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gravity and levity

Not just two words that end in vity.

The work that we do as technical artists in the local church, tends to fall in the category of intense.

Not only is there a level of intensity around doing live events, but there is something about doing something different every week, that makes a lot of the process more last minute than any of us would like.  Not surprisingly, this doesn’t make things less intense.  Flying by the seat of your pants is how most of us end up working.

4330199412_379288c805 So not only are live events intense, and not only are different live events each week intense, but doing them in the church, where it is easy to get wrapped up in eternal issues, is where the gravity comes into play.

When you talk about creating a distraction free environment, it is because we don’t want anything to get in the way of people hearing the message of Christ.  If someone isn’t able to hear because production is getting in the way, this weighs heavily on the technical artist in the local church.

I take my role very seriously, as we all should.

OK, so we’ve established that being a technical artist in the local church can be intense and be accompanied by loads of gravity.  So if things are going to be intense regardless, I’d like to enjoy the process along the way.  Levity.

I’m not saying that every meeting or each moment in the booth should be about cracking jokes, but I would say that there isn’t any reason to not have fun as we are serving the church together.

(Side note: I’m not talking about having fun at the expense of other people, which can be easy to do in the cynical world of the production booth.)

I have a theory that most people start serving in production because they like production-y things.  They keep serving because they love the people on their team.

Creating a levity on your team could look many different ways.  It could be a light atmosphere while serving together.  It could be picnics or field trips outside the normal serving time.

For those of you who know me, you know that I love to laugh.  I like to enjoy myself while working on a big project.  This in no way diminishes my commitment to our team’s missions statement:  “to create life changing moments through the fusion of the technical and performing arts.”  I am very serious about this lofty idea.

However, it does mean that I want to have fun while working really hard.  The goal isn’t to have fun.  The goal is to accomplish the mission, and having fun along the way is part of the journey.

Deal with the gravity of what we do by introducing levity into how your team functions.  If I don’t enjoy the process, I will eventually be crushed by the gravity.

What are some ways that you can stop taking yourself so seriously? 

Where can you introduce levity to your team’s experience? 

How can you balance out the gravity of what you do with the opportunity to enjoy yourself along the way?



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what is the perfect volume? part 2

In part one of this post, I talked about making sure you know what you are trying to do in your services and how volume fits into that.  This is a leadership question, more than a dB question.  As a church, what is your goal for the service?  How loud it gets will be a part of that answer.

5362778675_36102f9559_bIn this post we are going to take a look at a different aspect of the “perfect volume”:  the appropriate volume at the appropriate time.

In your service and in mine, there are moments that need to be loud, and there are moments that need to be quiet.  Here are a few examples from my current experience:

Beginning of the service

When people first walk in, we tend to want to grab them with a high energy song; something that people can really engage with.  The trick with this is high energy tends to mean high volume.  It is difficult to take people from the volume levels of lobby noise, right to 95dB without a clutch.  So, even though the band might be killing a high energy song on the stage, we try to ease into it, so that we don’t blow people’s heads off.  By the end of the first song, we are usually up to a volume that matches the energy of what’s happening on stage.

Quiet moment

Years ago, we hosted the band Delirious? at Willow Creek.  One of the things I really marveled at was how loud it was at times, but then how quiet is was at times.  They were really good at building a set with great dynamic range, having a quieter song at just the right moment.  It gave everyone’s ears a nice rest.

If you are mixing audio at your church, it is really important to let these quiet moments get quiet.  If the level of the kick drum is the same on a quieter song as on a upbeat song, you aren’t doing the moment justice.  In our auditorium, it is really difficult to make the space feel intimate, but by bringing the volume down for a quieter song, actually helps to draw people into the intimacy of the moment.

Many times the people on stage need help striping down arrangements to make them more simple for these types of songs.  As the person out in the room trying to create something small and intimate, you can assist the band by suggesting potential ways to make things simpler and less busy.

In the case of the quiet moment, just giving ourselves a maximum, not to exceed dB level, doesn’t really address the need for us to make quiet moments, as quiet as they need to be.

Loud moment

I was once asked to mix FOH at a Willow Conference in Germany.  This is a story in itself, but one thing I remembered is that the closing speaker had people whipped up into a frenzy, trying to get them as loud as possible.  Someone in the booth grabbed the Radio Shack dB meter we had brought from the states, and turned it on.  The crowd was at 103db, A weight, slow.

