Easter T-Minus 30

Easter is coming, whether you’re ready or not. The countdown has begun and it’s T-Minus 30 days now.

5647221685-LI love Easter – it’s a celebration that never gets old. In the production/tech world, this is our chance to pull out all the stops. Doing this usually leads to many moving parts working as one to create a large scale “production.” Keeping those parts in order can take some massive juggling skills. Being someone who is blessed with ADD, I get easily distracted. Because of that, I work very hard to create systems to keep things in order and help me grow in my project management skills.

Project Management, could be a post in itself – and it will be – it is the first step I take in leading my team through the process of preparing for Easter. The key for me is to not look at it as though it is this enormous project, but break it into manageable steps. Instead of boring you with all the little things, here are the big three I am working on to make sure I’m prepared. These can then be broken into smaller tasks using a web based software called Teamwork.com.

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War Room – 12 Days of Christmas (Posts)


One of my favorite movies is Dr. Strangelove. I have loved it since I was a kid (I am an old soul). One of my favorite lines is when the president yells at two men fighting saying, “gentlemen, you can’t fight in here, this is the war room.” I probably say that line at least twice during every creative meeting. I read somewhere when President Reagan was inaugurated for the first time, he asked his advisors if he could see the “War Room” and they told him that there wasn’t a real one, like in the movie. I have always longed for a room filled with monitors and dry erase boards where creativity could just flow, a blue-sky room per say. However I think “War Room” is much manlier. While preparing for Christmas, I it is important to find a space where you can “take over” for a month or so: put up a giant calendar, use a whiteboard if there is one, or my go to choice –  Sticky Post-it Flip Chart pages.

What goes in the War Room:

3D Drawings: I highly recommend someone on your team taking the time to learn a 3D modeling software like Sketchup. It’s free and can really help you visualize what you’re trying to create on stage.

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These mock-ups are from when we had Tim Hawkins perform at Northview. One of the guys on our team is great at drafting these for us, and since he’s way smarter about it than I, please feel free to reach out to him with questions @tmcarpen.

We print these stage designs out and attach them to the war room wall for review.

Calendar: I talked about this in my post on Limiting Activities, but want to revisit it here. I am all for saving trees and going digital. But it is hard to argue with a giant wall calendar. No one can blame a phone upgrade or spilling coffee on his or her laptop for not logging into the shared digital calendar. I love the wall calendar because it stares you down every time you walk by it. I suggest color-coding or using symbols to differentiate tasks or people. But put everything that is relevant to the Christmas season on it.

Ongoing Service Flow: Keep an updated service order on the wall. Highlight missing areas or where there are still unanswered questions. Like the calendar, it will stare at you until you answer it.

Finally, if you want to get really focused, I like to print out daily tasks that must be accomplished before leaving, and tape it to the door. With Christmas, there is a lot of task juggling and it’s easy for something to get dropped. Trying to find ways to avoid that is crucial. Especially when you’re as ADD as me.



Maintenance Plans – 12 Days of Christmas (Posts)

Proper maintenance of production equipment often gets overlooked due to time and budget. Even though church equipment doesn’t get beat up like gear on a tour, (unless you have a portable setup) it still requires continual upkeep.

Know your lamp life – Projectors and “Intelligent” Lighting all have a set number of operating hours that must not be exceeded.Lamps that are aging become volatile and can explode inside the equipment causing damage. I can also guarantee that the lamp will go out in the middle of your service … every time.  Check out this video from Northview:

That was one of our back screen projectors: the lamp exploded shooting glass in all directions. Luckily, the unit is kept in a room alone so no one was in danger.

Keep an eye on your inventory – This time of year is perfect for taking inventory on your stash of gaffer’s tape, lamps, batteries, etc. Make sure you have enough of the little things to get you through the holidays. I try to stock up on in-ear foamies for the musicians, as well as lamps for music stand lights, and Clorox wipes to disinfect the microphones after every use.

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Me repairing microphone cables

Keep a backup – I realize it’s unreasonable to keep backups of every piece of equipment you have. It’s not common to find a church with an exact spare soundboard just sitting in storage. But with so much that is digital these days, make sure you keep a backup of all your files. I keep a USB stick locked up with ALL the equipment settings: from the soundboard, speaker processor, and wireless microphone system to the lighting and video consoles. I then upload the files to a cloud-based system like Dropbox or Google Drive. If something catastrophic happened, you can recall settings after repairs are complete or a rental is brought in.


Create a Disaster recovery plan – This is a big task, but has huge pay off! A disaster recover plan is simply a binder or online document that everyone on your team has access to. In it they should be able to find solutions to issues such as, “no audio coming from the sound board.” The solution would be to check mutes, and whatever other steps go into your particular situation. Keep it simple for the holidays. Maybe just give the basics – that way, if you get sick from eating gas station sushi on December 23rd your team knows what’s in your head.


