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PODCAST 243-1: Grace Polaris Church Gets Video Streaming Just in Time for Pandemic Pt 1

Complete AV renovation by InteRise allows church to continue services online

Philip Hagood, General Manager at InteRise and Brent Dye, audio engineer at Grace Polaris Church, detail the extensive video, sound and lighting upgrade finished at the church just before the global shutdown. The new AVL systems give the church video streaming capability and allow Grace Polaris to continue streaming services while the congregation joins online.


Grace Polaris Church in Columbus, Ohio

InteRise – the AV installation arm of Morris Light and Sound in Nashville

Avid S6L-32D FOH mixer at Grace Polaris Church

Nexo STM main house speakers

Images by Grace Polaris Church

In Columbus, Ohio Grace Polaris Church had outgrown their worship space and were setting up an all new facility. The original plan did not center on streaming video but it was added and that capability is now getting the congregation through a very tough time. Phil Hagood, General Manager at InteRise and Brent Dye at Grace Polaris Church are here to give us the story on how they’re doing it, on the SVC Podcast.

Philip and Brent, thanks to both of you for joining us today. Philip coming to us from Nashville, Tennessee at InteRise.

Philip: Yes, sir.

And Brent is joining us from the Columbus, Ohio area at Grace Polaris Church.

Brent: That’s correct.

Alright, good to have you both on with us. We’re talking about a major renovation, a new worship space for Grace Polaris Church but something very fortunate happened that wasn’t fully intended in the beginning. So before we dig into the details there, Phil tell us about InteRise and Morris Light and Sound.

Philip: Yes. So InteRise is a new brand name for Morris Integration that’s been around for the last several years. Morris Light and Sound as a company has been around for about 25 years, but here in the last about decade we’ve taken a new approach in how we do business. And part of that is the Morris Integration brand that grew out of that which is fixed installs for AVL systems. We focus primarily on the house of worship market and what we found is as both the brands, the rental side of the company that does live events and the install side of the company grew it made some sense to create some differentiation there in the name. So we’ve rebranded, as of the first of this year, as InteRise, so we’re excited about kind of the new opportunities that that gives us in our business but we still continue to be the same team, the same core group and continue to have a specific and really exciting focus on the house of worship market both in renovations and in new construction for AV systems. [Timestamp: 2:05]

FOH audio console at Grace Polaris Church
The FOH mixer position at Grace Polaris Church

You’ve certainly done a good job of getting the new name out there. I’ve seen it everywhere online so no chance anybody is missing that.

Philip: Good.

Yeah, it’s really great that you’ve been about to get the word out in such a short time. Very big project at Grace Polaris Church and along the way there was an opportunity to put more resources into video streaming that’s coming in very handy in the unforeseen situation we now have. Brent, you’re right in the middle of this, being the audio guy there so what sort of worship style to they have at Grace Polaris Church?

Brent: The worship style is very eclectic. We come from a long history of traditional music as well as contemporary Christian music. And we have two services and the biggest difference is just in the styles of music for those two services; the first service being more traditional, so we’ve got the full choir, orchestra. We do a lot of hymns, big orchestral numbers. And then in the second service it’s a big more contemporary; a worship band, worship singers. Sometimes we will have the orchestra back us up a little bit on some of those worship songs. Sometimes we just have the worship band and we may bring in a few members of the brass section just to kind of spice things up and make it fun for everybody. We’re really trying to involve as many people as possible in the worship process and we’ve got such a pool of talented people from which to draw it’s really been a blessing. We’ve been in need of a worship center renovation for a long time. The building was originally built in 1983 and we still had a lot of the same components in place before this renovation. And we contacted Morris because we knew that we needed something more than what just the local tech group could do for us. And we talked to them, they understood exactly what we needed and came up with several different options for us that would meet our budget and have the desired outcome for all of the equipment, sound, video and lighting. And that’s how things got started. I think we started that process a little over two years ago in the planning stages and things are finally all in place. [Timestamp: 4:34]

Grace Polaris Church control room
The video control room is an especially challenging place to practice social distancing

Nobody could have foreseen a global pandemic with churches and other places just having to shut their doors to live attendance. The worship experience is a very social thing with a lot of physical interaction. While installing live streaming capability wasn’t the main objective, it seems now to have been a very fortunate addition.

