Great White LED: No Longer A Myth

7 07 2014

There is a running joke among many lighting folks that the annual LDI convention ( should really be called LEDI because of the growing focus on LED fixtures. With energy costs going up and LED fixture prices going down, it’s no wonder that LED fixtures are becoming a more popular choice for theatrical use. One of the problems to date though has been that there aren’t really good, affordable options to replace the conventional PAR, ellipsoidal and Fresnel fixtures that produce what we feel is natural white light.

Our team at CCI Solutions has long been searching for a good, affordable LED white light solution for churches. We need strong white light for key lighting, video and long throw situations. RGB LED lights simply won’t cut it for those applications. We work with many churches who don’t have adequate power and dimming capabilities, so finding a low power, non dimmer-dependent solution has been a high priority for us. If we do the math, a good theatrical lighting solution for white light can cost between $500-1,500 per fixture once you count the cost of the fixture, dimming and electrical work. This is why with the right fixture, an economical LED white light solution for theatrical lighting could be more cost effective in both the initial purchase and in the long term power savings.

At November’s LDI show our team aggressively searched out new options for LED white fixtures and managed to find a few options that may in fact change the game for LED theatrical fixtures. And we weren’t the only ones searching as it seemed like every manufacturer with an LED Ellipsoidal fixture had people lined up to check out their offerings. In fact, while talking to the guys at Chauvet Professional about their new Ovation series, we ran into a lighting tech on a mission. His employer had given him a light meter, a notebook and the task of measuring the brightness of every LED ellipsoidal and fresnel fixture at the show. And his results confirmed what our team saw with our eyes: the new Ovation Series LED fixtures we were standing in front of were the brightest white LED fixtures at the show. And at Infocomm just a few weeks ago, we saw new, similar offerings from Elation and it’s only a matter of time before all of the serious LED manufacturers have versions of their own.

Over the course of this year, CCI Solutions has done a number of projects where we’ve bypassed the need for dimming and gone all LED. In early June we worked with a church in NW Arkansas, renovating their 400 seat auditorium with audio, video and lighting upgrades. When looking at their lighting system, it was clear that we would either have to upgrade their dimming or look at a 100% LED solution. Add that there is no on-site Technical Director or lift to get to the lights, a low maintenance, dimmer free solution made enormous sense, even factoring in a project AVL budget of $70,000. For this project we settled on 9 wide flood LED house lights, 5 of the Ovation F-95ww fixtures for front light and 12 of the American DJ Flat Par Tri18x. No dimmers, very little power draw and maintenance, but an amazing and effective lighting rig.

It’s finally time to start rethinking our approach to theatrical lighting fixtures. We have a number of options that are nearing the quality of conventional fixtures and won’t break the bank. And the great news is more fixtures keep coming out and they keep getting better with more features for the money. If you’re looking at a new lighting project and don’t already have dimming in place, don’t immediately assume that conventional fixtures are the way to go for your theatrical lighting. It might just be the right time to think LED. We’ve been helping churches make the LED transition for years now. Don’t hesitate to call us for more information on how you can save money, reduce maintenance headaches and have a better lit platform with LED theatrical lights.


Time For Updates

30 06 2014

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. – President John F. Kennedy

Change is a funny thing. When asked if they are in favor of change, I think most people will say, and maybe even believe they are in favor of change. But if you look at their actions, the fear and uncertainty that generally accompanies change too often holds people back from moving forward. And if that doesn’t hold them back, often the cost of change, whether time, money or some other precious resource, is the thing that keeps the change from taking place.

I have the honor of traveling the country and meeting with leaders from great churches on a regular basis, and of course we’re quite often discussing their technology. One of the more common questions I get from senior church leaders is, “how do I know when it’s time to upgrade our systems?” Usually when I get asked this question, the inquirer is looking for a range of years in the answer, such as, “you should replace your audio system every 10 years.” Master planning for your budget is great, and industry wide it’s pretty well accepted that you can plan on 7-10 years for most audio, video and lighting systems with the exceptions of projectors and moving lights, which may only last 5-7 years. But that answer is very short sighted, as it really only answers when your existing systems may cease to function at all.

Knowing when it’s time to upgrade your systems is a deeper question, one that requires some knowledge of product longevity sure, but more so requires some introspection on what you’re trying to accomplish with those systems. In fact, I believe that the answer I’ve developed to this question could be applied to just about any aspect of your life, though for this article we’ll stick to it’s application to your AVL systems. So, how do you know when it’s time to upgrade your systems? When your systems no longer equip you to do what you’re trying to do, or when they can’t equip you for where you want to go, it’s time.

