Good Planning Makes for Great Rehearsals

A sneak preview of our Christmas Eve program...

A sneak preview of our Christmas Eve program...

The other day we had our first rehearsal for Christmas Eve. Like many churches, Christmas Eve is a big deal for us. We tend to pull out all the stops and field a really big band and vocal team (whether or not this is actually a good idea is a topic for another post). So instead of our usual 4-5 musicians and 2-3 vocals, we had 11 musicians and 6 vocals—each with their own monitor mix. Moreover, some of the musicians were playing multiple instruments, depending on the song. So there is a lot going on. And I haven’t even mentioned the 6 readers and 3 pastors…

If you’ve been doing production in church of any length of time, you know a rehearsal of that size can quickly spiral out of control. Even a simple soundcheck can take hours if things aren’t patched right, monitor mixes aren’t coming together quickly and people aren’t prepared. To make sure that didn’t happen, we prepared. A lot.

Start preparing weeks or months ahead of time.

I’ve said this before, but I had my show file for the audio console mostly done by Nov. 1. I’ve tweaked it about six times since then to adapt to changing input needs, but it was mostly done months in advance. That allowed me time to get really comfortable with how I put it all together, where I patched things and simply mull over if what I was doing was the most efficient. 

We also built all the M-48 files a week before the rehearsal. We got all our channel naming done, assigned all the patching and ran through it to make sure we weren’t missing anything. Being able to do this on a Thursday afternoon with no one else around is far more accurate and much less stressful than trying to make it happen while the band is waiting to get started. 

Know the program and music as well as the band.

I ask for my tech book to have band charts in it along with lyrics. I’m not really a musician, but I can read music well enough to find my way around it. I also have a chart from our worship leader telling me who is playing what on each piece. And we have recordings of all the songs we’re playing available on Planning Center.

With that knowledge, I pre-built snapshots for all the songs. Those snapshots are really rough starting points for the mix, but more importantly, they have all my assigning done. This includes selecting alternate inputs for a different instrument for example. Or moving a vocalist from a BGV to a lead. Or turning certain channels on or off. Basically, it’s all the administrative stuff. That way, when we get to rehearsing that song, I fire off the snapshot and at the very least, the right things come on (and because of the way we’re doing monitoring, all the routing is correct). This takes several hours to set up, and I have learned over the years that it’s better to do that at a time when the band is not waiting for me to figure it out. 

Check everything, then check it again.

We line check everything every week. We make double-sure everything works for a big event. Because we’re getting creative with the patching to make it all work, it’s easy to miss stuff. During our line check, we discovered the keys were patched wrong. It’s much easier and less stressful to fix when it’s just me and Jon, not the whole band. We checked the outputs, too. I wanted to make extra sure each monitor was patched right. There’s nothing worse than thinking you’re making changes to Gina’s monitor, only to find out you’re actually adjusting Kelley’s because it’s labeled wrong. 

Think through as much as you possibly can—ahead of time.

I spent hours staring at the console, our M-48s, the spreadsheets we build and the stage to make sure we were as prepared as we could possibly be. And it paid off in spades. Soundcheck took just over 30 minutes and the rehearsal ran as smoothly as any I’ve ever been a part of. I received multiple compliments from the band as to how well it all ran. I say this not to boast, but to give you encouragement that you can pull off an amazing rehearsal; it simply takes a bunch of work ahead of time. Do the hard work up front, and rehearsals—even for huge events—can actually be a lot of fun!

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