Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: December 2009

Why I Love What I Do

Every now and again, I’m reminded of why I love what I do. Now, keep in mind, I’m blessed to be in a career that God has clearly called me to, doing a job I enjoy in a church I greatly appreciate. So even on a weekend that felt a little “rough” (at least to me) I can still look around and think, “If this is as bad as it gets, I’m still doing OK.” So for me anyway, the baseline is pretty high. I am almost always satisfied with my current lot in life. But every so often, something comes around that just takes me over the edge. And in those moments, I’m filled with a sense of overwhelming joy that I actually get paid to do this.

Our Christmas Production a few weeks ago was one of those times. It was an incredible weekend–one in which thousands came to our building and heard the compelling story of redemption and the gospel. In fact, that was perhaps the first Christmas Production I’ve ever been a part of where I didn’t want to quit afterward. It was a powerful show, and the cast and crew made it more so.

And now this week, for the last two nights anyway, I’ve once again been reminded. Normally, the staff at Coast Hills takes the week between Christmas and New Years off. The office is closed and everyone is out doing there thing. This year, I was invited to be part of the Sr. High Ministries Winter Camp. My role here is all things technical; sound, lights and video. The bait that initially drew me was a free 3-day pass to ski in Utah. But at night, when the hundred or so students and leaders gather for worship and teaching, I’m reminded.

I’ll just go ahead and throw it out there that I’ve had a hard time with the worship the past two nights. Not because I disagree with the music or have some big issue in my life. Rather, I have gotten so overwhelmed with the power and glory of God that I can’t sing. It’s just about all I can do to mix. That sense of overwhelm doesn’t come from the fact that the sound is so great (though it’s OK), or from an out of this world band (though they are pretty decent). Instead, there’s something that happens when students are raising the roof in praise of Jesus. And raise the roof we do–it’s loud in that little conference room!

There is something so real and raw about hearing the words from the lips of teenagers, and watching them raise their hands and cry out to God–especially when my daughter is one of them. It just wrecks me.

And that’s when I remember that I’m pretty blessed to be able to do what I do. Not because of the lift tickets or the great accommodations (it’s a Comfort Inn, after all). But instead because I get to be part of an incredible voice of praise to our Creator. I hope you have had an opportunity to be a part of something like that.

What wrecks you? What moves you to tears when you do what you do?

Flying Without A Net: Running ProPresenter 4 Live

This year, in the midst of putting together the most ambitious theatrical production we’ve ever undertaken, I decided we needed one more challenge. We have been running Keynote as our primary presentation platform for some time now (since long before I arrived) and I love Keynote–but not for this application. I have been planning a switch to ProPresenter, especially since v. 4 was announced. The Christmas Production seemed like a good time to try something new–so we ran the whole thing from ProPresenter 4 Beta. That’s right, we ran it live, in beta form, with no backup. Crazy? Not really–it was a calculated risk.

I’ve been working with the beta version for several months, and honestly had no real concerns about stability. Every version for the last month has been quite stable and crash-free, especially in simple playback mode. There was the occasional glitch when editing, but not in playback. So I felt good there.

There was a concern about our presentation operator picking it up quickly, but again, Pro is o easy to learn and use I wasn’t too worried about that, either. Plus she’s pretty smart and enjoys learning new things, so I knew she’d be up to the task. She did wonderfully, even figuring out some things that I didn’t know; so that was a win.

We also had a fair amount of time to test it (and I could have bailed to Pro 3 during rehearsal week if I felt we needed to). However, from the first rehearsal on, it ran like clockwork. We played around with different ways to cue things and settled on the ones we liked the best. The shows were flawless from a video perspective. Keynote probably could have done it; but I think going with ProPresenter was the right call. Here are a few things that I really like about the new version.

The Audio Bin

The audio bin is new to Pro4. You can load up the library with sound effects, songs, tracks, whatever; organize them into playlists and trigger them at will with a full playback bar. This was a huge help during rehearsal when we didn’t have the band. I simply loaded the tracks for the songs into the library, and cued them at will. We could have added them to slides, but then we’d have had to keep changing the actual show presentation. This way, we could build the presentation for the show and still roll tracks.