Brent: Yes. Yes, it definitely is. It’s been a real Godsend. Before we really didn’t have proper facilities and equipment to do a quality livestream. We were still analog-based. A lot of the cameras were still 4 x 3. And so having all new equipment has been a real game-changer for us to be able to do this. And what we’re doing at the moment, it’s not actually a livestream. We are actually recording on Thursday evenings and then do necessarily editing and post it to the web site. And then at 9:00 a.m. on Sunday it’s ready to go. [Timestamp: 5:34]

That’s a very smart thing to do because you can clean up in editing any problems with the mix or the cameras or any other technical glitches. Phil, when InteRise first came into this what was your plan for the online video part of it and how did you manage to get more resources into that part of it before it became what’s right now so essential?

Philip: Yeah, it’s an interesting question for this project and honestly many of the projects that we do in the house of worship market because it’s always that balance between the kind of online cloud audience and the in-person audience when it comes to a worship experience. So having that engagement and having that personal connection with each other is a huge part of the corporate worship and the corporate church environment that makes it so powerful and so important to day-to-day faith and Christianity. So in the case of Grace Polaris they’re not a church that has 1, 2, 3, 4, 15, 30 other satellite campuses like some of the more modern churches that we see nowadays. But they want to focus on a really quality product inside the room and part of that is making sure video, IMAG, those kind of things, are done in a way that’s clear and in the most important thing, in a way that’s not distracting. In a way that’s engaging. Because when you talk about a larger space, having that connection to somebody’s face and eyes in an expanded, magnified image is so important. So that was the focus to start out with. But through budget revisions and going through the typical process inside of a large renovation or construction project, video – we make sure and maintain the infrastructure and the bones but we cut back to a very small number of cameras. We cut back to some limited functionality. Well as we got into the latter stages of the project we were able to find some cost savings inside the AV system, specifically the PA system, which I believe we’ll get to here in a little bit. But also the construction project as a whole was able to find some savings and so the church pushed resources back into upgraded cameras and really making sure to utilize more of that video infrastructure that was going in. And now that’s allowed us to be where we are now, where once churches are meeting back in person they’ll have a fantastic product in the space. But in the meantime they have everything that’s needed to really push out a great product on the weekend so the people can sit in their living room and connect because we’re all so used to watching Netflix or HD cable or whatever it is that’s high quality content. So when we put church or whatever else, even just our day-to-day working lives, meetings and things like that, into that kind of same home setting, the expectation a lot of times can be really high from the content that we typically ingest as people in modern society. So this allows them to push up that quality level where if they hadn’t done this upgrade it would have been really challenging to have good, clear communication via technology. [Timestamp: 8:33]

That was a very lucky thing and there are so many small churches out there right now that were never set up for online streaming and are really struggling to stay connected with their congregation. When they do eventually get back into the church they’re going to hear all of those familiar acoustics. Brent, at Grace Polaris how does the place actually sound? What’s the general sound system design there?

Brent: In a word the acoustics are great. It’s so much different than what we’ve been used to. We used to have a lot of slap echo and things coming back to the performers on the stage that were delayed by oh, probably a good second and a half. And with all of the room treatments now it’s great. You can go anywhere in the room and you don’t have the flutter echoes in the corners that we used to have. It’s a quiet-sounding room, but it’s very well-balanced and it just has a very nice feel to it. I told somebody that when we first fired up the PA it felt like I was sitting in a large studio listening to very large studio monitors. And it’s really translated very well in the mixes that we’ve been getting out of there. We haven’t had a chance to get a full choir and orchestra up there so I can’t really compare with what we had before because there was an awful lot of acoustic energy coming from the stage. But right now the stuff that we’re getting and the things that I’ve been able to record just as a reference mix has been excellent. And we do have the ProTools rig hooked up to it so we can multitrack everything that comes into the console and then play that back to do virtual sound checks. [Timestamp: 10:23]

Camera operator lines up a streaming shot in empty sanctuary
The camera operators work in a strangely empty environment for now

That’s great to be able to do that just as if it’s live without the performers having to be there for multiple takes. I notice you have an Avid S6L-32D console. Why was that particular one chosen?

Brent: Well, back in 2006 we installed what was then DigiDesign Venue D-Show. And we’ve been using that for many, many years and just really have grown to love that console. And all of our volunteers, at least the ones that are still here, were trained on that and were very comfortable with it. And I was interested in maintaining that familiarity with the software so we looked into the S6L and they’ve taken that whole Venue system to the next level and it is just a very nice console. Very powerful, great-sounding mic pre’s, excellent converters and it’s very user-friendly. You can walk up to it and in very short time you can be comfortable to do just about anything on that board that you need to do. There’s nothing that’s any more than two clicks away. [Timestamp: 11:33]

And how does the Ableton Live software work? How do you use that?

