Another Doh! Moment

Training is a great way to learn things. I've watched hundreds of hours of videos, read books, attended seminars and learned from real, live people. This is all very useful, but has the disadvantage of also being easily forgettable. Much like our own lives, the lessons that stick with us the best come when we are under pressure. It's easy to forget God when things are going well; however difficulties tend to draw us close to Him. Likewise, it's easy to learn a product feature in a seminar, but if you really want to sear it into your brain, wait for the day when the service is actually running and something goes wrong. That's when you learn things.

Such was the case yesterday at church. We had a new lighting volunteer, though since he's been observing for the last 4 weeks, he's not really new. He had no trouble programming the cues for the service, and everything ran perfectly during run through. We thought we were all set for the beginning of the service. When it came time to dip to black for the intro video, all the lights stayed on. And the band lights (with color changers) actually looked brighter. What the heck?

Since the video was already running, I grabbed the grand master and pulled it down. I went into the blind and looked at the cue. It looked fine. All the fixtures were at 0. Now I was puzzled. But the video was ending and we needed to come back up. So we fired the next cue, pulled up the grand master and waited to see what happened. The lights came on, and everything appeared normal.

However, when we went to run the next video, the same thing happened. No lights were going down. We scrambled around for a bit, and used the grandmaster to get us in and out, but things were not right. The band lights were all up when just the speaker lights were supposed to be. I looked at the cue in the blind, re-recorded it and fired it during the prayer. Same thing. Band lights, and speaker lights. We managed to muck our way through the rest of the service, but it was not pretty.

Between gatherings, I started playing with it. We went to top of the cue list, and starting firing off cues. Same thing. Somehow, the lights just wouldn't go down. I tried a whole bunch of things before I had the "Doh!" moment. Somehow, the operator accidently fired a cue in the C/D masters, and that took over most of the lights. Normally we run everything in the A/B masters, but since the C/D side already had most of the lights lit, all we were doing with the A/B side was bringing the color changers in and out. I hit clear on the C/D faders and everything returned to normal. Crisis averted, time for dinner.

Lessons Learned

So what can we learn from this? First of all, it's important to realize that mistakes happen. I wouldn't blame this on the light op, because I could just have easily hit "Go" on the C/D bus as on the A/B bus and had the same problem. Now that we know the result of that kind of mistake, we focused on prevention. We but a piece of board tape below the A/B Go button and drew a big arrow to it. That will help. If I really wanted to make sure it didn't happen again, I could create some kind of cover for the C/D buttons to make sure they're not hit. But that's just prevention.

What about when something like that happens again. I've written about this before, but the first thing to do is not to panic. After you're done not panicking, you need to quickly come up with a temporary fix to keep the service moving forward. We needed to take the lights to black, so I grabbed the grand master and pulled it down. That bought us time to think. Second, look at the big picture. Barring outright equipment failure (which happens less often than we initially think), most of the problems we encounter with our gear are man-made. We push the wrong button, assign the channel wrong, improperly place a mic. 

I initially blamed the board, and though it went out of control (I'm only partially justified in this, as our previous lighting system did occasionally go rouge). Had I taken a deeper breath and stood back and looked at the board, I would have seen that there was cue fired in the C/D bus, hit clear and we'd have been back in business before the video ended. To his credit, the new lighting op said he saw that, but didn't know what it meant. Another point of training. He saw it and didn't know what it meant; I didn't see it, but would have known had I seen it. What was missing there was communication. If you're troubleshooting with another person, speak what you see. You may not know the significance of it, but they might. And don't assume that what you see is not significant, even if you have far less experience that the other person. Sometimes, problems are solved when one person says something that triggers a thought in another person and the trouble is found. Talk to each other (it's a good rule in life, come to think about it...)

Get to know your equipment, and learn how it works. I've gotten pretty good at our lighting board, an ETC Expression 3, but I've not played with using the two master busses much. Had I spent more time with it, it would have been more obvious to me what the problem was. Next time it happens, I'll know. The same thing can happen with other types of gear. One of the first times I mixed on the M7, I spent a good 2-3 minutes trying to figure out why the bass wasn't coming through. I had input signal, but it wasn't coming out anywhere. I checked my patching, the master, inserts, finally, "Doh!," it was assigned to the wrong DCA, and that DCA was turned off. Had I glanced at the DCA assignments in the channel overview page, I would have checked that earlier.

Share your mistakes and solutions. One of the things I'll take away from this experience is to make sure I go over this with the other lighting operators. I'll show them exactly what happened (I may even simulate it, and have them try to solve it), so they'll know too. The only thing worse than having a problem like that in a service is having it happen again because you didn't train everyone on it. We all make mistakes. What separates good technicians from the great ones is that the great ones learn from mistakes--theirs and the mistakes of others. Perhaps, this article will help bail someone else out of a jam. That's my hope anyway!