The Wisest Decision Of Our Adult Lives.

As 2012 comes to a close, please let me share my family’s 2012 story with you.

It’s a story of denial, realization, conviction, humility, a key decision, change, discipline and an unbelievable outcome.

And as my wife Jen and I now look back on it, we agree that it was, without question, the wisest and most important decision of our adult lives.

So please let me share our journey with you, because our situation might be similar to yours. And just as a simple decision made a radical change in our lives, I hope & pray that it does in yours, if need be.

I thought our “Financial House” was relatively in order, but my incredible wife Jen did not have any peace as to where we were, either month-to-month or long term.  I kept telling her we were fine, but deep in my gut, however, I knew she was right. I was the ostrich, burying my head in the sand.

Like many of us, we were living above our means.  Not extravagantly, mind you.  We were not in terrible debt, and actually thought we were being wise in our decisions, like cutting cable in order to tithe like we knew we should.

But something was still not right, and peace did not exist.

At some point this past summer, Jen and her friend were chatting, and her friend was sharing how they had been in such dire financial straits, but how their lives had been changed by seeing a certified financial coach/councilor. His name is Parkey Thompson, and he is a Dave Ramsey “Endorsed Local Provider” here in Cumming.

After years of thinking we had our finances under control, as Jen and I discussed it, I came to the humbling (and embarrassing) realization that we needed the assistance of a capable, caring professional.

So two weeks later, I reluctantly joined my wife in his office for a “free 30 minute consultation”. Yeah, I was skeptical.  But my calloused attitude changed pretty quickly…

His calm and gentle Christian spirit helped put a mirror on our own situation. We were able to see where our money was being wisely spent, but more importantly, where it was “disappearing”.  

I realized that our so-called monthly budget was a sham, and our year-to year and long term plans were more of a punch line.  This was something Jen knew in her heart and was trying to tell me all along, but it took a third party to help wake me up.

So we decided to hire Parkey for the 6 month program. Because we honestly had nothing to lose.

And something radical happened….

He instantly became our friend, our advocate, our teacher and accountability partner.  

He helped us develop an actual plan to get out of debt, and long-term savings strategies to help us never return.

He helped us get excited about taking a brown bag of PB&J sandwiches instead of hitting the drive thru.

He helped us plan a monthly budget, assigning every dollar a name before the month even began.

He helped us realize the power of finite cash in an envelope versus an out-of-control debit and/or credit card.

I was worried that while trying to “get on the right financial track”, that we wouldn’t even be able to afford his services.  But in the first month, in addition to paying him an installment (1/3 of the fee), we actually put in savings MORE than his entire fee.  

In other words, in that first month, we quickly realized that we couldn’t afford NOT to hire him.

That was September.  

Today, we are out of credit card debt, have more money in savings than ever before, and actually have a strategic financial plan heading forward.

We have strategies to plan for not only month-to-month, but for quarterly, annual and long-term costs as well, like tag renewals, HOA fees, 1099 taxes, automobile replacement, retirement, etc…

There is more peace and communication in our marriage than ever before.  Our kids are learning to give, save and spend wisely.  And we are far more prepared for whatever bumps-in-the-road may come.

I finally realized this past year that I couldn’t have what was best for me or my family without getting my financial house truly in order, and that I needed a competent, kind, caring professional to accomplish that goal.

I say all that to say this – I care deeply about you, and want the absolute best for you and your family. That’s why I’m sharing our story. Hopefully it’s the friendly prodding that you might need…

And if any of our story rings true with you, I hope you take an honest look at your situation. Pray about it, and talk it over with your spouse, if applicable.

In case my friendly prodding causes you to take a step, here’s Parkey’s contact info:

Parkey Thompson
678.648.9940
coach@myfinancialfocus.net
www.myfinancialfocus.net

And don’t worry – this isn’t a pyramid scheme, and I’m not getting any kickbacks… You know I don’t roll that way. I just want you to experience the new-found financial peace that we’ve discovered through discipline and professional assistance.

Hopefully it will help you sleep better at night!  Especially Saturday nights… ūüėČ

Reid
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Crash Course: Ableton Live in Worship at North Point

Hi Kids! ¬†Welcome to the “Using Ableton Live For Worship” crash course.

