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Church Audio – Killing Feedback

As I thought more about my last post which talked about Church Audio Problems, I thought I’d continue my church audio blogging by talking about a problem that has plagued churches across the country regardless of denomination or beliefs.

If you have run sound for any length of time, you have probably heard feedback.  And if you haven’t, I’m sure you will in the future.  It can come in the form of a low rumble, a mid range “yaaaaa” sound, or a hit whistle that makes everyone want to duck for cover.  (Believe me, I’ve seen it!)  Feedback can be difficult to find and control because it can take different forms and be caused by different problems.

First things first, we need to understand what exactly feedback is and by doing so, we can figure out what causes it.

Feedback is the result of sound being cycled and recycled through the sound system.  Let me explain what I mean.  What happens during feedback, is that a microphone receives and amplifies sound that has come out of the speakers.  The microphone sends that sound back through the mixing console to be once again amplified by the speakers creating what is known as a “feedback loop”.  This can increase exponentially and instantaneously resulting in and undesirable sound we know as feedback.

Now that we know what feedback is, we can dive into how it happens and figure out how to prevent it.  The best way to prevent feedback is to stop it before it starts.  Sometimes, it can be from a vocalist cupping a microphone, letting the mic hang at their sides, pointing the microphone towards a speaker or monitor or from improper gain structure, EQ, or processing.  Let’s talk through some steps to prevent these issues.

STEP NUMBER 1: PROPERLY EQ YOUR SYSTEM

First and foremost, your sound system must have a graphic system equalizer.  If you don’t have one, you should probably consider investing in one.  What this allows you to do is equalize, or tune your sound system by using a series of frequency filters to adjust the intensity level of different frequencies.  Spikes in specific frequencies can be caused by speaker positioning, room acoustics, or various other factors so I would seriously recommend hiring a trained professional to take care EQ’ing your system for you.  That way you can be sure you’ve got everything set properly and know nothing will be damaged due to improper system setup.  However, it is possible for you to do this yourself using a spectrum analyzer connected to an RTA mic.  A spectrum analyzer can play reference audio through your system and the RTA mic will sense which frequencies are louder or softer then others and display them on the screen of the spectrum analyzer.  This will tell you what frequencies you need to boost or cut (increase or decrease) on your system graphic equalizer.  Once you get your system equalized, it will give you a good starting place and a “clean plate” to start working with.

STEP NUMBER 2: PROPERLY SET UP YOUR STAGE

When setting up your stage, make sure that your monitors are positioned correctly and that your microphones are set up far enough away from the main speakers that they won’t cause issues when you begin mixing.  Also, talking to your worship team, worship leader, pastor, or anyone else using microphones, and instructing them on proper usage is always very helpful.  Make sure that singers hold microphones close to their mouths when they are singing.  If they are not singing, ask them to hold the microphone, facing upward, in the middle of their chest or stomach.  That way, it will keep the microphone pointed generally in the correct direction.  Politely ask them not to let it hang at their sides or face any stage monitors that are set up in front of them.  If they forget, and chances are, they will, politely and humbly remind them how to properly hold a mic.  Patience and humility is key here.  No one likes a bossy or nagging sound tech.  You have their best interests in mind; communicate it that way! 🙂

STEP NUMBER 3: UNDERSTANDING THE MIXER CONTROLS

Make sure that you understand the correlation between gain, EQ, your auxes, and your fader level.  Always start your sound check with your gain knob turned all the way to the left (counterclockwise position), your EQ filters at 12 o’clock, your auxes turned all the way to the right, and your fader all the way down.  If the mic requires phantom power, this would be a good time to turn it on.  After that, unmute your channel strip and bring the fader up to unity gain or the 0 area on the fader strip.  Then, while a vocalist is either talking or singing into the mic, increase your pre amp gain until you reach your desired loudness.  Using your EQ and ear, EQ the input until it sounds good.  If you hear feedback, determine how high or low it is and then, using your EQ filter and your sweepable control, determine where the exact frequency is and cut it until it stops or goes away.  If you experience reoccurring issues with feedback, you may need to assess mic placement or maybe even the type of mic.  If you have the wrong mic for the job, or the mic is placed too far away, you won’t be getting optimal signal from it and it can cause problems in your mix.  In addition, don’t be afraid to use your mute button.  If a mic is not being used, turn it off.  Open microphones and channels can cause excess noise in the mix and system so remember, if it’s not in use, it shouldn’t be on.

