Planning Will Set You Free

If you've read more than one or two of these posts, you've seen that phrase. I am a huge believer in planning as many elements of a service or event as possible. It's much easier to figure out how you're going to patch an extra guitar in when you're relaxed and sitting in your office on Wednesday than in a panic Sunday morning at 8:00 am. As contemporary services get more complex, planning becomes not just a luxury, but a matter of survival.

Consider this scenario: You're in a modern church that is doing very production heavy services. You're running a board that's too small for the job because it was bought 5 years ago when the services were much simpler. You're using an Aviom system for monitors, and every week, the board is pretty much maxed out, as are all 16 Aviom sends. On Saturday you show up for soundcheck and rehearsal and discover you forgot all about the special music that weekend. A singer, who is not part of the normal worship team will sing and play guitar. They will also need the full band as backup, so they need the vocal and guitar in the Avioms. As you discover this, the worship team walks up on stage and wants to begin soundcheck. Can you make it work? Chances are you can, but it will take some head scratching, thinking, re-configuring and Tums.

Now, imagine you knew about this on Wednesday, because you got a Weekend Review sheet in your e-mail. The special was clearly noted, along with the guitar requirements. It may take some head scratching and thinking as to how you'll make it work, but you can figure it out. You enter all the info into your patch sheet, draw up your stage plot and rest comfortably knowing the weekend is under control.

At Crosswinds, we are blessed to have a couple who love to set up the stage. He is a retired engineer, so things are done very precisely. It's great - assuming he has the right information. This is why I've developed the Stage Plot and Patch Chart (available on the Downloads page). The stage plot shows him where everything needs to go on stage. It spells out who, what and where. If it's a guitar player who sings, it's clearly noted. Piano player who also plays keys? Right there. I indicate monitor locations, Aviom positions, and staging requirements.

The patch chart is a detailed account of what gets plugged into where, from the beginning of the signal chain (mic or instrument) all the way through to the board, and back again through the monitors or Avioms. It's an Excel spreadsheet that I can walk through on the screen of every single patch point to make sure I'm covered, and that every signal will get where it's supposed to. It's a setup tool, and a troubleshooting tool. If a musician grabs the wrong line to plug his DI into, we can trace it back very quickly to the DI, then the mini-snake (more on those in a second), and know what is going on. No more pulling on cords all the way to the back of the stage.

Of course, all this only works if you have the proper information to start with. I've been encouraging my worship leaders to get me their band set to me 8 days before their weekend (the Friday before the previous weekend). That way I have time to go over it, and make sure I have what I need to support them well. I check in with the drama director (actually, it's posted on a section of our website) and see how many mics the drama team will need. I make sure I know of any specials or guest speakers, then draw up the plot and chart on Tuesday night.

Our setup couple comes in on Thursday morning to set the stage. That night, the worship team arrives, along with the weekend FOH tech to do a quick soundcheck and get levels in the monitors and Avioms. They can then rehearse under real-world conditions. Saturday is then a fine-tuning of monitor levels and 2 complete run throughs of the service prior to the evening service. When it works the way it's supposed to (ie. there are no last minute surprises...), it's very low stress and very fun. By the time the worship service rolls around, everyone knows what they are doing and the tech team can worship along with the congregation. All of this is brought to us by Planning.

If you don't currently plan your services in advance, I encourage you to start. If you can't get information out of the worship leaders, send them a copy of a stage plot and patch chart to help educate them on how crucial the information is, and how much you need. Worship leaders and music ministers, help us help you (to paraphrase the great theologian Jerry McGuire...). Give us the information we need ahead of time, so that we can be all set and ready to go when you are. Trust me, the experience will be better for everyone involved. It's true, planning will set you free!

Oh, I almost forgot about the mini-snakes. In our worship center, we have 32 stage inputs. 16 on the back wall of the stage and 16 on the front edge of the stage, facing the audience (I have no idea why...). It's not unusual to have 15-18 or more inputs every week, and with our setup, the patch points are not always convenient. We used to just run mic cables all over the place, which made for a very messy stage, not to mention a lot of cables to pick up and sort out. So I picked up some 4-channel and 2-channel snake cable (I really like the Mogami MG-2900 series, available at Markertek), put XLR males on 1 end and XLR females on the other. Each is between 20-30' long, which is enough to get from the back corner of the stage to the opposite front corner. I also labeled each individual channel with a unique code. Every snake gets a letter, and each channel a number. Thus snake A consists of 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A. Each connector has a printed label on it, protected by clear heat shrink. Now we can plug a 4 channel snake into 17-20 (which are on one wall plate), run it over to the drum kit and patch in the electric drums. Another goes from 21-24 and picks up feeds from the guitars (since they normally stand pretty close together, we plug DI's right into the snake, and run the instrument cables from one central point, very neat). Just make sure when you order the snake cable, you get black - or you'll hear about it (believe me...).