DISCLAIMER: This is NOT the be-all-end-all on how to use Ableton Рthere are a lots of ways.  This is simply a look at how we at North Point use Ableton for Click, Count-Off, Loops and Auxiliary Tracks playback.

Backstory:

Years ago we used to use Pro Tools for live playback of click & auxiliary tracks because of the ability to route to various outputs via external hardware. However we abandoned Pro Tools a few years ago and started using Ableton Live.

Ableton Live has abilities for live playback that are¬†unparalleled in traditional Digital Audio Workstations (DAW). ¬†For the reasons we’ll discuss below, Ableton Live has become our new standard in playback of click & tracks for a live performance setting.

Although I do still use Pro Tools as my primary vehicle for creating loops, tracks, aux programming, composition for film, song editing, etc. ¬†Some other guys are fond of creating in Apple’s Logic, which is also a great program.

But you choose the DAW that is most comfortable for you to use for creation. Then after¬†completing the aux tracks & programming that will be used in live performance, just bounce the tracks to a WAV file, then import them into that week’s Ableton session.

While it is possible to create using the Arrangement view of Ableton, as it is relatively similar to the traditional linear-based DAW (Pro Tools, Logic, etc.), most of us feel it is still inferior in regards to creation. ¬†Although I will admit, Ableton’s Arrangement view has come in handy as a quick edit or pitch-shift tool while sitting in a creative meeting. ¬†There are some features Ableton has in Arrangement view that the other DAWs wish they could do half as well…

BUT, for live performance playback of click, count-off cues and loops, there is no equal to Ableton’s Session view.

FIRST, before we dive in, feel free to download our NPCC Ableton Template, the file I start with each week to build that service’s session.

 

NOTE: There are two different files linked, depending on which version of Ableton you’re using.

 

NPCC Ableton Template – Regular, Full Version

 

NPCC Ableton Template – Ableton Intro (aka “Light” version)

Hopefully the Template will help you make more sense of Ableton and its abilities.

(What are the differences between the REGULAR version and INTRO version, other than cost?  See here: Ableton Version Comparison)

But be warned! ¬†Ableton’s functionality is high, but so is the learning curve! ¬†It does not follow the thought process of most traditional DAWs, and the reigning in Warp feature has caused many to stumble in their faith… ūüėČ

Fortunately there are lots of helpful training videos out there. We’ve learned a lot from YouTube!

And Ableton offers a free 30-Day trial, so go ahead and download it, open the attached Template and follow along with this crash-course tutorial.

http://www.ableton.com/download-live-trial

Ableton Advantage:  Session View is non-linear, which means your click and loop can play for eternity.

Ableton Advantage:¬†In Session View, a song’s tempo can be changed without affecting the other songs in your set-list. ¬†(HUGE bonus versus traditional linear DAWs)

The Session view consists of Scenes, Clips and Tracks.

Scenes¬†are the master “go” control for each song. It’s also where you customize each song’s tempo.

Clips¬†are the actual audio files associated with the song that you have created (loops, aux programming, count-offs, etc.). Clips for each song are arranged¬†HORIZONTALLY¬†in line with the song’s Scene. ¬†(Not vertically, like traditional DAWs!!)

Tracks¬†are the vertical “channel strip” down which the audio signal travels, and can be routed to the Bus or Output of your choosing. ¬†Clips from multiple songs can travel down the same Track.

Under the Master column are the list of Scenes. Ableton’s programmers assume folks will use each session for just one song, and that these Scenes are just parts of one song (Vs, Cho, Brg, etc.).

But the worship & live performing community have discovered that these can be not only parts of one song, but completely different songs altogether.

So in our case, each Scene is a different song in the set – each with its own custom tempo. Triggering the Scene will launch all the associated horizontal Clips.

To change the name and tempo of a song, click on the Scene and type Cmd-R, or “Rename” under the Edit drop-down menu.

BE SURE¬†to include the letters “bpm” one space after the numerical tempo!! ¬†Other wise it will not change tempo.

Ableton Scenes

We then trigger these Scenes (aka Songs) using an external USB pad controller, and assign Scenes, Stop, etc. via Live’s MIDI Mapping feature (Ctrl-M).

