The Sound Booth – Church AV Design

Sound Booth 2014

About five months ago, my church, Sunlight Community Church, opened a 730-seat sanctuary in South Florida.  As the Associate Pastor of Worship and Media, it was my privilege to help design this space.  Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share some things we learned along the way, with the goal of helping out other churches who are considering doing the same.

I’m starting with the sound booth, in response to questions I received on the Church Technical Leaders forum at The City.  Here’s a little pictorial tour of why we did what we did:

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The first decision you will have to make is where to place the sound booth in the room.  It is not ideal to place your sound person in the corner or against a wall (definitely not in another room or behind glass).  Why?  You want your sound person to hear and experience exactly what the crowd is hearing so that he can accurately mix.  That’s why we placed the sound booth where we did.

Imagine placing your sound person in an area where there is less bass.  He mixes the kick drum and bass guitar loud enough to make it sound right where he is but, in the process, blows everyone else’s eardrums out.  See what I’m getting at?  Location is important because the laws of physics are immutable.  Sound waves are sound waves, and there is no amount of processing that will alter how they behave in a physical space.  Don’t fight it.  Embrace it.

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Given how prominent the sound booth was to be, we had to make it look nice.  We are pretty proud of how finished it looks.

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One of our sound booth’s unique features is its slanted top.  I think I got this idea from the great Mike Sessler.  Do you have people who like to place drinks on the ledge right next to your super-expensive soundboard?  How do you stop that from happening?  I, for one, do not believe in signs.  You can print “DO NOT SET DRINKS HERE” on hot pink paper in 100 pt. Comic Papyrus, but people will still ignore it.  It would be much more effective to design a system that prevents behaviors you do not want.  Our system was to put a slanted ledge on our booth that makes it physically impossible for this area to get cluttered up.

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To prevent unsightly cords from covering the walls, we designed a way to run them through the walls.  From inside the walls, they go under the raised floor and then come back up where they need to go.

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If you peel back the carpet, you can see the we have a “computer flooring system.”  It’s designed for use in computer labs.  You can pull up sections of it and run wires anywhere.

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Pulling up the squares is insanely easy, and look at all those wires we’re hiding!

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We chose iMacs because, as they are all-in-ones, there are less wires.  They’re also powerful enough to run all our systems easily.  One, for instance, is running 64 channels of Waves Soundgrid Multirack and 64 channels of Logic for virtual soundcheck. Another is running four discreet HD video outputs from ProPresenter without missing a beat.  But that’s another post for another day.

Sound Booth 2014

Of course, it should go without saying that you need to take careful measurements before building.  We needed enough space for 4-5 people to easily move around without hitting each other.  We wanted all media volunteers to be in the same tech booth so that they could help each other (i.e., no separate booth for lyrics or lighting).  The depth of the Midas console determined the depth of the desk.  The combined width of all the components determined the width.  The height was determined by what our operators were comfortable running while standing.

All in all, we are very happy with the way our sound booth turned out, and it is helping us provide a top-notch experience for our guests each week, which is our highest priority.  If you have any questions, comment below, and I’ll try to answer them!

 

Just Do It!

Instagram

Our youth group’s Instagram account proves that you can create good designs today with just an iPhone and a few free or inexpensive apps.

I recently read a quote that really resonated with me:

The world is changing so fast that there are days when the person who says it can’t be done is interrupted by the person who is doing it.

Increasingly, the impossible is becoming possible, and this is great news for churches.  Case in point:  Our youth director and his team are churning out engaging videos at a really high rate.  They’re growing a nice following on social media.  And here’s the kicker:  They’re doing it all with only an iPhone and a few free or inexpensive apps.  In fact, they’re able to create in a few minutes what I could not create in few hours with a $3,000 computer and $1,000 of Adobe software.

This is really exciting!  It means that many churches don’t really need expensive cameras or software anymore*, and they don’t need to do a nationwide search for someone who knows how to use them*.  They just need to tap into the potential of their youth and young adults.  Instead of being threatened, why not enable and empower those people.  Mentor them with the experience you have and set them free to use their talents!

Watch out if you’re busy complaining about how something is not possible because you’re about to be interrupted by the person who’s not only doing it, but making it look easy!  People like me who love planning, budgeting, spreadsheets and perfectionism sometimes need to realize we’re going to get lapped if we keep overcomplicating things.  Sometimes you need to stop thinking so much and just do it!

