Great White LED: No Longer A Myth

7 07 2014

There is a running joke among many lighting folks that the annual LDI convention (www.ldishow.com) 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.

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Lighting 101: Demystifying DMX

2 04 2013

Next to upgrading a sound system, the most common topic I find myself discussing with churches these days is how to create a more inviting and engaging environment through lighting. We’re going to tackle this topic over the coming months, but before we dive too deep into fixtures and what to do with them, we need to back up a step and discuss one of the more misunderstood topics I come across: DMX. By now, most people involved in church tech have seen these three little letters and know they are the key to controlling your lights, but I find that this is often all that’s known about it. We’re going to change that today.

In the early years of lighting, proprietary communication protocols were pretty much the only way to talk to your dimmer racks from your lighting console. Everyone had their own language, which, as you can imagine, made it really hard to mix and match gear without an “interpreter”. While there were some interpreting pieces of gear out there, it wasn’t until 1986 when the Engineering Commission of United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) created Digital Multiplex, or DMX for short. Driven by the emergence of new “intelligent lights” and the desire to have different brands play nice with each other, we finally had a standard language for all lighting products to speak.

DMX communicates 512 channels of information to everything it is connected to. Every channel is communicating a simple value somewhere between 0 and 255 which we often convert to a percentage of 0-100%. We tell a fixture or dimmer rack what channels we want it to listen to by addressing the fixture/dimmer. For example, if you have a 4 channel dimmer pack addressed to channel 1, it will look for the values on channels 1-4 and provide power to the fixtures plugged in at the value you’ve sent it. An LED fixture in 4 channel mode (Red, Green, Blue, Intensity) addressed to channel 101 will look for data in channels 101-104. Depending on how the manufacturer sets up their firmware, it may see a value for Red in channel 101, Green in 102, Blue in 103 and overall intensity in 104. You tell any given fixture or dimmer which channels it should take its values from and it will, simple as that. DMX travels to fixtures or dimmers via DMX cable which has 120 ohm resistance (as opposed to mic cable which has 75 ohm resistance) and uses either 3 pin or 5 pin XLR connectors. DMX is digital data, so we use cable designed for digital data, not analog mic cables.

So if DMX is just a conduit of information, what generates those values for each of the 512 channels? Your lighting console handles that job, and sort of serves as a highly sophisticated universal remote. You know – those remotes where you select an input and then the remote changes the values for the functions that piece of gear has (like channel, volume, menu settings, etc.). A lighting controller works the same way except it simply says, “OK input 1, set your value to 255. Input 2, to 128. Input 3, to 0.” It does this for all 512 channels constantly, updating the values it sends as you tell it to. And if a fixture has multiple channels of information, it’s just like having more features available on the remote for that source.

One of the beautiful things about DMX is that you can hook up your fixtures in any order and, as long as they are all addressed properly, they’ll all get the values they are looking for. DMX is meant to be daisy-chained, though it’s recommended that you don’t daisy chain more than 30 fixtures together. If you have more than 30 fixtures or your fixtures are spread out so far that daisy-chaining them isn’t practical, you can buy an opti splitter to distribute DMX safely and completely to all of your fixtures. It’s also highly recommended that you terminate your DMX line with a DMX terminator. DMX moves information at a high speed so it’s critical to give it the best signal path possible free from interference and the possibility of getting bogged down. Too many fixtures on one chain, not having your line terminated and using microphone cable instead of DMX are all things that can cause interference in your communication, which can result in lights doing interesting things. Those fixtures then are still receiving communication, it’s just not always the right communication.

Hopefully that clears up any questions or confusion that revolves around DMX for you. It’s really as simple as being a conduit of 512 channels of information, and it’s a critical component to making your lighting systems work. Use it correctly, though, and you will have the power and control to do great things with your lighting.

In future issues of Worship Tools email newsletter, we’ll talk about how to set up a lighting system, types of controllers and talk all about new, low cost, LED lights that we’re using in churches around the country to transform their worship spaces.