There are dozens of USB controllers on the market. We’ve used the Akai LDP8, Akai MDP18, and Korg padKontrol. ¬†Choose the price, size and features that are right for you.

Ableton and Akai MPD18

Controllers can be set up to be used as remotes via the Preferences / MIDI Synch window. Be sure to enable the Remote feature to make Ableton open to receiving messages from the controller.

Ableton Advantage:¬†¬†Enabling the Warp feature (described later) in conjunction with your desired tempo will speed up or slow down your loops & tracks with little-to-no discernible change in the audio’s quality or pitch.

That is huge!  And it process the audio in real time, so if you want to speed up or slow down your song, just re-type the tempo and everything adjusts Рinstantly!

Clips:

You can drag-and-drop your audio files into the horizontal clips. You can always add additional Tracks in which to add your files.

Ableton Clips

We do many songs that have no programming at all (nothing but Click), a bunch with just an open-ended loop that cycles infinitely, and a small handful of songs that have dedicated linear programming.

That means we may range from no Track channels used on one song, to 4 or 8 or more on another song!

As a rule, we try to avoid linear programming (aka. Pre-Recorded tracks) on worship songs if at all possible.  Linear programming means you NEED to start at the right time, which can unfortunately stifle a Worship Leader.  Instead of saying something meaningful between songs, they are paralyzed, listening for the count-off.

For this reason, out of all the worship songs we that are in our current repertoire, only 3 songs have actual linear tracks. In those cases they are some programmed strings, etc. ¬†That’s an extremely low percentage! Just 3 worship songs!

Special songs, like Openers or Closers are a bit different, and we’ll add linear programming – but only if the song really, really needs it. ¬†Again – slave to a count-in and aux tracks means more room for error… ūüėČ

If you have multiple Clips traveling down one Track and desire a volume change to normalize the Clip volume levels, do NOT use the Track’s level. Instead, each Clip has a window with a ton of customizable controls, including that particular clip’s volume.

Ableton Clip edit window

Ableton Advantage:  This window also allows you to TRANSPOSE your audio file in real time without negatively affecting the speed of the audio file (when Warp mode is enabled).

Ableton Advantage:  This window also allows you to LOOP an audio file, so it will play, well, forever!  This is perfect for open-ended loops and a custom click track.

NOTE: Always label your programming’s file name to include the original tempo. ¬†eg: “Mighty To Save LOOP 81”

Ableton’s Warp and Loop features can be very difficult to learn, and knowing the audio file’s original tempo will be extremely helpful. ¬†The original tempo should automatically show in the Seg. BPM window, but may occasionally need to be manually corrected.

This is especially important when importing linear files without strong waveform transients, like pads & strings. ¬†Ableton was originally designed as a DJ’ing tool, so it seeks spikes in the waveform – called transients – to determine an audio file’s source tempo.

When this goes awry, it can lead to a horrific warp experience. Trust me – it took us a LONG time to figure that one out!

One ESSENTIAL way to avoid most warp nightmares is to change your Preferences / Record Warp Launch to:

Loop/Warp Short Samples: AUTO

Auto-Warp Long Samples: OFF

Default Warp Mode: COMPLEX  (Live 8 full version only, not available on Live Intro)

Ableton Warp Preferences

Also, whenever possible, import WAV or AIFF files – not MP3 files – for your audio programming.

Unfortunately, when files are encoded to MP3, an extremely small amount of silence is placed at the beginning of the waveform, which drives the Warp function crazy. ¬†To overcome this, you need to zoom into the beginning of the clip’s waveform, find the first transient, then right-click on the marker above the transient and chose “Make this 1.1.1”.

Total pain… Avoid if possible.

Finally, the click track….

NOTE: This Click track is already created in the NPCC TEMPLATE file. ¬†The following is an explanation of what we did and how it works…

One reason we avoided Ableton for a long time was the horribly annoying click sound, and the inability to sub-divide it without falsely manipulating the tempo and time signature.

But then we had a brainstorm. ¬†We loved the MPC Click sound from Pro Tools, and so we sampled one beat of it, and trigger that sampled file using Ableton’s drum machine, Impulse.