P.S.  Check out our youth group’s new Website, sunlightyouth.org and their Instagram account.

  • I do believe that medium- to large-sized churches (350+ attendance) still need a trained media director who knows how to white balance a video camera, use aperture-priority mode on a still camera, set mic levels properly, etc.  This is a different post for a different day, though.

Worship with a Side of “Oops!”

This video is simply titled “Eddy Falls Leading Worship,” but I think that’s something of an understatement! I don’t think I’ve laughed this hard in a long time.

We’re all human, and we all make mistakes, even worship leaders! I’ve started a song with a capo in the position. Least week, I accidentally said, “twerk,” while talking to our daughter church’s tech team.  I once accidentally said “gay” in a prayer on stage, and then I couldn’t stop saying it, again and again and again in the same prayer. But at least I haven’t fallen though a cardboard Christmas set… yet.

What’s your funniest worship leading blooper?

Meet the Parents

Meet Roger and Zela. A civil engineer. A secretary. A deacon. A church volunteer. A photographer. A high school valedictorian. An audio enthusiast. My parents.

They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and after looking at the list I just typed, I guess they’re right. I may not be a civil engineer, but other than that, I’m pretty much a carbon copy of these two, and it goes deeper than the fact that my dad and I both love cameras and audio equipment.

For better or worse (mainly better), I am what I am because of these two. All the hobbies I enjoy today and all the skills I use to make a living can be traced back to investments they made in me. Things like piano lessons, tennis lessons, video cameras, PTA meetings, class trips — one sacrifice after another.

They say they’re proud of the man I’ve become, but what would I have become without them… and so many others? What if I hadn’t gone to a school with teachers who loved me, saw a spark in me and fanned it to flame? What if I hadn’t had great mentors over the years who took me under their wings? Where would I be?

All this makes me think a few things: First, don’t delay saying, “Thank you.” Dad is turning 90 this year. Every time they come to Florida, they say it may be their last, as chronic illness and arthritis take their toll on him. As they left this time and headed back to snow-covered West Virginia, I made sure to thank them for all that they did for me. I told them I loved them, even though that doesn’t come natural for us introverted Whitts.

Second, investment in others pays the best dividends. Looking at my own life, I see a powerful direct correlation between what my parents sewed and what I’m reaping now. They got me started on a good trajectory, and I want to do the same for others. What if we all had that mindset?

Third, we need to have compassion on those who did not have the blessing of a good upbringing. It’s not their fault they went to a school with incompetent teachers who didn’t care about them. It’s not their fault their parents were strung out on drugs. It’s not their fault no one modeled responsibility for them or gave them the skills and tools they would need to be able to get a good job. Maybe we should stop judging them and instead offer a helping hand.

Who do you need to thank today? Who can you invest in today? Who needs compassion today?

In Memoriam

Cemetary

The first thing you notice is the stillness, the quiet that gently wraps around you, even in a place of death. I’m standing in a mausoleum just outside town, having just guided a man named Dario though the most difficult day of his life. He has said a final goodbye to his wife, kissed her on the cheek and watched through tears as workers took her casket away.

He and the others who loved Mary Lou so much have begun walking to their cars, but I stay behind. I find myself surrounded by walls of numbers and letters, names and dates, each one with a silent story to tell.

Mary Lou’s story was one of finding hope in a hopeless situation. She had been living under a medical death sentence handed down in 2004 when she learned she had a chronic, untreatable condition that would take her life — and yet she had joy.

She was confident her life would not end when she stopped breathing. Everyone who spoke at her memorial service commented on the peace she found in Christ. Every last person. Even people who didn’t believe what she believed!

She loved to tell the Good News, and even in her death, she was spreading the Gospel. She knew that Jesus paid the penalty for all the wrong she had done, bringing her into God’s family. There was a place for her in heaven! That was her story.

In the quiet of this mausoleum, I’m surrounded by thousands more names, each engraved into stone, each with a narrative to tell. And I can’t help but wonder what mine will be. Will every single person at my memorial service say just how much the Gospel impacted my life? Will even those who don’t believe in God remark on what peace I found in my faith? Or will it be a hodgepodge of, “He was a good guy,” and, “He did a lot of good things.”

I, for one, hope no one talks about how good I was. I wasn’t good. I was a sinner from my first day to my last, and if I was less sinful than I could have been, it was only by the grace of God. Let’s not pretend otherwise. Let’s not turn me into a caricature of myself to make people feel more comfortable at my memorial service. There’s no comfort in pretending the deceased were perfect. But there’s tremendous comfort in proclaiming that imperfect people who make a ton of mistakes can still be forgiven and go to heaven.

