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20 Steps To Maximize ProPresenter On Your Mac

20 Steps To Maximize ProPresenter On Your Mac

In today’s guest post, we get to hear from the legendary Joel Smith from ChurchMedia.Pro:

When I was a tech director, I had a love/arrrgh relationship with ProPresenter. While it was 98% love (seriously, Renewed Vision has done an amazing job with this software), every once in a while I would discover new quirks about the software or the Mac. Everything in this list was implemented on our system and taken from my 13 years of experience with Macs and 7 years of experience with ProPresenter. That system ran solid week in and week out for 3 years with only one crash (sigh, nearly perfect).

This is a simple guide to help you get the most out of the software and system you have. It is not absolute and things will differ for every situation. I also don’t claim to be “the man” when it comes to ProPresenter or Macs. While I’m pulling from personal experience, I’m constantly learning and definitely not perfect. I encourage you to take this list and apply it in your own context to what works for you and your system. Without any further ado, let’s get started:

1. Use A Dedicated Computer

While this might be a no-brainer, it needs to be stated. Using a dedicated system is the best way to keep it running at its peak. If your daily computer or some multi-purpose production computer is also used for ProPresenter, the odds of issues happening go way up. Keeping a lean system is key to assuring everything runs smooth. It’s also easier to troubleshoot when things do go wrong.

2. Use A Solid State Hard Drive (SSD)

The cost of SSDs has dropped enough for it to become a fairly cheap way to boost performance in a computer. Now, this is not an “SSDs are better than spinning drives” argument. I recommend finding whatever works reliably for you. If you have a spinning drive that works great for you, keep using it. However, I have had great success using SSDs for system drives, especially in older systems. If you don’t have budget for a new system but want a performance boost, try installing an SSD. I recommend the Samsung EVO Pro series of drives or the OWC SSD drives from MacSales.

3. Use A Separate Hard Drive For Media/Content

Using a separate hard drive for all media/content can save you a ton of time and headaches if/when your system drive crashes. It will also save time when you need to do a clean install or re-install of the operating system. I used a 250GB SSD for the system drive (operating system only) and a high-performance 1 TB drive for content/media (videos, images, audio, ProPresenter library, backups of fonts and necessary system files). If you’re using a laptop for ProPresenter, a separate media/content drive is not necessary. You can run everything just fine off one drive, but having 2 drives makes system maintenance and upgrades more flexible.

4. Use A Solid Black Desktop Background

This way, if ProPresenter happens to crash the audience won’t see a pic of your family vacation or a galaxy on the screens.

5. Turn OFF Screen Savers

You don’t want the dictionary word of the day accidentally showing up an hour into an event or service.

6. Turn OFF Mission Control Settings

This includes hot keys and hot corners. This removes the chance of an operator accidentally bringing up Spaces or the Dashboard when running the software.

7. Turn OFF Notifications

This is just a way to eliminate distractions for operators. Notifications technically won’t hurt anything, but they could possibly get in the way of some button or slide.

8. Turn Display Off After NEVER

You don’t want the monitor to shut off during anything important. You can always physically turn monitors off when you leave (this is a good habit to have).

9. Turn OFF “Put hard drives to sleep when possible”

You don’t want your operator falling asleep, it’s the same for your hard drives.

10. Turn OFF Mouse Gestures

Not everyone uses the same gestures or mouse setup. Keep it simple by using only a standard left-click and right-click mouse setup. This means turning off multi-touch gestures and zooming. Also, I recommend the old school scroll down for down and scroll up for up.

11. Alert Volume OFF (0%)

It’s everyone’s luck that a duck quack alert will go off during a prayer or quiet moment. Disabling these alerts puts the odds in your favor.

12. Turn OFF “Play user interface sound effects”

This setting is key to avoiding any random sounds developed by your Mac. It also goes a long way to turn off “Play feedback when volume is changed” in your audio settings.