The Audio Bin The Audio BinOne nice feature is the ability to set sounds as a track or sound effect. When it’s a track, you can start, stop, pause and rewind to beginning, just like a regular playback device. In sound effect mode, the sound plays. That’s it. You can clear it with F5, but once you trigger it, it goes. This is great if you need to layer up multiple sound effects at once. We considered playing our sound effects this way, but ended up tying them to slides for simplicity sake. Still, it’s nice to have it there.

Multiple, Rotatable Text Boxes

This one we actually learned about too late. We needed to put some text on a background at an angle. Since I didn’t know you could rotate text boxes in Pro, we set it up in Keynote and exported as JPGs. That worked, except, in the version we had last weekend, there was an issue with dissolving between files with the same background–there was a significant dip in brightness. So that option was out. (That has since been fixed, and very well I might ad, in the latest build) So I discovered that we could take the text into Photoshop, export it as text on a clear background and bring it right into Pro with full alpha support. It was a bit tedious, but worked wonderfully.

I would never do text this way again (since we now know how to rotate it…), but if we ever need to do a graphic overlay, bug or other effect, it’s great to have full Photoshop layer support. And, in case you were wondering, rotating text is simple. Create your text box, then click on the Object Controls tab. Spin the knob and you’re good to go.

Rotating text. If you think it should be easy...it probably is. Rotating text. If you think it should be easy…it probably is.Web Page Display

Here’s one we didn’t use for the show, but I learned about it during rehearsal. How many times have you needed to display a web page during a service or special event? It’s always a hassle, and usually involves closing or minimizing your presentation app, dragging a browser over to the playback window (which never goes smoothly) or something like that. Wouldn’t it be nice to load a page in your presentation software and click “Show”? Well now you can. Using the built-in web viewer, you can now route any web page straight to the projector. With full interactivity. Genius.

There's your "easy" button... There’s your “easy” button…There is a lot more to love here. Templates, the new file-based architecture, the presenter display, timers, props, messages, the ability to add layers and objects to slides easily, sync-able libraries, the list goes on. On top of that, one of the things that I’ve always respected about the team at Renewed Vision is that they listen and respond to customer requests.

If you haven’t tried the beta yet, it’s time to do so. I know I sound like a bit of a ProPresenter fanboy, but I’m really impressed with this product. Once we make the complete switch, it will vastly simplify our workflow. Check it out at Renewed Vision.

Unwrapping Toy Mountain

I’ve been in a series talking about our Christmas production this year. You can read the first two here and here. Today I want to talk about the most complicated 5 seconds of the show. The script called for the people of U (the village the show was set in) to gather in the town center around a giant pile of toys that were no longer good enough for the children. At a critical point, the heroine, Lindy would be saved from calamity by the villain, Gunch, as the pile of toys collapsed on top of him instead of her.

As I mentioned in the previous post, this gave us many challenges. How do you build a pile that would fall predictably and be easily reset? Next, how do you transport that pile from backstage to center stage? How do you tip it over, at the right time? And how can we employ some misdirection so the audience doesn’t see the mechanics? Oh, and how do you do it with a budget of about $50?

The answer was a cool story of accidental collaboration. My boss, Todd, who was acting as the producer of the show and I had been talking about it in various forms for a few weeks. One night, unbeknownst to the other, neither of us could fall asleep. He had an idea for the packages, I had an idea for the “toy tipper” as it became called. When we met the next day, we knew it would work.

First the toys. Todd reasoned that he could use a combination of zip ties and shock cord to create a connected tower of boxes (that would eventually be wrapped). Those boxes would have some give and look like they were loosely stacked; however, they would re-stack the same every time and stick together.

What I saw was a wheeled platform with a hinged back. The back would serve as a support for the toys as they were wheeled out, then push them over all at once in one direction. When I arrived at the office the morning after I designed it in my head, I launched SketchUp, Google’s free 3-D design software. Here’s what I came up with.

