How do you prepare for a building project? Not simply design, but making sure all the right things are in place for a project to succeed. And be sure to choose equipment your team can run. We're gearing up for building in 2014!
Continuing our series on Christmas prep, today we’ll wrap up with the other thing I’ve learned to do ahead of time whenever possible. These two weeks feel like the calm before the storm, but I try to get as much done as possible so the week of Christmas feels less like a storm and more like a celebration. That’s why I do all this stuff early whenever possible.
A few years ago, I was really short-handed and had to pull off Christmas with me and one other person. It occurred to me the only way that was going to work was if we did as much as early as possible. Up to that point, we had been doing the “Christmas Week Marathon” method. I always hated it, but we had enough hands to throw at the problem and we got it done.
After that year, I realized we could spread the workload out over 3-4 weeks, and enjoy the process a whole lot more. So that’s what we do. The thing we tried last year—and it worked so well we’re doing it again—is to build the set pieces a week in advance.
Build Components If You Can’t Build Sets
If you recall, we did the block walls last year, and instead of trying to cram the entire production process in one week, we build the boxes the week before. I didn’t want the block walls going up before the weekend before Christmas, but we could get them mostly built ahead of time. Then we just had to rig them on Christmas week, which took a few hours. By then, we already had about 30 man-hours into the set.
This year, we’re starting today in fact. On Dec. 4, we’re gathering our raw materials for the set, and it will take a few hours to pull together. In fact, two weeks ago, I had the guys start painting some 2x8s that we had lying around. Those will be supports (overkill perhaps?) for the set when it’s all done.
I can’t say this enough. I started working on our Christmas set ideas back in October. I peruse sites like ChurchStageDesignIdeas, and read various design-centered blogs to get ideas. Once I find things I like, I save them to Evernote, and begin to work out the details.
This year, I’m stealing an idea I saw on the Country Music Awards (you’ll have to wait for that post to see what it is). I liked the look, and while I was watching the show, I figured out how I could replicate the look on a low budget.
It’s easy to figure out stuff like that when you have time to shop and come up with ways to make things happen. If you wait until build week, you’re scrambling, and you have to make do with whatever you can find. That may work, but it’s usually not ideal.
One of the things I love about Christmas and Easter (and I suppose VBS, too) is that it is a great excuse to get the team together. We have a ton of high school guys on the team, and they love coming in to help work on projects like this.
I do all the design work, and will often build prototypes of what we want, then I can turn them loose to make it happen. Or we can all work together, depending on the project. A few years ago, when it was just me and Thomas, we did enjoy working closely together, but I think we were both pretty exhausted by the end. Last year, we had a bunch of other guys helping and we all got to go home earlier, and have more fun in the process.
Plus, having a bunch of Jr. & Sr. High guys around is a great excuse to go to Dairy Queen for lunch several days in a row…
Well, that’s my set of secrets for surviving Christmas. I again apologize for begin late on this. On the other hand, this also works for Easter and VBS, so consider this early for those two events. How do you prepare for Christmas?
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Last time, we considered how important it is to get your rentals booked early for Christmas. In fact, if you’re reading this and still haven’t secured rental gear, stop and do so now. We’ll be here when you get back. But those headset mic's you need might well be gone; mainly because I already booked them. Two months ago… Anyway.
As soon as the band configuration is set, I begin working on input sheets. For us this usually happens in late October, early November. In fact, I get stressed if I don’t have that done by November 10th or so. That date is entirely arbitrary, but having it lined up by then makes me feel better.
First of all, I learn what I need to rent, and I get that booked (see last post). Second of all, it helps me figure out how I’m going to lay things out, and I can spot trouble areas. No matter how big your console is, there are a finite number of inputs. And for some reason, at Christmas, inputs expand to fill the channels available.
I’ve learned that the time to start negotiating with the keyboard players about their need for 10 inputs is November, not the day of rehearsal. It’s also easier to figure out if you can share body packs, mic's or other items two months in advance when you have time to kick your feet up on the desk and think it through.
I know I should have told you this in November; sorry about that. I was busy building my input sheets. We’ll do better next year, huh?
With the advance of digital consoles and offline software, the last few years, I’ve built my entire console show files in my office in November. Since this year’s Christmas Eve service is really close to last year’s, I even saved all the relevant snapshots, updating what I could based on new speakers and whatnot.
