It’s Christmas in August! As we started talking about last time, now is the time to begin your Christmas planning. It may seem like you’re way far out, but believe me, the time will go fast. The more you get done early, the easier your December will be. And who doesn’t want an easier December?

This whole series came from lessons I’ve learned the hard way, so learn from my mistakes. Plan early, and work smarter, not harder. Believe me, you’ll enjoy December much more. 

After you begin planning the events of Christmas by asking questions and figuring out what you need and don’t have, it’s time to look at what you need to rent.  To be sure you get what you need, book it early!

Plan Rentals Early

Christmas is often the most wonderful time of year for rental companies. They tend to rent out much or all of their stock, and if you wait too long, you’ll be paying more or maybe not get what you need. Once you get your quotes together, you can work out the final details with the programming people and make sure everyone is OK with the costs. If they are not, it’s time to figure out how to pull it off using existing or borrowed equipment, or revise the programming.

When you have time to plan, you may even find another church in town that has what you need and would be willing to loan it to you. In fact, Christmas is a great time for churches to work together to share resources. I’ve done this in the past, and to me, it’s a great way to expand the reach of all our ministries. 

Schedule Wisely

Typically, a big event like Christmas will also require more volunteers than a normal weekend. Whenever I do a big event, I always schedule a dedicated wireless mic wrangler. A few years back, we did a show that had 14 wireless body packs and 18 headsets—obviously some where shared. There is no way to keep track of that from FOH while mixing the show, so I had someone backstage making sure the right pack was on the right actor at the right time. 

If you find yourself short on inputs, you may need to add a second console to handle additional wireless mic’s or other channels. Years ago, we did a show so complicated that it took three engineers and two consoles to mix it; one to manage the band and vocals, another on a dedicated wireless mic console to handle the wireless mic’s for the drama portion and a third to manage sound effects, tracks, monitors and recalling mute scenes. We all stood shoulder to shoulder in the tech booth and had a great time. Just don’t wait until the day before to try to find another engineer to help you.

We always do a band rehearsal the week before Christmas. I don’t worry too much about getting my mixes dialed in perfectly that night; I focus on making sure the band and vocalists are happy with their mixes, then I record the whole thing to our virtual soundcheck computer. I always schedule several hours later in the week (sometimes more, depending on the year) to dial in the mixes based on the recordings. 

If you don’t have virtual soundcheck, you may want to either have someone else in to help with monitors and other audio-related tasks while you focus on the mix, or rent a monitor console to take the load off FOH. Either way, you need to arrange rentals (or borrows) and staffing ahead of time.

Back when I was doing musicals, we always did a tech run through before opening night. This was a time to let the tech team run things so we can get out cues worked out. Depending on the Christmas service or production, a tech run through will save you. Tech is not a time for actors to learn lines, work out blocking or for the band to tweak arrangements. It’s a time for the tech staff to make sure the cues and transitions work the way everyone expects them to. A Tech typically runs somewhat slowly, but it’s critical for a seamless experience. If the production is complicated, be sure to schedule a Tech Rehearsal. 

As you can see, most of these items can be done months in advance—at least the scheduling. When I was a TD, I always started to get nervous if I didn’t have my schedule done for Christmas prior to October 1. You may feel differently, but earlier is always better for me. Next time, we’ll wrap this series up with some final practical tips to help your Christmas season be more merry

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