The original design The original designThe base is a simple 1×4 frame with 1/4″ luan glued and stapled to it. The upright is 1/2″ plywood with a gusset/stiffener made from 3/4″ MDF. We could have used plywood for that, but I had MDF left over from the proscenium, so I saved a sheet. Under the deck, I placed some pieces of 1×8 cut on 45 degree angles. These served as the mounts for wheels. Todd had a good idea to tip the base slightly back to add more stability to the tower. To do that, I put the 1×8 at the bottom of the 1×4 frame in front, and at the top in the back. That gave it a slight tilt.

The hinge was the only tricky part. I originally planned the back to be removable, thinking that after it tipped over, the stage hands would carry the back off stage. It ended up being easier to just roll the whole thing away, so we modified it later.

A basic hinge. A basic hinge.The hinge is just two pieces of 2×4. One has a hole drilled in the corner to accept a 1 3/8″ dowel (because that’s what we had in stock), while the other part has a slot of the same size. I glued, stapled and screwed the dowel block to the back of the 1/2″ plywood back. I set the slotted part so that it held the back 1/2″ off the deck so it wouldn’t scrape. By the time we got to performance night, I had cut another small piece of dowel to fit in the top of the slot, and held that in place with some metal strapping. Here’s how it worked.

The tower is going to fall! Gunch saves Lindy The tower is going to fall! Gunch saves LindyAs the narrator re-told the story, we had some sound effects of a great creaking and groaning to set up the impending collapse. As Gunch ran to save Lindy (the only one who gave him a second chance), we triggered a strobe effect with the Mac 2Ks we rented.

The mountain starts to fall The mountain starts to fallThe strobes continue. On cue, the two guys behind the mountain start to push the back forward, which dumps the toys. Gunch starts his fall backward.

The fall continues. The fall continues.You can see some of the modifications to the back. I originally “Swiss cheesed” it to cut down on weight. We also cut the back to fit the shape of the packages. In the end, I didn’t need to cut it down, as it just rolled away, base and all.

The finished fall. The finished fall.Well, almost. It looks like it still has a small ways to go to cover Gunch. As you can see, the packages all stick together, but look like they fall at random. The best part is, it all stacked right back up the same way every time.

A little "mis-direction." A little “mis-direction.”Finally, to complete the effect, we fired two aero-technics on either side of the stage, and played a giant crash sound effect from ProPresenter (it was a tree crashing on a house). The entire fall took less than a second (great work to whichever of our photo team shot this!). The cuing was very tight–and required that we had sound effects, the tip, aero and lighting all firing at just the right time. I cued sound fx and lighting visually with hand cues and cued the aero over wireless ClearCom.

The areo worked great and was fired with a handheld remote launcher that I designed and built with the help of one of our lighting volunteers (who also served as launch commander). But that’s another post. I guess you could say this effect worked because Sunday afternoon, as the tower fell and the aero flew, a child cried. I actually cut my blackout shorter than normal so she’d know everything was actually OK. I know, I’m a softie…

Coast Hills Christmas Production Pt. 2

As promised, here are some more shots from the Christmas Production. If you missed the earlier ones, you can find them here.

Lindy was a main character in the show; this is her room. Lindy was a main character in the show; this is her room.One of the things we tried to do was create depth on the stage using basically flat objects. Her “bed” for example, is two pieces of 1/4″ luan with simple brace stands. The flower on the table is also luan. This scene plays in front of the proscenium, adding another layer. In the opening, we put a “dresser” (also luan). Behind the dresser, we projected a window on our cyc. It was all very simple, inexpensive and very effective.

The Mayor's Office The Mayor’s OfficeAgain, the use of luan for flats. In the foreground is a simple shape that depicts an old stage footlight. It’s one of seven, there to conceal the stage monitors. The “desk” is a simple table we bought from Ikea and zip-tied two pieces of luan to. The “window” is held up by two cast members when it’s needed as a window. We weren’t afraid to show people moving things around the stage, even during “blackouts.” Sometimes, cast members would carry out a prop or flat, set it down, then carry on with the scene. It worked quite well.