Mix Sound Like A Pro Seven: The Mix Pyramid

22 08 2012

We’ve spent the past 6 Worship Tools Newsletters looking at the various knobs and functions of the typical audio console, trying to de-mystify what often looks like a scary piece of equipment. I know when many new volunteers see an audio console, they get intimidated. Let’s face it: we’re all intimidated by the unknown. Now that we’ve covered the functionality and elements of the average console, it’s time to transition our conversation into the actual mix itself.

How Do I Build a Mix

I’m often asked about how I build a mix. It seems like such a simple question, but it often has a more complicated answer, as the answer is “it depends”. It depends on what the band is trying to sound like. It depends on what the lead instrument is. It depends on what final sound the Worship Leader is trying to get. It does not depend on what kind of musical style I like. The answers to these “it depends” questions will come from your leadership (more on that in a future Worship Tools newsletter). The basic principle I use to create a good mix is explained below. Once you know what kind of sound to shoot for, you can apply this principle to build the sound your team is after.

Mix Pyramid

Think of your mix as a pyramid. When you come across a true wonder, especially something as big and tall as a pyramid, what’s the first thing you do? Look up! At the top of the pyramid are the parts you always see. It is the lead part of the pyramid, typically the first thing you see as you approach it from a distance. It’s also the narrowest part of the pyramid. As you go down the pyramid it gets bigger and bigger, but it also gets less and less defined. You start to lose the tight definition of the pyramid and see more of the entire shape as a whole. At the bottom of the pyramid you have critical components, essentially those things that hold the pyramid up and give it its base. You don’t always see the absolute base of the pyramid though, as it may be under the sand.

Applying the Theory

What does this have to do with sound? Well, in a worship mix I believe the top of the pyramid is always the lead vocal. It should always be the first thing you hear, just as the top of the pyramid is the first thing you see as you come near. Work your way down just a little bit and usually you’ll “see” the lead instrument, kick and snare. These need to be well defined in the mix as they carry the tempo and melody of the song.

Now we start getting into the mid section of the pyramid, where we start adding more size and maybe start losing just a little individual definition. The bass guitar, background vocals and the secondary lead instrument usually fit in this range. You’re still going to hear them individually, but when everything is grooving well you may not hear each as clearly defined as the stuff at the top.

As you approach the base of your mix pyramid, you get to a place where you can’t really hear each item all the time individually, but they make up the critical base that holds up the rest of the mix pyramid. Often, these are things like a keyboard pad, orchestration, a choir and 3rd and/or 4th guitars. These items are all just as critical as the top of the pyramid, but their size and depth provide more of a base and a big picture sound rather than individually recognizable instruments.

Keeping The Main Thing The Main Thing

Most every musician and singer wants to be heard. It makes sense and it’s not wrong. In the overall mix of a band though, certain instruments and singers will need to take priority in clarity. Some pieces will always need to be clearly heard while others will make up the critical base that holds it all up. After all, a pyramid that only has a top won’t be very big, and a pyramid with only a big bottom will have no point. It all needs to work together, each part filling it’s role and place in the pyramid in order to create a wonder of beauty.

Building the Mix

When sound check is done and it’s time to build my mix, I look at my mix pyramid for each song (yes, it may change per song) and begin building from the top down. For my church, it often looks like this:

Lead Vocal

Kick, Snare, Acoustic

Background Vocals, Electric, Bass

Toms, Cymbals, Saxophone, Piano, Violin, Keyboards

What did you notice about this list? Did you see how it even looks like a pyramid? And the more inputs you have, the bigger your pyramid gets. Ultimately though, if you want your pyramid to have shape and definition, and if your worship mix is to have a point, some items must be at the top. In the next Worship Tools newsletter, we’ll discuss how to determine your mix pyramid and who really is the architect of your pyramid.





Mix Sound Like a Pro, Part Four: Making EQ Work for You

28 06 2012

As originally posted in the Worship Tools Newsletter at www.ccisolutions.com.

Our journey to Mixing Like A Pro continues with this week’s fourth article Making EQ Work For You. In our last Worship Tools Newsletter we took a look at various EQ tools, identified their functions and what they can do for us. After all, we can’t use our tools effectively if we don’t know what they are or how to use them. We’ve covered what EQ does to shape frequencies in our sound system audio, but to know how to make EQ work for us we have to look at the actual sonic makeup of the sounds that come from the stage.

