Saturday, July 25, 2009

Linkfest for Worship Projectionists

I’m going a bit off my usual topics here, but I know a few readers I interact with may find this useful.

Unbeknownst to some, back in March I began assisting our church projectionists (two in count before I volunteered as well) with running the video-desk during our church’s worship services.

After about a month’s time getting used to the software they were using, the process of combining all the elements (songs from the music minister, sermon outline, announcements) into the program, doing the trial-runs during practice sessions, and slowly getting my courage up to “go live” I’ve overachieved again and gone from a newbie to seriously punching up the quality of the presenation materials and getting things “pre-loaded” whenever possible for the other rotating projectionists.

If this is completely seeming like a foreign-topic to you let me explain.  Many churches…particularly Protestant…are now starting to use specialized software, coupled with one or more video-projector devices, to display song chorus lyrics, sermon outlines, video-clips, and/or PowerPoint presentations to the congregations.  In the past there may have only been a “sound-desk” team to run the sound/microphones but now with many worship services becoming more “contemporary” audio/visual media is taking a larger role in the worship service.  Maybe it’s a generational thing.  So typically, the folks who tackle the visual aspect are referred to as the projectionist team.

OK.

At the very basic level, many small churches (and some large ones) may be using PowerPoint to fulfill this need.  Certainly a presentation built with slides to cover all the songs and maybe the pastor’s sermon will certainly suffice.  It is quick and easy to get going and many folks are already familiar with the software from home or work usage.

But if you want to kick-it-up a notch and really add power and flexibility, there are some great commercial and freeware software applications that will do wonders.

The Commercial Players

When I came on, the church had been using the commercial product SongShow Plus.  As this was my introduction into this class of software I had no previous background to compare it against. Our version of Song Show Plus was not the most current release.  We could download into our local database CCLI songs legally under subscription, build slide-shows internal to the application, and use DVD/video-file media.  I learned it pretty fast. My major complaint was that the slide building interface was horribly clunky and awkward to use.  It seem just a few degrees off on doing things from the standard Windows (Office) way of working things.  The one redeeming factor was that I could custom organize song elements so I could go right-down the order without modifying the original song format in the database.

Our music minister had previously used another commercial product called EasyWorship.  We installed it on our system and trialed it for a bit.  The interface was much simpler, CCLI importation was supported, but the major winning factor for me was that it was able to heavily support PowerPoint presentations for our announcements and sermon slides.  While I may have felt like a fish in a tank with SongShow Plus, I was in the deep blue sea with PowerPoint.  In no time at all I was back in my element creating quite advanced and beautify (humbly said) presentations.  The only drawback was that although songs in the database could be edited, they couldn’t be “scheduled” as easily like SongShow Plus. Sure there are tricks that we can do, but there is more clicking back and forth between verses and the chorus.  It took a bit of adjustment, but as I was the “new-guy” I had no trouble jumping programs.  A month later the church purchased a license and we haven’t looked back.  It also supports DVD sources for media presentations, various digital media files, as well as audio tracks.  It is simple to learn, simple in interface, and powerful in presentations.  A bonus benefit is that the license allows legal installation on the home systems of the projectionists so we can keep a full copy on our home systems as well to practice or build worship schedules and bring with us.  This allows more flexibility and is a nice touch.

Now comes word of EasyWorship 2009 in their company blog.  That link has the download as well for the alpha version of EasyWorship 2009.  It’s a free (trial) download and loaded up just fine on my Windows 7 x64 system.  Final release is expected in September 2009.  The current version is great, but the interface is more Windows 2000 style.  The new GUI is pretty much the same but updated with more of a modded XP/Vista style theme.  Overall it otherwise looks and operates exactly the same.  The changes appear to be very subtle and under the hood with more support to video/audio/web sources for display, some tweaks to the song display format tools, as well as the addition of a “VJ” control and output to what is termed the “display foldback”.  I think this is additional output to a “confidence monitor” or a display that the pastor/choir would see but not the congregation.  We are really looking forward to the final release.

One more big-dog in the house that I haven’t used but see mentioned frequently with these others is MediaShout.

Quality Open Source / Freeware Alternatives

For congregations that are looking to move up from PowerPoint but don’t have the funds to purchase one of the commercial products, there is good news.  A very large number of Open Source / freeware products are available as well.

After you spend some time looking at these as well as the commercial versions, you see that they generally all follow a variation of a common theme/layout.  There is a section where you build/save your “schedule” of elements. There is usually a preview area where the content to next be presented is displayed, then there is the “live” area which controls the element that is “live” projected to the congregation via a dual-monitor or extended desktop configuration of output.  In most cases the second monitor output is hooked to a projection system and the program is able to auto-detect and dump the “live” output there while the primary output displays the software itself that the projectionist interacts with.  For a bit more reading and background on this area please see Worship Presentation programs at Wikipedia.

So here are some (of the many) quality freeware projection software applications that you might want to look into.

