July 9, 2009

Lessons Learned from ID3 Tags

Posted in Technical Tatters, TMC, Work at 10:08 pm by Kirby

I regularly not only do sound for live events but spend a great deal of time and thought on managing a lot of The Master’s College’s digital audio/video assets. Along with my boss, this includes thinking through capture and acquisition, managing our computer systems, overseeing post-production on our audio messages and the authoring of a lot of our DVD’s, all the way to trying to implement backup strategies.

Recently we’ve been working on filling in the gaps and completing our archives of chapel messages on MP3’s and, even more challenging, standardizing the way the files are labeled and organized through the use of ID3 tags. I’ve been re-learning some lessons along the way.

1) Research and planning are key (and that means write it down).  It is very important to do research and planning and to write those notes down.  Research programs, prices, strategies. Find strengths, weaknesses, selling-points, and non-starters. For example: the first thing I should have was research what exactly ID3 tags are.  You ask, what are ID3 tags.  Well, they are attached to MP3’s and carry lots of helpful information including dates, titles, authors, etc. See here and here. Researching first is well worth it. For example: I spent a lot of time looking for fields to use because I didn’t understand the capabilities of the fields I already knew about. Also, I hadn’t written down the standards/conventions I was using for naming and grouping, etc.  So, after a weekend or a long vacation it took some time to review and get back to it.

2) Testing is key. And the more refined the testing the better.  The reason testing is key is simple: the research won’t tell you everything.  I should have found out the following by testing, but instead I had to learn the hard way by running forward and then having to re-do lots of work.  Did you know that: in iTunes only the “info” tab actually edits the ID3 Tag, the other tabs are only stored in the iTunes library. Also, I unexpectedly discovered that some programs (including a batch audio editor we use) will clear/delete ID3 Tag fields that they don’t recognize or deal with. So, some testing tips: test small parts of data first; test until you know both how to achieve the desired AND the undesirable results (then you will know what to avoid not just waht to do); test multiple products / methods even if you already have a favorite (you will often be surprised).

3) Knowing your goals is key.  Is speed the most important or accuracy or both? Is use-ability and interface the most important or the exact feature set and greatest flexibility. The research and testing needs to be leading to an evaluation of how goals can be achieved. You might be saying don’t the goals come first.  Well, yes and no.  Often I don’t know what the benefits and down-sides in a certain product category might be until I do some of the basic foot-work. Advertisements and comparisons can help drive goals in a more refined but also diverse direction.

4) The right tool is key. The research and testing  and goals need to lead to a conclusion on which tool (or combination of tools) will best achieve your goals. For example: I started using iTunes to edit the ID3 Tags for our MP3 library.  But after doing the work I should have (researching, testing, and refining goals) I have ended up using a combination of our audio editing program and an specific ID3 Tag editor.

5) Finally documentation is key, and possibly even after the project is finished. Write down the procedures you decided on, save manuals and product documentation and manuals, save presets, backup files. This will save time for those who follow in your stead.  And it is always good to think through the organizational continuity that will be needed when you leave your position for some reason.

Documentation might not just be for when you leave, but when you need to train others, because these lessons have lead to a successful, beneficial, and effective procedure.

June 7, 2009

Holiness by Grace, Part 4

Posted in Quotes at 3:20 pm by Kirby

Some quotes from chpt. 3, “Repentance That Sings”

If we fail to understand how we rely on God’s Grace alone to make us right with him, our Christian walk necessarily becomes a showy parade of pride…such pride and envy will also create an insatiable appetite for spiritual experiences that will prove we have met, or can gain, God’s approval.

True repentance must include awareness of the magnitude of our spiritual destitution; therefore real repentance must begin with the recognition of God’s incomparable and unachievable holiness…True repentance requires grief and remorse that cries out, ‘How could I have done such a thing? Please, God, take the guilt and presence of this evil from my life!’

The ‘great disproportion’ between our good works and God’s holiness never goes away in this life. Our works will never earn God’ affection, just as the will never merit his pardon.

The repentance that enables our progressive sanctification does not come without learning to loathe the evil in our wrongdoing. This loathing becomes the true attitude of our hearts as we meditate on the holiness of our God, the reality of our sin, and even the evil of our righteousness.

The understanding that we should desire repentance because it removes contaminants from our relationship with God and with others helps us distinguish false from true repentance.

While contrition is necessary, the degree and duration of our remorse is not what earns our pardon…Repentance is not so much a doing as a depending.

Repentance is not real if we have no intention of correcting our ways, but the correction is not a condition of our forgiveness.

[God] may be angry at our rebellion, but he is never angry at our return.

While we should not delay repentance until we have corrected our sin, we also should not think that God will accept repentance from a heart still in rebellion against him.

The evidence of complete repentance is not the stereotypical gritted teeth and grinding resolve, or even groaning and groveling. The reverberations of repentance sound more like singing…But when we have understood, trusted, and received the freeing grace of repentance, rejoicing fills our hearts. Without this joy that is our strength, the new obedience that should be the fruit of true repentance is impossible.


May 30, 2009

Holiness By Grace, Part 3

Posted in Quotes, Theological Tidbit at 5:55 pm by Kirby

In chapter 2 of Holiness By Grace,author Bryan Chapell explains how the bible teaches that we are united with Christ, we have died to sin and law and He lives in us. Our identity is no longer based upon our good deeds nor our sinful ones, our works of devoltion  nor our shameful actions; rather our identity is found in Christ and all that is His is ours.

