Outside Help

Have you ever said something to someone and have them brush it off, only for them to accept the idea when presented by another person? While that may be frustrating, I have found it can be helpful when working with production in teams. Getting a fresh perspective from an outsider can be just the boost your team needs. This is exactly what we did at Northview last week when we called in some outside help.

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We have been talking for quite some time about how we can better our team members – both staff and volunteer. We could send everyone to a conference, but the reality of getting volunteers to take vacation time to go to a conference isn’t very likely. Plus the sheer cost is a real concern as well. This is where I started thinking about having someone come to us.

A few years ago I met Chris at a concert that was happening at Northview. I was blown away by his ability to mix that concert. Hands down, he had one of the best mixes I had heard in all my years around audio. I immediately emailed him after the show asking for tips to improve our mix, because this guy was good. It became very evident that I needed to bring him in for a hands-on intensive training. Lucky for us, his current tour is on a break and he was available.

Now, I’ve been mixing sound for 12+ years. I’ve toured the country working in arenas, at festivals, and countless churches. I know my way around a slew of audio consoles, and have trained more people than I can count. When Chris cleared our console, setting it back to zero, I could feel my brain going blank. I don’t mix regularly anymore and could sense my stress level rising. With Chris walking me through his method of mixing, I had killer sound (using Virtual Soundcheck) in a matter of minutes. I had a lot of bad habits to break, and new things to learn. 2014-03-14 16.19.21

Over the course of 3 full days, we sent multiple volunteers and our staff team through this one-on-one training, which has drastically improved our weekend mix. His fresh eyes and ears looking over the elements of our PA system were a huge help.

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I am not trying to shamelessly self promote myself here, as I offer this type of service to churches. I want to show that no matter where your experience level is, having someone come in with a fresh perspective can be very beneficial. For what we paid to bring someone in, we saved thousands over sending people to a conference. We also would have never gotten the one on one training, or fresh eyes on our equipment from a conference. (Not saying conferences are bad, I love them, but they have their place).

This experience also acted as team-building time for us. Those of us that went through the training are energized to continue to get better. Maybe the pro for you is a tech from a church across town, it could be me (Consulting,) or the trainer from a manufacturer. Either way, I encourage every church to invest in their teams and find a way to get some on site training and bring in some outside help.

How do you learn best? Share it with me won’t you?

Now Rest! – 12 Days of Christmas (Posts)

I would say do not read this post until December 25th, but that would defeat the reason for posting it now. I want to wrap this series up by giving you permission to rest.

Take a cue from these animals. Photo By: jenyac
Take a cue from these animals. Photo By: jenyac

I’m not your boss, but I’m still telling you that you need to take it easy for a bit. If you have been around the church for even a short amount of time, you know that there are busy seasons and slower seasons, an ebb and flow to the schedule. However, it often seems more ebb than flow. Your church will most likely see a huge increase in attendance over the next few weeks. You’ll feel the urge to continue the production level that has happened all Christmas as a means of “attracting” them to come back after the new year. Without getting into a “church is not a show” conversation I want to caution you from not taking time to breathe.

Maybe ease into the next series with some single messages (One ofs) that don’t require a large amount of staging. It’s very important to make sure that the many hours put in over the month of December are compensated with some much deserved relax time in January.

I like to use the first part of January to let my guys work on whatever makes them feel good at work. Everyone has that project they wanted to accomplish all last year but couldn’t find the time. Well the clock has started over and it’s best to get it out-of-the-way first before everything else begins piling on.

Also make sure you spread the accolades. Thank the volunteers, thank your staff, and please, don’t forget to thank the spouses who gave up time with their husband or wife so they could be at church. You can never say thank you enough in these situations.

Well I hope your services go off without a bang? Unless you’re using pyro then I hope it’s awesome and know I’m jealous.

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! Now Rest!

War Room – 12 Days of Christmas (Posts)

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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.

