Monday, September 9, 2013

Back in the saddle.

It has been forever since I wrote anything for this blog.  Its been 6 months to be exact. What in the world have I been doing you may ask? Well, moving across the country for one thing.  And starting a new job.  And catching up with all the relatives I haven't seen for years.  (Living in Topeka will do that to you.)  So yeah, I've been a bit busy.  But its time to start writing again!

In February of 2013, my wife and I moved to Chicago and I joined the staff at Willow Creek Community Church's North Shore campus as the Technical Arts Director.  It has been an exciting and challenging journey, but I'm blessed to work with some wonderful and talented people and God is doing great things on the North Shore!

So while I work up some content for this blog, I thought it might be fun to revisit a post from October of 2011.  Time flies but the content is still good and it's a good reminder to all of us who do services every week of the importance of planning and preparation.

It might not be said out loud very much, but sometimes it seems a lot of churches have the mentality that church shouldn't require a lot of preparation.  I've seen pastors choosing songs with the pianist five minutes before the service.  I've seen tech guys run frantically to the stage to change a battery nobody checked on.  But for some reason, these situations don't seem to encourage people to act differently in the future.  Hopefully this is not an attitude that you find yourself or those on your team struggling with. But if it is, let me encourage you to readjust your thinking on the issue. I would argue that, contrary to "making it up as we go", the work we do in the church deserves our very best preparation and planning. This is especially true for those of us working in the technical arts. As the complexity and detail of our service production increases, the more time must be spent preparing and documenting things in advance. Here are some things that I do weekly to streamline our rehearsals and services:

#1. Input Lists.

These are indispensable. Even if your stage doesn't change that much from week to week, having all stage inputs, console inputs, console outputs, and monitor assignments in one place is a lifesaver when trouble shooting. Taking the time to create this sheet ahead of time also ensures that you know how many console channels you'll need, if you're running low on mics, or, if you're like me, if you're running low on outputs! Better to discover and deal with these issues the day before a show than while the band is on stage. That is just unacceptable.

#2 Stage Plots.

These don't have to be perfectly to scale CAD drawing of your stage. (It helps if they're close though.) These are helpful for two reasons. Its always good to pre-visualize how the band, choir, drama, teaching pastor, or whatever else you have going on will interact within the confines of your stage. There have to be paths of entrance and exit. Musicians should not feel or appear cramped on stage. There has to be space for the pastor to preach from. That may sound silly, but the pastor shouldn't be nestled in the string section. Drawing it out helps you think through those issues. The second reason for stage plots is figuring out all your stage inputs. Should the bass be plugged into input 49 or 11? Well if I have a plot, I can easily see which will be best, based on the bass players location and what is happening around him or her.

#3. Aviom Labels (or Hearback or M-48 or MyMix or aux sends).

No matter what system you use, there has to be a way for the musicians to hear themselves and the other musicians. We happen to use the Aviom system but this applies to any form of monitor mixing. Musicians get frustrated (and rightly so) when they can't figure out where stuff is on the Aviom. There is really no excuse for that. Clearly labeling the unit is very important. You may have a set up that changes very little and so you can make one label that stays the same. More likely there is enough change week to week to warrant new labels. Using the band's names will really add a personal touch. And lets face it, it lets the band know that you thought about them in advance. A spreadsheet and a tabletop paper cutter will go a long way.

#4. Laying Out the Console.

Whether you use a digital desk or an analog desk, you should take the time before hand to label, assign, route, patch, insert, and whatever else you need to do to be ready for the rehearsal. This is really beneficial because it gives you a chance as the engineer to think through your set up, your routing, your effects, and really optimize your work space. Because it is your workspace. And it should be optimized.  Enough said.

#5. Line Check.

This may be the most important step. This step of the "documentation" process is to document that stuff works! Its the culmination of all the previous steps. (By the way, while the band is going through their first song is NOT the time to line check.) Just go through and make sure that all the mics, DIs, video feeds, and monitor sends are correctly set up. The band shouldn't have to wait while you try to figure out where the acoustic is patched and why there is no signal.

All of this basically comes down to professionalism and courtesy. Do the work before hand, and the day of will be much smoother. It shows that you value the work that you do and that you value the time and commitment of the other musicians and techs involved. It eliminates distraction and frustration and allows the end product to be that much better and more effective. And since the end product is worshiping our great God and leading others to Him, I'd say its pretty important.

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