STEP NUMBER 4: GEAR

There is also outboard gear that can help with controlling mics and volume as well.  If you are struggling with maintaining consistent volume of individual mics or inputs, you may need a compressor to limit the dynamic range.  A compressor can usually be inserted into a signal chain at various points on the mixing console whether it is on the channel strip, audio group, mains, or even on an aux.  You can also get a gate, which essentially turns a channel off when the signal drops below a certain threshold and turns back on when signal comes through.  This is especially helpful in isolating individual drums when they are miced in close proximity.

In any case, if you have serious, uncontrolled feedback on a reoccurring basis, you may consider seeking help from a trained professional to see if they can track down what the problem is.  That way, you aren’t spending money on gear that you don’t really need and it can help you pin point the problem so that it can be assessed either by the professional or by a church sound tech.

It’s important to make sure that feedback isn’t part of your worship service.  Don’t let feedback become a distraction to worship or what God is trying to do in your congregation during any given service.  Running sound is a huge part of making sure the message of Jesus Christ is communicated clearly and effectively.  Do the best you can to improve your skills so that you can serve God with all the talents he has blessed you with and continue to invest them back into the furtherance of the Kingdom of God.

Questions?  Comments?  Feel free to comment below or email me at jason@jasoncastellente.com

If my blogs are helpful to you or your church, feel free to link back to my blog, or post links on facebook or twitter.  I’d love to hear back from those of your who are reading my blogs.

Church Audio Problems

 

As many of you know, I am on staff full time at National Community Church in Washington DC as their Production Coordinator.  Part of my job is to help improve production at each of our six locations and help maintain quality across those venues.  I noticed one of the hardest areas to train people in and also an areas that is really hard to “get good at” is in mixing audio.  I’m grateful for all the volunteers that work hard week in and week out at NCC.  They are great and make it happen every week and I appreciate each and every one of them.

Mixing audio is a difficult volunteer position for a number of reasons.  There is alot of organization that goes into making a system work right and making sure that each instrument sounds good.  Having a musical ear is very helpful in situations like this but everyone has to start somewhere.  How do you begin?

Well, if you are reading this, chances are you have already made the plunge and volunteered at your local church and have the opportunity to run sound on at least a fairly regular basis.  Maybe there are issues that you wish you could fix, but struggle with.  Maybe there are problems that you hear, but don’t have the know how to solve.  I am going to go over a few things that you can do step by step to try to improve the audio in your church and more effectively communicate the gospel through technology.

Here are a few common issues that I have seen at various churches over the past few years:

#1 – STAGE VOLUME

Okay, so most churches have a worship band.  The members of that band vary but almost always include drums, bass, guitars (acoustic and electric), keyboards, and of course vocals.  There are certain instruments that are simply louder then others.  For example, drums, electric guitar amps, bass guitar amps and instruments of that nature tend to create what we call high amounts of stage volume.  The problem with this is that when there is alot of stage volume present, it will compete with the sound coming out of the main speakers in frequency response and also time delay which causes phasing.  This forces the audio engineer to attempt to mix the sound from the stage volume with the sound from the speakers.  That becomes impossible when time delay phasing becomes a factor.  If the sound is coming from the back of the stage and from the speakers at the same time, it will reach the listener at two different points in time causing phasing.  This is almost impossible for an audio engineer to fix and creates a muddy and unclear sound.  Guitar amps should be kept to a minimum or moved far enough away so as not to cause issues.  Drummers, in a small room, should play conservatively and the church should consider purchasing a drum cage to contain the volume.  Another issue stage volume causes is high levels of sound from some instruments make it difficult for other people to hear what they need to.  They can’t hear what they need to because they are hearing too much of everything else.  So, be respectful to everyone and think before you crank!

Another issue that can cause stage volume is from stage monitors.  When you run your stage monitors at levels that are too loud, you risk having the sound bounce around on stage and ultimately out in to the audience causing the same muddy and time delay issues that a loud instrument causes.  Many musicians on stage think that in order to hear something specifically in their mix, that they need the audio engineer to turn it up more.  In some cases that is true, but you, as a musician, may want to listen more closely to your monitor before asking for something to be turned up.  Is there one or two instruments that are much louder in contrast to the others?  If so, you may want to ask the audio engineer to turn those down before asking him to turn other things up.  Try it!  It works!