Putting EQ Into Words
Before we focus on what we’re EQ’ing, we need to learn how to interpret common language into tangible EQ adjustments. You know what I’m talking about, comments like “it’s too edgy” or “it sounds muddy”. What does that actually mean? Our chart image below (linked to a large version located at the bottom) gives us some hints using words like rumble, muddy and edge. With this helpful chart, we can take an educated guess that when someone says an input sounds “honky”, they’re referring to something in the 440-1,000 Hz range. It’s not an exact science I know, but getting a good feel for what responses are elicited by certain frequencies can help us in making EQ adjustments quickly. So next time someone tells you the electric guitar sounds “edgy” or “crunchy”, you can know you need to quickly look at the 2,000-4,000 Hz range to attack your problem.

Focusing in on Frequency Ranges
Everything we hear is made up of a range of frequencies. Each sound that hits our eardrums is made up of a collage of frequencies at a blend of sound pressure levels that our brain interprets as “the sound”. Just as each person’s voice has a unique makeup and signature, every instrument or vocals has a makeup of frequencies that is unique to it. In order to talk about how to EQ an input, we need to learn what frequencies are involved in the sound sources we’re working with.

The chart is a great place to start to begin to understand what frequencies make up the sounds we experience on a Sunday morning. It shows us the range of any given source and it shows us the frequencies we need to focus on – and not focus on. For example, the range of a guitar will typically start around 80 Hz and will top off around 5,000 Hz. Knowing there is nothing being produced below 80 Hz, the first thing we can do is turn on the low cut/high pass filter to eliminate any low frequency junk that our guitar isn’t actually producing. We also know that the guitar isn’t producing frequencies over 5,000 Hz, so turning up the highs above that just adds unhelpful noise. Based on this chart we know our focus needs to be between 80 and 5000 Hz.

Critical Sound – The Voice
Our most critical source in the church, the human voice also has clear-cut frequency ranges, regardless of whether your voices are singing or speaking. While everyone’s voice has minor variations, the male voice produces frequencies between 100 and 16,000 Hz. While the female voice also shares the top end of 16,000 Hz, it doesn’t typically produce any frequencies below 240 Hz. The first thing this should tell you is your low cut or high pass filter should almost always be engaged on these inputs. As you can see on our chart, the warmth or boominess of the voice is between 100-250 Hz, so most of the time there is nothing worth having below 100 Hz. The most important frequency range in the voice in my opinion, and the one I see most commonly mis-adjusted, is the intelligibility range in the high-mids (2kHz to 4kHz). When listening to vocals that are “honky” or “tinny”, I often see sound guys reach for the high-mids and adjust those down to try and improve the sound. As we can see from our chart, we’re actually attacking the intelligibility when lowering the high-mids, and missing the “honky/tinny” sound that’s in the 400-2,000 Hz range. It seems like such a small miss on paper, but this mistake will often cost the vocals their clarity in the mix.

What To Do With Q
If you’re fortunate enough to have a full parametric EQ with a Q knob, you have a tool that allows us to get very specific with our EQ adjustments or make general, sweeping changes. Most of the time we want to make fairly general adjustments and a single octave change is great, which is a Q value of 1. If you’re needing to subtract a bit of “honkiness” from your guitar though, a 2 dB cut centered at 700 Hz with a lower Q (maybe .7) will give you a broader, wider cut to effect everything in that 400-1,000 Hz range. Or if you’re fighting a particular frequency for feedback, you can make your Q very high (maybe 5 or 6) so that you are narrowly notching out the frequency that’s causing you issues, leaving the rest of the frequencies alone and keeping some semblance of natural sound. The Q, if you have it, really gives you a great deal more flexibility in the adjustments you make.

Feedback
Speaking of feedback, one last thing our chart can help us with is learning what individual frequencies sound like. We all have dealt with feedback at some point. A frequency that’s sensitive enough that when amplified the mic picks it up from a monitor or speaker again and again creating a feedback loop. When feedback occurs, one common way to attack it is adjusting the EQ to decrease the gain of that frequency. To be able to do that quickly and effectively, we need to know what individual frequencies sound like.