From there, the worship team was going to lead us in one last song.  This was one of the few times that I couldn’t get the PA loud enough.  We struggled to get the band and vocals heard above the volume of the audience.  When it was all said and done, I think we hit 110dB.

I would never say that we should be shooting for our loud moments in the service to be at 110dB, but the point is that for us to match the moment of what is happening in our service, sometimes we need it to get loud.

In this example, having a maximum ceiling on our dB levels, doesn’t take into account a situation that requires that it be louder.

Mixing is an art form.

The “perfect volume” is something that changes with each nuance of the music and the changes happening throughout the service.  To put all the responsibility for “how loud it is” on a dB meter is too simplistic and the wrong way to go about determining the audio levels in your services.


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the basics are beautiful

A clean stage.  No feedback.  Production team waiting for rehearsal to start, not running around.  Cameras pointed at the right thing at the right time.  Lights pointed to the right spot.  Graphics up at the moment we need them, gone the moment we don’t.

2890768129_8491539a94_zAh…the basics.

They are beautiful.

So often, in the world of church production, it is easy to loose sight of the basics; the fundamentals.  There is always some bright shiny object that is distracting us from nailing the basics.  Just like the wide receiver who is so concerned with running for the end zone after the catch, that he drops the ball; it is easy to take our eyes off of what really matters.  In an attempt to do something spectacular, we kill the moment.

This is the 5th post based on 37signals values.  The basics are beautiful:

We’ll never overlook what really matters: The basics. Great service, ease of use, honest pricing, and respect for our customer’s time, money, and trust.

I was having a conversation with someone today and I was thanking them for the way they drive their team on the basics.  He never lets the team forget the small things that matter.  He felt like he was always nagging his volunteers to do the little things right, but I told him that I could tell a difference when he let up on the importance of the foundational parts of production.

I notice the difference in two ways:

Holding your team to the basics makes them better. 

In this conversation I was having, I admired that any time I felt like headroom on a video shot was getting too close, he would switch to a different camera and remind the operator of the importance of headroom before coming back to them.  This gentle reminder helps the camera operator, and it creates a better experience for our congregation.

The new people need to know what the basics are.  They need to understand the fundamentals of how you do production at your local church.  For many volunteers, they are only serving every few weeks, and it is easy to forget what matters.  They need to be reminded.  As the one who is there every week, it can get tiring to tell people ALL THE TIME what matters.  I always feel like a 3rd grade teacher:

“OK class.  Who can tell me what headroom is?” 

It feels weird to remind people all time, but it makes them better.  It makes your team better.  It produces great results.

In my example, our video team is proud of the work they do.  A lot has to do with the talented volunteers.  It also has a ton to do with how they are led and that they are being constantly reminded of the basics of video.

Holding your team to the basics keeps the best performers coming back.

For the people on your team that are killers, the basics matter.  They are busting their butt to nail the basics and they expect everyone else on the team to care as much about foundational excellence as they do.  Often times, they can be disappointed because the leader won’t hold the rest of the team to the same standards.

This is a fast way to lose the commitment of your best volunteers.  If nobody else is being called to the higher standard, why should they hold themselves to it?  That can get demoralizing after awhile, and many people won’t stick around for you to wake up to the reality that holding everyone to the basics matters.

Before they leave, start expecting great things from your whole team.  Start reminding them often of the basics and why they matter.

By paying attention to the basics and holding everyone to the standard, you make your whole team better, which then serves your church the best.


For an example of how holding your team to a high standard can pay off, watch this clip of our volunteer crew in action.

Delirious? – Live at Willow Creek

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clarity is king

We’re back to it.  That darn is just cranking out the value hits.  “Clarity is king” is up next:

Buzzwords, lingo, and sensationalized sales-and-marketing-speak have no place at 37signals. We communicate clearly and honestly.

6586348115_044d77f14aI love this.  I also have a really hard time with clarity.  I want clarity from the people I work with, and I am horrible at providing clarity.

This past week, we were working on some pretty big projects.  I felt like it was really clear about what he expectations were and what we were hoping to accomplish and in what order.  I even wrote an email letting everyone know what to plan for.