#2 – MICROPHONE TECHNIQUE

First, you need the right microphone for the job.  There are a wide array of microphones out there.  But you need the right tool for the job.  Check out the make and model number of your microphone and look it up online.  You don’t need to understand what all the technical jargon means, just understand what the microphone’s intended purpose was and how it should be used.

Once you understand the microphone’s application, then you need to set it up and position it in the right way.  Way to often, I see a Shure SM57 hanging over the top of a guitar amp dangling over speaker.  First of all, that mic is positioned completely wrong and is micing the floor rather then the guitar amp.  You are micing indirect soundwaves which is probably introducing some type of phasing into your mix as well.

Vocalists who cup mics and sing incorrectly to them are also extremely difficult for audio engineers to compensate for.  When you sing, you should never cup the windscreen.  This prevents frequency rejection which the mic was designed to do.  It can also cause more mic pops and other breath related noises that can ruin a good sound.

Also, when you sing, you should maintain a consistent distance from your mouth to the mic.  Vocalists who are far away for one song and then totally eat the mic on the next are a nightmare for an audio engineer to keep up with.  It doesn’t matter how good of a mic you have, it doesn’t matter how good your compressors are, it doesn’t matter how good your preamps are, it’s still going to sound terrible if the vocalist doesn’t know how to properly use a mic.  Sometimes, vocalists will sound check right up on the mic and then move back when they perform because they are nervous.  And then they complain they can’t hear anything.  Consistency is key here.  My biggest suggestion for audio engineers is to humbly and graciously educate your vocalists on how to use a microphone and also patiently remind them when they forget because chances are, your band will forget.  Just keep reminding them without being annoying.  We’re all still learning after all anyway right? 🙂

#3 – PROPER GAIN STRUCTURE

When you mix sound check, you must properly set gain structure for each and every input.  You should start with the fader all the way down where the small infinity sign is.  After making sure the gain or trim fader is turned all the way to the left, unmute the channel and bring the fader up to 0 dB.  Then, gradually bring the gain knob up to the desired loudness.  Then, EQ the channel and mix your monitors.

#4 – HOUSE VOLUME

Yes, I know I am treading on an age old delicate topic in some churches.  If your mix is too loud, it is counter productive.  In a worship situation, be sensitive to the Holy Spirit as well as the leadership that is running the event.  Just because you are the audio engineer doesn’t mean you should always run it the way you think it should be run.  Run sound to the best of your ability but also be willing to do whatever the event leadership wants you to do.  You also need to think about what is best in communicating the gospel and mix for your target audience.  If it’s younger people, they probably won’t mind it pretty loud.  But, if it’s a senior citizen event, chances are that they won’t like subs pounding the room! 🙂  Be respectful, and be sensitive.  Volume that is too loud can ruin the mood and can hurt the spirit of worship.

In contrast, if it’s not loud enough, it can be a problem too.  While I was in college, I toured as an audio engineer for two years with a school sponsored worship band to churches and youth camps.  I experimented alot with volume levels while I was on tour and it really does effect the worship environment.  If the volume is not loud enough, the worship service can lack enthusiasm and energy.  Like I mentioned above, be sensitive to the environment, the leadership, the people in attendance, and to the type of music.

#5 – HOUSE EQ AND CROSSOVER

If for some reason, after you have tried everything and have done your best with mic positioning and setup, you still have issues with poor sound or feedback, your system equalizer may not be set properly for the room or your speakers.  There are ways for the common person to rectify this, but I would highly suggest bringing in a professional.  That way you can be sure that no system components will be misused or damaged.

#6 – SOUNDTECH

Sometimes, the biggest issue is just the tech running the system.  This is not meant to bash anyone or put anyone’s efforts down.  Training helps, practice improves the sound, technique creates better mixes, but if you don’t have at least a basic technical understand and a somewhat musical ear, then maybe this isn’t the best area for you to serve. Also, a great sound tech must have a teachable and humble attitude.  An attitude of servanthood will be a great asset to have behind a mixing console when accompanied by a good technical skill set.  I believe audio techs in churches should be auditioned and someone should assess their skill set before they are turned loose.  God has gifted each of us differently and uniquely.  We are one body with many parts.  If everyone was an eye, where would the sense of smell be?  If everyone was a sound tech, there would be no worship band, no greeters, no pastors or teachers or small group leaders.  So, be honest with yourself.  Do you have the skills to do this?  Or should you be serving somewhere else?  It’s all about effectively communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Find the area where you are strong and pursue it with all your heart.