Whether I believed that my efforts were working to my merit or to my demerit is irrelevant. All of what characterized me on the basis of my doing and my being is dead. The implications are astounding and not a little alarming. If all of my doing and being count as nothing, then i am as good as dead. And that’s just the point!

The dead status of our failings enable us to acknowledge wrong without fearing that we will destroy God’s love for us by doing so.

The life of Christ exists where my identity established by my efforts has been extinguished…It means that God relates to me with the love and status with which he relates to his own Son.

How does faith in my union with Christ promote godliness? The answer is that our union with Christ allows us to have two confidences that are empowering mechanisms for godliness in the Christian life: 1) confidence that our status does not change and, 2) confidence that our ability does change.

May 21, 2009

Holiness by Grace, part 2

Posted in Quotes, Theological Tidbit at 5:10 pm by Kirby

God’s heart is moved, not when we protest our innocence by pointing to our (inadequate) good works, nor when we promise that we will do better in the future. Though there is no reason for God to love us, yet he does. Until we recognize that there is no reason God will be moved to loves us other than the spiritual need we acknowledge, we have no good news to tell others or ourselves…Biblical faith is most evident not when we demand that God honor our flawed deeds, but when we trust that he will mercifully respond when we humbly and helplessly cry out, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!

Those who cry out in desperation have more hope of moving God’s heart than any who would trophy their own righteousness before him…

To experience God’s grace, I must readily confess my own hopeless condition..it is my desperation that inclines God’s heart toward my own.

Holiness By Grace, Bryan Chapell (pg. 27-28)

May 17, 2009

Stem Mixing (back to the really geeky stuff)

Posted in GCC, Technical Tatters at 4:34 pm by Kirby

So, I’ve been thinking about stem mixing recently.  In case you’re not familiar with the term here is a definition from Wikipedia:

Stem-mixing is a method of mixing audio material based on creating groups of audio tracks and processing them separately prior to combining them into a final master mix.

So essentially this has everything to do with how you route signal through the sound board to the outputs.  Currently I don’t use stem mixes much, for several reasons.

1) The console I use (a Crest V12) has twelve VCA groups which I use to control the signals of multiple inputs together or as a “group” (such as drums or strings). So I can control groups of signals but these groups don’t actually combine the signal and route it to a bus.  Instead, they merely control the output of each signal (p.s., this is the key difference between a group and a VCA-group, for more of VCA Groups click here).  Therefore the use of VCA’s can basically eliminate the use of traditional groups (or buses,or stems). And without stems, you won’t be doing any stem mixing.

2) Also the way our system is designed the main buses (L,C,R) feed the system processors that eventually get to the amps and then to the speakers and finally to the congregation.  For a system that employees stem mixing, the mains are normally run off of a Matrix Send (because this is often where the stems are combined).  So using groups (or stems) on the console and system I do would only serve to complicate the signal path and not have many practical advantages for the main mix (it does still have advantages for the distribution feeds).

3) The combination of #1 and #2 essentially mean a “cleaner” signal path.  That is why VCA groups have become so popular (that and making post-fader aux-sends way easier when using large number of inputs).  Because there are less summing-amps used the signal path remains as un-cluttered as possible when you simply go into the pre-amp, through the channel fader, and out the main bus (that’s very over-simplified, but it gets my point across). Some even might argue that slight phasing problems can dirty up your final signal when using buses (a problem that can be much worse on digital consoles because of processing time).

However, stem mixing has some great advantages too:

1) Groups can be processed together.  Because the group is actually combining signal, that group of signals can now be sent somewhere and processed.  So you can compress the entire drum set.  Although that isn’t recommendable, except maybe as an effect to add to the uncompressed version–I believe that’s referred to as the New York trick in recording.  Or all the choir microphones can be sent to a 31-band EQ to notch out the trouble frequencies causing feedback. This can be helpful if you are doing a more theatrical presentation using a few similar lav mics too.

2) Level disparities can be accounted for in distributed/aux mixes. Often in professional systems with lots of headroom for concert-level music, the signal on speaking voices (pastors, announcements) are relatively very soft.  This can cause problems for distributed feeds for the Internet or cry rooms or video recording if these are originating from the main mix only.  However, using stem mixing, a stem mix of the speaking voices can be sent at one level to the bus feeding the main house system, while feeding a stronger amount of that ‘speaking voices’ stem to the distributed audio bus.  This can be used much more effectively (and much better sounding) than a simple compressor across these outputs.

3) ‘Mix-minus’ mixes can be achieved with greater ease.  A mix-minus stem is essentially the entire mix minus one particular element (or stem). Although a mix-minus system is a more technical and needed way to mix for many broadcast applications, it can also have many advantages in the sound reinforcement world.  For example, if a pastor has to lead worship but can’t sing very well, the congregation might cover up his voice in the main sanctuary, but not in the nursery.  So if we are using stem mixes, the stem that the pastor is on can be removed from the bus going to the nursery for the just the songs, essentially creating a kind of mix-minus feed.

4) The same groups or stems used in the stem mix can be convenient for sending to monitor mixes, either traditional or especially for all the new personal monitors system that might have limited channels.  Sending stems instead of channels to the personal monitors can actually be key to simplifying the use of these personal monitors for band members.

Well, that’s a small run-down on Stem Mixing.  I hope that is helpful.

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