13. Turn OFF All System/Software Updates

You want to control what is updated and when it is updated. The last thing you need right before a service or event is OS X to update and something in that update break your system or cause issues. If it’s working, you shouldn’t have to update that often or at all.

14. Turn Time Machine OFF

If you need Time Machine, at least use a Time Machine scheduler to schedule around your event/service times. I used a scheduler to only allow backups between midnight and 6 AM. I also made a point to do manual backups of content and ProPresenter files every few months. This can be done by simply copying those files to an external hard drive.

15. System Volume At 100%

This should always stay the same. This ensures audio to your console/mixer is always the same. This also removes any guesswork when you need to troubleshoot audio issues. I’ve also found this lessens noise in trouble consoles when outputting from the headphone jack of the computer.

16. Close All Applications When Leaving The Computer

When I was on staff at the church, there were a few guys (ahem, student ministers) that were notorious for leaving ProPresenter open after their events. On a number of occasions I would notice, sometimes days later, that ProPresenter had locked up (as in frozen) because of this. One of my mantras was “leave it like you found it”. That meant closing all applications and restarting the computer when you were done. This way you were leaving the system ready for whoever came in next.

17. Be A Religious Restarter

I got made fun of when I was on staff at the church for always restarting computers. One thing I did with all production computers was leave them running 24/7 (running, never sleeping). This is not necessary but something I believe helps Macs run solid. Here’s the reason why I chose to leave them running. Restarting is an easy way to know the computer is running fresh before you begin. Since you may not know who was on the computer before you or what was done on it last, it’s always good to restart the computer before a rehearsal or event. Note: Be sure to deselect the “Reopen windows when logging back in” checkbox before restarting. If you’re on a laptop, I recommend shutting down after use and storage. It also wouldn’t hurt to leave the laptop plugged in and running overnight every few weeks.

18. Do Not Install Non-Essential Applications

This will hurt someone’s feelings, but I’m going to say it anyway. DO NOT INSTALL MICROSOFT OFFICE ON YOUR PROPRESENTER COMPUTER. In fact, don’t install any applications, preference panes or software that is not essential to running ProPresenter. If someone insists on sending you Microsoft Word .DOC files for notes or lyrics, either ask them to start sending PDFs or convert it on another computer. One of the great thing about Macs is that they can read most filetypes without running the necessary software.

19. Run ONLY ProPresenter During “Show Time”

A lot of people, especially those that don’t use Macs on a regular basis, tend to leave applications running on Mac and don’t realize they’re doing so. They think clicking the red X button in the top left of the app’s window quits the application, when in fact it just closes the window. They also may not understand what happens when an application is open or runs in the background. Make it a habit to close all apps on the computer before things get started. Better yet, make it a policy that no apps except ProPresenter can run on that computer at all times. This was more of an issue a few years ago when it was pushing even the sturdiest of systems to run ProPresenter. Now it’s not as big of a deal if you have a newer system, but it is still a good habit to practice.

20. Reinstall The OS Every 12–18 Months

Even the best of systems need a refresh every year or so. Cache files, missing file links and corrupt files build up over time and can cause the system to slow down. I made it priority to reinstall a fresh (no Time Machine backups) installation of OS X every year or so. It may seem overkill or too much work, but if it saves one major crash it’s worth it.

Bonus Tips/Tricks

  • Create a custom desktop background for the main monitor with the computer’s title. That way anyone walking in knows what the computer does. It also helps to recognize easily what computer you’re on if you screen share often.
  • Schedule the computer to restart automatically on a schedule. I set our system to restart every Sunday morning at 6:00 AM so it was fresh for rehearsal at 7:45.
  • Use a wired keyboard and mouse. Nothing worse than batteries dying at the worst time.

What other things do you do to keep your system running snappy? Let me know in the comments!