Brent: Well, the worship band has been using that for a number of years just giving them a click and cues in their ears. But they would send a loop to the PA so that we could just sort of supplement what they were doing. We’re actually going to expand that a little bit and use orchestration stems with our orchestra. So if we wanted to add a little bit more to the string section we can do that. If we wanted to supplement some extra guitars or some extra percussion instruments we’ll be able to do that via Ableton. Everything is run via Dante and we have Dante virtual sound card loaded on the computer that is running Ableton. And therefore we can just select what tracks we want to send and they will send it to the console and we’re good to go. [Timestamp: 12:34]

OK and you have separate mixes, I assume, for the streaming and for the local house mix?

It’s somewhat separate but somewhat the same. What we’ve done is taken the stem mixes off of the subgroups of the FOH console. So we’ll have a group output for strings, brass, woodwinds, drums, bass, etc. And someone will be back in the video room on the broadcast console and they’ll kind of rebalance what we’re sending them from FOH to help better fit the audio that’s required for the video. As you probably know when working in the room with a lot of live instruments you may not necessarily need to push the brass that hard in the room to get it to balance with everything else. But in the video world where they’re getting no acoustic energy from the room, it’s strictly whatever is coming in through the mix, they may need to boost the brass in order to make it fit in with everything else. So that’s kind of what we’ve done and so far it’s worked out very well. [Timestamp: 13:43]

I’m sure it has and it’s going to be interesting when everybody gets back in there. Phil, on the installation end of this, what changes have you had to make to be sure that you can work as safely as possible during this pretty weird time?

Philip: Right. It’s a good question right now. It’s been challenging and tricky, as I would say it’s – that could probably be said for every person in every business across the world right now. But we’ve actually had our entire team grounded for about the last six weeks just in an abundance of caution to make sure that we’re prudent and not making too quick or too slow a decision. But when it comes to our team and their interaction with our clients that is the number one focus of my role and responsibility inside of our team and the number one focus of our team leadership. So we’ve tried to make sure that we took adequate time to figure out the landscape of the changing world around us. So just this week some of the install crews have headed back out to continue moving forward on some of these projects, moving to some new projects around the country that are video-focused for this time. But we’ve developed a protocol in line with what the CDC has put together to make sure that workers are protected or adequately monitoring and we’re giving everybody the opportunity and the equipment to make sure that they’re safe. And if something does come up in the way of illness, whether it’s just a cold, the flu, or anything more serious, we’re allowing for a lot of flexibility and make sure that we can get people where they need to be. We can make sure people are treated if they are sick, but prevention being our number one goal right now. But yeah, making sure people have masks and hand sanitizer and they keep their workspace clean. So it’s definitely been tricky, though, to kind of balance all that and make sure that with guys like the team at Grace Polaris we can still serve the people that we need to serve while still being safe and wise. [Timestamp: 15:35]

And Brent, I know you’re taking precautions on the production end as well.

Brent: Yes. There’s been a whole lot of Clorox wipes and Purell hand sanitizer being used. In the production booth for video I think the guys are stationed in separate corners of the room and they’re working with a skeleton crew so they’re trying to use as few people as possible to get the job done. Back at FOH it’s not so bad. It’s a rather large booth and it’s only me and the lighting person in the booth and we’re a good 10 feet apart. So not a problem there. Musicians on stage are staying roughly six to eight feet apart and so far it’s been working very well. [Timestamp: 16:22]

Well, I hope that continues and I think that on the production and the installation end of things you’re probably going to just have to get a little creative and stay nimble since it’s a rapidly changing situation. Best of luck to both of you and in Part 2 we’ll get into more of the video side of this with the switcher and the cameras. We’ve been talking with Phil Hagood, General Manager at InteRise in Nashville and Brent Dye, audio engineer at Grace Polaris Church in Columbus, Ohio. Thanks for being here and we’ll see you guys in Part 2.

Brent: Thanks for having us, Bennett.

Philip: Yeah. Thank you.

Grace Polaris Church has the video streaming ability to get their congregation through the pandemic and when everybody is back in the church, they’re ready to pick right up where they left off. In Part 2 Phil and Brent will tell us about the cameras, switchers and video recording. Be here for that on the SVC Podcast.

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