 

 

Think on Your Feet – 12 Days of Christmas (Posts)

This post is important to me. As I constantly strive for better ways to manage productivity, this one is key. Now as you start reading, you may think this doesn’t apply to you. While technically this is geared for churches with production staff, it can still work for volunteer leaders.

The Standing Meeting – a scheduled, recurring, “standing” meeting. You can schedule them daily, weekly, or for whatever time frame works for your team. Here’s the part I love: no one sits down. Everyone remains standing. Seems simple right? This idea ensures the meeting will be short and to the point, since no one likes to stand unnecessarily. This style isn’t a new concept, and it doesn’t work for all meetings, but it does help me keep things moving.

I do not have a disdain for meetings, what I do hate is wasting time in meetings. When a group of creatives gets together it’s so easy to rabbit trail and ADD the meeting right off a cliff. Ten minutes later, you don’t even remember where you were going and may call off the meeting for lack of direction.

With so much happening this time of the year it’s important to keep everyone on the same page, but also productive. Standing meetings are the perfect way to accomplish this.

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Here are a few tips for productive standing meetings:

Get progress reports: Know what each person or team is working on. Might I add that this isn’t the time for micromanaging – it’s simply to share information and keep everyone up-to-date. The point is so everyone knows what Person A is working on and how that might affect the rest of the team.

Give clear directions: Do not end the meeting with confusion. This just leads to more meetings… Why would you want that? Instead, make sure each person has an understanding of what they’re supposed to be doing and the direction their tasks are heading.

Delegate and Set Deadlines: You can’t do everything yourself: I know, I’ve tried. Empower your team members to run with key elements of the season. Not only will the job get done more efficiently, but delegation shows that you trust in your team. Having deadlines for said delegated elements just gives everyone a goal to reach. Each person needs something to strive for, and deadlines provide a measure of success.

Bottom line: keep your meetings to the point and productive.

What do you do to keep meetings moving?

 

Limit Activities – 12 Days of Christmas (Posts)

December is known in the church world for its unending “ask.” Every ministry needs tech help for their parties or events. As a people pleaser and overall nice guy, this is the season I tend to see everyone but my own family. Being busy this time of year is expected, but it shouldn’t kill you. There are givens: Christmas Eve services will happen, rehearsals will take place, and there may be a party or two you need to attend. The key, though, is moderation – you only have a finite amount of time, and if you’re dead before Christmas you’re no good to anyone. Most churches do not have a large staff body, most of you reading this post right now are probably the only tech on staff or you’re the go-to volunteer. Things like video creation, choir media (making CD’s or uploading to the web) and stage setup all fall to you before you even get to the actual services. I have been there, and am still there in many respects.

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“Little knot here, you can work on that.”

Here are three ideas to limit the Christmas Chaos:

Empower some volunteers for the season: I always envision myself deputizing several key members of my team to help reduce the overall burden. Allow these key people to run with the Christmas activities that happen around the building.

Plan early: We all know Christmas is coming as it does every year, right around the 25th of December. Get yourself a big calendar for the wall. Start blocking off known dates, like rehearsals and services. This will help give you a bigger picture of what you can realistically take on. I realize for most of us, a vacation is out of the question during this season, but plan time off. Even if it’s just an afternoon, you need time to recoup your energy. In a 1926 interview, Henry Ford discussed his experiments with productivity … his conclusion was that after 40 hours of work, the employees’ quality of work diminishes (Read more about Diminishing Returns Here). A long lunch, a quick nap, or just going for a walk can help clear the mind and refresh you.

Practice saying no: This is so hard for me. I hate the word NO. Internally, I feel like it leads to people looking at me like I’m an ogre. I know, though, that I don’t have to be seen as a jerk for letting people know I cannot take on another project. It not only protects me from burning out, it protects others from getting a shoddy product. If I can’t put adequate time, resources, or brainpower into something in order to do it right, then I have to say no. Practice saying it in the mirror, it won’t help but it might at least make you laugh.