8 Tweaks For The Ultimate Projection Computer

TheCreativePastor.com – 8 Tweaks For The Ultimate Projection Computer

Live media has changed a lot in the past 20 years for churches. Overhead transparencies have been replaced with presentation software. Keyboards have been replaced with MIDI controllers and laptops. And while computers have brought a new world of convenience into the worship environment, they are not perfect machines: apps crash, batteries die, and hard drives fail.  

As it turns out, many of the convenient features about owning a personal computer become inconvenient when that computer is used in a live production environment. What if I told you that by eliminating some of these features you could prevent most of the blunders that cause distractions in your services?

Here are eight tweaks that I’d recommend making on your church’s projection computer immediately:

1. Disable Instant Messaging Apps (Including FaceTime)

We’ve all been there…the pastor is in the middle of a powerful message when suddenly, an innocent but obtrusive chime comes over the PA.  Someone is receiving a message during service…and now the entire crowd knows it.  Make sure to disable – nay, uninstall – all instant messaging apps, including FaceTime.  The last thing you need is someone trying to video chat with you in the middle of worship.

2. Close Your Web Browser

Web browsers can cause computers to crawl sometimes. Many websites have popups that include audio – be it a minor chime or a full musical track. Most web-based e-mail services (i.e. Gmail) have a chat feature that, if left open, will play a sound as soon as you receive any chat-related alerts. With all of this being said, it’s best just to leave your browser closed during services.

3. Turn Off Wi-Fi

Yes, I said it.  If a computer is being used for media in your environment, it should be disconnected from the internet during your services.  In addition to solving the problems in tweaks 1 and 2, this will also prevent any alerts in the event that your computer loses wi-fi signal temporarily. (Tip: To continue using apps such as the ProPresenter remote without internet, try using the “Create Network” feature on your Mac.)

4. Disable Mouse Shortcuts (Including Hot Corners)

When using computers on a daily basis, a mouse shortcut to reveal your desktop is great. In a worship environment, it’s a nightmare. No one should be seeing your “Hang In There Kitty” desktop in the middle of worship.  I’ve also found that when training a volunteer that is not as familiar with computers, their first response to accidentally activating the desktop shortcut is to raise their hands away from the computer in panic. Your life will be easier if you just disable all mouse buttons/shortcuts except left and right click.

5. Disable Screen Saver & Display Sleep

This may seem like an obvious one, but when setting up a new computer, it can be easy to forget. Make sure to disable your screen saver, as well as display sleep, to prevent them from coming on mid-service. I’ve seen this happen too many times right in the middle of a Pastor’s message.

6. Disable Bluetooth

Again, this is a feature designed for convenience: If any bluetooth accessories that come into signal range of your computer, they’ll automatically connect.  Unfortunately, since many people are carrying around bluetooth-enabled devices, this can cause some issues.  To prevent accidentally connecting to a phone or wireless mouse that someone in the crowd has, just disable bluetooth.

7. Set Your Wallpaper To Solid Black

As convenient as presentation software is, it’s not bulletproof.  Every once in a while, it crashes.  Having a black background on your screens will ensure that, in the event of a crash, it will be less of a distraction (maybe even unnoticeable).  Having the default desktop background appear on screen is a sign to everyone that something is wrong in the booth. 

Update: Thanks to Jon Sheperd for the suggestion: As an alternative to a black background, you could use your church’s default slide or your current sermon series graphic as a background in case of a software crash.

8. Use A Wired Keyboard and Mouse

Nothing is worse than having your mouse batteries die in the middle of a fast worship song.  By using wired mice and keyboards on all your production computers, you’ll never have to think about batteries again. 

Conclusion

A good friend once told me that production is more about covering mistakes that happen than running everything perfectly.  While there’s no such thing as a perfect Sunday, using these tips will hopefully help you to prevent some of the failures that can be a distraction in your services.

Do you have any other tips that you’d add to the list?