Feel free to comment and voice your opinion and ideas or email me directly at jason@jasoncastellente.com

Star Wars for Audio Engineers

I just happened to see this link on Twitter to a website called “Behind The Mixer” which had a post (it’s about two years old) that compared church sound tech’s characters to characters in Star Wars.  It made me laugh because of how true it was…lol.  Check it out and let me know what you think!!

 

http://www.behindthemixer.com/content/luke-i-am-your-fathers-sound-guy

T-Mobile mytouch 4G – Part 1

First off, the reason that I am titling this part one is because I’m sure I’ll have more to talk about once things get rolling and I’m pretty sure I’ll get Facebook and Twitter comments and things on this post.

Secondly, I’m a newbie when it comes to the world of Android.  My only other experience with Android other then playing with my friend’s phones, is when I wrote about how to install Android on an iPhone running iOS firmware 3.1.2 or less. For a while I had been using a jailbroken iPhone 3G on T-Mobile’s network but eventually I got tired of the slow networks speeds and issues with the iPhone firmware.

So, after some research and also after trying out a friend’s mytouch and also one at an area T-Mobile store in PA and also in DC, I decided to buy the mytouch 4G.  Best Buy had a deal that gave you a $100 instant rebate off of the normal $199 the phone cost, plus I had two gift cards from Christmas.  So, it was a pretty sweet deal.

I keep reading online that people say this phone is heavier then other phones but I disagree with that…it seems fine.  I don’t think it is any heavier then most other smart phones on the market.  You turn it on and you are greeted with the T-Mobile mytouch 4G screen before you are taken to the home screen.  Interestingly enough, it didn’t have the standard large number clock that is some what synonymous with Android phones on the market.

I bought it up in PA and immediately after signing in through my Google login for Gmail on the phone, I promptly opened the Android market and downloaded the Ookla Speedtest.net app to see if the hype with all of the 4G speeds were true.  I hit the begin test button and got 4601 kbps down and 1509 kbps upload.  Not bad at all…that made me quite happy actually.  I did a few more as we were driving home to see about the consistency and the lowest speed I got was 1596 kbps down and 861 kbps up while I was syncing some of my apps.  Not shabby at all.

I downloaded a few more apps and things and when all was said and done, I logged into My T-Mobile online and it showed that I had used almost 400 MB of data that night.  Wow!!  There’s a reason to buy their unlimited data plan for $30 per month and not the $10 per month data plan with only 200 MB.

I have to say though, the data coverage back home in the Philadelphia area is way better then the data coverage down here in DC.  At work, just outside of Capitol Hill, my data coverage is around 1000 kbps down at the most which is slightly frustrating to me.  I will say that I have better coverage with voice and that the phone has boosted my network reception for calls but I’m paying almost the same amount for data as I am for voice and I feel like my coverage should be just as good on both especially in a major metropolitan area like DC.  Of course, as I drive around in DC, there are some areas that are better then others but I just wish it was more consistent across the city.  Farther down in NE DC, I’m having a rough time with bandwidth.  Somewhat disappointing to me.  Although, I have to say, right around the intersection of 13th Street and H Street in NE DC, there is amazing bandwidth.  It’s kind of coincidental that there is also a T-Mobile store on that corner.  Interesting if you ask me…

The other issue I keep having is the phone gets really slow at times.  I have an app to kill processes that continue to run in the background on Android, but even with a ton of memory free (over half), it will still run slow for a few minutes and then either start running better, or I’ll just have to reboot it.  I have also killed background syncing and I really only sync things when I open the app.  To me, there is no reason to really have stuff other then maybe your work calendar that is shared with a whole office or company of people syncing in the background.  Just sync it when you open it in my opinion.

I’m not quite sure that my phone is working correctly because it gets really slow just completing basic options and things.  I’m thinking that maybe when I go back to PA next week, I’m going to exchange it for another mytouch just to make sure that there is nothing wrong with this phone.