As Christmas approaches, try seeking out those key decision makers that haven’t gotten with you yet. Let them know that you’re planning ahead and need to know what they’ll require during the holiday season. Anything you can do to avoid the last minute asks will greatly help.

What’s the biggest last minute task you’ve ever been given?

 

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?

 

Volunteers – 12 Days of Christmas (Posts)

Volunteers are the life force behind any successful church. Without them, not much of anything could happen. While having staff is great, I am not aware of any churches that survive solely on the use of paid staff members. With this immense need for volunteers, it’s important to show them that you acknowledge their sacrifice of time. I’m aware that they are giving it to the Lord as an offering, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care for them.  A happy, appreciated team gets much more accomplished than one that’s run out of guilt and pressure.

This Christmas Season, make sure you go out of your way to encourage those that serve so faithfully along side of you.

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Feed Them

Everyone works better when there is food involved. Plan a hospitality area for the team and include their families if you can. Christmas Eve services require a lot more of a time commitment than the average weekend, usually covering dinnertime. Having a place to grab a soda (Pop, Coke, whatever you call it) and a snack goes a long way to keeping volunteers happy.  There is no right or wrong way to setup a hospitality area, just make sure to pamper your volunteers. It really is more the thought that counts (and cookies).

Communication

Communicate early, and often. Just like with rehearsals, volunteers are not always in all the meetings leading up to the service. You have to continually bring them into the loop. A well informed volunteer is much more effective, and may even think of an overlooked area. As soon as I have times for the Christmas services (usually sometime in August or September), I send out my first round of emails letting the group know; that way they can begin looking at their schedules and planning to serve.

Respect Their Time

Volunteers have families, jobs, and other commitments. Christmas is a huge ask, so look for ways to lessen the load for them. One idea is to split serving opportunities when possible. I divide our camera operators up between the services: as long as the video director is on their game, and the camera op has been part of a rehearsal or run through we tend to have very few mistakes.

Most of the time, volunteers will bend over backwards for you if you treat them right. Make sure you’re loving on them extra this season.

In an effort to respect your time I purposely kept this post short.  Join the conversation though and share if you’re doing something special to honor your volunteers this year.

 

Rehearsal Plan – 12 Days of Christmas (Posts)

The holidays are the time of the year when larger productions are being put on. With these larger scale services, it is important to establish a rehearsal plan.

It’s essential to start early working with all the different groups involved. Many times Christmas services are comprised of choirs, dramas, and large worship bands with more vocalists. This requires separate group rehearsals before the technical and dress rehearsals even occur.

Separate Group Rehearsals help vocalists and choirs workout their parts without taking time from the band or production crew. The lighting and video team should walk through the service together, making sure lights are complimenting video and that people who need to be seen are not standing in the dark. These types of one-on-one rehearsals help save time and allow for a smoother technical rehearsal.

Technical Rehearsals are a critical step in the production process that often times get overlooked. They are choppy – and that’s okay, they should be. Lights are adjusted, microphones moved around, and new camera angles tried. For years I have experienced Christmas Eve service rehearsals that are just a copy of the typical Wednesday night run-through. During these times, the band gets a chance to rehearse, but no thought is given to the production side of things. As ministry staff members we have to remember that while we have dreamt about this event for weeks (possibly even months), the volunteers and musicians may be seeing/hearing everything come together for the very first time at rehearsal.

Final run-through/Dress rehearsal should be conducted just as it will be for the service. Practicing it exactly the way it needs to happen, especially the transitions, helps solidify it in everyone’s mind.

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As someone who has been through more Christmas productions than I can count, here are three things I stand by when it comes to rehearsing.

