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Technically Ready for the Holidays

by Curt Taipale

If you have read my articles in the past, you know that I’m a big believer in planning and preparation. You wouldn’t know that if you saw my messy garage or desk, but in my tech worlds everything is in good working order or it’s getting repaired. I’m not a fan of surprises, so supplies are well stocked and I’m prepared for most anything – at least prepared for any surprises that I’ve encountered up to this point in my career. I expect that I’m not done learning.

As we approach the next major holiday season -- whether that is Easter, or Christmas, or really any special event or concert along the way -- realize that your worship pastor has probably already chosen the music for the program. They may have already arranged to hire additional musicians. Your teaching pastor has probably already thought about what they want to teach during the upcoming services.

Since you have been charged with supporting the music program, and possibly the drama program, this would be a good time to get your technical act together. Rather than approach your leadership with a large invoice request for supplies at the last minute, they would probably appreciate it if you could spread those purchases out over a few months.

There are a number of things you can do in preparation. For example, if you know that you’re going to need three rolls of black gaff tape for use in December, get those ordered in September. If you forget to do that now, you might be sending your son to store for some last minute nasty silver duct tape.

If you find yourself six weeks out before the event and you haven't already arranged for the additional wireless microphones you're going to need, you may be too late. Better to arrange for those way early.

Basic supplies might seem inconsequential now, but you might be surprised just how helpful it can be to have them on hand before you get into the busy preparations and setup as you approach the actual events.

A box of Sharpie pens. Batteries, including 9V, AA, and AAA. Expect your guitar player to come to you looking for a 9V battery for his stomp box during the dress rehearsal, because he too was so busy he forgot to buy spares. If you really want to bless him, stock a spare set of his favorite guitar strings (not as a regular supply item, but to spare him the angst of getting replacements at the last minute. Just don't tell him that you have that set until you hear his outcry during rehearsal.) White artist tape or electrical tape for marking the console. Good quality, small flashlights for your tech crew so they can find stuff on a dark stage. Maybe gels to cover those flashlight lenses?

AC extension cords and quality outlet strips. More than you need. What about music stand lights for musicians? Do you have enough stand lights, and do you have spare lamps for those fixtures?

Will you need to provide a rope light to guide people across the backstage crossover?

Do you have a good stock of replacement bulbs for your theatrical lights? What about stocking some often-used gels? Do you have enough gel frames? Safety cables?

This could be a great time to go through the process of cleaning those theatrical lights. When was the last time you cleaned the lenses? Think those lenses might be just a little dusty?

Also, do you need to make up any special extension cords for the theatrical lights? Will you end up putting some lights in unusual locations and need to get power to them there? This isn’t too early to be thinking through the light plot for the Christmas season and making sure you are prepared. What would be next to impossible on December 21st might be totally reasonable if requested by September 21st.

Make sure that you have plenty of extra mic cables of various lengths, guitar patch cords (1/4” to 1/4”), CAT-5 cables for linking personal onstage monitor mixers, cables for connecting stage monitors, and so on.

Identify someone on your tech crew who has a background in electronics who maybe has no desire to mix the sound or work on the team on regular rotation, and ask if they would be up for repairing those broken cables that you have thrown in that box over there. Order the connectors, supply them with a quality solder station, wire cutters and other tools, and give them a place to work on them. Don’t cheap out on the tools. The end result will be well worth it, especially the sense of satisfaction from your volunteer who agreed to repair them.

For goodness sake, order replacement parts to fix those broken mic stands. You know that you hate wrestling with that (those?) broken stands. That’s why they are stuck in the back of the tech closet. Order the parts to fix them properly and get them back into service. What did those poor stands do you to you anyway!?!

Beyond supplies, what about your sound, video and lighting gear? When did you last replace the lamp in your projector? Remember that the projector lamp is on for a lot of hours over a year. In fact the average church uses their projector enough for the lamp to reduce its brightness by as much as one-half over the course of a year. So if your projector started out with a rating of say 3,000 lumens last Christmas, that brightness may have diminished to only about 1,500 lumens by December this year.

Since the holiday season will see a lot of annual faces and new friends, consider replacing the lamp in that projector this year. That lamp may cost you a few hundred dollars (maybe thousands of dollars if it’s a seriously bright projector), but everyone will be blessed by it.

Not convinced that such planning is important to the technical success of the event? Read my article “My Big Red Christmas Folder” and you just may become a believer.

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