Everything you can do on the front end to prepare for the big services will ensure a much smoother and less stressful experience for everyone.


So you saw my projector explode. What is something that has failed during a service for you that everyone noticed?






Rentals – 12 Days of Christmas (Posts)

I have mentioned rentals in a few previous posts, but I wanted to devote a little more time to the idea. Rentals are a great way to augment your existing capabilities, but the process can seem daunting. Who to call, what to ask for, and are you getting a good deal, are always questions that come up. I worked in the rental business for many years before my days on the road, and now working in the church, I utilize rentals for when I need extra gear that I can’t justify buying or storing.

Rental companies come in all sizes; so don’t be quick to jump to conclusions on their quality. As someone who has worked for a small town rental facility, they can sometimes give you the best deals. Plus, different companies will specialize in certain areas of production. Whether that includes video, audio, lighting or staging. One might have ample lighting and staging, but only a few microphones and small conference room style sound systems. Here in the Indianapolis area, I have three companies I rent from regularly, depending on what I need.

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Like I said in the post on planning (read it here), even if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing for Christmas, it’s not a bad idea to reserve what you think you’ll need. For instance – I know for a fact that we’ll do our annual concert in December. I will need more inputs for the band and more outputs for the vocalists’ in-ears. I reserved another mixing console months ago. Same with snow machines, we have made these a tradition at Northview, and have a standing rental with one of our local companies.

Again, you don’t have to always have the finished plan in mind when renting, but knowing the big picture can help narrow down your options. Say, you want a “WOW” lighting factor; talking with a rental company and seeing what they can offer could help steer your big picture into a more defined portrait.

Three quick tips for renting equipment:

Know how much it costs to buy. If you’re going to rent something for a month and the production company charges you retail price, you may want to simply purchase it.

Make sure your insurance will cover rentals. A lot of times companies won’t rent without a certificate of insurance. This protects them as well as you. So make sure you have this covered before you rent.

Check the gear as soon as possible. The downside to rentals is that you don’t know how it was used in the past. Inspect cabling, and take notes of damage you see. I call the rental facility as soon as I notice something that’s not right. If I can deal with it, I move forward but want them to know I was not responsible for said issue. When it’s something big like blown lamps, or speakers, the rental house needs to make it right.

This season, as you’re planning for you Christmas festivities, renting may be a great option to help make your ideas come to life.

What is the craziest thing you’ve ever rented?


Know Your Capabilities – 12 Days of Christmas (Posts)

As a production director, it is my job to make sure the dreams of the creative team come true. If they want a car on stage, I make sure we can do it. When they ask for snow, my team makes it snow. That’s what we do. However, it is crucial that we – the production staff – are part of those first creative meetings to help steer the conversation into the realms of reality. (See Yesterday’s post about Planning Teams.) I am all for “blue sky” dreaming, but at some point you have to land the plane.
Christmas services are a time to pull out all the stops. But you have to know what your realistic capabilities are. Here are three things I do in preparation leading up to each Christmas season.

A few years ago, I was part of a production where the music minister had scheduled the band, singers, drama, and a choir before knowing what the system capabilities were for that year*. By the time I found out, rentals were hard to come by and a stressful production ensued. Simple communication with all members of the team can help avoid problems.

The following year, I was prepared.
I worked ahead of time (before songs were picked and a band was selected) to secure extra equipment.

Know What You Have:
Every year I make an “inventory” spreadsheet containing the following information:
– # of available wireless microphones along with their frequencies
–  # of wired vocal mics
– # of instruments mics and what instruments each mic can accommodate
While these categories are important and it’s essential to know what equipment you’re working with, that last one is crucial; it allows the worship leader to know how many special instruments he can schedule.

Rent Early:
Christmas is that wonderful time of year when us production guys get to max out every piece of equipment the church owns. We use all the lights, all the audio channels, and A LOT OF ELECTRICTY; but lets face it, pushing the limits of our equipment can cause major problems. I have found that working with a local production rental company early enough in the year can greatly reduce stress not only on your system and your team, but also on your wallet.Clark Grisswald Even if in July the only specifics we have are that we are in fact having Christmas services, I still give the rental place a call. There are always going to be certain givens: I’m going to be lighting up at least 100 trees with lights, we will need more audio channels, and some unknown “special opener” will require additional lighting.

If you call and rent these “given” pieces of equipment WAY in advance, you can usually get a great price. Plus, you know you aren’t going to run into the issue of not being able to get what you need because everyone else has gotten first dibs.

Moral of this post: PLAN EARLY.

What do you usually rent for Christmas Productions? Join in the conversation below.