Rehearse Early:
Rehearse early enough to make changes. Even the dress rehearsal should be done several days in advance. In school, our dress rehearsals were always the day before our event … I can only assume it was because the teachers were afraid we’d forget everything if we had a day off. But this isn’t an elementary school Christmas program – production at this level is intense, and “going dark” (to borrow a theatre term) the day before a performance gives everyone a chance to calm down, allowing for a smoother performance. The other thing this provides is a day to make any necessary adjustments. While I do not approve of changes after the run through/dress rehearsal, sometimes they cannot be avoided, and this downtime allows for that.

Be Prepared
When working with volunteers, the worst thing you can do is waste their time (well I guess you could kick them in the shin, but I digress). Have music, flows, and all other required materials printed out and ready to go ahead of time. Also, consider staggering arrival times for your teams. It doesn’t benefit the choir to hear the band warm up and sound check. At Northview, a typical non-Christmas weekend rehearsal schedule looks like this:

12:00pm – Staff
1:00pm – Volunteer Sound and Lighting operators
1:30pm – Band
2:30pm – Vocalists
2:45pm – Camera Ops
3:00pm – Service run-through

Know when it’s “Good Enough”
It hurt typing that.
I know as a creative, good enough should not be in my vocabulary; but at some point we have to force ourselves to stop tweaking, step back, and say it is finished. Always remember you’re working with real people, most who have a day job that has nothing to do with what you’re asking them to do during the service. Sometimes the camera shakes, and the lyrics come up late; or a vocalist forgets to turn their microphone on (why they turned it off in the first place, I’ll never understand). These people are giving their time, and their best for Lord, and we need to accept their offering of service and know when to end the rehearsal, so people can get home.

Last Christmas I wrote a post about adding tech rehearsals to Christmas Eve services – check it out here.

Also, be sure to check out the Christmas Resources Page.

How do you approach rehearsals? Join the conversation and share below.

 

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.

Communicate:
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.

Getting what you want…

I grew up watching Merry Melodies in the morning while I would be getting ready for school. Almost every morning there was an episode where Willie Coyote relentlessly chased after that on thing he wanted… the Road Runner. He was ruthless in that en devour. There are two things that come to my mind when thinking about Mr. Coyote, am I chasing after those things I think are important with all my being and are those things I’m chasing after worth it? Willie put so much energy, money, and his life on the line for one dinner. Now I know the purists say that Willie did catch the Road Runner at one point. In the episode “Soup or Sonic” right after being shrunk to a fraction of his original size, clings to the leg of the regular size Road Runner,  he then turns to the “camera” and holds up a sign:

“Okay wise guys, you always wanted me to catch him. Now what do I do?”

While technically he did catch him, he wasn’t in any position to partake in the victory.

For me, I had a dream to be a sound engineer for a touring band. When I was 11 years old I was in the audience of a Newsboys’ concert in my home town and said, “I’m going to tour with them.” 12 years later after spending almost every weekend working for regional sound companies, and then onto small tours out of Nashville. I found myself sitting across the table at catering from Peter Furler and the rest of the Newsboys – dream accomplished. I came to realize though after years of touring, this dream wasn’t what I thought it was, I loved it but it wasn’t for me.

I believe we are called to pursue that passion God has put inside us with all our being. With as much tenacity as Willie Coyote trying to get that one Road Runner dinner. Just don’t forget to stop and take a gut check now and then. Make sure that thing you think you want is really worth it. I thought being a sound engineer is what God created me to be, to be on road. What I am finding is, He’s asking me to use those gifts to pursue the real thing He wants me doing. What I thought was a passion for audio and all things techie is really a heart for people and their relationship to Christ. Being an audio engineer is just the mode He has blessed me with to open the door. So, before you order that next item from the ACME company, sit down and pray, ask God what is your deep down passion. The thing that drives you and keeps you up at night, is it a selfish passion or a Holy one? Open yourself up to God’s ideas, you’ll be surprised at what you can do then.

Are you doing what you thought you would be as a kid? How is God shaping and changing what you’re passionate about? Leave me a comment, let’s talk about it.