“When it becomes more difficult to suffer than to change… you will change.” Dr. Robert Anthony

Many leaders in our churches today prove Dr. Anthony’s theory correct. Instead of changing their systems (or staffing, policies or programs) to accommodate where they want to go, they hang onto what is easier, what has less resistance, what costs less. I understand the natural gravitation towards the easier path, but if we are truly growing and trying to make an impact, what we do will change. And it’s critical that your systems change with you in order to equip you for this new work.

Waiting until something is broken before bringing change is certainly one approach. Ultimately though, it’s the harder route and may not even matter by the time what you’re doing breaks. Legendary basketball coach John Wooden said it like this, “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.” Your church should be saving for, and planning on systems replacements within a 5-10 year period of time. For some, your systems may serve you well for 10, 12, maybe even 15 years if your needs don’t change. For many churches though, your growing or changing need should dictate change much sooner than that. The success and health of your organization may depend on you being “all in” with your growth, meaning EVERY resource you have (programs, people and the tools they use) must be reconsidered as change is implemented. Because when it no longer gets you to where you want to go, it’s time for a change.

Ignore The Crutches

25 06 2014

When I first started out as a technical director, I was young, had big dreams, and worked with a great church that was doing some amazing things in our community. But it wasn’t all roses. I inherited dimmers that were dying, a failing sound board, a PA showing its age, and don’t even get me started on our video system. But you know what? We did a decent job for what we had. Still, I believed it could be better. I knew it could be better.

If we could only get our soundboard replaced with a new digital console, our mixes would improve and be much more consistent because we could save settings from week to week. If we could replace our speaker system, our band and pastor could be heard more clearly, and we could produce a warmer, more even sound to the house. If our lighting system included LEDs and moving lights along with a new lighting console, we could create dramatic lighting that drew people in. And with a proper video system, everyone in our 1300-seat auditorium would have a great seat and connect with what was happening on the stage.

If you’ve been serving in a church for any length of time, you already know the odds are slim that you’ll ever have enough people, time, or gear to do everything you want to do. The tragedy comes when we use that lack of resource as an excuse for not improving despite the challenges. It’s a trend I’m seeing with many production folks today, especially those just starting out; and it’s a trap I fell into often as a young TD. With the challenges I mentioned above, it would’ve been easy to settle for less and put an asterisk on our work, “helping people understand” why we came up short. And frankly, there were times I did. There were times when I’d grab these excuses and walk them around like crutches, using them to hold up my lack of fight. I’m thankful that I’m a fast learner though, as hanging onto these crutches would’ve meant never running ahead and learning what I know today.

Here’s the thing great artists know: The quality of your art is determined more dramatically by your skill and talent than by your tools. Great artists can take mediocre resources and still make something great out of them. Do you really think Peter Frampton or Phil Keaggy couldn’t take my cheap, beginner, acoustic guitar and play something amazing with it? Of course they can! They could do so much more with my $100 guitar than I could ever do with any of their much more expensive ones. Having good resources can help you make the leap from good to great or even great to legendary, but they are not what determines your ability to begin with.

If you can’t create a good mix on a Behringer X32, you’ll never create a great one on the SSL Live. If you can’t shoot good video with a $300 GoPro, what makes you think you’ll be able to shoot great video with a $30,000 Hitachi Z-HD5000? If you can’t create an engaging worship space with a dozen LED fixtures, you won’t be able to do so with 2 dozen LEDs and some moving lights either. Your resources don’t determine your level of ability; your ability determines how well you’ll use your resources.

My best learning experiences came when I’ve had to work extra hard to produce great results because my resources were less than awesome. When you strip away all the bells and whistles, it’s easy to find out what you can do vs. what your tools can do for you. That’s when you really learn how to EQ a vocal. That’s when you figure out how to create a great worship environment. And that’s when you find out what you still need to learn.

The church needs artists who are great at their craft. We need you to struggle and fight your way through at times, because that is how you learn and grow in your skill. We need you to persevere when resources are less than awesome, because that’s how you learn to persevere when the challenges are bigger and the stakes are higher. But in order to get to that place, we have to be people who fight through adversity to do big things for God. We have to be willing to take the harder road and ignore the excuses, even when they’re legitimate. Let’s decide today, and every day, to be people who will ignore the crutches we could use and try to do great things, despite the limitations we see. We all might be surprised at what God does through us if we do.

