We are wrapping up our series on Christmas planning with an admonition to not wait until the week before the production (or services, or whatever you’re doing) to begin putting it all together. In this series, I’m focusing mainly on audio, but the same applies to lighting, slides, video and set design. During my last Christmas as a TD, we built the entire set almost a month before we hung it. That created some storage issues, but it was way less stressful. I like less stressful.
Build As Much In Advance As Possible
Many churches have upgraded to digital audio consoles in the last few years. These are a boon for big productions like this. With a digital console, you can typically build your entire show file in advance—sometimes without even turning on the desk! Using the offline software (or the console itself), you can patch; lay out; set up basic EQ parameters, VCAs and groups and maybe even build some basic scenes. This can be done weeks in advance—and it should be!
For my last few years as a TD, my basic show file (including starting snapshots for all program elements) was done by Thanksgiving. Using virtual soundcheck from the previous year, I built my starting vocal IEM mixes (mixed from FOH) by the first week in December. I pre-built and patched all of our personal monitor mixers for the band weeks in advance, saving the show file for easy recall the week of.
Getting as much dialed in as possible ahead of time lowers your workload for Christmas week, and means you’re in better shape to handle things you didn’t know about. I have found that not only was my stress level lower when all this is done in advance, but the band is more relaxed as well. A relaxed and confident band plays better, and the whole experience is improved for everyone.
Try New Things—But Not Too Many
I have seen some productions go completely off the rails because the tech team tried too many new things at once. I love new gear and I love new techniques. But be careful in how many you try at once. If you want to start using scenes or snapshots on your new digital console (or old one…), don’t wait until rehearsal to figure out how they work. Not all scene systems are immediately intuitive, and it may take some experimentation to get the results you want. Try it out in advance with virtual soundcheck on a Sunday afternoon and make sure you know what to expect. Scenes or snapshots can save you for big productions, but they can also kill you.
If you are renting unfamiliar equipment, be it wireless mic’s or a console, make sure it arrives in time for you and your team to get comfortable with it. If you’ve never used a digital console before, don’t buy a new one and have it installed two days before the rehearsal. Same goes if you are renting. Get some training on it first to make sure you know how to operate it quickly and effectively.
Enjoy the Season
Christmas can be stressful, but with proper planning, scheduling and some extra help, it can also be a lot of fun. As I have implemented these techniques the past few years I was running production, Christmas actually became fun again. The last year I did Christmas while on staff was truly a ton of fun, even though we had a brand new worship leader who started December 1. Because my team was ready, it was easy to accommodate his vision. Unlike earlier years when I felt stressed out and found myself exhausted and depressed on Christmas morning, I was free to enjoy the services and be present with my family on Christmas proper. That’s a goal worth hitting. By planning in advance, it’s a goal you can achieve.