The hardware is pretty solid.  The LCD screen is 3.8 inches and runs 480×800 resolution and has great color.  The screen is really responsive although I had to consciously push a little harder on it then what I would have normally done with my iPhone but that’s not a big deal to me…just something I have to get used to.  On the top of the phone, you have some notification LEDs as well as a front facing camera.  In the speaker grill, you have an ambient light sensor that by default changes the screens brightness depending on where you are and what you are doing.  Also on the very top of the phone, you have your standard 3.5mm headphone jack for headphones or a headset and along side of that is a power button.

On the bottom, there are 6 physical buttons.  The home button, the settings button, a touch sensitive button that can be used for navigation, a back button, the genius button, and on the side there is a dedicated camera shutter button.  I think the buttons are basically self explanatory especially when you are actually using the phone.

On the back, the phone is pretty beefy with a metal battery door.  Under the door is the battery, along with access to the SIM card and also an 8 GB microSD card that comes with the phone.  Also, there is a 5 megapixel camera and LED flash.

I have to say, I’m pretty impressed with the actual phone specifications.  It’s pretty sweet and will probably be a decent phone even at the end of my two year contract renewal.  It’s got a 1 Ghz Snapdragon MSM8255 processor along with 768 MB of RAM and 4 GB of internal space.  It obviously has WiFi capabilities on the phone and can handle basically any b/g/n connection you need.  It can also broadcast a WiFi hotspot using the cellular data connection allowing you to tether your phone at no extra charge like some other carriers require.

My first time calling on it was great.  It’s loud and I can hear way better then on my iPhone 3G.  There is no noise reduction but I didn’t have any issues hearing when I was making a call.  However, the speakerphone on the other hand is pretty rough.  Actually…terrible.  The speakerphone is very tinny and the caller is almost unintelligible.  It’s almost not worth using.  That would especially stink when you are using the video chat function since you must use the speakerphone for that.  I guess I’ll just have to use the headphones or get a bluetooth headset.  I should probably get a bluetooth headset since talking on the phone and driving is illegal in DC anyway.

Anyway, I think that’s good for my review of my initial impressions as well as the phone itself.  Maybe in my next blog post, I’ll dive more into HTC Sense and the software that is on the phone and some of the Android apps that I’ve liked and enjoyed so far.

I’m sure this is kind of a hot topic in the world of blogging, phones, and technology today.  So if you have any comments, feel free to post below or email me at jason@jasoncastellente.com

Is this what you really want your life to be?

Today is one of my off days.  It is certainly welcomed because for some reason, I have been dragging a little bit.  It’s been nice just to sit here with a cup of coffee and hang out a little.  Yes, there are still things to do today, but I’m trying not to focus on that.

Something that I have been trying to do lately is to look at what is around me through the eyes of the Holy Spirit and try to see things through a spiritual point of view.  To almost just look around, and ask the Holy Spirit to speak to me through everyday things.

Right now, I’m sitting at a class table in the living room of my condo.  My landlord usually uses this table to hold his newspapers that he seems to never keep up on reading.  Somedays, he sits here and tries to go through them and catch up.  He cuts out the things that are significant to him.  Those pieces of paper tell stories…things that have happened…things to be remembered.

What has God written on the pages of your life?  What has happened to you and what are some of the things that you want to remember?  Once things are done or printed, there is no taking it back.  While you are drafting the story or writing the story, you can still hit the delete or backspace.  But once you make a conscious decision to do something, or hit print, you can’t push those words back into the printer.  You cannot remove the words from the page.   It’s done.

I have been thinking alot about crossroads and new chapters and things like that at this point in my life because that is where I am at.  I don’t know where you are but you might be at a place like that right now.  It is the next chapter or soon to be the next chapter.  What do you do?  What words to you say or write?  What are you supposed to do?

There is a point of difference in your life where you’ve got to make a decision and a point where you’ve got to take a stand.  There is a time where thinking is great but it’s time to do something.  God directs those who seek Him but He can’t do anything with someone who is sitting down and not going anywhere.  You have to be in motion in order for Him to direct you.  You have to move forward and let Him guide your steps.

I have no idea what the significance of this post is.  It is slightly random a little unfocused but it is simply what God is placing on my heart today.  So, for those of you reading this, I hope God speaks to you in some way through this and I hope it rings true in your heart today.

Feel free to comment or email me at jason@jasoncastellente.com

February 2011 Monthly Desktop background

This month, I didn’t want anything really behind my icons because I feel like my desktop is getting cluttered.  I just took a basic shape and tiled it.  Then I replaced the colors and then textured it.  It’s basic, simple and clean.  That was basically my goal.