Keys To Getting A Yes For Your Project

8 05 2014

No is a reality in many of our lives, especially when it comes to making pleas for upgrades to your audio, video and lighting systems. In this case, it’s great that “no” isn’t about you personally. In fact, often times a “no” isn’t even about your proposal specifically. In over 15 years involved in church tech, I’ve found that a “no” often actually means:

A) This Isn’t An Organizational Priority Right Now
Organizations have a lot going on at any given time and sometimes your proposal isn’t near the top of the list. It’s not personal, but sometimes a newly paved parking lot, replacing a dying air conditioner or even making payroll is a more pressing issue.

B) Your Proposal Doesn’t Alleviate Your Leader’s Pain Points
If you are pitching a new sound system and your leaders are fine with your sound, it’s probably not going to be approved. If they’re fine with your sound and feel your lighting isn’t up to par, they may be frustrated that you’re fixated on the wrong problem.

C) You’re Overreaching Your Leaders’ Value Bar
If you’re proposing a top of the line sound system and your leaders would be happy with the quality of their home stereo in the auditorium, your “no” may have come because you overreached on your value proposition.

Keys to Yes
We all have projects on our list; upgrades that need to be made to help our ministry be more effective. I think there are some specific things we can do with our proposals to increase our chances of moving a project forward. Some of the keys I’ve found in getting a “yes” are:

1) Keep Your Proposal Impersonal
Other than a brief recommendation, “I” should rarely be seen or heard in your proposals. The more personal you make your pitch, the more questions generally get raised. Leaders are generally looking to increase the impact of what they’re doing, not just get you the latest toys. Making it personal endangers your mission. It also makes it painful to hear a “not now”.

2) Make It About The Benefits
Leaders tend to focus a lot on cost/benefit analysis: does this new thing benefit us more than what it costs. Most leaders don’t care about what something does, but they care a lot about how it would impact their capabilities. Focus on how your proposal will enhance their ministry, and then throw in how it will enhance yours.

3) Know Your Leader’s Pain Points
If you know there are some major expenses up for consideration (new parking lot, AC replacement, etc.), be wise enough to know your church sound system proposal might be seen as unimportant and hold off if you can. More importantly, listen to your leaders and know what their biggest priorities are concerning areas you oversee. If you constantly hear frustration expressed about your audio and you keep proposing new lighting, it’s only a matter of time until your leaders stop listening to you too.

4) Set Your Bar Appropriately
I have a friend who has very high standards for what he’s associated with, which in itself isn’t a bad thing, except he’s losing his voice with his leadership because he’s always pushing them way beyond their quality (and in turn, their budget) bar. There are times to fight for higher quality options, but pick and choose those times based on the priorities of your leadership. If they’d be happy with a sound system that ranks a 6 out of 10 and you constantly push a 10, you’ll lose your voice. Sometimes meeting, not exceeding, expectations is the best thing you can do for your credibility.

5) Doing Your Homework and Getting a Second Opinion Will Go A Long Way
Leaders generally want to know that you researched all reasonable options and did your homework. If you simply run with the first idea you have all the time, you’re likely to let people down quite often with half-baked choices and lose your voice. Do your research, cover the options and when possible, get outside opinions to corroborate your plan. There is power in agreement.

As a leader in the arts, it’s part of your job and likely in your nature to continue pushing your team towards improving your effectiveness. Using the keys above, I believe you’ll see more success in moving your ministry forward with the right tools. Our team would love to help you understand your options, discuss the pros and cons of what you’re looking at and discuss whether a solution is right for you. With our team of veteran worship and technical staff and volunteers, we put our nearly 40 years of experience to use helping you make the right choices to help your ministry be great.

Engaging The Chaos Early

22 04 2014

Exhale. Go ahead, take a moment to breathe and recover from what I hope was an amazing, albeit exhausting, weekend of ministry. Most of our friends serving in worship and technical ministry worked countless hours last week, spending days and even weeks preparing for Easter services. We’d like to bless and honor you for all of your hard work. Please know it doesn’t go unnoticed and because of your efforts, many people likely heard the story of Jesus for the first time. You did awesome!

For many though, Easter was a crazy time with lots of last-minute needs and it certainly could have been easier had it been more planned out. We know this very well as many of our friends called in with last-minute needs and paid for rush shipping in order to pull off some last-minute ideas. We love serving you in this capacity, but the stress and chaos of the last-minute approach can really wear on you. And, of course, the unfortunate result for many of us after a chaotic Easter season is that we don’t engage in the opportunity to reflect on what Jesus did for us. We help others engage in the truth of the moment but miss it ourselves.