This is my story. This is my song. Praising my Savior all the day long.

What will your story be?

P.S. The Gospel seeds Mary Lou was sewing in her sickness and death are already germinating and growing. Her husband now attends our church, and her daughter in New York has begun reading the Bible and attending church as well. Thank you, God, for the privilege of being a part of her story. Rest in peace, Mary Lou.

Cemetary

The Gospel is for Everyone!

Sometimes we pastors tend to forget that the Good News is not just for those outside the walls of our church. It’s still good news for us too, and we desperately need it everyday. This quote from Paul Tripp explains why:

If you are in ministry and you are not reminding yourself again and again of the now-ism of the gospel, that is, the right-here, right-now benefits of the grace of Christ, you will be looking elsewhere to get what can be found only in Jesus. If you are not feeding your soul on the realities of the presence, promises, and provisions of Christ, you will ask the people, situations, and things around you to be the messiah that they can never be. If you are not attaching your identity to the unshakable love of your Savior, you will ask the things in your life to be your Savior, and it will never happen. If you are not requiring yourself to get your deepest sense of well-being vertically, you will shop for it horizontally, and you will always come up empty. If you are not resting in the one true gospel, preaching it to yourself over and over again, you will look to another gospel to meet the needs of your unsettled heart.

 

Listening is Hard

Blue Spring

Three-dimensional art floats above my head. Drops of paint flung into the air, frozen in time, hanging by the hand of their Creator.

I’m all by myself at Blue Spring State Park today, and if I’m honest with myself I’m seeking more than just escape from construction and Christmas craziness. I’m chasing after a hard reboot. Like one of those pesky Windows XP machines that just won’t work until you hold the power button down for what feels like forever. That’s how I feel. And it feels like forever that I’ve been sitting out here under this tree, waiting on God to show up.

It’s beautiful. But I’m impatient. My feet twitch. My cell phone vibrates. My mind wanders. Everything in 2014 came with urgency and break-neck pace. Was I wrong to expect that my devotional time alone with God would be the same way? I need refreshing, but I also need to get back to life.

Except this is life. Breathing in and out and waiting on God. Coming with no agenda. Leaving with no measure of productivity. Sitting and thinking and writing words that no one else will ever read or appreciate. This matters too.

Blue SpringI open to Galatians. I know the Gospel. But do I know the Gospel? Do I understand that, at the center of the universe is a being who cares deeply for me, not because I’m a good student or a good singer or a good worker, but simply because He loves Jesus, and I’m in Jesus?

Speak, God. I’m listening. Pen in hand. Chasing daylight. Finally ready to hear. Remind me of who I really am… and who You really are. Words fill the page. Slow drips of revelation at first, then a flood. “Called by grace. Sent from God, not from man or by a man.” A pause, then more. “Recipient of grace, steward of it. Recipient of truth, steward of it.” Wave after wave, crashing in. “Starting and finishing by the Spirit. Not finishing by my own efforts.”

Such freeing truth, but the knockout punch was still to come:

“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10).

My Achilles’ heel aches as God begins surgery on open wounds. “You can try to win the approval of human beings, but you can never do it.” But I need approval, God. “Whose servant are you, anyway?”

The chains of followers, friends, likes and favorites — the stats of your worth in the 21st century — they keep me from being a servant of Christ. It’s dark now, but I see clearly — I’m a slave to people. To public opinion. To the need to be noticed. Thick, heavy chains.

Surrounded by such beauty, the contrast of my own heart is even easier to see. It’s a mess. I’m a mess. But I’m God’s mess. I belong to Him, and He took all my messes — past, present and future — and put them on Christ, who paid their price in full. So I’m free. I’m not a slave to anyone or anything but God.

Time to head home. Long, quiet drive ahead. Thank you, God, for a beautiful, painful lesson in who I am and who You are. And thanks for the fuel to take the next few steps with You by my side.

What Really Matters

Candlelight

Sunlight ended 2014 with a bang. Having endured a year of construction growing pains, we are finally in our new sanctuary, which has more than triple the number of seats and cutting edge technology.