The band area. The band area.We even brought some whimsy to the band. We had some flats made up to dress up the music stands, and zip-tied them to the real music stands. It was just one more layer to sell the visual concept. Behind the band, we built a wall of flats and foam cut with a hot knife. The entire corner was up-lit with more Color Blasts. Putting the band in a corner was great for the stage, but it made things tough acoustically. We ended up with a lot of monitor spill, which occasionally made it tough to hear dialog. To fix that, we had to drop instrumentation out of underscores, which we hated to do, but had to. If we do something similar next year, we’ll address this earlier and better.

Toy Mountian Toy MountainAh, Toy Mountain. This was an interesting challenge. The script called for a scene in which the whole town came together in the town center near a pile of toys that the kids no longer liked. The pile needed to collapse on Gunch at a certain point. This posed a whole series of challenges. First, how to you put together a pile that will fall, but be easily reset? Next, how do you transport that pile? How do you tip it and how do you control the fall? The end result worked great, and was a collaboration between Todd (my boss and overall producer of the show) and me. And I think I’ll save the answers to those questions for another post.

Stay tuned!

Coast Hills Christmas Production

Coast Hills has a rich tradition of putting together a great Christmas concert. There is typically a theme, top musicians are brought in, and a wonderful concert ensues. This year, we decided to do something different. We felt God was calling us to tell a compelling story that clearly conveyed the Gospel. After much brainstorming, an idea was birthed. The result was an original production called Gunch: This Christmas Hope is Reaching Out to U! The concept is very loosely based on the Grinch, but is really a story of redemption. All the dialog was original, and we had several original musical numbers written in-house as well. Did I mention I get to work with a great team? At the end of the weekend, over 4,400 people had seen the show, which is roughly three times our average weekend attendance.

I could (and may) write quite a few posts to cover this amazing show, but I thought I’d start off with some pictures. Over the next week or so, I’ll try to write some more detailed posts on how we did a few key things. Along the way, I’ll also share with you why I thought it was the most amazing Christmas production I’ve ever been part of (and I’ve done a few of them…). Without further adieu, here are some pics.

Trash Mountain Trash MountainTrash Mountain is where Bobby Gunch lives. He used to be a happy U-Villian before he was thrown out. Now he lives on the piles of trash created by old cast-off toys. Our Assoc. TD, Gary, designed this and many other set pieces. We built the form out of SteelDeck, using 6 foot high legs. We tied 1 1/2″ foam to it with bailing wire then cut the foam with a hot knife to create the shapes. We’ve been collecting toys for weeks, and we tied a bunch of them to the foam with more bailing wire. We left a good pile at the base, on the floor and beside the mountain. It’s up-lit with a bunch of rented ColorBlast 12s. Because it’s all SteelDeck, it’s structural. As such, Bobby is able to walk out on top, climb down a set of steps and move down to different levels. At over 18′ high, it was a rather imposing structure.

Opening Number; Put the Lights on the Tree Opening Number; Put the Lights on the TreeWe created a lot of flats for this show using 1/4″ luan with simple 1x and 2x bracing. Rather than try to paint things to look photo-realistic, we chose a more cartoony black and white effect. A volunteer designed all the elements and we cut them out with a jigsaw. She drew them with a sharpie, and we had a small army of people painting over the outlines with black paint. At the end of the day, the flats were light enough to be carried by one person

One other bit of inspiration: The red ribbon on the wreath (upstage, just stage-right of center) was put on during the number by the small girl downstage right. We needed a way that she could quickly stick it on there, but it also had to be removable. Our producer,  Todd, came up with a simple magnetic solution. He glued a piece of sheet metal to the wreath and painted it white. A flat piece of magnetic strip was glued to the wreath and with that, it worked perfectly. Clever thinking, Todd!