The good news is it is possible to pull off incredibly impacting services for holidays like Easter and Christmas without running yourself so far down that it takes everything you have to keep your head above water. I’ve lived both sides of that coin and my physical and spiritual (not to mention my family’s) well-being is much better off when I engage church holidays well in advance and work ahead. Easier said than done, right? I know often programming for these services is done last-minute and you have no control over that, but what do you have control over?

Summer is project time for many churches and I want to encourage you to really reflect back on your Easter and Christmas services from the past few years and think about common things you end up having to spend time and energy on. Do you regularly have to set up a temporary overflow venue? Do you tend to rent lights every holiday? Do you do a big set change? Look at those temporary things you seem to spend time on every time big services roll around and start looking at how you can minimize the impact of those tasks. Some possible ways you can engage your big services ahead of time are:

  • Run a permanent cable for your overflow venue so all you have to do is put a rental screen and projector up quickly.
  • Put in convenient power and DMX drops where you often need lights so you don’t have to run temporary wiring every time.
  • Develop a more user-friendly, faster way of rigging sets.
  • Install your Easter sets a few weeks early in order to have plenty of time for configuration and programming.
  • Save wireless frequencies of successfully used rental wireless so you don’t have to start frequency coordination from scratch next time.
  • Buy a few regularly rented items every year (projectors, wireless, lighting fixtures, etc.) so you don’t have to install the same rental gear ever time.
  • Start asking questions before the next big service way ahead of time.

We greatly appreciate all you do for your church, especially when it comes to big services like Easter. We know what it takes because, just like you, our people spend countless hours with our own churches trying to create impactful services for our own communities. This summer, let’s all commit to working smarter so this Christmas (you have 35 weeks) you can pull off big services and still have time to reflect on all Jesus did for you and your family and perhaps enjoy some of the day. Sometimes it’s as easy as running and leaving some cables in place for those regular rentals and for others it means maybe stocking up on some extra wireless systems or random accessories. Whatever it is, think about how you can engage these bigger services well in advance and make your life a little less chaotic as the big days approach. And, of course, our team would be honored to help your team get there with whatever you need.

Congratulations on a great Easter and many blessings to you and your family!

Changing Focus – Creating A Thriving Culture

17 01 2014

I have a confession to make. Over the last 15 years of being involved in ministry, I have often felt used. Whether I’ve been on staff or served as a volunteer, I’ve often gone through seasons where I’ve just felt used by the leaders above me. As someone who serves in ministry, I’m guessing you’ve been through this season at least once or twice as well. We show up before everyone else, diligently perform our tasks and then are one of the last to leave while rarely receiving a “thank you,” or a word of encouragement. In fact, for many artists, we get the opposite; someone letting us know that we really didn’t do our best work that day. You feel alone. You feel unappreciated. You feel used. After 15+ years involved in ministry, I still often feel this way after weekend services.

Well, I have a second confession to make. I’ve been the ministry leader that has been a user of people. Not intentionally, mind you, but I’m guilty nonetheless. And it wasn’t until I realized what I was doing and started changing my approach that the teams I led began to grow. My guess is my story might be similar to yours.

My first couple of years as the appointed Technical Director were spent running around the building accomplishing as much as I possibly could while bringing along anyone who was crazy enough to follow and help. It wasn’t a large group. My first three years there, I had one part time assistant and our team generally hovered around 12 people, sometimes gaining one or two and at other times losing a couple. With two services every Sunday morning, one every Sunday night and one Friday night service per month, there was way too much work for only 12 people. We were desperate for more help, and did everything we could think of to recruit people and plug holes that needed to be filled. So our faithful 12 kept plugging away, working hard and rarely getting a break.

In 2005, we began heading into a remodel of our Sanctuary. It was decided that technology would be a big focus to upgrade our look and feel. This is what we had been dreaming of for a few years, but it also meant stretching our team further as our services would go from needing 4 technical positions to 8-10 per service. We were headed into trouble and began really looking hard at what was holding us back. Unfortunately, in every scenario I ran, the common problem was me. I was spinning my wheels so fast trying to make sure everything got done that I was spending little to no time investing in our team. I was frantically plugging holes alongside our people as the lead tech, not leading and encouraging them as a tech leader. Our volunteers weren’t being fulfilled in serving, and frankly neither was I. If we were to be fulfilled as 12, let alone grow, we had to right the ship and do it quickly.

One of the biggest challenges we have in churches is that we create so much work to do and another weekend is six days or less away. Whether it’s intentional or not, we often create so many programs and/or perceived needs that our staff and volunteers often feel used from week to week. Think about it for a moment: Do you regularly have to plead or beg people to help out? Do the people on your team consistently show up late for call time or skip out on rehearsals? Do your people know more about the tools you use (guitar, sound board, computer) than the people serving next to them? If you really think about it, too many of us often fall into the trap of using people to accomplish tasks without paying much attention to their well-being.