Well, things went amazingly well.  We got tons accomplished.  Unfortunately, there were some misunderstandings which caused some funkiness among the team and with me as the leader.  In the moment, I was pretty frustrated, but instead of going right to the people involved, I started analyzing what my part might have been in the way I was feeling.

You guessed it, bad communication, unclear expectations, basically lack of clarity.

After having some follow up conversations to talk about expectations, and owning up to me not being very clear, here’s what I learned:

No one ever dies from over communication

I make the assumption every day that people are thinking the same thing as me.  They probably aren’t.

My aversion to being redundant or stating the obvious will never outweigh the benefits of the clarity that results from being redundant or stating the obvious.

The clarity that you want from your boss is the same kind of clarity your people want from their boss…you.

Being clear helps to ensure great process, which is a cornerstone of a great production.


As members of a team, we all want clarity.  As  a leader of a team, it is your job to provide clarity.

I can hear my pastor say “Now, just to be clear…who’s job is it to bring clarity?”



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great service is everything

I’m still living in the values for doing business expressed by the company 37signals.  They are just that good.  Here is value #2:

We’re famous for fast and friendly customer service. We work hard to make sure we live up to that reputation every day.

4630159950_025b358114_zNow, I have never done any business with 37signals to verify whether they are known for fast and friendly service, but let’s say they are actually fast and friendly.  The fact they they work hard every day to live up to that reputation, probably means they are nailing it.

Production in the local church, is a service of sorts.  If you talk to me long enough, or read my previous blog posts, you know that I think production can be and should be more than just that, but at its foundation, we are supporting the ideas and needs of others.

And while we are supporting the needs and ideas of others, are we fast and friendly?

I was talking to an old friend the other day about being treated rudely by someone in a customer service role.  Unfortunately, the person was responding to my friend after many other potentially frustrating challenges.  The challenge of customer services is to be able to treat each new person with respect and helpfulness; they need to be reacting as if yours is the only problem they need to solve.  Typically they respond like they have had frustration built up over a day’s worth of idiotic complaints or ridiculously simple solutions.

This reminds me of me, at an earlier age; holding onto each negative interaction, or each last minute request until I explode on some unsuspecting requestor.  Instead of reminding myself each day, that I needed to respond with fast and friendly service, I lived up to the opposite:  slow and hostile.

Unfortunately, most tech people are known for this kind of service:  never exactly what you need and with an attitude.  It’s not that we work hard at this every day, it is just what happens when we aren’t intentional about how to respond.  When we can spend all our time putting out fires, it can be easy to lose sight of how we put those fires out; or even which fires are more important than others.

Is your team known for responding positively and with action to each new request? 

How can you work hard every day to be the kind of production ministry you want to be known for and your church needs?

useful is forever

I enjoy the magazine Fast Company.  They do a great job of highlighting innovations in all different kinds of industries, and I usually find something useful to my own situation.

ad-categorylanding2Earlier this month, there was an article about the CEO of 37Signals that drew me in.  As it turned out, the interview was good, but what was even better was that it led me to 37signals website.  I didn’t know it, but I was familiar with the company, as the one who make the program “Base Camp”, among other useful collaborative online tools.

The most intriguing part of their website to me, was their list of 8 defining values.  They were all to the point, and I felt like they could apply to the things that I am a part of at my church in the technical arts.  The first value looks like this:

Useful is forever – Bells and whistles wear off, but usefulness never does.  We build useful software that does just what you need and nothing you don’t.

With technology changing so fast, and with tons of new and exciting possibilities for how to do production, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that at the baseline, the gear we buy and the support we offer to our churches has to be useful.  It must be just what our church needs and nothing it doesn’t need.

New moving lights, a switcher with more capacity, an audio console with more buttons, everything chasing timecode, using Pro Tools for live tracks, wireless everything.  None of these things are right or wrong, but they tend to pull us off of what is truly useful.

At Willow Creek, there is a high value placed on innovation and trying new things and as a result, it can be very tempting to abandon useful in the quest for being cutting edge.  Heck, not even temping, we end up letting go of useful simply because we forget about it.

Useful is boring and hopefully something that we do without thinking.  And if it can be done without thinking, it is easy to forget. 