With everything patched, the surface laid out, I can load that into the console and run through it a few weeks in advance to see if I’m still happy with it. Most times, I end up making some tweaks once it’s actually on the surface, but it’s nice to be really close at start up.
Pre-Build Monitor Mixes
One of the advantages of not being at a highly creative church is that we do the same thing pretty much every year. So, about a week from rehearsal, I’ll call up the tracks from last years services and pre-build all my vocal monitor mixes (the band is all on M-48s this year). We tend to rotate a few vocals in and out, but I can get close based on the tracks.
I’ve found, especially with vocalists, if you get in the ballpark with a decent mix from the moment they put their IEMs in, you’re 90% of the way there. Rather than spending 30-45 minutes building eight mixes from scratch at rehearsal, we’ll spend 10 minutes tweaking.
In this same vein, we’ll also drag out all of the M-48s about a week out, plug them in and pre-patch everything. Because we can save all the patching, panning, naming and grouping in a file, we’ll set it all up, get it ready, save the file, then go back to the normal weekend. I used to do this step during set up week, but I found I had enough to do that week already, and I’d rather simply recall a file than stay in the booth until 10 PM every night trying to get it all done.
Pre-Build Lighting & Graphics, Too
In fact, anything you can pre-build and save in early December, do it. Now that pretty much everything we do is digital, it’s very easy to get your lighting console set up, all your ProPresenter shows done, even graphics for video can be wrapped up by early December. Shoot, if you need cables run to new parts of the auditorium or building, get them run this week or next.
Well now that you have plenty on your to-do list for this week and next, I’ll let you get started. Next time, we’ll talk about one last thing we can do ahead of time
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It’s coming. In less than 24 days in fact. Depending on your church, you are anywhere from 1-3 weeks out from one of the busiest weeks of your year. And had I been really thinking this through, I would have written this series before I went on vacation last week. But I didn’t, so here we are.
I want to let you in on my Christmas Season preparation. Having done this a few years (read 20+), I’ve made a lot of mistakes and learned a few things along the way. Over the next few days, we’ll focus on different aspects of preparation, and hopefully we’re still far enough out to help. If not, we can both plan better next year, OK?
I learned this lesson almost 15 years ago. I was living in Ohio and was the volunteer audio director. It was my first time through their Christmas season, and it was the first week in December that I learned we would need about a dozen channels of wireless—complete with headset mic’s—to handle the two weeks worth of production (yes, we had a children’s musical followed by an adult musical the next weekend; we changed that the following year…).
The next day at work, I started frantically calling around trying to find eight channels of wireless (we had four). One of the most instructive things I learned came from on of the larger rental houses in the area. He said, “For late December? Our whole inventory is rented out for all of December by early November. You’re way too late, my friend.”
This of course means, Plan Early
One of the biggest challenges to doing Christmas in church is that many churches don’t start really planning their Christmas production until, oh, December 2nd. Sometimes you can pull that out, but more often than not, you’re in trouble. I finally found two places that would rent me some mic's (and one of them pulled new ones off the shelf and charged me a fortune to rent them). But the next year, I started asking about Christmas in September. I figured we wouldn’t get answers until October, but at least we were further out.
The last few years, I’ve had my my rental contracts signed and done by mid-November. Even out here in LA, if one waits, one can expect to pay a lot more. The first year I was here, we decided to try something pretty ambitious and we waited a little long to lock things down. That meant we ended up renting things from way up in LA, which meant expensive delivery fees.
Seriously, Don’t Wait
If you’re reading this in early December, and you haven’t booked whatever rental stuff you need, get on it. This week. Hopefully you can still find what you need. Of course, it always helps to have a relationship with a rental company, even if you only rent from them one or two times a year. We don’t rent nearly as much as we used to what with budget cuts and all, but we still have good relationships with a few rental houses, depending on what we need.
Sometimes It’s Better to Buy
Occasionally, Christmas is a great excuse to pick up that extra channel of wireless or three you’ve been needing, or perhaps some new headset mic’s, or even light fixtures. Every year, I put money in the budget for Christmas and Easter, and depending on what we’re doing, I decide if I rent or buy. Do the math and place the order. Just don’t wait.
This can also be a great opportunity to try out some equipment you’re on the fence about buying. A new, larger audio or lighting console, mic’s, even lighting fixtures are great things to try out with a Christmas rental before you commit to purchase. Just be sure you get them early enough to become familiar with their operation before show day.
So that’s the first step; book your rentals. Next time, we’ll talk about other preparations to make.