Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Thriving in a Portable Church Setting

Christie, a new reader posed a good question the other day, and as I was responding to it, it seemed like an actual post was in order. She finds herself in a situation where there will be a total set up and take down every week, and is looking for suggestions. Now, I’ll admit I’m no expert on portable church. I have done it in the past, but the system was pretty simple. I have, however, spent 10 years on and off the road doing live production. Currently, we set up and take down almost our entire system at Upper Room, so I have some thoughts on making it easier.

Organization

I believe this is important in any production setting, but it is vital in a portable church setting. You simply don’t have time to be looking for things when you have an hour or two to set the whole system up. Everything needs a place, and must be returned there every week. It’s also important that everyone knows the system, so they can be both efficient during set up and put things back properly afterward. Take some time to analyze the needs of the system and come up with a way to pack, unpack, store and transport the gear in a way that makes sense. Refine if for a few weeks in actual use, then lock it down.

Process

This is the other side of the organization coin. It’s important to develop a process and stick to it. Set the system up the same way, week after week. How you do it will vary based on the setting, but work it out so that it is both efficient and repeatable. Figure out a way to minimize the trips between FOH and the stage. Place cases and equipment where they will be needed and don’t waste motion. Again, refine it for a few weeks and lock it down. Teach everyone who will be involved the process and make sure they follow it. Eventually, you’ll be able to do it in your sleep.

Pre-Cable as Much as Possible

When I started at Upper Room, the only cables we had to work with were 25′ and 50′ mic cords. Each week, we would pull out eight 25′ cables to wire the drum kit–which was 3 feet from the snake. So that was 200′ of cable to go 3 feet. We also ran between five and seven 50′ cables from one side of the stage to the other. So every week we laid and picked up nearly 500′ of mic cord. After observing this for a while, I built a 12 channel sub snake to run from one side of the stage to the other, and a bunch of 1-3′ cables. Now we drop the sub snake right where we need it and use a few 1′ cables to patch in DIs. I also built some 12′ cables for mics on that side. Finally we built what we call our drum loom. It’s a bundle of cables wrapped up in loom material. Cables come out at various points for the drum mics. It’s just the right length to go from the snake to the drum mics, and takes literally 30 seconds to deploy and less than a minute to pick up. And because everything is labeled on both ends, it’s easy to troubleshoot a mis-patch. We now lay out and pick up less than 50 lineal feet of cable each week. And because it’s all labeled, it’s easy to train new volunteers to do it.

I’ve used this same technique with video systems as well. Rather than running 10 BNC cables from one rack to another each time, I bundled them together and built bulkheads to patch them into. Set up time dropped from 20 minutes to 2. 

Tomorrow, I’ll have a few more thoughts on helping a portable church run smoothly. And I should point out that if the thought of making your own cables seems daunting, read the series of articles I did on soldering and you’ll be making cables in no time. Read them here, here and here.

11 Comments

  1. travis@travispaulding.com

    I’d like to add that distributing specific jobs ahead of time with the help you have is also crucial. If people can work without asking “what next?” or “what can I do?” it will make things go way more smooth.

    For example, let two guys roll out your snake, set up the speakers and roll out the console. Then they split, one wires FOH and the other wires the speakers. At the same time have one or two people wiring your stage. If you can have them autonomous you will find it much less stressful.

    Do your best to let all involved have a basic understanding of the full signal path and system. It will help them understand why they are doing what they are doing and help with troubleshooting too.

    -Travis

  2. travis@travispaulding.com

    I’d like to add that distributing specific jobs ahead of time with the help you have is also crucial. If people can work without asking “what next?” or “what can I do?” it will make things go way more smooth.

    For example, let two guys roll out your snake, set up the speakers and roll out the console. Then they split, one wires FOH and the other wires the speakers. At the same time have one or two people wiring your stage. If you can have them autonomous you will find it much less stressful.

    Do your best to let all involved have a basic understanding of the full signal path and system. It will help them understand why they are doing what they are doing and help with troubleshooting too.

    -Travis

  3. i@iehoskins.com

    I was helping with a portable church that ran 5 services each weekend. Load in time was noon on Saturday and we got out by eight at night and then seven am on Sunday to 2pm Sunday afternoon. My suggestions.

    –Prewire as much as possible.

    –Mount as much of your external equipment in a cart with your mixer (get a custom built case for this that meet yoiur specs).

    –Get road cases for your stage equipment, (Wireless Mic, In-Ears, EQs, Avioms)

    –Label everything. You can get labels for yoiur XLR cables (Left Speaker to Snake C)

    –Make Drawings (Visio) for reference.

    –Have Teams… for lighting setup, cable running, stage setup… and these teams are different than the ones who run it.

    –Consider a digital snake, we had a 48 ch snake and it is heavy and had to be rolled every Saturday.

    –Locks, Depending on where you store stuff, lock it up securly, stuff walks off very easily. (and make sure multiple people have keys, so you don’t have to cut the locks later!)

    –Get a set of tools, screw drivers, hammer, sissors, plyers, etc…

    –Lots of Gaffers Tape (NO DUCT TAPE!) (Safety First!)

    –Put as much stuff on wheels as possible.

  4. i@iehoskins.com

    I was helping with a portable church that ran 5 services each weekend. Load in time was noon on Saturday and we got out by eight at night and then seven am on Sunday to 2pm Sunday afternoon. My suggestions.

    –Prewire as much as possible.