Don’t let go of something useful for the sake of what is, at the end of the day, a bell or a whistle.

staying christ-like in christmas

Most of us are in full tilt mode about Christmas.  Either you started set construction weeks ago or you are just loading in rental lighting for your living Christmas tree program.  Regardless of the size of your Christmas service, it’s crunch time in the world of church technical arts.

318697278_045f093c4c_zLate nights, last minute changes, sleep depravation.  And all the while normal life is still happening:  my kid’s Christmas concerts, weekend services, budget planning.  Can you feel the tension building?

From a technical standpoint, it is fairly simple to start blaming the people who are coming up with the creative ideas, that they don’t understand what they are asking or that they don’t care about what you need.  It is equally simple for content creators to feel like technical artists aren’t willing to work hard enough on their ideas.

Here are a couple things to cling to as we enter into the home stretch of Christmas:

We are all focused on the same goal

We all want to create a service that draws people closer to Christ, that helps people connect with God in a new way, that creates an environment where attendees can hear and experience God’s word.  If we all didn’t want this, we’d figure out something to spend our time doing.  That said, we tend to come at this goal from very different angles.  This is good and necessary.

How can I see that new request or late change in light of this truth?  How does it change my response?

Extend grace

Because the content creators and the technical artists are focused on the same goal from very different perspectives, there is a high likelihood that we don’t really understand what the other side is dealing with.  How many late nights has the script writer put in?  How many more times will I have to re-render this clip?  Is there enough time to finish off the set before the first service?

When the heat is on, it is easy to only focus on my urgent issues and disregard what others are dealing with.  Whatever role you play, for it all to work, you have to care deeply about your own concerns.  However, this shouldn’t exclude having empathy and grace for those around you.

How can I fight for what I need and at the same time extend love and grace to the team members around me?

I was having a conversation with a fellow technical artist last night and we were wondering where the line is between fighting for what you need  and giving someone more time to work something out.  Are we making the service better or are we just being stupid?

Until an event is over, I don’t think you can know if you’ve crossed the line into stupid. 

In the meantime, I’m going to try and remember that we all focused on the same goal from different perspectives and that I need to extend grace whenever I can.


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excellence = the worst parking spot

Excellence is such an interesting word.  In my last post, I talked about being the best versus being your best.  I also talked about “secular” excellence being self focused, while “sacred”  is other focused.  I have been thinking about being other focused, and I think there is a few more points to be made here.

2898492137_f290d8ee41_zI was talking to Kristin Twilla, the production director at Kensington Community Church and a life long friend, about a tradition we used to have at Kensington, which was to park as far away from the building as possible, opening up parking spaces for visitors, or single mothers.  At a certain point, it even got the place where we were parking at the doctor’s office across the street, in order to free up more spaces.  In our conversation, she told me that they still do it.  I am amazed, and proud to have been a part of something filled with that much vision.

This is a different kind of excellence.  One that is fully focused on those we are doing this thing for.  Many of us look for the closest parking spot, simply because we are the first ones there and can easily justify deserving it.

Don’t get me wrong, just because you park the furthest away doesn’t make you an amazing technical artist.  It does make you a person who is exercising the fruits of the spirit, and in my opinion is  the type of thing that is fundamental to becoming a more fully formed Christ-follower.  I believe that who we are determines how we go about the task of production.  How I define excellence starts with my point of view and how I conduct myself each day.

In some ways, practicing “secular” production is easy.  Do the best, move on to the next production.  “Sacred” adds a more difficult layer to the equation.  Not only do you have to be really good at what you do, you have to be humble while you are at it.  You have to be looking out for the interests of others.  You have to put other’s needs above your own.  You have to concern yourself with the whole and not just your area.  You have to become like a servant.

As Christ followers and technical artists in the local church, let’s rise above just being the best at production and let’s do all that while we serve others.

secular v. sacred: excellence

In my last post, I started the conversation about the difference between secular and sacred production, and that in my opinion it really boils down to the intent of the person doing the production.  The WHAT of the production might have content that could potentially be defined as sacred or secular, but the HOW of production is what we are talking about.

In this post we’ll take a look at another aspect of the differences:  Excellence.

Whether it’s using excellent equipment or having a flawless production, any great technical artists cares very deeply about excellence and fights for it at every opportunity.  It is a key component to what makes each of us tick.  The motivation for why excellence matters so much is where things get differentiated.