The Right Way To Handle Church Media Fumbles

The Right Way To Handle Church Media Fumbles

I’m one of those weird people who rarely dream at night. Seriously – we’re talking nearly once every six months here. I’ll often hear my friends telling funny stories of the silly circumstances that their subconscious cooked up in their dreams. Sometimes they’ll even share their eerie nightmares that followed a late dinner of Chinese takeout. But, that’s not me.

On the rare occasion that my subconscious constructs a story that plays out as I sleep, it’s usually about a church media fumble. That’s right. I have nightmares about things going wrong on Sunday morning with production.

It may be a video freezing in the middle of playback, a click track skipping, or accidentally pressing the Live Video button in ProPresenter (which then defaults to the webcam and shows my embarrassed face to the entire audience).

Chills…

As I examine these nightmares, one thing stands out to me about myself. I can get WAYYYY too focused on my media being flawless. Church media shouldn’t be about the pursuit of perfection, but about building a team that uses their talents to enhance Sunday services for others. Sure, it’s okay to strive for error-less services. But, when is the last time you kept your “scorecard” on your team’s wins, rather than how many mistakes you made in a service?

A few weeks ago, I got the opportunity to shadow the production team at the Auburn campus of Church of the Highlands. It was there that I first caught a glimpse of a healthy way to approach mistakes in live production. On this particular weekend, they were experiencing a lot of heavy rainfall and it was slowing down their internet connection quite a bit. A solid connection is vital to the flow of their services because they are an extension site that projects a live video feed from their main campus in Birmingham.

In the three services that I joined them for that Sunday, they experienced trouble with the live feed in each service. To make matters worse, the one safety net that they have established for this, a hard drive with a recording of the earlier service, was malfunctioning for the first time in campus history. Let me be clear here—I would have been freaking out.

In the midst of all of these chaotic circumstances, their team kept level heads. While they may not have been able to prevent some problems, they worked hard to make all of the areas that they could control right. In fact, to sit back and watch their team come together in those moments was really incredible. Rather than cussin’ and fussin’ as it’s easy to do in the heat of those moments, they communicated calmly and executed their tasks with precision. When mistakes were made, they quickly picked themselves up and encouraged each other to keep moving forward. In a day filled with stress, I even saw them highfiving each other when things would go right.

Have you ever celebrated what went right with your media on Sunday morning?

At the conclusion of my shadowing, I spent a few minutes with the team’s leader, Marc Johnson. He shared with me a very simple, but profound truth. Their production booth is located in a very visible area in the back of their auditorium. If their team was to outwardly express whenever things were going wrong, everyone in the room would take notice. Not only is the worship team and campus pastor looking directly to them, but the entire audience can see them. If they will keep a level head when things are going wrong, everyone else will, too.

He also shared with me a great silver lining of publicly making fumbles. When everything is going great with production, potential volunteers assume they aren’t needed. Sometimes the smallest mistakes on a Sunday morning will prompt newcomers that help is needed and they’ll make a move to start volunteering. While it’s never intentional that a mistake is made, this has inspired many people to get involved in his time there. (They have a current rotation of around 40 production volunteers.)

Overall, you must realize that perfection is impossible. What’s important is that you always work to nurture an atmosphere of excellence, while still providing the grace necessary to make fumbles and learn from them.

Learn from your mistakes. Be proud of your accomplishments. More than anything else, understand the importance of what you do for the Kingdom.

How To Create Big Stages With Small Budgets

TCP-Big_Stages_Small_Money

We’ve all seen them. The sets and stages at larger churches with bigger budgets that make your mouth drop. You get super excited about creating something similar on your stage, only to find out that the design you’re trying to recreate costs more than your entire annual production budget. It’s easy to give up any hope of having an amazing stage design when you have a small budget. But, with the right materials and a little creativity, you can make a stellar stage design without breaking the bank.

In this post, we’ll cover a number of low-cost materials to create stage designs with, but first, there are a few things you need to consider when building your set.