I feel like I’m literally living the dream.  For years, I’ve dreamed about programming intelligent lights to create an artful worship experience. For years, I’ve longed for the ability to use audio plugins live so that Sunday morning sound as polished as a professionally mixed and mastered CD. All those dreams and more came true this year!

New StageWhat’s interesting, though, is that some things never change.  Whether it’s an auditorium of 50 people, 250 people, or 750 people, what matters most is that God is at the center of our hearts and minds. Technology can facilitate worship, yes, but what really fuels worship is the Word and the Spirit. Specifically, God’s truth is the fuel, and the Spirit is the fire.

We still do the same thing as always, just in a bigger room, with more bells and whistles, involving more friends and guests. We still aim to facilitate a conversation between God and His people by presenting His message in a memorable, impactful way and by assisting His sons and daughters to raise their voices and live their lives in grateful response.

I can’t wait to use this new blog to tell you all about how we’ve done what we’ve done — from the house lights that change color to the triple-wide screen on stage to the recessed, backlit crosses in the walls. But wherever you are, whether your church is smaller or bigger than ours, know that success isn’t measured in number of lights or in sound pressure levels. It’s simply these two things: Are you helping your people see God and understand His Good News? And are you helping them respond to Him?

As we dive into specifics later on this blog, let’s never forget the foundation!

Losing Weight And Feeling Great, Part 3

Recently, I bought a 26-pound kettle bell from Sports Authority, and I had an epiphany. As I struggled to lug that thing around the store, I realized I had been carrying around that much extra weight for years. No wonder I feel so much better now. As I posted about in Part 1 and Part 2, getting to a healthy weight did require some hard work, but it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. In fact, with just a few good tips and tricks, it is almost easy.

DumbbellsLast week, I shared about nutrition, and this week, I want to share about exercise. For me to lose 10 pounds per month, it took both a change in diet and a change in activity level. If I had only reduced the number of calories I took in, my body would have went into starvation mode and ramped down my metabolism. I needed just the opposite! I needed to regain the metabolism of my teenage self.

Do you remember when you were young, and it seemed like you could eat anything you wanted without gaining weight? As kids, we ran, we jumped, we played basketball. We weren’t stuck behind a computer screen all day. I found that, even if it’s only 20 minutes a day, getting more physical activity can really help your metabolism a lot!

Again, I made use of the My Fitness Pal smartphone app, which I mentioned in my last post. It not only estimates how many calories you take in when you eat food, but it also estimates how many calories you burn when you exercise. I found that jogging a mile could burn about 100 calories and that 10 minutes of aerobics or swimming could burn a similar number of calories. Even better, I found that playing tennis for an hour could burn over 600 calories!

I made it my goal to find one or two activities per day to keep my heart rate elevated for at least 20-30 minutes.  On days when I was very busy, I would run a mile and then use a 7 Minute Workout  app for some light cardio. On other days when I was tired of jogging, I would swim laps instead. Twice a week, I would visit the gym to do weights, knowing that increased muscle mass would also contribute to better metabolism. The time investment was minimal, but the payoff was huge!

Daily BurnOn days when I had more time, I used dailyburn.com, and it kicked my butt (in a good way). It’s like Beachbody (P90X) but “in the cloud.” You don’t buy DVD’s. You stream workouts on the Internet as you need them. It was great. I put in my current weight, desired weight and other goals, and it suggested that I start in the Tactical Bodyweight Training program.

Daily Burn’s 45-minute workouts are INTENSE, but they are fun and can burn 500+ calories at a time! The typical workout starts with mobility warmups, which is a great way to increase range of motion and ensure good joint health as you age. Then, there is a 20-minute period of HIGH intensity interval workouts. Lastly is static stretching to cool down, increase flexibility and prevent soreness.

There’s a workout for everyone! Having finished Daily Burn’s Tactical Bodyweight Training series twice, I moved on to a series on kettle bells and then one with dumbbells, while my wife is trying out something that’s more cardio-focused. I also continue to do interval training through running, swimming, tabata training, etc. Because I have so many options available to me, there’s almost always some type of exercise I am eager to do! Even within the broad concept of running, I mix things up by doing either a 5K at a slow and steady pace or one mile in intervals approaching 5 minutes-per-mile speed. I also like to go exploring when I run, so I’ll drive somewhere with interesting architecture to mix things up even more.

The most important thing is just to do something. Make it your goal to engage in strenuous cardio for 20 minutes everyday. It’s easy to rationalize that you don’t have time for it or that you’re too tired. The truth is, you will feel better after you do it. The energy and positivity it gives you is amazing. The health benefits are easy to see. So start big or start small, but get going! If I can do it, you can do it too!