Frequency Killing
At the bottom of our chart is a standard 88-key piano that shows what frequency each note produces. When it comes to training your ears to be able to quickly respond to feedback, sitting at a piano or keyboard with this chart can help you learn exactly what frequencies sound like. Try it sometime: sit at a keyboard and focus on a typical problem range of 200-500 Hz and press one key over and over, training your brain to recognize the tone of each frequency. The middle C is a great place to start, with a frequency of 256 Hz. I find this to be a common problem for many churches. Then jump up to middle A, with a frequency of 440 Hz. Do this occasionally, spanning the entire frequency spectrum and you’ll be a frequency killer in no time!

Wrap Up
Hopefully, at this point you’re feeling more confident in what EQ is and what it can do for you. The difficult part of EQ is that there is no clear cut formula for what will and won’t work. I can’t tell you that you should always cut certain frequencies to get a great sounding input. Our vocals and instruments are living, breathing, unique things and they all have their own flavor. On top of that, every sound system and facility have their own nuances that come into play. When it comes to EQ, you have to trust what you’re hearing. Use the chart. Print one out and keep it at your sound console for reference. For our next Worship Tools newsletter, we’ll wrap up the EQ portion of Mixing Like A Pro with EQ Helpful Hints.





Lost In Easter

3 04 2012

There is a running joke that the hardest thing about creative work in the church is that services come around with alarming regularity. Week after week we’re working and striving to communicate the message of the gospel in a captivating, engaging way. Each Monday we start again, trying to connect and communicate with our audience in some fresh way. And then twice a year at Easter and Christmas we go all out to present the gospel to those folks, often of little to no faith, that come to church only these two times a year to celebrate the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus.

I love the rush of Easter planning as much as the next guy. It’s always a huge blessing to invest the time and effort into presenting the message of the resurrection in a big way to people who don’t often, if ever, get to hear it. I also love the sense of togetherness it brings to a team of volunteers. There is nothing that brings a team together like the long hours and intensity of productions – and for many churches Easter brings a production-like atmosphere.

And I believe Easter warrants the best effort our teams can give. It’s a much bigger deal than celebrating Christmas. Think about it, the birth of Jesus is only the beginning of the story. The best part comes on Easter since 3 days after being crucified, He was raised from the dead – guaranteeing life for those who trust in Him! We should be celebrating this and proclaiming it as loud and to as many people as possible.

The Gospel story has such huge impact on our personal lives. I often wonder if at Easter we as church servants lose sight of that in the midst of the busyness. Christ did not come so that preachers could preach great messages, so singers could sing cool songs and so production people could put together high-level productions. Jesus came to defeat sin and death for us. At the end of the day the part that really matters is what God did for you, for me and for the people of your community who still don’t know about Him.

At Christmas time so many people remind us to remember the “true meaning of Christmas” and encourage people to take time to celebrate with family, but when Easter approaches I find we rarely take the time to truly be thankful and celebrate what God has done.

This Easter, proclaim the message to the people of your community. Pull out all the stops to share God’s story with them on a day where they may be open to hearing about it, even if it is out of a sense of duty. Do big things for God! But as you plan and before the weekend is through, don’t forget to spend some time individually celebrating what God has done for you. Don’t forget to individually thank Jesus for giving his life for yours, for taking your punishment of sin. Proclaim His name loudly in your services on Easter, but be sure to praise His name privately before and after too.

Blessings to you and your church this Easter, I’m praying for God to do big things in and through you and your ministries! And if there is anything I can do to serve you and help you be successful, please don’t hesitate to let me know.





Hello world!

13 03 2010

I have considered starting a blog for some time now and over the past year I have had an increased desire to be able to help other technical artists be released in the call that God has for them and to help equip those who desire to pursue service in the Technical Arts.  I’ve not pursued this because at times I’ve thought that I haven’t had much to say or offer, or have not had the time, but recently I’ve been encouraged to help others as much as I possibly can.  My hope is to provoke some thoughts, simplify and teach some complicated concepts, and to share what I have learned in my journey.  I by no means claim to know or have experienced everything, but I hope to help others reach the potential God has placed in them as people and as technical artists as I continue to do the same in my journey.  I expect to learn much about God, being an artist, and about myself through these thoughts and writings, and I hope and pray that you will too.