Stage Designs Are 75% Lighting

There’s only so much that a stage design can do on its own. Lighting is what changes a plain stage into a dynamic environment, and it can really control mood of your room. Stage designs will come and go, but chances are, you’ll be using whatever lights you have until they die. If you have the option, set aside a portion of your set budget to buy at least 1-2 new lighting fixtures. By the time you’ve gone through 4-5 stage designs, you will have built up a nice lighting rig.

Angles = Shadows = Depth

One of the easiest ways to give your stage a dynamic feel is to add depth.  Flat designs can easily become boring, but depth can make for some very cool shadows on your set, which will give you a wide array of options when designing your lighting cues each week.

Your Set Won’t Always Have “Cool” Lighting

It’s easy to make a set look good with lights that are constantly changing color and intensity, but your set needs to look good when the lights aren’t in motion. Also, if your room is used for more than just weekend worship, you need to make sure your set looks good without being lit at all.

 

With those things in mind, let’s look at some of my favorite building materials for constructing stage designs, along with some real-world examples for inspiration.

PVC Pipe

PVC Pipe - Church Stage DesignPVC pipe comes in a variety of lengths and diameters, and since it’s commonplace in every household, it’s quite cheap. At about $5 for a 10ft section, your money will go a long way towards creating some great designs using PVC. Pro tip: Use acetone to wipe away the manufacturer-printed information on the side of each piece of pipe.  Leaving the text on will just be a distraction.  (Example 1  •  Example 2  •  Example 3)

Coroplast

Coroplast - Church Stage DesignPossibly the strongest contender on the list due to its sheer flexibility (both literally and figuratively), this corrugated plastic is an excellent building block for any stage design. Coroplast can maintain its lightweight, yet sturdy, form in just about any shape, which means your options are virtually unlimited when building. In addition to opaque white, coroplast can also be found in translucent varieties, which will give you the option of lighting it from behind to create some stunning effects on your stage.  Again, keep in mind that lighting is what will really create great looks with a coroplast set, not the material itself.

The best place to find low-cost coroplast sheets is your local sign shop.  Any shop that prints yard signs & the like will most likely have 4’x8′ sheets of coroplast on hand.  Prices vary from place to place, but a 4’x8′ sheet will usually run around $12-$20. You can also pick up sheets at some home improvement stores such as Home Depot.  (Example 1  •  Example 2  •  Example 3  •  Example 4)

Window Screen

Window Screen - Church Stage DesignLike PVC, window screen is widely available at any home improvement store and it comes very cheap. Crinkling up window screen can create some serious shadows, which can add depth and texture to an otherwise boring set. Make sure to wear heavy duty gloves when working with this material though; the sharp edges of a roll of screen can shred your hands if you aren’t careful.  (Example 1)

Wood Pallets

Wood Pallets - Church Stage DesignWood is yet another solid choice for set building.  Lumber is already pretty cheap, but often times you can find pallets for free from local warehouses and storage facilities. Pallet wood is usually rustic and textured, which can make for some very organic set pieces. A word of advice: A freestanding pallet doesn’t look that great as a set piece.  Strip the pallet wood apart and create something amazing: a textured wall, a drum riser, or a prop piece for your set, for example.

(Example 1  •  Example 2  •  Example 3  •  Example 4)

MIO Foldscapes

Mio - Church Stage DesignMio is a company that creates environmentally-friendly architectural pieces for use in the office environment (ceiling tiles, room partitions, and the like). Luckily, their materials also can make for some killer sets! Prices vary from product to product, but their Foldscapes ceiling tiles, which make for some very cool lighting effects, are $98 for a box of 24 2’x2′ tiles.  (Example 1  •  Example 2)

 

Do you have any other low-cost set materials you love to build with? Post your suggestions in the comments below or send us a tweet to @CreativePastor!

Photos used with permission from ChurchStageDesignIdeas.com