There is no “I” in excellence.

I have worked with some people in the past that treat the work they do for a “sacred” event  no different than the work they do for a “secular” event.  On the surface, this seems like it could be a problem, but if we dig a little, I think that this is exactly the way that Christ would have us be technical artists no matter our environment.

When you are looking at being a technical artist as a job, excellence matters because it is how you are judged.  It is what determines whether you get hired again.  How well you do your job defines who you are.  With that, the type of equipment that you speck in some ways determines how excellently you can do your job.  How you go after excellence reflects on you as a person…your reputation.

If I were to be bold, I would say that this type of drive for excellence is very selfish.  It is focused the job you are doing and the equipment that you use or don’t use is then a reflection on you.  If you don’t have the equipment you need, it is then impossible to guarantee that I can’t perform my job with excellence.

On the surface, this is a great place to start:  a great work ethic.  However, I think there needs to be more to it.

Other-focused excellence

Excellence in the sacred sense, is more of a communal experience, which I know sounds a little bizarre, maybe even new age-y.  What I mean, is that our motivation for excellence is other focused.  Excellence exists to support the content that is happening on the stage.  The push for technical excellence is based on creating a potentially life changing moment for the people on the receiving end of what we are doing.  “Sacred” excellence takes into account the people around us and how we work together to create these moments.

For me, “sacred” excellence comes down to the real focus of my efforts:  Christ.  In the book of Malachi, God calls the Israelites to offer only the very best, because that is what He demands.  In the New Testament, God follows through on this idea of giving your best, by giving us His best:  His Son.  As a Christ follower, I owe it to Him to give my very best at all times.

This goes way beyond the task at hand, but how I go about living life.  How I treat people.  Why I stay late to finish off a task.  Why I go home early to be with my family.  Why I push to spend lots of money on the right equipment.  Why I let go of the perfect equipment for the sake of the rest of the program.

It has way less to do with the type of event I am working and the way that I work on any type of event.

Excellence matters.  What motivates your strive for excellence?  To be the best or to being your best?

secular v. sacred production

I have a really difficult time with the idea of something being sacred or secular.  Whether it is a painting, or a piece of music, or a story, it feels very shallow to think of something be either all sacred or all secular.  For me personally, what defines something as either sacred or secular is the intent of the person who is behind the creation of the thing.

I had a conversation with an old friend, who I also have the privilege of doing some pretty huge productions with from time to time.  He brought up an topic that we have talked about many times before, the difference between doing a big production because it is your job and doing a big production because the production itself is worth pouring yourself into it.

There are maybe two sides to what defines sacred versus secular production:  HOW you do production and WHAT you are doing production for.  The WHAT is the easy one.  Some events are for a pharmaceutical drug launch and some events are for more spiritual and eternal purposes.   To define one as divine production and one as secular tech isn’t right, especially if it has anything to do with the intent of the artist.  That leads us to the HOW of production which I believe really determines the character of production.

I’ll take the next few posts to explore various aspects of what I have been thinking about the HOW that separates a secular and a sacred view of production.  Today’s post is about the foundation, our world view.

it is all about me or it isn’t about me

This speaks to something that is true regardless of if I am a production person or not.  How do I view the world and my place in it.  Am I living in such a way that I am only looking out for my own interests, or am I living for something larger than that?  Am I serving others or am I only concerned about my own issues.

In Luke 6, Jesus lays it out for us:

30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.

This command from Jesus doesn’t specify a specific group, though if it were up to me, I want it to apply to everyone else.  “Do to others as you would have them do to you” does not sound like your typical production experience, in the church or otherwise.  Many tech people I know have been so beaten down over the years, that it seems like the only way to survive is to look out for my own interests. 

Where this comes into play as a technical artist is how I conduct myself in every situation.  How am I treating people as I go?  Am I loving only those who love me back?  Am I doing to others what I want done to me?  The WHAT of the production is secondary to this basic idea of, am I loving people? 

Whether I am working at a corporate event or a worship service, this must be the foundation of how I conduct myself as a technical artist.

Am I characterized by treating others the way I want to be treated?  Do I show love to  everyone or just the people who love me back?  If I were to ask those around you, would they describe you in terms of Luke 6:30-32?


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