Here it is in 1920×1080:

So what are we doing here anyway?

The last few years, I have been working alot in production specifically in churches and other Christian venues where the goal is to bring glory and honor to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  It is both a joy and a challenge.  The joy comes from knowing that because you decided to step out and give of yourself as literally an offering of worship, that other people will hear the message of Christ’s love and understand more about his love and saving power.  The sound tech is helping to communicate the audible message, the lighting tech is helping to create a visual ambience of worship in a given setting or room and also has the power to highlight or mask stage activity, and the projection/video tech helps to communicate through a graphical, lyrical, and through a very visual medium.  A tech team at a church is just that, A TEAM!!  That means, without one of those members, things don’t flow or move as planned.  The main three parts of a production team coming together, and working together, helps to create a great atmosphere of worship when things are planned out and worked out right.

One important factor that I would like to stress is that each member of that team should be prepared and should understand their roll.  Now, by saying that, am I saying that everyone should be spot on and never make a mistake?  No!  Certainly not…I would just expect someone who is working in that kind of a vital position, understand what they are doing and know how to serve in their position effectively.

Preparation is a two-fold topic when it comes to working in a worship setting.  Preparation includes a certain level of efficiency and technical understanding of their role in production, but it also includes being spiritually prepared.  I’m sure we would want the speaker or worship leader to be prepared technically in their message or music as well as in their relationship spiritual with the Lord but shouldn’t that go for the technical staff as well?  We, as the technical staff, are in full control of the medium through which the message of God is being communicated through.  Shouldn’t we have prepared ourselves and our hearts through time with God and through the reading of His word and prayer before we step into our roles?  Yes, most of us have a timeline to work with for production or a run sheet of what is going to happen, but ultimately, God is still running and headlining “the show” and if he decides to come in and mess up your run sheet, then you, as a production tech, should be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit along with the speaker or worship leader, and be technically proficient enough to react to whatever comes.  That’s not something that occurs too often in secular production, but in a church, you need to be ready for it if it happens!  But, ultimately, the cool thing is that God will work in spite of us if He needs to.  Quite honestly, I would rather have Him work through me and in me.  It doesn’t matter how technically prepared you are if you lack spiritual preparation.  It will trip you up more then you realize.

Second to spiritual preparation, is technical preparation.  Checking to make sure you know what the order is before service, line checking and sound checking your worship team and speaker mics and BATTERIES, knowing when your lighting cues should be and making sure it’s thought out beforehand, checking lyrics for misspellings and continuity, and making sure cues are in order.  Missing cues or parts of a run sheet are not an “unforgivable sin” but they still can be a distraction to worship and to what the Holy Spirit may be doing in someone’s heart.  I certainly do  not want to be that distraction…but like I said earlier, God will work whether we do all the right things or not.  That’s what so great about serving God!

Anyway, I’m sure I’ll come back to this topic or a similar topic in the near future.  It’s time to go to bed so that I’m ready and prepared for the morning….Sunday morning.  A sacred time to worship our Savior, God, Creator and King of all.  God bless you as you worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.

Reflections?  Thoughts?  Comments?  Feel free to make your voice heard by commenting below or emailing me at jason@jasoncastellente.com

Who loves coffee?

Hey all you coffee lovers out there!!  Well, maybe not everyone reading this will love coffee, but I certainly do!!

In September, one of the guys who lived a few dorms down from me told me about the Gevalia coffee subscription.  Normally, I’m pretty apprehensive when it comes to subscribing to something because I’m nervous about getting locked in.  But, with this, everyone I talked to didn’t get locked in at all.

Basically, what you can do, is you can sign up for any of their subscription plans and you’ll get a free gift for signing up.  The free gifts include various different coffeemakers, cups, carafes, canisters, and other things.  You’ll be able to see what free gift you’ll be getting before you sign up.

Anyway, I signed up for their Gevalia Kaffe at Home one because it was the cheapest and I would get a stainless steel coffee maker as my free gift.  So, boom signed up for it and I have to say, it came fast and not to mention, the coffee that came with it was pretty good.  So, I decided to keep it for a little while.  One thing I really like about their subscriptions, is that you can basically select when you want it shipped to you and you can push back or move up shipments however you like.  For example, I get two boxes every other month…kind of as a treat to myself.  I will say, the coffee is good but a little pricey if you decide to keep it so you might just cancel right away or just only get it as a treat to yourself every few months which is completely doable with their program.