    –Mount as much of your external equipment in a cart with your mixer (get a custom built case for this that meet yoiur specs).

    –Get road cases for your stage equipment, (Wireless Mic, In-Ears, EQs, Avioms)

    –Label everything. You can get labels for yoiur XLR cables (Left Speaker to Snake C)

    –Make Drawings (Visio) for reference.

    –Have Teams… for lighting setup, cable running, stage setup… and these teams are different than the ones who run it.

    –Consider a digital snake, we had a 48 ch snake and it is heavy and had to be rolled every Saturday.

    –Locks, Depending on where you store stuff, lock it up securly, stuff walks off very easily. (and make sure multiple people have keys, so you don’t have to cut the locks later!)

    –Get a set of tools, screw drivers, hammer, sissors, plyers, etc…

    –Lots of Gaffers Tape (NO DUCT TAPE!) (Safety First!)

    –Put as much stuff on wheels as possible.

  5. troberts@adabible.org

    I work at a church that is in our first off site “viedo venue”. We used a company called Portable Churchs Industries. (ttp://www.portablechurch.com/)

    They do an awesome job of aquiring the materials/equipment or taking your existing equpment and mounting it in various cases/carts so that everythign has its place, works propertly. They do everything from the trailer to the art work on the children’s ministry check in booths. They do a great job of having everythign labeled for you, a chart on every container as to what trailer it goes in and in what exact location in that trailer.

    They then bring everything to you and help walk you through evertyhing, evern training volunteers on your frist weekend and help get you started. They are there even down the road for help and issues.

    ~Tim

  6. troberts@adabible.org

    I work at a church that is in our first off site “viedo venue”. We used a company called Portable Churchs Industries. (ttp://www.portablechurch.com/)

    They do an awesome job of aquiring the materials/equipment or taking your existing equpment and mounting it in various cases/carts so that everythign has its place, works propertly. They do everything from the trailer to the art work on the children’s ministry check in booths. They do a great job of having everythign labeled for you, a chart on every container as to what trailer it goes in and in what exact location in that trailer.

    They then bring everything to you and help walk you through evertyhing, evern training volunteers on your frist weekend and help get you started. They are there even down the road for help and issues.

    ~Tim

  7. chadbrooksis@gmail.com

    While I have never worked with a portable church, I ran sound for a worship band that did 200+ days a year for 4 years. We were lucky enough to play in the same 15 rooms usually, because we had great relationships with the churches we worked with, and got called back alot.

    We carried a really full system and had a complex in-ear moniter rig before it was easy to do it, we had to keep organized and one of the best ways was making our own cables for the specific tasks.

    I would suggest getting some sort of a driverack device (speaker management), and putting it in your power amp rack. It will help amount so much when ringing the room, and you can store settings in it. Part of the idea of storing your “rooms” means that your speakers need to be in the same position each week. You can count tiles or boards and keep notes of it (I have done that) or daub a small amount of invisible ultra-violet paint at the corners of your measurements. No one can see it (but don’t put it on carpet..it will stain), but you can use a small hand-held blacklight to find your mark. We were able to go from load-in to ready to go in 1.5 hours usually, and the driverack played a big part in that time.

  8. chadbrooksis@gmail.com

    While I have never worked with a portable church, I ran sound for a worship band that did 200+ days a year for 4 years. We were lucky enough to play in the same 15 rooms usually, because we had great relationships with the churches we worked with, and got called back alot.

    We carried a really full system and had a complex in-ear moniter rig before it was easy to do it, we had to keep organized and one of the best ways was making our own cables for the specific tasks.

    I would suggest getting some sort of a driverack device (speaker management), and putting it in your power amp rack. It will help amount so much when ringing the room, and you can store settings in it. Part of the idea of storing your “rooms” means that your speakers need to be in the same position each week. You can count tiles or boards and keep notes of it (I have done that) or daub a small amount of invisible ultra-violet paint at the corners of your measurements. No one can see it (but don’t put it on carpet..it will stain), but you can use a small hand-held blacklight to find your mark. We were able to go from load-in to ready to go in 1.5 hours usually, and the driverack played a big part in that time.

  9. red79vette@sbcglobal.net

    My church as been portable for 5 years now. It gets tough as you add more and more equipment.

    I like the idea of the drum snake. I’m going to have to look into it.

    My advice for portable success:

    – Label everything so anyone can hook it up.

    – Use cords that are the right length to save on teardown time.

    – Fix broken equipment immediately.

    – Use velcro ties on all cords when you store them. Get the ties that actually attach to one end of the cord, so you don’t lose them. We used to spend 10 minutes every Sunday just untangling cords.

    – Use rack-mounted equipment as much as possible.

  10. red79vette@sbcglobal.net

    My church as been portable for 5 years now. It gets tough as you add more and more equipment.

    I like the idea of the drum snake. I’m going to have to look into it.

    My advice for portable success:

    – Label everything so anyone can hook it up.

    – Use cords that are the right length to save on teardown time.

    – Fix broken equipment immediately.

    – Use velcro ties on all cords when you store them. Get the ties that actually attach to one end of the cord, so you don’t lose them. We used to spend 10 minutes every Sunday just untangling cords.

    – Use rack-mounted equipment as much as possible.

  11. Church Tech Arts » Thriv

    […] we’re back to talking about thriving in a portable church environment. Yesterday we talked about Organization, Process and Cables. Today, I have a few more thoughts on making the […]

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