Losing Weight And Feeling Great, Part 2

Over the past few months, I’ve lost almost 30 pounds and 5-6 inches off my waist. People are always asking me how I did it, so I decided to write a series of blog posts to give a good answer.  In Part 1, I said that we have to talk about the “why” before we talk about the “how.”  And next week in Part 3, I’ll discuss exercise.

This week, I want to talk about nutrition!  I found that by making small tweaks to what I eat, I was able to save a substantial number of calories.  Further, I found that doing simple arithmetic (less calories in, more calories out) was the best way to achieve quick weight loss.

Healthy FoodThe biggest secret that helped me get started eating healthier was a smartphone app named My Fitness Pal.  It helped me understand the impact of what I was eating.  You begin by telling the app about yourself (current weight, target weight, activity level, etc.).  It gives you a target number of calories to hit each day.  When I was losing two pounds a week, my goal was to eat about 1,500 calories a day (unless you exercise which adds back calories to your daily budget, but that is a topic for my next post).

You log what you eat in the app, and it is very eye-opening.  For example, I used to eat hotcakes at McDonalds for breakfast.  Did you know three hotcakes are over 300 calories?  Syrup adds almost 200 more calories, not to mention over 200 calories in butter.  A medium frappe would add over 500 more calories.  Do the math!  That’s 1,200 calories.  Holy cow!  That’s almost a whole day’s worth of calories.  By contrast, I also used to get a breakfast from Dunkin’ Donuts that I liked just as much.  Did you know that an egg white veggie wrap  has only 150 calories, and a small latte has about 200 calories?  I like both breakfasts equally.  Now, the choice is easy!  It’s either 1,200 calories or 350 calories.

Seeing the calorie content of dinner choices was eye-opening as well.  Did you know a half order of Texas cheese fries at Chili’s is almost 1,300 calories?  Chili’s flatbreads are over 1,300 calories too.  Again, almost a full day’s worth of calories for someone trying to lose weight!  In contrast, Panera’s French onion soup is under 200 calories, and a small Outback sirloin is also about 200 calories.  Again, the choice becomes easy!  Both options are very tasty, but one has 5x the calories.

With the empowerment of the My Fitness Pal app, I began to understand why I had gained so much weight.  I stopped going to Chili’s and other similar restaurants so often.  When I did go, I made smarter choices.  I ate smaller portions.  I left off calorie-heavy condiments.  Even the reduction from a medium latte to a small latte made a difference.  Limiting myself to one soda a day made a difference.  Experimenting with various healthy cooking options at home also helped.  It all adds up, and the My Fitness Pal app helps you see that very clearly.

I guess you could say that the method that worked for me was calorie counting.  I know many different “diets” exist and are popular.  Some say you should limit your carbs.  Others say no animal protein at all.  But I wanted a sustainable plan that allowed me to feel like I was still enjoying life!  I still ate everything I loved (just less of it and less often).  This made it possible for me to stick with it.  God bless those of you who are strong enough to not eat bread, cheese, meat or whatever else it is that you’ve completely given up… but I can’t do it, and I didn’t need to to get healthy.

SupplementsI also want to give a quick shout out to a few of my favorite supplements and substitutes.  I regularly enjoy chia seeds, which are a great source of Omega-3 and fiber.  I also take a Mega-Red fish oil pill.  My doctor said that the fish oil was probably one reason my triglyceride levels fell so drastically.  I also take a raspberry ketone pill, which is supposed to make fat cells available to be burned during exercise.  Don’t know if it helped or not, but it definitely didn’t hurt!  I also began using Truvia as a zero-calorie sweetener.  I’ve never found a sugar-free sweetener that I’ve liked before, but this one is pretty good.  In a blind taste test, my wife actually liked it better than sugar!

All of this was fueled by a sense of urgency because I had considered the “why” more than the “how” of weight loss.  I knew I had to make a change.  I also knew that I had to explore why I was eating the way I was.  I had to stop eating for non-nutritional purposes.  No more eating when bored.  No more eating when sad.  In those moments, I instead began to turn to exercise, and I found that it made my mood feel much better than eating.  And exercising actually took the hunger away!  Win-win!  More on exercise in Part 3 next week.

[ht: Colin Dunn for the supplement photo, creative commons license]