Opening Number, Put the Lights on the Tree.
Musical Number, Toy Packaging

The tall, curvy flats (prosceniums) were made the theater way; 1×4 frames, and muslin stretched, sized and painted over them. The top curves were cut from MDF and fastened to the 1×4 structure. It was a big job to build them that way, and we hated to break them up at the end. Next year, if I have my way, we’ll build them out of 2x4s and drywall. Faster and cheaper. The tubes are 36″ SonoTubes, the kind used for making concrete columns. We wrapped them in white Spandex and up-lit them all with ColorBlast 12s. We also had a row of ColorBlasts above and below the cyc in the back. We projected various stills and videos on the cyc to create another layer of the set. All the costumes were done in-house by our amazing costume crew.

The most complicated costume--Bobby Gunch The most complicated costume–Bobby GunchHere’s another costume. The suit was purchased, then cut up and re-done for the character. The level of detail is rich. We had a trick mic’ing Gunch (played skillfully by our Jr. High Director Adam Brown). He changed coats 3 times during the show, and had a beard 3″ long. We ended up clipping a lav to the sprig costuming clipped to his hair right in front. I taped it to the back of his neck (after weaving it through his hair) to keep it in place. I was honestly surprised at how well it worked. The only issue we had was wind noise when he ran across the stage.

As I said, I’ve got lots more to share. Stay tuned for more!

REALLY! With Mike and Katie

Announcer: [in big, SNL-style voice] And now it’s time for REALLY! With Mike and Katie. Mike is Mike Sessler, a highly opinionated Tech Director; Katie is his not so technical teenage daughter. Together, they point out the ill-designed stuff that drives us all mad. And now, REALLY!

Mike: Thank you, thank you…

Katie: [giggles]

Mike: Speaking of wireless mics… Sennheiser, who was the bean counter that decided that you could save 6 cents and skip a tri-color LED on the 5012 transmitter.

Katie: Really!

Mike: Let me get this straight. You have a single red LED that can mean Power On, Good Battery and Low Battery. One color, three possible options. I mean really!

Katie: Really!

Mike: Seriously, I just paid $3,000 for the little bugger; I’d pay another $100 for some useful information. You couldn’t have at least included it in the telemetry? So I could see if my battery was about to die? Really?

Katie: Really!

Mike: I mean, come on. A $400 Shure SLX system will send battery life back to the receiver. Was saving that last 6 cents that important?

Katie: Really! And how about that HC3424?

Mike: Uh, yeah… And Yamaha–riddle me this: Why is it that the $20,000 M7 has the ability to pair channels odd to even, even to odd, or pretty much any channel to any channel, yet the $65K “Professional, Tour Grade” PM5D cannot? I mean really!

Katie: Really!

Mike: What would it take, 8 lines of code to make that happen? Is it too much to ask, or are all your engineers tied up euthanizing the PM1D?

Katie: Really! [aside] Wait, doesn’t euthanizing mean killing?

Mike: Uh, yeah… I mean, I get the concept of product line differentiation, but when your lower cost consoles have some pretty darn useful features that the really expensive ones don’t well, we start asking questions.

Katie: Really! Hard questions! Like, who decided that the best way to get to the tech booth was to go out the auditorium main doors, through the lobby, up two flights of stairs, back through the 2nd floor lobby, through the balcony and finally into the tech booth! Really! [aside] How’d I do?

Mike: [to Katie] Good, sweetie. [to audience] Really! Did you ever actually take the time to walk that trip in your head, or better yet in person when you designed it? Or do you think all techies are fat and lazy and can use the exercise?

Katie: Really! I mean, just because techies work long hours in the dark, don’t exercise and live on a steady diet of pizza and take out doesn’t mean you need to make them walk that much.

Mike: Uh, really. Anyway, how about thinking it through next time, OK buddy? Maybe in your perfect world people never have to get up from their desks. But in my world, it’s 20-30 trips a day from FOH to stage. And I ‘m not sure how much longer my knees can take it. Really!

Katie: Really?


Katie: REALLY!

Announcer: This has been REALLY! With Mike and Katie. And now back to our regularly scheduled programming. Really.