  • openlp.org – An incredible software product that is very mature and polished.  It should have just about every feature a congregation should need in getting started.
  • OpenSong.org – Supports both Windows and MacOSX.  Has chord support as well as CCLI importation.  A bit different than most standard interface formats, it is quite popular.
  • DreamBeam – Very polished and support a range of digital media sources.  Pretty hip.
  • PowerSong – It has a refreshingly simple interface with a lot of power hidden below.  A very approachable way for newbies to get started.
  • Easislides – A number of features make this free offering particularly interesting; it has dual-lingual lyric support, a praisebook generator, three-monitor support (operator, congregation, stage/choir), and chord notation.  Standard options such as alerts (for “come get your kid” announcements, Bible verses, are included as well.
  • Zionworx – Being new to this field, I’m not as knowledgeable about the developmental history of these applications, but UK-based Zionworxs seems to be a free product that has been around for quite a while.

And then there is this one.

  • Datasoul – I’m setting this one apart as it is a very odd-duck.  It is Java-based.  That means it can run on Linux, Mac, and Windows and still be exactly the same.  I guess it is kind of like the Unitarian version of worship-software applications!  The main layout is very familiar to the standard format of this type of software and it has a number of great features, again including chord notation, break-in ticker announcements, and even a utility to import your EasyWorship song database into Datasoul format. 

Additional applications can be found listed in these extensive collections.

Punching it Up

Depending on the software application and formats supported, you might soon find a desire to add extra video or graphics to your sermon slides, announcements, or other presenation items.

It does get a bit tricky.  Choosing material that enhances the theme or message you are supporting without drawing attention away from it can be challenging and without restraint, the difference between presentations that are subtly impactful versus annoying is quite fine.  Unless you already have some graphic editing experience, I’d strongly suggest running your ideas/drafts by the worship leader first to make sure it meets the over flavor of the worship service.

That said, there are a number of great sources of material you can integrate into your presentation work.

  • Clip Art / Video collections – There are many low-cost clip art collections you can buy that will allow you access to stock images and graphics with no/limited restrictions on usage. Digital Juice is just one of many such commercial providers of such collections. Amazon.com: clip art: Software has over 800 items to pick through.
  • Clip Art - Free Images, Photos, and Sounds - Microsoft Office Online – If you have a valid Microsoft Office product (say Power Point) then you have access to thousands of stock images and clip-art items.  Many are very good and flexible for worship and announcement-related themes. Please refer to this Use of Microsoft Copyrighted Content FAQ for details, but it seems that for most non-profit activities. The Clip Art section seems to show that use in church material, particularly of a “transient” nature, is allowable.  However, IANAL so read carefully.
  • Flickr: Shared Worship Background Graphics – This great Flickr group provides a number of images and backgrounds appropriate for (most) worship environments.  According to the group rules posted on that page, the images are free to use…usually only with the requirement for attribution.  There are some really, really stunning and sophisticated works by the contributing artists.  Good stuff!
  • New Worship Media – a small (but growing?) collection of free video motion backgrounds, suitable particularly for younger/youth worship song backgrounds.
  • Midnight Oil Productions – Offering free (for registered members) and commercial stock video and graphic packages, it’s a great place for some high-quality material to enhance your presentations.
  • CreativeMYK – Mixed collection of images.  Some I easily get, others I kinda wonder how they fit in with the overall collection.
  • Creative Commons Search – Great resource for finding images that are free to adapt…usually with attribution required.
  • Free Stock Photos and everystockphoto – Two more locations to get free stock images.  Registration required.

The AV Community

One of the tools I use to try to enhance my skill-set, particularly when learning or working on an area that is new to me is to seek out others who are accomplished in that field.

By reading their blogs and websites, I can gain a better understanding of issues and trends and (hopefully) avoid pitfalls in the learning process.

Here are some of the links I have started to collect and RSS feed as I learn about the larger church-projectionist/AV community.

  • Collide Magazine – Web version of print-media that shows the blending of church and technology.
  • Technologies For Worship Magazine – Another online counterpart for a print magazine that address the integration of technology and media in the church landscape.
  • Creative Church Media – friendly blog by Dave Smith, “professional” church projectionist and blogger who loves to post videos of his work.  Great place to learn from a pro.
  • Church Media Design TV - Tips, tricks, and how to for the church media designer.  Regular video presentations from church-based IT geeks on tech topics.
  • The Church Media Community - ChurchMedia.net. – Providing educational trainings as well as established forums for church media workers to discuss and seek assistance with software, presentation ideas, media/graphics and related topics.
  • Catch Fire / Eleven72 – Interesting blog from a more video-production angle.
  • Church Tech Matters – Nice website that covers a wide swath of tech-related topics for church volunteers in the IT areas.

EasyWorship Specific Tips

Finally, here are some key tips I’m dropping for future reference as we work with our EasyWorship program.

That is all.

Now back to regular GSD Tech programming!

Cheers!

--Claus V.

2 comments:

Andy Rogers said...

This is an awesome blog, very informative and interesting, thank you for making great blog posts.

cdman83 said...

One word of caution: over the years I've seen many cases where these "codec packs" were a major source of system instability (windows / windows explorer crashing mainly), but also a system slowdown.

Instead I would recommend FFDShow tryouts, which can decode almost anything you can imagine (video and audio) and has a lot of very cool other features (like normalizing the audio volume, postprocessing the video for a better quality).

And yes, it is open source and free!