Anyway, if you feel like checking it out, here’s the link to their website with my referral:  http://gevalia.popularmedia.net/click/share/f08e14cf20ca7c965150a8fdae9fa1af

 

Feel free to comment or email me at jason@jasoncastellente.com.

Oh the fun with Google Voice!! Tips, tricks, and hints for getting the most out of Google Voice

I have been using Google Voice for the past couple of years since I got an invite and did not really start using it heavily until more recently.  I remember when I got the invite.  It was still a somewhat primitive service but I could tell that it was powerful.  I knew that since Google had gotten their hands on it, it was going to be developed and actually become something great.  It was a pretty limited service at that point and you needed to either be invited, or bribe a friend to send you an invite.  Well, those days are over because now you can sign up for Google Voice simply by going to www.google.com/voice and it will link up your google ID (used for any other google services) with your new Google voice account or prompt you to sign up for a new account.

You can do alot with Google voice including free text messaging over data, voicemail transcription and management and many other things.

Google Voice service is pretty great in and of itself, but there are a TON of tricks and things that I have found that I could do with Google Voice to make my current cell phone service and other online services better.  While I won’t list all of the possibilities I have found, I will list a few that have seriously piqued my interest and may benefit others.

One thing I would recommend is looking at your cell phone carrier’s plans and see what is available.  Many carriers have some type of myfaves, a-list, or friends and family plan that gives you the option of selecting certain phone numbers each month which, once selected, your carrier gives you unlimited minutes on that number as long as it is on that list.  What you can do is add your Google Voice number to that list of numbers though which you can do unlimited calling and BOOM you now have unlimited minutes for the price of a lesser plan.  It will also be difficult for any of those carriers to track exactly which numbers are Google Voice numbers and which are legit numbers since Google Voice numbers are pretty uniquely chosen when you sign up.  For example, I use my basic (now discontinued) T-Mobile myfaves 300 plan which gives you 300 minutes per month plus 5 unlimited number slots for $39.99 per month and I use my Google Voice number in one of those slots.  Right now, I have an iPhone 3G running the old Cydia jailbroken app to make calls and send text messages.  Soon, I will be getting some type of Google Android phone giving me much tighter integration.  Check to see what YOUR carrier offers.  You may be able to “upgrade” to a better plan with those 5 unlimited calling slots without breaking contract.  No promises there…but check it out and see what you can do.

Another cool service is from Sipgate. This is a VOIP service (Voice Over Internet Protocol) that allows you to use SIP phones (similar to the ones that Vonage uses) along with their software.  They have different tiers of service, but their basic service, Sipgate One is free.  When you sign up for Sipgate, you get a free phone number and voicemail among other things like the ability to fax, free internal calls (free sipgate to sipgate calls….basically mobile-to-mobile minutes), call recording, call distribution, conference calling, three-way calling, forwarding, advanced routing, and more.  You can integrate this service along with a sipgate iPhone app, softphone, or SIP phone.  One word of warning is that you do have to pay for OUTGOING calls but when you use it with Google Voice, you should never, technically, have to make outgoing calls.

Here’s what you can do with Sipgate: you make the number that Sipgate gives you one of the numbers that your Google Voice rings to.  That way, all calls that come in on there are incoming.  If you want to make an outgoing call, do not dial with the sipgate phone app or SIP phone, but instead, dial with the Google Voice app on your cell phone or use the Google Voice app at www.google.com/voice or the widget built into the Chrome browser.

If you don’t feel like going through all that jazz with Sipgate and you still want to make calls on your computer, you can simply use the Google Talk app that is built into Gmail, or you can set your Skype number to be your Google Voice number .  You can do that step by step:

1. go to skype.com
2. log in
3. click on Caller ID tab all the way to the left
4. click “Change number” and enter your GV number
5. wait for the txt message to arrive at you GV number
6. take the confirmation code in the txt message and enter it on the Skype website

You should be in business!!  Anyway, that’s a few different tips that I have for getting the most out of your cell phone service as well as Google Voice.  If you like this kind of information, then let me know by commenting, facebooking me, twittering me, or emailing me at jason@jasoncastellente.com.  Feel free to re-post the link to my blog on your facebook or retweet it on Twitter.

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