Recently I was watching the show “Elementary” and the main character, Sherlock Holmes, said something that could sum up what I so passionately wanted every volunteer that served under me to say:

“I feel as if I’ve thrived here, not because of who I am but because of whom I’ve come to know.”

I desperately want to experience that reality in the community in which I serve. I can only imagine that’s the same experience those serving with me long for as well. We all want to be connected to people and committed to a great cause, and we were letting them down. Pre-2005, we weren’t helping people thrive as we served together. We simply showed up, got the job done and headed home until next week. There was no ownership, little connection to each other and no one was thriving inside our ministry.

Eight years ago this is where our team was. I’ll never forget the day a few of us sat in my office and made the decision that we were no longer going to be “that ministry.” We made the decision to clearly and intentionally value people more than what they accomplished or the technology they used.

It wasn’t until we shifted from asking people to do something to asking people to belong to something that our ministry began to grow. The best part of all is that as our teams began to connect to our cause and each other, they began to thrive and other people naturally became interested in coming alongside us. But this time, when people would express an interest in joining us, the first question from our leaders became “who do you know,” not “what do you think you can do.” As intentional as we had become in creating a connected culture, we made sure to give new recruits a leg up by trying to connect them to teams where they already knew people.

We long for connection, desire to be valued and want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We naturally want to thrive, both individually and as part of a team. If you can create that type of culture for your team, you’ll grow by leaps and bounds and, who knows? You may begin to thrive again yourself too.

Originally published in Worship Tools at

I Can’t Hear Anything

25 11 2013

Recently I had the opportunity to mix a concert with an incredible band, half of whom are on our worship team at church (including our Worship Pastor), the other half flew in for the weekend. The rented speaker system sounded great and the band was tight. It was an amazing experience for me until I went backstage after the show to connect with the leader only to hear, “Man that was hard, I just couldn’t hear anything from my stage monitors.”

Many sound techs have been in those shoes before, getting up early, pouring every ounce of Sunday morning energy into getting a great mix, only to hear the band was frustrated with their monitor mix. In my situation, we had 6 mixes on 6 wedges on a 24′ wide by 12′ deep stage, so it’s not that there wasn’t volume on stage. It just wasn’t good volume. It was hard for them to clearly hear the detail of what they were playing. I suspect a lot of the problem with hearing the mix at our concert is similar to what many churches experience: lousy monitors.

It’s said that the two most critical pieces to good sound are the first piece (the microphone or source) and the last piece (the speaker). At my church last year, we got 5 new wedges as our team wasn’t happy with their personal monitor system. You see, most of the people who used the personal monitor system would use $30-60 ear buds, so while the whole personal mixer system cost closer to $1,000 per person, it was being negated by cheap consumer ear-buds. So we did the next most logical thing you can do: we bought cheap wedges. While we did a nearly $100,000 sound system upgrade a year and a half ago for our 1,500 seat auditorium, we spent $200-250 per wedge for the musicians creating the music.

Now don’t go thinking I’m venting about my church, I was involved in the decision to purchase these monitors. We had a tight budget and we picked the best thing we could for the money we had. But it seems to me that there is a fundamental problem when we’re willing to spend thousands of dollars on each speaker for the audience, and only hundreds for the piece that allows our musicians to create art for that audience. It seems to me that speaker fidelity and quality should matter as much, if not more, for the creators than the consumers. If the artists can’t hear the detail of what they’re creating, why should we expect it to be any good.

Great race car drivers have cars that go fast and handle well. Great chefs have great ingredients, knives and cookware. In order for your musicians to produce great music, they need good instruments and the ability to hear what they’re doing clearly. If you constantly hear things like, “I can’t hear the monitors” or “the whole stage sounds muddy”, get up on stage and give it a listen. If what the musicians are listening to isn’t at least as good as what the audience hears, it’s time to get them the tools they need to do their job. Low cost monitors can have their place, but know you’re lowering the bar for your artists by using them. And if you’re using personal mixers or wireless in-ear monitors, please do not use any ear buds you can buy at Walmart or Best Buy.

Great artists are capable of producing great results with average tools. They have to work a lot harder to do so, but they can. The challenge most of our churches face is that most of our artists aren’t professional musicians and singers, so they need help raising their game to produce great results. If you’re ok with mediocre results, give average to good musicians good tools. If you want your musicians to produce great results, get them great tools, starting with the instruments they play and the monitors they use to hear