Behind the Scenes of Gunch–Audio

Since a few people have asked about it, I’ll give you all a quick behind the scenes look at our original Christmas Production, Gunch: This Christmas, Hope is Reaching for U. It stared off from a desire to do a simpler, less produced production this year for Christmas. But then we got a few creative people involved and it took off. We ended up with a pretty impressive original musical, and it’s taking a lot of work to pull together. And judging by the amount of opposition we’ve faced in the spiritual realm, we’re pretty sure God is going to use this in a pretty amazing way.

Today, I’ll talk a little bit about our audio process. We have some incredible musicians at Coast Hills, and it’s a lot of fun to work with them. This year, our band and vocalists are taking up almost 40 inputs. I actually had a full 40 scheduled, but there were a few last minute cuts. This is actually way down from years past when well over 80 were used. I had to work hard to get things down to 40 because while we can handle 96 at FOH and 48 in monitors (PM-5D EX and M7-CL-48 respectively), we only have a 40 channel split. Not sure who thought that was a good idea, but there you go.

To work around that limitation, we got creative in what we patched where. I’m attaching an input list if you want to see exactly what we’re doing. A few things of note. First, our piano player, Rob, is also the musical director. He needed a mic to be able to communicate with the band; however, he’s not going to be in the house. So we ran that mic straight into the M7, saving a split channel.

We also have 14 channels of wireless for the actors. There’s no way that would fit into the split, let alone the M7, so we ran those straight to the PM5D. We’ll then fold them back to monitor world as a single mix that the band will be able to hear and key off of. We also have several playback of sound effects and a few video rolls. Those too will be folded back on another fold back mix. That will give the monitor engineer the control between wireless mics and playback.

Because we have so many musical numbers, we needed a way for the actors to hear the band. However, to avoid feedback, we can’t have their mics in the stage monitors. That problem was solved by using the JF-80s we used to use for front fills as monitors across the front lip of the stage. We then set up a mix-minus for the actors–that is, all the band and playback they’ll need, but no wireless mics. Because the front fills were already patched and wired to be fed from a Matrix at FOH, I simply created a dedicated mix and routed that mix to the matrix, making sure that the main LR mix was no longer feeding the matrix (which would have let the wireless mics in).

Perhaps the greatest challenge of the event, audio-wise, is packing the band in. We have less than 450 sq. ft. of floor space for them to set up in; however, we have a full drum kit, percussion, bass, two keyboards, a woodwinds player and two guitarists, 10 vocalists, and 11 wedges (we originally had 13, but one of the keyboardists agreed to switch to ears to save floor space). Oh, and I think we have about 20 ColorBlast 12s on the floor behind the band for good measure.

One thing that has been very refreshing (at least in my experience) is that we’ve had no wireless issues at all. I ran all 14 the other night at rehearsal and had nary a drop out or any blip of feedback. Just last Friday, I installed a new rack of Shure UHF-R, and I’ve got to say, it’s rock-solid. It sounds appreciably better than the UHF stuff it replaced, and the ability to monitor RF and audio levels plus battery at FOH through Wireless Workbench is super-sweet. I spent a good bit of time getting that system set up well and wired properly, but that’s another post. Personally, I’m really glad it works!

More to come as Gunch takes shape. Here’s the Input Sheet if you want to see it.


Today we have some great reader finds. I won’t give credit, largely to protect the guilty, err… innocent. But you know who you are. Actually, these were all found by people who were just as amused and disgusted at the same time as we all are. Thanks guys for sending them in. Keep ’em coming!

Why try to cram too much into a work box? Why try to cram too much into a work box?This is a classic case of, “Why work hard if you don’t have to!.” I’m not exactly sure how the bolt is connected to anything structural, but I’m pretty sure that little metal dome is not rated for holding a Parnel. And really, trying to stuff all the wires inside the box? Waaaayyyy too much work. Let them all hang out. Keeps ’em cooler, anyway. Nice work, to be sure.