First, create and insert a short, silent WAV file into a Clip. Then drag an instance of Impulse on that Clip.

Then drag your desired click sample into one of the blank slots on Impulse.

Ableton Impulse Plug-In

The click audio file is then triggered as a MIDI event, complete with desired velocity, which can adjust the volume & timbre if you desire an accented downbeat.

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Ableton Impulse MIDI Note On Info

Another easy way to do this would be to record two different bars of your desired click sound at an average tempo, about 90 bpm – one bar regular quarter notes, and one with sub-divided 8ths. ¬†Then insert that audio file with Warp activated, and it will warp to the tempo you entered in the song’s master Scene, just as though it was playing back a drum loop.

The only disadvantage to this method is the inability to adjust MIDI velocities, and thus add / eliminate / adjust the downbeat volume. ¬†But that’s totally up to you!

Tracks:

The Tracks can then be routed to your desired output on just about any audio interface.

We first route all tracks to a Master Bus for each hardware output. This is especially helpful for us as we bring the Masters down -20 dB since we are balanced output from our MOTU hardware, and not using DI’s. ¬†Kind of a pain, but an easy solution.

Ableton Tracks

Price = Features:

There are three different levels of Live:  Intro, Regular and Suite.

Suite ($700) includes a massive amount of plug-in instruments and effects, which are probably not needed if you already have other DAW software.

Regular ol’ Live ($450) is what we use. It has a few instruments and effects (again, that we don’t use), but does have the ability for infinite external hardware routing (imperative!) and the ability to Warp in Complex mode, which is most effective for tonal audio files (vocals, pads, strings, etc.)

Live Intro ($100) has most of the needed functionality of the regular version, except that it does not have Complex Warp mode, and is limited to just two outputs (one stereo pair) and only 8 scenes.

Again, hereis the Ableton Version Comparison

We know some drummers that have bought the Intro version to use on their own independent gigs for all of Live’s functionality, and just split the lines coming out of their laptop’s headphone jack. Click is routed to Left, and Loops to Right.

Alrighty – there’s your intro crash course – hope it helps! ¬†Please feel free to ask any more questions as you learn and experiment!

And again, if you’d like the NPCC TEMPLATE, here you go!

Christmas? Bring It On!

Wow – it’s great sometimes to just get everyone needed in one room and hash out great ideas. Brainstorm, refine and a plan of attack, all in one meeting. No emails, no mixed answers – you get the picture.

Today – along with the help of some always delicious Cracker Barrel – our campus music teams we able to refine our ideas into what we think will be a very cool Opener when we do our Christmas service on Dec. 20th.

So we’re pumped. All that’s left to do is fill in all the holes and gaps for 5 weeks of services until then!

Umm, yeah, that’s a whole different story…

Back on Track

Well, life seems to be slowly getting back on track.

Slowly.

We closed on both houses last Monday (back-to-back), which proved to be just this side of chaos. Buyer’s funding was late, so we had to close in escrow, which is common – but another bump we weren’t expecting.

The next day, the movers started loading the truck at 4:00 PM, and we didn’t get the keys to the new house until 5:00. So there was a little stress there, too.

But we knew it was all in God’s hands – and He was just reminding us that He was in control, and that everything would be fine.

And it was. ūüôā

But to make last week a little more, ummm, interesting, we headed down to Florida after being in the house a grand total of 42 hours. This threw off Jennie’s nesting instincts, but it was for a great trip we take every year with Jennie’s mom & dad, Jennie’s sisters Kelly and Leah, and a friend each. Or in this year’s case for Leah, her husband Chris.

I only slept at the rental house this year, ’cause I needed one more thing on my plate ūüėČ I was asked to play at the Singles’ Labor Day Retreat, an annual function in Destin with over 600 singles from our campuses. And even a few partner churches this year!

Turns out it’s a pretty big to-do, with full band, staging and lighting – way more than I anticipated! So killer job to all involved!!

And so, it’s back to the proverbial grind, and a house full of boxes…. Fortunately this Sunday is relatively simple, although we’re doing a super fun Opener – so don’t miss!

The boxes, however, seem to be multiplying…. ūüėČ