that if you can’t make rehearsal, you can’t run Sunday.  This week was an example of a time where that just was not possible, but it highlighted just how important rehearsal is.  Many of my struggles would have been avoided if I had been at rehearsal.
  2. Know Your System:  When I first turned on the system and ran some music, it sounded like it was playing through a tin can.  There was little volume, no depth, and no bass.  After checking my console settings and walking the room, I discovered that sound was only coming from my down fills and front fills.  Since I was very familiar with my system, I could tell which speakers were working and which were not.  After double checking the set-up of my console and finding no problems I knew it was probably the amp rack.  Knowing that my fills and mains shared a send from the board, and that the front fills and down fills were on two of my amps, and that my mains and subs were on three others immediately narrowed down my troubleshooting.  And only the amps for the fills had power.  I found a popped circuit breaker, Turns out that the two amps running the down fills and front fills where plugged in on two separate circuits, but the 5 amps that run our mains, subs, monitors, and foyer speakers were all running off one circuit.  Once that was redistributed, we had no more power problems.  (If I had known my system better, we would not have had this problem to begin with.)
  3. Keep Your Focus:  As I mentioned, I struggled last week.  I struggled with the amp problem.  I struggled with feedback.  And I struggled with my mix.  But mostly, I struggled to keep focused.  The first time the feedback happened, I corrected the problem, but my concentration was gone.  Because I was focusing on my mistakes instead of my next cue, I did not un-mute the pastor’s mic before he started speaking.  Everyone will make mistakes.  That is inevitable.  We can try to prevent them, and that is great, but when we do make mistakes, we have to keep our focus and move on.  If we don’t, one minor mishap can lead to a series of mistakes that all could have been avoided if we had just kept our focus on the next cue.

Hopefully you have learned something from my struggles.  I know I have.

Tune in next time to see what I learned from a Sunday morning power outage.  Yes that’s right, the second Sunday since coming back to work we lost all power during service.  Look for a post soon about the details, and the lessons learned.

Happy Mixing,
Aaron