You can use wire nuts for almost anything. You can use wire nuts for almost anything.I love the art of this piece. The interplay of the yellow and blue wire nuts is stunning. The fact that someone took the time to do it is impressive. I’m not sure what exactly the little stub of a RJ-11 may have been plugged into, or how they managed to plug anything in while it was mounted in the wall, but it’s got creativity written all over it. I can’t say for sure, but I’m guessing there was a RJ-11 coupler somewhere in the mix here…

The safety of this device is unquestionable. The safety of this device is unquestionable.Unquestionably bad, that is. I can’t decide which I like more…the duplex outlet with only one leg attached, or the plug end with no backing housing, leaving the hot terminals right out there in the open for all to experience. I’ve seen a lot of sketchy electrical wiring in my day, but this one takes the prize for most sketchiest. I’m not sure what in parallel universe this may be considered safe, but it’s not this one. They could have at least used gaff tape to cover up the hot leads…

Thanks again to the folks who supplied these classical pictures. Again, if you have pics of some shady installations, please send them along. This falls under the scripture of “exposing their deeds to the light.” Mainly so no one else will try it! Now go out there and install something correctly.

Why Input Sheets?

Phil raised a good question based on my last post about the Input Sheet Template; to wit, Why even do an input sheet? I can think of several reasons, actually.

Makes it Easy to Pre-Build Show Files

If you have a digital console, it’s quite nice to be able to set up the console ahead of time in software. You can label all your channels, set up all your patching, even rough in some monitor mixes if you know the band well enough. Come the weekend, load the file in and blammo, all your stuff is set and ready to rock. Having an input list makes this easier, as you know where everything will be plugged in and what it will be doing. If you have engineers that have the capability to pre-build their show files based on your input list, the list makes sure everyone is on the same page.

Helps to Spot Trouble Beforehand

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made up an input sheet and said, “Hmmm, well that’s not going to work.” Perhaps I’m out of mics, the inputs don’t page well (on a digital board), or maybe I’m out of inputs. I would rather know that on Thursday (when I do my input sheets) than on Saturday afternoon. Putting an input list together ahead of time gives me time to go to my worship leader and say, “About that…” and we can come up with a solution while everyone’s calm, not when people are standing on stage waiting.

Makes Troubleshooting Faster

Anyone ever mis-patch a cable? Or go to track down a channel that’s not getting signal and forget where it was supposed to be patched when you get to the stage? Yeah, me neither. But if I did, having an input list would be handy. Take last weekend for example; during line check (you do a line check, right?) we didn’t have the high piano input. I grabbed my input list and went to the stage box. Turns out someone had plugged the acoustic into the channel for the high piano. Having the input list in front of me made it easier to re-patch the inputs without a lot of shouting back and forth to FOH.

Aids in Training

The first step in new audio guy training is learning to set the stage (actually, the first, first step is coiling cables…). To help move that process along, we use input sheets. I can hand a newbie an input list and say, “Here, this is how it should go.” They can easily learn to patch the acoustic guitar DI into ch. 12. They don’t have to memorize anything yet, just get a sense for how the stage should be cabled. After a few months, the test to see if they’re ready to start mixing is to be able to set the stage without an input list (which we use to check their work).

A Guide for Setup Teams

Sometimes you come across people who really want to help with the tech ministry, but don’t feel they have the chops for live work. A stage set up team is a great place to plug them in. I had a retired couple in one church who loved setting the stage. I built an input list for them and they came in every Thursday morning and cabled it exactly the way I laid it out (the input lists also includes a stage drawing). When I showed up on Saturday, it took just a few minutes to double-check everything and we were ready for sound check. It’s a win-win.

Develops Standardization

One of the things I wanted to do with my input list was develop a standard patch. That is, get us to a point where all of our band configurations fit into a pretty well defined input list. Standards make it easy to do board recall, and moves us closer to a more consistent mix every week. As we develop more volunteers in this area, standards become even more important

So there you go. Six reasons for doing an input list. There are more, I’m sure, but it’s early and I’m not really running on all channels yet. All of this assumes you have a worship department that values planning and is capable of deciding (at least roughly) who will be on stage sometime before they actually walk on stage. If you don’t have that, well, that’s another post. My motto is, “Plan everything that can be planned.” That way, when things change, you easily have the bandwidth to cope with said change (as opposed to making the entire thing up on the fly).

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