Mike Sessler - ChurchTechArts | Ultimate Ears Stories from the Field

ChurchTechArts is a terrific blog that is dedicated to advancing the cause of the local church tech. Showcasing the length and breadth of live production in the church, they cover sound, lighting, video, presentation, leadership, training and staying healthy.

They also have done some great reviews of UE PRO VRM, a tour of the UE Factory and a fantastic tutorial on mixing with IEMs. We were lucky enough to sit down with Mike Sessler, the creator and pick his brain about a wide variety of topics.

Hi Mike, Thanks for taking the chat with us. Tell us a little about your background in Music.

I really don’t have a “background” in music. I have always loved music and spent many thousands of hours listening to records (yes, vinyl, before it was cool) growing up. I briefly played a few instruments but always found myself more interested in the recording, production and live mixing side of music. While in high school, I started recording band concerts for the music director. In college, I started doing a lot more live production, and really got into live mixing shortly after graduation when I started attending a church that needed an audio guy.

I really loved it and spent a ton of time trying to get better at mixing, system design and training. I have mixed thousands of services with all different sorts of bands and systems over the years.


Can you describe what ChurchTechArts does?

CTA started off as a way to pad my resume as a technical director. But it quickly turned into a community. Today, some 7.5 years after the first post, we have an audience of somewhere around 14,000 people who visit the site 30,000 times a month. I write posts based on what I’m working, questions from readers and general industry trends. We are one of the only sites that focuses on the entirety of live production in the church. We cover sound, lighting, video, presentation, leadership, training and staying healthy. I work hard to keep the content in-depth but also accessible to both novices and experts.


When did you start Church Tech Arts?

The first post went live in early March, 2007.


I was checking out the Podcasts It’s great! How did that come about?

I had been listening to Leo Laporte’s TWiT Podcast for a number of years. I loved the interaction between the guests and the timely nature of the conversations. I had been part of another podcast called FaithTools, but it was pretty sporadic in it’s production. I felt there was a need for a weekly podcast that would encourage and educate the legions of tech leaders in the church, both pro and volunteer. After some growing pains at the beginning, we’ve gotten into a pretty good groove with a great rotating group of guests. And I think our production values are pretty high, too. We recently recorded episode 200, and hope we can keep it up for a while.


You’ve been doing the podcasts constantly on a weekly basis at really long time. How do you keep the ideas flowing?

That can be challenging. Now that I’m no longer a church Technical Director, my content is shifting. I tend to write more about products I’m using and leadership type posts based on my experience of 8 years on staff. I also get a lot of questions from readers and listeners, and they tend to generate some great content.


Can you tell us about some of the unique challenges in doing live sound for worship?

Live sound for worship is one of the hardest things to mix. And it’s not just me who thinks that. We had Robert Scoville on the show a while back and he said the same thing. And he mixes for Tom Petty, Rush and a host of other well-known artists. The band tends to be different each week. The band is of varying skill. The set is always different. We have 5-6 days to prepare for the weekend. Often, the equipment in churches is sub-standard. The room acoustics are rarely optimal. And there is often little or no training for the tech team. Those are just some of the challenges we face.

Even in the best of circumstances it’s tough. I had a great band, mostly excellent equipment and years of experience on my side at my last church. But we got less than 2 hours to rehearse the whole set and part of that time was getting the band comfortable with their monitor mix. So at best, I got one pass through the song before we went live in front of the congregation. Not much time to get it dialed in! Church sound guys have to be able to move very quickly and get things dialed in close in just a few minutes. It can be pretty crazy!


You really get down the to nitty gritty with your blog posts. It’s incredible the knowledge you share.

Yup. I figure I’ve learned a few things along the way. May as well share it.


Your Vimeo Channel it outstanding, tell us a little more about that part of what you do.

We started doing the trade show coverage as a way to get to trade shows. My friend Van Metschke and I both worked for churches that didn’t believe in sending their tech guys to trade shows. And as dads with college-daughters, we didn’t have a lot of spare cash. So, I came up with the idea to sell ad space against a series of video reviews we’d do at a trade show. The idea took off for a while and we were able to attend quite a few shows.

It was a ton of work, however, and we’ve since dialed it back. Now, instead of doing 20-25 videos per show, we do 4-5. We no longer have sponsors as we’ve found alternate ways to pay for the shows (I actually get paid to attend, now…)


I see you do speaking engagements as well, do you travel far and wide for those as well?

I haven’t been doing as much traveling for those lately. I’ve spoken at Gurus,WFX, and a few college classes. I also do on-site training for churches occasionally. It’s always fun to get out and share.


Thanks for your time, this is really informative stuff Mike!

Mike is the host of ChurchTechArtsWeekly

You can check out ChurchTechArts Here

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